Sustainable Development

The halo effect

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The halo effect is a cognitive bias first studied by Edward Thorndike in 1920 whereby the perception of one trait (i.e. a characteristic of a person or object) is influenced by the perception of another trait (or several traits) of that person or object. An example would be judging a good-looking person as more intelligent or believing a politician’s policies are good, just because the person appears good.

In the case of President Aquino and his high public satisfaction ratings, there seems to be a substantial amount of this effect taking place. The general impression of P-Noy is that he is honest. This comes from being who he is, the only son of two national heroes. This has translated into very positive sentiment towards the actions taken by the government under his watch.

Part of this has to do with the anti-GMA sentiment or the reverse halo effect. So pursuing cases against his predecessor is seen to be the legitimate thing to do, and rightly so, given the shenanigans that her administration was accused of. It also ties in with the president’s retraction and review of contracts and projects already approved for fear that they would somehow benefit her proxies within certain departments and sub-contracting firms.

But if you look at the outcome of these actions, it becomes immediately apparent, leaving our cognitive biases aside, that the positive evaluations given to P-Noy by the public are probably unjustified.

First of all, with respect to the way in which his justice department has gone after Mrs Arroyo, certain questionable legal manoeuvres have actually undermined the rule of law rather than upheld it. And secondly, with regards to the handling of the economy, the third quarter GDP figures clearly show that the overly cautious due diligence performed on public contracts undermined economic growth rather than encouraged it.

On the first point, I am referring to the use of a joint panel composed of the Department of Justice and the Commission on Elections that investigated allegations of vote rigging in the 2007 elections. This is said to have been anomalous in that a supposedly independent constitutional body such as the COMELEC is not meant to be seen as partial or collaborating with the administration in any way. Also, when their joint findings were published, it took a judge a few hours to read their eight ring-binder document and issue an indictment on Mrs Arroyo.

The undue haste with which such decisions were reached coming on the back of a temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court on the hold departure order issued by the DOJ on Mrs Arroyo that was “in effect” despite the dissenting opinion of some justices makes it highly likely that politics rather than due process was observed. This TRO was issued because the legality of the DOJ’s hold order was questionable to begin with.

Had these actions been undertaken by Mrs Arroyo while she was running the country, the protests from civil society regarding the “creeping authoritarian” nature of her government would have occupied public discourse. But because it was attempted by the meek and mild administration of the “benign one” there does not seem to be the same level of public indignation, although the result is the same—if upheld, it would grant vast powers to the state to curtail individual freedoms.

If we turn to the second point, on economic governance, the promised economic take-off billed as a public-private partnership by the president did not take place. Instead the economic deceleration has been rather remarkable in a region that is seeing quite robust growth despite the downturn in Europe and the US. The government which was prepared to take the credit for positive growth in agricultural output in the first half when early rains produced a bumper crop is now shifting the blame for poor production on storms both natural and man-made.

Public construction continued to show weakness despite the government’s promise to fast-track the roll-out of resources in response to the slump in the first half. Even with the announcement of a “stimulus” to deal with the effects of the EU debt crisis, there still appears to be little traction on this front. All hopes are pinned on the fourth quarter, but as the country’s chief statistician has pointed out, to attain even the lower end of the government’s modest growth target range for the full year, the economy would have to expand at a pace rarely seen.

In attributing the weak economic performance registered this year, there are certain factors that lie outside the government’s control (storms and financial crises overseas) which have to be acknowledged, but a portion of it definitely lies within its sphere of influence (public construction spending). It is clear that external factors did dampen growth, but the government’s action or inactions dampened it even further.

Again, had this occurred under Mrs Arroyo, the government would have been pummelled. Hounded by questions of legitimacy, it was her economic credentials that proved her only saving grace. Now that the government is run by someone whose electoral mandate is unquestioned, his now sullied economic credentials don’t seem to be much of a problem.

To counter the cognitive bias associated with the halo effect on the part of an evaluator, “blind-fold” tests or blind experiments are often administered where the person rates a product based on its actual attributes or performance, not on the subject’s perceived reputation. Respondents are often surprised with the results when they remove their blindfolds. I wonder what would happen if a poll was conducted that used the same principle in evaluating the performance of our presidents.

If faced only with the indicators of success and not the name of the person being rated, what marks would be given this president? What the government under him did this year countered its aims of fostering good government, rule of law and economic growth, but somehow its acts of commission and omission get glossed over and given a positive spin. Not only that, but the public by and large is willing to accept the message given them that all is well. So it seems the halo effect can cover a multitude of sins.

Towards a Strategic Development Road Map (Update)

The following is a matrix of the Strategies contained in the government’s Philippine Development Plan 2011-16  plotted against the five key results areas under the Cabinet Cluster system of the Aquino Cabinet.

The five themes include: 1) Good Governance and Anti-Corruption, 2) Human Development and Poverty Reduction, 3) Economic Development, 4) Security, Justice and Peace, and 5) Climate Change, Adaptation and Mitigation. This was contained in Executive Order 43: Pursuing our Social Contract with the Filipino People Through the Reorganization of the Cabinet Clusters.

The strategies under each theme were taken from the Philippine Development Plan 2011-16. In some cases, the actual targets were contained in it or some other announcement such as the renewable energy target. Some targets we are actually proposing here based on the intent of the PDP and other statements by the government. Some targets remain ambiguous or require quantification, but at least a measurement indicator is identified here.

This should form the basis for a periodic review of the government’s progress in meeting its official development plan and agenda. In the future, we will be revisiting these targets to hold this government to account. Comments on the construction of the matrix are quite welcome. Feel free to point out things that are missing or need to be revised.

Scorecard of Social Contract and Philippine Development Plan 2011-16 Targets


Good governance targets

I chose to go with the World Bank’s Good Governance indicators because the government has adopted its whole philosophy of economic development from the Washington Consensus. It is only but fitting that it should benchmark itself against the indicators set by this Washington-based institution.

In setting the targets for the nation, I had to benchmark our rating with our East Asian neighbors. For instance under control of corruption, the Philippines and Indonesia were at 27.1 and 28.1 respectively, China and Vietnam were at 36.2 and 36.7, Thailand was at 51, and Malaysia was at 58.1 back in 2009. Hong Kong and Singapore were in the 90s.

It is only but fitting that we try to break into the range of Thailand and Malaysia. So I said we need to be achieving above 50%. I used a similar approach with the other indicators in this area.

Human Development and Poverty Reduction

Most of the targets found here were lifted from the government’s plan. The only target which I had to set on my own was the HDI target. To do this I simply projected the current trend from 2005 to 2010.  The target of reaching a 0.65 value for HDI means we would catch up to where Thailand and Sri Lanka were back in 2010.

All the other targets dealing with poverty reduction, literacy, land reform and distribution, Pantawid Pamilya recipients, housing and reaching the MDG targets were all based on official published documents by the government.

Economic Development

Most of the targets came from official published documents by the government. The only targets where I took the liberty of setting were the fiscal spending targets, but even there I took the policy pronouncements contained in the PDP into account.

For example, the PDP stated that its Medium Term Expenditure goal was to “substantially increase productive expenditures and catch up with the accumulated deficits in these areas.” It also noted that in 2007, the average expenditure on education among our Asian neighbors was 3.9% of GDP. To “catch-up” and make up for our accumulated deficits, we would need to at least match that spending, which is reflected in the target.

Aside from education, the PDP also made mention of our infrastructure spending which is woefully inadequate when compared with that of China, Vietnam, and Thailand which spent upwards of 7, 8 and 14% of GDP over the last decade. The 5% target was based on the World Bank’s recommended level for a middle income country such as ours. In other words, it was a modest but reasonable target in light of our regional peers’ spending.

The targets for achieving higher rankings in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness and World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business reports are self-explanatory. You can see by reading their most recent editions the countries in whose proximity we would be landing if we achieved the targets.

The consumer welfare and agricultural productivity targets are yet undefined and merit further discussion.

Security, Justice and Peace

The target for achieving political stability was arrived at similar to the other good governance targets already discussed above. The defense modernization target assumes that the government has a revised plan for this and will be working towards achieving 100% of it by the end of its term. Finally, the press freedom strategy and target, I had to personally add given the silence of the PDP on it. I based this on PNoy’s policy pronouncements at an AFP conference call. I further believe the Human Rights Commission should seek to publish official statistics in the area so that we can aim to bring that figure down.

Climate Change, Adaptation and Mitigation

The targets for reducing environmental damage and casualties are yet undefined but flow directly from the strategies outlined in the PDP. The rest of the targets contained here are from official published statements by the government, including the renewable energy target.

Why the Need for a Scorecard?

It has been nearly three months since the cabinet reorganization was announced, and yet it seems no further developments were made towards fleshing out the social contract in terms of major strategies and targets, which the EO that created it envisioned.

That is the reason why we have taken this bold step towards developing this strategic development road map. Of course, nothing would please us more than to see the government announce something similar. When it does, we will be sure to revise the document to reflect it.

The Propinoy Project began as an attempt to hold the government to account for its electoral promises. Now that the government has officially laid down its official policies and plan for its term, it is but fitting that we assess its future performance against its own targets with objective baselines and independent and reliable sources.

This matrix as detailed as it is cannot capture the complexities at the implementation or operational level. We leave that to the community service organizations who are partnered with various agencies to monitor. At least at the strategic level we can look at this scorecard to assess whether the government is doing the right things (and doing them right!) at the operational level to achieve its strategic goals.

Join the Blog Action Day on June 8 to Save our Coral Reefs and Seas!

Join the Blog Action Day on June 8 to Save our Coral Reefs and Seas!

Our beautiful and diverse marine resources and wealth need your attention and your help. They are under attack.

Exploitative foreign firms, in tandem with local partners and left unchecked by irresponsible government officials, are illegally harvesting and peddling our precious coral reefs. In one case, coral reefs twice the size of Manila was destroyed, and the plunder continues.

We cannot accept this. We must act now to save what’s left of our coral reefs and to protect our seas so those beautiful and important natural resources are preserved for our and the next generations to enjoy.

We call on all Filipino bloggers, Tumblr and Posterous users, Tweeps, Plurkers and all netizens to join the June 8 International Blog Action Day to save our seas and coral reefs. Your voices, our actions are that important.

What can we do?

  • Tweet, Plurk, or post to spread the word about this event: Share or repost this announcement.
  • Use the Twitter hashtag #reefwatchPH.
  • Spread the URL.
  • Repost and share our official campaign badge (to be posted soon so please come back!).
  • Most importantly, on June 8, join the Blog Action Day from your favorite social media channels (blog, Tumblr, Posterous, Twitter, Plurk, Facebook, etc.

Some ideas and suggestions

While the issue is serious, there are a lot of creative ways to send our message across on or before June 8:

  • An open letter to officials and companies.
  • A photo essay about your favorite beaches or dive spots.
  • Design and share mini-posters, posters and drawings.
  • If you grew up near a beach, tell us about your fond memories.
  • Post about why your (future) kids and future grandkids ought to have the chance to see and enjoy our coral reefs and seas.
  • Why harvesting and peddling corals is bad for the environment and is bad business.
  • Proposals on how to protect or clean up our seas.
  • If you belong to a clan, group, or organization, invite them to join the event.

Taking an extra step or two won’t harm too. You may email your senator, congressman, the Environment secretary, and even the President to demand action.

NOW is the time to act.

We can do this. Let’s make our social media work for something good. Let’s make Philippine coral reefs, seas and the need to save them the trend – to raise awareness, to inspire action, to grow our communities, and to compel government action.

by Tonyo Cruz
First posted at:

Photo credit: Richard Ling, some rights reserved.

Sen. Kiko Pangilinan's 12 Christmas wishes for our country and our leader. What's yours?

PNoy’s ally in the Senate, Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, lists down yesterday, December 19, his 12 wishes for President Benigno Aquino III and for the country. First on Sen. Kiko’s list is for the peace talks in Mindanao to start, followed by a hope for a new image in the Philippine tourism industry. As what was expected, the most talked about wish among the 12 is the Senator’s 4th wish; “A girlfriend for PNoy.” Below is Sen. Kiko Pangilinan’s complete wish list this coming Christmas. Care to share yours? Read more

The Quest for an Elusive Development Framework

After unveiling his strategy for unblocking investments in public infrastructure, the policy statement of PNoy was drawing flak from all sides. The statement concerned his proposed method for mitigating regulatory risk which was to compensate private investors for any losses caused by legal or congressional action preventing them from charging fees in accordance with their agreements with the government.

This was the statement of Rep Edcel Lagman leader of the opposition in the house:

Government contracts are not inordinately sacrosanct so as to be immune from judicial review by the Supreme Court and police power legislation by the Congress. It is beyond presidential prerogative to shield contracts from final court judgments and valid legislative enactments.

Recalling perhaps the power purchase adjustments that gave power generators the right to charge unmet demand to power users after the Asian Financial Crisis, party-list member Rafael Mariano issued this statement:

It’s hogwash … just a tweak [of the] past administration’s marketing sell-out strategy at the expense of the Filipino people.

The problem with the president’s policy statement goes even beyond these issues alone. Most of these projects have a life of between 15 to 30 years. His administration will only last for the next five and a half. Given the amount of time devoted to the pre-feasibility phase all the way to construction, most of these might still be in the pipeline when PNoy steps down. So even assuming that it is able to defy the two other branches of government, how can it guarantee protection for private investors for the remainder of these projects’ lives?

Second, since the public projects being listed for private participation is based on the principle of user pay per use, they are entirely dependent on the ability to charge an appropriate fee. The fact that many projects such as the Metro Light Rail Transit and Southern Expressway have not been able to do so puts into question the business case that justifies the investment in the first place. In other words, the market for such goods cannot clear at the prices desired by the buyers and sellers.

This puts into question the project feasibility assessment process. All sorts of regulatory and administrative risk factors have to be priced into the project cost. If the government cannot justify them in this manner then it should not put it up for investment to begin with.

On the other hand, if the government sees the need to subsidize these projects in the long run based on some notion of public benefit, then it ought to build projections of its future obligations in forward multi-year budget estimates so that they can be subjected to congressional scrutiny. Such transparency is still missing.

Third, the 10 or so projects in roads, rail, and airports being characterized as “shovel ready” to be bid out next year are in metropolitan centers. The jobs to be generated during their construction are going to be centered there. If the PPP’s are meant to be the engine for development, then it appears to be development highly skewed in favor of city residents.

The problem of joblessness in the countryside won’t be addressed, not in the immediate future at least, not with the initial list of projects. If ever, it will lead to greater migration flows from the rural places to the cities. Somehow, what gets lost in all of this is a development framework wherein the needs of public investment are prioritized based on some holistic model of sustainability.

Despite all this, investor appetite seems to be there. One cannot discount the legitimacy issue that hounded the Arroyo regime which has now been effectively dealt with by a smooth transfer of power. PNoy is right to strike when the iron is hot. Conditions in the global village do support his thrust in leveraging private investment for public use.

Perhaps instead of searching for some quixotic fix to deal with all the bottle necks to our development, we need to take a long hard look at the system as a whole. I am not advocating a shift to a parliamentary system, although that would deal with the problem of congressional oversight since the executive and legislative branches would speak as one. What I am advocating is a roots to branch rethink of our assessment process.

A framework is still lacking in the PPP program. It needs to be more clearly articulated to the public. Beyond that, a strategy for bringing more equitable public and private investments in areas where they are sorely needed, such as in innovation, regional and rural development and natural and environmental conservation, remains elusive.

As population grows, less rice is produced

As population grows, less rice is produced

In the past 20 years from 1990 to the first six months of the current year, the Philippines imported $8.232 billion worth of rice, equivalent to P362.208 billion.

This is equivalent to 21 per cent of the present general annual appropriation.

On the other hand, government price support for the Filipino rice producers during the period amounted to only P21.156 billion during the same period. The support is only six per cent of the total value of imports.

The clear trend, based on figures supplied by the National Food Authority is towards heavier imports in the coming years. This is borne out by the fact that the area planted to rice is hardly increasing in the face of a population that grows by two per cent or two million babies a year.

In 1991, the area planted to rice was 3.425 million hectares. By 2009, the area increased to 4.532 million hectares. But for the same period from 1990, or 19 years, 38 million people were added to the present estimated population of higher than 95 million.

The propensity to import clearly ignores the capacity of local farms to increase production as suggested by the figures supplied by the NFA.

The price of local palay, presumably with minimal government subsidy has gone down from P15.23 per kilo in January to P14.93. The average price for the 2000-2010 period is 14.67 per kilo.

The NFA official could not believe why the price of palay should go down even during a bumper harvest while importation continues to rise. What this involves is a basic question of workable agricultural policy, particularly for the staple cereal.

An official of the NFA told Business Insight that the palay price does not leave the farmers a decent profit. In a growing number of cases, he said, the farmers themselves become net consumers of imported rice.

This, he said, is the principal reason why the bulk of the population which used to be 60 per cent rural and 40 per cent urban, has been reversed.

While the area planted to rice has increased from from 3.425 million metric tons for 1991, increasing to 4.542 million MT in 2009, the yield per hectare has been erratic at best.

The figures supplied by the NFA show that in 1991 the yield per hectare was only 2.82 metric tons of palay. The increase to 3.59 million tons per hectare in 2009 was largely a result of a nominal expansion of area planted from 3.425 million hectares in 1991 to 4.532 in 2009.

The lack of government assistance to farmers does not increase palay yield although the area planted has increased.

The figures indicate that the government has failed to help Filipino farmers increase rice production by giving them not only price support but with other vital inputs such as irrigation, hand tractors and pesticides.

The other problem of increasing rice productivity is the inability of the farmers to use high-yield varieties. These are technology specific and therefore expensive.

Instead of helping the Filipino rice farmers acquire the expensive inputs, it opts to import rice from as far as Pakistan but the bulk of the cereal is largely imported from Thailand and Vietnam.

How Mr. Condom made Thailand a better place

Mechai Viravaidya was recognized by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today with a $1 million award for confronting “taboo subjects like sex and HIV/AIDS directly in order to save lives." Photo: AFP/Getty

I think the Philippines should take a closer look at neighboring Thailand. They used to have a 3.3% growth rate, much worse than our 2% growth annually. Mechai Viravaidya, or Mr. Condom of Thailand, shares in this TEDxChange video how Thailand was able to raise the Thai standard of living by using population control as the first step. Keep in mind that the majority of Thais are Buddhists but still, the same can be done here if we will finally separate Church from State.

Thanks to Krishna for sharing with me this video.

Asean lists down causes of failure to meet MDGs

Asean lists down causes of failure to meet MDGs
Written by Estrella Torres
Business Mirror

LINGERING conflicts, fragile political situations and armed violence in Southeast Asia hamper the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) among the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

Dr. Surin Pits wan, Asean secretary-general raised the need to address these concerns of members, particularly developing countries like the Philippines, at the sidelines of the United Nations Review Conference of the MDGs in New York City.

Surin met with Timor Leste President Jose Ramos Horta; officials of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and of the World Bank and the United Kingdom, to identify programs to raise the importance of peace-building and state-building in achieving the MDGs, according to a briefing statement issued by the Asean.

Indonesia, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and the Philippines are having difficulty complying with the MDG commitments due to the lingering conflict and fragile political conditions in those countries.

In March 2009, Asean members agreed to align to the attainment of MDGs the road map to establish a single market by 2015.

The signatories to the MDG compact signed in year 2000 also set year 2015 as the end-year for compliance with the eight goals.

The declaration “reflects Asean’s serious commitment to reducing poverty and inequality and improve the standard and quality of life of the peoples of Asean,” Surin said

The MDGs are time-bound goals that aim to halve global poverty incidence by 2015 by eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal access to primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development.

Asean signed an assistance program with the European Union to develop statistical reports using the MDG indicators to support regional programs aligned to achieving the MDGs.