Wednesday, October 31, 2012

New York, New York

Let me postpone the scheduled blog for one day to pop in this tribute to an amazing city.

New York is one of the grand cities of the world. It ranks with London or Paris or Beijing or Moscow as a community of people that rises to stature as prominent as the nation in which it resides.

Yet none of those other cities is anything like New York.

There is no place like New York.

The Big Apple.

The place where many thousands of immigrants have been greeted by the welcoming torch of the Statue of Liberty raised high, in celebration of their arrival. That grand lady, a gift from the French, lights the way to a new life, rich with promise and opportunity. So many tears have been cried on those waters, the tears of the huddled masses who latched onto a dream and dared to cross over.

New York is the place of Broadway and Central Park and Wall Street and Park Avenue. Of boroughs and rivers and tunnels and bridges.


An ethnic smorgasbord.

The place where terrorists destroyed two landmark buildings and thousands upon thousands of lives.

I love New York.

I've ridden the subways, arriving at the World Trade Center Tower station to emerge into daylight with thousands of trampling New Yorkers off to their jobs. Those buildings are no longer there. I've roamed the streets and prowled Central Park, scaled the Empire State Building, shopped the stores where price has little bearing on the purchase. I've frozen on a cold December night looking for a taxi when none was available. I've dined at cozy restaurants and dark, scruffy dives in the Village. Climbed through museums and art galleries.  Been as brusque and unsmiling as the next guy striding down the sidewalk with wary aggression. I've escaped upstate to relax and romance amongst the cliffs and hills and old towns that occasion the countryside.

The big cities of America are fantastic. You can explore them as you would any jungle or mountain wild. Watching your step. Los Angeles. Chicago. San Francisco. Washington DC.  I've driven and hiked them all. Los Angeles, the magical melting pot of ethnic culture and cuisine, 88 cities glued together as one. Chicago, the elevated trains and peculiar green river, the lake, the theater, the blues beat. San Francisco, the bay, the cable cars, the hills, the jail on an island, the bridges, the romance, the restaurants. Washington DC, the power.

None of them is New York.

New York is intense. You understand this when you enter the canyons between the tall buildings, always in shadow, never able to see beyond. You understand when you want art, or food, or goods. No place does it richer. No place more intensely. In the old days, we outliers would think New Yorkers were rude. Arrogant, actually. From a different planet. But no, we grew up to learn that we were wrong. New Yorkers were simply dealing with a place not easy to deal with. Not enough parking, too many muggers, too many people too close together, too expensive, too noisy, too busy. The financial capitol of America. Ha, I once rode in a yellow cab whose driver took the car up on the sidewalk to get around a blockage. He barely slowed. That is characteristic New York assertive. Stretch limos serve the airports, $80 for a ride into town from Newark; visit in style appropriate to the panache of this city. 

New York was not destroyed by the terrorists that day over a decade ago. New York grew stronger. More serious, perhaps. Less brusque, perhaps.

But stronger.

Hurricane Sandy blasted New York yesterday.

The storm created havoc. Stock markets were closed. Corporations were shut down. Subway trains were parked. Vulnerable parts of the city were vacated. Electricity was knocked out. The storm rampaged and destroyed.

It was only a hurricane. Not even so very strong by Philippine standards. But it hit head on, gnashing into a city surrounded by water. The commercial heart of New York is, after all, an island. Way smaller than Luzon. Perhaps smaller than my wee island of Biliran.

But this is New York, you know? The city that deals with things. And the challenge to recover will make the city yet stronger.

This city, so rich with history and sin and redemption, so deep with life.

America's City.

Manila's Big Brother.


Everyman's City.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Philippine Ethical Value: Subservience

I've developed this guiding principle of discovery as it pertains to an American living in the Philippines. It derives from the fact that, often, things don't make sense. The principle:

  • When behavior does not make sense, keep thinking about it, because it MUST make sense.

JoeAm's Confusion

My early morning pondering the other day, before our storm, dealt with the case of a woman named Esperlita "Perling" Garcia who was arrested last week for libel for protesting mining activities on Facebook 18 months ago.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacerda denied claims that the arrest was for violation of the controversial libel provision of the Cybercrime Law. This law has been put on hold under a TRO by the Philippine Supreme Court until its constitutionality can be certified. The Cybercrime Law doubles the penalty for libel if done on the internet. Lacierda said the arrest was done for a violation of the Revised Penal Code.

Here are the things I didn't understand:

  • What is the President's Office doing getting involved in a legal case involving a very minor localized altercation. People are arrested every day for much more important things than a local spat involving a mere P10,000 bail?

  • Why is the Revised Penal Code being used? I thought the reason for the inclusion of the libel provision in the Cybercrime Law was because internet libel was not covered in the Revised Penal Code.

  • Why in the complainant in the case using the law to punish someone rather than defend his honor? Libel is a crime of honor.

Before discussing how I have managed to answer these questions, let me provide two definitions that will be important to that discussion:

  • Ethical value: A standard of behavior deemed right and proper by the community to which it applies.

  • Subservience: Knowing your proper place as the lesser being in a hierarchy of power.

The Background on the Case

The background on the case is this. Ms. Garcia is 62 years old and a long-term resident of Gonzaga in Cagayan province. She has been participating in local activities protesting the small-scale mining by Chinese and Taiwanese companies in Cagayan. The mining is authorized by the Cagayan provincial government.

A group of protestors planned a meeting in April 30 of 2011. The meeting was broken up by local officials. Ms. Garcia posted a complaint on Facebook in 2011 criticizing the rough way the meeting was broken up. The Mayor of Gonzaga, Carlito Pentecostes Jr., was criticized in the posting and he took offense. He levied the libel charge and Ms. Garcia was arrested on October 18, 2012. She was released on P10,000 bail.

Excerpt from a report in the Inquirer explaining why the Mayor made the charge:

  • . . . [The Mayor] also stood pat on his decision to pursue libel charges against Garcia to “teach her a lesson for her arrogance. . . . [Garcia] portrayed me as a very bad person on Facebook. She has been making up stories about the supposed opposition of the people of Gonzaga against mining when in truth, there is no such resistance here now."

Ms. Garcia is clearly not a person inclined easily to be subservient. Here is her quote, also from the Inquirer, about her arrest:

  • “I find it interesting that no less than the regional director of the NBI (Hector Eduard Geologo), who had to travel for more than five hours, personally carried out my arrest."

A number of environmental groups, internet users and the political party Anakbayan have come to Ms. Garcia's defense.  Anakabayan charged that the arrest was a violation of the Supreme Court's TRO regarding the Cybercrime Law. That's where Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda came into the picture. He represents the President whose political party finds Anakabayan to be a frequent source of irritation. According to the Inquirer, Lacierda said:

  • “If you notice, the bail posted was P10,000. The penalty for online libel is prision mayor, which is higher than the penalty imposed under the Revised Penal Code. So this is not a case of e-libel. . . .Let me be clear, let me also inform our good friends from Anakbayan and I hope they don’t ride on this issue but apparently they already rode on it, but they’re claiming that this is the start of e-martial law. Let me tell Anakbayan, please don’t be ignorant of the issues. First, you’re entitled to your opinion but you are not entitled to your facts.”

The testy response suggests the President's office is bristling about the dispute.

JoeAm Arrives at Clarity

What are the ways that power is has been displayed in this case:

  1. Protest of the mining activities represented power by local citizens trying to prevent environmental damage. A group has more power than an individual.

  1. The action of the Gonzaga civic authorities in breaking up a protest meeting repersents a hard form of power: physical confrontation. 

  1. Ms. Garcia's Facebook posting, aimed at rallying support, was a peaceful form of expression but offensive to Mayor Pentecostes. Again, she was working on exercising the power of a group.

  1. The libel charge levied by Mayor Pentecostes to teach this "arrogant" woman a lesson was clearly a power play. Well, the Mayor is certainly a powerful person.

  1. The defense of the arrest by the President's spokesman exerted tremendous political power on this local case. Prickly are we?

  1. The rallying of various groups and individuals supporting Ms. Garcia represents the power of the collective, each with his own interest in the case, fighting back.

In the Philippines, conflicts arise when individuals or groups refuse to recognize the hierarchy of power and be obediently subservient to it. If the rule of proper subservience were followed, we would see no conflicts here:

  • If a province approves mining, citizens should not protest.

  • If individuals disagree, they should not band together to protest.

  • You should not speak freely and loosely on your Facebook page. It is a public expression. Sort of . . .

  • If you have upset a notable, such as a Mayor, you should apologize. Groveling would be even better.

  • Those helping you should never ever make a national political case out of a simple legal matter. Please respect the hard work our President is doing. And his sincerity.

  • Go away. Do not get others agitated enough to speak on your behalf, you know, like Human Rights Watch. This might be embarassing for the Philippines.

The expectation of subservience in the Philippines is hard and firm. Palpable. If you rock the boat by refusing to bow, you will pay.

So here's what I have figured out. JoeAm's deductions or guesses.

Question 1. Why is the Pesident involved?

The President's office is involved because the Cybercrime Law is PRESIDENT AQUINO'S law. It is not the Legislature's original law. This conclusion is consistent with the President's frequent complaints about media criticism and consistent with the fact that four legislators got identical copies of Cybercrime language from the Department of Justice (see Raissa Robles Report). It is consistent with the President's enduring refusal to cite Freedom of Expression as a cherished right in the Philippines.

It is bizarre to me. The. President. Just. Can't. Stick. Up. For. Freedom of speech. He can't get his heart and mind to go there when he is so "bruised" by criticisms.

The Cybercrime libel provision appears to be an attempt by the Executive and Legislative branches working together to subvert Freedom of Expression. Freedom of Expression is an affront to powerful people. 

  • Subservience is a Philippine ethical value. Power must be respected.

Question 2. Why is the Revised Penal Code being used for an internet case?

The Libel Provision insertion in the Cybercrime Bill by Senator Sotto was not necessary. This case demonstrates that the Revised Penal Code can be used to litigate internet libel charges. The cybercrime libel insertion was an act aimed at strengthening the government's hand in responding to and suppressing criticism.

  • Subservience is a Philippine ethical value. Power must be respected.

Question 3. Why did the Mayor lash out at Ms. Garcia?

The filing of the libel charge by Mayor Pentecostes was an act of vengeance, not an act in defense of honor. It was an exercise in power, not in protection.

  • Subservience is a Philippine ethical value. Power must be respected.

Well, it all smacks of thuggishness to me, rather than appreciation for the freedoms upon which democracy depends. There is precious little grace emanating from public officials.

Perhaps President Aquino ought to reflect back on his 2012 SONA speech which he closed by recognizing that the people are his boss. It seems to me the people in this instance are justified to rise up and bite him in the ass because:


Free speech, and peaceful protest, are powers enjoyed by the People.

So sorry, Mr. President. I know criticism irritates you. But it is a part of your job. You are a public figure. Perhaps you ought to work on dealing with criticism more gracefully and let the people speak freely.

Your mother gained office because the people spoke freely.

So did you.

Now you want to shut them up?

Know your place, Mr. President.

And tell Mr. Mayor to get a life.

You know, one with Christian kindness in it, and the diplomatic grace of understanding that he represents those who both agree and disagree with him. If he had simply respected Ms. Garcia's right to object, he would have handled this differently. Like take the dear cranky old woman a plate of spaghetti and a smile instead of a lawsuit. Listen to her instead of telling her to shut up.

You hyper-sensitive people just don't get it, do you? You are trapped by this notion that subservience is a Philippine ethical value and you MUST impose it.

Failure to be subservient is sometimes called speech.

It is legal.

Friday, October 26, 2012

An Alternative View of Pedro Calungsod

Guest Article
By Andrew Lim

In the context of the Spanish-Chamorro Wars 1671-1698

Applying what a Filipino historian wrote, it could be a case of veneration without understanding.

Pedro Calungsod
Let me get this out of the way first: this is not an attack on the canonized Pedro Calungsod. The reverence for him by many Filipinos is well-placed and well-intentioned. Dying for one's beliefs is a noble act, and there are lessons to be derived from it.

But history is indeed written by the victors, and this is no exception. What is sorely lacking is the viewpoint of the vanquished- the Chamorro natives.

The widely accepted context is that the indigenous peoples of the islands formerly known as the Ladrones were “barbarians”, “uncultured” and needed to be “saved” by converting them to Spanish Catholicism, which parallels the Philippine experience. This begs the questions of who defines what, and who needs to be saved from what.


There is plenty of historical evidence on the brutality of Spanish authorities in the Marianas – if it had happened today, the perpetrators would have been brought to the International Court of Justice in the Hague! Large scale clashes include Hurao's attack on the Agana forts (1671-1672), Aguarin (1676-77) and the Apurguan uprising (1684).

Robert Haddock on A History of Health on Guam: “. . . as the Spanish eventually quelled the Chamorro rebellion, “peace” was established at the price of the extinction of a race.”

Francis X. Hezel, SJ writes: “ What began as a religious mission to proclaim the gospel of peace soon degenerated into an out-and out war of military conquest which, as the histories have it, killed off vast numbers of native Chamorros before the missionaries were finally able to make believers out of the few survivors.” (From Conversion to Conquest: the Early Spanish Mission in the Marianas, Journal of Pacific History, pp 115-137, 1982.)


An Infographic (Rappler, 10/21/2012) on the life of Calungsod states that “... Calungsod's group is blamed for babies who got ill allegedly due to baptism.” This was not unfounded. Although baptismal water is unlikely the means of transmission, there is evidence that there was an introduction of new diseases – measles and smallpox, previously non-existent in the islands, and inadvertently brought in by the Spaniards themselves. The Chamorros had no natural immunity to these, and medical care by physicians was largely unavailable. Then there are also cases of infertility due to venereal diseases which was brought by Spanish soldiers. (Destiny's Landfall, by Robert Rogers. p71.)

Based on the first census of the Marianas, the population in 1710 was a mere 3,539 – a big drop from an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 due to the combined effects of oppression and disease.


Hurao was a Chamorro chief who organized resistance to the Spaniards in the islands in the 1600s.
Read his speech to his fellowmen, it eerily sounds like the letters written by our own heroes:

The Spaniards would have done better to remain in their own country. We have no need of their help to live happily. Satisfied with what our islands furnish us, we desire nothing. The knowledge which they have given us has only increased our needs and stimulated our desires. They find it evil that we do not dress. If that were necessary, nature would have provided us with clothes. They treat us as gross people and regard us as barbarians. But do we have to believe them? Under the excuse of instructing us, they are corrupting us. They take away from us the primitive simplicity in which we live.

They dare to take away our liberty, which should be dearer to us than life itself. They try to persuade us that we will be happier, and some of us had been blinded into believing their words. But can we have such sentiments if we reflect that we have been covered with misery and illness ever since those foreigners have come to disturb our peace?
Chamorro Agriculture by Js. Arago

Before they arrived on the island, we did not know insects. Did we know rats, flies, mosquitoes, and all the other little animals which constantly torment us? These are the beautiful presents they have made us. And what have their floating machines brought us? Formerly, we do not have rheumatism and inflammations. If we had sickness, we had remedies for them. But they have brought us their diseases and do not teach us the remedies. Is it necessary that our desires make us want iron and other trifles which only render us unhappy?

The Spaniards reproach us because of our poverty, ignorance and lack of industry. But if we are poor, as they tell us, then what do they search for? If they didn’t have need of us, they would not expose themselves to so many perils and make such efforts to establish themselves in our midst. For what purpose do they teach us except to make us adopt their customs, to subject us to their laws, and to remove the precious liberty left to us by our ancestors? In a word, they try to make us unhappy in the hope of an ephemeral happiness which can be enjoyed only after death.

They treat our history as fable and fiction. Haven’t we the same right concerning that which they teach us as incontestable truths? They exploit our simplicity and good faith. All their skill is directed towards tricking us; all their knowledge tends only to make us unhappy. If we are ignorant and blind, as they would have us believe, it is because we have learned their evil plans too late and have allowed them to settle here.

Let us not lose courage in the presence of our misfortunes. They are only a handful. We can easily defeat them. Even though we don’t have their deadly weapons which spread destruction all over, we can overcome them by our large numbers. We are stronger than we think! We can quickly free ourselves from these foreigners! We must regain our former freedom!

As told to French Jesuit Father Charles Le Gobien, secretary to the French Jesuit missions in 1700. ( Histories des Isles Marianes Paris 1700.)

Thankfully, in current times, the respect for indigenous cultures is now part of CBCP teaching.

Viewed from this perspective, Pedro Calungsod, by being a loyal ally/assistant of the imperialist Spanish forces led by Diego de Luis de San Vitores , was a small player in the subjugation of an indigenous people that had its own thriving society and culture. Rina Jimenez-David, the Inquirer writer cites his small role in her opinion column, “Saintly saling pusa” (saintly accidental participant).

In reality, it was an imperialist war; it was a war to gain access to more resources and to establish a forward staging base for the Spaniards in the ongoing battle with Portugal and England for world supremacy at the time.

So next time you feel like praying for intercession from Blessed Calungsod, say a prayer, too for the Chamorros who suffered and died defending what was really their own – their land and their culture - from an invading force.

It should make you ask: Is the destruction of an indigenous culture worth the price of missionary work, of which Calungsod was part of?


  1. A History of Guam, Lawrence Cunningham and Janice Beaty. Bess Press 2001. Guam Department of Education.
  2. The Chamorro Spanish War 1671-1698. The Guam Website. (http:// NS.Gov.Gu)
  3. Diego Luis de San Vitores Wikipedia entry.
  4. Hurao's speech.
  5. Saintly “saling pusa” by Rina Jimenez-David, Inquirer column October 20, 2012.
  6. Northern Mariana Islands. Spanish colonial rule, .p2.
  7. Timeline: Pedro Calungsod, Inquirer October 21, 2012.
  8. Destiny's Landfall, Robert Rogers. University of Hawaii Press. 1995.
  9. What history says about Pedro Calungsod by Paterno Esmaquel II Rappler article October 21, 2012.
  10. Infographic: Life of Pedro Calungsod, Visayan teenage saint, Rappler article, October 21, 2012.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the views of The Society of Honor, Joe America, other contributors or those who comment on this blog.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Now THAT was a blog! And Wheelchairs!

Today is a twofer. One comment on blogging, one on wheelchair jokes.

I think different bloggers have different ideas of what a blog is supposed to be about. Here are some of the conceptual approaches I see in the blogging world:

  1. A blogger who says: "I'm the technical professional here and will honor myself by giving you the latest technical expertise."

  1. Another one who says: "I have nothing better to do so I'm going to fill the internet up with my wisdom and life's meaning."

  1. A chat room filled with comments that are one-liner one-upsmanships.

  1. A rerun of some other guy's thinking.

  1. Pushing an agenda; "we don't care what YOU think unless you think like us."

  1. News and views with precious little comment.

  1. Raissa's blog. Fact-based article, edgy, provoking a lot of discussion and new information.

  1. JoeAm's blog. Opinion-based article, edgy and literate, provoking a lot of original thought.

More and more often these days, The Society of Honor hosts a blog discussion that rises to the ideal JoeAm had when he started blogging, that the comments would form as important a part of the blog - or a MORE important part - than the original article. So it was intensely rewarding to see last week's blog unfold:

Take a look at the discussion thread there. What do you notice about the comments?

  • No insults.

  • Intellectual curiosity.

  • Original thought.

  • Information in valuable context.

  • Good humor and good will.

Other blog formats are certainly important: technical, amusement, social engagement, information sharing, or advocating one's passion. Those are all valuable content for a blog.

Even the anti sites perform a service for readers, giving malcontents a place to call home. Ahahahaha!  No body else wants the surly, complaining tear-down artists. They have to collect somewhere.

But as for interesting and informative PERSPECTIVES on Philippine social, political and economic development . . . no Filipino blog beats . . .
  • The Society of Honor by Joe America with Comments.

Wheelchair Jokes

President Aquino took President Arroyo to task during a speech to New Zealand's Filipino community the other day. He did this with a joke, the English translation of which is:

  •  You know let me just share this joke, I kept laughing when I got it. It said, "Our fellow Filipinos who are corrupt use luxurious cars, so expensive and fast. But when they want to escape, they use a wheelchair."

Rappler headlined their article "Aquino cracks Arroyo wheelchair joke in NZ".  The commentary neither approved nor criticized the joke. The reporter Ayee Macaraig wrote:

  • Instead of a serious tirade, the President used humor to convey his message that Arroyo must be held accountable for wrongdoings during her administration.

What are we to make of this joke?

  1. Many would say "for shame, making fun of the infirm that way."

  1. Some might say, "oh, Mr. President, keep your yap shut when legal action is underway, lest you be seen as shaping the judicial finding."

  1. And many would simply laugh, along with the President. It's a funny joke.

I did number 3, actually, followed by number 2, then a quick return to number 3.

There are two ways to look at people in wheelchairs. (a) They somehow deserve our pity because they are not whole. (b) Or they are with people with different quirks than our own; theirs tend to be noticeable.

It is against the law to discriminate against handicapped people in the United States, and I abide by the law. Therefore, I hold that they are as competent as me to be the butt of jokes.

Once I got on an elevator in our bank building for my ride down the 50 stories from my office to the ground floor for lunch.  About floor 43, a young man  sitting in his battery-powered wheelchair wheeled in and spun it around to face the door.  It was just him and me, side by side.

"What kind of gas mileage you get in that thing?" I asked.

He busted out laughing. "It depends on how fast I'm going!"

My turn to laugh. "How fast can you go?"

"About 10 miles per hour on a downhill slope."

"Christ, I should get me one of those!"

He laughed again, and we had a brief chat. At the bottom he nodded and rolled away. I walked. Both of us were a little lighter that day, I think.

Pity is a ridiculous emotion in many circumstances. People want to be seen as whole. Pity robs them of the privilege.

By way of footnote, during his New Zealand speech, President Aquino admitted there was reason to boast about progress being made in the Philippines. Economic growth up, rice production up, infrastructure improvements up, corruption down. And in closing his remarks, he asked New Zealand Filipinos to be sure to vote in the 2013 elections. He said:

  • If we choose, I hope we do not choose those who are just good singers or good dancers or those who became extras in televenolas but those with platforms. And not just those with platforms but those who have shown that they have really fulfilled promises.

Right on, Mr. President!

Nice speech, all around.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Filipinos Don't Do Insecurity

As per usual, I arrived at this blog topic circuitously as one thought led to another. Here is the thought process . . .

  1. What if I wrote a blog and some really bright people showed up?

  1. What if you gave a party and no one showed up?

  1. What if you gave a party and too many people showed up?

  1. What if I wrote a blog and no one showed up?

  1. I have yet to meet an insecure Filipino.

Ahahahahaha. That's exactly the line of thought. Somewhere between point 4 and point 5 came the swift deduction that all these questions belie a certain anxiety attached to insecurity. But Filipinos don't seem to fall victim to those anxieties.

Janis Joplin
They arrive at any time, schedule things at the last minute and go with the flow, and react rather than plan. I'm not sure watches are sold in the Philippines.

Loosey goosey is an understatement by multiple degrees.

I've never met an insecure Filipino.

Well, not in the way I have met dithering or equivocating or unsure Americans. Americans are always questioning themselves. Will I succeed? Is this what I am supposed to do? What will the (neighbor, boss, sister, parent, pastor, boyfriend, guy on the street) think? I'd better go read "Dear Abby" to get some rules here. Or whoever replaced Dear Abby . . . advice for the lovelorn  and lifelost . . .

Filipinos rule the roost on certitude.

It is fascinating to me, for I am aware that hyper-sensitivity and anger are mainstream personal qualities for a lot of Filipinos, reflected in endless clan or election wars, a kind of bitterness like the Hatfield and McCoy feud that lasted for generations. Shotguns and 45's and submachine gun killers of journalists.

Let's just say it can be intense.

And then there's the win/lose contest that rules every conversation, a need to raise oneself up and put down one's antagonist, who may be one's best friend, with subtle little underminings like "why did you pick THAT color? or "your chicken is fat and stupid!" or "why did you go out with THAT guy?" or "it was a little too spicy for me!" So there is clearly a vertical hierarchy of esteem that is being relentlessly pursued here.

Yet Filipinos project a self-assuredness that is impenetrable.

"Not a penny to my name . . ."
And they lead lifestyles that would drive JoeAm into a blithering idiocy of anxiety, like, the day laborers and tricycle peddlers who have NO assured income  . . . ever . . . for a lifetime. Joe had his 30 year working career with health benefits and a double dip on pension, private and Social Security. Emphasis on the Security.

Perhaps it's that the more we have, the more we are afraid of losing it.

That's what drives American insecurity, I'm sure, and is why President Barak Obama may be tossed from office no matter if he saved the planet from catastrophic economic collapse. What have you done for me LATELY Barak baby, because I am tired of awakening every fricking morning with insecurity about my job and future and the value of my heavily mortgaged house!

Put the wisdom of Janice Joplin side by side with that of the wisest of the wise men. "Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose". She 'n Bobby McGee figured that out on a truck ride across the States from Baton Rouge, singin' every song that driver knew.

  • "Security is just another word for nothing left to lose."

That, I think, is the true state of insecurity in the Philippines. What's to be insecure about if you have so little to lose?

I'm all for an all-out push to drive insecurity in the Philippines up, up, up. More introspection. More second-guessing of SELF instead of the other guy. More questioning.

Like, do I really want to cheat my way to success?

And do I really have to prove myself every time I meet someone?

Up with insecurity!  Up with introspection!

Up with wealth and a career and a good life and lots to lose!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Constitutional Re-Write: Aquino vs Kritz

Rappler did a nice wide-ranging interview with President Aquino on October 17. It touched on everything from Chief Justice Sereno to Best Friend Puno to the Cybercrime Law to re-writing the Constitution.

I'd like to extract a few remarks from the President on the subject of re-writing the Constitution to bring more foreign investment into the Philippines. The re-write effort is termed "cha-cha".

Foreign investment has been a burning point of passion for some bloggers like Ben Kritz. Ben works as a business consultant in the Philippines. Open up the floodgate to overseas ownership and Ben's services are mighty useful, I'd think. He knows Philippine commerce inside out. So he has a point of view on the need to re-write the Constitution, and it is hard. Hard in the sense than anyone not sharing that view is an idiot.

But maybe it is useful to pause and recognize that ignorance - accidental, negligent, or purposeful - allows all of us to see only a part of the whole picture.

I've opined myself that raising permitted ownership of businesses from 40% to 100%, and allowing land ownership, would be beneficial to bring both money and management expertise into the Philippines. So I am on the same side as Ben K. And I am influenced myself by the fact that I have bought two substantial properties in the Philippines with my money, but have not owned anything.

So I ask, from the comfort of my desk chair in the nice home I do not own, why the rigamarole?  Why do I have to play games like own property through a trust, for example? Or place all my assets in the name of my wife? Some wives would be inclined to take the money and run. Certainly there are a great many moneyed people who are held back from investing because the path to ownership is blocked.

So I, too, come at this from a point of view derived from personal circumstances. I sit in my desk chair surrounded by a forest of my own ignorance about historical precedent on rewrites or the ways and means of business owners in the Philippines. And a part of me says "rewrite it!"

How does President Aquino come at it?

Well, his view is much broader than that of Ben Kritz or Joe America. And he has the whole of his government giving him ideas, information and advice. Neither Ben Kritz nor Joe America get this depth of intelligence.

Another circumstance is that he actually has to ACT, or FAIL TO ACT, whereas Kritz and America only need to type at their keyboards. They bear no risk from acting or failing to act.

As I read the President's remarks on the subject of re-writing the Constitution to get more foreign investment into the Philippines, I have to give him credit.

He makes good sense.

First of all, he points out that the Constitution is a good basic law and there are many other more important priorities that need to get straightened out before the Constitution is looked at. 

President Aquino:

  • "When they conduct surveys, cha-cha is, at the most, 7th in the list of 10 priorities. We talk about red tape, policies, corruption, infrastructure, cost of electricity, etc., as more pressing concerns," he said.

There you go. Perspective and priorities. Opening up the spigot for foreign investment is priority number 1 for Mr. Kritz, no fault there. It is important for JoeAm. No fault there. But it is not for President Aquino.

No fault there.

Unquestionably, until Customs, for example, is cleaned up, both of immense snarls of red tape and stained hands in every fee jar, why bust one's buttons trying to lure money into the Philippines. Importers and exporters would turn sour . . . or turn away. Futile. It's like trying to attract tourists who have to deal with trashy airports and swarms of beggars to get to the jewels of Philippine beaches.

Kritz complains mightily about the lousy airports in the Philippines. He gets the point of "infrastructure supporting tourism". The lack of infrastructure gives him ammo to ridicule the whole tourism push, and the President for not getting the airports rebuilt in a year.

But Ben ignores the point of "infrastructure supporting investments" it seems to me. The President wants to work on that infrastructure before rewriting the Constitution.

Well, the point is the same for both, tourism and foreign investment. They both need a framework that works. Policies and practices and regulations and transportation that turn outside interest, and money spent, into real value. Smoothly. Efficiently. It will be interesting to see how the ambitious "More Fun in the Philippines" tourism push turns out given the weak infrastructure supporting it.

President Aquino also makes the point that property ownership is not crucial to success. He cites the case examples:

  • "China is the biggest growing economy in the last 10 years and they only have long term leases, [they] cannot own land. Vietnam, the darling for such a long time, [foreigners] also… cannot own land. So that doesn't seem to be an argument born by the facts," Aquino said.

I have to sit here in my cozy home and chuckle. Yes, I suspect that it true.  "Where there is a will, there is a way." If there is money to be made, or there are other values (like retiring in the Philippines), investors will find a way around ownership restrictions.

That said, I think the restrictions are a part of the framework that eventually needs to be fixed. But perhaps it is not a critical part. And for sure, it needs to be weighed against the big gorilla in the room, the room where the rewrite of the Constitution would occur.

It has to be weighed against the fact that we can't predict what the Gorilla will do, what the re-write will produce. President Aquino's take on this:

  • "Until I am shown empirical evidence, I don't think the risk of opening up the Constitution is worth the theoretical possibility that it might have," he added. 

So he share's the wariness JoeAm has expressed about re-writing a document that could, if disassembled, get reassembled as an entirely different form of government. Those who believe that we are finally getting THIS ONE rooted in sound principles and honesty are not inclined to throw everything up in the air creating opportunity for people to run around scooping up as much fame, power and wealth as they can glom onto. Whilst not getting much done to build a wealthier, healthier Philippines.

It's better to work on progress within the rules of the existing Constitution, a reasonable document, if not a perfect one.

President Aquino also addressed the point of "need" or "objective" in re-writing the Constitution, saying that he has asked his staff to draw up a list of matters warranting attention. I would imagine such an exercise would list things now in the document that need to be removed or changed, and additions to it. It will be interesting to see what they come up with.

Certainly, without a clear road map of changes to be effected, the risks to opening up the Constitution to rewrite are huge.

I come down agreeing with the President's take on this, and leave it to Ben to argue from the vantage point of his own priorities.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Page from Charles Dickens

I was led to write this article by a piece in the Christian Science Monitor. That publication is on my news feeds. The editors like to feature lists of this or that. They are usually amusing.

A recent effort was a listing of the top 15 strange comments overheard in the library by librarians. One of them cracked me up:

  • "Did Charles Dickens ever write anything fun?"

Well, Charlie was rather obsessed about poverty and classism in old Europe, particularly as they affected poor young boys growing up. Rather like his own upbringing when his father was thrown into debtor's prison. But he actually had the richest sense of humor. It is found in his characterizations of the characters who dominate all his books. Real people. Not heroes. Greedy, poor, unclean, brutal people sometimes. Snooty pretenders. Wizened old cranks.

You know. Like your neighbors.

Like the Senate.

And I smile to think that Dickens wrote his books in installments some 150 years ago. The installments were published in newspapers, and he was the rage of the time. He effectively blogged his novels.

Miss Havisham
The Book I will sottoize a page from is "Great Expectations", which is a story of our hero young "Pip", fatherless, motherless and living at the start of the book with his older sister and her husband Joe. Joe is a blacksmith, not the brightest iron in the furnace but good of heart and protective of young Pip. A mysterious benefactor arranges for Pip to go to London to clerk at a law firm for a gruff cheapskate lawyer named Mr. Jaggers. The separation from Joe is heartwrenching but it is best for Pip, a very bright boy. Joe knows he can show Pip no future.

Jaggers is an excellent lawyer, as we will see in a moment.

Pip falls in love with the mysterious and unpredictable Estella, a resident at the remarkable Miss Havisham's grand residence. Miss Havisham was jilted on her wedding day and remains frozen in time, hung up on the crash of love lost. Love's grip is a key theme of the novel, and Pip gets gripped by Estella.

But let's just take a moment to step back as Pip gets to know Mr. Jaggers, courtesy of a tour of the law firm by a law clerk at the firm named Wemmick.

Wemmick invites Pip to his house some time, an invitation which Pip accepts. Then Wemmick asks:

< < < < < - - - - > > > > >

"Have you dined with Mr. Jaggers yet?"

"Not yet."

"Well," said Wemmick. "he'll give you wine, and good wine. I'll give you punch, and not bad punch. And now I'll tell you something. When you go to dine with Mr. Jaggers, look at his housekeeper."

"Shall I see something very uncommon?"

"Well, said Wemmick, "you'll see a wild beast tamed. Not so very uncommon, you'll tell me. I reply, that depends on the original wildness of the beast, and the amount of taming. It won't lower your opinion of Mr. Jaggers's powers. Keep your eye on it."

I told him I would do so, with all the interest and curiosity that his preparation awakened. As I was taking my departure, he asked me if I would like to devote five minutes to seeing Mr. Jaggers "at it"?

JoeAm lookalike. Charles Dickens.
For several reasons, and not the least because I didn't clearly know what Mr. Jaggers would be found to be "at", I replied in the affirmative. We dived into the City, and came up in a crowded police court, where a blood relation (in the murderous sense) of the deceased with the fanciful taste in brooches was standing at the bar, uncomfortably chewing something; while my guardian had a woman under examination or cross-examination - I don't know which - and was striking her, and the bench, and everybody with awe. If anybody, of whatsoever degrees, said a word that he didn't approve of, he instantly required to have it "taken down." If anybody wouldn't make an admission, he said, "I'll have it out of you!" and if anybody made an admission, he said "Now I have got you!" The magistrates shivered under a single bite of his finger. Thieves and thieftakers hung in dread rapture on his words, and shrank when a hair of his eyebrows turned in their direction. Which side he was on, I couldn't make out, for he seemed to me to be grinding the whole place in a mill; I only know that when I stole out on tiptoe, he was not on the side of the bench, for he was making the legs of the old gentleman who presided quite convulsive under the table by his denunciations of his conduct as the representative of British law and justice in that chair that day.

< < < < < - - - - > > > > >

So, did Charles Dickens ever write anything fun?

I don't know about you, but Dickens had me smiling all the way through this book. His people come alive, from the mention of their names to their quirks of their lives. The travails the characters face are made more intense by the vividness of the pictures in which they perform.

"He'll give you wine, and good wine. I'll give you punch, and not bad punch."

The line shows Wemmick to be a good man, a comparatively poor, underclass man, who knows his place in life, yet keeps it in healthy - indeed, tasteful - perspective.

What a cast of characters. Tell me the names aren't fun:

  • Miss Havisham
  • Abel Magwitch
  • Joe Gargery
  • Mr. Pumblechook
  • Mr. Jaggers
  • Mr. Wemmick
  • Herbert Pocket

And the active writing style.

We dived into the City, and came up in a crowded police court, where a blood relation (in the murderous sense) of the deceased with the fanciful taste in brooches was standing at the bar, uncomfortably chewing something  . . .

We didn't just walk downtown and into the City court to watch the victim's relative testify.

The magistrates shivered under a single bite of his finger.

Brilliant, Dude. Gives me shivers, too. Dickens is my idol. Words are scalpels for him, or feathers to caress, or microscopes under which people look a lot like bugs.

  • The book is a mystery, too. Who is Pip's benefactor?

  • And a romance. Will the heart-smitten Pip marry the pretty and teasing Estella?

  • And a bit scary. The creepy pale face in the window at Miss Havisham's dark, foreboding mansion. Or Pip's meetings with the unbalanced Miss Havisham, an old woman trapped for years in sorrow and anger.

But more than anything, the book is good for the mind and soul.

An easy read? No way. British language of 150 years ago was wretchedly twisted; strained through the imagination of the verbose Charles Dickens, it assumes entirely new shapes of grand contortion.

Is the climbing of a mountain easy? Afterwards, yes.

Is Dickens fun?

The best.