Saturday, March 30, 2013

Parsing Fitch

The critics of the Philippines ate another bite of hat the other day when the Fitch Rating Agency upgraded Philippine debt to investment grade. Discussion threads on the upgrade were again the habitat of the 100 percenters, broken down about 80/20, with 80% offering commendations and full credit to President Aquino, and 20% claiming all credit should flow to Gloria Arroyo.

Largely missing were the voices of reason that say, sure, Ms. Arroyo can claim some credit for things like VAT, but the rating would not be raised if it weren't for Mr. Aquino's good governance agenda and fiscal management. Furthermore, some aspects, like steady OFW inflows, belong to no one but OFW's.

Like, where's the ANALYSIS instead of the need to win arguments?

Well, Joe's got it.

He took apart the Fitch statement announcing the rating upgrade piece by piece. The full statement is provided after this commentary. Here are Joe's findings:

  1. Fitch places the Philippines at the bottom of the investment-grade category of ratings. There is a long way to go to reach top. Key point: work is not done.
  2. Cash flows compare well with other countries thanks to strong OFW inflows. Imports are expected to increase with net flows remaining healthy through 2014. Key point:  The ratings look SIDEWAYS at other countries and AHEAD at what might happen; the Philippines compares favorably, in the main, with other peer nations, and the future looks stable.
  3. The economy is strongly driven by domestic demand. Key point: growth is not driven by manufacturing or exports or government infrastructure spending.
  4. Improvements in fiscal management have made debt resilient to shocks. This is a combination of good GDP growth with good debt management. Key point: Fitch explicitly attributes the START of this to President Arroyo.  Obviously, President Aquino has built on the foundation.
  5. The macro-economic condition is sound. Inflation is favorable to peer nations. Key point: BSP (the central bank) is doing good work.
  6. Governance is still weak compared to peers.  Key point: President Aquino is explicitly credited with improvements, but the Philippines is still seen as having governance problems.
  7. Family income and living conditions in the Philippines are below peers. Key point: Way below. Poverty is an economic risk.
  8. Philippine tax revenues are weak compared to peers. Key point: It is hard to extract blood from a turnip. Or taxes from a bazillion poor people.
  9. The Philippines can realize further ratings improvements by continuing to grow GDP while broadening the tax base. Ratings could go back down if governance deteriorates or financial integrity slips. Key point: Pause to appreciate the achievement. Then get back to work. Aquino's "collect more earned taxes" initiative is sound.
  10. The ratings assume: (a) good governance continues, (b) economic growth remains a little better than 5% per year, and (c ) there are no unexpected shocks. Key point: Pray.

The Philippines is looking good. The current administration should be rightfully proud of this achievement. So should OFW's and those of us supporting the economy by spending our income as soon as it comes in. Like, about EVERYONE I know.

Those who offer up sniping criticisms to take away pride in the occasion are small of mind and heart. This is a very notable and worthy achievement. By the Philippines. Period.

Now, y'all kindly get out there and keep earning and spending. Obey the laws, pay your taxes, be kind to your neighbor, support your nation.


Fitch Statement: March 27 (Organized in outline form by the editor for clarity)
  • Fitch Ratings upgraded the Philippines' Long-Term Foreign-Currency Issuer Default Rating (IDR) to 'BBB-' from 'BB+'. The Long-Term Local-Currency IDR has been upgraded to 'BBB' from 'BBB-'. The Outlooks on both ratings are Stable.
  • The agency has also upgraded the Country Ceiling to 'BBB' from 'BBB-' and the Short-Term Foreign-Currency IDR to 'F3' from 'B'.
  • Key Rating Drivers . The upgrade of Philippines' sovereign ratings reflects the following factors:
    • The Philippines' sovereign external balance sheet is considered strong relative to 'A' range peers, let alone 'BB' and 'BBB' category medians. A persistent current account surplus (CAS), underpinned by remittance inflows, has led to the emergence of a net external creditor position worth 12% of GDP by end-2012, up from 6% at end-2010. Remittance inflows were worth 8% of GDP in 2012 and proved resilient even through the shock of the global financial crisis. Fitch expects a rising import bill stemming from strong domestic demand to lead to a narrower CAS and to stabilise the net external creditor position at a strong level through to 2014.
    • The Philippine economy has been resilient, expanding 6.6% in 2012 amid a weak global economic backdrop. Strong domestic demand drove this outturn. Fitch expects GDP growth of 5.5% in 2013. The Philippines has experienced stronger and less volatile growth than its 'BBB' peers over the past five years.
    • Improvements in fiscal management begun under President Arroyo have made general government debt dynamics more resilient to shocks. Strong economic growth and moderate budget deficits have brought the general government (GG) debt/GDP ratio in line with the 'BBB' median. The sovereign has taken advantage of generally favourable funding conditions to lengthen the average maturity of GG debt to 10.7 years by end-2012 from 6.6 years at end-2008. The foreign currency share of GG debt has fallen to 47% from 53% over the same period.
    • Favourable macroeconomic outturns have been supported in Fitch's view by a strong policy-making framework. Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas' (BSP) inflation management track record and proactive use of macro-prudential measures to limit the potential emergence of macroeconomic and financial imbalances is supportive of the credit profile. Inflation has been in line with 'BBB' peers on average over the past five years.
    • Governance standards, as measured in international indices such as the World Bank's framework, remain weaker than 'BBB' range norms but are not inconsistent with a 'BBB-' rating as a number of sovereigns in this rating category fare worse than the Philippines. Governance reform has been a centrepiece of the Aquino administration's policy efforts. Entrenching these reforms by 2016 is a policy priority of the government.
    • The Philippines' average income is low (USD2,600 versus 'BBB' range median of USD10,300 in 2012), although this measure does not account directly for the significant support to living standards from remittance inflows. The country's level of human development (as measured in the United Nations Development Programme's index) is less of an outlier against 'BBB' range peers.
    • The Philippines had a low fiscal revenue take of 18.3% of GDP in 2012, compared with a 'BBB' range median of 32.3%. This limits the fiscal scope to achieve the government's ambition of raising public investment. The recent introduction of a "sin tax", against stiff political opposition, will likely lead to some increment in revenues and underlines the administration's commitment to strengthening the revenue base.
  • Rating Sensitivities.
    • The main factors that could lead to a positive rating action, individually or collectively, are:
      • Sustained strong GDP growth that narrows income and development differentials with 'BBB' range peers. An uplift in the investment rate that enhances growth prospects without the emergence of macroeconomic imbalances.
      • Broadening of the fiscal revenue base, as well as further improvements in the structure of the Philippine sovereign debt stock.
    •  The main factors that could lead to a negative rating action, individually or collectively, are:
      • A reversal of reform measures and deterioration in governance standards.
      • Sustained fiscal slippage, leading to a higher fiscal debt burden.
      • Deterioration in monetary policy management that allows the economy to overheat.
      • Instability in the banking sector, leading to a crystallisation of contingent liabilities on the sovereign balance sheet.
  • Key Assumptions .The ratings and Outlooks are sensitive to a number of assumptions.
    • The agency assumes the Aquino administration will persist with its fiscal, governance and social reform agenda.
    • Fitch estimates trend GDP growth for the Philippines in a range of 5%-5.5%.
    • The ratings incorporate an assumption that the Philippines is not hit by a severe economic or financial shock sufficient to cause a significant contraction in GDP and trigger stress in the financial system.
    • Fitch assumes that there is no materialisation of severe risks to global financial stability that could impact emerging market economies, such as a breakup of the euro zone or a severe economic crisis in China.

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Society Tipping Point

The Underbelly of  a Nation Rising
This blog is at a tipping point. It represents almost 600 articles dedicated to Joe's education and various observations and opinions. It has been a forum for excellent discussion. Rarely negative, generally respectful, often enlightening or entertaining.

Knowledge is never complete. But at some point, we have to ask the question that Edgar Lores asked a few days ago, that I ask regularly, and that others undoubtedly ask as they stop by, opine for a while, then move forward to other interests: "are we making a difference, and were do we go from here?"

I think that, personally, I have reached a point where I am starting to repeat myself, circling around again and again to the Church and Education and Justice and the banned field (for foreigners) of election politics.

  • How many times can I explain how important FOI is? You get it. I get it. The question is, do the people who can act on it get it? That is, are they committed to the well-being of the Philippines over personal advantage?

  • How many times can I suggest that more support for the President and nation would strengthen the Philippines? The need to build oneself up by tearing others down is relentless in this neck of the Pacific. It's as if one's intellectual credentials are attached to the demise of others.  It is wearing to watch so many people on the attack against their own country.

The President has a difficult job and cheap shots are easy.

President Aquino is honest, honorable and highly capable.  If you can't back him, you will never find anyone up to par. Just steel yourself for a dismal democracy if that is the collective mind-set hereabouts.

I'd venture to say that JoeAm understands the Philippines mighty fine good. He understands better than most the cultural dynamics, the strengths, the flaws, the hopes, the opportunities and the risks of living in the Philippines.  He has much more to learn, and a blog is an excellent classroom.

He has gained this knowledge because he has had good teachers. People who commented and shared a perspective. The record shows 8,700 published comments in this blog.  Boy howdy, try putting that into a school lesson plan.

Have we reached important people with this blog? Ahahahaha, we have. For sure. Guaranteed, 100% we have.

Have we made a difference? Yes, we have done more than a tossed grain of sand into the West Philippine Sea to to change the destiny of the Philippines forever.

Do I want this to be a vanity blog where I mostly just amuse myself?


Do I want to dig into the minutia of the budget or Department of Education or Ombudsman to pick apart strengths and weaknesses?

No. That's real work. I'm retired.

Do I want to lord my grand perspectives over the Philippines like some overblown colonizer with a self-proclaimed greater wisdom? Like that benigno malcontent at Get Real?

I couldn't if I wanted to. As much as I know, I am still a lightweight. There are so many people here with a much deeper and well-grounded understanding of the Philippines than I have. After all, they live here and know the history that I miss, plus have a grasp of the nuance of language and cultural behavior that my western stonehead blocks out. My talent is running words together in a way that can make vivid sense, and , of course, the American perspective that I overlay on things, rightly or wrongly.

So this blog needs to change.

Here is my plan. I will reduce my volume of writing for the Society of Honor. There will be more empty space from day to day.  I'll tend to avoid the issues that are well-covered elsewhere and look for relevant topics that can do with a western perspective. I'll also continue to comment on other blogs and news sites in the Philippines, supporting the dialogue and collective voice of the people there.

The Society is a group of highly intelligent people. This blog remains wide open to articles submitted by others. I wish Mariano would do a blog. And our newfound gem in the "village", Amy R. "J" does his own blog but is welcome any time to contribute here. MB, too, of course. Edgar, Cha, Andrew and Josephivo have done articles, and I welcome more from them, and from others. I am confident there are people hanging around in the background who could pen a perspective that would do well what Joe has aspired to do: provoke new ideas and constructive discussion.

I'm not sure yet what tone articles will take going forward. I suspect you might see a tempering of stridency. Less Angry Maude and more reflection. We'll see.  

Looking through the editor's master lens we might see articles that are:

  • Positive, because I think the Philippines is buried unreasonably in complaint. 
  • Innovative in the discovery of fresh outlooks and new ways of solving problems. 
  • Literate and playful - satirical now and then - for the fun of it, and for the meaning of it. 
  • Beyond all, discussion that is voluntarily mature (not moderated), intelligent and respectful of the many styles and lifestyles that generate a rich exchange of perspectives and meaning.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Blueprint for Philippine Defense?

Philippine and American Training Exercise
The following news report appeared in Ariraing News last week. It is short and well worth reading. Commentary follows.

S. Korea-U.S. Joint Forces Sign New Defense Plan

Arirang News, March 25, 2013

Since North Korea's torpedo attack on a South Korean warship and its shelling of a South Korean border island in 2010, the South Korea-U.S. joint military forces have been working on a plan to counter North Korean provocations more effectively.

After more than two years of talks, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Jung Seung-jo and the Commander of the U.S. Forces Korea General James Thurman signed a so-called "Joint Counter-Provocation Plan" on Friday which is a defense strategy led by South Korea, and supported by U.S. forces.
The plan went into effect immediately.

"With the completion of this plan, the South Korea-U.S. joint forces are now ready for strong and immediate counter actions against any North Korean provocation."

The new defense plan calls for military aid by the U.S. armed forces when required by the South Korean forces.

Previously, the U.S. forces were allowed to participate in an inter-Korean military conflict when a full-fledged war breaks out.

The plan also lays out specific joint counter military strategies against various types of North Korean provocations. 

Despite rising inter-Korean military tensions, South Korea's presidential office says it will offer humanitarian aid to North Korea and expand dialogue.. if Pyongyang doesn't carry out further provocations and shows efforts to stick to its international obligations.

A senior official in the presidential office told Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency on Sunday, that the Park Geun-hye administration's North Korea policy is different from that of the previous government's hard-line policy.

The remarks follow President Park Geun-hye's approval of a humanitarian aid shipment to North Korea by a private charity group on Friday.

Han Da-eun, Arirang News

This is a very unusual development. The U.S. will bow to the lead of South Korea.

American military leadership can do this confidently because multiple scenarios have been drawn up that define under what circumstances U.S. forces will engage, and how they will be deployed.

I would also suspect that South Korea has demonstrated a grasp of military strategy and execution that has gained the respect of top American military officials.

So we have a prototype plan here, do we not?

  1. Sovereignty of South Korea preserved; power of America standing ready.

  1. Specific agreements define what levels of U.S. force will be deployed in certain circumstances.

  1. Mutual confidence exists.

It took several years to finalize this plan, specifically, I would imagine, point 2. 

Can the Philippines craft a similar plan with the U.S. to counter China? After all, China is also being provocative. Some observations:

Point 1 is a given. The Philippines cannot be subordinate to U.S. military leadership.

Point 2 is a matter of time and talk, and having the Korean plan in place might shorten the timeframe. It can be the starting framework.

Point 3 is the crucial matter. Do American generals respect Philippine military leadership, discipline and thinking? I have no idea. But I can say with some confidence an opinion exists among the American generals based on joint training.

Under terms of the Visiting Forces Agreement ("VFA"), the U.S. will not allow her troops to be held in Philippine jails pending trial. I think this reflects the American military's lack of confidence in Philippine legal and judicial processes.

Is the Philippine military in the same boat? Viewed with skepticism? Or do top Philippine generals, schooled in American military academies and a frequent partner in military training exercises, command the respect of America's generals?  During training exercises, do they display the kind of crisp, firm decision-making required of top military leaders? 

I have no idea, but I don't mind posing the blunt question in the back of some American minds: are Philippine generals top-notch capable, or are they generals because they were someone's classmate?

The U.S. military will not subordinate American troops to Philippine generals in whom they have little confidence.

Very clearly, President Aquino would need a candid readout from American generals about Philippine competency. The President ought not think he can "sell" Philippine capability to American generals politically. They won't buy what he is peddling. They will only buy competence.

If Philippine top generals are good, no problem. A Korean-style defense agreement ought to be drawn up.

If they are not good, they need to be changed or trained up more intensely than in the past. Philippine military leadership needs to be capable of commanding respect among very demanding, competent American generals.

I certainly have no idea of the character and capability of top Philippine generals. But I do know that Jun Abaya, former House Representative and head of the Department of Transportation and Communications ("DOTC"), ranked 2nd in his class academically at the U.S. Naval Academy. That gains huge respect points.

Maybe he'd make a superb general.

My point is that the top ranks have to be very, very good to impress American generals. You actually have to prove competence, not expect it because, well . . . we're the Philippines.

You can bet that the U.S. is not inclined to subordinate its troops to the weak of judgment, skill or will. They'd have to explain the loss of American lives to American parents, spouses and children. They also have to deal with an American public that knows very little about the Philippines. But once a "deal" is announced, the press spotlight will shine on the relationship, and the Philippine eviction of American military, and Philippine "first out" of Iraq, will be brought glaringly into that light by critics.

I find it interesting that America's pivot to Asia presents an opportunity for the Philippines to prove capability. American skepticism has always been, since 1898, can the Philippines get its self-governing act together? 

I'd opine that the proof is to be found in deeds, not politics.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Charmaine Clamor

It is good to step back from the words and the analyses and the tensions and joys of the reach for understanding to simply experience a Philippines that is beyond words. Sometimes we catch it in a photograph. Sometimes in a smile. Sometimes in a song.

Thanks to Attila for introducing Charmaine Clamor, and Cha for sending over her delightful video about "My Funny Brown Pinay".

Today, the song . . .

Monday, March 25, 2013

OFWs and Aliens: A Nation Unto Themselves

It is amusing sometimes, the chain of thoughts that generates a blog. This one started because I was trying to write a different one.

I was going to resolve the "Top 12 Filipino Entertainers" list by ranking those entertainers who I think have carved out a special place of distinction in the Philippines. So this is how the list was shaping up when I hit a wall:

  1. Manny Pacquiao
  2. Kris Aquino
  3. Jessica Sanchez
  4. Lady Gaga

Well, you see my problem right away.

Without question, if you are within earshot of a conglomeration of huge black weatherworn speakers blasting music across the Pacific from your home town, you will hear Lady Gaga prancing her sexual stuff. The lady has beat, and Filipinos love it, along with the raw sexual language and irreverence and power.

Celine Dion would be on the list as well. And the "One Man Band" doing his Waray Waray stuff for the entire Visayas.

Well, the list crosses borders, does it not? It must.

Then I reflected that my readership would probably understand the list, and accept it. But the homelanders would not.

And from that, it struck me that there is a "Group C". If you read the prior blog, you will know that Group A are the broad masses with shallow engagement in issues and Group B are the educated self-starters, internationally clued in, who read and think analytically and solve problems.

I herein propose that there is a Group C, and I belong to that group. It is a group of people who may or may not be citizens of the Philippines, but have Philippines in their soul. They share their lives with more than one nation. It includes me and Edgar and Cha and European Josephivo and New Yorker Attila and even beningo of Get Real Post and our OFW fans in Washington and all over the place.

The paper we all carry that designates "citizenship" is important. Indeed, we have pride in it, whatever national name is printed on the cover. But there is a different allegiance at work here.

It is like the difference between love of wife and love of family.

We'll die for either.

We are wed eternally to the nation of our citizenship.  But the Philippines is our family. Yours. Mine. No difference. I married into it I suppose. You who are overseas moved out of the house but still have an anchor there.

So Group C has a different set of standards than even Group B. These are standards built on separation from the platforms that most stand on.

A person who skydives is a different person after his first jump.

We have all jumped.

It seems to me that Group C is closely allied with people of other nations who have also made the leap. I am more closely aligned with a Mexican migrant looking for a day job in front of the Home Depot in Pasadena than I am to Cousin Sandy landlocked in the small town of her birth in Colorado.

Group C is "Global Man" where Man of course includes woman. For Global Man, national allegiance is more an intellectual commitment than an imposed obedience. It is of the heart, either way. But perhaps Global Man has shed a few more tears behind the commitment, both bitter and sweet.

We have all let go of something to gain something richer.

And most of us have learned to appreciate differences, not rebel against them.

Those still attached to home may either admire or be jealous of those who took the leap. Although I suppose envy does contain a measure of admiration.

And I suspect that many of us in the nation of Global Man would find it difficult going back. Well, maybe not difficult. It would be easy for me to return to the United States. 

But I rather think we would be somehow emptier.

A Portrait of the Philippines as a Young Nation

Every once in a while it is good to pause to try to pull together some of the varied thoughts dumped out day to day in these blogs. Rather pull chaos back into order, if you catch my drift. So let's do a little of that. If it seems deja vu, relax; it is not a mental disorder, at least, not yours. It is merely a review of what has been said before.

Maybe it is helpful to start with a long distance view and then drill down. And from our eye way up in the sky, we can see that the Philippines is a young nation. Younger than the United States. Younger than you might imagine, reflecting on 500 years of Spanish Catholic influence.

The Philippines is situated smack dab in the center of the crescent of Asia that runs from Indonesia in the southeast, westward to Malaysia, Viet Nam and neighbors, northward past China and on to the northeast where Korea and Japan complete the crescent.

No nation in the world is better situated to prosper in an integrating global world. It is at the point of parabolic focus of the most dynamic region on earth.

What is a nation? I contend that it has a time-of-birth date-stamp. A nation is the community that is formed when people reach an agreement about how to govern. Or when a few powerful people definitively impose their rule. The date stamp is whacked into history when that agreement is finalized or rule is declared.

The Philippines was established as a new nation in 1987. The agreement ended the Marcos nation. A new, democratically ordered nation was formed under President Cory Aquino who began her term on the wings of prayer and ended it wrestling mightily with the forces of favor and power.

These forces of favor and power in the Philippines, and the corruption they spawn, are like a smoldering fire in the tundra. Hard to stamp out. Burning underground. Smoke suffocating everything, including good works. Occasionally flaring up and burning bright. 

The Philippines is trying to reconstruct democratic values but old habits, old ways of conducting business, die hard.

Let's try to characterize the Philippines today. It is good to use the Edgar Lores method of enumerating ideas for ease of reference in the follow-up discussion. Call it a portrait by the numbers. Not artistic, perhaps. But maybe interesting to look at.

  1. The reconstruction is the building of democratic institutions and values that allows the nation to progress from being a nation of and for the empowered - Marcos culminating the failed ideology of power - to a nation of and for the people. The public institutions have been rebuilt, perhaps of rough clapboard rather than polished mahogany, but the framework is nonetheless good. The values . . . not yet.

  1. A deeply embedded dynastic, somewhat authoritarian, network of power and wealth still controls who runs things and it does not give up its grasp easily. Fortunately, these networks are under considerable pressure from a public with louder and more aggressive spokespeople demanding information and accountability. The internet is the medium of modernization. The Big Brother listening post is with the people, not the politicians.

  1. Alas, the most important institutions of accountability, the police and the judiciary, are under the influence of the empowered. Justice has not yet reached the people.

  1. The forces of the corrupt still today act as a brake on good governance. Given the intensity of opposition, President Aquino has done wonders to tip the playing field toward honest  governance.  It will take perhaps 20 more years of honorable leadership to put the people fully in charge.

  1. A Freedom of Information (FOI) bill would be a huge step forward, sealing openness and honesty into the way government works. If the people are the "boss" of government, they need information. Lacking FOI, we know the favored and powerful, the corrupt of good will if not money, are still in charge.

  1. The nation's educational system is both fundamentally amazing, yet failing on two counts.

  1. It is amazing in that so many schools, so many teachers, and so many kids recognize how important education is. They are working broadly and steadily at building, teaching and studying to advance the knowledge and skills of young people, and to care for their nation's future.

  1. One huge failure is the nation's inability to keep up with the flood of babies born of Catholic tradition. A poor nation is a poor nation. It can only build a poor network of schools. The solution, of course is threefold: (1) make the nation richer, (2) allocate education as a higher priority than other expense choices, and (3) slow the birth rate. You can do one of these three things and not realize much progress over the long term. You can do two and make some headway. You can do all three and build an excellent school system. It would help to apply the power of the internet to reduce the overwhelming burden of textbook purchases, school construction and need for teachers.

  1. The second failure is the apparent inability of the Educational leadership to comprehend that memorizing information is not a kind of knowledge that goes very far. The Philippine school system teaches mandated obedience, and from that subservience. It does not teach the values that allow obedience to emerge VOLUNTARILY from a deep desire to compete for honest opportunity. If young people today develop ambition for self-improvement, it is in spite of the school system, not because of it. Democracy is a beautiful institution because it is a loud, open, ever-brainstorming collective of competitive problem-solvers. It assures both security and opportunity. It requires an educated citizenry to operate well, and when it operates well, it is an unmatched system for motivating its people with the promise of opportunity, growth and wealth.

  1. Philippine culture is much like the educational system, both good and bad. It is tremendously rich. Unique. Precious. And it is dysfunctional.

  1. The bonds of faith and family are profound in the Philippines. So is historical appreciation of the many separate islands and regions, and the native traditions, the land and sea-based traditions, the family traditions, which remain strong even today.

  1. It is unfortunate that the nation's moral anchor, the Catholic Church, chooses to condemn knowledge-based progress, provoking a raw political clash, rather than relish the part it could play as the anchor to good values within a culture that is modern and working hard and earnestly to solve problems. Problems like education and poor homes on the mud banks and teen pregnancies and kids dining from trash piles. The prominant moral voice has become a counter-productive, complaining voice, not a voice ministering to the nation, helping it build.

  1. Filipinos are passionate people, but the passions are used poorly to denigrate and attack and tear down rather than discover and seek knowledge and build. Minds are closed quickly and defended harshly. This is a 100 percent nation. You are either 100% MY way or you are 100% my enemy. 95% is not good enough. And "if you are the President of my nation, you must be 100% right, doing it my way, or I will attack you, not just your acts or decisions, but you, personally". It's hard to have a unity, a harmony of unique individuals, a nation, if everyone insists their way is the only way. 

  1. President Aquino is vastly underappreciated, even by the yellow hordes who pushed him into office. Here is a man with the courage and strength of character - his father's determination and his mother's good will - to try to move a nation out of the darkness of cheating, poverty and poor behavior and into the light of modern, honest governance, productivity and wealth.

  1. Every institution or group that finds its opportunities constrained becomes a critic. The corrupt, the Catholic Church, Arroyo and her backers, the smugglers, people who live by skimming from contracts, DENR officials, corrupt generals, a wayward Sultan's teammates, and any 100 percenter who finds one of his pet oxen gored. CHINA is not the main enemy. No, China is in second place to the critics with oxen gored by the President's initiatives; their divisive cries always suggest there is a better way but they usually point to none. There is no better way. Most of the critics are simply those who cannot get outside themselves to build a patriotic community called "nation".

  1. But get past the acrimony and we can see that the deeds being done by the national government are no longer being lined up to benefit the empowered. They are being lined up to build a nation that serves its people. The accomplishments are in plain daylight but obscured by all the dirt thrown by the miserly and small of pride, the envious, the bitter, the biased and the intellectually bankrupt. Look at agencies like the central bank and Finance and BIR and Justice and DOT and Tourism and DILG.  And the Ombudsman. And Foreign Affairs. These agencies are working diligently to build a better Philippines. To put in roads to airports, to jail the cheaters, to collect much-needed revenue, to modernize airports, to get airplane servicing up to par to re-open European flights. To improve the nation's debt rating and attract more capital, to get peace and prosperity into Mindanao, to solve Mindanao's electricity problem. To better prepare for storms. The amount of good works going on is flat out awesome. High rises and casinos and a real middle class and more and more tourism jewels like Palawan emerging from the corrupt fits and starts that characterized pre-Aquino Philippines.

  1. In this new nation that welcomes good governance, we see the people's voices being raised again and again, louder and more purposefully. It was the people's voice that got RH passed, that got a poorly structured Cybercrime Bill halted and into the Supreme Court, that got a wayward Chief Justice thrown from office, and that will determine what quality of character emerges in the 2013 elections. We see attorneys making a reputation by defending the people. We see congressmen like Sotto who betray the values that people admire driven into silence.

There is only one course for this young nation. It is toward honesty and good works. Toward decisions that benefit the people, not the empowered. Toward problem solving and wealth.

If we focus on the broader picture, rather than the many specific acts, we can see that the anti-corruption drive is not just the jailing of bad people. It is remaking a nation's character. It is laying the foundation for good works that can, over time, ease the nation's burdensome poverty. Attention to two other master initiatives would add to this foundation, building a framework of steel and assurance of greater prosperity and a healthy, long term future: (1) building Education to ease physical demands and teach problem-solving disciplines rather than discipline, and (2) building Justice to assure fair and firm enforcement of laws feeding a forthright, efficient, law-based judiciary. 

FOI is critically, critically important to seal the nation to candor and honesty. Information is the currency that replaces favor and power as the driver of deeds. Information assures that the doing of good deeds on behalf of the people becomes this nation's cherished work ethic.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Chaos, Hallucinations, Order, Suicide

This study of East/West cross-cultural differences leads me to believe that we all live in an artificial reality that is the construct of our upbringing and our limited capacity to think. We walk a hallucination most days. So if this blog seems a little far out, just sit back and enjoy the ride. We are going nowhere with a sense of purpose. No harm here, for sure.


We are fed the values and emotional patterns of our family, friends, and mentors, the latter being relatives, pastors, teachers, bosses, community leaders and anyone else we grant authority to.

If our parents beat us, we are likely to turn the whip on our own children.

Unless we learn to internalize new, more powerful motivations that halt the hand in mid-air just before it descends onto Junior's butt.

That is the dialogue that goes on throughout life, isn't it? The patterns we think we are supposed to follow, modified by the lessons we learn. I mean, really LEARN. Take to heart. Not just memorize and allow to float aimlessly in a cloud of cranial inconsequentialities.

If our parents pray, we are more likely to pray. Well, unless it becomes an element of the rebelliousness that is natural in American homes as kids embark on the great separation that occurs around age 18. Which is why so many young American adults part from the church, leaving the pews to the elderly. To escape from the traps they feel their parents lay to restrain them, constrain them, tell them how to live. Many return to the church later on their own terms.

Praying is more likely to persist in the Filipino family where the glue that holds the family together is tougher than Mighty Bond. The composition of the glue might be pride, or its reverse, shame, or even guilt. And most generally a whole lotta love. It is unquestionably strong.

The  American family is magnets of similar pole, pushing outward. The Filipino family is magnets of opposite pole, pulling inward.

I think it is not the facts we learn that are important. I think it is the disciplines, the methods. I have a degree in mathematics and I remember we studied integration of the non-racial kind, calculus and trigonometry, sines and cosines and my favorite, tangents. At least tangents I could visualize. Those cosine lines could twist in funny ways, for sure. When teaching myself how to program, I would use sines and cosines to run do-loops that would draw elipses that would migrate in one direction until they hit a certain random count, then plunge off in a different direction, the angle also random. The computer drew quite elegant designs, order out of random chaos. Now today I can't calculate calculus problems and I can't program in any language, having forgotten the particulars. But I have remembered the disciplines of order thrust among random acts.

That is, after all, life, is it not?

Order thrust among random acts.

How well we order things means a lot. It determines if we will get good grades, good jobs, lots of wealth and the ability to read and sort out our passions without deciding like that poor Manila girl last week, to pull the plug

What were your passions as a youngster? Mine were baseball and basketball and building model airplanes and murdering thousands of big red fire ants. A little older it was basketball and volleyball and tennis and legs. We grow, eh, we grow.

I successfully parted from my family by going to college away from my home town. It seems like I have been shooting relentlessly outward ever since, some kind of big bang pushing me ever onward into new places and lifestyles and richness.

Along the way I've been a religious convert and a marijuana beach bum, a disciplined Army lieutenant and an undisciplined poet, penning imaginings outside of any box known to mankind. Love, hate, sex and more love. Been there done that. Corporate peon, yes.  I've scrubbed grocery store floors in the heart of Watts, the roughest, poorest part of Los Angeles. And stacked oranges in the produce aisles in a junky supermarket off Melrose . I've also lodged my feet on the desk of a 50th floor penthouse office downtown, propping up the President of the corporation with my brain and ability to apply aforesaid mathematical disciplines to the business of making money.

Philippine schools simply DO NOT TEACH enough disciplines. Disciplines is different than discipline. Oh, Philippine schools know discipline. It is the biggest barrier to learning disciplines. Discipline curtails innovation. Disciplines involve learning the organization and problem solving  methods that open up the world to solution. And learning the psychological wholeness that allows troublesome facts or odd behaviors of others not to insult one's face or interfere with one's achievement.

I'm not sure why Filipinos are so easily offended by mistakes. Or bumps in the road. The level of angst that flies from a bad incident here reflects an energy far beyond what the offense warrants. The hunt for perfection that Filipinos seem intent to pursue, yet grossly fail to reach, is of course a hallucination. It is a fact of life, the statistical odds, when you get 95 million people, there will be a girl somewhere who has it rough and decides to commit suicide. You can't stop the math from working.

Life is not ordered. It is order within chaos.

To the extent that we allow our emotions to give life to the chaos, we are not doing ourselves, or the Philippines, much of a favor.

Our goal should be to learn and teach the disciplines of order. Of solving problems that the mathematics of random events throws in front of us. Of integrity, for that is best for the whole of the community, whether it is attached to a faith or simply figured out as the best way to behave.

The Philippines is a huge pile of emotion, detached from disciplines.

It is wasted energy. It is fire burning precious forests rather than fire molding steel ingots.

It wears, sometimes.

I'd advise to train it, trap it as passion, not anger, and use it to build, not tear down.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Arrogance of the Righteous

Righteous Brothers
My thanks to "J" at The Nutbox for couching the Sabah conflict a while back in terms that make impeccable sense. That discussion inspired this article. Perhaps I will say much the same thing, in far less eloquent words.

My views herein are shaded by the knowledge that the Righteous Brothers, a popular singing duo in the States, oh, a couple of years ago, are neither brothers nor righteous.

The following definition from works fine. We need not consult Humpty Dumpty for a tailored definition.

right·eous  [rahy-chuhs]  adjective

  1. characterized by uprightness or morality: a righteous observance of law.
  2. morally right or justifiable: righteous indignation.
  3. acting in an upright, moral way; virtuous: a righteous and godly person.
  4. Slang. absolutely wonderful: righteous playing by a jazz great.

Righteous is variable. One nation's view of what is morally right or virtuous may differ from another's. One religion's view of what is morally right or virtuous may differ from another's.  One man's view of what is morally right or virtuous may differ from another's.

When a circumstance arises that brings the virtues into conflict, we often get murder. Or war. Passions built upon a sense of what is right, what is virtuous, are intense and usually unbendable.

In the United States, we see this within a frozen and inept government as partisan war is waged between the political parties risking the wealth and well-being of the nation for deep and unbending principles of what is virtuous.

It is a uniquely a human condition, the tying of emotions to intellectual concepts of virtue. But it is decidedly animalistic the way we behave when caught up in righteousness, claws and fangs extended, unable to adjust our emotions and thinking to take the heat off the moment.

Indeed, our various communities ensure that we do not bend. The righteous person who bends gets assigned the worst names: betrayer, treasonous, coward. Execution is often the legalistic outcome among even the most advanced of civilized nations when the righteous judge that the offense is severe.

Alas, one man's terrorist is another's patriot.

And ten years later, the terrorist is sometimes a patriot's best friend.

Yet, given this clear sign that righteousness, and even treason, are variable trends, why do we remain so hard-headed about things?

Take the Sabah incident.

Who are the righteous players? The Sultan and his backers, the Malaysian government, the Philippine government, the peoples of both nations including Philippine Muslims and perhaps some players outside the immediate scene who have supported the Sultan.

Within the Philippine population, there are those who back President Aquino and those who hold that he is the reason for the problems, whether through historical acts (who was invited to the Mindanao peace table) or handling the Sultan after he was in Sabah (he insulted the Sultan with an order to leave).

In Sabah, there are multiple interests and senses of virtue: natives, Malaysian transplants, Filipino workers who back the Sultan, and Filipino workers who feel threatened by the Sultan's acts.

Each group of people has its unique morality, its unique virtue.

Each group is "right" in the context of their own circumstances and needs.

No group is wrong, from within the walls of their intellectual fort.

The "righteousness" is so intense that even moderate voices, such as I am trying to be, will be attacked for abridging the moral values of the righteous.

I stopped reading many discussion threads on the incident because it is obvious there is very little discussion going on. There is only the relentless announcing of different variations of the same hard-headed sets of inflexibly righteous stands.

The same thing is happening regarding the suicide of a university student. I particularly found offensive the claim of two university professors that the school's top administrators should resign because they "caused the death". That is righteous gone lunatic.

The peculiar thing is that any argument levied to condemn one party is legitimate if applied in return. The Sultan is just as guilty of taxing Mr. Aquino's "face" and insulting him as Mr. Aquino is in demeaning the Sultan. Both missed something in the translation, the communication.

The two professors are cruel to accuse the university administrators of being cruel in causing a death.

"What we've got here is a failure to communicate", said the chain gang captain to Cool Hand Luke before he slugged him.

Righteous is artificial.

But we have not the depth of intellect or the depth of character to get past it.

I suggest we strive to exceed our grasp and reach for a better understanding of what it is like to be in the other guy's shoes.

Then, perhaps then, we will be able to articulate a position that is non-confrontational, and that solves the problem to the best advantage for all.

Yes, someone will have give something up. Perhaps all will have to give on one point or another.

That is what peace and harmony often require to adjust ones own sense of what is "righteous" to fit both parties in a dispute. Thus, righteous is enlarged rather than fixed in a small way.

It is better the giving up be done thoughtfully rather than at the end of a gun, or cannon.

It is better that righteous be enlarged rather than kept small. As in small-minded.