Conflicting news on rice: DA reports big summer rice harvests: Grain traders, farmers urge gov’t to buy local produce: Summer rice harvest now 5.9-M metric tons on one hand, and Farmers fail to benefit from record rice prices on the other. Meanwhile, overseas, the blog Darwiniana points to Americans being asked to consider the possibility of food riots over there.
Even as Polls in Maguindanao automated, the brittle peace ontinues to be a cause for concern.
In What’s behind the delay of the signing and the IMT pullout? , Mahdie Amella distills the MILF position concerning Philippine political priorities in Mindanao:
Deceitful attitude has become a government tradition in dealing with the revolutionary groups who are legitimately fighting for their rights to self-determination, thus war continuously happens that brings the government down.
The Philippine constitution has always been used by the government to delay the signing of a peace agreement. Recently, it organized a legal group that has been tasked to carefully study the constitutionality of every thing that will be entered into as an agreement with the MILF. Has the government made a critical study when it illegally annexed Mindanao to Philippine territory? The said legal group has apparently been made to derail the peace process so as to eschew the possibility of signing an agreement.
Using the constitution to hinder the attainment of peace is like saying that the people who are fighting for secession are right. There is no such “unconstitutional” thing. It depends on how people behind the constitution make something constitutional or unconstitutional as it is merely a man-made law.
Other countries that have already been able to address problems like what has been besetting us in the Philippines also have “constitutions”. Any government that sincerely enters into negotiation with the aim of bringing peace to the nation will not find this thing difficult. The constitution can be amended to accommodate any peace agreement but an agreement can not be shaped by the constitution, otherwise the other party is being deceived. It fights the government as it does not recognize its existing laws. How could it be a basis for any talking point or agreement?
Looking at these points, it is not the constitution that hampers us toward attaining peace but the people who can not sacrifice their personal interests in favor of national interests. These people (in Malacanang) who are very influential in terms of decision-making all have possessions in Mindanao. They fear to lose these should there be an honorable agreement signed with the MILF.
Now, what is the government’s purpose in entering into peace negotiation with the MILF? It is manifest that the negotiation is only a diplomatic tool in putting the MILF down. It has never been initiated to once and for all address the never ending Mindanao conflict.
Apparently, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has never thought of resolving the Mindanao strife. If she is for its resolution, she could have done it already as the solution for it is very straightforward — just return everything that was usurped so easily. It is not demanding. In fact, the MILF has already practically reduced its territorial claim into only the areas where the Bangsamoro are dominant.
On the other hand, in What is the guarantee? Who will guarantee? Roberto C. Layson, OMI says peace negotiators are prepared to kneel on the ground to keep the Malaysians involved in the peace process:
The problem is when you later ask both the government and the MILF who started the violations, no one would take responsibility. As usual, it ends up with no one taking accountability with the government and the MILF pointing finger to each other. It’s sometimes disheartening. That is why in our experience in rehabilitation, the most challenging and difficult part is not to rehabilitate the physical damage inflicted by war such as the construction of houses, roads, water facilities, day care centers or even school buildings. This is the easiest part of rehabilitation, we found out. The most difficult part really is how to restore the belief of people in the peace process and in peace in general.
But what can you expect between the two parties. It’s like a basketball game without a referee. That is why, the civil society organization in Mindanao lobbied so hard for the third party ceasefire monitors because the ceasefire mechanism then was not effective in controlling the situation on the ground. And as always the case, it’s the innocent civilians who suffer the brunt of war — the ordinary Lumads, Muslims and Christians.
The Inquirer editorial today looks at the Speaker of the House playing footsie with the Senate, and points out there remains Unfinished business. On a related note, Ricky Poca in The time is now points to the main priority of congressmen at present:
Cebu City Mayor Tommy Osmeña’s proposal to merge the Municipality of Cordova with Cebu City appears to have been rejected by all of the six congressional representatives of the Province of Cebu. Even if pursued in the House, it would be difficult to have the proposal approved, given the present sentiment of the six representatives and even Rep. Antonio Cuenco (Cebu City South District).
Moreover, the six representatives are busy with the plan to increase the legislative districts of Cebu, given the latest census that shows a considerable increase in the province’s population. Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, together with the provincial board, is serious about discussing with all the district representatives the plan to add more congressional districts in the province.
But the resolution filed in the Senate, calling for Charter change to institutionalize a federal system of government, may put on hold any plan of having more seats at the Batasan. Some representatives believe that Congress will prioritize the resolution authored by Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., as the proposal has also reportedly gotten Malacañang’s nod. Some congressmen think it’s better to wait for the result of the move to shift to federal system because if it pushes through, it will practically affect the arrangement of the districts and provinces.
The plot thickens! Tony Abaya thinks Federalism will only provide an opening for a Putin-style move to stay in power, on the part of the President. And objects to the proposal being made on the basis -specious, he says- of its spurring economic growth. As he put it in a May 5 column,
My critique of his resolution rests on five principal grounds: a) it is a Trojan Horse to re-introduce a twice-defeated (in 2006-07) maneuver to shift to a parliamentary system, to enable President Arroyo to remain in power beyond 2010, as prime minister, similar to the maneuver of Vladimir Putin in Russia;
b) the resolution’s stated objective, “to spur economic growth,” is a no-brainer since, as I pointed out in my article, the Philippines’ failure to develop as fast as its neighbors in the past 50 years can be traced to poor, even stupid economic policies and strategies, not to its being a unitary state;
c) most of the successful countries in our part of the world — Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand — all achieved economic success as unitary states; only one – Malaysia — as a federal union; so there is nothing wrong with being a unitary state as long as the correct economic strategies and policies are pursued; on the other hand, a federal union with wrong economic strategies and policies would stagnate, e.g. autarkic and xenophobic Myanmar, under military rule since 1962.
d) archipelagic countries — Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines — are unitary states also for pragmatic reasons: being made up of islands, they are vulnerable to centrifugal forces that would encourage secession and disunity.
e) I challenged Sen. Pimentel to name even only one example of a country that shifted from unitary to federal — or from federal to unitary — and thus achieved prosperity as a result of that shift. He has not obliged.
In politics and business, Oscar Lopez, the current Lopez patriarch, is quoted as saying, ‘Buy us out if you want’: Suggests removal of VAT, royalties. According to The Mount Balatucan Monitor, the GSIS gambit sends the wrong message to business; though I’m not convinced, because other big businesses aren’t vulnerable the way Meralco is (either on the basis of existing share structures or of being subject to government regulation). the blogger and Patricio Mangubat in FilipinoVoices.com, though, share a skeptical attitude concerning the supposed benefits of a change in corporate management:
Garcia says its not the board they’re after — its management, dummy. Winston, we’re not kids and that stupid, okey? A management filled with government appointees is worst than the Lopezes. Replacing management is a de facto takeover.
Whatever the palace says, one thing is perfectly clear — these palace men are not creating noise out of nothing. They all say the same thing though — they’ll be doing this to force a lowering of electricity rates. All of them though, including Gloria, knows that a takeover will not immediately result to a lowering of electricity costs. Why? Because Meralco will lose considerable profitability.
Besides, government is the worst administrator of all time.
For Philippine Commentary, the problem of high electric rates boils down to what he calls two insane policies:
(1) Napocor has steadfastly refused to sign long term supply contracts for its dirty coal fired power plants, insisting instead on buying coal primarily on the spot market current at over $130 / ton; and
(2) P1.46 government royalty on domestic natural gas amounting to more than a third of the P4.10 per cubic meter paid by First Gas (a Lopez-owned independent power producer).
The Economist points to Goldman Sachs predicting oil at $200 a barrel by the end of the year. Sensing an opportunity (for its airline, among other things), Gokongweis offer P24.6B for gov’t stake in Petron Corp. In his column, John Mangun explains, in his view, Why P100 gasoline might be good:
When, two years ago, oil was $50 and Goldman forecast $100, the Philippines’ political leaders did nothing to prepare for $100. Now they have the opportunity to prepare for $200 a barrel.
Who wants to be the next president? Raise your hand. I have the guaranteed political strategy for making you the overwhelming landslide choice in 2010. Tell the people what you are doing today to handle a doubling of oil prices in two years. Because all the other contenders are going to tell the people what they will do after they take office and after gasoline doubles in price. It will be too late, then, to take action, just as it is now.
Here’s another thing to consider for your political campaign. If conditions continue unchanged, you may not be able to afford to give away that T-shirt and can of sardines to win a few extra votes. And your provincial political sortie might have to be on the back of a carabao instead of a Ford Expedition.
People worry about how much it costs for a tank of gas while Dubai, using our Filipino workers, is spending billions of dollars, some of it ours, to build artificial islands as playgrounds for the rich and famous.
However, no one is confident that solutions will be sought until the problem grows bigger. And that is why P100 gasoline might be good for the country. At P50, the pain is still bearable. When the situation deteriorates and the pain hurts badly enough, then the leaders might finally take some constructive action…
…There must be something in the air inside government offices and legislative halls around the world that causes political leaders to lose their common sense. Ideas and policies they would never apply in their own occupation – be it in commerce, education, medicine and media – are often the standard when they enter politics.
Virtually every government leader has, directly or indirectly, engaged in wealth creation in the private sector. They built something, taught others to build or found the capital and noncapital resources to create wealth. But when they join the government, they suddenly forget how to create national wealth…
…You want more and cheaper rice? Grow it. You need domestic oil so as not to be hostage to the Middle East oil sheiks? Dig it up.
No nation taxed, untaxed, subsidized, politicized or legislated itself to prosperity. They created wealth. Why is Vietnam now a net rice exporter? When I last visited it in 1990, this was the only national rice policy: “Everybody grow rice!” Every square meter of usable land in rice-friendly areas was planted. The monthly salary of the hotel night manager was $5.
We have huge mineral wealth. Do we dig it up? No. We may have enough oil for self-sufficiency. Do we exploit it? No.
Find a leader who applies the same wealth-creation techniques and policies in government that they do in the real world.
Mangun’s musings brings to mind an aricle in the Asia Sentinel, Asia Faces an Inflation Quandary:
Nowhere is the dilemma more acute than in Vietnam, which currently tops the consumer inflation league table at around 20 percent annually. In a seemingly belated response, the government dramatically tightened money supply growth, driving up interest rates and causing the country’s stock and real estate prices to crash. But the connection between consumer prices and money supply was tenuous. For sure, money had been far too loose for too long as Vietnam basked in international esteem and capital inflows. But the main inflation culprit was food, with prices up 35 percent thanks in large part to Vietnam’s open economy and role as a major food exporter — particularly of rice and fish.
Belated efforts to dampen domestic prices by limiting exports merely served to add to panic in importing countries like the Philippines which had failed to keep adequate stocks.
Now the pressure is on Vietnam to try another tack in its inflation fight — allow the dong, which has fallen against almost every currency except the US dollar, to appreciate significantly as it likely would given continued capital flows and strong commodity exports. But it isn’t that simple. The government and private sectors alike recognize that workers must be compensated for rising prices, so double-digit wage rises are in prospect. Combined with dong appreciation, that could undercut competitiveness just at the time when markets in the west are already weak and those in Asia are going off the boil.
…Elsewhere, in India, Indonesia and now the Philippines, subsidies, at least for the poorest, are a partial answer to the food price problem. But in India and the Philippines in particular they add to existing serious budget problems. India however does have a strong case for tighter monetary policy after a period of being carried away by India-rising euphoria and the impact of massive inflows of (mostly short term) capital which could yet cause balance-of-payments angst again.
On a related note, the interest of the China financial markets blog was piqued by a report on big banks engaging in hoarding -of money:
Large international banks, in other words, are responding to the current financial crisis by hoarding liquidity, as they have always done, at least since the invention of joint-stock banking, I think in the very early 18th century, and even before. We have been reminded very dramatically that banks are clearly vulnerable to liquidity runs. The collapse of my old employer Bear Stearns occurred largely, as far as I can see, because of a very old-fashioned bank run on an institution that was far from bankrupt, or would have been had it not experienced the bank run (i.e. until the forced fire-sale, its assets were worth significantly more than its liabilities). That, plus the experience of Northern Rock and a number of other close calls has made it imperative for banks that they have sufficient liquidity to meet any potential liquidity run, and for this reason they may simply be unwilling to lend to each other.
To my mind, Tony Gatmaitan is the first political professional to quantify the value of the Internet if we have presidential elections in 2010. He says the presidential derby at present has five main contenders who “well positioned to convert their vote-generating capabilities into the next elections” : Manuel de Castro, Jr.; Manuel Villar, Jr.; Manuel Roxas II; Loren Legarda; Joseph Ejercito Estrada.Then Gatmaitan identifies the three main arenas where the 2010 campaign would be fought out:
1) battle of the airwaves (50% of the contest);
2) ground level war (35% of the battle); and,
3) cyberspace, (15%).
Gatmaitan pointed out that prior to TV and radio political advertising being legalized, TV and radio influenced only 10% of the vote. But since the ad ban on radio and TV was lifted in 2004, the percentage has swelled (with an accompanying, and fast, collapse of the traditional political culture of mitings de avance, etc.) so that TV and radio will account for 50% of the vote come 2010:
“Prime time television is going to be inundated by political advertisements coming from all sides. There will be a shift from politicians to image makers. The latter will take the place of political operatives. The traditional areas controlled by politicians will now shrink,” he said.
Gatmaitan identifies the ground level war as centered on guarding votes on the precinct level. This used to account for 50% of the fight but Gatmaitan thinks it’s now been reduced to 35%. But it’s where the Palace has an ace up its sleeve:
The ground level war includes the national canvassing of all city, provincial and other electoral returns by Congress. And in this battle, the administration candidate has the inside track. “In a tight contest, they can ram through [Congress] anything,” he said.
It’s in the last zone of battle -cyberspace- that Gatmaitan (and the report) are vaguest:
While Internet penetration is still low in the Philippines, Gatmaitan said the influence of cellphones has increased to “63% of the population and still growing.” By 2010, it may reach 72%. “By 2010, voters will be read to accept imaginative SMS messages from candidates and political parties,” he said.
Which isn’t particularly enlightening at all. Gatmaitan is correct in pointing out the Internet includes cell phones in its ecology (think Chikka, and how you can get Yahoo messenger updates on your phone, Twitter from your phone and receive Twitts, post to Flickr from your phone, etc.) He seems dismissive of blogs, social networking sites, etc. And there is, too, the possibility that the Internet will have a spill-over effect, both when it comes to media and people evangelizing for their candidates.
To my mind, Francis Escudero was the most innovative and shrewd user of the Internet for his senatorial campaign, and also the first to take out online advertising. He used a combination of ads, appeals, and gimmicks such as one site of his that asked people to describe him, to solicit support.
A thought-provoking inquiry into where ICT is bringing (or could bring, rather) our democracy, is undertaken by Martin Perez in Critical Convergence, Part 2: Knowledge Politics. Of interest, considering his views, are these entries, part of the continuing coverage of the conference I attended in Sweden. The first, A game of snap, is someone’s reaction to the talk I gave. The second is self-explanatory: How ‘Facebook Girl’ turned up the heat in Egypt.
Overseas, Richard N. Haass says we have ushered in The Age of Nonpolarity:
At first glance, the world today may appear to be multipolar. The major powers — China, the European Union (EU), India, Japan, Russia, and the United States — contain just over half the world’s people and account for 75 percent of global GDP and 80 percent of global defense spending. Appearances, however, can be deceiving. Today’s world differs in a fundamental way from one of classic multipolarity: there are many more power centers, and quite a few of these poles are not nation-states. Indeed, one of the cardinal features of the contemporary international system is that nation-states have lost their monopoly on power and in some domains their preeminence as well. States are being challenged from above, by regional and global organizations; from below, by militias; and from the side, by a variety of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and corporations. Power is now found in many hands and in many places.
In addition to the six major world powers, there are numerous regional powers: Brazil and, arguably, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and Venezuela in Latin America; Nigeria and South Africa in Africa; Egypt, Iran, Israel, and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East; Pakistan in South Asia; Australia, Indonesia, and South Korea in East Asia and Oceania. A good many organizations would be on the list of power centers, including those that are global (the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, the World Bank), those that are regional (the African Union, the Arab League, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the EU, the Organization of American States, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation), and those that are functional (the International Energy Agency, OPEC, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the World Health Organization). So, too, would states within nation-states, such as California and India’s Uttar Pradesh, and cities, such as New York, Sao Paulo, and Shanghai. Then there are the large global companies, including those that dominate the worlds of energy, finance, and manufacturing. Other entities deserving inclusion would be global media outlets (al Jazeera, the BBC, CNN), militias (Hamas, Hezbollah, the Mahdi Army, the Taliban), political parties, religious institutions and movements, terrorist organizations (al Qaeda), drug cartels, and NGOs of a more benign sort (the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Doctors Without Borders, Greenpeace). Today’s world is increasingly one of distributed, rather than concentrated, power.
As far as the United States is concerned, after briefly enjoying the status of being the only Superpower on earth after the fall of the USSR, Fareed Zakaria ponders The Future of American Power and asks if comparisons between the USA and the decline of the British Empire beginning with the Boer War, are as apt as many would like to think:
The United States’ recent military interventions in Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq all have parallels in British military interventions decades ago. The basic strategic dilemma of being the only truly global player on the world stage is strikingly similar. But there are also fundamental differences between Britain then and the United States now. For Britain, as it tried to maintain its superpower status, the largest challenge was economic rather than political. For the United States, it is the other way around.
Through shrewd strategic choices and some sophisticated diplomacy, Britain was able to maintain and even extend its influence for decades. In the end, however, it could not alter the fact that its power position — its economic and technological dynamism — was fast eroding. Britain declined gracefully — but inexorably. The United States today faces a problem that is quite different. The U.S. economy (despite its current crisis) remains fundamentally vigorous when compared with others. American society is vibrant. It is the United States’ political system that is dysfunctional, unable to make the relatively simple reforms that would place the country on extremely solid footing for the future. Washington seems largely unaware of the new world rising around it — and shows few signs of being able to reorient U.S. policy for this new age.
The Marocharim Experiment confesses to contributing to society’s decay.