Wake Up, Philippines!

Dangerous experiments

Posted in Charter Change, Congress, Constitution by Erineus on April 22, 2009

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:22:00 04/22/2009

The so-called “fourth mode” for amending the Constitution is nothing more and nothing less than a trial balloon. It is one of many; and if today a “fourth” has been proposed, we can expect a fifth, a sixth—as many as it takes. All these so-called modes should all be understood as attempts to achieve—by hook or by crook and late in the game—the ultimate ambition of the administration coalition: to deprive the public of its historic right and exclusive privilege of selecting the head of state and government of our country.

The present Constitution, unlike the 1973 and 1935 Charters that were more detailed, practically states that there are two ways to propose amendments to the Constitution (because people’s initiative is basically a dead letter). The first is by means of a constituent assembly; the second is through a Constitutional Convention. In truth, the distinction is rather artificial, for it all depends on Congress to decide whether it will itself propose the amendments to the public, or pass the task to a convention—which includes the possibility (actually proposed in the 1960s and more recently by the President’s election lawyer, Romulo Macalintal) of an appointed, not elected, Constitutional Convention.

Part of the confusion stems from a residual historical memory of the Congress under the 1935 Constitution, whose provisions on amendments required the legislature to formally convene, in joint session, for the purpose of considering amendments. The present Charter makes no such explicit requirement; indeed, considering how verbose our Constitution is, its provisions are remarkably terse: any amendment to, or revision of, the Constitution, it says, can be proposed by Congress “upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members.” Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ has written in this paper how the wording of the Charter was an oversight, dating back to when the Constitutional Commission thought it was going to approve a unicameral National Assembly.

But as it turned out, the commission approved a bicameral Congress, and Bernas and many others have pointed out that in terms of proposing amendments, Congress must conform to the nature of the beast—in this case, composed of two, co-equal chambers, neither of which can fulfill the functions of Congress without the other. The political problem this raises is that, for whatever reason, the House of Representatives considers the Senate unfriendly to proposals that would abolish either the presidency as a nationally-elected chief executive who is head of government, or the Senate, or both.

The 2007 elections also left the administration with absolute dominance in the House but very mixed results in the Senate; and with senators responsible to a national constituency, it is difficult for senators to abandon their traditional role as fiscalizers of the administration of the day. So the administration has been scratching its head, trying to figure out a way that will neutralize the institutional veto power of the Senate, especially in the case of amendments.

Not to mention what was, until recently, a Supreme Court with a marked disinclination to tolerate any constitutional foolishness—for it would be to the high court that the Senate would run should the House try to railroad it out of existence.

Time, however, not only heals all wounds but can sort out even the thorniest of political problems. The composition of the Supreme Court has changed drastically from its recent heyday as the bulwark against any constitutional tinkering by the administration. The opposition in the House has been starved and its membership reduced; the Senate is bogged down in presidential campaign intramurals, and will be hard pressed to put up a united front.

Notice that administration loyalists have tried to plead for a debate to take place, as if what’s going on is some sort of harmless academic discussion. It is not; what is at stake is a go-for-broke effort that involves a dangerous experiment with the law and institutions. The underlying assumption is as bold as it is cynical: that the public no longer cares enough to seriously resist an administration riding roughshod over the separation of powers. For to continue the debate now is to provide the pretext for a plebiscite in which political machines, and not public opinion, will dictate the future government of this country.

http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/editorial/view/20090422-200735/Dangerous-experiments

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Medicines still expensive despite law

Posted in Congress, Consumer, Laws, Legislation, Medicine, Pharmaceuticals by Erineus on February 27, 2009

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:09:00 02/27/2009

The Cheaper Medicines Bill was signed into law by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in June 2008. Eight months have passed since then and the costs of the medicines that we regularly buy as “maintenance” to keep ourselves “alive” on Earth have remained the same, i.e., “napakamahal pa rin” [still very expensive].

The big question is: When will this law be finally implemented? Will this law follow the sad pattern of many other laws that have come (and gone) before it, turning out to be mere pieces of papers and creating false hopes among our people?

It is indeed very sad to admit that the executive branch of government has gained notoriety for the non-implementation of many laws. This being the case, Congress might as well stop making laws, otherwise the un-implemented laws will just continue to pile up and, worse, we will just be wasting a lot of money. (We all know it costs millions of pesos to pass a single bill in Congress.)

PAUL R. MORTEL, MBLA Court, Malanday, Marikina City

http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/letterstotheeditor/view/20090227-191280/Medicines-still-expensive-despite-law

Dictating to the media

Posted in Congress, Human Rights, justice, Legislation, Media by Erineus on February 24, 2009

It appears that Congress is dead set on passing the right of reply bill. The Senate, voting 21 to 0, has passed the bill that will require media companies to provide equal space or air time to persons who are the subjects of their negative reports. Now, Speaker Prospero Nograles says the House of Representatives is “under pressure” to approve the measure.

The measure would give individuals who are “criticized by innuendo, suggestion or rumor of any lapse in behavior in private and public life the right to reply to charges or criticisms in newspapers, magazines, newsletters, radio, television and websites.”

At the outset, we must state we are in favor of everyone exercising their right of reply. It is part of the freedom of expression guaranteed to every individual by the Constitution. What we are against is a statutory right of reply.

We are against the right of reply bill because it would violate the right of journalists under the freedom of the press clause of the Constitution to edit or determine the contents of their publication. It would intrude into the function of editors. Chief Justice Warren Earl Burger of the US Supreme Court, in the 1974 case of Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo, said the choice of material to go into a newspaper, the decisions made as to limitations on the size and content of the paper, and the treatment of public issues and public officials — whether fair or unfair — constitute the exercise of editorial control and judgment.

Justice Byron Raymond White, concurring in the Burger majority opinion, said that a newspaper or magazine is not a public utility subject to “reasonable” government regulation in matters affecting the exercise of journalistic judgment as to what shall be printed. He said that prior compulsion by government in matters going to the very nerve center of a newspaper — the decision of what copy will or will not be included in a given edition — collides with the freedom of the press clause of the Constitution.

The right of reply bill would mandate that the replies be “published or broadcast in the same space of the newspapers, magazine, newsletter or publication, or aired over the same program on radio, television, website, or through any electronic device.” So, if the news story to which the reply is being made is the banner or No. 1 story in today’s issue, the reply should also be the banner story in tomorrow’s issue, although there may be bigger, fresher, more significant news that merits banner-story treatment.

A statutory right of reply would have a chilling effect on free speech. It would discourage newspapers, TV and radio stations from commenting on controversial issues when they know that they must provide free space and free air time for all replies.

A statutory right of reply in effect would impose a penalty on the basis of the contents of a newspaper. The first phase of the penalty resulting from the compelled printing of a reply is exerted in terms of the cost in printing and composing. It will take away space that could be devoted to other material that the newspaper may have preferred to print.

There are already measures and venues available to persons who want to exercise their right of reply: They can write letters for publication in the Letters to the Editor section. If a major factual inaccuracy is involved, the letter or article could be published on Page 1. They can write letter-complaints to the readers’ advocate, publisher, editor in chief or vice president for news and current affairs of the newspaper or radio or TV station concerned. They can address their complaint to the Philippine Press Council. Or they can file libel suits.

Burger said that a statutory right of reply imposes the virtue of responsibility on the media. He said, “…Press responsibility is not mandated by the Constitution and like many other virtues, it cannot be legislated.”

Most of the major newspapers, radio and TV stations have manuals of editorial policies that include provisions on the right of reply and on accuracy, objectivity and fairness. We urge the authors of the right of reply bill to withdraw it. Responsibility cannot be legislated. Government officials, politicians and the people in general will just have to trust in the responsibility, ethical uprightness and sense of fairness of publishers, editors and reporters in doing their work and exercising journalistic judgment and discretion.

http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/editorial/view/20090223-190647/Dictating-to-the-media

Overstepping its bounds

Posted in Complaints, Congress, Court of Appeals, Judiciary, Supreme Court by Erineus on February 20, 2009

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If there is a complaint against a court decision or the conduct of a judge or justice, the complaint should be brought to the Supreme Court, which has disciplinary powers over members of the judiciary. Summoning those members to a congressional inquiry to explain a judicial act may be entertaining to watch, especially when there are suspicions that justice might have been sold to the highest bidder, but Congress will be overstepping its bounds. This is a slippery slope that members of Congress would do well to avoid.

The issue cropped up amid reports that the House of Representatives is planning to summon Court of Appeals Justice Apolinario Bruselas and members of his division as well as Judge Nina Antonio-Valenzuela of the Manila Regional Trial Court. A year ago the judge had issued a temporary restraining order on the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, which had planned to institute action that would have protected depositors from the collapse of rural banks belonging to the Legacy group of companies. As BSP officials have explained, quick intervention would have averted disaster.

When the case went up the Court of Appeals, the BSP’s hands were tied further, with the CA upholding the lower court’s TRO. Lawmakers have pointed out that this violated the New Central Bank Act of 1993, which prevents the courts from blocking BSP investigations of fraud. The law also gives the BSP a free hand to move immediately in cases where banks face insolvency.

It is not surprising to learn that there might be members of the judiciary who do not know the law, since too many people have joined this branch of government based chiefly on the right connections rather than capability. The public has long suspected that there is big money to be made in the issuance of TROs, especially in cases involving business transactions.

But if the Manila judge and CA justices have erred, a complaint must be filed against them with the Supreme Court, possibly by the BSP. The high tribunal can then determine guilt and impose the appropriate punishment. This task does not belong to the legislature, whose members might see a precedent and decide to have a say in every controversial judicial decision, the way they are already interfering in decisions on the implementation of development projects. What lawmakers can do is to strengthen the regulatory environment and prevent a repeat of the Legacy mess.

Protect education funds from the crisis

Posted in Congress, Education, Investment, Legislation, Personal Finance, Pre-need Plans, SEC by Erineus on February 3, 2009

WHEN PRE-NEED COMPANIES selling educational funds started dying a slow death more than 10 years ago, many Filipino families turned to do-it-yourself investing to grow savings for their children’s education needs.

Now it appears that these alternative investments–mutual funds, unit investment trust funds (UITFs), stocks and bonds–are not living up to the hype. Last year, pooled funds were down around 40 percent and experts say investments in the stock market might take two or three years to recover.

Saving

These depressing events have shaken Filipinos’ confidence in this most basic principle in personal finance: Saving. Imagine this, just when you have conquered spending urges and socked away money regularly, the market turns and eats up most of your money pot. This has not been easy for one mother, who shared she lost most of her educational fund for her daughter to the closure of one rural bank.

“The Rural Bank of Paranaque is now closed. This makes me sick to my stomach. So, how should I prepare for my daughter’s college education? I have to invest in a better mattress to put my money under,” she says.

It’s truly a cosmic moment for many couples faced with the triple whammy of skyrocketing tuition fees, lower pay hikes if not job loss and shrinking savings.

But Micheas P. Dumlao, 45, who has two sons to put through high school and college, says it is still better to start saving early.

“It has been at the back of my mind for the longest time, but my wife Joyce and I realized just last year that it is time to prepare for my sons’ college education. If we don’t start now, it will be harder later on,” he says.

Micheas’ and Joyce’s son Michael Reuben is a first year high school student at the Philippine Science High School, the state’s premier school for intelligent children and tuition is minimal. If he gets into the University of the Philippines in three years, also another state college, tuition expenses could be at P1,500 per unit, or at least P22,500 to P31,000 per semester.

Micheas expects books, transportation, clothes, laptop and other expenses to add 80 percent of this cost. That means he needs more than P300,000 to finance his eldest son’s college education.

Challenging

Bankrolling their second son’s intellectual development will be much more challenging.

Jason Matthew is 9, now studying in a private school and wants to study at the Ateneo de Manila University. Historically, tuition fees outrun inflation at around 8-10 percent a year, especially for preschool, elementary and high school.

Micheas estimates that he needs to save at least P1.5 million to put his youngest son through college alone.

Fortunately, Micheas is also a life insurance agent in a multinational company and he knows his numbers. He plans to move his education money pot when it reaches P200,000 to a higher-yielding account, and supplement this with his investments in a single-pay variable life product sold by his company. Then he will look for more investment outlets.

All these financial maneuverings will not be successful if the entire family is not pushing together as a team, he says. To set aside P8,000 monthly, an amount that can already buy grocery items for one month for an average family of six, Micheas says the Dumlao family members had to change their lifestyle.

“Instead of Yellow Cab, we eat at Shakey’s and we don’t order drinks anymore. A P60 bottomless iced tea can already buy one siopao. You know, when I have to eat lunch in a mall, I buy my drinks inside the grocery,” he says.

When he has appointments in business centers in Metro Manila, Micheas says he has begun to plan carefully where to park his car. “You need to splash on a little bit of cologne before you go to your appointment, that’s true, but careful planning can save you quite a bit of money,” he says with a chuckle.

In the Filipino psyche, education is sacred. Parents will often singe their eyebrows to send their children to the best schools, and the Dumlao couple is no exemption. Micheas says they are also working on increasing their income, writing down their goals and making sure both couples are protected from sudden death or illnesses.

Investment tools used wisely

Marvin Fausto, senior vice president and chief investment officer at the Banco De Oro, says on top of more careful spending and saving regularly, Filipinos also need to learn how to use the right investment tools for the right purposes. You can’t expect to crack open coconut shells with a slender knife.

If you need the money for tuition in the next two to five years, the right approach would have been to move the money pot to money market funds and other conservative placements as the date for the need approached.

“Last year, I’ve seen a lot of people lose money in the market. They were lured by the historical high returns in the market from 2002 to 2007 that they forgot why they were in the market in the first place,” Marvin says.

Because too many investors were lulled into thinking the high returns would last forever, they gambled the money they would soon need, says Marvin.

“It is still true that mutual funds and UITFs are good long-term investments. But the right strategy would be to review your investment objectives and plans regularly. When the need is near, you move it to more appropriate investments. That’s the value of constant review,” he says.

Banco De Oro’s bond funds, for example, yielded 33 percent until 2008 since inception in April 2005. That’s still 11 percent per year, much higher than any time deposit return. Balanced funds gave 45-percent return since 2003.

“Equity funds are the ones that were really hit by the crisis at 4.5 percent since May 2005. You would have really lost money if you sold last year, but it also went as high as 100 percent in 2006 and if you took your money out that year, you would have doubled your investments,” he explains.

That’s the wisdom that comes from hindsight. Now, if you are already pinned down by the market turmoil, Marvin’s advice is to exhaust all other means to pay for tuition and other educational expenses, like getting subsidized student loans from schools, selling other assets like properties and earn additional income, paying monthly rather than annual installments.

“The worst time to sell is when the market is down. And that is now. If you have other means to get money for college education, do not sell your losing investments. Wait for them to recover,” he says.

Marvin expects the market to recover in two to three years. By then, he believes investments in equities, bonds and pooled funds to redeem their reputation.

“Attack your goals depending on the time frame when you need your money. If it’s a short-term need, put it in a money market fund in the biggest banks, so that even if the bank closes, the fund will still be there,” Marvin says.

(For more personal finance articles, visit MoneySmarts at http://blogs.inquirer.net/moneysmarts.)

By Ma. Salve Duplito
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 23:15:00 01/18/2009

Senate ratifies Magna Carta of Women

Posted in Women by Erineus on February 3, 2009

MANILA, Philippines—Senate on Monday approved on third and final reading a measure that seeks to protect the rights of Filipino women.

Eighteen senators voted to pass Senate Bill 2396, also known as the Magna Carta of Women.

Senator Maria Ana Consuelo Madrigal, head of the committee on youth, women and family relations, said the bill’s passage is in compliance with the county’s international obligation “to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and to provide a comprehensive definition of discrimination against women in our national law.”

“This is a milestone legislation in defending the human rights of the poor women, who have no access to proper healthcare, of those who are marginalized and victims of discrimination and abuse,” Madrigal said in a statement.

She expressed hope that the measure would be signed into law in time for the celebration of Women’s Day on March 8.

“This is a very precious bill because it guarantees the basic rights if women and provides them with necessary protection against discrimination and abuse,” the senator further said.

By Maila Ager
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 23:14:00 02/02/2009

MOTHBALLED NUKE PLANT: Debate heats up anew over BNPP revival

Posted in BNPP, Congress, Energy, Legislation, Social Issues/Concerns by Erineus on February 3, 2009

MANILA, Philippines—The arguments had been heard before like a broken record.

They were raised again on Monday as Congress began debates on a bill that seeks to revive, at the cost of another $1 billion, the $2.3-billion Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) mothballed over two decades ago.

First, said Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman and geologist Kelvin Rodolfo, comprehensive studies on the safety, technical and financial aspects of the plant should be made by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs).

They said at the hearing of the House committee on appropriations that the bill initiated by Pangasinan Rep. Mark Cojuangco was premature.

“There should be a study of the site, led by Phivolcs, a study by geologists with no conflict of interest,” said Rodolfo, a professor at University of Illinois and University of the Philippines.

Rodolfo said the location of the plant was “geologically dangerous.”

“Bataan and the entire Philippines are too tectonically and volcanically active,” he said.

He said the Phivolcs had not examined the safety of the region. He added that just because nothing happened to the plant during the powerful earthquake that hit Luzon in 1990 did not mean that the plant was safe, pointing out it was not operational at the time.

Rodolfo pointed out that the plant was close to Mt. Natib, a dormant volcano that has the possibility of erupting.

If proponents of the nuclear plant say the country is wrong to rely on Saudi oil, then it is also not right for the Philippines to rely on foreign sources for uranium, he said.

“There is only so much uranium in the world. It is depleted rapidly,” Rodolfo said.

Lagman said he had not seen a feasibility study on the project and suggested that the Cojuangco bill be transformed into one that would undertake a thorough review of the plant that would show that objections before could be surmounted.

Among those who countered Cojuangco’s proposals were Greenpeace, Freedom from Debt Coalition, Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines, professor Giovanni Tapang and engineer Roberto Verzola.

Cost likely to go up

Etta Rosales of the Freedom from Debt Coalition questioned the projected $1-billion cost for the plant’s rehabilitation, saying the amount was likely to balloon to meet technical and safety demands, not to mention the costs of corruption.

Construction of the plant began in 1976, in the aftermath of the first Middle East oil embargo. The original cost was $500 million, but it ballooned to $2.3 billion by the time it was completed in 1984 under the regime of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Following the ouster of Marcos in the 1986 People Power Revolution and apprehensions caused by the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster in the Soviet Union in the spring of that year, the Corazon Aquino administration closed the plant. It also sued Westinghouse for overpricing and bribery, but a US court threw out the suit.

The debt on the plant, the country’s largest single obligation, was finally paid in April 2007, but the 620-megawatt facility with its nuclear reactor intact never generated a single watt of electricity. An earlier study revealed that the plant had over 2,000 defects.

Carlos Arcilla, a University of the Philippines professor and director of the National Institute of Geological Sciences, said that there had been no evidence in the past 20 years that there was a fault in the plant’s vicinity.

Not a nuclear bomb

“A nuclear plant is not a nuclear bomb. There’s no fear the nuclear plant will become a nuclear bomb,” Arcilla said.

Cojuangco argued that there was a pressing need to recommission the BNPP because of the looming power shortage by 2012 would result in 24-hour brownouts in Metro Manila and result in great economic dislocation.

Getting the BNPP up and running would also translate to lower power costs. At present, he said, the high price of electricity has been repelling investors.

As for the safety concerns, Cojuangco said that if the BNPP were rehabilitated to its original specifications, “it is a safe plant according to current international atomic standards of the power generating industry.”

Cojuangco said that South Korea and Japan had several power plants, and Japan had many fault lines at that. “If it’s OK in Japan, why would it not be OK in the Philippines?”

Ramon Pedrosa, chair emeritus of the Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, said he regretted working for the shuttering of the BNPP and was now supporting its recommissioning.

“For 22 years, we’re paying the high price for not using the BNPP … let this be the start of a true sovereign energy program,” Pedrosa said.

‘Faulty economics’

Around 30 members of the environment group Greenpeace massed outside Congress carrying an 8-foot-tall tombstone on which was written “R.I.P. BNPP” and denouncing the project as “grotesquely expensive and based on faulty economics.”

Von Hernandez, Greenpeace Southeast Asia executive director, called the Cojuangco bill a “farce.”

Hernandez explained that the program may include the “possible commissioning of subsequent nuclear plants to justify the program’s existence. This presents a “greater and sustained drain on the country’s financial resources on top of the upfront cost of the BNPP rehabilitation itself.”

“The overwhelming safety and security reasons behind why the BNPP was mothballed remain just as valid and unassailable today. Our lawmakers should heed reason and let the BNPP rest in peace,” said Greenpeace campaigner Amalie Obusan.

In Balanga City, some 100 farmers, fishermen and students also marched Monday on the provincial capitol, demanding that Bataan officials reject the program. With reports from Amy R. Remo in Manila; and Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon; Agence France-Presse