May 2011

Only 5% of PHL coral reefs remain

Read this and weep: A marine scientist from the University of the Philippines has revealed that only 5 percent —equivalent to  just around 1,000 square kilometers—of the country’s total reef area remain in good condition in the face of the wanton destruction of our coral reefs by poachers.

The estimated reef area of the Philippines ranges from 19,000 to 27,000 square kilometers, depending on the territorial boundaries and depth ranges. This makes the Philippines’s reef areas one of the biggest in Southeast Asia, more so if those in the disputed Kalayaan Islands were included.

The revelation of Dr. Porfirio Alino of the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI) comes on the heels of published reports about the destruction of a reef area in Southern Mindanao that is five times bigger than Metro Manila.

The Philippines is the center of marine biodiversity in the world, Alino said, but this distinction may not stand for long as coral reefs in the country are deteriorating very rapidly.

Read more at ABS-CBN News


House body passes consolidated bill defining, punishing cyber-crimes

The House committee on information and communications approved on Monday a consolidated bill defining cyber-crimes and providing safeguards and penalties to protect the integrity and confidentiality of subscribers’ information.

The bill, which has yet to be numbered, substituted for at least nine related bills on the subject, and will be known as The Cyber-crime Prevention Act of 2011.

Taguig City Rep. Sigfrido “Freddie” Tinga, committee chair, said recognizing freedom of expression should involve recognizing the responsibility of preventing abuses in the exercise of rights and of protecting other forms of rights, such as privacy and confidentiality of certain types of information.

“This bill, if passed, will protect and safeguard not only the integrity of computer systems but also the veracity of database and confidentiality of data storing systems as well as all networks from misuse abuse and illegal access,” Tinga said.

Read more at Philippine Daily Inquirer


Our Kabayan problem and the nature of media

Is a former politician practicing journalism, journalism?

John Nery wrote this over at Philippine Daily Inquirer:

Noli de Castro was vice president for six years and a senator for three. Last November 8, some four months after leaving government service, he reassumed his role as principal anchor of the flagship ABS-CBN newscast, “TV Patrol.”

I have no objection to the so-called revolving door in journalism, the practice where journalists join government service for a time and then return to the profession. Done right, done with circumspection and utmost professionalism, both sides of the door can profit. I think, for example, of Salvador P. Lopez, journalist-turned-diplomat-turned-journalist. Government service benefited from his insight and erudition, his facility with words and his capacity for work. When he returned to newspapering (he wrote regularly for the Inquirer in its early years), his writing was deepened by his experience in government and diplomacy.

But De Castro, simply “Kabayan” (Countryman) to millions of Filipinos, reminds me that there are dangers to the revolving door; for one thing, it can give media’s audience an attack of vertigo.

Last week, I heard De Castro (on the dzMM simulcast of “TV Patrol”) introduce a news report by Jorge Cariño on former Gov. Jose Leviste’s evasion-of-sentence case. Cariño, a savvy reporter with good sources and an excellent manner of delivery, was reporting live from the New Bilibid Prison, after the first hearing on Leviste’s forays had been concluded. De Castro began by asking Cariño about the remarkable statements the former Batangas governor said during the hearing, and then immediately focused on Leviste’s claim about housing.

Apparently, Leviste had cast his net of blame wide, and implied that the government housing project constructed near the national prison had contributed to the current culture in the NBP, which allowed him to move in and out of prison with great ease.
But De Castro was, of course, housing czar during the last two-thirds of the Arroyo years, and his question was meant to prove that Leviste did not know what he was talking about. Perhaps Leviste really didn’t, but it struck me, while listening to De Castro, that he was using Cariño’s report to kill Leviste’s aspersions. In other words, he acted, and sounded, like a partisan.

I do not believe in journalistic objectivity; or, to be more precise, I subscribe to the view, defined by Kovach and Rosenstiel in “The Elements of Journalism,” that objectivity applies to the method that journalists use, not to the journalists themselves. (The analogy, I think first made in the 1920s, during the consequential debates between journalist Walter Lippmann and the philosopher John Dewey, was to the scientific method.) I did not therefore expect De Castro to feel unmoved by Leviste’s particular insinuation; at the same time, I did not expect him to use a news report as an opportunity to defend himself. In short, I expected him to act as a professional journalist, not as a former politician with a record to protect.

Is this an impossible ideal? I hope not, for all our sakes. Whether De Castro likes it or not, he was part of the Arroyo administration. (The ordering of events to persuade him to run for vice president in 2004 was a masterstroke of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s, and helped her win the election.) He will find himself fielding more and more adverse news reports, either on “TV Patrol” or on his radio program. If he continues to conduct himself as an ex-politician, should he still call himself a journalist?

John Nery has a valid argument.

So when is a journalist not a journalist? When is a politician a journalist? When is a journalist a politician? When is a media practitioner not media?

We have newspapers carrying politician-columnists. Fidel Ramos for instance has written a number of times for the Manila Bulletin. Mrs. Arroyo during her term hosted a television program. We have politicians who use media to convey their message. They have twitter accounts. Senator TG Guingona is one of the more revolutionary ones with a YouTube channel.

If you think this is a Filipino “problem”, or a Filipino issue, consider that Barack Obama has written a book. He has written for the Huffington Post, and he has Youtube broadcasts. Downing Street too use YouTube.

If Social media is media, does it make these people journalists just as We the People are often called, “Citizen Journalists?”

Where then do we draw the line? Is there a line that needs to be drawn?

It doesn’t begin or end with Noli de Castro because he is hardly the only former politician who is working in media or working as a journalist. Neither will he be the last. The man too needs to make his bread and cheese, and being a “journalist” is probably the only thing he is most comfortable with. So is de Castro a journalist or commentator?

Is there a difference between an opinion maker or one who simply conveys the news?

What happens when one is partisan, by the sheer nature of being a former politician?

What then is media? What then is journalism?

Hat tip: @felicitytan for the link.

Health officials sound dengue alarm

Health officials sounded the alarm on dengue cases in the country as it climbed to 22,903 cases and 141 deaths representing an eight percent increase on cases recorded between January to May 7 compared to last year’s figures of 21,207 cases and 161 deaths recorded during the same period.

Most of the cases came from the National Capital Region (6,732), Central Luzon (4,181), and Calabarzon (3,555).

In the National Capital Region, Quezon City had the most number of cases with 1,694, followed by Manila, 824; Caloocan City, 775; Pasig, 592; Valenzuela, 466, and Parañaque City, 407.

Read more at Manila Bulletin


Comelec says ARMM polls will be manual

Elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) – if it pushes through–will be manual because the poll body has stopped preparing for automated polls when the House of Representatives passed the bill postponing the elections, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said Tuesday.

Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes, meanwhile, admitted before the Senate local government committee that it will be “risky” to hold manual elections.

Read original post at ABS-CBN News


Phivolcs: 31 volcanic quakes at Taal in last 24 hours

A day after 115 volcanic quakes were recorded there, Taal Volcano in Batangas continued to show signs of increased seismic activity, with 31 volcanic quakes recorded there in the last 24 hours.

Five of the quakes were felt by residents and accompanied by rumbling sounds, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said Tuesday.

In its Tuesday update, Phivolcs said the five events were felt from Intensity I to II in Pira-piraso and Calauit, at the northeast and southeast sectors of the volcano.

One event at 11:41 a.m. was felt at Intensity I, while four events at 7:26, 9:28, 9:30 a.m. and 6:16 p.m. were felt at Intensity II.

Read more at GMA News

Overcautious gov’t hampering economic growth: Arroyo

The Aquino government’s anti-corruption drive is partly the reason why government spending is falling, according to former National Economic Development Authority policy and planning director Dennis Arroyo.

Arroyo said the government is spending too much time going over contracts before releasing funds, and this is slowing economic growth. The local economy grew a a lower-than-expected 4.9% in the first quarter of the year due to a drop in global trade and less spending on infrastructure.

“They are being too careful. You have this anti-corruption goal, which is good. However, I think they are overdoing it,” he said in an interview on ANC’s “Business Nightly.”

He added: “We must correct ourselves and spend more and spend faster to create more jobs. It’s more of speeding up the process and being more confident that these are the correct contracts.”

Read more at ABS-CBN News


FDA warns vs Taiwan juice, jelly

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday advised consumers to avoid buying sports drinks, soft drinks, fruit juices and jellies imported from Taiwan which are suspected of having been contaminated with a chemical harmful to health.

Taiwanese authorities have confirmed that the chemical Di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) was illegally added to a food product raw material described as a “cloudy agent” and intended for emulsification, said FDA Director Suzette Lazo in an advisory.

“The Taiwanese FDA has not yet identified the brands of the tainted products, so as a precautionary measure, we advise Filipino consumers to refrain from buying them,” Ong told the Inquirer by phone.

Pending identification of the tainted products by Taiwanese health officials, the public must avoid all high–risk products imported from that country, said Department of Health consultant Dr. Willie Ong.

Read more at Philippine Daily Inquirer


Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics: Or why De Quiros is a bit of a crank

In his two most recent op-ed pieces published successively in the Inquirer between Monday and Tuesday this week, Conrado De Quiros proves why his writing should be taken with a grain of salt.


In Repetitions, Mr De Quiros talks of parallels between the two Aquino administrations and uses the argument that history may be repeating itself against those who despair at the current lackluster performance of PNoy in his freshman year. The implicit parallelism here is between the Marcos and Arroyo loyalists who claim that life deteriorated under their successors.

De Quiros uses a number of “lies, damned lies and statistics” in making his case. These fibs undermine his credibility. He states first of all that

(o)ne year after he came to power, the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) loyalists are out saying how things have gotten worse from GMA’s time. Proof of it is that unemployment is rife, prices are higher and the hungry are getting hungrier. And they have the figures to show it.
What they forget to say is that Gloria borrowed more than Tabako (President Fidel V. Ramos) and Erap (President Joseph Estrada) combined in the course of her long, vicious and illegitimate rule from January 2001 to May 2010 which did not keep prices from soaring anyway, and which debt has added immeasurably to an already gigantic one the people are paying during P-Noy’s time and will continue to pay well past P-Noy’s time.

Ok, let us subject the first part of the argument to the Truth-o-meter. What was the level of external debt during the presidencies of Messrs Ramos and Estrada in contrast to Madame Arroyo? The chart below is taken from World Bank data which is hosted on Google Data Explorer.

It shows that the total external debt stock in 1991 prior to the election of Pres Ramos stood at 32.5 billion current US dollars. In 2000, the year before Mrs Arroyo succeeded Mr Estrada in office it rose to 58.3 billion dollars. That is a jump of about 25.8 billion. In 2009, the year before Mrs Arroyo handed power to Mr Aquino, the total external debt stock was 62.9 billion dollars or an increase of a mere 4.6 billion!

So on point one, Mr De Quiros’s claim that GMA had borrowed more than Messrs Ramos and Estrada combined is not only untrue, it misses the truth by a longshot. The growth of debt during the latter was 5.6 times more than under the former.

Let us examine the second part of the argument about price inflation under the Arroyo administration. The chart below shows inflation from the same data source. I am afraid that again in this case, the data conflicts with De Quiros’s claim. It shows that under GMA, inflation was tame. The country experienced some of the lowest price rises that it experienced since the 1970s, much of this is a result of the economic reforms instituted since the mid-80s of course.

So on point two, once again Mr De Quiros is caught fiddling with the truth.

Moving on to the rest of his argument, De Quiros states that

The economy Gloria left to P-Noy is not a rundown restaurant that has been sold to a new owner who with unlimited funds can renovate it and open with the sign, “Under new management.” It is a horse that has been starved and flogged to near-death and bequeathed to an impoverished nephew by a good-for-nothing aunt upon her death. You cannot make that horse spring back to life overnight, especially when it’s all you can do to keep body and soul together. It will take a great deal of nursing to make it so. Along with a great deal of cursing the departed.

You can’t blame everything that is wrong with the economy on Gloria. But you can, and ought to, blame her for a great deal. The people of this country did not start getting unemployed during P-Noy’s time, they started getting unemployed during Gloria’s time. Hell, they started getting hungry—yet another statistic a few months ago said people had gotten hungry of late—during Gloria’s time, as a result of abandoning the farmers completely and relying on importations of rice. And stealing billions of bukols along with the rice.
Gloria is the cause, this is the effect.

So, to verify these claims, let us look first of all at the level of income during Mrs Arroyo’s presidency. The chart here shows that per capita incomes grew quite rapidly and consistently for the most part during her term from $899 in 2001 to $1,752 in 2009, an increase of about 95%.

In a comparable period from 1991 to 2001, GDP per capita only rose from $710 to $899 or an increase of a mere 27%. Again, it seems that calling the economy a rundown hand-me-down does not seem appropriate.

Well, you might say, De Quiros is really talking about the hardships suffered by the most marginal sectors of society getting worse under Mrs Arroyo. So, let us examine the income share of the poorest quintile of the population in the following chart.

We find here that the lowest 20% of the population had a 6.5% share of total income in 1988 and this dropped down to 5.36% in 1997 and remained steady at 5.37% in 2000. From there it rose to 5.6% in 2006 where the time series stops. So it seems that for the greater part of GMA’s term, the decline was arrested. The time series unfortunately ends there, right before the surge of rice importation.

As a sidebar, it is worth noting that the economic liberalization instituted since the mid-80s as prodded by the Washington Consensus may have moderated inflation but failed to provide protection to the most vulnerable. Mrs Arroyo’s rice program was also aimed at limiting the effects of price rises, but may have impacted the farming sector adversely. In that case, it was simply extending the existing policies further.


In Visions and Revisions, the second thesis of De Quiros is a stab at economic revisionism. His very first line exposes him to this charge:

P-noy isn’t making things worse, economically or otherwise, but he’s missing a lot of chances to make things better.

Unfortunately, the first quarter results say otherwise. The latest 4.9% GDP growth figure reported by the National Statistical Coordination Board, while nothing to sneeze at, was at the lower end of the expected range that analysts had predicted of between 4.8% and 5.6%. It was almost half the 8.4% growth registered in the same period of the previous year under Mrs Arroyo and a far cry from the government’s own target of 7-8% for the year. Given the recent tweaking of the way GDP is computed, the growth rate of 4.9% is actually higher than it would have been under the previous method.

PNoy tried to remain upbeat and blame the less than targeted performance on economic headwinds coming from conflicts in the Middle East and North African region as well as natural disasters closer to home. He also sought to paint a favorable picture by comparing it to the milder growth experienced by our ASEAN neighbors.

What he conveniently failed to mention was that the growth could have been higher had his government not contracted spending by 17%. Today’s banner headline of the Businessworld says it all, Underspending Curbs Growth. What this means is that the higher unemployment, hunger and poverty reported during the period is partly the government’s doing.

None other than Budget Sec Buth Abad confirmed that the first quarter was “not regular” in that government spending slowed as a result of project costings being reviewed. While he claims they can play catch up during the remainder of the year, Prof Ben Diokno, a former budget secretary, and Gov Joey Salceda, a former analyst and political advisor to Mrs Arroyo think otherwise.

Unfortunately, not only is “PNoy missing a lot of chances to make things better”, he is also “making things worse, economically”. No amount of economic revisionism can change that fact.

In bolstering his claims, Mr De Quiros needs to steer away from using spurious statistics. He has failed the truth-o-meter on all counts. Such flagrant misrepresentations do not aid his cause one bit. They merely expose the hollowness of his arguments.

DepEd activates info center to assist students, parents

Students and parents will get assistance from the reactivated Oplan Balik Eskwela (OBE) Information and Action Center of the Department of Education (DepEd) when schools open on June 6.

Education Assistant Secretary Jesus Mateo said OBE Information and Action Centers will also be set up in the 17 DepEd regional offices.

“This is a yearly effort of DepEd to help our students and their parents get information and also make their complaints on various issues,” he said.

The OBE Command Center will remain open at the DepEd Central Office in Pasig until June 10.

Education Secretary Armin Luistro said that the focus of DepEd in school year 2011-2012 is the influx of more than 1.2 million five-year-old pupils in public kindergartens.

Read more at Philippine Star