Wake Up, Philippines!

Easy Money

Posted in Crime, Gambling, Graft and Corruption, Poverty by Erineus on February 3, 2009

By Michael Tan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 11:38:00 01/15/2009

Filed Under: Graft & Corruption, Crime, Poverty, Gaming & Lotteries, Investments

DRIVE around the streets of the Metro and once you see a line, you immediately know it’s people queuing for lotto tickets. And with some 2,000 said to have joined the Lotto Millionaires Club, with winnings ranging from P3 million to P249 million, the number of hopeful lotto buyers will continue to grow.

Do the thriving lotto sales reflect a Filipino tendency to look for an easy way to wealth? Only partially, and I’d say this happens all over the world. People do have a weakness for lotteries, and governments have cashed in, setting up sweepstakes and lottos, with the proceeds purportedly going to charity to calm down people who see this as a form of gambling.

Dreams of instant wealth are shared across cultures, hich is why, besides the lotteries, we have all kinds of swindlers and scam artists offering untold riches from magic boxes (“Put money in this box and I will multiply it for you.”) to pyramid schemes. What does vary is the intensity of these aspirations, and the kind of scams peddled.

In the Philippines, we have a tendency to think of the poor as the most gullible, and attribute this to indolence. But look hard enough and you’ll realize that there really isn’t that much for con artists to take from the poor in the first place. Smart swindlers target the gullible among the middle and upper classes.

If Filipinos often talk about hopes for easy money and instant wealth, it’s because people do have to work so hard in the Philippines, and get so very little. Yet Filipinos also see others who get rich quickly with relatively little effort, so they begin to ask, “Why can’t I do that too?”

Foremost reason for the instant wealth, of course, is corruption. Ask young men from lower or even middle-class families what their dream job is, and they’d most likely answer, “police” or “customs inspector.” Probe a bit more and they will be quite candid in saying “that’s where the easy money is.”

Talk with business people handling government contracts and you’ll encounter two extremes. The honest ones will be talking about how exasperating it can be to chase after government payments, with very small profit margins. Talk with the “smart” ones and they’ll tell you all it takes is one major contract to make money enough to last you a lifetime, as long as you play the game right with commissions—your own as well as the host politicians. And these commissions—as we have been seeing in recent exposés in the Senate—make the lotto multi-million peso winnings look like loose change.

Easy money? Only for those on top of these syndicates. Profits trickle down. Just look at the well-documented jueteng (numbers game) industry showing how huge election spending can be funded by jueteng, while the kubrador or small collectors live in poverty.

Let’s move out of the area of graft and corruption and look at the private sector where get-rich activities thrive as well, often legally. The other day I was driving in one of the side streets of Quezon Boulevard and saw a large sign in front of one of the clubs, offering “up to P100,000 a month” to “attractive ladies.” Some overseas recruitment agencies also lure applicants with these amazing salary offers.

But most promises of instant money involve marketing. There are so many pyramid marketing schemes offering people a chance to earn lots of money selling everything from cosmetics to water purifiers. Initially, the schemes work because you’re able to sell to relatives, friends and neighbors, until you realize there’s a limit to the people in your network. The quick profits evaporate, eventually eating into the capital and people end up the poorer for it, sometimes with over-priced merchandise no one wants to buy.

The last five years or so have also featured another kind of easy money made available to the upper class: giant financial investment schemes in stocks and government bonds, brokered by banks. People were raking in up to 60 percent of their investment within a year, not doing anything except investing in the funds. Word spread and even little old grandmothers eventually began to play the game.

There were some warning signs about two or three years ago when investments began to falter, but the markets recovered… until this year. It turns out now that there was much speculation going on, foreign investors playing with our stock markets and our financial institutions, then withdrawing when the going got bad. The global financial crisis, we know now, came about in part because of all this speculation.

If anything good is going to come out of this global crisis, it might be a sobering of our aspirations, and a return to the old adage about easy money being suspicious money. Radical changes are going to come around the next year, as governments try to clean up capitalism. Meanwhile, lotto sales will remain brisk, maybe even picking up, with buyers taking things philosophically. Because in a way, they shrug, you always win. If you lose, well, the loss can still be seen as a donation to charity.

Children of the poor

NEEDLESS to say, mendicancy foments ruinous sentiments that often enough pervade among the homeless, particularly the children of the poor.

The unabated increase in the number of street children these days is easily seen all around Metro Manila, but especially in the Capital City.

This has been noted by Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim himself, prompting him to order the round up of all children and beggars and mendicants found “loitering on the city roads and thoroughfares.”

Lim wants the city cleared of “street urchins and beggars” to ensure the smooth flow of vehicular traffic and to give back to pedestrians the sidewalks purposely provided for their use.

The city government is right, of course: The stubborn presence of homeless children on city streets has been causing the negative image of the City of Manila, particularly to foreign tourists.

Still, there are human issues that the city government needs to look into such as the emotional upheavals that the homeless children undergo through their young lives that could be worsened by the harsh government action being planned against them.

Again, needless to say, the abuse and neglect that the homeless children experience day in and day out in their hapless existence already give a distorted sense of self and family.

The implementation of Mayor Lim’s order to round them up could very easily further injure the already deformed image of themselves.

And that is unfortunate: Homelessness mixed with such form of government violence is certainly detrimental to their hopeless situation.

The fact is, the sad consequence is not alone in the absence of a home which, of course, means the weakening of every aspect of family life but on the damage on the emotional health of family ties that often results in the disconnections of family members.

According to studies, homelessness causes health problems such as respiratory infections, stomach and diarrheal infections; emergency hospitalization; and not the least, asthma.

In his directive, Lim called the homeless children eyesores who are in most cases “engaged in petty crimes like bag snatching and pickpocketing, as their source of livelihood.”

He also said a lot of street children are known to be sniffing rugby and other prohibited substances to get high.

He expressed pity for them and promised assistance through Manila’s department of social welfare.

What the government needs to do is address the root problems of homelessness and extend help to poor families to make them progressive and self-sufficient to raise their children more responsibly.

Still on Lim’s vexed problems, the Mayor the other day told the Manila police to “put immediate end to the gang wars in the city.”

There are some 30 street gangs that are causing public disturbances in Metro Manila area, according to the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission.

The gangs, reports said, were involved mostly in robbery and drug trafficking.

Given the style how Mayor Lim operates, many are confident he could overcome Manila’s problems sooner than later.


Source: http://www.mb.com.ph/OPED20090203147186.html

QC councilors are squatter coddlers

Posted in Laws, LGUs, Poverty, Social Issues/Concerns, Social Reform, Squatting by Erineus on February 2, 2009

WHAT is this? The Quezon City Council has proposed an ordinance declaring a moratorium on the eviction of squatters in the city “until there are enough relocation sites for affected families.” That means squatters from all over the Philippines, professional squatters or otherwise, will flock to Quezon City because here councilors coddle squatters. QC is already known as the “squatter capital of the Philippines.” It has the most number of squatters and it has the biggest squatter colonies. The new QC ordinance will make the city named after President Manuel Quezon the “squatter capital of the world.” I think this is the QC Council’s gimmick to gain entry to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Why are the councilors doing this? Simple. Next year is election year and squatters are voters. And politicians will do anything, even sell their own mothers, to get votes.

It won’t only be the squatters already in place who would vote for the councilors who passed the ordinance but also the new squatters from other parts of Metro Manila and the Philippines. So you see, the incumbent councilors would have the advantage over all other candidates because of the squatter votes. The ordinance, the councilors would say, is for humane considerations. But it is actually in aid of political considerations.

The presiding officer of the QC Council is Vice Mayor Herbert Bautista. Herbert is the heir apparent of Mayor Sonny Belmonte and is expected to be the next QC mayor, there being no announced aspirants except Rep. Mary Ann Susano of the second district. But if this is the way the QC Council is performing under him, then it bodes ill for the city. How can Herbert and the councilors have the temerity to ask the people of Quezon City to vote for them when they are selling them, the taxpayers, down the river?

The taxpayers, the homeowners and businessmen, have made QC the richest city in the Philippines, richer than Makati with its high-rise condos and even higher real estate prices. Thanks to these taxpayers, QC has more than P3 billion in the bank—and growing. Think of the commissions the grateful banks give to those who decide where to deposit the funds.

Where does the money go? The government spends it for the millions of squatters in the city who do not pay taxes at all. And for the councilors. Those useless tarpaulins polluting the city, greeting GMA and INC Bishop Eraño Manalo happy birthday, congratulating graduating students, wishing “happy valentine” and “happy fiesta” to nobody in particular—they were all paid with the taxes you paid. And all for what? To remind the voters of the names and faces of the councilors.

Those basketball courts and pool halls in the squatter colonies—they were paid with your money. Those concrete semi-arches with the names of the councilors etched in stone like the Ten Commandments at the boundaries of each barangay—they were paid with your taxes. Those unnecessary waiting sheds (unnecessary because the Metro Manila Development Authority is already putting up better waiting sheds) with the names of councilors painted in big bold letters on them—they were all paid with your taxes.

What do you, the taxpayers, get in return for the taxes you pay? Nothing. You would expect the city government to at least help you reclaim your property from the squatters because you are a taxpayer and they are not. (They use up your taxes instead.) But does the city government help you? Are you kidding? I have been trying to get the QC government to recover my lot from squatters since the time of Mayor Adelina Rodriguez. Did any of the mayors help? Ha ha ha. If they did, why are the squatters still there and I am still here looking from the outside?

What do the councilors do to help the homeowners? Help the homeowners? On the contrary, they pass ordinances increasing the real estate taxes for lots squatted on. The owners pay those taxes, not the squatters who use the lots. They may pass more ordinances prohibiting the ejectment of squatters.

Can the councilors pass an ordinance overturning the rights of ownership? Can the council prevent lot owners from ejecting squatters from their properties by the mere passage of an ordinance? Can the council prevent the city government or the MMDA from performing their duties of ejecting squatters and restoring law and order? Of course they cannot, but why do they try to block the enforcement of laws? Because of votes.

When there is a squatter demolition in any part of the metropolis, who are the first to show up to stop the law enforcers from doing their duty? The councilors—and the congressmen, especially Rep. Bingbong Crisologo. They will berate the law enforcers and play up to the squatters, not realizing that they are actually guilty of obstruction of justice. Because of votes. Votes are actually more powerful than the law or justice. Politicians will beg, steal or borrow, sell their own mothers and violate the laws in exchange for votes.

What can we taxpayers do? Well, aside from a tax revolt, the best way is the ballot. Do not vote for the squatter coddlers. If a councilor or congressman tries to stop a demolition, remember his name and don’t vote for him in next year’s election. Vote for his rival, whoever he is, so long as he is not a squatter coddler himself. Don’t vote for the politicians whose tarpaulins you see polluting the city. They are stealing your taxes to pay for those tarpaulins. Don’t vote for politicians whose names you see painted on waiting sheds. They did not pay for those waiting sheds. You did. Don’t vote for politicians whose names you see on the backboards of basketball goals erected in the middle of streets so that squatters can play basketball, instead of working, and preventing the public from using the street.

Don’t vote for squatter coddlers. By the way, the author of the proposed ordinance granting a moratorium on the eviction of squatters is Councilor Bernadette Herrera-Dy.

By Neal Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:16:00 02/02/2009

Fighting poverty: The missing element

Posted in Poverty, Tips by Erineus on February 2, 2009

FOR YEARS, I HAVE ENDED MY speeches and public presentations to every new audience with a challenge for each of them to help at least one poor family get out of poverty. I call attention to the current official poverty incidence figure of 26.9 percent (as of 2006), which means roughly one out of every four Filipino families is poor. I then point out that this also implies that three out of four are not poor. Thus, to wipe out poverty, we need only one in every three nonpoor Filipino families to care enough to help one poor family get out of poverty. Perhaps, I surmise, if we take our efforts to combat poverty to this individual (“micro”) level of caring and sharing, we could be much more successful at reducing poverty in our midst, as against the more grandiose macro-level programs that government is known for.

Macro interventions

What would it take to help lift a poor family out of poverty? We all know the saying attributed to the Chinese philosopher Confucius: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Outright dole-outs, of the kind government has lately been handing out a lot of, are clearly merely palliative and will not reduce poverty in the long run. Thus, we’ve also seen a plethora of poverty reduction programs that attempt to provide the things expected to make a long-term difference: Improved education and health services, microfinance and livelihood assistance, housing, safe water and sanitation, and so on. These things have figured in the government plans, programs and annual budgets for decades, and yet widespread poverty has persisted, and reducing poverty has remained the country’s foremost challenge. Indeed, poverty actually worsened since 2003, even in the face of supposedly record economic growth—proving that unqualified economic growth does not necessarily provide the solution either.

Teaching to fish

On a micro level, what would a willing family need to do to “teach another family to fish?” The late Sen. Raul Roco used to profess that having at least one college graduate in a family would surely get it out of poverty, and thus stressed the critical importance of widely accessible education up to the tertiary level. For those who can afford it, a concrete way of helping, then, is to support a promising child of the family through school all the way to the tertiary level, whether college or vocational/technical training as appropriate. My own father has done so almost all of his professional life and on through his retirement, and has reaped the satisfaction of seeing his successful protégés uplift their lives and their families’ well-being and standard of living.

Gawad Kalinga sees decent housing as the critical entry point. Founder Tony Meloto espouses the conviction that once you give poor people middle-class surroundings, they begin to have middle-class dreams. Indeed, the barrier often keeping many of the poor from uplifting their lives is their own selves, when they keep their aspirations low. A foreign colleague told me of a conversation he had with the young son of his Filipino driver, who, when asked what he hoped to be when he grew up, unhesitatingly replied that he wanted to be a driver just like his father. No wonder, my colleague remarked, that too many Filipinos remain poor.

Still another concrete way of helping is to equip a poor family with the means (including skills, values and financial capital) to start and sustain a livelihood enterprise. But time and again, government and nongovernment organizations get a mixed record of success when they try to do this en masse for groups of beneficiaries. My own sense is that such assistance will more likely achieve lasting outcomes when there is a one-to-one nurturing relationship involved, such as what a personal family-to-family hand-holding involvement would provide.

Sharing the Cross

This kind of direct involvement, to my mind, is key. We tend to focus on the receiver and overlook the giver. People who care and are willing to share find greater meaning in their sharing when they are able to somehow share in the pain and suffering of those whom they help. True sharing, in other words, goes both ways. I’m convinced that this is the ingredient that has made Gawad Kalinga catch fire not only in the Philippines but overseas as well. When people are urged to spend weekends enduring pain and strain by literally helping build homes alongside those who will receive them, sharing is brought to a totally different level from simply writing out a check to one’s favored charity. Giving a scholarship directly to one’s chosen poor child and taking a direct concern and involvement in his/her progress through the years is quite different from sending a regular contribution to a scholarship-granting foundation. An entrepreneurial family that hand-holds a poor family into starting and growing an enterprise of their own finds greater meaning in sharing than just pledging a portion of their profits to a livelihood development NGO.

When a disaster-based organization I am part of sought to draw Christian churches into our cause by asking each church to donate a target sum, I suggested that they go beyond that by urging the church members to actually come to our beneficiary sites in Albay, Infanta and Aurora. That way, they could share first hand in the pain of those whose lives they are helping rebuild. Only then do we Christians truly partake of the Cross of Jesus Christ, which is the true meaning of caring and sharing in Christian love. This, to my mind, could very well be the missing element in our poverty reduction efforts all these years.

Comments welcome at chabito@ateneo.edu.

By Cielito Habito
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 21:09:00 02/01/2009

Cost of corruption

Posted in Editorial, Graft and Corruption, Poverty by Erineus on February 1, 2009

The failed attempt of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration to prevent Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr., former president of Philippine Forest Corp., from testifying on the $329-million National Broadband Network project has once again focused public attention on the perennial problem of corruption.

Graft and corruption has been a fact of national life since post-Liberation days. Almost every administration has had its big and sensational graft cases. At every presidential election, one major issue that is always raised is graft and corruption. Opposition leaders denounce the graft being committed by the administration, but once they take over the reins of government, they also commit graft. It’s just a case of different sets of people pigging out at the trough that is the national treasury at different times.

Economist Alejandro Lichauco has said the Philippines is perennially in crisis because of “the mortal mix of corruption and poverty and a consequent loss of popular confidence in government and the electoral process as instruments of change.” The fatal mix, he said, is poverty so massive and so intense as to have degenerated into a problem of mass hunger, and corruption that is as massive as the massive poverty. A deadly mix, indeed, that is killing tens of thousands of people.

Starting with the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship, the Philippine crisis has been characterized not only by corruption and poverty but also by human rights abuses and a culture of impunity. Bruce Van Voorhis, a member of the Asian Human Rights Commission, said that these aspects of the life of the nation are linked: “People are poor to a large extent because of widespread corruption; those who wield political power violate people’s rights to attain and maintain that power; a lack of judicial punishment in the courts ensures impunity that permits corruption and human rights violations to continue. The cycle has sadly repeated itself for years.”

Corruption retards economic and social development, lowers the quality of public services and infrastructure and raises the prices of goods and services. In all these aspects, it is the poor who suffer the most because they cannot avail themselves, for instance, of the services of private doctors and hospitals or buy expensive goods. In some cases, corruption literally kills: for instance, a ship sinks and hundreds of people die because a coast guard officer was bribed to allow the overloaded, non-seaworthy vessel to leave port.

In 2000, the World Bank estimated that the Philippines had lost $48 billion (P1.968 trillion) to corruption from 1977 to 1997. Think how many kilometers of roads and bridges and how many schoolhouses and hospitals that money could have built. Think of the other public infrastructure and public services that could have been improved with that kind of money. But all that public money went into the private pockets of corrupt, greedy government officials.

Graft and corruption flourishes because of the culture of impunity. Have you heard of any big fish being convicted of corruption and plunder, except deposed president Joseph Estrada? Yes, Estrada was convicted of plunder, but he did not spend even a day in a real prison. Only six weeks after his conviction, he was pardoned by President Arroyo. Was that any way to set an example for the other grafters in government and to would-be grafters and plunderers?

And so the graft and corruption continues. But from time to time a ray of light pierces the darkness and gives the nation hope that we might yet be able to start punishing the grafters. Such a ray was Lozada, whose courageous and forthright testimony at the Senate may yet save the nation from the grip of scandalous, graft-ridden deals.

But whistleblowers like Lozada cannot, just by themselves, ensure a successful campaign against corruption. Graft and corruption has become so ingrained in the national life that it is considered “normal.” Even people like Lozada are ready to consider a 20-percent “commission” on government deals acceptable. But that should not be acceptable. A 20-percent “commission” is an illegal and immoral “tax” on a poor and overburdened people. They have to realize this, watch every government transaction that may be tainted with graft, and denounce officials who are stealing taxpayers’ money — their money.

Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer
Date: First Posted 00:43:00 02/12/2008