March 2013

Fences and Neighbors

Disheartened by the death toll from armed clashes in Sabah, I’ve sought enlightenment on one question that I thought was key to addressing the issue of world peace: why do people quarrel over a piece of geography? Prof. Google has led me to some good online sources.

It probably all started somewhere in time when an enterprising creature, or creation, staked out an area of space, chased off intruders, and called it “territory.” Where deadly competition rules and the only sure measure of success is survival, territory amounts to an ingenious strategy for unhampered access to resources and reproductive opportunity (sex). Owning one is more efficient than joining a mad scramble for food every time you want to eat; or for sex every time you feel the urge to breed.

And so it came to pass that territory grew into a passion. Birds do it, bees do it, electric eels do it, almost all do it, including slime molds.Building a territory comes in a manner that is not completely unfamiliar: it’s governed by a tacit rule better known by its French label,fait accompli—it’s yours if you can hold on to it. Defense comes with the territory.

In an impressive anticipation of Westphalia and Torrens Title, certain animals have advertised territorial ownership in unmistakable terms. Frogs, birds and crickets do it through vocal signaling; some mammals squirt or rub off scent as signposts at key spots within their home range. And all these even before the ancient Romans started worshipping a god of boundaries named Terminus.

In the cool economics of nature, it makes for a good balance sheet of energy to let your neighbor be and avoid hostility, a situation we call “my dear enemy.” But this is not where you’ll find the elusive clue to lasting peace. The situation assumes that neighbors are held in balance by matching strengths: weakness is an invitation to aggression.

Ask Jane Goodall. Her extended observations of chimpanzees in the wild have changed beliefs that the primate species are basically peaceful. A gang of chimps demonstrates lethal aggression when it outnumbers its foes, often attacking them with murderous savagery. Otherwise, the evenly matched groups confronting each other by chance would soon break up after a noisy display of aggression. Expansionary raids into other territories minimize risk by picking numerically weak groups, killing its members until none were left. Chimps share 99% of human DNA.

Territoriality is so pervasive in nature that early observers see it as an instinct, an “imperative” that applies as rigorously in the affairs of modern man as in the affairs of animals: “If we defend our title to our land or the sovereignty of our country, we do it for reasons no different, no less innate, no less ineradicable, than do lower animals.”

I’m not sure if it’s a human instinct, but I do know that humans are just as obsessed with territories as other animals are, but expressed in ways that bear the mark of the sapient species.

We invented a territory called “nation”, went to war for it, and did the nastiest crime under its banner. The world as we know it is shaped and reshaped by human drive for territories, pursued with savagery unimaginable even to the most aggressive of Goodall’s chimpanzees.

Take a quick look at how the modern USA came into being. You start after 1492 with the North American Indians giving up a portion of their original territory to European colonialists under pain of genocide; next, take account of Great Britain getting driven out of its 13 colonies in the face of the greater American Revolution; then watch how wars, treaties, money and forced eviction of the Indians allowed the US to expand its territory from the 13 original states; and then again listen to the American troops, doing a complete reversal of their anti-colonial roles, chanting, Underneath the starry flag, civilize ‘em with a Krag, as they grab territories overseas for colonies.

Combined with racism, Hitler’s belief that Nazi Germany needed a “living space” (new territories) for its survival helped plunge the world into war and gave history the Holocaust that we already know, and us a taste of the banality of evil.

Good fences make good neighbors, writes Robert Frost. My un-poetic mind, refusing to believe, insists he had it all mixed up—it must be the other way around.

Galang is a specialist in development and governance issues.

Trapo Alert! Detecting political pandering, part 2

Featuring Chiz Escudero, Risa Hontiveros and Loren Legarda.

This is the second part in a series on the candidates for the senate in 2013. Just a recap: I am attempting through this series to have a serious discussion of the aspirants and their political platforms (or lack thereof). I have identified nineteen so far that have articulated some kind of policy agenda in running for a seat in the upper house. These are put through what I call the pander-o-meter to determine whether the policy detail they have released so far places them in either the reformist or populist columns. The following table details the range of possible scores a candidate can get and the equivalent meaning of each reading:

Introducing: the ‘Pander-o-meter’ or Trapo Scale

A reading of… …is equivalent to…


Low levels of pandering detected, generally reformist in nature


A mixed bag of proposals aimed at both pandering and reforming


Trapo alert! Approaching dangerous levels of pandering


Could be likened to a vote buying trapo

In part 1, I analysed the platforms of Juan Edgardo Angara, Jr, Benigno Aquino IV and Alan Peter Cayetano.

In this instalment, I will be covering Francis Escudero, Risa Hontiveros and Loren Legarda.


Francis “Chiz” Escudero (Ind.-Team PNoy) has spent his time in the senate over the last Congress submitting bills that delve mostly on justice and human rights having been the chair of the said committee. As such he has been responsible for shepherding a number of notable bills like the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Law of 2012 through the Senate. This should be counted as one of his greatest achievements to date.

The Senator has also filed a number of bills that aim to strengthen social justice and democratic accountability such as the bill seeking to strengthen the investigative and prosecutorial powers of the human rights commission and the freedom of information bill.

His platform for this senate race attempts to cover a broader agenda such as shelter, the environment, health, food security, education, entrepreneurship and employment, peace and order, protection of women and children. While the platform consists of very broad principles-some would call them motherhood statements-the following two senate bills he has filed are examples of concrete proposals he has put forth when it comes to social and economic policy.

1. Educational Trust Fund (ETF)

  • Description: a voluntary scheme in which GSIS and SSS members could contribute regular payments into a plan that would cover educational costs for their grantees. This would make the GSIS and SSS similar to the Central or Employees Provident Fund of Singapore and Malaysia, respectively, which are pension funds, but allow employees to withdraw part of their accumulated contributions for educational purposes.
  • Cost: to be determined
  • Source of funding: member’s voluntary payments

My critique:

If done correctly, this could solve the problems of insolvency that have been observed in a number of privately managed educational plans. The coverage of the ETF plans has to be defined by the actuaries of the two government institutions to avoid the problems related to tuition inflation. The fact that the scheme is voluntary means that individuals can still exercise their right to opt out of it. The creation of a public provider to compete with existing private pension plans will be an interesting new dynamic in the industry.

2. Magna Carta for Informal Sector Workers

  • Description: this bill seeks to create a number of entitlements for informal sector workers such as those working in the construction, farming, fisheries, retail and transport sectors. It seeks to grant formal rights to micro-enterprises through a business registration system administered at the local level in which business permits would be issued to street hawkers, sidewalk vendors, transport operators and the like. The annual dues start at Php100 and scale up to Php1.500 depending on the net worth of the individual. This net worth is to be verified using financial statements as proof. The money collected goes into an Informal Sector Development Fund, which uses the money to provide all the sorts of benefits: everything from housing, education, health (including reproductive health), and support for their industry.
  • Cost: to be determined
  • Source of funds: Ninety per cent of all revenues from business registration of informal sector workers and entrepreneurs and ninety per cent of fees and dues collected from PAGCOR and PCSO.

My critique:

This, in my view, demonstrates the limits to taking a “rights-based approach” to social and economic issues. By creating a whole set of rights for informal workers and business operators, there is no question that the intentions of the bill are noble. How realistic it is though is another matter. One can legislate these rights into being, but enforcing them is a bit hard for a government that is chronically underfunded. For one, not many informal sector workers would have financial statements of their net worth as the bill assumes they do. Second, many unintended consequences could occur such as continued harassment of those who do not come up with the fees to register themselves (and continued corruption from street level “enforcers”). The whole purpose of the bill could be subverted at the local level.

Overall Comments:

Senator Escudero has authored a number of sensible pieces of legislation that deal with justice and political rights. It is when he tries to legislate social and economic rights that things become a bit of a mixed bag. Perhaps in preparation for another stab at higher office in 2016, he seems to be pitching himself as a candidate with a broader agenda, more appropriate for a chief executive. The problem is, it is a bit of a hit and miss situation when it comes to that, so far.

Pander-o-meter: 2.5 out of 5


Risa Hontiveros (Akbayan-Team PNoy) who was a proponent of the cheaper medicines law and reproductive health bill at the lower house when she was a party-list representative is staking her second run for a senate seat on health issues. To wit, she has issued a policy statement covering the health sector, which has five key planks towards “making health care more universal”. The five planks of her program include:

  1. Increased spending on healthcare through the budget
  2. Tighter regulation of private health facilities to address affordability of health-care
  3. Upholding patient’s rights and standards of healthcare treatment
  4. Disease prevention and promotion of healthier lifestyles
  5. Improving the quality of training and education of healthcare workers

My critique:

There are no costings to her proposals. She hasn’t really specified what this five-pronged strategy would mean to ordinary people on the ground in terms of what they should expect. She hasn’t really talked about how much the health spending ought to increase as a share of GDP. She hasn’t really said if there ought to be a patient’s bill of rights and the method for enforcing those rights.

One thing she has spoken about with regard to healthier lifestyles is that she supports banning the sale of sugary drinks in school cafeterias. As to how to improve the quality of healthcare professionals, again there is not enough detail regarding this. Should non-performing schools be closed, for instance, or should better disclosure and consumer information be relied upon to improve student choice as I have suggested here.

Since we do not know how much health spending needs to be, we don’t have a clue as to how much to raise to fund it. What about a “fat tax”, as I have advocated in this space? I have estimated it would raise a significant amount that could in fact fund health reform programs and interventions.

Overall comments:

There are so many blanks to be filled in Risa Hontiveros’s policy platform. I hope she gets around to filling some of them before the election season ends. Overall, I feel that if these policy prescriptions (sorry for the pun) were to be fleshed out, they would provide greater clarity to citizens about what she is fighting for and her distinctive appeal. She can literally dominate and “own” this policy space if she really wanted to. It’s a pity that she has been forced to deal with “Team Patay” distractions and hasn’t been able to scope out her place as a senate contender, yet.

Despite this lack of detail, however, the intent of her health policy statement is clearly headed in the right direction, for the most part. I still am not clear about how tighter regulation will lead to lower cost of delivering health service, since the jury is still out on whether the cheap medicines act has in fact done the same in the pharmacy industry. It is important for her to state what the intended outcome of these policy directions will be and the principles she would adhere to in designing either an expansion of existing health services and entitlements or the creation of new ones.

Pander-o-meter: 2 out of 5


Loren Legarda (NP-Team PNoy) launched LOREN, an acronym that stands for Livelihood Opportunities to Raise Employment Nationwide, as her campaign platform for 2013. According to the senator, “LOREN sa Bawat Barangay will be a consultation with various sectors of society and concerned local government agencies on how to raise employment and entrepreneurship opportunities. This is a program I did during my first term in the Senate and we will have it in every region in the country.” The policy intent of LOREN is to implement four employment and business laws that she has been responsible for (see below), conduct job fairs and disaster risk and reduction programs. The four laws referred to are listed below:

Public Employment Service Office (PESO) Act RA 8759 of 1999. The law that set up PESO, which according to the Bureau of Local Employment website is “a non-fee charging multi-employment service facility or entity established or accredited”. These are meant to provide job fairs, livelihood and self-employment bazaars, workers hiring for infrastructure projects, credit and the like. The law requires these to be provided in “all capital towns of provinces, key cities, and other strategic areas”.

Magna Carta for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) RA 9501 of 2008. This act amended earlier laws RA 6977 of 1991 covering MSMEs which now range from firms with capitalisation of under Php3 million for micro enterprises up  to Php100 million for medium-sized enterprises (the earlier law defined the range from less than Php50,000 to Php20 million. In its current form, this law seeks to intensify and expand existing programs that encourage entrepreneurship and skills acquisition, facilitate access to funds and government procurement contracts, reduce red-tape and stringent requirements, and to foster linkages with large companies and industry associations.

Barangay Kabuhayan Act RA 9509 of 2008 which establishes livelihood and skills training centres 4th, 5th and 6th class municipalities with satellite and mobile training centres. The purpose of this law is to extend the services of government with respect to livelihood and skills down to the grassroots level.

Agri-Agra Reform Credit Act RA 10000 of 2010. This law seeks to provide an agriculture and agrarian reform system of credit and financing through banking institutions. The law mandates banks to allocate a minimum of 25% of their loan portfolio to agricultural loans and a minimum of 10% for agrarian reform beneficiary loans.  They can do this by either lending directly to loan applicants or to other banks and institutions that specialise in offering credit to the primary sector.

My critique:

It is a bit strange that the senator is seeking re-election so that she can implement these laws which have been in place for up to fourteen years. Surely, what she ought to be doing is seek an evaluation of the policies and programs through an externally commissioned study. That is the very essence of evidence based policy analysis and advice. She should push for the inclusion of that in the assigned line agencies’ budgets.

Furthermore, it seems a bit strange that the senator is campaigning by offering job fairs and disaster risk and reduction programs. Regardless of how noble the purpose of these projects may be, they should really be done outside the election campaign period.  If a rich billionaire were to distribute relief goods to flood victims during the campaign season, wouldn’t that be regarded as a form of vote buying? Furthermore, this “consultation” as she terms it might be skewed due to the context in which it is being performed—during an election.

Overall comments:

The senator is clearly pivoting to hip pocket issues. Her means of doing this is by demonstrating her track record through the laws she has co-authored in the area. She has toned down her environmental and women’s rights advocacies for the moment. She probably recognises that for her to aspire for a higher office in the future, she needs to solidify her economic credentials with the masses.

That can only be established through the effectiveness of the programs she has sponsored as a legislator. That as I said should already have been done. It is rather disappointing that so many years since the enactment of these laws, no serious effort has been made to try and measure their impact, which is perhaps why she has nothing new to offer the electorate this time around in terms of new or updated legislation.

Pander-o-meter: 4 out of 5


Next, I will cover Aquilono “Koko” Pimentel, III, Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito and Juan “Jack” Ponce Enrile, Jr.

Save the Date — 8 AM, March 23, 2013: “Social Media Forum on National ICT Issues: The Automated Election System 2013”

Everything you always wanted to know about the automated election system (AES). And you get to ask your questions too. Join Democracy.Net.PH for “Social Media Forum on National ICT Issues: The Automated Election System 2013.”

On Saturday, 23 March 2013, 8:00 o’clock in the morning, at the  Justitia Room, Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee Center for the Rule of Law, we put the AES through the wringer via a forum patterned after an engineering process design review (PDR). The Commission on Elections’ (COMELEC) Commissioner Christian Robert Lim and Director James Jimenez, acting as project proponents, will walk us through the AES: the technology, the source code, the whole process from the casting of votes to the counting of ballots. Engineers, journalists, tech and political bloggers, lawyers, and concerned citizens of the Republic, acting as a proposal review committee, then get to ask questions for a more detailed and accurate understanding of the AES. Separate gossip from fact and see for yourself whether the AES is good for the country or is the harbinger of doom.

This event is open to the public. If you want to join us at the venue, please register via this link or via Facebook. Registration is on a “first-come, first-served” basis. If you’re halfway across the world unable to join us on that day, there will be a livestream care of BlogWatch and Smart Communications, and you can follow tweets via the hashtag “#AES2013PDR” and @PHNetDems.

What: “Social Media Forum on National ICT Issues: The Automated Election System 2013”
When: Saturday, 23 March 2013, 8:00 AM
Where: Justitia Room, Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee Center for the Rule of Law, 4th Floor, Ateneo Professional Schools, Rockwell Center, Makati City
How to join: Register here or join through Facebook


See you on Saturday!

Dancing on a grave

No one really knows why Ms. Kristel Tejada killed herself. She left a suicide note. But it was cryptic.

“Mahal na mahal ko ang pamilya ko. At lahat din ng iba pang nagmamahal sa akin. Di ko lang talaga rin kinaya. Sana mapatawad at ipagdasal niyo ko. Salamat sa lahat magkikita pa ulit tayo. Sorry pero kailangan ko lang talagang gawin to (I love my family very much, and all those who love me. I just could not take it anymore. I hope that they will forgive me and pray for me. Thank you for everything and we will see each other again. Sorry but I really need to do this). Tandaan (Remember) : Without true love, we’re nothing.”

It is quite clear that Ms. Tejada’s suicide note made no mention of her tuition problems. But that did not stop student activists and leftist groups from blaming the UP financial assistance program, rising tuition fees, lack of budget for state universities and colleges, and the rich for oppressing the poor. That did not stop them from going on a rampage, defacing the walls of UP Manila, burning desks and chairs in PUP.

They had it all figured out – financial problems caused her suicide, the system killed her – even before all the facts were in.

But if it were true that she killed herself because the “system” drove her to it, then how come there are not more suicides among poor UP students? Don’t those activists realize that by attributing her suicide to her tuition problems they are implying that all those other students similarly situated are stronger than she was?

Of course they do but they are not going to let anything get in the way of their ideology and political agenda. If the suicide can be twisted to inflame class war, to bring about their great proletarian revolution, then they are not going to let that opportunity pass.

The fact is there could have been another reason for the suicide. But activists dismissed all other possible reasons outright because it would not sit right.

Bill Clinton once summarized the problem of ideologues, “the problem with any ideology is that it gives the answer before you look at the evidence. So you have to mold the evidence to get the answer that you’ve already decided you’ve got to have.”

And so the ideologues attacked the system without ascertaining first if the system was directly responsible for Kristel’s suicide. By so doing they belittled her character, she unlike the others was too weak to cope with the system.

They mocked her. They mock the dead. They used a dead girl’s mouth to convey their message. They turned her coffin into a prop. They turned her suicide into a weapon against the system they despise, into a tool to advance their great proletarian revolution. What assholes!

Ms. Kristel Tejada deserves more than just being turned into a prop and a tool. Let her rest in peace. Let her family grieve with some dignity.

Trapo Alert! Detecting political pandering on the pander-o-meter


Featuring Sonny Angara, Bam Aquino and Alan Peter Cayetano.

The populist is in the details (or lack thereof).

As part of a series covering the senate race of 2013, I am casting a spotlight on the platforms and policy pronouncements of the candidates as the campaign season unfolds.

Previously, I found that only 11 candidates had bothered to present their legislative agenda for the senate. These were Bam Aquino, Chiz Escudero, Risa Hontiveros, Loren Legarda and Koko Pimentel of Team PNoy, JV Ejercito, Gringo Honasan, Ernesto Maceda and Migz Zubiri of UNA, Teddy Casiño of Makabayan, and Greco Belgica of the DPP. This list has recently been updated to include Sonny Angara, Jack Enrile and Peter Cayetano. There are also five more candidates that belong to parties that have released a party-wide platform. This includes the partymates of Greco Belgica in the DPP, namely Bal Falcone and Christrian Seneres, and Kapatiran’s candidates JC delos Reyes, Rizalito David and Marwil Llasos. So in total, there are 19 candidates with platforms.

I will in this series tackle their proposals and evaluate their content in terms of their reformist versus populist credentials. I will offer an overall rating for each candidate based on what I call a Pander-o-meter or Trapo (traditional politician) scale which will indicate the level of pandering that goes on. The various readings of this panderometer are based on the following scale:

Introducing: the ‘Pander-o-meter’ or Trapo Scale

A reading of… …is equivalent to…


Low levels of pandering detected, generally reformist in nature


A mixed bag of proposals aimed at both pandering and reforming


Trapo alert! Approaching dangerous levels of pandering


Could be likened to a vote buying trapo

Note that for those candidates who do not even present an agenda, their reading automatically goes to 5 by default. I will now proceed with the first three candidates on my list who all belong to Team PNoy: Sonny Angara, Bam Aquino and Peter Cayetano.


Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara (LDP-Team PNoy) looks set to follow in his father’s footsteps in cornering the youth vote by branding himself the ‘education senator’ through proposals specifically targeted to this sector. The following three priority bills are illustrative of the type filed by him in the lower house. Do they reveal a reformist or populist bent? Read on and find out.

  1. National student loan program a.k.a. “study now, pay later”:
    • Description: creation of an education loan fund authority to oversee student loans to tertiary students (both vocational and higher education)
    • Cost: Php5 billion, Php10 million to set-up operations
    • Source of funding: not specified

My critique:

The sufficiency of the fund depends on the take-up rate of students. Currently with Php32.8 billion being spent by government to cover ~90% of the cost of a college place, the remaining ~10% or about Php3 billion in fees have to be shouldered by students. With a 100% take-up rate, the entire fund would be exhausted in less than two years, and that doesn’t take into account students of private colleges and universities availing of the program. Even if we were to assume only a 50% take-up rate, the fund would still be exhausted in three to four years assuming inflation in student fees and administrative cost of the fund. This needs further work to become realistic and self-sustaining. I provide a more comprehensive reform agenda here .

  1. School modernisation and innovation program:
    • Description: upgrade of computer/science labs, libraries and the promotion of distance-learning at public elementary and secondary schools
    • Cost: unspecified
    • Source of funding: earmarked from existing expenditures equivalent to 10 per cent of Department of Education budget

My critique:

DepEd already spends 56% of its budget on maintenance and other operating expenses, with a further 3% on capital outlays, which cover everything mentioned in the proposal including Alternative Learning Systems plus Sports, Health and Nutrition, National Education Test development and others. Without additional funding, this bill would simply bind the department to re-direct existing spending to the areas specified in the bill. This might be counter-productive and lead to unintended consequences due to the inflexibility built-in to budget by such a measure. It also fails to mention anything about promoting web connectivity of classes which would be the most innovative thing we could do. An NBN as proposed by my colleagues in this site should be re-investigated.

  1. Bill of rights for fresh graduates
    • Description: a package of incentives for fresh graduates incorporating: workplace rights (secure tenure, fair treatment, further training), exemption from contribution into workplace entitlement programs (social security, PhilHealth, Pag-ibig) for one year, fee waivers for job search costs (NBI clearance, birth certificate, passport application), access to small business loans of up to Php100,000, additional Php10,000 personal exemption on income tax on top of existing income tax threshold,  discounts to transportation fees for one year.
    • Cost: not specified
    • Source of funding: National Treasury

My critique:

This is potentially a very costly program for government. Last April alone there were just over 9 million Filipinos aged 15-24 who were in the labour force. Assuming that roughly a tenth of them were fresh vocational or university graduates, there would be 900,000 eligible beneficiaries annually. Multiply that by a conservative estimate of Php10,000 worth of benefits per person, that amounts to Php9 billion a year that needs to be funded. Even if we assume half that amount become eligible, you are still talking about serious sums being spent. If the aim of the plan is to encourage college completion, then there might be better, more cost-effective ways of doing that. As it is, this bill is really a stop-gap measure addressing low wages and lack of appropriate job opportunities for graduates in the domestic economy. Creating paid apprenticeships and training subsidies would be a better way to go as I have discussed here.

Overall comments:

The three proposals are specifically targeted to a large chunk of voters sensitive to education issues: the youth and parents of school and college students. The problem with the measures is that they are all potentially expensive and unfunded. They pander to the electorate by promising a whole slue of benefits, but without proper costing and funding, they may simply become ‘paper entitlements’.

Pander-o-meter: 3 out of 5


Benigno “Bam” Aquino (LP-Team PNoy) has a three-point agenda which are aimed at the youth, job hunters, and micro-to-medium sized business owners.

  1. GoTrabaho Act
    • Description: Addressing education-employment mismatch through a national internship program supported by a database with incentives for business and educational institutions to properly match training with demand
    • Cost: not specified
    • Source of funding: not specified

My critique:

Although the funding issue is not tackled, this is a much more practical and manageable response to the problem of youth unemployment and skills mismatch than what Sonny Angara proposes above. I have previously tried to cost this program based on the level of demand from employers as per government released statistics. The cost of Php1.5 billion is not prohibitive and really well-targeted and cost-effective, as I discuss here. This makes this proposal realistic and actionable.

  1. GoNegosyo Act
    • Description: Supporting the creation of sustainable micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) through regulatory red-tape reduction, microfinance, market mapping, training and cluster road map development, as well as incentives to social enterprises
    • Cost: not specified
    • Source of funding: not specified

My critique:

This proposal need not necessarily require additional funding. The package of reforms brings together several programs already operating, including the National Competitiveness Council’s efforts to address the cost of doing business, the DTI’s and BMBE program that provides credit to MSME’s and TESDA’s and DepEd’s entrepreneurial programs. What is new is the boost to social enterprise signalled by the policy statement and the creation of a cluster within government to develop a roadmap for MSMEs.

It is important to include MSMEs, research councils and scientists and civic society in cluster development and to have multiple industry clusters to develop roadmaps so that government can get behind these naturally forming clusters and help them expand and agglomerate. At some future stage, when priorities are identified, there may be a need to fund industry- or cluster- specific infrastructure, but only after stakeholder consultation and engagement has indicated that there is a need for it.

  1. PPP4E
    • Description: supporting public-private partnerships for education
    • Cost: not specified
    • Source of funding: not specified

My critique:

PPP’s to close the classroom deficit have already been scheduled according to the responsible agency, DepEd. This proposal seeks “to arrive at the best form of partnership/s that will be beneficial and fair to all parties, while leapfrogging government’s resource constraints.” Perhaps what the proposal should do is seek to close other gaps such as those involving equipment and science labs. Connecting schools, colleges and universities with high speed broadband needs to be addressed either through PPPs or through a sovereign wealth fund model as per my suggestion here.

Overall comments:

Bam Aquino has not yet learned the bad habits of veteran legislators to enact broad sweeping entitlements with no costings or sources of funding. His more modest, measured proposals would require minimal or no cost as they involve better coordination and improvements to existing programs and policies. One cannot discount the impact that these will have on the broader economy, if done correctly.

Pander-o-meter: 1.5 out of 5


Alan Peter Cayetano (NP-Team PNoy) has recently launched his PiTiK program (P-presyo, T-trabaho, K-kita) an acronym he has obviously borrowed from former socio-economic planning secretary Cielito Habito, but failed to acknowledge (could this be a case of plagiarism?). The following is a list of proposals the senator seeking re-election has made in conjunction with this framework. These he claims were the product of his listening tour of the country.

  1. Reconsidering VAT on gas
    • Description: reconsidering the application of VAT on petroleum products.
    • Cost: not specified
    • Source of funding: not specified

My critique:

The senator needs to propose revenue neutral ways for the government to recover the revenues lost from lowering or eliminating VAT on petroleum products. As it stands, this proposal could impact the gains which the government has already made in raising its revenues to close the budget gap. A more realistic proposal was offered by former budget secretary Ben Diokno wherein the VAT rate automatically adjusts to oil prices (the VAT rate goes down when prices are up, conversely the tax rate goes up when prices are down, although there is a ceiling which would limit the rate rise to the current 12%).

That proposal is meant to be revenue neutral, but what Cayetano does here is a classic case of pandering to the masses, because they would avoid the VAT but have to pay in the future through higher inflation if the government has to borrow more because it is unable to maintain its revenue base. Interestingly enough, Diokno’s recent pronouncements that VAT needs to be raised to 15% to deal with the infrastructure gap and chronic budget deficits might become necessary if Cayetano’s proposal is enacted into law.

  1. College scholarships to the top 10% of every graduating class from public schools
    • Description: exempting this cohort from student fees at state universities and colleges
    • Cost: not specified
    • Source of funding: not specified

My critique:

The proposal is representative of a number of pending bills in the senate. I have canvassed them here. Mandating SUCs to provide tuition free places to a cohort of students is in my view a band aid measure. One of the unintended consequences of this is that SUCs will have to fund these scholarships by raising the fees charged to the rest of their students. They either do that or lower the amount they spend upgrading their facilities and lecturers. At the rate at which legislators call for the creation of newer SUCs, government simply cannot keep up with the funding costs as there is much duplication of programs and administrative departments. It is in fact necessary to encourage SUCs to merge rather than to multiply to gain economies of scale.

Addressing the issues of equity, efficiency, appropriateness and effectiveness of higher education is the more important reform agenda that needs to be tackled.

One important question to consider in all this is: Why should Juan dela Cruz, the grade school drop out who works in the informal sector, for instance be paying with his taxes the studies of Isko the scholar who will become a skilled professional after graduation and earn a high salary? The returns to training of both private individuals and society at large must be studied and assistance offered to scholars to deal with the incidence of costs to training on that basis. Rather than create a universal right to free higher education, government should help private individuals by shifting the timing not the value of the costs associated with their studies. I have offered a comprehensive program on how to do that here.

  1. Providing cheaper loans through cooperatives
    • Description: building more and expanding existing cooperatives that can lend to their members using cheap interest rates.
    • Cost: not specified
    • Source of funding: not specified

 My critique:

The proposal is half-baked. What is the role of government in building and expanding voluntary organisations such as cooperatives? That is not defined. Studies have shown that it is the unavailability of credit rather than the cost of it that is the biggest roadblock the poor face in undertaking entrepreneurial endeavours. This proposal was framed in the context of public transport operators making less money as a result of high input costs but regulated prices in their industry. So if that is the case, offering them credit will not necessarily help them address that fundamental issue.

Overall comments:

The senator has used his so-called listening tour to launch his PiTiK campaign, which is really more of a loose organising principle for his policy pronouncements than a robust policy framework. As a result, his proposals seem to be shot from the hip and not well-thought out. The senator (currently sitting at no. 3 in the SWS and Pulse Asia polls) seems to be more focused on grabbing the headline than on governing responsibly. His proposals are laden with costly unintended consequences from a fiscal, economic and social standpoint and don’t really address the fundamental problems. They in fact misconstrue the very nature of these problems and as a result lead to false solutions. For violating the rule in public policy, which is “to do no harm,” Peter’s proposals are even worse than if he had done nothing.

Pander-o-meter: 6 out of 5 (off the scale!)


The next batch will include Chiz Escudero, Risa Hontiveros and Loren Legarda.



Sovereign wealth fund under consideration

That was the banner story of today’s BusinessWorld online.

Here is a direct quote from the article:

Economic managers are studying the possibility of setting up a Philippine sovereign wealth fund to maximize returns from the country’s foreign exchange holdings.
“As I understand, the national government is conducting a study on the possible operations of a sovereign wealth fund,” central bank Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr. said at the sidelines of yesterday’s Philippine Investment Forum.

Finance Secretary Cesar V. Purisima confirmed that the plan was being considered, although he said the review remained in the preliminary stages.

“We haven’t brought up the matter with [President Benigno S. C. Aquino III] yet. So far, it’s just look, see, study and evaluate,” Mr. Purisima said.

As readers of this space will be aware, I have been harping on this issue for over two years now. Before anyone in the upper echelons of policy making, whether fiscal or monetary, or within academia were even contemplating it, I had flagged the possibility here. The following is a compilation of the previous articles I have posted on the issue
Early this year, I developed a policy paper on this topic, which I enclose below

Fruits of Our Labour by Doy Santos

It’s good to see that after more than two years of writing and engaging with the issue, the idea is finally being seriously considered by both the Department of Finance and the Bangko Sentral as confirmed by today’s news item . Even more surprising is how prominent economists are now supporting the principle of establishing a sovereign wealth fund for the Philippines. If this should be included among the administration’s priority bills for the 16th Congress, it would be timely as the country is expected to receive investment grade status by the end of the year.

Reformists and Populists

The debate over policies needed to make permanent progress achieved under President Aquino’s rubric of Daang Matuwid (the Righteous Path) has not happened yet and perhaps never will.

Reformist measures are best kept close to one’s chest, not announced until they are actually implemented. That is because these measures often involve some pain to be borne by some section of the community, which essentially leads to votes being lost rather than won. In contrast populist measures are worth shouting from the rooftops since they appeal to voters but don’t necessarily make for good policies once in office. That is the quandary facing the administration as it campaigns for its senators for the coming election.

Just cast your gaze on the Team Patay (Death) slogan foisted by the clergymen against the administration’s ticket in protest over the passage of the reproductive health bill which the government facilitated over the church’s objections. Team PNoy candidates act surprised although they could’ve seen it coming. One way for them to take the heat away from this issue however would be to focus on their plans to introduce reforms to expand insurance coverage and make health care more affordable using the taxes to be raised from the sin tax law which was another major landmark piece of legislation the government achieved.

But they have for the most part refrained from outlining a vision for the health care system, allowing other players in the UNA coalition to establish their own credentials in the area. By ceding control over the health debate, the administration is underplaying the tremendous hand it holds–it alone can credibly put forward a detailed, costed program of health reform that would lead to millions more Filipinos enjoying better benefits from its health spending.

This is particularly disadvantageous to candidates like Risa Hontiveros who is outside the winner’s circle, given her stand on the reproductive health issue. Her candidacy could be given a significant boost if she were to be identified as the future architect of health reform in the senate. Ms Hontiveros should be given the role of explaining the planned reforms to come in this area and be given a policy team to help scope out what those reforms should be. Instead, due to the lack of such assistance, her policy pronouncements in health have necessarily been vague and non-committal.

Secondly, consider the conditional cash transfers program, which the present administration considers its “cornerstone” in its fight against poverty. The World Bank recently released a report on the first stage of the program. Its findings were for the most part positive-places that were targeted by the program were found to have significantly higher levels of school participation and better health outcomes compared to similar areas that were not targeted. In fact, in areas where the program was not so successful, e.g. maintaining retention among older age groups of children, the study suggested extending the program beyond the current five years.

This would provide a solid basis for the administration to claim credit and to bat for a continued ramping up of the program, but there hasn’t been a party-wide celebration of the findings, or a vigorous endorsement of it. Instead, the stage has been vacated to departmental technocrats to extol its virtues against its critics in the UNA coalition who have maintained the old tired line that it has been nothing but a dole out.

One candidate cunningly sought to depict the government’s prioritising of the conditional cash transfers program as misplaced,  saying it could have instead spent the money on free college education and skills training–quite a clever way to wedge college student voters against the disenfranchised indigent households across the country.

Thirdly, in making the anti-corruption and transparency measures adopted by the administration more durable, the government has failed to articulate a program of action towards this end. This is partly due to the fact that its path towards greater openness has itself suffered setbacks. Its Open Budget Index score in the latest report of the International Budget Partnership fell by seven points, meaning Filipinos have been denied full access to budget information. Despite overtaking Vietnam, Bangladesh and Indonesia in Transparency International’s corruption perception rankings, it has slipped two notches in the World Bank’s Cost of Doing Business report.

The government should be arguing from a position of strength in this area given the president’s reputation as an honest leader in contrast to the scandals involving the use and abuse of pork and privilege by those opposite. Team PNoy ought to be taking a suite of reforms to the electorate, including such measures as the Freedom of Information, Whistle Blower Protection, strengthening the powers of the ombudsman, fiscal incentives rationalisation, budget sustainability and transparency reforms. Instead, its campaign has failed to create any daylight between it and the UNA coalition with regard to these issues.

Again, this is in part due to the fact that enacting such reforms runs counter to the populist mode of campaigning it is forced to undertake. Championing the cause of fiscal transparency, openness and sustainability would run counter to the many proposed pieces of legislation that candidates under the administration are espousing at the moment.

I could go on. The plans for generating employment following the release of the latest jobs figures which show fewer people finding work compared to last year ought to spur a debate around the best way to promote inclusiveness in a nation that continues to post robust GDP growth figures. Instead the debate is confined to small minded livelihood programs (despite revelations of pork going to dubious organisations connected to legislators). There really isn’t a debate over how to transform the industrial mix of the nation or on how to direct foreign remittances to productive employment generating activity.

The people within the campaign probably feel that the need to elevate the debate is unnecessary given that its candidates seem to be improving in the polls. The UNA coalition seems to have suffered a few setbacks of its own given the negative press surrounding some of its principals, the ones which I have alluded to above. Yet, recent headlines involving Sabah and the president’s handling of it might cause some damage to its ticket.

To provide its candidates with a greater edge, the administration needs to arm them with solid, well-thought out programs that would demonstrate its seriousness in cementing its reform agenda. Rather than running a race based on populist rhetoric, its candidates need to be equipped with enough detailed policy advice to articulate what these reforms mean and how they would work once enacted. Rather than the airy-fairy platitudes and motherhood statements that they currently mouth, the campaign needs to bring the exalted righteous path down to earth.

If it does this, then voters might not feel the need to hedge their bets with the opposing side; they will provide the government with the majority it needs in the upper house. After all, if the nation were truly convinced that daang matuwid works, there would be no point in undertaking it with half-measures (no pun intended). The only way to pursue it would be to go all in.

The ruling parties’ (lack of) platforms

To guide voters in the upcoming 2013 elections of the upper house, I decided to study the campaign platforms of the major parties. This in a way is a follow-up to a previous post in which I detailed Five Ways to Elevate Political Discourse in the Philippines.

The first of the five points I made in that post was for the parties and/or their coalitions to publish their official platforms. I decided to do a web search to find out what these parties/coalitions have stated to voters as their policy directions once voted into office. Here is what I found.

Let’s start with the administration ticket. We have recently learned from the Comelec that Team PNoy was not officially registered as a formal coalition. It is to be treated as merely a “tagline”. So as far as having a formal platform on which to launch their candidates, I went to the Liberal Party website where the Team PNoy candidates are hosted.

Here I found very little regarding the legislative agenda the administration is presenting to the people. All that I found was the same old “platform” that the LP took to the electorate in 2010, which is really a kind of “party principles” or motherhood statements. There really isn’t any detailed policy agenda here.

Three years after taking charge of Malacañang Palace, I was expecting a bit more. If we as voters are being told to treat these elections as a referendum on PNoy’s presidency, there should at least be a list of his achievements and what he plans to carry forward towards the remainder of his term in office, with the team that bears his name.

I then did a web search of UNA (United Nationalist Alliance), the only officially registered coalition with the Comelec, an alliance comprised of the parties headed by the vice president, the senate president and a former president. Again I was disappointed, as all I found was a Facebook page with a brief mission and description of the coalition. It does not really provide any detailed platform or policies for the 2013 election.

So in terms of providing a detailed set of platforms, both major coalitions failed to even provide some kind of agenda for the Filipino people. That speaks volumes about our political system.

Next, I decided to go to the political parties that comprise these major coalitions. I already went to the Liberal Party’s website, as mentioned above. I then decided to visit the website of the Nacianalista Party (NP), the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP), the Partido ng Demokratikong Piliono-Laban (PDP-Laban) and the Partido ng Masang Pilino (PMP). It was a dead end as most of these sites were empty shells or sites for their party heads. The NP site had some information regarding their three nominees, but most of the content was on the spouse of its president (the spouse is running to join him in the senate) and the foundation which they run.

Makabayan, which is fielding one senatorial candidate (it has dissolved its alliance with the NP), probably has the most detailed policy platform of all the major parties competing in this election. Their 10-point platform is discussed in detail in a document that you can download from their site.

The Democratic Party of the Philippines website contains a 12-point agenda that its three candidates support. Very little detail however is provided on this platform.

Ang Kapatiran’s website provides voters with their stand on 5 major issues, reproductive health, gun control, pork barrel, political dynasties and freedom of information. It also provides detailed policy positions on each of these issues. It also has a 50-point plan for the nation. It is fielding three candidates.

I couldn’t find anything on the Social Justice Society, which is fielding one candidate.

As far as I can tell from this quick web search, it is the alternative political parties which are more serious about developing policy platforms from which to launch their candidates. It is perhaps a sad feature of our democracy that the parties that respect voters enough by providing them with detailed information about their platforms are the ones lagging behind in the polls.

Undeterred by this dismal outcome, I then decided to look at the individual candidates themselves and here I found a bit more information regarding their policy stances and platforms. Off hand, I found eleven (UPDATE: as of 14 March 2013, it is now fourteen) who have outlined some sort of platform. These are Bam Aquino, Chiz EscuderoRisa HontiverosLoren Legarda and Koko Pimentel of Team PNoy, JV Ejercito, Gringo HonasanErnesto Maceda and Migz Zubiri of UNA, Teddy Casiño of Makabayan, and Greco Belgica of the DPP. (UPDATE: to this list we can now add Sonny Angara, Jack Enrile and Peter Cayetano)

I am not saying the other candidates don’t have platforms. They might not have released them yet or published them online. A lot of candidates have policy positions or advocacies listed on their personal pages. Some incumbent or former legislators provide detailed information regarding their priority bills. So the implied message here is that we should re-elect them based on their previous performance. It is preferable that they tell us why we should re-elect them. What is the work that remains for them to complete?

The absence of consolidated party platforms puts the burden of selecting the candidates based on their individual platforms onto the voter. This is made even harder by the scant or incomplete information that can be found regarding their positions and personal legislative agenda.  The following is a run-down of what I found on the individual candidates.

Team PNoy

  1. Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, Jr – has a website that provides his profile and accomplishments as a legislator in the lower house. At the bottom of his home page, there is a video clip labelled, “Agenda ni Rep. Sonny Angara sa Senado” from a TV interview presumably, but it was not working at the time of this publication. (Update: he has been steadily updating his site with news from the trail which details his legislative agenda.)
  2. Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV – from his Facebook page you can read his policy prescriptions for encouraging entrepreneurship and skills matching. There are a few news releases which feature his statements and advocacies.
  3. Allan Peter Cayetano – has a Facebook page which shows him going out into the community but provides very little in terms of the sort of laws he has either sponsored as a senator or plans to push for if re-elected. (UPDATE: he has recently launched his platform here)
  4. Francis “Chiz”Escurdero – buried deep in his website is a 7-point agenda with no date.
  5. Risa Hontiveros – has Facebook page which provides some of her recent policy pronouncements particularly on making healthcare “more universal” and that of her Akbayan partylist members.
  6. Loren Legarda – has a website that lists her advocacies in the form of a useful acronym called L.O.R.E.N. From here you can read the sort of bills she has filed as senator some of which have been turned into law.
  7. Jamby Madrigal – has a website which details her policy stance on a number of issues and her past accomplishments as a senator. There is a non-functioning tab on her site for “Platform”.
  8. Ramon “Jun” Magsaysay, Jr. – does not have a web presence, but his profile in the senate website provides his bio and his legislative agenda while serving there.
  9. Aquilino “Koko”Pimentel III – has a Facebook page which provides some policy positions the senator has taken on infrastructure and governance.
  10. Grace Poe Llamanzares – has a Facebook page which does not really provide much in terms of a legislative agenda or her position on any relevant policy issues.
  11. Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV – has a website  which provides information on the bills and resolutions he filed in two sessions of congress and some policy, research material mostly on national security issues which date back to 2001 and 2002.
  12. Cynthia Villar – has a website which details her accomplishments as a congresswoman and as the head of the Villar Foundation. Very little in terms of policy detail on how she intends to pursue her tagline “Hanep Buhay”.


  1. Nancy Binay – as a colleague from this site has said, she does not have a web presence at all.
  2. Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco – has a Facebook page which shows her two video advertisements. Unfortunately, apart from the endorsements of her three celebrity daughters and a few throw away lines about her advocacy, there is hardly any detail regarding what she plans to push for as senator.
  3. JV Ejercito – has a website which lists a 13-point agenda which the mayor of San Juan plans to pursue in the senate.
  4. Jack Enrile – has a Facebook page which contains a video of his campaign speech. He details the problem of hunger which he intends to focus on and nominates the bill he sponsored as congressman, which he claims will address it.
  5. Richard “Dick” Gordon – has a web Facebook page, but has very little information about why he is running.
  6. Gregoria “Gringo” Honasan – has a website which lists his platform as senator.
  7. Ernesto Maceda – has a website which lists a 13-point agenda which the former senate president intends to pursue if returned to the senate.
  8. Mitos Magsaysay – has an “official Facebook fanpage” which shows her touring as a candidate, but there does not seem to be any content devoted to policy detail.
  9. Miguel “Migz” Zubiri – has a website which details his platform around five themes.

Other parties/candidates

  1. Sammy Alcantara (Social Justice Society) – has a Facebook page, which contains a short video clip in which he answers a few shallow media questions, nothing with regards to policies.
  2. Greco Belgica  (Democratic Party of the Philippines) – has a four-point platform found in an image in his Facebook page.
  3. Teodoro “Teddy” Casiño (Makabayan) – has a website which contains a platform and policy positions on several issues.
  4. Lito Yap David (Kapatiran) – has a Facebook page but has nothing about his candidacy.
  5. Baldomero Falcone (Democratic Party of the Philippines) – has a Facebook page with hardly anything on it.
  6. Edward Hagedorn (Independent) – has a website but the vision and initiatives shown there deal with the city of Puerto Princesa where he is the mayor.
  7. Mars Llasos (Kapatiran) – has a blog  which seems to be regularly updated.
  8. Ricardo Penson (Independent) – has a Facebook page which shows his anti-political dynasty advocacy. It seems he is campaigning mainly on this issue.
  9. John Carlos “JC” delos Reyes (Kapatiran) – has a Facebook page with no platform or policy positions.
  10. Christian Señeres (DPP) – has a Facebook page which has a video which shows his profile as a former partylist lawmaker and some policy positions.
  11. Eduardo “Eddie” Villanueva (Bangon Pilipinas) – has a website but it does not contain a platform or policy positions of any kind.

I am happy to be proven wrong. So should any of the candidates or their representatives wish to make corrections to this, the Comments page is most welcome for them to do so.


Sabah is about self-determination, not historic title. Part Two.

“I would rather have a country run like hell by Filipinos than a country run like heaven by the Americans, because however bad a Filipino government might be, we can always change it.” – Pres. Manuel L. Quezon

I offended a number of people with my article last week, “Sabah is about self-determination, not historic title.” I was called a lying bastard, a traitor siding with Malaysia, a bourgoise reactionary, a sip-sip, a coward, and a yellow zombie, among other names. I was also accused of looking for a job in Malacañang and cherry-picking documents. All of that because I said the principle of self-determination, citing the non-binding opinion of a judge in the International Court of Justice, overrides historic title.

A whole system of beliefs rests on the primacy of historic titles. I came along to remind believers that political evolution had overtaken their religion and consequently the Kiram translation of an agreement between a sultan and a couple of British businessmen was now of secondary importance. Tsk-tsk, cluck-cluck. He committed heresy, let’s burn him at the stake.

But I love the heat from a burning stake.

I stand by what I wrote. The principle of self-determination overrides historic title. And it is not only the non-binding opinion of one judge in the ICJ that supports my view. I also have the United Nations Charter and a couple of international covenants to back me up.

Chapter 1, Article 1 of the UN Charter states the purposes and principles of the organization. Number two among those purposes is “To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace.“

Self-determination is also addressed in more specific language in Article 1 of both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

“All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

The universal acceptance of the principle of self-determination signaled the end of the colonial age and the supremacy of historic title over the sovereign will of a people. Dozens of colonies in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East gained independence using the language of self-determination.

To argue that historic title overrides self-determination is to de-legitimize all independence movements. It is to say that people have no right to determine their political status, that they have no right to write their own story.

In 1898, Spain sold the Philippines to the United States. Those two countries took it upon themselves to decide the fate of a people that already won their independence. Filipinos had a constitution, a flag, an anthem, an army, and a government exercising sovereignty over territory. The only thing they lacked was international recognition. It was not given to them. It was given instead to the Treaty of Paris between Spain and the United States.

That is why, if you visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery in Virginia, USA, you will see that the Philippine-American War is referred to as the Philippine Insurrection. Because as far as the Americans are concerned it was not a war between two independent states, it was merely a rebellion by people that they had purchased from Spain.

In America’s eyes, the Treaty of Paris was America’s historic title to the Philippines and the Filipino peoples’ act of self-determination, that of winning a war of independence against Spain, counted for naught.

Would you accept the Treaty of Paris as a legitimate argument against the martyrs who sacrificed their lives to keep the hard-won independence of Filipinos from Spain? Would you honor America’s historic title over your forefathers’ act of self-determination?

Today, we want to elevate our claim to Sabah to the ICJ. We believe that Manila and Kuala Lumpur have the right to let the ICJ decide on the conflicting claims over the language of a business contract and consequently to determine the fate of more than a million Sabahans, an autonomous people that voluntarily joined Malaysia nearly half a century ago. That would be resurrecting the age of colonies – it is the Treaty of Paris reloaded – two capitals, Manila and Kuala Lumpur, deciding the destiny of a people not even invited to sit at the table. Tama ba ‘yan?

It has been said that the findings of both the Cobold Commission and the UN Secretary General regarding the express wishes of the people of Sabah prior to its joining Malaysia were questionable. That may have been true. At the time. But whatever chicanery may have happened then has been overtaken by time and events. By reality.

Sabahans have voted in numerous elections since Sabah joined Malaysia. Sabahans have been paying taxes. There are two Sabahans holding important portfolios in the cabinet of Malaysian Prime Minister Razak. If Sabahans were unhappy about joining Malaysia, they had fifty years to make their dissatisfaction known.

But where is the Sabah secessionist movement? Where is the Sabah for province of the Philippines movement? Where is the “we want to be subjects of the Sultan of Sulu” movement? And is there a problem with hundreds of thousands of illegal Sabahans in the Philippines or is the problem that of Filipino illegals in Sabah?

So I guess Sabahans are satisfied and happy to be in Sabah and Malaysian. Why can’t we respect that? Why do we want to wipe the smile off their faces with a historic title claim, turn them into Filipinos by judicial fiat instead of popular will? Why do we think it’s righteous to have a “Sabahans be damned as long as we get what we believe is ours” religion?

We can wave our historic title in the Sabahans’ faces until our arms fall off but if the Sabahans will not accept our sovereignty there is not much we can do about it. So my unsolicited advice is, rather than elevate our claim to the ICJ and possibly get a favorable judgment that may require military muscle to enforce, let us just convince the Sabahans that it’s more fun in the Philippines. That way maybe Sabah will ask to become a province of the Philippines.

There’s a difference between the Sabah claim and the claim to the Spratleys and Panatag. Sabah has been inhabited for thousands of years. The Spratleys became inhabited only after disputes over their ownership occurred. Meanwhile, Panatag awaits inhabitants. In Sabah, inhabitants have the right to exercise self-determination. In the Spratleys, the decisions of inhabitants are made by their home governments. In Panatag, the right of self-determination has yet to be extended to birds, fishes, and corrals.

In other words, whereas the South China Sea claims can be settled through historic titles, conventions on the laws of the sea and exclusive economic zones and all that, the Sabah claim can only be settled with the consent of the Sabahans. Our Constitution and our baselines laws have as much legitimacy as China’s nine-dash line map when it involves territory where there are people who have the universally recognized right to self-determination.

Let’s sort things out further.

It is wrong to say that Sabah is ours because Malaysia is paying us rent. Malaysia is not paying us rent. It is paying rent to the Kirams. The money goes to their bank account. It does not go to our bank account or to the government’s coffers.

Maybe the so-called rent payments are proof that the Kirams own Sabah but it’s a stretch to say that because Malaysia pays rent to the Kirams it is proof that the Philippines also owns Sabah.

If the Kirams do own Sabah and they believe they are not being compensated enough – their ancestor did not have the foresight to include an escalation clause in his lease agreement with the Brits – then they should spend their own money for lawyers to press their case; because all the proceeds will go to them if they get an upward adjustment of rentals. Not a single centavo will go to the Philippine government or to you. The Philippine government won’t even be able to collect taxes on the income from rent if the payments to the Kirams are made in Malaysia. So what right do the Kirams have to demand that the Philippine government lawyer for them?

The de kahon answer to that rhetorical question is to point out that the government has a duty to stand by all citizens. Okay. Let’s say your uncle decides to live in Monte Carlo. He buys property there. After some time he decides he’s had enough of the high life. He authorizes his Monte Carlo lawyer to take care of his property. His lawyer cheats him. He loses his palace. Should the Philippine government spend taxpayers’ money to help your uncle recover his palace or should he spend his own money for a lawyer?

I suppose if the government is duty-bound to lawyer and spend taxpayers’ money for the Kirams’ property in Sabah then the government must likewise lawyer and spend taxpayers’ money for your uncle’s palace in Monte Carlo, right? Maybe you are okay with dipping into your savings and paying for your uncle’s bad business decision but do you believe the entire country should pay for it? Do you it’s right for taxes to be spent that way? Maybe your uncle should change his name to Kiram. That way he will get blind public support demanding that government place its reputation and resources – both manpower and money – for his personal property claim.

I say let Mr. Kiram that self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu spend his own money to fix his rental problems with Malaysia. And, as far as the Philippine government’s claim of sovereignty over Sabah is concerned, it is not for Manila, Kuala Lumpur, or the ICJ to decide the fate of Sabahans. That decision belongs to the Sabahans. By right. As a human right.

The principle of self-determination of peoples is the new paradigm. It replaced colonialism and humanity is better for it. Why go back to the dark colonial age?