Wake Up, Philippines!

Ong: Illegitimate debts and the economy (1)

Posted in Debt Policy, debt problem, Debt Service, Sovereign Debts by Erineus on May 21, 2009

By Ted Aldwin Ong
Saturday, September 08, 2007

I FIND some sense in the statements of Albay Representative Edcel Lagman, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, when he said that “”If we want to sustain and enhance the economic gains we have achieved and ensure that our people will truly reap the benefits of economic growth, we have to first resolve the twin problems of a ballooning population and huge debt service.”

Debt servicing has been eating almost 50 percent of national budget through automatic appropriations. The Arroyo regime is considered the run away winner as far as debt accumulation is concerned in financing its government among post 1986 EDSA administrations The Arroyo is also the record holder in terms of debt payments. In such a short period of time Mrs. Arroyo has borrowed a total of P2.82 trillion in while paying a total of P2.83 trillion.

While Representative Lagman expressed a significant point on the impact of debt servicing to economic growth, it needs to take an important step by looking into the legitimacy or illegitimacy of government debts especially the contracts entered by the Arroyo regime.

It is undeniable that the national government has entered into numerous projects which proved to be disadvantageous to the Filipino people. At the end, it is the people – the taxpayers, who bare the responsibility of paying anomalous projects. Ultimately, it is also the people who suffer the lack of appropriations for social services because debt servicing automatically absorb a big chunk of the national budget.

Let us look into the concept of the illegitimacy of debt in order for us to fully understand why some projects are by nature illegitimate, thus it must not be paid by taxpayers.

Lidy Nacpil, coordinator of Jubilee South-Asia Pacific Movement on Debt and Development who is also the vice-president of the Freedom from Debt Coalition-Philippines, has thoroughly discussed the concept of illegitimate debts.

The concept of legitimacy is a broad concept that touches on the principles of human rights and sustainable human development, justice and fairness, accountability and responsibility, sovereignty of people’s and nations, democratic rights and processes.

Loans which violate these principles are deemed to be illegitimate – or unacceptable. This violation occurs in the elements necessary in the acquiring of the debt and its impact, which includes, illegitimate processes, illegitimate terms and contractual obligations, illegitimate purposes and illegitimate use of the funds, illegitimate origins, illegitimate impact of debt servicing and illegitimate practice of using debt, debt relief, and access to credit as leverage for imposing conditionalities.

So much of the word “illegitimate” but numerous projects fall under this concept and category like the Social Studies textbooks and teachers’ manuals for public elementary and high schools, the Austrian Medical waste Projects, the North Luzon Railways Project, the Small Coconut Farms Project and the Power Sector Restructuring Program. (To be continued)

(Comments to tao.kolumnista@gmail.com)

Revisiting heritage

Posted in Churches, Culture, Heritage, History by Erineus on May 21, 2009

By Ambeth Ocampo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:14:00 05/20/2009

The past few weeks I revisited places I had known as a boy. First stop was the ruins of the Dingras church in Ilocos Norte. In my nostalgia, I would remember the church as some abandoned Benedictine abbey after Henry VIII had looted it and had its monks hung, drawn and quartered on Tyburn Square. Memory does play out its own fictions because Dingras was wild pasture made smelly by a few goats awaiting slaughter for signature Iloco dishes. (I have been corrected by e-mail, Ilocano refers to the people, Iloco is the language.) Where the pasture used to be there is a church. Creative parish priests have put the ruins to good use—as a support for the steel roof that now covers a living place of worship. However, after a recent earthquake that left the church intact, there is fear that the posts supporting the roof could fall like dominoes when the ruins move and place stress on the roof. The suggested quick fix was to dismantle the ancient church façade, in whole or in part, to keep the church usable. To cut a long story short, a public hearing was conducted there, and it was agreed that the controversial ruins would be preserved and strengthened, and that a new church would be built around the ruins. The old need not be sacrificed for the new. Following the architects’ recommendations submitted last May 15, the bishop of Ilocos Norte and the National Historical Institute (NHI) will sign an order to begin preservation work.

Next stop was Bohol province where the NHI identified, installed and transferred to the church, the government and the people of Bohol not one but four historical markers: first, the Church of Maribojoc was marked; then Punta Cruz, the ancient watchtower (also in Maribijoc) that faces a crystal clear sea, was declared a National Historical Landmark; the same day the church of Dauis was marked, and this was followed by the declaration of the Dauis church complex as a National Historical Landmark. This covers the church, the watchtower and the kumbento (convent) in this sleepy town best known for its postcard pretty views and those heavy ensaymadas made with pork lard known as “torta.”

What do all these markers mean? Simply, that these sites and structures deemed historic and historical now form part of the fabric that is slowly being woven into that unfinished tapestry we call Philippine history. These four places newly inscribed in the NHI registry are not just part of the history of Dauis and Maribojoc; they form part of the history of the nation.

I spent two childhood summers at a farm in Bohol, but I can’t remember which town it was. All I recall was that it took an uncomfortable overnight trip by boat from Cebu to Tagbilaran in those days. Halfway to the farm, I was roused from sleep to see a tree sparkling in the dark like a Christmas tree in April, as it was filled with fireflies. I rediscovered Bohol in 1995 when I made a day trip from Cebu. I took a fastcraft from Cebu, rented a tricycle in Tagbilaran and visited all the churches possible: Tagbilaran, Loboc, Loay, Baclayon, Dauis, Maribojoc, Alborquerque, Dimiao and more. I learned a lot about Jesuit and Recollect architecture in Bohol but I returned to Manila deaf after spending hours beside a noisy motorcycle engine.

My next trip was better organized as I was introduced to Fr. Milan Ted Torralba of Baclayon and to Lutgardo “Gardy” Labad, better known for his involvement in cheesy Regal films. For many Boholanos who grew up in the shadow of these churches, they are just that—old churches, everyday sights that they see but do not notice.

Why did people from Manila come all the way to see these dilapidated structures. What did the visitors find so wonderful? Historical markers are a means to direct their attention, to make Boholanos see and notice the treasure in their midst. We are fortunate Bishop Leonardo Medroso of the Diocese of Tagbilaran is sensitive to heritage and what it contributes to make liturgy more meaningful. When I saw his predecessor Bishop Leopoldo Tumulak on the plane to Tagbilaran last week, he sighed and said, “We should have started earlier, Ambeth, we could have saved more heritage.” I replied that we should not fret, for experience is a polite term we use to describe our mistakes. There was no need to regret what is past, but to rejoice in what we still have.

Visiting the churches of Bohol these days I realize how much of the moveable church art and architecture are now gone. A carved side altar from the church in Dimiao is now in the National Museum. Images of saints that used to adorn the now empty niches in church retablos and the intricately designed silver liturgical vessels and other decorations are now in private collections in posh Makati enclaves. Even religious images from private homes have been exported to Manila, the most popular of them being those hardwood images of the Virgin Mary, many of which are carved in the shape of a bell with small pin-sized heads of ivory, painted in a riot of colors: blue, yellow, red, and orange. These folk religious images came with elaborately carved and painted home altars or “urna”; and, of course, the distinctly carved cabinets, tables and chairs of molave and balayong all have been brought to Manila. Worse, many of these things have been exported to Europe and the United States where they are now lost to us.

(Conclusion on Friday)

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu


Book burning in Manila

Posted in Censorship by Erineus on May 21, 2009

By Amando Doronila
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:02:00 05/20/2009

“Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.”—Heinrich Heine

BOOK burning has a long and dark history. According to Holocaust Encyclopedia, book burning refers to the “ritual destruction by fire of books or other written materials.” Usually done in public, the burning of books “represents an element of censorship and usually proceeds from a cultural, religious, or political opposition to the materials in question.”

One of the most famous of these events, the encyclopedia points out, is the burning of books under the Nazi regime. On May 10, 1933, university students in Germany burned up to 25,000 volumes of “un-German” books at Berlin’s Opernplatz. The bonfire was a “symbolic act of ominous significance … presaging an era of state censorship and control of culture.”

Prodded by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, in an action to bring German arts and culture in line with Nazi goals (including anti-Semitism and the superiority of the Aryan race), right-wing students threw onto the bonfire the “unwanted” books with great ceremony, band playing and “fire-oaths.”

On April 6, 1933, according to the encyclopedia, the Nazi German Student Association’s press and propaganda office proclaimed a nationwide “Action against the un-German Spirit,” to climax in a literary purge or “cleansing” by fire. Local chapters were to supply the press with blacklists of “un-German” authors.

Among the authors whose books the students burned on May 19 were well-known socialists such as Bertolt Brecht and August Bebel; Karl Marx; critical “bourgeois” writers like the Austrian playwright Arthur Schnitzler; and “corrupting foreign influences,” among them American author Ernest Hemingway. Also torched were the writings of the 1929 Nobel Prize-winning German author, Thomas Mann, whose support of the Weimar Republic and critique of fascism raised Nazi ire, and the works of best-selling author Erich Maria Remarque, whose anti-war novel, “All Quiet on the Western Front,” Nazi ideologues had vilified as “a literary betrayal of the soldiers of the World War.”

Other writers on the blacklists included American authors Jack London, Theodore Dreiser and Helen Keller, whose belief in social justice encouraged her to champion the disabled, pacifism, improved conditions for industrial workers and women’s voting rights. Also burned were the writings of the 19th-century German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, who wrote in his 1820-1821 play, Almansor, the admonition: “Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.” Almansor referred to the burning of the Qur’an during the Spanish Inquisition.

Wikipedia points out that some particular cases of book burning are traumatically remembered, “because the books destroyed were irreplaceable and their loss constituted a severe damage to cultural heritage, and/or because this instance of book burning has become emblematic of a harsh and oppressive regime.”

Such were the destruction of the Library of Alexandria and the burning of books and burying of scholars under China’s Qin Dynasty. The chronology of book-burning is long. It has been pointed out that torching books has a long history “as a tool wielded by authorities both secular and religious, in efforts to suppress dissenting or heretical views that are perceived as posing a threat to the prevailing order.”

It need not be belabored that, according to scholars, “when books are ordered collected by authorities and disposed of in private, it may not be book burning, strictly speaking—but the destruction of cultural and intellectual heritage is the same.”

According to the scholar Elaine Pagels, in AD 367, Athanasius, the zealous bishop of Alexandria … issued an Easter Letter in which he demanded that Egyptian monks destroy all such unacceptable writing, except for those specifically listed as “acceptable.” The chronology of book-burning incidents includes the destruction of the House of Wisdom during the Mongol invasion of Baghdad in 1258, along with all other libraries in Baghdad. According to legend, the waters of the Tigris “ran black for six months with ink from enormous quantities of books flung into the river.” Books have been attacked and have suffered at the hands of regimes or religious authorities in many climes and regions, and for various motivations.

In Orwell’s “1984,” Wikipedia points out, “the euphemistically-called ‘memory hole’ is used to burn any book or written text which is inconvenient to the regime.”

Closer to home, it has been pointed out that “the advent of the digital age has resulted in an immense collection of written work being catalogued exclusively or primarily in digital form. The intentional deletion or removal of these works has been often referred to as a new form of book burning. This reference is more closely related to the relationship between book burning and censorship than the systematic and categorical elimination of a particular body of literary work. In general, book burning does not refer to individual censorship, but rather to an act of mass censorship”—at the hands of a bureaucratic thought police. We will examine this issue in the next column.


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Gov’t local, foreign borrowings up 23.4%

Posted in debt problem, Sovereign Debts by Erineus on May 21, 2009

By Ronnel Domingo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:18:00 05/21/2009

MANILA, Philippines—The government has reported a 23.4-percent increase in its borrowings in the first four months of the year, as expenditures rose due to economic pump-priming efforts.

Data from the Bureau of the Treasury showed that from January to April, the government borrowed P246.4 billion from here and abroad, higher than the P199.74 billion incurred in the same months in 2008.

As of end-April, the government has availed itself of P100.73 billion in foreign loans or 55.4 percent higher than the P39.44 billion contracted a year ago.

The increase was mainly due to the sale of $1.5 billion or P71.386 billion worth of global bonds in January, as well as the tapping of project loans from the Asian Development Bank, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation.

Also, the government borrowed from domestic lenders P145.65 billion, which was 9 percent lower than the P160.23 billion contracted in the first four months last year.

The decrease was partly because of a debt swap implemented in January, which involved a total of P136.6 billion.

Conducted through the government’s debt consolidation program, the swap involved maturing five- and seven-year benchmark bonds that were traded for issues of the same tenors.

Further, the government paid in the first four months of the year a total of P62.56 billion of foreign loans and P135.46 billion of domestic obligations.

This brought the country’s end-April net borrowings to P48.36 billion or 332 percent higher than the P11.2 billion a year ago.

In April alone, the government borrowed P5.8 billion from foreign lenders, a decrease of 72 percent from P17.08 billion in the same month last year.

Borrowings from local lenders amounted to P26.62 billion or 11.9 percent lower than the P30.22 billion a year ago. This resulted in a net borrowing of P18.87 billion in April, a reversal of a net payment of P1.3 billion in the same month last year.


Katrina upset over sex video

Posted in Internet, Pornography, Scandal/Expose/Mess by Erineus on May 21, 2009
May 20, 2009, 7:01pm

Senators Wednesday supported the enactment of a stronger legislation aimed against Internet sex videos after a Filipino actress sought the help of the Senate in pursuing filing criminal charges against a celebrity doctor.

Actress Katrina Halili Wednesday arrived at the Senate to ask Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) for assistance in filing a case against celebrity doctor Hayden Kho for allegedly circulating in the internet their “sex video.”

Halili, accompanied by her lawyers Mamyrlito Tan and Raymond Palad, went to Revilla’s office at around 2 p.m. Members of Revilla’s staff said she started to cry the moment the media men were asked to leave the room.

Dressed in green halter blouse and gray skinny jeans, Halili merely shook her head when asked for any statement regarding her intention to file charges against Kho.

But behind closed doors, Revilla and Halili briefly discussed the circumstances that the actress would encounter regarding her impending legal action against Kho. Afterwards, the senator accompanied the actress to the NBI to file appropriate charges against the doctor.

“Sinimulan ko ito, tatapusin ko,” Revilla told reporters in an interview.

When asked what specific case they would be filing against Kho, Revilla said: “Titingnan pa natin. Abangan n’yo na lang kung ano ang maaari nating isampang kaso laban kay Dr. Kho at sa mga kasabwat niya. Sisikapin natin na mapigilan pa ang pagkalat nito (sex video).”

Revilla said he has assured Halili that he will help her in achieving justice over Kho’s videotaping and presumed spreading of the video.

“I will make sure that Halili will get justice,” he said adding that “The case would be an eye-opener to the country on the proliferation of the so-called sex-scandal videos that is already alarming and not entertaining at all.”

Revilla, in a privilege speech last Tuesday, demanded the Professional Regulation Commission to revoke Kho’s medical license. The NBI has also vowed to conduct a thorough investigation into Kho’s “sex videos.”

“I already talked to NBI Chief Nestor Mantaring over the phone after my privilege speech and he assured me that the NBI will probe the matter,” he said. Revilla also praised Halili for her courage and determination in seeking justice against Kho.

“I really admire Katrina for refusing to be a victim forever. This is no longer Katrina’s fight alone but the fight of all Filipinas against harassment and exploitation,” he said.

Revilla acknowledged the women’s rights group Gabriela and Halili’s lawyers for rallying behind the actress’ cause for justice.

He cited Section 24 of the Republic Act No. 2382 or the Medical Act of 1959 whereby immoral or dishonorable conduct and even insanity are among the grounds for reprimand, suspension or revocation of a doctor’s certificate of registration.

Revilla also pushed for the passage of his Anti- Pornography Bill which seeks to slap stiffer penalties against those who publish, broadcast and exhibit pornographic materials through the use of traditional media, internet, the “cyberspace,” cellular phones and other forms of media.

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago also agreed that Halili’s case now raises the need to start a national debate on the free expression and censorship.

“This is a problem that faces Internet providers and users all over the world. Even in the United States they cannot simply prevent predators from preying on very young girls, some of whom have ended up dead. We can actually do it technologically, but we will have to spend a lot of money, and then there would be a great national debate on free expression and censorship,” Santiago said.

Sen. Pilar Juliana Cayetano, meanwhile, called on other women victims of sex scandal videos circulating in the Internet and being peddled like pirated DVD movies in public to file court cases against their violators for causing them emotional and psychological anguish and violation of privacy.

“It is not difficult to understand why most of them decide to remain silent or retreat to ignominy instead of thinking of fighting it out in court because the pain and humiliation they have to go through is unthinkable,” she said.


Graft due to Palace ‘holding power of purse’

Posted in Budget, Congress, Malacanang/Palace, power of the purse, Senate by Erineus on May 21, 2009

By Philip Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:30:00 05/21/2009

MANILA, Philippines—Congress has practically abdicated the power of the purse to the executive branch, failing to scrutinize the annual national budget thoroughly and facilitating corruption in the process, a UN-financed study released Wednesday said.

Congress is given four months to debate the budget. But, more often than not, debates—particularly in the House of Representatives—deal not with policy but rather parochial concerns,” said the 2008/2009 Philippine Human Development Report (PHDR).

“Questions about agency performance are asked only intermittently and superficially. Cost estimates of budget proposals are rarely challenged,” said the PHDR, sponsored by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the New Zealand Agency for International Development.

“Weak accountability is facilitated by weak congressional oversight, not only in practice, but in law. In fact, it is the executive and not Congress that wields effective power of the purse,” said Toby Monsod of the NGO Human Development Network, which conducted the study. Monsod is one of the principal authors of the report.

81 excess undersecs, asecs

The 173-page report scored the presidential practice of making “political appointees,” noting 81 “excess” undersecretaries and assistant secretaries as of December 2007 costing the government P58 million a year.

It said 56 percent of the political appointees were “not eligible.”

The Office of the President also accounted for most of the “excess” officials (31), “of whom 89 percent were ineligible,” it said.

The report said Congress, entrusted with control of the purse by the Constitution, had failed to “adequately validate the performance of agencies or the consistency of proposed budgets with state policy.”

“While the budget intends to allocate funds for identifiable deliverables, it pays no attention to whether deliverables from the previous year(s) have been delivered or not,” the report said.

Unused audit reports

“Part of the problem is that audit and accomplishment reports of previous years are not used intensively during the budget preparation and debate,” it added.

The report said agencies were required by law to submit quarterly work and financial reports to Congress, Commission on Audit, Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and Office of the President.

“However, agencies fail to meet this requirement in a complete and timely manner, to the chagrin even of the DBM, the executive’s own budget oversight agency. Congress in turn fails to pursue the matter,” the PHDR said.

The report also scored the “imbalance in the power of the purse” with the executive branch able to “override the mandate of the General Appropriations Act.”

The executive branch does this by not releasing funds, transferring “unused” appropriations to “savings and using this amount for other purposes,” using “discretionary, intelligence, or confidential funds—over which the legislature officially has no oversight—as well as ‘unprogrammed’ funds in the budget.”

By deciding the level of debt service, Malacañang can significantly affect the “total amount of resources in play over the year,” the report said.

Huge Palace funds

Monsod, who presented highlights of the report at its launch, said the amount of presidential funds beyond congressional oversight was “overwhelming,” making the pork barrel of lawmakers “seem almost petty.”

In contrast to the graft-ridden pork barrel that averaged P8 billion from 2004 to 2008, the report said the one-liner appropriations or the “lump sums” under the control of the President amounted to P224.44 billion or 16 percent of the national budget in the 2009 National Expenditure Program (NEP).

“In the spirit of transparency, it is crucial to find out which of these one-liners are actually backed up by plans and programs or which simply serve as discretionary funds,” the report said.

Also “scattered” in the 2009 NEP are P1.12 billion in confidential and intelligence funds used “upon the discretion of the President and are not subject to proper audit.”

“Although one must assume the necessary secrecy in the use of these funds, it is possible to create appropriate oversight mechanisms,” the PHDR said.

Intelligence funds

The report suggested a bipartisan legislative select committee to exercise oversight over confidential, intelligence and similar discretionary funds “with the condition that the details of the use of these funds cannot be divulged to anyone outside of the committee in the interest of national security.”

“Weak congressional oversight over (foreign financial aid) and other funds, combined with inherently powerful spending powers of the executive has, unfortunately, also invited corruption, weakening government institutions even further,” the report said.

49 assistants, consultants

The PHDR also pointed out that the numbers of “presidential consultants/advisers (PC/PAs)” have “significantly” risen from 2002.

There were 22 presidential assistants in 2002, 39 in 2003, 44 in 2004, 37 in 2005, and 49 in 2008, the report said.

“The number has risen significantly since 2002 after a steady decline in the 1994-1998 period (the Ramos administration), a slight spike in 1999 (the Estrada administration) and a sharp decline in 2001. By the beginning of 2008, however, the number of PC/PAs had reached an all-time high of 49,” Monsod said.

Overlapping agencies

Monsod said the report noted that “overlapping bodies cause confusion and demoralization.”

“How, for example, are authorities defined between the presidential adviser on foreign affairs, the special adviser for energy affairs, and two presidential assistants for education, and the official Cabinet secretaries for these same portfolios?” she said.

“Even the designations themselves show confusion, for instance, as between the PA for job generation and the PA for food security and job creation,” Monsod said.

And there are the “task force on anti-smuggling” and the “presidential smuggling group to apprehend, seize, investigate and prosecute acts involving smuggling, unlawful importation and other similar violation,” she added. With a report from Rose Ann Samorin, trainee


RP must stay on P200-B budget deficit ceiling

Posted in Budget, Finance by Erineus on May 21, 2009

By Michelle Remo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:07:00 05/21/2009

MANILA, Philippines—Amid doubts raised on the Philippine government’s ability to stay on track of its fiscal target for 2009, three investment banks said they believed the budget deficit for the year would not exceed the official ceiling.

ING, Citigroup and JP Morgan said the Philippine government was unlikely to allow the budget gap to surpass the ceiling for the year—set at 2.5 percent of the targeted gross domestic product, or nearly P200 billion.

Although the government has made pronouncements it would pump-prime the economy through aggressive spending in social services and infrastructure, the banks said the government seemed unlikely to do it to the extent of breaching the deficit ceiling.

“If correct, our view that the worst of the global downturn was behind [during the first quarter], the restrained public spending should form into a trend and keep the full-year deficit within the official target,” ING said in a paper on its latest assessment of the Philippine economy.

The Department of Finance reported this week that the government posted a P7.9-billion budget surplus in April. But for the first four months of the year, the fiscal position was at a deficit of P111.8 billion.

Critics said the four-month deficit was big that it could lead to a breaching of the full-year ceiling. But the DOF said the latest data were not worrisome, insisting that the government’s full-year deficit would stay within target.

Citigroup agreed with the DOF, although it described a P200-billion deficit as something huge. Last year, the deficit stood at only P68.1 billion.

“The single-digit surplus [in April] would momentarily disrupt the expanding deficit trend. Nonetheless, our forecast of a hefty fiscal gap close to P200 billion this year remains intact,” Citigroup said.

According to JP Morgan, the government would not spend as much as it intended if its revenue goals would not be achieved.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue, which contributes the bulk of the government’s revenues, missed its collection target in April as it collected P87.1 billion in taxes compared with its goal of P100 billion for the month.

The BIR blamed the shortfall on the economic slowdown.

JP Morgan said revenue data as of April indicated that spending could also be lower than programmed for the year. The bank said the government would only stick to its expenditure program for the year if revenue targets were also met.

“Expenditures [for the year] may run behind plan,” JP Morgan said.

The goal of limiting the deficit to about P200 billion this year assumed revenue collection of about P1.2 trillion and programmed expenditures at about P1.4 billion.