Category Archives: Features

Here’s something to SMILE about

With all the hassles and poor customer service (not to mention headache) that Cebu Pacific is giving its passengers lately (delayed and cancelled flights, getting bumped off, etc.),  here’s something good about this airline that Filipinos can really be proud of.

CNN Go, CNN’s travel guide website, recently released its World’s 12 best airline magazines and our very own Cebu Pacific‘s in-flight magazine SMILE bagged the seventh spot.

Now that’s something that to SMILE about, don’t you think? ^_^


7. Smile (Cebu Pacific, Philippines)

If only we looked this fresh a week into our Vietnam trip.

Basics: What? Who? We didn’t see this chipper little underdog coming either, but Smile’s youthful (and authentically Filipino) charm won us over.

Perfect reader: A fresh-faced backpacker as excited about checking out Kalibo by tricycle as s/he is about navigating the markets of Saigon.

Words: No great prose, but zest for adventure prevails. In a recent issue, a phrase-based Vietnam guide, a two-woman Southeast Asia travelogue and an alluring snapshot of Cebuano cuisine all had us reaching for our passports.

Look: Nothing special, but frequent portraits of ordinary people having a good time echo the magazine’s spontaneous, low-key voice.

Gold star: Capsule guides to every city on the airline’s network include slang and breakfast tips from locals.

Black mark: The layout smacks of a U.S. teen magazine.

Final verdict: Smile proves in-flights don’t need to pretend to be Esquire or The Economist — just to capture the spirit of the places they serve.


Read the complete list of the World’s 12 best airline magazines



Willie Nelson, Tobacco Farmers, and the Sin Tax

“As long as there’s a few farmers out there, we’ll keep fighting for them.”
Willie Nelson

I am not exactly a fan of Willie Nelson and his Western country music. But I cannot forget his collaboration with Wynton Marsalis, my idol for being one of the greatest trumpeters and for championing both jazz and classical music. Nelson and Marsalis teamed up to play good music and produced an album titled “Two Men with the Blues.”

I like the blues, too. And I will highly recommend the Nelson and Marsalis album. Their interpretation, for example, of “Georgia on my Mind” is tender and sweet yet retains a tinge of melancholy.

So, I remember Willie Nelson for two things: first, his collaboration with Marsalis, playing and singing the blues; and second, his famous quote about farmers.

That quote well applies to the specific situation of our tobacco farmers.

The members of the House of Representatives from the tobacco-growing districts are resisting the tobacco tax reforms that the Aquino administration wants legislated. In opposing the administration bill, these legislators—collectively called the Northern Alliance—invoke the plight of the tobacco farmers.

Their argument is simple. A substantial increase in the tobacco tax will result in the decline of tobacco production and will therefore negatively affect the farmers. But the threat to farmers is not supported by facts.

The truth is that tobacco farmers can shift from tobacco farming to other crops, without much difficulty. Rene Rafael Espino, a professor of agriculture at the University of the Philippines, Los Baños, says that the soil and climate found in places where tobacco is grown are suitable for other crops like vegetables, peanuts, corn, and mungbean.

The farmer’s choice of crop to be cultivated is mainly determined by profitability, as well as by information and knowledge, market support, and provision of inputs. The task of government then is to provide the support in terms of access to markets, inputs, and technology.

The Department of Agriculture under the leadership of Secretary Prosy Alcala is fully aware of this and is taking the necessary steps to address the farmers’ needs as they shift from tobacco farming.

The fact, too, is that many farmers through the years have shifted from tobacco production to other crops. The figures from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics show that tobacco produce dropped from 81,723,000 metric tons in 1990 to 40,529.77 metric tons in 2010. Peak production during the 20-year period (1990-2010) reached 120,000 metric tons in 1992. But production dramatically fell to less than 60, 000 metric tones in 1994 and further declined in the following years. Similarly, the hectares devoted to tobacco farming decreased from 63,200 hectares in 1990 to 29,707 hectares in 2010.

In other words, tobacco production has declined not because of high taxes (the Philippines having one of the cheapest tobacco taxes in the world). It must likewise be emphasized that under the present regime, where the rules have favored a monopoly, the tobacco farmers have to deal with a monopsony, which dictates the price.

All this suggests that tobacco farming is no longer profitable or other crops yield higher economic benefits to farmers. An empirical study titled “Survey of Tobacco Growing Areas in the Philippines,” co-authored by Rene Rafael Espino, Danilo Evangelista, and Edgardo Ulysses Dorotheo and published in 2008, has this conclusion:

“In terms of income, vegetable cultivation provided the highest income to farmers even though it required higher input cost and lower labor requirement compared to virginia tobacco. Corn, mungbean, and peanut were also preferred by farmers mainly due to their low labor requirement and gave an income at par with tobacco. Hence, farmers tend to have more time to engage in other activities and at the same time minimize the hiring of extra labor to do the various activities in the farm.”

The study found out that “corn, legumes (mungbean, beans, peanut) and various species of vegetables (tomato, eggplant, garlic, onion, etc.) are the preferred crops by farmers to cultivate.”

That tobacco production is a “sunset industry” is evident, which even the public officials from tobacco-growing areas recognize. We had an opportunity to talk to Mary Jane Ortega, a charming, amiable, articulate and refined lady, a three-term mayor of San Fernando City in La Union, and the wife of Representative Victor Ortega, who happens to be the president of the Northern Alliance. Madame Ortega told us that she and Rep. Ortega realize that tobacco farming is a sunset industry. Hence, her husband tried to promote new industries like production of honey and silk. Unfortunately, market support did not come then, which government could have addressed if it were more interventionist.

The sin tax reforms will benefit everyone including the tobacco farmers. The increased excise taxes from tobacco consumption will finance public goods, especially universal health care, and will strengthen the macro-economic environment, thus creating more jobs and reducing poverty. The tobacco farmers will benefit not only from the provision of public goods but also from the earmarked funds (15 percent of the incremental revenue from the tobacco excise tax) that will be “exclusively utilized for programs to promote economically viable alternatives for tobacco farmers and workers.”

To conclude, the champions and supporters of the administration bill on tobacco tax reforms are the ones who can claim what Willie Nelson said: “As long as there’s a few farmers out there, we’ll keep fighting for them.”

“Willie Nelson, Tobacco Farmers, and the Sin Tax” by Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III, republished with permission.

Mr. Corona, prove that you have nothing to hide

Code of Judicial Conduct, Rule 5.08 – A judge shall make full financial disclosure as required by law.

“Malaking kasinungalingan itong ginawa nilang ito. Ang sa atin ay lima po lamang. Lima.” – CJ Corona referring to properties he owns.

Chief Justice Renato Corona is being accused of not truthfully disclosing his assets in his SALN. The prosecution has successfully pointed out that he actually owns 24 properties. How does a Chief Justice amass so many properties if he has no other means save for his and his wife’s government salaries?

The tedium has not been caused by the prosecution. Mr. Corona’s defense lawyers have been delaying the trial through circuitous objections and motions, the latest being strenuous protest against the prosecution’s motion to subpoena their client’s bank records.

The Black and White Movement challenges Mr. Corona to authorize the impeachment court to give the prosecution access to his bank records to avoid being accused of willful non-disclosure. Doing this would not only speed up the pace, it will allow Mr. Corona to live up to his word.

BnW Executive Director Leah Navarro said, “Kung wala siyang tinatago, pabayaan niya ang mga bangko na ilabas ang accounts niya kung meron man. Mr. Corona has claimed that he has nothing to hide. This would be a good time to put his money where his mouth is.”

Editor’s note: republished with permission from Black and White.

A look back on “Untouched, Unspoiled Batanes”

This post by Filomeno St. Ana III on Vicky Abad Kerblat’s book, Jawid sawen nu Vatan!, brings me back to one of my best Philippine holidays ever, in the practically untouched yet progressive province called Batanes. Allow me to share with you this retro post, published exactly a year ago, about the group of islands that I believe every Filipino should visit at least once in their lifetime.

Fundacion Pacita, the bed & breakfast that used to be the artist's workshop of author Vicky Abad Kerblat's late sister, the renowned visual artist Pacita Abad | Photo by NTZ, January 2011
Fundacion Pacita, the bed & breakfast that used to be the artist's workshop of author Vicky Abad Kerblat's late sister, the renowned visual artist Pacita Abad | Photo by NTZ, January 2011

Untouched, Unspoiled Batanes

Originally published in Manila Bulletin on January 30, 2011

It was going to be a different year, I told myself. For starters, I would do away with the usual loud and head-cracking New Year revelry and stay where my husband and I could breathe clean air, fall asleep to the sound of crickets and the crashing waves, and have 360-degree views of Mother Nature at her best. We would figuratively and literally unplug ourselves from my gadgets and from the toxicity of a frenetic urban life, and begin 2011 in a place that is pristine and virginal, removed from the excesses of the life that we had gotten accustomed to in chaotic, cacophonic Metro Manila.

For that purpose, there was no other place on our mind but Batanes, that almost-mystical group of islands that has been likened to Scotland or New Zealand but which remains very much in touch with its Ivatan roots. Years ago, people scoffed at the thought of flying to Batanes because of the impression that it was too “backward.” (“We hated flying there,” I had been told by a former flight attendant. “There was nothing to do!”)

"Nothing much to do" in Batanes except admire its unrivaled beauty and serenity | Photo by NTZ, January 2011
"Nothing much to do" in Batanes except admire its unrivaled beauty and serenity | Photo by NTZ, January 2011

Now, however, with sustainability on everyone’s minds, and with a collective call to reimagine the way we live and adopt a back-to-basics approach in our lifestyles, people are training their eyes on Batanes not only as a superb getaway destination where they could (quite literally) throw their cares away, but also—and more importantly—as a model for a sustainable, reimagined Philippines.

Cows graze freely on "Racuh a Payaman", also known as "Marlboro Hills" or "Marlboro Country" | Photo by NTZ, January 2011
Cows graze freely on "Racuh a Payaman", also known as "Marlboro Hills" or "Marlboro Country" | Photo by NTZ, January 2011
An "honesty" coffee shop? Only in Batanes! | Photo by NTZ (January 2011)
An "honesty" coffee shop? Only in Batanes! | Photo by NTZ (January 2011)

Proud of their culture

Imagine this: Even from thousands of feet above the sea, the sights that will greet your eyes will already be enough to declare the majesty of the Batanes Isles deep-green mountainous islands stand proudly against the azure waters of the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, their lush mountaintops showing no signs of erosion or human intervention. Only three (Batan, Sabtang, and Itbayat) out of the eleven islands comprising Batanes are inhabited by some 17,000 people, leaving plenty of space for vegetation to grow, for cows to graze lazily, and for Mother Nature to unfurl her virtuous best. The rest of the islands remain untouched and unspoiled by human hands.

A tour around the islands shows how the Ivatans take pride in their collective history and culture. Centuries-old churches remain preserved and stand proudly in the middle of the town, their clean exteriors belying the fact that they had borne witness to the wars, disasters, and struggles that have helped to define a people. In Savidug and Chavayan villages in Sabtang Island, even the ruins of the old stone houses bore the marks of quiet dignity and pride. I wondered about the stories behind these walls and the secrets that they kept, observing that even in the chilly winter weather and in the pregnant silence of the tour, the villages were not eerie at all but seemed to exude the quiet elegance of a grand old matriarch.

Century-old stone houses like this are common across Batanes' different islands | Photo by NTZ (January 2011)
Century-old stone houses like this are common across Batanes' different islands | Photo by NTZ (January 2011)
Chavayan Village in Sabtang Island is a UNESCO-nominated village, owing to the preservation of its stone houses and its traditional way of life | Photo by NTZ (January 2011)
Chavayan Village in Sabtang Island is a UNESCO-nominated village, owing to the preservation of its stone houses and the Ivatans' traditional way of life | Photo by NTZ (January 2011)

Imagine if more towns in the Philippines could show this much respect for history and culture: What would Intramuros or Binondo look like today?

Read the rest of the post HERE.


Jawid sawen nu Vatan!

What language is that?  Esperanto?  Jejemon?  Bekimon?

Jawid sawen nu Vatan! is Ivatan. It means: How beautiful is Batanes!

Without a doubt, Batanes is beautiful.  Together with Palawan or Siargao, Batanes is the poster image of the natural beauty of the Philippines.  In my book, Batanes has one of the most scenic landscapes and among the friendliest people on earth. In Southeast Asia, it edges out Bali or Krabi.

So many adjectives with long and short syllables describe Batanes:  breathtaking, panoramic, picturesque, stunning and spectacular, beguiling, charming, unspoiled, quaint, cool and fresh, rugged and stormy but also serene, relaxing and dreamy.

Batanes, we must emphasize, is not just about beautiful sceneries and hospitable people. Although rural and lacking in high-value economic activities, Batanes’s development is impressive.

It is one of the provinces that consistently ranks among the top provinces with a high quality of life, measured by the United Nations’ Human Development Index (HDI).  The HDI consists of variables on health, education, and income. Illiteracy and dropout for basic education are naught.  If there’s something disturbing about health, the Ivatans are alcoholic, resulting in non-communicable diseases that could have been prevented.

Jawid sawen nu Vatan! is also the title of the book authored by Victoria Abad Kerblat.  Kerblat is not an Ivatan name; it’s French. Vicky is married to a French national. But Abad is a famous name.  Vicky happens to be the sister of Butch Abad, the progressive public official and close adviser of PNoy.  Some know Vicky as the younger sister of the late Pacita Abad, recognized as one of Asia’s outstanding modern artists.

Vicky does not mind being in the shadow of her brother, the prominent politician, or of her older sister, the celebrated contemporary artist.  A natural comedian armed with self-deprecating humor, she boasts that she’s handsomer than Butch.  And she’d furtively but good-humoredly nod if someone suggests that she might be a better artist than Pacita.

It is hard to classify Vicky’s Jawid sawen nu Vatan! An art book?  Yes, for it features the paintings portraying Batanes, done not only by Vicky but by other Ivatan artists.  A collaborating artist for the book is the London-based Pio Abad, Butch and Dina Abad’s son.

It can also be a tourist book, for it depicts through illustrations and words the attraction of the different towns and islands of Batanes.  The book can be used as a promotion material to entice foreign tourists, arguably more effective than shouting the slogan that “it is more fun in the Philippines.”

Some might describe Jawid sawen nu Vatan! as a coffee-table book.  But I will disagree to that if a coffee-table book is only meant for display in the living room of a mansion in one of Makati’s gated villages.

The book is not for decoration. It is for reading, learning, and vicariously enjoying the way of life in Batanes.  It is refreshingly educational. It gives insights into the sturdiness and resilience of the Ivatans, their collective spirit, called payuwhan, their traditional homes that resemble the stone houses in bucolic France, their produce from the blue sea and the rolling hills, their food and kitchen, their clothing (the vacul, for example, which is the head and back covering for women made from the palm tree).  The book thus offers an anthropological and sociological perspective.

Yet, the book is not dense.  It is easy reading and is in fact appealing to children for its art and story-telling style.

Although Vicky is now gaining prominence as an artist, she is a biologist by training.  The biologist’s attributes of being curious and being meticulous define the quality of her paintings—for example, her exquisite strokes and her eye for detail.

These attributes influenced her writing —clear, specific, and colorful. As an example, take this lively phrase in which she describes Batanes:  “…the sturdy, weather-beaten Ivatans, our velvet hills, old stone houses, and the dark moody waters where the Pacific Ocean meets the West Philippine Sea. Every hint of green, stroke of blue, and touch of grey become translations of my memories of slow afternoon strolls, passing the century-old Balete trees at the plaza, smoky dinner presentations in our stone kitchen, and the welcoming old Ivatan folks.”

Simply beautiful.

Mr. Sta. Ana coordinates Action for Economic Reforms ( To get a copy of Jawid sawen nu Vatan!, contact Art Post Asia through telephone number 0916 6668605.

Corona de Gloria

LOOSELY translated the emergent term “crowning glory” turns aptly profound, tempting a slew of creative interpretations and applications that range from an insidious relationship between two officials between major branches separated by checks and balances, to its most literal as an old and clichéd idiomatic expression relating to one’s accomplishments.

For the former, applying the impending impeachment trial of the Chief Justice, the entanglement between two who should have remained unentangled sets the pair against the people’s indignant, albeit righteous, charge to cleanse the unclean.

On the latter, one’s crowning glory is where one has achieved one’s peak. Corona de Gloria represents a crowning accomplishment resulting from one’s endeavors.

Both interpretations are suddenly relevant.

For crooks, one’s crowning glory might mean robbing the mint, or whatever comes close to the public coffers.

For those whose life-long obsession would be to climb the social pyramid, posh residences, material wealth and possessions represent their crowning glory.

For politicians, one’s crowning glory might be achieved either by clambering up the political totem pole to the presidency or through the now- patented short-cut of simply phoning for a margin of a million votes through personal calls to election officials.

For lawyers, one’s crowning glory would be to attain the position of Chief Justice.

It is obvious where this litany is headed. Relate these to the impeachment and relevance rushes in. Unexplained wealth relates to the presidency as it likewise relates to possessions and posh residences. Relate the litany further and the presidency is suddenly linked to the Chief Justice. Round it out and the merry mix relates to one another in a pattern resembling a spider’s web.

Somewhere within that web perhaps, the biggest and most avaricious crooks of recent times have found safe refuge.

Unfortunately, in the upside-down world of Gloria Arroyo there is another feat, a dubious crowning glory no less, that serves as a stumbling block toward our pursuit of justice.

It has to do with achievements in defiling institutions upon which our democracy stands. Of our tripartite system, because the judiciary is not periodically answerable to an electorate and is thus insulated from such self-cleansing mechanisms as elections, it enjoys a relative degree of perpetuity. Defile the judiciary and you perpetually defile democracy.

Fortunately, the Constitution affords us a singular remedy—impeachment.

As we pursue that road, however, on the virtual eve of a historic impeachment trial, blockades and brickbats continue to be strewn along the straight and narrow path to justice.

Last week we analyzed where one of the most persistent involves the verification aspect of the Articles of Impeachment.

On verification and validity we noted two facets.

First, Article XI, Section 3, Paragraph 4 of the 1987 Constitution says, “In case the verified complaint or resolution of impeachment is filed by at least one-third of all the Members of the House, the same shall constitute the Articles of Impeachment, and trial by the Senate shall forthwith proceed.”

Sans spelling out requisite protocols, verification is assumed and signified by signatures where filing is accomplished by the House’s one-third membership. In this case two-thirds was attained denoting absolute control. That no one backtracked is itself an imprimatur.

To validate, let us seek out jurisprudence that definitively sets the degree of importance of verification.

In Bello versus Bonifacio Security, citing Ramirez versus the Court of Appeals and Altres versus Empleo, the Supreme Court has itself held that a verification process, as defined, “is a formal, (and) not a jurisdictional, requirement.” This means that in such cases where verification might be an issue, the High Court’s judgement specifies that a “court may simply order the correction of unverified pleadings or act on them and waive strict compliance with the rules.”

Note the verbiage. More important, note the crusading spirit.

Our second argument cites the respondent himself as a validating factor indicating where truth lies.

Note that the Senate becomes a legitimate impeachment court when it acquires a valid impeachment. By recognizing the jurisdiction of the Senate, the Chief Justice himself effectively provides for the Senate’s valid jurisdiction over a valid impeachment complaint.

The 11th-hour dilatory gambits that distort what jurisprudence clearly describes as a “formality” defile our collective pursuit in the same manner that those upon whom we now apply justice defiled us with their manipulation of our democratic judicial institutions.

If only to untangle such relationships, we should proceed with this impeachment in a “forthwith” manner as the Constitution literally demands.

We’ve said it before and we say it again. We have crooks to catch. In bringing them to justice, not by incarcerating them in hospital suites, but within a real jail, we might finally achieve our own crowning glory—the complete cleansing of a contaminated judiciary, long-sought yet too-often denied by formalities.

Republished with permission.

Reaction to Teodoro L. Locsin Jr.: Why we need law

ProPinoy received the following email from Frando Sarmiento, an OFW based in Dubai. We are publishing this with his permission.–locsin-jr–why-we-need-law?fb_comment_id=fbc_5006989942128_693502_5006991495128

(A reaction on the link)

Mr. Locsin is indeed right in vigorously defending the law to the letter. For all intents and purposes, the defense is commendable.

However, I believe we should take the situation not just in its strict interpretation which, arguably applies in ordinary times. Say, a strong culture of democracy such as those of the Scandinavians, the Aussies and the Canadians. But everyone knows and feels, this moment, our moment, fall under extraordinary times. We as a people have been bounded in the shackles of tyranny, oppression, impunity and bottomless amounts of plunder of our resources for so long a time, that now the public manifests more courageously the personal and moral sense to say that enough is enough. That feeling is palpable from the moment the yellow army re-emerged from nowhere to catapult a symbol in Noynoy to the presidency. If this close to miraculous turn out of event doesn’t speak volume of the people’s cry for a sense of justice and longing for the straight and narrow path, then I don’t know what is. This event preceded the Arab Spring by several months so we can definitely say that this road to self-determination was not influenced by global events, but rather became a precursor to the power of social media for other people to follow. Perhaps as much as a template of the 1986 people power revolution which was a sample of what’s to come in the collapse of the iron curtain.

The premise is that we live under extraordinary times. If Mr. Locsin will accept this, then it would be reasonable to suggest that extraordinary events may be essential requirements for necessary changes to prosper. The Martial Law years is an extraordinary time where the Supreme Court became the puppet of the dictator, and for which, if you strictly acknowledge the promulgations and decisions by the courts favoring Marcos, do we really believe that without People Power, our country could have peacefully returned to democracy and not in the hands of someone like Gen. Ver ad infinitum? When one’s kind of government and rule of law is so perverted and damaged, it is also logical to suggest that if this perversion is allowed to persist, say in a scenario where a midnight appointed Chief Justice (or cabal of inJustices) is perceived to have lost the most basic core of decency, then isn’t it also obvious that the whole country will eventually fall into chaos in much the same way that defenders say that the co-equal parts of government seen to be clashing will lead to crisis? Isn’t it more worth the sacrifice and risk to fight this injustice straight to its face using common sense and the collective support from the citizenry, than solely relying on the wheels of the supposed justice system to take its course? When the great majority feels this deep sense of injustice wrecked by the machinations of the awoken little girl, is it not also true that the people writes and decides its history, and that a constitution is a dynamic edict that is open to revision according to the signs of the times? Otherwise, most other nations and governments would not have rewritten their constitutions. Otherwise, black Americans will continue to be marginalized in a benighted land.

The voice of the people is the voice of God. Cliché as it is to say vox populi, vox dei, but how it rings more in this situation. Yes, public perception is not always necessarily right to be used as a gauge in determining justice, thus the need for the strict observance of the rule of law, but then again, we’re living under extraordinary times.

Everyone has experienced at least once in their lives that feeling that there is something palpably wrong although you ca not pinpoint a hundred per cent the culprit. We then use past actions, events, experiences, observation and a combination of all these to come to a conclusion. Sans the absence of concrete evidence, we rely on our perception, but it is important to note that we are using our judgement based on the combination as mentioned. Now, summarize the nine year rule of the inGloria’s basta*d! Will it not reek of foul, suffocating smell if we let the hands of justice be perverted by a midnight appointee, one that by the Constitution alone was not supposed to have been appointed in such an ungodly hour and whose history of kinship and political favors to the powers that be is skewered, be allowed to apply their machinations just because scholastic interpretations say this branch should be followed to the letter and respected as a co-equal branch of government? If a president can be criticized, toppled and replaced, then who the friggin hell is a Supreme Court Justice who is not even elected by the people?

Common sense dictates it shouldn’t be so. The lack of common in the senses of the supposed constitutionalists, lawyers and paid interpreters do not do justice in the practice of law in a grand manner.

Will 2012 be a good year?

With a gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate probably below four percent in 2011, will the Philippine economy have a better year in 2012?
And given a still unstable global environment due to the European debt crisis and uncertain US economic recovery, export growth will remain stagnant. Or at best, record a minimal single digit increase.  However, our labor exports, which the government is finally admitting as an important factor for the country’s development, will continue to power domestic demand through remittances.  Relatively lucrative labor markets in Australia, New Zealand and Canada will be the target destinations of Filipino professionals and skilled workers this year. It will not be surprising if the value of remittances breaches US$ 20 billion this year, fuelling much of consumption expenditures and stimulating more growth in retail trade, housing and real estate.
Another bright spot in terms of services exports is the sustained growth of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO). The country has already reached the top of the global call center industry. Other value-added sectors will most probably register notable increases, in particular, information technology (IT) and web-based undertakings and the creative industry. In a couple of years, annual BPO contribution to GDP can exceed US$ 25 billion, surpassing remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
Tourism is another sector which holds great promise to be a major growth driver.  It currently contributes about six percent of GDP, but this can increase markedly in the next few years. Domestic tourism has expanded in the last ten years with the introduction of cheap airfares to various locations in the country. Given the new policy, i.e. pocket open skies, the industry should experience further growth. In terms of foreign tourists, from 3.5 million, visitor arrivals may exceed the 4 million mark as the Department of Tourism (DOT) embarks on its new marketing strategy. The national government’s readiness to spend for the improvement of regional airports is a step in the right direction.  Of course, the development of a new international airport, preferably in Clark, will augur well for the industry.  The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) 1 will soon have a facelift while an airport for budget airlines is will soon rise in Clark within the next three years.  Health and wellness tourism, given enough government support, will be another important growth catalyst.  Hopefully, this industry will finally take off this 2012.
Local and foreign investments will also likely increase. Despite the political noise created by  Chief Justice Renato Corona’s impeachment, key developments point to a positive scenario. The good governance campaign is now reaping some economic fruits in terms of savings from decreased corruption. Spending efficiency and improvements in revenue collection are continuing. Credit upgrades became commonplace last year, effectively reducing interest rates for the country’s debt. The stock market was tops in Southeast Asia last year, expanding moderately, despite the turbulent world economy, and is expected to find new heights this year.  PPP (public-private partnership) hopefully will take off, as the feasibility studies and bidding processes have already been arranged.
Investor confidence has been on the uptick despite the still unresolved factors that increase the cost of doing business.  The National Competitiveness Council and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in tandem with the various chambers will now embark on strategic industrial plans for key manufacturing sectors like the electronics and semiconductors, automobile, agri-business and food processing, etc.  Unless manufacturing growth is revived, over-all growth of the economy cannot be sustained and reach a higher level.
If government complies with its promise to accelerate spending this year and maximizes its stimulus package of PHP 72 billion, then the key ingredients for increased domestic demand will now be complete, more than mitigating the impact of a weak global environment. As P Noy mentioned in his New Year speech, processes to curb corruption are now in place and government is poised to spend on the implementation of big ticket programs and projects. A big chunk of government spending—PhP 39 billion—will go to poor households through the PantawidPamilyang Pilipino Program. With leakages minimized, we are sure that about three million households will be able to augment their incomes this 2012.  Local economies are being catalyzed by these conditional cash transfers, while human capital formation is also being commenced.
Barring any big natural disaster or a huge political disturbance, (the latter’s occurrence is highly unlikely given the high approval and trust rating of the administration), domestic economic growth rate will probably reach five to six percent this year. Of course, the government must continue pursuing reforms to reduce the costs of doing business, to spend more especially on infrastructure and human capital programs, and to make governance more transparent and accountable.

The Corona Contradiction

BY now we should have learned our way around an impeachment complaint. That we remain ignorant is amazing. It is a testament to colossal illiteracy. Despite the patented “get-out-of-jail” card Gloria Arroyo perfected from the several impeachment attempts foisted on her, many have yet to read the relevant constitutional provisions.

In the controversies involving the constitutionality of the Articles of Impeachment (AOI) arrayed against the Chief Justice, there are four relevant paragraphs.

Article XI, Section 1 and 2 declare which officials are accountable and impeachable. Section 3, Paragraphs 2 and 3 describe the impeachment requisites filed by either a member of the House or by any citizen. Both stipulate protocols for a “verified complaint.”

The debate over constitutionality and validation relate directly to these. Distinct from Paragraphs 2 and 3, Section 3, Paragraph 4 deals with either a resolution of impeachment or a verified impeachment complaint filed by at least one-third of the House.

The AOI transmitted to the Senate involve the latter.

The delineation between a “verified impeachment complaint” under Paragraphs 2 and 3 and a one-third membership House “verified impeachment complaint” or “resolution of impeachment” under Paragraph 4 is central to the constitutionality controversy. For the former, verification protocols are spelled out. None are specified for the latter.

Note Paragraph 4’s short, simple and sweet verbiage. “In case the verified complaint or resolution of impeachment is filed by at least one-third of all the Members of the House, the same shall constitute the Articles of Impeachment, and trial by the Senate shall forthwith proceed.”

Under Paragraphs 2 and 3, verification protocols are spelled out and required. Under Paragraph 4, verification is assumed. In fact, in the respondent’s denials and affirmative defenses, “reading” suffices for verification.

There is a reason for the simplification. The filing is accomplished by the House’s one-third membership. In this case, two-thirds was attained. Beyond plurality, two-thirds denotes absolute control. The surplus provides excess comfort. Had the filing been vicarious, those who disagree would have retracted. Under a presumption of regularity, that none backtracked is eloquent testimony of an imprimatur and approval.

Following Paragraphs 2 and 3, if an impeachment complaint is not verified, what is transmitted to the Senate would be void ab initio. Technically, the Senate cannot acquire jurisdiction over a voided document.

However, the most valid argument for the AOI’s credibility comes from the respondent himself. If certain organizations believe that the AOI are flawed, either in substance or form, then a cursory analysis of the respondent’s denials and defenses shows one similarly wrought with an inherent contradiction.

According to former Ateneo Law Prof. Allan Paguia, by failing to deny the Senate’s jurisdiction, the Chief Justice effectively admits that the Senate has acquired jurisdiction over both the person of the respondent and the nature of the action.

Let’s move that premise forward. The Chief Justice and the AOI are now within the Senate’s jurisdiction. The duality aspect is important. If the Chief Justice believes that the Senate holds an invalid AOI—“the nature of the action”—then why is he responding to the Senate’s demand for a reply?

If the AOI are void ab initio, then it is legally impossible to acquire jurisdiction over a voided AOI. Thus, demands are similarly void.

The Senate becomes a legitimate impeachment court at the instance it acquires a valid impeachment. With a voided AOI, it acquires nothing and thus, cannot convene and act on anything, much less require a reply from respondents.

However, by recognizing the jurisdiction of the Senate and simultaneously responding to each charge over and beyond the jurisdictional question related to validity and voidance, in the constitutionality controversy, the Chief Justice himself effectively provides for the AOI’s credibility.

Despite raising the constitutionality and validity issue in the Chief Justice’s prefatory statement, before the Senate now are, therefore, valid AOI, accepted as legitimate by the Senate and effectively made even more credible by the Chief Justice’s admission of the Senate’s jurisdiction.

An alternative strategy would have been to divide the issues, first tackling validity and constitutionality separately through a preliminary investigation to question each signatory, and only thereafter, tackling each charge in the AOI. Such plays for time, stalls the momentum and returns the burden to the House.

To reiterate, the Senate cannot acquire jurisdiction over a voided document. That would annul its existence as an impeachment court. Hence, the Chief Justice, in the inherent contradictions within his response where these apply to the constitutional controversy, has, in fact, recognized the Senate as a valid impeachment court, thus clearing a straight and direct path toward the impeachment trial.

Our principal basis for installing Benigno Aquino III is our hunger for justice. It’s time we get this movable feast going. After all, we have crooks to catch.


the Corona Contradiction” is republished with permission from Dean dela Paz.


Consider the following stories:

More than a thousand people have died from the wrath of Sendong, a tragedy that could have been avoided.

The economy has been sluggish, even performing below the forecasts of both government and the private sector.

Although the number of employed as a percentage of the labor force increased, what accounted for it was unpaid family labor, not something to crow about. In the same breath, self-poverty and people experiencing hunger increased, said the September 2011 survey of the Social Weather Stations.

Reforms that require legislation are stalled. The main stumbling block to the early passage of access to information, despite overwhelming support for it even within the administration, seems to be PNoy himself. The bill on the rationalization of fiscal incentives, despite being certified a priority in 2010, still has to be approved by the Senate. Worse, the version passed by the House undermines the very purpose of limiting and giving purpose to incentives.

And it is disheartening that decent and competent men in the Cabinet, namely Ping de Jesus and Bertie Lim, resigned.

May I add that the national psyche was upset by Manny Pacquiao’s controversial victory over Juan Morales and the heartbreaking experience of the Angela Jolie of the Philippines, KC Concepcion.

I want to cry. And I do not want to listen to the longer series of complaints from senior columnists like Amado Doronila, Teddyboy Locsin, and Father Joaquin Bernas. We have heard them before.

So was 2011 a sad and disappointing year for the Philippines?

It’s here where I do a kambyo, where I shift gears. Despite the tragedies and frustrations, 2011 was a good year, paving the way for a better 2012.

The common Pinoys are optimistic that their quality of life will improve in 2012, and they are satisfied with the President’s performance. Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia say so. And I agree.

Hope and optimism pervade the country because the PNoy administration, despite its trials and errors, are doing things that the people expect it to do.

For me, the defining moments of 2011 revolved around accountability:  the arrest of the fake president Gloria Arroyo and the burjer king Benjamin Abalos, the manhunt for a fugitive butcher named Jovito Palparan, the removal of Gloria’s servant Merceditas Gutierrez as Ombudsman, and the impeachment of the blind justice Renato Corona.

Even the removal of smaller fry like Congressman Hermilando Mandanas as Chair of the Lower House’s Ways and Means Committee, was about accountability.  We must dispel the allegation that he was removed from the chairmanship of the powerful Ways and Means Committee because he did not sign the impeachment complaint against Justice Corona. He defied the leadership of the House and of his political party by not supporting the legislative tax reforms that we was supposed to sponsor, and worse, by pursuing measures that undermined the reform objectives.

Or is this all about political vendetta?  The PNoy administration has shown that its crusade against bad governance is not selective.  One example stands out:  Let us be reminded that the Secretary of Finance and the Commissioner of the Bureau of Internal Revenue removed the tax exemption, an irregularity ab initio, for the controversial PEACE bonds, a scheme associated with some of the administration’s closest supporters.

Or has PNoy become Hitlerian and corrupted democracy and the rule of law?  Let us be reminded that the Philippine presidency since the time of Manuel Quezon has always had vast powers.  Some lawyer-scholars like our colleague Nepomuceno Malaluan contend that the Philippine President is more powerful than the US president.

Gloria Arroyo did not only use such powers to pursue personal greed and ambition but also expanded her powers through extra-constitutional means, blessed by a pliant Corona Court.

In PNoy’s case, he is using the powers that the Constitution granted to the Executive to serve the public good. As Hunter Thompson said, “This is our country, too, and we can goddam well control it if we learn to use the tools.”

But it is the Corona Court that is circumscribing the President’s legal instruments.

Why give premium to accountability?  Because the issues relating to bad government, corruption, and impunity—which found concentrated expression during the Marcos and Arroyo regimes—have historically obstructed Philippine progress and development.

So, as we welcome a new year, we say: Out with the old, ugly, and despicable. In with the new—honest and accountable institutions.