Imelda Marcos

Pain beyond forgetting

There was, last week, a revived discussion on the jewelry of Imelda Marcos. Sell them? Put them on exhibit? The debate comes up every year around the time of the anniversary of martial law. It distracts from the real sin of martial law, that throughout its 14 year span torture, disappearances, and summary executions became a part of life for thousands of our people, for both perpetrators and victims.

Sure unbridled corruption during the martial law years caused serious economic hardship to our people but, at the end of the day, to use that overused cliché, it involved only money. Loss of money and economic opportunity can be regained, the scars healed. We are a strong people who have not allowed economic setbacks to destroy our spirit. Martial law and several corrupt administrations after that may have slowed us down but look at where we are now. Proof that when it comes to material losses, we can move on and make up for them through hard work, intelligence, and, of course, a little bit of luck.

What we cannot move away from without any soul searching is the loss of our humanity. “Pain beyond forgetting”, as Interaksyon calls those years of dehumanization, must be dealt with squarely. I recommend that you visit the Interaksyon site and listen to the testimony of victims. Unfortunately it does not have any testimony from the perpetrators. Their side of the story is vital because we have to understand how and why the guardians of peace and security, the enforcers of law and order, idealistic graduates of the Philippine Military Academy and their superiors, turned into monsters who inflicted unimaginable acts of cruelty on their fellow human beings. We have to hear from them why and how they allowed themselves to become what they became. We have to know and, more importantly, they have to know because not knowing is a sure guarantee that it will happen again.

It’s been twenty six years since the rule of law was reestablished in this country and we still have not heard an explanation for what happened, never mind that no one was held accountable. That’s why after all these years since democracy and the rule of law was restored torture, disappearances, and summary executions still take place. Closure, I hate that word but it’s the only word I can think of, has not been reached. We all know how they reached it in South Africa. Through a truth commission where the perpetrators and their victims faced each other and came to an understanding of what they went through. The damage to the perpetrator is just as great if not more so than to the victim. The victim suffered indescribable physical and emotional horrors but the perpetrator lost his humanity and his soul. Can he ever regain it without admitting fault and expressing remorse?

In addition to understanding the dehumanization we went through, we need a museum that will serve as a reminder that man can turn into a monster with the stroke of a pen. The horrors of those years live on in the memories of both victims and perpetrators. Those horrors should die with them, never to see the light of day ever again.

Risk and responsibility

While his assassination, questions about which remain open to this day, has transformed him into a martyr of democracy, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr., the scion of a prominent clan in Tarlac, was by no means the passive or peaceable figure that the idea of martyrdom tends to conjure up—he was very much the opposite, in fact. As Cory, his own wife, once wryly remarked: “I know he’d die if we led a quiet life.” When he first entered public life as an assistant to President Ramon Magsaysay, he was, as he recounted to National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin, a “siga-siga“: cocky and tough, believing that offense was the best defense.

Such an attitude would serve him well as he rode his vaulting ambition all the way to the Senate, where he occupied a seat that was initially perilous. On account of his youth—at the time that the 1967 elections were held, he was 17 days short of 35 years, the minimum required age for a Senator—a protest was lodged with the Senate Electoral Tribunal in order to remove him from office. The tribunal eventually decided that the proper reckoning of age ought to begin on the day that the “the expression of the popular will” was ascertained—that is, the day that the final poll results were announced—and allowed him to keep his post. Long before the ruling was handed down, however, Ninoy had already formulated a strategy: attack President Ferdinand Marcos. “If I kept hitting at Marcos, any effort to get me kicked out of the Senate would become political persecution, pure and simple,” he said.

If his fire and his capacity for calculation did not especially distinguish him from his foe—his similarity to Marcos has been remarked on more than once—Ninoy did tread a different path, fighting to make known to the world the excesses of the chief executive from the halls of the Senate, from behind bars, and from the United States, where he lived with his family for three years in self-exile. (Notwithstanding his flamboyance and bombast, he could be eerily prescient: his first speech as Senator, for instance, raised the alarm about the creeping development of a militarized state, five years before Marcos issued the infamous proclamation that placed the entire country under martial law and ushered in the so-called New Society.) And in spite of the very real risks that awaited him at home—no less than the First Lady had warned him against returning to the Philippines—he came back anyway, setting into motion the events that would topple a repressive regime and restore to his people the freedom to dictate their national destiny.

Nearly three decades after he was gunned down as he was being escorted by a contingent of soldiers from his airplane to a van that was supposed to take him to jail, what do we know or recall about Ninoy, whose death anniversary we commemorate on this day? Apart from his smiling visage printed on the 500-peso bill, the yellow-beribboned annual reprieve from the daily grind mandated in his honor since 2004, or the notoriously inefficient international airport that bears his name, what of this man have we managed to hold on to as we move through and make our history?

Very little, one suspects, but then, 29 years is about the span of a generation, and so the gap should probably not be surprising. It is unfortunate, though, that a good number of the people who are routinely credited in our history books with having played significant roles in the formation of the Philippines appear fated to serve no greater purpose than to allow teachers to burden their students with information that is only relevant and actionable within the configuration of space and time defined by the next bit of homework, pop quiz, or periodical exam.

This is not in any way to suggest, of course, that we should pay Ninoy obsequious homage and lavish upon him florid platitudes—however ubiquitous these gestures may become today, they are detrimental to sober and thoughtful reflection. It may be sufficient to remind ourselves on this day that we are the legatees of his sacrifice, and that we must prove ourselves equal to the responsibility of making sure that he was right: that the Filipino was, and is, worth dying for.


Restoring a meritocratic society is the goal of the 99 movement in America. Establishing it for once in the Philippines should be our national ambition.

The Nobel winning economist, Gary Becker, whose work on human capital I deeply admire wrote a piece called Deserving and Undeserving Inequality in the blog which he shares with Richard Posner. In it he distinguishes between good inequality (deserved) and bad inequality (undeserved) saying

The great majority of people in different cultures do not object to someone who has made lots of money when they have superior abilities and talents, and they work hard at producing what are considered useful goods or services.

The meritocratic society with upward and downward social mobility would be in Becker’s view the most acceptable form. In this just society, the cream always rises to the top. He cites actors like Tom Hanks and Jennifer Anniston, entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, and skilled professionals like transplant surgeons who have grown rich by applying their exemplary talents and skills.

In contrast, Becker poses the problem society seems to have with hedge fund managers who make use of arbitrage (momentary bargains unnoticed by the market) to make huge sums of money. He lumps them together with speculators, Russian oligarchs and monopolists who enrich themselves through unfair, uncompetitive means (the latter two through government fiat).

Becker of course uses human capital theory as his framework for addressing this issue. Under its framework, individuals who acquire knowledge and skill through education and training (one cannot gain it any other way as it cannot be inherited or passed on) deservedly earn private returns in the form of higher incomes over the remainder of their working lives.

A meritocratic society should in Becker’s view reward the investments made by individuals in themselves and not rely on some other criteria. Elitism, the polar opposite of meritocracy rewards individuals for investing in other things (political patronage, social standing or being raised on the right side of the tracks, marrying into the right family, etc). It all sounds rational and justified, which is why Becker says “the great majority of people in different cultures” accept the legitimacy of a certain form of inequality (I have some reservations which I expressed here).

The Occupy Wall Street protests that have spread all around the world is comprised of a disparate set of individuals, but at its core, it is a protest against what is seen as an illegitimate form of social structure perpetuated by a weak central government unable to constrain the greed of corporate elites.

The breakdown of social cohesion has occurred because of what is perceived to be the breakdown of a meritocratic society where one rule seems to apply to the rich who are becoming a new aristocracy while another set of rules applies to the rest.

The teapartiers detest the privilege accorded to the global capitalists/Wall Street at the expense of local merchants and tradesmen/main street, while OWS expresses their distaste mathematically by stating they represent the 99% who play by the rules but have to bailout the 1% who don’t.

It is curious to see how the OWS protest that began in NY mutates as it travels to each city throughout the world deriving a local “strain” in each place. In the Philippines, which has witnessed a high level of social inequality, there has not been a similar groundswell of support outside the usual suspects of BAYAN MUNA and other groups who coalesce under anti-American imperialist banners.

The reason being I think that the broad sections of our society by and large aspire towards a meritocracy and see their lack of social mobility as either the result of divine providence or misfortune. The masses have not coalesced around a universal sense of rights and entitlements that has taken hold in the West perhaps because they still depend on ties of patronage from local elites.

The state has had a long history of either colluding with or acceeding to our elites. They have given concessions to the “peasantry” whenever popular movements have challenged their ascendancy but withdrawn them when the threats have passed. Charismatic populist leaders like Ramon Magsaysay and Joseph Estrada sought to appease them, not undertake reforms aimed at genuine social restructuring.

The only time when the state sought to weaken the landed elite by expropriating their assets was under Martial Law. Even then there were limits to what it could do as it sought to make its authority legally and constitutionally binding in the eyes of the world. The problem was that once it had weakened any challenge to its authority, nothing prevented the regime from plundering as well.

The lack of accountability under Martial Law made the state susceptible to a new form of super-sized impunity. This was not inevitable though as in the case of East Asia with their benevolent dictators. Had Mr Marcos fostered a new meritocracy in both the bureaucracy and the wider economy, things might have been different.

His wife Imelda widely reviled for her pompous display of wealth had actually promoted a meritocracy in the arts. Through her sponsorship of young scholars and aspiring artists through competitions and venues for the demonstration of their capabilities, she enabled a flowering of talent that was not based on birth or privilege. This is the one legacy for which she can be rightly credited.

If only the same thing had happened in the technology sector where innovation and risk-taking could have been encouraged, instead of the crony capitalism that created a new elite not based on productive but predatory activity, the Marcos years might have come out smelling a bit better.

Contemporaneous with the Marcos era, during the 1970s and 1980s, Brazil and India embarked on a policy of giving birth to technology firms. The state agencies that were engaged in this “midwifery” role were not perfect, but as discussed by Peter Evans in his book Embedded Autonomy, despite their imperfections, at the end of the 1980s they still had something to show for it.

After seeing efforts at producing local operating systems and PC clones flounder, Brazil’s IT sector survived by specializing in financial automation for their banking sector (emblematic of this were companies like Itautec of the Itau Banking group). In India, state investments in skills produced manpower to work in systems integration services combining hardware and software engineering which became their strength. Today some of these Indian firms have successfully expanded their operations overseas (Mahindra Satyam and Tata Consulting Services are prime examples).

Korea which was most successful in fostering growth of this sector focused on the assembly of computers, consumer electronics and semiconductors through concessionary loans and state sponsored and financed research and development. In 1989 Samsung and IBM signed a co-licensing deal allowing them to tap into each other’s portfolio of patents. Today IBM no longer makes PCs, but Samsung is challenging Apple for the handheld tablet market.

Brazil of course was under a military dictatorship during this period. India was except for a brief period in the 70s a rambunctuous democracy like the Philippines is now. Korea was still being ruled by an autocratic president. In other words, the type of political system did not prevent the sorts of policies needed for promoting a meritocracy from emerging in productive sectors.

This was Pres Marcos’s greatest moral failing: neglecting the national development project and engaging in pure predatory behavior. The “Freedom Constitution” that followed his fall sought to put a system of checks and balances in place to restrain the executive has unfortunately not produced a meritocracy either. It simply revived the old aristocracy to power which has picked up where it left off prior to Martial Law by engaging in booty capitalism.

The weakness of the judicial system has served to deny a system of justice to the dispossessed and the poor. So unlike the Occupy Wall Street protesters who camp outside the headquarters of the global elite, our own version of the downtrodden live in slums outside the gated communities of local elites. They are forced to work in the informal sector without legal entitlements such as social security, healthcare or retirement funds, for the most part having acquired very little in the form of human capital.

The present dispensation is beset with many challenges all around which include fostering good governance and promoting economic growth. These projects will take time to bear fruit. While it is seeking to free the poor from local patron-client relationships through social insurance programs, it eventually needs to buckle down to the difficult task of generating employment through industrial promotion strategies and policies.

Having fostered the emergence of the electronics and business process outsourcing industries in the interim, the government faces the more difficult task of expanding the scope of these industries in the international division of labor (what Evans terms the role of “husbandry”) into more value added activities.

It would be good if aside from producing the domestic equivalents of Tom Hanks and Jennifer Anniston (a legacy of our showbiz, pop mentality from the Imeldific years) we could also foster the development of our own Bill Gates or Steve Jobs (the burgeoning industries out of Silicon Valley of course received tremendous government support through the defense industry).

Globalization was meant to usher in a kind of meritocracy among nations in the division of labor. What the experience of emerging countries has shown is that to rise to the top, state involvement in the development of industries is necessary. The ultimate goal should not be to one day attract a greater share of foreign companies to our shores; the national ambition should be to one day join our brothers in emerging markets in buying out foreign companies within their own shores.

Perhaps it is this vision that should occupy our hearts and minds as we look to the future.

Of buses that kill and untrammeled markets

Just as we auction out public utilities, why not apportion bus routes to the most professional and competent bidders?

With the release last week by the LFTRB of the Top 10 Killer bus companies, a very unsavory picture of the road transport sector seems to emerge. A total of 163 accidents were tallied in the course of a year. Topping the list was NOVA Auto Transport, the same bus line that was involved in the road accident which claimed the life of UP Professor Chit Estella-Simbulan.

That particular incident highlighted the public safety risk that buses posed not just in the provincial bus routes but in the metro as well. Upon issuing three lists of top ten offenders (distinguished in terms of number of accidents, number of fatalities and accidents resulting in damage to property), the partylist group 1-UTAK cried fowl declaring that officials from the bureau could be subjected to criminal and administrative prosecution for releasing such information to the public.

After originally announcing that recidivist bus operators would have their franchises cancelled, the LTFRB was put on the back foot defending their release of such lists as not a form of “blacklisting”. Such a feeble response to the overt threats posed on it is quite typical of a government that is not autonomous from private sector interests. Such a hapless state of affairs persists in which the public regulator lacks the teeth to discipline erring providers of public transport.

It is worth retracing our steps to see how we got here.

After 1986, in an averse reaction to the monopolistic crony capitalism fostered under the Marcos dictatorship, the new regime sought to strip any visible vestiges of the former dispensation. This included privatizing the bus routes in Manila which was previously the domain of the Metro Manila Transit Corp under Imelda Marcos’s Metro Manila Commission.

The plying of bus routes was then liberalized and the importation of second hand buses was encouraged through tariff reduction or customs exemption. Echoing the policy consensus en vogue in Washington, Manila’s elite sought to introduce the “magic of the market” in areas that had been dominated by a state owned enterprise.

The role of the government was revised to simply set the rules, lower the cost of entry into the industry, stand back, and let the market rip. Even now, if one visits the LTFRB website, one will find that the cost of entering the market are quite low with a bank balance of 30,000 pesos the only capital requirement needed from a prospective franchisee.

Fast-forward to the present, with the advent of mass transit light rail systems that offer quicker, cheaper trips around the metro, there is now a glut of bus operators vying for a more limited number of bus patrons. With their fares being regulated, the only way for them to maximize profits versus their competitors plying the same route is literally to jostle on the streets of Manila for them.

Under the pre-existing policy, the goals of attaining a free and open competitive market with many small operators unable to distinguish themselves on the basis of product or price and where the customer is king has been achieved. With diminishing profitability, bus operators and their employees have increasingly taken to very risky practices to shore up their market share by snaking through our roads picking up passengers indiscriminately from any particular point on their route.

The response of the government has been to promise a rationalization of bus operators (to reduce the number of buses) through an attrition program scheduled to take effect in the medium term and to rely on stricter traffic monitoring and enforcement by the Metro Manila Development Authority to catch unlicensed and erring bus operators. Meanwhile, life threatening practices and accidents continue to happen on our roads.

Changing Course

With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear what the policy stance of the government should have been. The government should have planned and managed the issuance of licenses to ensure that operators had a reasonable let alone a sustainable level of profit expectation. Instead of leaving it to the market to determine the number of operators, the state should have studied the transport capacity of the city and acted accordingly.

One study by two engineering undergraduate students has shown that the market on EDSA is currently 75% overcapacity or over-serviced compared to the DOTC’s own computation of 60%. This would tend to imply that quite drastic cuts are needed if for every bus that is required, there is another one to two buses competing for the same set of passengers. That would tend to mean a loss for both operators who would be running on less than half their normal capacity, thus leading to slimmer margins.

If correct, the study shows that the reduction through natural attrition cannot be relied on to achieve the required number of buses in the near term. What if the better behaving operators have their franchises cancelled simply because these are due to expire earlier than the worst offenders? There is nothing rational about a natural attrition policy.

What the government should do is simultaneously revoke or cancel all licenses for the same over-supplied routes at some future date and auction them out in the same way it intends to bid out projects under the PPP program for public transport.

This implies that the government needs to intervene in the market. Instead of relying on Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” to intensify competition which creates cut-throat business practices that puts the motoring public at risk, the government needs to show its “visible boot” and kick the industry back into shape.

To do that, it needs to parcel out bus routes and auction them out to the best bidder. This will tend to favor fewer numbers and much larger bus operators resulting in an oligopoly with a credible threat of cancelling and re-auctioning routes for poorly performing ones. Small operators will need to either form consortia or cooperatives to compete with large operators in terms of scale.

Among the criteria used to approve and renew bus licenses should be the safety record of bus liners, their compliance to traffic rules, their capacity for adequate repair and maintenance and their ability to service their routes well. Technocrats should be hired to determine a reasonable auction price range for specific routes that would still allow for an acceptable return to prevent a “rigged” auction.

With monopolies over certain bus routes, the operators will no longer need to engage in dangerous driving practices. Passengers should only be allowed to board and alight from buses at designated stops. Operators would be assured of sustainable passenger volume along their routes and would find it in their interest to schedule the deployment of buses along their routes. Traffic congestion would ease, and enforcement could be made much simpler to monitor and track.

The government should also embark on a training programs to educate drivers on safe driving practices by benchmarking with other jurisdictions. With a greater assurance of profits, bus operators should be made to provide decent work hours as well as comply with occupational health and safety standards.

Transitioning arrangements

With this new arrangement in place, the question remains what to do with the remaining operators and their assets. The cancellation of their franchise would result in lost income and livelihood for them. Wouldn’t the government have to compensate them for this?

On the loss of livelihood, the damage caused the industry may not be as big as one would imagine. To achieve sufficient scale, winning bidders might need to purchase or lease buses from unsuccessful companies. Secondly, the cost of compensating the remaining bus operators could be partially offset with the revenue earned from auctioning bus routes. Thirdly, the government could require metro and provincial operators to maintain excess buses for use during peak periods during the day or peak seasons during the year. A pool of reserve buses could be established to accommodate this. The remaining assets could potentially be used for chartered services to the tourist industry.

If need be, the LTFRB should be given “legal cover” to undertake this drastic policy shift by our legislators. It should be allowed to invoke “public safety” as a criterion for re-structuring the industry. It also needs to be granted the authority to auction out routes under the PPP arrangement found in other mass transit systems.

On the way to market

The chaos on our streets is emblematic of the state’s governance in our country as a whole. The ideology of the free market was adopted as a way to expand service at a time when the public sector was strapped for cash. On our way to achieving that ideal state of open market competition, we allowed the industry to become unwieldy. No forward planning was conducted when the mass rail transit system was constructed to determine whether bus routes would continue to be viable. As a result, the untrammeled market created perverse incentives for operators to put the public’s safety at risk with the burden of monitoring and enforcing traffic safety placed on toothless regulators.

After a period of stepping back and letting markets rip, it is now time for the public sector to govern the market to bring it back to a sustainable level. In a similar fashion, the government needs to identify strategic sectors in the economy that could do with similar industry structural adjustments and develop a plan for deepening and broadening their scope of activity.

It is quite ironic that the economic planner who coined the phrase “narrow, shallow and hollow” as a way to describe the Philippines and its industrial base was the same person at the proverbial wheel when tariffs were being indiscriminately lowered ahead of external commitments under WTO. “Asleep at the wheel” is probably the phrase we can use to describe this strategy.

Like our streets, untrammeled markets could simply foster cut-throat competition or lead to investments in unproductive sectors of the economy and impede investments in more productive ones. This could literally spell life or death for those that rely on them for a living.

Forget Paris

Sex and politics have been front and center in recent days.

Three controversial events have brought sex and politics to the forefront of the news recently. First, the installation of artist Mideo Cruz of a crucifix and a penis drew the ire of the Catholic faithful, art patron Imelda Marcos and the president himself. Congressmen and Senators have opportunistically gotten on the bandwagon breathing fire into the debating embers of our society.

Second, the inclusion of the RH now RP Bill on reproductive health and responsible parenthood by the president along with a dozen other bills in his proposed legislative agenda for Congress to consider. His willingness to work in a bi-partisan way with the sponsors of the bill and with the clergy is a mark of true statesmanship.

Third, the faux pas committed by a reputable news agency in sewing confusion over whether Hollywood celebrity and hotel heiress Paris Hilton would meet with PNoy during her visit to the Philippines gained much oxygen when Presidential Deputy Spokesperson Abigail Valte deemed it necessary to deny such reports via Twitter.

As the title of this piece suggests, this is all about the third event.

After all the serious debates and theological arguments surrounding art and religion or sex and religion, the light-hearted controversy of such “girly goss” is probably a very welcome distraction. The timing of it could not have been better planned in my opinion. I am not suggesting that it was (planned), but I sense a certain tendency among palace officials to boost the president’s “macho image” every chance they get at times.

Fanning speculation

Remember the photo released of him and a lady having a lively night on the town with some of his communications people in the background? This came after the president had been linked to an image consultant within his own team. The porsche incident also portrayed the president as an avid motoring enthusiast.

This of course back-fired, but initially the president did not mind telling the press that the sportscar brought a large smile to his face. Similarly, the president’s fondness with guns caught some attention, and then back-fired on him (no pun intended) when his shooting gallery buddies whom he had appointed to sensitive posts got caught up in some unflattering situations.

I also recall reading an article a while back (but can’t find the link right now) in which Budget Sec Butch Abad admitted to feeding the press stories about PNoy’s supposed links to certain female celebrities during the election season. This was a bid on his part to boost the president’s own status among voters. Abad was then a ranking member of the president’s campaign team.

In a country where tobacco chomping generals, philandering husbands and strict authoritarians are considered top dog, it wouldn’t hurt to project the image of a swinging bachelor this time around…or would it? I think it sometimes runs counter to the other messages that the palace wants to send. What made PNoy so appealing to the electorate was that his persona gave a strong contrast to the often flambuoyant or charismatic character of other prominent leaders.

He was in effect, in a world full of Pepsis and Cokes, the “uncola”. His simple, mild manner contrasted with the extravagant wining and dining of his predecessor. He was patterned after his mum, a president who rode the same car when she first strode into the palace and when she stepped down from it. His geeky, balding and awkward demeanor were just the sort of antidote the country needed at the time when the field was full of bombastic individuals with sexy dancers and starlets in tow.

It is quite understandable though that given our country’s fascination with Hollywood that the media advisers surrounding him would want to engage with that side of our culture. After all, most people tune out when conversations turn to politics, religion or the economy. It is also quite understandable for the president to want to have a social life despite the heavy demands of his job (or even because of it).

Alpha males and eunuchs

This could all be considered a natural consequence of taking the reins. A study found that certain candidates (and their supporters) seem to experience a sudden boost of testosterone after winning a contest. Behavioral and evolutionary scientists link this to the pattern among animals where males fight over the right to spread their seed among the females in the pack. The rise in testosterone is perhaps a biological response in anticipation of the reproductive demands that come with being alpha male.

So perhaps, the country with its adherence to macho, feudal and primeval culture has not evolved all that much from this primitive state? Perhaps.

But there is one reason why I believe we need to celebrate the “single-blessedness” of the president and some of his men. In his most recent book, The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution, Francis Fukuyama describes how the Catholic Church’s insistence on priestly celibacy gave European societies an edge in developing the rule of law and how it was vital in the battle against corruption and rent-seeking within the church.

In societies at the lower wrung of political development, kinship is the primary criterion for conferring wealth, status and power. Fukuyama points out the role of celibacy in shielding the state from the patrimonialism and nepotism of tribal clans. From the imperial eunuchs under the Qin dynasty in China to the Mamluk warriors in the Sultanate of Egypt and the Janissaries, elite slaves of the Ottoman Empire, celibate public servants and warriors were used for this purpose.

It is perhaps not coincidental that the political movement that seeks to remove the artefacts of wang-wang culture and replace it with the rule of law should be so influenced by a small band of single brethren, the president himself being chief among them (either they are single or they are married to such wealthy women of substance, freeing them from the need for material accumulation allowing them to focus instead on the interests of the people).

Perhaps it is a mark of our political development as a nation that such a class of individuals has risen to the top. I hope it is an antecedent to our turning a corner on the rule of law. It goes against our political, cultural and biological programming, but I for one am glad that the president is able to refuse to go Hollywood on us by saying to the press corps, “hey, why don’t we just focus on affairs of the state and simply ‘forget Paris’.”

Mulling over “Kulô”

Art, all art, as the British writer Jeanette Winterson would remind us, is a foreign city, which is to say that it is fluent in tongues and steeped in traditions that inevitably require no small degree of adaptation and acclimatization on the part of those who seek a meaningful encounter with it. To behave as though art bore the onus of conforming to and confirming beliefs and expectations long held and cherished is to act like the boorish tourist who assumes, nay, demands that the locals speak his or her language, indicating a fatal combination of arrogance and ignorance that ought to be despaired at and deplored. And yet it is that very combination with which the past several days have been marked when one examines the clangorous—I hesitate to use the word “popular”—discourse that has erupted around the now-closed Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) exhibition “Kulô”, which, in addition to 31 other works of art intended to play off the convergence of the sesquicentennial of national hero Jose Rizal and the quadricentennial of the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas, features Poleteismo, an installation by Mideo Cruz that is both fulcrum and field for what been not so much a debate than a protracted shouting match, with terms yanked out of context for maximum incendiary effect: “blasphemy” and “terrorism” on the one hand, and “moralist hysteria” and “religious myopia” on the other.

[Read the rest in Interlineal.]

The Moral Dimensions of Family Planning

President Aquino’s recent announcement that he would be pushing forward with the reproductive health (RH) bill has set off a firestorm of reactions from various sectors, including the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), a representative of which has threatened Aquino with excommunication.

What follows is the text of a keynote address delivered by former First Lady Imelda Marcos on January 7, 1974, at the First Asian Regional Conference on Family Planning. Pro Pinoy is posting the speech in the hope of stimulating discussion not only on the current controversy, but also on the history of population control in the Philippines. It may be of interest to note that Mrs. Marcos, a Catholic who led the move toward population control during the Marcos regime, has yet to be excommunicated.

The Moral Dimensions of Family Planning

It is my pleasure to keynote this Asian Regional Conference on Family Planning of the Medical Women’s International Association. I can think of nothing more appropriate and timely to usher in World Population Year 1974 than a regional conference on family planning. Allow me therefore to welcome to Manila our neighbors from the Asian region and our distinguished guests and speakers to this inaugural activity of our world population year program. I hope you will find your stay both fruitful and pleasant.

The Malthusian solution to its own nightmare was—after abstinence—war, famine, and pestilence. We know now that this is no solution at all, as war, famine, and pestilence are the consequences of the population explosion.

Our modern technological civilization has, therefore, devised the technique of planning and control.

We are moved, as B. F. Skinner has said, to depend on our strength, which is technology. Thus population planning and control originated as a proposition from among the rich nations of the world, nations which have benefited and are benefiting most from technology.

Some cynic has said that population planning and control is advocated for the poor peoples by the world’s rich in order to preserve their stability and insure their comforts. For if the world’s poor were to increase beyond measure, the rebellion of the poor will explode and imperil the security and well-being of the world’s rich.

And, going farther, not us but the philosophers of the technological civilization have pointed out that a shift in the thinking of rich nations can, without great effort, convert their resources and technology for feeding, clothing, and housing all the peoples of the world. The expenditure in arms and space technology could have been, it is said, redirected to the welfare of all mankinds [sic] on earth.

For developing nations like the Philippines, the planning and control of population is of fairly recent awareness. For nations such as ours have experienced the painful reality of economic growth being cancelled out by a high rate of population increase. Our rate in the Philippines is among the highest in the world. It is for this reason that we have taken the Western proposition for our own fundamental end—that of survival. As President Ferdinand E. Marcos has emphasized again and again, we need to depend on ourselves.

And so we pursue our population programme with enthusiasm and vigor, aware nevertheless of traditional ways and mores of our people.The main thrust of our programme is education, basically the re-orientation of our people to the complexities of modern life. Only in the Philippines do you find a tri-partite cooperation among the government, the private sector, which includes the religious organizations, and international agencies concerned with population control. We have adopted the technique in order to avert diffusion of time, effort, and resources.

Education, not just pills and other palliative measures, is the crying immediate need. Government alone cannot succeed. The help of the private sector, specially of the religious organizations, is most critical.

In a week we inaugurate the Population Center building where such cooperation of hte private with the religious, government, and international organizations involved in population control will be formalized and housed.

We must say that for the most part it is the Filipino male in the Philippines who holds the key to family planning. Traditionally, the Filipino looked to the child-bearing of his wife as a matter of prestige or male pride, while both husband and wife looked to many children as an assurance for their old age. And so children were born in expectation of a form of bondage, for in exchange for their rearing they should take care of their aging parents.

I hold no strong brief against this attitude. It is one of the charms and proof of compassion of Filipino family life. But it is anachronistic in an age of social security.

We need to understand now that we bear and raise children because we love them, not for any economic or selfish reason.

Thus, if there were in the West political, social, and economic considerations in advocating population control for the poor peoples of the world, for us, in the Third World, the primary consideration is moral.

Large families living in squalor strain the moral sense. Our experience of greed, graft, and corruption has largely been the consequence of large or even many families. Numbers have ethical implications: the qualitative change in the moral perceptions of a man who proceeds from three children to ten or more is rather evident. Aggression comes from pressure and population pressure, indeed, arouses the aggressive instincts of men.

But more than this negative moral sanction is the positive one. To plan, to abstain properly, or to take measures breeds discipline and manifests maturity. Though we may learn that creature comforts await us at the end of the discipline, we are more exhilarated by the fact that we accept the responsibility for our own lives, that every step we take is the result of ethical deliberation.

The boons of population discipline will take, at least, a generation or two to be felt and enjoyed by all. But the spiritual well-being that comes from the knowledge of self-abnegation and planning is immediately felt. Thus, we say that family planning leads to other forms of planning—to economic, social, and even political planning.

We are at present involved in making a new society, a society that is compassionate no less than disciplined and progressive.

We are aware that family planning is one of the pillars of the new society, undertaken not because we want to protect the wealth of the few against the explosion of the poor, bunt undertaken because we do not want to condemn unborn generations to misery and servitude.

We want children because we love them, and because we love them, we want, as far as possible, the best for them, spiritually no less materially. But too many of them will surely diminish our love and deflect our attention: too many of them will strain our moral capacities. This I feel is the moral dimension of family planning in the Philippines.

On this note, I welcome all of you to our country and may your seminar prove fruitful, may your discussions bring forth new insights and new ways of promoting the great moral change that will protect mankind from unregulated fertility.

To all of you, thank you.

56 electoral protests filed before House tribunal

56 electoral protests filed before House tribunal
By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez

MANILA, Philippines – A total of 56 cases of electoral protest have been filed against members of the House of Representatives who won in the first automated elections last May 10, records at House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) showed.

The cases were lodged before the body even before the 15th Congress formally opens on July 26.

Among the lawmakers facing cases are Ilocos Norte Representative and former First Lady Imelda Marcos, Leyte Representative and television host Lucy Torres-Gomez, Pangasinan Representative Leopoldo Bataoil, Ilocos Norte Representative Rodolfo Farinas, Laguna Representative Justin Marc Chipeco, Quezon City Representative Jorge Banal and Bayan Muna partylist Representatives Teodoro Casino and Neri Colmenares.

The case against Marcos was filed by her defeated opponent, Mariano Nalupta Jr., and his lawyer Ferdinand Ignacio, for not fulfilling the residency requirement.

Eufrocino Codilla Jr., son of the incumbent congressman, filed the case against Gomez, while Bataoil is facing a protest against Maria Blanca Kim Lokin, a former partylist representative of the Citizens Battle Against Corruption.

Incumbent Quezon City Representative Matias Defensor filed the case against Banal, while former mayor Reynolan Sales lodged the case against Farinas.

The group Alliance for Rural and Agrarian Reconstruction Inc. filed cases against partylist groups Bayan Muna and An Waray. Bayan Muna is facing another protest case from former congressman and retired military general Jovito Palparan Jr.

Other members of the House with pending election protests filed against them are Representatives Herminia Roman (Bataan), Eufranio Eriguel (La Union), Randolph Ting (Cagayan), Wilfredo Enverga (Quezon), Monique Yazmin Lagdameo (Makati City), Edwin Olivares (Paranaque), Rosenda Ocampo (Manila), Anna Christina Go (Isabela), Jesus Emmanuel Paras (Bukidnon), Fernando Gonzales (Albay), Rogelio Espina (Biliran);

Mary Mitzi Cajayon (Caloocan City), Isidro Ungab (Davao City), Salvio Fortuno (Camarines Sur), Bai Sandra Sema (Maguindanao), Marie Jocelyn Bernos (Abra), Cesar Sarmiento (Catanduanes), Victorino Dennis Socrates (Palawan), Milagrosa Tan (Western Samar), Antonio Rafael Del Rosario (Davao del Norte) , Nelson Collantes (Batangas), Emil Ong (Northern Samar), Tomas Apacible (Batangas), Aurelio Gonzalez Jr. (Pampanga);

Joselito Andrew Mendoza (Bulacan), Elmer Panotes (Camarines Norte), Renato Unico (Camarines Norte), Jerry Trenas (Iloilo), Mylene Garcia (Davao City), Tupay Loong (Sulu), Nur-ana Sahidulla (Sulu), Francisco Matugas (Suriogao del Norte), Maximo Dalog (Mt. Province), Lord Allan Jay Velasco (Marinduque), and Pangalian Balindong (Lanao del Sur).
Outgoing Speaker Prospero Nograles said the number of cases lodged appear to have exceeded those filed at the start of the 14th Congress.

The HRET is composed of nine members, three of whom are justices of the Supreme Court who are assigned to the tribunal by the chief justice; the remaining six are the members of the House of Representatives chosen on the basis of proportional representation from the political parties and the parties or organizations registered under the party-list system.

‘Tomcat’ recalls Noynoy

‘Tomcat’ recalls Noynoy
Jojo Robles
Manila Standard

Readers of this column know that I rarely surrender my space to others in the form of extensive passages quoted verbatim. But today I willingly cede my allotted quota of words, editing only for style considerations, to someone who calls himself “Tomcat,” who recently wrote the following open letter (via Facebook) to leading presidential candidate Noynoy Aquino:

Dear Noynoy:

We were classmates at the Ateneo and I have no doubt that you would remember me even if we were not close. Hint: I was one of those who ribbed you about the low grade that Father Kreutz gave you in math because you could never seem to get your fractions right. Remember going ballistic over that ribbing? [Reverend Wiliam “Bill” Kreutz, SJ, is a long-time Ateneo teacher from New York who founded the Jesuit Volunteers of the Philippines—JR. All subsequent bracketed phrases are mine.]

Anyway, reading the psychological report that was posted on the Internet a few days ago certainly made me remember you. I heard you say on the news that the report was fake but you did admit that there were some things in it that were true. “Part truths” I think were your exact words. It fascinated me enough to want to read the report carefully to check out which were those things that were true.

Obvious things first, those facts that any of our classmates can confirm if asked. One of these is, as the report says, you have a labile disorder. This is whole truth. Even Father Gorospe would be distracted by your drooling during our oral exams. [The late Reverend Vitaliano Gorospe, SJ, was connected for a long time with the Ateneo Theology Department.] Father Ferriols, who made a point of showing he didn’t like you, would make side comments about it that led your classmates to give you the nickname “Cooper,” a reference to Cupertino school where we would teach Catechism to retarded children. I, however, never called you Cooper. [Reverend Roque Ferriols, SJ, taught Filipino Philosophy at Ateneo.]

The report says that you have a “major depressive disorder.” Well, I honestly don’t know if that is true. What I do know is that in school you were very temperamental and had sudden mood swings. Isang minuto, nakikikain ka kay Brudda Francis, maya’t maya nagagalit ka na. Many of our classmates can attest to witnessing scenes like this.

The report said that you used to go with your mom to see Dr. Manuel Escudero. That is a whole truth. I remember seeing you at Tito Maning’s high-rise apartment on Roxas Boulevard when we were still kids. Tito Maning was a consultant with the WHO here in Manila but he was also a psychiatrist who treated only the high society people in Manila. Even Imelda Marcos was his patient. Unfortunately, so was my mom who suffered from insecurities due to my dad’s numerous infidelities.

Tito Maning’s wife, Tita Jo, was a very good artist who had a couple of exhibits of her work before they left Manila for good a few years after martial law was declared. They lived in Topeka, Kansas. After they left, I kept a correspondence for a while with their very cute daughter Nina who I am sure you remember. I had such a crush on her. Maybe you did too. She used to talk to us “little folk” in the sala of their apartment while the “big folk” would lock themselves in the room and discuss “big folk” matters. She wanted to go to ballet school or some dance school which she did, I think, and I eventually lost track of her.

About your smoking marijuana, I also can’t say if that is wholly true. What I do know is that you would try to tag along with a group of students that would hang out with Ma’am Gloria Arroyo. [Yes, President Arroyo herself.] Mga students niya sa Economics. She was always surrounded by bright and handsome students kaya hindi ka pinapansin. Pati si Ma’am Placer, she never gave you the time of day kasi people said you were “medyo weird” and your grades were mababa per her standards.

Pero, you still tried to hang out with those guys. Trying hard to belong ba. I know those guys would drink na kasama pa si Miss Rosales na pag lasing na, kumakanta ng Spanish songs in Spanish. They would drink dozens of bottles of beer at Shakey’s Katipunan because Mrs. Ramos (our Spanish teacher in case you don’t remember) owned the restaurant. This group was also known to also smoke joints in the college auditorium, up in the closed space where the spotlights were. So, if you were hanging out with them then, you were probably also smoking marijuana too.

The report said you had a flight attendant girlfriend. This is another whole truth. I will not mention her name here to protect her but she was a PAL stewardess. I found out about this because I was on a flight with Father Samson [probably Ateneo de Davao president Reverend Antonio S. Samson] once and she was the one who seated us. When she found out we were from Ateneo, she introduced herself and said she was the girl friend of an Atenean and mentioned your name. Father Samson then asked jokingly if you were a good boyfriend to her. She shrugged and said you were “okay” but she was bothered because you were “too conservative.” You didn’t even like to kiss her daw because you were saving her for the wedding night. And you insisted that she dress very conservatively. Jealous boyfriend ka daw. No wonder that relationship ended. Maybe that’s why you got so depressed over it.

About the report. I know that [Ateneo-based Jesuit psychologist Reverend] Tito Caluag is one of your best friends. His group of “friends” are some of the richest and most influential people in the country today. I know that you used to frequently visit his home. He hosts get-togethers where things that are too esoteric for me are the subjects of discussion. At one time, this group of yours even discussed the ousting of [Ateneo president] Father [Bienvenido] Nebres because Tito Caluag had his own ideas on how Ateneo should be run. Maybe your closeness to him is why he was the one you went to when you were depressed and why he was the one who handled your case and signed your psychological report. To keep things quiet.

But I confess I actually don’t know. I do know that Tito Caluag was at one time your sister Kris’ father confessor. He may not be a very trustworthy father confessor, though, because many have heard him say aloud that “walang ginawa si Kris Aquino dito sa Ateneo kundi habulin si Alvin Patrimonio at mag-emote sa quadrangle”.

Anyway, yun muna. Good luck on your presidential run. If you become president of the Philippines, that would be really something, huh? From “Cooper” to “Mr. President” when brighter and more scheming Ateneans like Mar Roxas and Dick Gordon have not been able to make it is an achievement that Ripley should feature.

Your old friend,