Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Houses in the Sand

Most of us are confident of what we know and our ability to figure out what we don’t know. But it is astounding how much we act based on understandings that reside outside of our knowledge. It is astounding how much we live a lie, or at least a big bluff. It is astounding how we delude ourselves so elegantly.

I realized this as I re-read Michael Crichton’s “State of Fear”. The book is a masterful if tad excessive tale of intrigue that does not exactly debunk global warming, but debunks the motives and objectivity of many who endorse global warming. Crichton documents his book with footnotes so those wanting to dig into the facts have a fine bibliography, now a few years stale, but thought provoking nonetheless.

Crichton’s wealthy fictional philanthropist, George Morton, offers up this pearl of wisdom in a speech he makes to withdraw his funding for a global warming charity: “But as Montaigne said three hundred years ago, ‘Nothing is so firmly believed as that which is least known.’”

I asked myself, “is this true? What are some circumstances in which people act on what they BELIEVE rather than what they KNOW.

I’m sure it is not exhaustive, but it was easy to compile examples. Here is my checklist of ways we routinely act without knowledge:

· When we embrace a religious faith and trust that what the church tells us is true. Faith is perhaps the biggest pile of sand in the universe.

· When we assess risks to make decisions (should I become a farmer or a soldier; should I invest in stocks or bonds) but are not able to read the future well.

· That is related to when we guess about what to do, for instance, taking a pot shot as to which road actually leads to our destination.

· When we make an honest mistake, like thinking that a brother said to meet on Tuesday when he actually said Thursday, or we thought a quote was from Dolly Parton instead of Abe Lincoln. How much of our behavior is anchored on mistakes or an incorrect reading of things? Lots.

· When we are prejudiced and think other races are sub-par, or democrats have all the answers, or teens are sex mad, or old people are stupid.

· When we ascribe authority to others, like believing the Cosmopolitan Magazine list of10 ways to make your sweetie horny, or when President Barak Obama says joining the NATO coalition on Libya is a good thing, or when John McCain says Arizona needs high fences to keep the Mexicans out, or when a university professor pretends to know what he is talking about.

· When we deduce or infer, leaping from that which is known to a new belief whilst passing over a huge chasm to get there. Global warming is real because we are having some bad storms.

· When we engage in gossip, enjoying the richness to be found in other people’s failings, whether true or not.

· When we engage in superstition, which circles back to religious faith; thinking a broken mirror means seven years bad luck is rather like thinking eating pigs will send you to hell or using a condom is the same as killing some one.

When you consider how prominent these forms of behavior are in our daily lives, you realize we are not operating on a sound foundation most of the time. It is sandy, it is muddy. We are winging it. Often times we know this, but we are confident that we can deal with any negative fall-out. We do this by blaming someone or some thing, or making an excuse, or lying about what we said or intended.

Owning up is not a typical outcome of the fall-out from winging it.

As Michael Crichton puts it: “I believe people are well intentioned. But I have great respect for the corrosive influence of bias, systematic distortions of thought, the power of rationalization, the guises of self-interest, and the inevitability of unintended consequences.”

What a piece of work we are, eh? And ever so pompous about the deceits we live and the manipulations we advance.
Self-confidence is great, but we ought to carry a little humility about how much we simply do not know or understand.

Who knows. Maybe some day critics will discover that President Aquino is actually trying hard, learning on the job, and doing good things for the Philippines. Or maybe I will discover that he is really just an empty yellow shirt. Odds are that we are all off base on many of our assessments, but can't see it for the rigidity of our thinking and the knowledge that simply is not ours to hold.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Biggest Corruption of Them All

It is good to see the Philippine government working to protect women with the Reproductive Health and Divorce bills. Hopefully the Catholic Church won’t be allowed to pull the Philippines back into the Dark Ages. These are steps toward modernization and away from being a nation out of step with kindness and common sense.

It’s good to see corruption under attack on a wide scale. If this continues, it will have a profound impact on the nation’s values.

Another issue that needs to be addressed by the legislature is horrendously weak application of consumer protection laws. By modern standards of RESPECT, Filipino consumers are abused, over and over again, every day.

The modern idea that governments should make sure consumers are not deceived or cheated originated in the US during the Kennedy Administration in the 1960’s. Laws were subsequently perfected, enacted and enforced with the result that product quality and fair-dealing are virtually guaranteed in the US. In 1985, the United Nations adopted “Guidelines for Consumer Protection” for all member nations. Here are the eight basic rights that nations are urged to enforce, in Joe Am’s short-form words:

1. The Right to Safety. Products must be safe and consumers must be warned of dangers in use. Providers must advise consumers of defects and offer provisions for recall.

2. The Right to Be Informed. Providers must provide information so that consumer can make informed product choices.

3. The Right to Choose. Consumers should have a variety of options from which to choose. Competition is encouraged and monopolistic practices and price gouging are banned.

4. The Right to Be Heard. Consumers are permitted to voice complaints and have them dealt with forthrightly.

5. The Right to Satisfaction of Basic Needs. Consumers must have access to essential goods and services: adequate food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, public utilities, water and sanitation.

6. The Right to Redress. Consumers are entitled to a fair settlement of claims, including compensation for misrepresentation, shoddy goods, or unsatisfactory services.

7. The Right to Consumer Education. Consumers must be able to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to make informed choices about goods and services, while being aware of their own responsibilities.

8. The Right to a Healthy Environment. Consumers have a right to live and work in an environment which is non-threatening to the well-being of present and future generations.

The Philippines, by permitting relentless violations of these rights, confirms itself to be out of touch with kindness and fairness toward its own citizens. It is corruption in a different form, cheating for sure.

The only things standing in the way of a very different consumer experience are: (1) lack of a crystal clear endorsement of the United Nations principles by the Philippine government, and (2) lack of aggressive public advocacy lawyers. There is no doubt consumers are being cheated or provided with poor care by manipulative or authoritarian government, professional, corporate and retail organizations.

Examples of violations:

• Cellular telephone providers offer internet services and various call and text promotions, but do not provide sufficient carrying capacity to allow the services to work trouble-free. Consumers face slow service, poor access, or interrupted service and do not get the value for which they pay.

• Television stations increase the loudness of commercials and overload popular programming with so many advertisements that consumers are denied reasonable access to the programs they seek to watch. These are intrusive, abusive uses of a valuable and scarce resource that should be dedicated to public benefit.

• Consumers are generally not permitted to make appointments with doctors, dentists and government offices. Therefore, they must wait for long periods, frequently in crowded, germ-laden offices without sufficient seating arrangements or toilet facilities, in order to obtain important services.

• Pollution is a major problem. Trash disposal and sewerage facilities are lacking in many cities and municipalities, and open-air burning of plastics and chemicals persists, representing a severe health threat. Noise pollution is rampant.

• Public education is not free. Poor families are at a disadvantage and frequently cannot afford to send their children to school.

• Hospitals admit ill or injured people but will not release them until bills are paid. This authoritarian practice runs up additional daily charges for the poorest patients who are not only injured or ill, but desperate due to hospital policies. Furthermore, patients must acquire their own drugs and materials for vital medical treatment and operations, resulting in delays of service and the risk that proper medicines and supplies will not be available at critical times.

• Electrical service is unreliable. Brownouts and blackouts are routine. People with medical equipment must buy generators to assure themselves of life-preserving service. Refrigerated products perish and consumers bear the cost of replacement. Consumers cannot avail themselves of internet or other vital electronic services.

• Government offices are run with little courtesy. Citizens are treated as if they were irritants rather than as people who pay for government services with their taxes, and who are entitled to reasonable and polite service. Waits and paperwork remain onerous burdens.

• Consumers are forced to wait as retail merchants inspect goods in the store to make sure all parts are in working order. Then consumers are not allowed to return goods later found to be defective, or which are damaged from poor re-packing.

• No common information systems exist to alert consumers to shortages of products and goods, advising them of alternative resources or steps to take to moderate demand. Responses to shortages are haphazard and often result in panic buying or anger. Similarly, there are no broad recall protections in the case of product deficiencies.

• Product information is available on food and goods packaged overseas, but many local products lack sanitary treatment, government inspection or proper information for consumers.

• Consumers are endangered by poor enforcement of basic traffic and pedestrian regulations. Vehicles don’t stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. Commercial vehicles load in the roadway. Retail displays and parking block pedestrian access to sidewalks.

• Consumers do not have ready access to the courts because of the high cost of court fees and attorneys, and the slow, inefficient processing of cases. Efforts to rectify wrongs lose steam, and evidence grows stale, as plaintiffs face delay after delay.

Litigation is the best cure. It serves as a hammer to the head of businesses, governments and organizations that operate in a way punitive to consumers. The first case should be against the government for failure to provide prompt, and therefore fair, judicial renderings. Consumers pay a heavy price by not having a means to litigate for fair and considerate treatment.

There is an additional “spiritual benefit” to an intense effort to right these wrongs. When violators realize it is in their best interest to be kind and responsible to consumers, Filipinos will finally feel like they amount to something. They can stop overlaying their acts with Ego-bluster aimed at proving to others they are worthwhile.

All the legislature needs to do is endorse United Nation standards as law to give attorneys a sound basis for litigation. Given the pressures on private attorneys to bow to large corporations and powerful people, it would be advisable to set up a government Consumer Protection Agency staffed by capable, aggressive litigators.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

“Man Up, Philippines”

The tourist honchos offer up new slogans now and then to attempt to characterize the wonder and awe of Philippine beaches and other tourist destinations, such as they are, in a few crisp words.

I wish to recommend a sparkling new slogan for the whole of the Philippines:

“Man up, Philippines”

This term derives from sports. When you are playing basketball and find yourself being pushed around by some larger, quicker, more talented hulk, your coach shouts out “Man up, Jones”, or whatever your name might be. It means develop some toughness real quick. Get a determined mind, an elevated spirit, an aggressive body and hold your own.

Now many Filipinos will find the slogan offensive because it comes from an outsider. A Filipino could utter the same words and that would be okay. He’s a teammate. He’s supposed to try to fire us up. But an outsider? What arrogance. That’s like a pep talk from the opposing team’s coach.

“Get outta here!” you scream, the words echoing off the locker room walls.

But the words are the same, aren’t they? If uttered by an outsider or an insider, the words are the same and the circumstances are the same. So the difference is WITHIN THE PERSON DOING THE HEARING, NOT THE PERSON MAKING THE UTTERANCE.

So if you object, I suggest you are embarrassed for yourself, for your nation’s failings, and you don’t want to hear about it from an outsider. You are the king with no clothes and you want the kid who actually sees this, and the honesty to report it, to shut his yap.

Sorry, can’t do that. You need to hear the words and stop confining yourself within a concrete barrel of defensive insecurity.

Some women might also object to the term, ascribing to it a gender bias. But it is, by my definition, gender neutral, just as “he” often refers to the community of “man” which includes “woman”. So to women who complain about it, I get my nose in their face and shout, “Man up, Broad!” Get your mind focused on the point here, which is not gender. It is attitude.

The Philippines needs attitude. No, no, no! Not more shallow flag-waving, Pinoy Pride, ego bound bluster. It needs attitude comprised of discipline, determination, intelligence and sacrifice.

Discipline means you follow a play book or plan. You are organized. You think ahead. You develop a set of personal principles and stick to them.

Determination means your mind is focused and firm. You are tough. Neither catcalls nor cheers nor intentional fouls can distract you from your mission.

Intelligence means you study, you strive to read the situation clearly, you think about risks and rewards and you act appropriately. You aren’t locked into having others tell you what to do.

Sacrifice means you work so that others can star. You don’t worry about a knee in the groin; you take the charge. You sacrifice yourself for the team

To “man up” is to do the right thing, even if it is hard. It means to condemn those who spread filth across your beautiful land, who create danger by the way they drive, giving no quarter to pedestrians or someone else’s right of way, or who allow their dogs to wander on the National Highway killing motorcyclists.

It means to report a public official who will not provide service unless you pay him.

It means to attack the corporations that rip off consumers: TV networks that overload television programs with ads played louder than regular programming; cell phone operators that advertise internet services but don’t provide the bandwidth to accommodate the traffic; retailers that don’t accept returns of damaged goods; government offices that treat the public as subjects; banks that pay ridiculously low interest rates on the deposits they loan out at ridiculously high interest rates.

It means to create a swarming offense with your country-mates that overwhelms the stuck-in-the-mud oligarchs who are hogging the ball and insisting on the boring status quo.

Brief digression: I wonder if there is a single attorney in the Philippines with the courage to work independently to take on the big dawgs, to sacrifice, to man up, for a better Philippines.

You can man up yourself by refusing to toss trash into the street, by calling ahead before visiting someone, by developing a skill and using it to build a career. There are so many ways to man up.

You can man up by doing good deeds rather than whining. By accepting responsibility rather than blaming. By being happy with your personal principles, effort and achievements rather than finding a need to elevate yourself by tearing someone else down.

Man up, Philippines.

Man up.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Incidental Tourist

That’s me. I’ve lost my bus ticket, so I guess I’ll just stick around and see what is happening hereabouts.

I see that Moody’s has upped the investment rating of the Philippines. This is a good thing, but it is important to read the Moody’s report deeper than the headline.
Moody’s attributes the improvement to restraint on government expenses. They note that revenue keeps coming in, so the inflow/outflow is better than it used to be. But Moody’s points out that the sources of revenue are a bit soft. Well, they use better words, but that is the essence.

So two points can be drawn from this.

One, the improved rating was largely accidental. The Aquino Administration has not spent money because it does not have a rigorous infrastructure (capital) or value building (expense) plan. It just keeps doing what has been done before, but holds back on expenses that are deemed political. That is Joe Am’s technical description, not Moody’s.

Two, Moody’s intimates that ratings could be improved further if revenue sources were firmed up. “Intimates” is one of those words you use when you don’t really understand what they are saying, and want to wrap it up in something other than a wild guess, or SWAG. I think Moody’s is intimating that there is a road that the Philippines could follow to continue to work toward investment status.

I’ve argued before that the Philippine tax structure is unsound, but now with the weight of Moody’s behind my credibility on this point, I will restate it.

The Philippines depends too much on fee-based taxes rather than taxes keyed to value creation. Fee-based taxes too often destroy value. For example, court fees constrain who gets justice. Justice in the Philippines favors the favorites. The poor are not among them. Fees don’t promote the value of “justice for all”.

Customs assessments represent 22% of the entire revenue stream. Operating under a taxation charter, Customs does little to build Philippine trade competitiveness. Indeed, outrageous Customs’ fees and burdensome paperwork undermine Philippine global competitiveness. Can you imagine the benefit of uncorking the export and trading markets? The Philippines would return to its 1800’s stature as a hub of Asian trade. But Filipino officials can’t imagine this state of affairs so they can’t figure out how to get there. They just tax away.

VAT is a good tax as long as it does not become so onerous that people stop making purchases. It is keyed to value creation. A retailer creates value when he buys goods for X and sells them for X+M, where M is the markup. The amount the customer pays is X+M+T, adding in the VAT. Well, if the mark-up M is 12% and T is 12%, then government has piled on pretty heavily. The State is essentially saying that it deserves as much money as the retailer who has worked hard to build a store, build a customer base, buy goods, and build and sell products.

Seems greedy to me.

A 12% VAT is not conducive to fostering a vibrant retail industry. It is just easy money to grab for the State.

Two other taxation sources that are roundly ignored are income taxes and property taxes. Why? Because they hit the moneyed friends of the political families. So much value created, so few taxes levied. Property taxes, which could fund school improvement, are a joke. I’ve funded the purchase of two properties and both times the attorneys advised to understate the actual purchase price to avoid taxes. Then the annual tax bill arrives and I pay like P100 for a lovely beach paradise. The annual tax could and should be P10,000.

A friend who worked in the assessor’s office said they could not tax at fully authorized rates because the people who backed the mayor would complain.

Therefore, all the kids of the Philippines suffer through insufferable, overcrowded schools with weak teachers.

So the mayor can stay in office.

That, my friends, is Filipino sacrifice and patriotism. It is the jolly, good-hearted, considerate way this island paradise stays stuck in the mud. We incidental tourists just shake our heads in wonder.

In concert with my new advisory slogan, “Man up, Philippines”, I say: find where value is created and tax it reasonably. Make the whole community wealthy, if not in money, then in service and respect, instead of coddling the rich and well-connected.

Rise up, even. Like Edsa the hell out of this baby. Throw tea into Manila Bay, or a case of San Mig. Demand taxes that will benefit your kids. Demand taxes that build wealth instead of constrain productivity.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Transactional Worm

The worm has turned.
The cultural pattern followed in the Philippines is generally transactional and reactive. It is not principled. It is not strategic. It is not broad minded or far-reaching. It is not sacrificing.

Let’s take a few recent transactional incidents and observe how the Philippines has behaved:
The Philippines joins the coalition of the willing in Iraq. Bullets start flying and the Philippines is the first nation to drop out. President Arroyo bends to the will of her emotional subjects. She is not willing to sacrifice her job for the long-term well-being of the Philippines.

Nicole has a drunken night with Private Smith; it is assumed he is guilty of rape and it is extrapolated that most Americans are sex mad perverts, coddled by an arrogant, imperialistic America. The Philippine media milk this story for three years, until Nicole recants and is spirited out of the Philippines to the US. Then everyone shuts up.

Because of the Nicole incident, the VFA is loudly decried (VFA is the Visiting Forces Agreement, which basically says things like US soldiers don’t have to get visas and, if they are charged with a crime, can be held by the US). “The humiliation, the humiliation!” exclaims Senator Santiago, in commenting about the how the agreement differs in imprisonment clauses. Mobs of Filipinos block Roxas Boulevard protesting in front of the American Embassy.

China rattles its naval swords over the Spratleys, a cluster of resource laden islands which several other nations also claim. Viet Nam, Japan and the Philippines cry out in protest of specific Chinese acts. The Philippines waves its joint defense agreement with the US loud and clear. Senator Santiago and the press and everyone else suddenly shuts up about the VFA.

So here is the grits of it. If China moves into the Spratleys in force, Filipinos believe I should send my sons and daughters to fight for them, to die for them, and I should spend my tax money defending a people who collectively stand as a fair-weather friend. You know, the kind of friend who is there only if something is in it for them.

Screw it.

I will write long and hard for the US to keep the hell out of the Philippine mess. I suggest the Philippines man up and start training a real army and navy. And buy a jet or two.

It is okay for the Philippines to rattle its own sabers, but not mine.

I’m sure there are those who will argue there is some strategic advantage to the US to keep an alliance with the Philippines. Please enlighten me as to what it is. It seems to me it is a sink hole of self engagement by Filipinos with no over-riding loyalty to a set of principles that establishes mutual interest as a two-way street, no willingness to put transactional incidents under an umbrella of mutual commitment and mutual sacrifice.

Getting tossed out of Clark and Subic said it clearly enough. Filipino flight from Iraq said it Lima Charlie, loud and clear. The hair pulling by senators and citizens over the VFA, that “humiliating” document that makes it simple for US troops to come into the Philippines to do their bloody work defending thankless Filipinos says it so loud and so clear that even Joe Am has listened.

Let Filipinos defend Philippine interests.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Corruption of Public Trust, Part II

Money is a value. Trust is a value. One is hard, defined in a coin or slip of paper. The other is soft, defined in the integrity of behavior.

Media and governmental attention to corruption in the Philippines is focused mainly on money. The more prevalent form of corruption, betrayal of public trust, is largely overlooked. Indeed, participation in this form of corruption is so vast, so pronounced, so prevalent, that it defines the moral way to act in the Philippines. The lack of personal integrity in the Philippines is so robust that Filipinos cannot see it in themselves.

It is a fun-house mirror, where thin looks fat and fat looks tall.

It is moral to slander those who take an opposite view, or who have the gall to get something that you don’t have. It is a tear-down morality, where diminishing others is a way of life. If someone should have the audacity to win, making you lose, you have are enemies for life.

It is moral, if you are a governmental manager, to hire a friend or favorite or family member over someone who is more capable of doing the job. It is moral to “take care of your own” that way, rather than take care of the public by assuring competence in every position.

It is moral to pass favors to those who have helped you, or might yet help you. Even if the passing of those favors denies others a fair deal.

It is relatively easy to track the paper trail and find out what happened to money. It is very difficult to track what is in the heart and mind. Especially when it is moral to diminish the person who is investigating.

And when what is in the heart is “personal advantage”, when what is in the mind is greed, then the community is poorly cared for.

And you get the Philippines.

A place that does not recognize public trust as a valued currency. Or, perhaps, is just awakening to the damage Filipinos are doing to Filipinos, and that trust is more valuable than money.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Corruption of Public Trust, Part I

I have been cursed with having visions that most Filipinos don’t see. It is rather like some see the White Lady, others do not. It is astounding.

I see an essential unfairness in the appointment of family, friends and favorites to jobs that more capable workers are denied, but Filipinos see nothing wrong. “It’s just the way things here work.”

They aren’t working very damn well.

Equal opportunity means employers consider the job and the job candidate objectively, and hire the most capable person. This leads to fairness that is blind to race, religion, gender and other irrelevancies. It assures the most productive outcome. But Filipinos don’t get this concept – of promoting capability - or if they do get it, they have no idea how to make it a national value, or if they do know how to make it a national value, they can’t summon up the frickin’ energy to frickin’ act.

I see an incredible unkindness from Filipino to Filipino, even racism, favoring white and whites, but I am greeted with how proud Filipinos are, how tight-knit, how happy and “you foreigners shut your yaps”.

I see the Catholic Church nailing the Philippines solidly to the 15the century, like Jesus tight upon the cross; Filipinos march off to mass like lemmings over the cliff, hailing Mary all the way. Poor, poor Mary. You know Mary? The woman? Yet here wife beaters are protected, deadbeat dads are protected, the other cheek is turned toward adulterous men and women, teenage girls sneak out for coat-hanger abortions, and the church is busy screaming how a piece of rubber is threatening the very moral underpinning of a nation, stealing its very right to life.

This is life, these malnourished, sick children who never makes it to the doctor before they find the grave? These dog ridden, lice infested sewerage pits that people call home? These shacks on the river banks awaiting the next big rain to see if their occupants can mud-surf all the way to the South China Sea?

This is life?

My wife knows how frustrated I get with the blindness, the relentless envy and cattiness, the Ego and unkindness that underpin so many daily Filipino acts. The windshield of my Honda Civic hears my loud rants and throws them back into my face, useless, as if it, too, had the impervious turtle shell that defines Filipino self-awareness.

My Barangay Captain plays his power, rewards his friends, punishes his enemies. He is careful not to play with money; he knows that in an awakening Philippines, that could get him in trouble. So he plays a different game.

He is not in office to protect the public welfare and provide service to all, equally, blind to gender or nationality or faith or wealth. He is in it to execute his little agendas, to stoke his pride, his power. It is akin to the smugness you read on Ampatuan Sr’s face as he plays the courts like a yoyo. You are either with him, or against him. You are on list A or list B.

My family is on the Captain’s list B.

So I will tell all you blind Filipinos that there is more to corruption than money. There is corruption of ethics, of public trust, of fairness, of kindness. And it is more prevalent than moneyed corruption in the Philippines. Power plays. Favorites. Punishments. Game-playing that harms others. Tearing down rather than building.

I wrap it all up under the banner of corruption of public trust.

It is a violation of the Constitution, although I doubt I can find a Filipino attorney who can even grasp that concept. They are not exactly a deep-seeing bunch, being fully engaged in bowing to the big shots rather than caring for their nation. Caring is not a quality that runs rich in the Philippines, and in hard-hearted, money-grubbing attorneys, it runs absent. These useless attorneys are, after all, clothed in Filipino values from the dog-shit soiled soles of their polished black shoes to the unshowered, sweaty starched collars on their lacy beige shirts. Looks good, stinks underneath.

I’ll write more about corruption of public trust when I cool down.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Technical Difficulties

The blogspot comment form is not working properly for some reason that I cannot comprehend. I hope it clears up soon of its own accord, for I have the technical moxie of a drunk chicken. I appreciate that you visited the blog, and regret if your comment posting cannot get through. As mine cannot get through . . .

Hail to the Chief

I often agree with critics of the Philippines on the failure of the nation to be modern and productive and treat its citizens better, and occasionally with critics of President Aquino, on specific acts. I have never agreed with those who panned the President because he had an undistinguished senatorial career, or is a part of the family and big-money cliques that run the Philippines, or has a flighty sister named Kris. And I have argued for a little consideration and latitude for the President to be who he is, in a very difficult job. I call it the patriotic thing to do, but I understand that patriots are free to criticize, so that’s all right, too. It is just my attitude, shaped by my childhood citing the Pledge of Allegiance, and three years in the Army, one of them in Viet Nam. In the Army, you subjugate yourself to the greater need, and I carry that forward in wanting my President to be strong. If I support him, he is just a wee bit stronger than if I do not.

So I don’t run around looking for flaws, looking for things to criticize. I don’t want to undermine my President unless by undermining him, I strengthen the US. (Nixon was well worth undermining; Clinton was not.)

Indeed, if I step back, away from the howling critics, I see some good things happening in Philippine governance. Here is what I see:

1. I see a government trying to modernize its treatment of women by passing a Reproductive Health Bill and a Divorce Bill. I don’t say these efforts are perfect, but I see a nation that is coming to the realization that it is behind the times, and a government that wants to catch up. When you see the screaming and foot-dragging of the Catholic Church, you have a crystal clear understanding of why the nation is behind the times. But President Aquino is doing what President Arroyo (a woman, fer chrissake) did not do, what President Estrada did not do, what the prior President Aquino did do, and what no Philippine president has done until now.

2. President Aquino has not gotten tagged by any fertilizer, ZTE, or other multi-million dollar scandals or scams while in office. This is a marked improvement over Arroyo and Estrada. President Aquino is fundamentally an honest president, for all the naïve mistakes he makes and the attachments to power-people, something that no president can avoid. He is delivering on an expectation of those who elected him. Be fundamentally a good person.

3. The President’s administration is grinding away at corrupt behavior and values, pressuring the Ombudsman out of office, investigating Congressman Mike Arroyo for tax evasion, putting the head of Customs on a short string for not stopping unrelenting smuggling, undertaking multiple inquiries as to how certain people got rich so fast when their salaries would not generate such wealth, and advancing inquiries into prior President Arroyo’s assorted scandals. It is changing the tenor of things. Now you sense that whistle blowers are being listened to. When a prison official gives favored treatment to a convict, you hear about it. When a governor is caught with his fist in the public cookie jar, he gets discovered. The cumulative pressure in favor of good behavior has escalated noticeably. It is exactly the kind of pressure that can change values if it is sustained.

4. Efforts to anticipate and protect against typhoons and other natural disasters are real. Forecast information is now readily available on the web and recovery people are standing by in advance of typhoons. Intense pressure is being put on the DENR to perform, to stop the clear-cutting and illegal harvesting of trees that lead to flash floods and mudslides. The standard for all typhoons is “zero fatalities”. Those of us with careers in planning recognize how critically important such benchmarks are at motivating actions to achieve them.

5. The Philippines finally has a foreign engagement effort that represents something other than begging or chasing President Obama for photo ops and fine dining in New York. President Aquino has been both pragmatic and proactive in establishing direct lines of communication with leaders of countries that matter.

I think it is fair to ride the president for things like a light work schedule, or a botched bus massacre, or poor coordination and responses among his communication team, or other nits worth picking.

But for myself, I see real change happening, from a perspective above the trees. The forest is developing, and it is developing in the right direction.

Yes, yes, a lot more has to happen, mainly in economic and industrial arenas. How can farming become agribusiness? How can mining capture value in the Philippines instead of shipping it to Korea? How can tourism thrive when the coral is bombed, the waters are polluted, and the mountains are full of killer gangs (I refuse to apply the tag “rebels” to this destructive bunch of protection-racket thugs)? How can trade become the heart of the Philippines again (like, uh, make Customs a service unit instead of taxing arm)?

Those of you with yellow burrs under your saddles, keep on riding and writing. It can only speed the process, for I think something else is different about President Aquino. He listens. Perhaps he tries to hard to justify his botchings, but at least he is not tone deaf or stone deaf, as his predecessors were.

It would be helpful to give him an assist now and then. Like when the leaders of the Catholic Church insist that women be stoned with guilt, and bound and tied to deadbeat dads and abusive men. Climb all over that one. Or when teens are shamed into getting coat hanger abortions rather than benefitting from an education about sex and parental responsibilities. Strive mightily for more dignified laws.

It would be good to pile onto the miscreants in public office who still use the public coffers for personal glory and wealth, rather than taking care of the nation and the citizens they say under oath they will represent well.

And it would be good to agitate for more productive economic activities.

We can help build the societal pressures that push toward a changing, more productive, kinder, wealthier Philippines.