Wake Up, Philippines!

Virtual Rallies and Cyberactivism vs Con Ass

Posted in Charter Change, Cyberactivism, Internet by Erineus on June 17, 2009

By Carlo S. Ople

I was just reading the latest articles on the recently concluded Anti Con-Ass rally on Inquirer.Net. According to the police, this rally had the lowest turnout, around 6,000 based on their estimates.

The organizers, on the other hand, claim that they had 13,000-15,000 warm bodies. You got to ask yourself the question: despite all the outrage this issue has generated, why only 15,000 people went to the streets?

I’m sure there are varied reasons but at the end of the day the measurement of success for events like this is the number of participants. Sadly 15,000 is not representative of the majority of the Filipino people and can easily be dismissed by the politicians pushing for Con Ass.

However, the good news is that on the Internet, we have almost double the number of the people who went to the rally sign up on the “Stop Con Ass Now” cause on Facebook. As of this writing, there are almost 28,000 sign-ups on the cause.

With that in mind, I came up with this short article explaining the strengths of Cyberactivism and why it should be taken seriously not just by the proponents, but also by politicians and organizers who want to provide a platform for the citizens to be part of a cause.

Physical Rallies can be Inconvenient
Let’s face it, life these days is hard. Missing a day of work means a salary deduction or a lost vacation/sick leave. The reality is a lot of Filipinos will not “pay” to be part of a rally by missing work. I think this was the biggest hurdle a lot of office workers had to face in Makati when they wanted to join the rally last night. This was the sentiment of several colleagues I have here in the office.

Rallies also need a convergence point. You physically have to be in one spot on a specific time to be able to make the effort count. This literally makes the rally limited since those who are outside of Manila, especially those in Visayas and Mindanao, cannot participate because they won’t buy a plane ticket and fly all the way here to protest Con Ass.

Virtual Rallies, on the other hand, are completely the opposite. All you need to have to be part of it is to have access to the Internet. The good thing these days is that there are more than 10,000+ Internet cafes spread all over the Philippines and most of them charge very reasonable and affordable rates.

There are a few cafes in Davao that charge as low as P5/hour. By going to the worldwide web, you transcend the inconveniences brought about by physical rallies. You’re still counted and your part of the movement without having to spend that much time, resources, and effort.

Physical Rallies end when they’re finished

This, I think, is the biggest weakness of physical rallies. When the crowd disperses, the event ends, especially if there were only a few or an average number of attendees. Other succeeding rallies are usually treated as separate efforts and they don’t really all add up in terms of metrics.

And that I think is one of the strongest qualities of Virtual Rallies. The moment a person joins, he’s in it for the long haul. The count is cumulative regardless of the time and space. As long as the website is up and running, people will be counted. That’s the reason why the Facebook Cause against Con Ass is already nearing 30,000 sign-ups. Imagine if we give it more time? That number will continue to grow and eventually might even end up more than 100,000.

What is more effective in pushing for a cause? An unsure attendance of 6,000-15,000 in a rally in Makati or a virtual representation of more than 100,000?

Organizers of the Anti Con Ass Campaign should really take Cyberactivism seriously. Given the right firepower, the Facebook approach might actually be more effective in the long run.

Carlo Ople is the main author of New Media Philippines (http://newmedia.com.ph), a blog that aims to help Filipinos maximize and realize the potential of New Media. Apart from being a blogger, Carlo also serves as a Marketing Manager for one of the leading online gaming companies in the Philippines. He is also a freelance digital marketing consultant and has worked with various politicians and business owners expand their reach and influence through the use of social media. Read more about him at New Media Philippines (http://newmedia.com.ph)


Citi believes gov’t budget gap may be higher

Posted in Budget by Erineus on June 17, 2009

By Michelle Remo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:16:00 06/16/2009

MANILA, Philippines—Citigroup said the Philippine government could have underestimated the budget deficit ceiling for the year.

According to the international investment bank, the government may incur a budget deficit equivalent to P350 billion, or about 4.5 percent of the projected gross domestic product for the year because of the need to shore up public spending and weak tax collection.

Citigroup’s deficit forecast is much higher than the revised ceiling of P250 billion, or 3.2 percent of GDP, set by the government’s economic managers.

The government deemed it prudent to revise the ceiling in view of the programmed spending for the year and the likelihood of a shortfall in tax collection, which they said would result from a slowdown in corporate earnings and restrained household incomes.

But according to Citigroup, the deficit for the year would be even higher than the government’s new target.

“The combination of weak cyclical environment … could lead to fiscal deficit [of about] P350 billion,” Citigroup said in a paper on the Philippine economy.

The investment bank said it didn’t help at all that the cut in the corporate income tax rate, from 35 to 30 percent, took effect in January this year when the government needed to maximize its revenue resources to fund rising expenditures.

“Tax policy handicaps that only began this year, like the reduction in the corporate income tax rate from 35 to 30 percent, and the increase in individual income tax exemption probably enforced the tax ratio to decline,” Citigroup added.

A deficit of 4.5 percent of GDP as projected by Citigroup would go beyond the 3.5 percent deemed manageable and acceptable according to international standards.

The International Monetary Fund earlier said the government’s budget deficit could be raised to as much as 3.5 percent of GDP this year without harming its credit standing. But any amount higher than that could erode confidence of the financial market on the Philippine government’s fiscal condition.

The government was forced to raise its deficit ceiling for the year to P250 billion from an earlier limit of P199.2 billion following the release of the first-quarter GDP report. In the first three months, the economy, measured in terms of its GDP, grew by only 0.4 percent, the slowest in 10 years.

Economic managers were likewise forced to revise their GDP growth target for the year from a range of 3.1 to 4.1 percent, to a range of 0.8 to 1.8 percent.

They said that with an economic growth of only 0.8 to 1.8 percent this year, tax collection would be reduced and the deficit could go as high as P250 billion.

Citigroup said that with the government’s budget deficit expected to balloon this year, from only P68.1 billion last year, higher interest rates on its borrowings could result.


Philippines drops in US trafficking ranking

Posted in Trafficking by Erineus on June 17, 2009

By Veronica Uy
First Posted 16:05:00 06/17/2009

MANILA, Philippines—After three years in Tier 2 of the United States’ trafficking ranking, the Philippines dropped a notch lower to Tier 2 Watch List, indicating that the number of victims of severe forms of trafficking in the country has either increased significantly or is significantly increasing.

The report, made by the US Department of State to the US Senate Tuesday (US time), classified those on this level to have also failed to fight the transnational crime through the country’s justice system—from investigation, prosecution, and conviction, as well as through increased assistance to victims and decreasing evidence of complicity by government officials.

Thirty-nine other countries are on this list, which is a notch higher than the lowest ranking of Tier 3. Countries in this category could face sanctions such as the withholding of non-humanitarian, non-trade related US aid.

State Secretary Hillary Clinton said the report “sheds light on the faces of modern-day slavery” and called on all governments to “build consensus and leverage resources to eliminate all forms of human trafficking.”

According to the report, the Philippines is a source, transit, and destination for people trafficked for commercial sex exploitation and forced labor.

“A significant number of Filipino men and women who migrate abroad for work are subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude in Bahrain, Brunei, Canada, Cote d’Ivoire, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Japan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Palau, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Taiwan, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates,” the report said.

“Filipinas are also trafficked abroad for commercial sexual exploitation, primarily to Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, and countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Western Europe,” it added.

The trafficking story of Sarah Balabagan, the under-aged girl from Mindanao who killed her Arab employer who tried to rape her, is still common, as the report said Muslim Filipina girls continue to be trafficked to the Middle East by other Muslims.

Aside from transnational trafficking, the Philippines is also noted for trafficking within its borders, from poor farming communities in the Visayas and Mindanao to urban areas such as Manila and Cebu City. Women and children forced to work as prostitutes, maids, or factory workers.

While land and sea transportation modes are used internally, a growing trend is the use of budget airline carriers to move victims out of the country.

“Traffickers used fake travel documents, falsified permits, and altered birth certificates,” the report said.

“Migrant workers were often subject to violence, threats, inhumane living conditions, non-payment of salaries, and withholding of travel and identity documents,” it added.

While the Philippines is trying to comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of the crime, its judicial system has failed to complete the process, the US report said.

“Despite these overall efforts, the government did not show evidence of progress in convicting trafficking offenders, particularly those responsible for labor trafficking; therefore, the Philippines is placed on Tier 2 Watch List,” it said.

“The government’s ability to effectively prosecute trafficking crimes is severely limited by an inefficient judicial system and endemic corruption,” it added.

The report said that although the number of trafficking cases filed in court increased, only four trafficking convictions were obtained during the reporting period.

And despite the widespread reports of Filipinos trafficked for forced labor, none of the convictions were for trafficking for forced labor. The same holds true for sex trafficking.

“Achieving more tangible results in convicting trafficking offenders, and in investigating and prosecuting officials complicit in trafficking is essential for the Government of the Philippines to make more progress toward compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking,” the report said.

The US report quoted non-government organizations engaged in helping stop the crime which noted the “lack of understanding of trafficking among judges, prosecutors, and especially law enforcement officers, some of whom have limited knowledge of using evidence to build cases.”


Filipinos not among top US illegal entrants

Posted in Immigration by Erineus on June 17, 2009

By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez
First Posted 13:44:00 06/17/2009

MANILA, Philippines—Filipinos were not among the top nationalities arrested for trying to cross the United States border illegally, the latest report by the US Office of Immigration Statistics said.

In it June 2009 report, the agency said that apprehensions made by the Border Patrol declined in 2008 at 723,840 persons from the 2007 figure of 876,803 persons. In 2005, apprehension reached its peak of 1,189,000.

The decrease in apprehension can be attributed to the financial crisis in the US and enhanced border enforcement efforts, according to the report.

There are close to three million Filipinos in the US, including 156,000 who are undocumented, according to 2007 figures.

Mexicans topped the nationality arrested in 2008 with 661,773 persons (91 percent), followed by Honduras (19,351), Guatemala (16,395), El Salvador (12,684), Cuba (3,351), Ecuador (1,579), Nicaragua (1,467), Brazil (977), China (836), Dominican Republic (819), Canada (610), and other nationalities (3,998).

Person apprehended are subject to deportation from the US for violating the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Most apprehensions, occurring near US borders shortly after an illegal entry, are made by the Border Patrol of US Customs and Border Protection.

Apprehensions beyond US borders, involving foreign nationals illegally present in the United States who may have entered without inspection or entered legally but lost their legal status, are handled primarily by Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the Department of Homeland Security.


RP one of unsafest places on Earth—UN group

Posted in Places, Tourism, Travel by Erineus on June 17, 2009

By Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:33:00 06/17/2009

GENEVA—Because of its exposure to natural hazards, the Philippines is one of the unsafest places on earth.

Based on a new Mortality Risk Index (MRI) released by the United Nations’ International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) on Monday, the Philippines ranks No. 12 among 200 countries and territories whose populations are most at risk from earthquakes, floods, tropical cyclones and landslides.

The top five unsafe places based on the MRI are Bangladesh, China, Colombia, India, and Indonesia.

These countries are most threatened by four “sudden onset hazards” that have increased in frequency and resulted in more deaths in the last 30 years—the period covered by the study.

The results of the study were released during a press conference at the UN office here in Switzerland presided by Margareta Wahlstrom, UN assistant secretary general and special representative for disaster risk reduction, and Sen. Loren Legarda, the UNISDR regional champion for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation for Asia Pacific.

On the other hand, the top five safest countries and territories are Bahrain, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Isle of Man.

These places have registered “zero” hazards—no earthquakes, floods, cyclones and landslides—from 1977 to 2007.

Grim scenario

Emmanuel de Guzman, UNISDR advisor for Asia Pacific, explained the country’s poor ranking in the MRI: “The Philippines is not only situated within the Pacific ring of fire, it is also visited by 20 devastating typhoons every year, resulting in the loss of lives and livelihood, destruction of infrastructure, worsening poverty and further setbacks to economic gains.”

Sen. Legarda said the Philippines was one of the 10 “most vulnerable” island-countries in the world, “but at the same time, one of the richest in terms of biodiversity.”

“So this grim scenario around the world compels governments to incorporate disaster risk reduction strategies into development policies, and create contingency and adaptation plans in the national-local levels,” she said.

The new MRI was made public on the eve of the opening of the Second Session of the Global Platform for Disaster Reduction (DRR) here in Geneva, which aims to assess strategies to reduce disaster losses around the planet.

Climate change

According to Legarda, the MRI is part of the Global Assessment Report on DRR, by far the “most authoritative study on the prevailing threats to nations which show that disaster risks are increasing, driven by poor urban governance, vulnerable rural livelihood and ecosystems decline.”

She explained that natural hazards can’t be stopped.

“But we can mitigate their impact and prevent disasters,” she said, explaining that “vulnerabilities come in any form—like unsafe schools and hospitals because they were built, not based on risk assessment studies but on the type of infrastructure and poverty level.”

“These natural risks are turbo-charged by climate change, which will magnify the disaster impact on the poor and most vulnerable sectors,” Legarda said.

Climate change, also dubbed as global warming, is caused by a host of factors with the massive concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as the chief culprit, resulting in rising global temperature and sea levels.

Legarda’s address

With the planet in peril, Legarda Tuesday called for a new development paradigm that would help save the planet and usher in a safer environment amid the worsening effects of global warming.

Legarda, addressing the opening session of the four-day Second Session of the Global Platform for Disaster Reduction (DRR) here, called attention to the role played by humanity’s “insatiable desire” for wealth that has left the environment irreparably destroyed.

The senator called on world leaders gathered at the Centre International de Conférences de Genève to “decisively seize and reduce disaster risks more effectively.”

She blamed the effects of natural hazards, aggravated by unbridled progress around the world, on the “failing economic model” of the west.

Time to make a change

“The time to make that a difference is now. Humanity’s future depends upon us. Let us be the change we seek,” Legarda said.

She also said that today’s state of socioeconomic affairs championed by the United States and the rest of the developed nations should not be “business-as-usual.”

“It is high time for the world to slow down this contemporary development practices,” said the senator, in remarks which could unsettle Western nations that have championed capitalism as the main driver of economic growth since the 18th century.

Legarda lashed at contemporary development practices, describing it as “irresponsible since they have allowed disaster risks to grow, to spread and to prevail until today.”

Storm clouds gathering

In a prerecorded message at the beginning of the program, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon warned that “the storm clouds are gathering” as he called for a concerted action globally to mitigate the effects of a warming temperature.

“Risk reduction is an investment,” he said, pointing out that it was humanity’s defense against climate change.

The UN secretary general was supposed to deliver the keynote address to conclude the opening program, but as he was absent, Legarda was the last one to deliver her speech, which was the most applauded.

Heads of state

The heads of state present were Hans-Rudolf Merz, president of the Swiss Confederation; Anote Tong, president of Kiribati; Raila Odinga, prime minister of Kenya; Bruce Golding, prime minister of Jamaica; and Libertina Amathila, prime minister of Namibia.

They all spoke during the opening of the session along with other African and Asian leaders like Issatou Njie Saidy; vice president of Gambia; Rafael Alburquerque, vice president of Dominican Republic; Liew Vui Keong, deputy prime minister of Malaysia; and Mohammed Abdul Razzague, minister of food security and disaster management of Bangladesh.

The four-day global summit brings together a wide cross-section of the global disaster risk reduction experts and advocates, including heads of state, senior ministers, UN agencies, non-government organizations and scientific and technical experts.

This year’s assembly attended by over 1,500 delegates will examine the increasing disaster risks around the world, which are exacerbated by climate change, with the aim of reducing disaster losses and risks to make the planet safer.


Lacson urges ‘tax revolt’ vs. Charter change

Posted in Charter Change, house of representatives by Erineus on June 17, 2009

By Maila Ager
First Posted 14:26:00 06/16/2009

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson has called for a “tax revolt” against efforts by allies of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to amend the Constitution.

Businessmen and citizens should not pay taxes until there are clear signs that Charter change proponents have abandoned and until Arroyo steps down from office in 2010, Lacson said.

“Aside from being a protest move, this would ensure that our taxes will be safe from the propensity of officials of this administration to perpetuate themselves to power by dipping their hands into government coffers,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.

Lacson said the Arroyo administration used taxpayers’ money to cheat in the 2004 presidential elections and in the 2007 mid-term elections.

He said businessmen could opt to hold on to their corporate dues until after the deadline of filing of certificates of candidacy in November while income tax payers have until April next year to see if Charter change proponents would abandon this move.

It will also be known by November if Arroyo would run for Congress in her home province of Pampanga, he said.

“At that point, we can already see a brewing scheme not only to prolong her power stint but also to change our form of government,” Lacson said.

When a new and acceptable president is elected in 2010, taxpayers could show the new leader their goodwill by paying correct taxes.

In the United States, Lacson said taxpayers also went on a similar “revolt” to protest government spending on less essential programs earlier this year.


MILITANT SOLONS WARN: SC ruling won’t stop constituent assembly

Posted in Charter Change, house of representatives, Supreme Court Decisions by Erineus on June 17, 2009

By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez, Maila Ager
First Posted 14:06:00 06/16/2009

MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE) The Supreme Court’s dismissal of a petition against House Resolution 1109, which seeks to convene a constituent assembly to amend the Constitution, could embolden its proponents to push through with their plan, militant lawmakers warned.

Without deciding on the legality of HR 1109, the high tribunal on Tuesday dismissed a petition filed by lawyer Oliver Lozano and his daughter, Evangeline, saying it was premature to question it.

“It doesn’t close the issue. Proponents of con ass [constituent assembly] will continue their initiative, the Lozano petition as no relevance on what they’re pushing for,” Bayan Muna partylist Representative Satur Ocampo said in a phone interview.

Representative Teodoro Casiño, also of Bayan Muna, said HR 110 proponents could put a spin on the decision to make it appear that the Supreme Court upheld the resolution, while in fact, the petition questioning it was dismissed on a technicality.

“They could say that since a petition against it was dismissed, it could mean that there’s no more hindrance to convening a constituent assembly,” Casiño said in a phone interview.

“Lozano’s petition was designed to fail so that its dismissal can be used to justify Lakas-Kampi’s next step which is the immediate convening of the House constituent assembly,” Casiño said in a separate text message.

Anakpawis party list Representative Rafael Mariano said the dismissal would “incite Ms Arroyo’s allies to force the situation and convene her self-serving constituent assembly.”

“After the SC’s favorable ruling, Ms Arroyo and her minions will be more aggressive and desperate to convene a fake constituent assembly and perpetuate themselves in power. The people should not let their guard down,” Mariano said.

Speaker Prospero Nograles, the main author of the resolution, said the dismissal was anticipated.

Echoing the view of Constitution expert, Father Joaquin Bernas, he said that HR 1109 did not by itself convene Congress into a constituent assembly.

“There will be justiciable issue only when con ass is actually convened and specific amendments (are proposed),” Nograles said.

Nueva Ecija Representative Rodolfo Antonino, another proponent of HR 1109, said that Lozano’s petition was premature since there was no actual convening of the assembly yet.

Quezon Representative Lorenzo Tanada III, a member of the Liberal Party, welcomed the tribunal’s decision.

“This should also be a warning to Representative Antonino that his plan will not work. The dismissal of the case of Lozano will now force the proponents of HR 1109 to either convene con ass to create the judicial controversy or to just forget HR 1109 and have it archived. The LP hopes that the proponents choose the later,” he said in a text message.

Muntinlupa Representative Rufino Biazon said the decision was expected, saying that a “justiciable controversy will only happen if the House actually convenes itself into a con ass and the Senate disagrees.”

Gabriela partylist Representative Liza Maza said HR 1109 remained as mere “expression of the House” and that there was no controversy yet as long as there was no move to convene.

“Lozano should be told not to resort to legal adventurism on this very important issue,” Maza said.

Representative Risa Hontiveros of Akbayan partylist said the Supreme Court “avoided Malacañang and the House majority’s trap of ruling on the political question” by dismissing the “nuisance case.”

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senators Manuel Roxas and Richard Gordon said the court’s ruling was expected because the constituent assembly has not been convened.

“Expected na namin yun kaya nga hindi nga kumikilos ang Senado [That’s expected. That’s why the Senate is not moving],” Enrile said.

Roxas said the Senate legal department was instructed to prepare in case the constituent assembly is convened, even as senators agreed in a caucus early this month not to act on HR 1109.

He said a mere announcement of the date for the convening of a constituent assembly could be enough grounds to question the matter before the court.

Some congressmen pushing for Charter change want to convene the assembly immediately after President Gloria Maapagal-Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July.

Gordon warned pro-Charter change lawmakers that the Supreme Court would rule against a House-only constituent assembly.

“Sa ngayon, ang malinaw ang dapat gawin ng ng Kongreso kung gusto nilang mag con-as na sila-sila lang, pati yan ay ibabasura ng Korte Suprema sapagkat paulit-ulit naming sinasabi ang Congress ay two houses. Hindi kayang gawin ng lower house, yung pagbabago ng Saligang Batas [It’s clear, if the House wants a constituent assembly by itself, the Supreme Court will rule against it. We have said repeatedly that Congress has two chambers. The lower house alone can’t amend the Constitution],” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. welcomed the SC ruling as “good news.”