Apparently today is the anniversary of the Metric System.
Scuttlebutt continues to be plentiful concerning the composition of the cabinet and other appointments (see Palace to tap poll lawyer as CHR chief: where does that leave Koko Pimentel’s case, I wonder?). Lito Atienza, who was said to be keen on assuming the Interior and Local Governments portfolio in pursuit of his grudge match against Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, seems to be under the impression that Lim is not well (which is why Manila Vice-Mayor Isko Moreno has been the one issuing statements to the Press), and so is content with staying in his present DENR job. Michael Defensor, who was the other main candidate for Executive Secretary (the other one being the current DILG chief, Ronnie Puno) is therefore said to be slated to assume the Interior portfolio. Whether Puno will get Ermita’s job, and whether Ermita will get the plum position he really wants (head of PAGCOR) is still up in the air. Vicente Sotto III seems headed for PEDEA, and there seems to be no obstacle to Tessie Aquino Oreta’s assuming the Education portfolio. No word on whether Ralph Recto will dislodge Gary Teves, despite Vilma Santo’s suggesting that might be in the cards.
The President’s closed off one Cabinet option, which is an appointment as Presidential Chief of Staff. She recently abolished the position, once held by Rigoberto Tiglao and Michael Defensor. See Administrative Order 221 . With the abolition of the office, an administrative innovation ill-fatedly embarked on by the Estrada administration and slightly more successfully carried out under the present one, comes to an end. An interesting note is that the Chief of Staff position was copied from the American Presidency, and that position, an innovation of Dwight D. Eisenhower, I suspect owes to both his military experience and his exposure to the Philippine executive innovation of an executive secretary, which he saw at work during his stint in the American military advisor’s office prior to the war.
Speaking of the office of the Chief of Staff, I am sad to see that Nicasio Conti, one of Tiglao’s point men in that office, has left the PCGG, to which he’d been appointed after Tiglao was appointed ambassador to Greece. Conti’s a dedicated person, quite serious about the lifestyle checks that showed such promise.
What will happen to Hermogenes Esperon is still unclear, too. Two weeks ago, I ran into an acquaintance from the Department of National Defense, and departmental scuttlebutt seemed to be that Esperon would assume the Defense portfolio, which the old hands rather liked: they were unhappy with Teodoro being more interested in the National Disaster Coordinating Council, and its political mileage benefits, supposedly. What we do know is that the President’s recently reorganized the Department of National Defense: see Administrative Order 218.
Meanwhile, the glorious march of good governance continues, with this latest pronouncement: Palace: Hanjin P400M bribe-extort case closed. Perhaps, if the columns of Manuel Buencamino and Lito Banayo are any guide, it was simply too much of a lose-lose situation for the President to let things continue playing out in public.
The Warrior Lawyer looked at the Meralco brouhaha on May 5:
Arroyo has nothing to lose and everything to gain by attacking Meralco. As pointed out by Doronila, there’s no love lost between the Lopezes and Arroyo’s family. ABS-CBN has been vociferous in its attacks against her.
GMA intends to turn the tables on her critics, specially in the Senate, who are now distracted by this new maneuver. Unfriendly corporate entities have also been put on notice on what the government can do to court popular opinion. And this gut-issue is sure to resonate and gain adherents among the urban populace, the traditional core of the anti-government forces, and further deflate the opposition’s already faltering campaign against her.
She’s trying to pull a “Hugo Chavez”, only more subtle and elaborate. But will the public bite ? If she succeeds in a Meralco takedown, she just might be able to pull up her below basement-level approval ratings. For Arroyo, it’s certainly worth a try.
The battle royal continues to heat up. Congress probes Meralco: For antitrust law violation, say Arroyo allies. Both the Merlaco management and the GSIS camp have retained top gun law firms as both sides gear up for the proxy fight near the end of the month. Reuters reports Meralco row could backfire on power sector privatization.
This news item, Govt mulls discounts on residential Meralco bills, reminds me of two comments by a subscriber named “Mon Ram” in Pete Lacaba’s Plaridel e-mail list.
First, from a message sent at 6:30 AM today, concerning system losses charges to customers by Meralco:
The culprit is actually a law enacted by Congress in late 1994, RA 7832, which allows:
1. private utilities like Meralco to charge up to 9.5% of power losses to custormers
2. electric cooperatives like Albay Electric to charge up to 14% of power losses to customers.
Beyond those caps, the utilities absorb the losses.
Thus, in my bill I have to pay P99 for systems loss. That is about 9% of my total bill.
Add the average 10% EVAT to the 9% of systems loss and that comes up to 19’% of my bill.
Repeal both laws and we consumers can easily reduce our electric bill by 19%.
Earlier, on May 6, the same subscriber, pointed out consumers might want to consider installing special meters:
Seriously though, there is already a time-of-use (TOU) plan here offered by Meralco and other distribution utilities in the regions.
The catch is that you will pay for the specialty meter which costs around P10,000.There is also a one-time application fee of P2,700.
There is also another catch to it. Our present rate (I am in the 101-200 kwh category since our consumption is only 112 kwh) is about P9.10 per kwh.
If I shift to TOU plan, these will be my rates:
Peak hours- P6.30 per kwh (reduced by 1/3)
Off-peak – 3.00 per kwh (reduced by 2/3)
So we should avoid using electricity during these peak hours:
8 AM to 9 PM (practically the whole day)–Monday to Sat
6 PM to 8 PM (on Sundays)
In oder words: the ERC-approved TOU plan tells us: wag kang magplantsa, mag-aircon, mag-stove, mag-ilaw, mag-etc. sa mga oras na yan and you can reduce your electric bill by as much as 67%.;-)
Nevertheless, some customers may find the TOU plan practical and they can avail of it.
Yesterday’s Inquirer editorial, Dismal diplomacy, looked at the Arroyo administration’s diplomatic achievements (meager) and the ongoing unraveling of the Mindanao peace process, while today’s editorial, Breaking the impasse, appeals for the peace process to continue, but points out that Malaysia’s taken sides. A useful backgrounder’s in Part 1 and Part 2 of Steven Rood’s account of a conference on the Philippines that recently took place in Washington. From Part 2:
A common thread running through Martin’s conflict analysis was the problem of poor governance both as a contributing factor to conflict itself, and a constraining factor in overcoming the conflict. Of the three types of conflicts, his sentiment was that the NPA/NDF is the most serious form because it is nationwide; he also advocated negotiations without preconditions. When he spoke of the Moro conflict, he referenced the Facilitation Project’s final summary assessment and asserted that the MILF is ready to settle, but there are problems of historical prejudices, Filipino elites who are unready to settle, and Muslim politicians whose interests would also be adversely affected.
From the audience came questions about Sharia Law, to which Russell responded by describing the limited implementation of the Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines (PD 1083). Martin remarked that while people often say they want Sharia since they are Muslims, often they do not elaborate about the details of Sharia law. Another audience member quoted ARMM DTI Ishak Mastura, “the interfaith dialogue, peacebuilding, culture of peace, settling of rido, human security work that people are engaged in are only so much band-aids and placebo effect that do not address the root of the conflict in the South, which Catholic Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato once wrote in a paper is INJUSTICE.” Russell basically agreed that political will is needed to achieve this justice, but also that she believes that such peacebuilding work is valuable in its own right.
Another entry, In the Philippines: Conflict in Mindanao, in the same blog, focuses on success stories concerning peace building. Mon Casiple says the peace talks are winding down just as scheduled elections means people are getting wound up:
The outcome of the GOP-MILF peace talks largely depends on achieving agreement on the definition and scope of territory covered by the ancestral domain claimed by the MILF. Basically, it posits that, wherever the Moro are in majority, the territory shall be part of a new Moro autonomous region. Ancestral domain, to MILF, corresponds to a territorial arrangement where there is a Moro self-government. News reports speak of more than 1,000 barangays not only in the current ARMM but extending all the way to certain places in Luzon and non-Moro Mindanao.
The GOP has tried to grapple with the claim by offering a much broader ARMM arrangement within the framework of the Constitution, including a possible local state within a federal Philippine state as proposed in a constitutional reform proposal by various figures in the Philippine government. However, there are suspicions within the government that the MILF proposal — even when there are concession — basically lays the groundwork for a Moro independent state.
Kuala Lumpur had been hosting the GOP-MILF peace negotiations for sometime and it heads the 60-man IMT. Its decision to withdraw from the IMT — and possibly from the hosting of the negotiations — was publicly linked to its frustration over the stalled talks. However, a recent report alluded to an accusation by an unnamed government official saying that Malaysia wants to make hay while ostensibly hosting — by negotiating on the side for the Philippines to drop its Sabah claim. However true this accusation, the fact that it was made exposes the building tensions surrounding the Moro rebellion issue.
At the same time, the upcoming ARMM elections complicates matters as various political forces maneuver to seize opportunities they offer. The ruling Ampatuan clan is trying to maintain its hold on power. The MNLF-Sema wing will reportedly field Muslimin Sema to contest the governorship. Misuari himself is reportedly eyeing a rerun for the post. MILF is also reportedly organizing to support a candidate.
My column, The quest for an honest broker , is related to this topic. My column refers to Psst, Malaysia’s Got a New Rice Bowl and The GRP-MILF Peace Talks: Quo Vadis? by Rizal Buendia. See also MILF: Malaysians ‘irreplaceable’ as peace mediators in Newsbreak. Blogger At Midfield also considers the connection of the Malaysia threat of pulling out of the peace process to the Philippines’ Sabah Claim:
While Malaysia has effectively retained full control over Sabah, it is also on record that as recent as 2003 it has been paying “cession” fees to the Sultanate, based on notices transmitted by the Malaysian embassy in Manila. It is also asserted that under international law that the term ‘perpetuity’ is reckoned legally as lasting a period of 99 years. If this is so, then simple arithmetic would indicate that the lease has, in fact, expired. (At least one account on the Internet indicates the lease is 130 years past due.)
The website of the Sultanate of Sulu and Sabah asserts that at the very least, with Malaysia supposedly earning up to 100 billion dollars per year from the exploitation of the area’s rich natural resources (this figure is unverified), the sultanate would, by its own estimates, be entitled to a share of some 10 billion dollars, a huge amount the the sultanate says could go to uplifting the lives of the people of Sulu.
Some additional readings are linked to in Inquirer Current. You may also want to refer to this part of my August 17, 2007 entry, Thoughts on Mindanao: At the time, there was growing concern that fighting might resume there, but one official downplayed the possibility:
1. Late last year I had the chance to talk to Sec. Dureza, head of the peace process. Eventually, we discussed Mindanao and he seemed quite optimistic about the prospects of peace talks. What I found most interesting is that the government takes very seriously indeed, proposals to grant Commonwealth status (with its own Organic Act or a constitution) to Muslim Mindanao. From what I recall, Dureza said there were two major obstacles: first, the Constitution makes no provisions for anything more than its present provisions for regional autonomy; second, there is the desire of Muslim leaders to expand the territory that would comprise Muslim Mindanao beyond the present ARMM. On the other hand, he felt the ancestral domain issue (which would mean compensation for Muslims for territory and resources now settled by Christians) was not far off from being settled amicably.
2. …I had a very interesting talk with a former official who has an intimate knowledge of both the peace process and the Department of National Defense. Here are some observations made by the official:
a. Conflict in Mindanao is “self-containing,” a curious term which I understand works along these lines: the military undertakes an offensive; the leadership of whatever Muslim group the military is targeting melts away, seeking safe havens in Palawan and Sabah; Muslim families in the affected areas immediately send their families to evacuation centers; the evacuation centers are overwhelmed; the UN begins to speak of a “humanitarian crisis”; foreign media arrives, to cover the humanitarian crisis; foreign and public scrutiny become so intense, military offensives must cease; peace, for the time being, is restored. It is a tired, old, predictable, and tragic, script but one that serves to prevent violence from spiraling out of hand…
c. The MILF, according to the official, retains formidable formations on the ground. Therefore, they have the capacity to make a mess of things in their areas, which discourages aggressive AFP operations. The official gave an example involving the last time fighting broke out between the MILF and the AFP. The MILF embarked on systematically blowing up and tearing down electric poles over a large swathe of territory: so while the fighting could be sorted out, and peace restored relatively quickly, the damage to infrastructure -and thus, the damage to the local economy- took months to repair.
d. The MILF, the official said, also has something the Abu Sayyaf lacks: it can engage in reprisals if conflict escalates. If an offensive were launched against the MILF, the immediate result would be bombings in Davao, the Visayas or the ferries, and Metro Manila: the MILF has the network and the means. The Abu Sayyaf, on the other hand, has been heavily hit (but not knocked out) and so cannot retaliate. While there may be individual fighters or groups of fighters, who may be MILF, MNLF, or Abu Sayyaf, or all three, depending on the circumstances, in general, there are two issues and it isn’t helpful to blur the two: handling the MILF with kid gloves (the OIC and neighboring countries are also involved, after all) can’t be imperiled by going after the Abu Sayyaf, and vice versa.
e. There is the question of military procurement. An offensive justifies emergency appropriations and sooner or later it has to be asked whether the emergency release of funds benefitted the troops or not. Say a mortar round, fresh from the factory and thus at its prime, costs 30,000 pesos. That will be its listed price. But the same mortar round, close to its expiration date, can be found on the open market for, say, 1,500 pesos (put up for sale by foreign militaries updating their inventory). Therefore, in an emergency situation, a clever arms purchaser for the AFP can source mortar rounds for a fraction of their listed price. The official explained that the military being what it is, you can be sure that every single mortar round purchased during an emergency procurement will be used up, even if the military has nothing left to shell except the forests. A conscientious military command would only purchase fresh mortar rounds and not send about-to-expire rounds to the troops; but that is presuming the command is conscientious; an unscrupulous military command, on the other hand, would be poised to make a fortune from buying cheap ammunition…
What has not been discussed in the press, but which is being bandied about behind the scenes, are fears that political benefits could be reaped from a resumption of hostilities in Mindanao. It would allow the administration to focus attention on the fighting instead of other issues; an escalation in the level of violence could justify emergency powers; whether the government would simply let things drift towards hostilities, or actively foment trouble, is also hotly debated.
Regarding rice, Yen Macabenta says that there’s no debating the existence of food crisis, now:
How do we, here in the Philippines, face up the problem?
We begin by acknowledging that we are now living in a new era of higher food prices. Given this, we must commit to making a supreme effort to produce more of rice and other food we consume. There’s nothing we can do about our lack of indigenous crude oil, because nature did not bless us with it, but we are clearly capable of producing most of our food needs. What are needed mainly are focus, political will and the resources for greater production. With the economy exhibiting continued dynamism, we can spur the rapid growth of our agriculture. The higher prices for food will themselves be a factor for greater investments in the sector.
The critical lesson we must take from the food crisis’s well as the energy crunch – is that we are at risk by being overly dependent on the global market. And nowhere are the risks greater than in the food crisis, because the challenge is elemental. It affects the most vulnerable among us – the millions of our poor. It can be the difference between life and death.
It’s a good thing that the government and the private sector are meeting the challenge soberly and thoughtfully. Good ideas are being put on the table. The government is doing its part to stabilize the situation. And even the opposition has realized that this is not a time for wisecracks and showboating.
The reason the situation’s suddenly turned grim, after everyone was expecting things to ease up, is, aspoints out, due of course the disaster in Burma. The Unlawyer connects the news on Burma with concerns here at home, with inflation. An entry in China financial markets bears reading in this regard. Starting off with a look at the droopy stock market and what the blogger says have been unsuccessful interventions by the Chinese government to shore up the market, he then mulls over inflation figures and then goes on to look at food:
Headline food prices do seem to be moderating in China, so we will see a deceleration in CPI price rises, but I am not sure this is for all the right reasons, and I wonder if food price increases can continue to be restrained. As a long-time trader and observer of developing countries I always get a little nervous when government officials keep repeating that they don’t have a problem in some specific area, so I guess I am getting a little nervous about yet another announcement, this time from the NDRC, that they have “ample grain to keep food prices stable”, as the prominent headline in today’s China Daily put it.
We are starting to get these assurances nearly every two or three days now. “Our grain supply and demand is basically stable, our reserves are full, and we can ensure supply and stable grain prices,” the NDRC said in its statement. The same article pointed out that customs and commerce authorities are cracking down on illegal grain exports by traders hoping to profit from surging international prices. It points out that whereas price of rice in Thailand has soared from $300 a ton to $1000 a ton in six weeks (wow! can this possibly be true?), the price of rice in China is still frozen at $300 a ton.
Not surprisingly this seems to have led to wide-spread rice smuggling. Another article in the same issue of China Daily also makes this point: “But there are concerns about how long the nation can hold its rice price at about one-fourth of that in overseas markets, given recent reports of illegal rice exports in the past months.” Not only do we have a problem of local “businessmen” smuggling oil out of the country to take advantage of the heavily subsidized prices in China, but the smuggling problem now seems to be spreading to grains too.
I suppose this was only to be expected. With such long and complex borders, and with an endemic corruption problem, it was inevitable that the huge disparities between the subsidized prices of certain commodities in China and their equivalents in neighboring countries would lead to “arbitrage,” as the more polite among us might put it. I have no idea of how extensive this smuggling is, but given the fact that the authorities are publicly admitting the problem (and twice in a single issue of the China Daily), I would guess that it is a big problem. The monetarist in me would also point out that smuggling rice out of China will have a similar monetary impact as bringing foreign currency into China, so this is not just a problem for the Ministry of Finance, who has to raise taxes to pay for the subsidy going to smugglers, but also for the PBoC.
The Siam Sentinel points to an AP story that suggests the disaster will weaken the ruling junta’s hold on power, which is a good thing, in the long run, for the Burmese; but the devastation in that country upsets all the calculations -and expectations- concerning harvests for the rest of the year. Gregory MacNamee in The Encyclopedia Britannica blog, zeroes in on Burma, the situation there -and how referring to that country as Burma or Myanmar telegraphs one’s sympathies.
Overseas, Israel’s been busy commemorating sixty years of independence. See Israel at 60: History in maps at the BBC. The blog minority focus points out 41% of the world’s Jews now live in that country. And Mitchell Bard points out one of Israel’s achievements is that it’s a thriving democracy:
Israel is far from perfect, and is often condemned for its flaws, even though it should come as no surprise that it has not solved the social ills that the much older Western democracies still confront. Israel, nevertheless, upholds the values Americans take for granted — freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, tolerance of gays, equality for women and free and open elections — values absent in the rest of the Middle East. In fact, even as the Palestinians condemn the policies of Israel, when asked which country they admire most, it is Israel that comes out on top. And when anyone suggests that Israeli Arabs should live in a future Palestinian state, they protest and declare that the “hell of Israel is preferable to the paradise of Palestine.”
Moving on to undemocratic parts of the world, oppositionist blog Singapore Election Watch tackles a statement by the Singaporean PM reacting, it seems, to proposals to curb the entry of foreign workers. Daniel Politi in Slate asks if it’s The Beginning of the End? for the Clinton campaign.