Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Tip of the iceberg

As Marcos, GMA is just the tip of the iceberg. It was Carl Cid S.M. Inting terse comment of President Arroyo on the website of Ricky Carandang.

Carl, who admits to being a middle class and owning businesses, frequently posts some pithy but weighty materials on a number of well-regarded Pinoy blogs. And TV news reporter Ricky Carandang, who is also the president of the Board of Trustees of the National Institute for Policy Studies, agrees with him. I then left a reply to both with this question: What is the iceberg? Before giving his take, Carl first attempted to clarify. “Part of the problem,” he wrote, “is that opinions may differ on what the iceberg is.”

If I’m reading Carl correctly, to him the iceberg is basically the system - the political system, that is - although he categorically said it is just “part of the iceberg.” Specifically, Carl is not happy with the presidential form, the election of senators “at large,” the present popularity-centered electoral contest and, finally, dealing with the problem via the parliament of the street. On the other hand, Ricky has not answered my question up to now. I understand both of them.

My question is not fair in a blog context, in the first place. I myself have been seriously thinking about this iceberg - for several years already. And according the red-blooded culprit a violent (rather than a frigid) makeup, I prefer to call it a monstrosity. The rapacity of this brute is the reason why more than a third of about 85 million Filipinos don’t have enough food for three square meals a day. To former President Ramos, it is the “mother of all problems” throughout history – the “unholy alliance” and “perverse symbiosis” between politicians and a few powerful, wealthy and “greedy rent-seeking” families. And that’s just one opinion which I happen to agree on but appears to differ from Carl’s and Ricky’s.

On the other hand, mlq3 reports that former COMELEC chairman Christian Monsod has yet another perspective of the current crisis in the Philippines ranging from certain flaws (understandably one particularly known to him) in the electoral system, to something quite trite such as the suggestion that programs representing “gut” issues to the people are not attended to. This just goes to show, and kudos to Carl, that the crisis is still being viewed from wide-ranging dimensions by different observers.

But what are the stark facts about the country’s problem aside from the dose of opinions and information that are routinely being dished out? Is it possible to have some consensus about the true constitution of this monster?

For a starter, here are fresher figures and accounts from former finance secretary Edgardo Espiritu: that “the country’s top 10 families account for about 52.5 percent of total stock market capitalization” such that, as many already know, “the poorest Filipinos are effectively excluded from the country’s social and economic development.”

It should be remembered that during a press forum in September 2004, President Arroyo openly acknowledged the “many generations of abuse and neglect” but “it is not easy to take on entrenched interests that have strangled government bureaucracy.” She then vowed “(to peel) the layer one by one.” Can the “middle forces” who see the continuing powerlessness of the powerless wait for evolutionary changes to take place?

Severely battle-scarred following the impeachment proceeding (and more pitched battles being expected to be waged), is GMA the best bet today to institute revolutionary reforms through extra-ordinary measures and take on the “entrenched interests”? If she is not, being herself one tip of that monster of an iceberg, who?


Anonymous DTY said...

The iceberg is CORRUPT leadership which allows USA, Japan, Europe and now China to export their moderm imperialism to weaker countries like the Philippines.
BOOK:Confessions of An Economic Hit Man (read it at NBS or FullyBooked)

"Economic hit men (EHMs) are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. They funnel money from the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other foreign “aid” organizations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planet’s natural resources. Their tools include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder. They play a game as old as empire, but one that has taken on new and terrifying dimensions during this time of globalization. I should know; I was an EHM."

John Perkins as an economic hit man (EHM), his job was to convince Third World countries to accept enormous loans for infrastructure development—loans that were much larger than needed—and to guarantee that the development projects were contracted to U.S. corporations like Halliburton and Bechtel. Once these countries were saddled with huge debts, the U.S. government and the international aid agencies allied with it were able to control these economies and to ensure that oil and other resources were channeled to serve the interests of building a global empire.

In his EHM capacity, John traveled all over the world—to Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East—and was either a direct participant in or witness to some of the most dramatic events in modern history, including the Saudi Arabian Money-laundering Affair, the fall of the shah of Iran, the death of Panama’s President Omar Torrijos, the subsequent invasion of Panama, and events leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

September 29, 2005 10:45 PM  
Anonymous Carl said...

I don't disagree with you, Abe. I strongly agree that we must deal with the immense poverty in the country. The points where disagreements may occur will be in the methods of dealing with poverty. For example, I would prefer affirmative action programs instead of doleouts. I would certainly look at some of the ways Franklin D. Roosevelt dealt with poverty during the Great Depression via his New Deal programs. I would enthusiastically approve of organizing jobless men in the slums into a job corps that could do civil or construction work. More public works projects, not to fill contractors' pockets, but to create more jobs. Better public education, better pay for teachers. More schoolbuildings (again creating more work). Better nutrition and health programs. More scholarships, grants and loans to poor but deserving students. More comprehensive health and hospital insurance.

Of course, the biggest problem will be: how do we pay for all of this? Secondly, will corruption not seep into those programs and render them as political vehicles?

As for paying for the programs, it will take great political will. But it can be done with great patience and sacrifice. It may even have to involve negotiating a debt moratorium with our creditors.

As for corruption, that will take a Herculean effort. I can give some suggestions on mitigating corruption. But I readily admit that I do not have all the answers. It will take a lot of concerted effort to tackle that.

September 30, 2005 6:07 AM  
Anonymous Carl said...

Abe, I would like to add further:

There is consensus that poverty is the most pressing problem we face today. Yet, we are divided on the ways to solve this. We are poor because of bad leadership and governance, because of an abysmal track record of choosing the wrong policies and because of the absence of a national identity and common purpose. All of these, combined with massive corruption, have led to decades of mismanagement that have sunk this country into enormous debt.

At this stage, the national debt is the hulking symbol of poverty. It is the millstone that is tied around our neck and sinks us deeper into destitution. We had a golden opportunity to bargain for clemency many years ago, right after EDSA I, but the Cory Aquino government couldn't get its act together and bungled that once-in-a-lifetime chance. Cory and subsequent administrations continued going on a borrowing spree. They borrowed money to pay off interest and amortization on earlier loans. And they borrowed some more just to keep government operating. Now we are caught in a debt trap that consumes almost 90% of national revenue and, if left unchecked, will eventually paralyze most government services and programs.

Despite unanimity on the crippling effects of debt, we still cannot agree on how to approach this problem. The Left wants outright debt repudiation. Bankers, like Ed Espiritu and Rafael Buenaventura, warn of dire consequences should we raise the hackles of the IMF. They recommend growing the economy out of debt, which may sound like cavalier advice. It is like telling a desperate person, whose family is dying from disease and starvation, to simply work his way out of his predicament. Bankers were never known for their soft hearts. Speaker Joe De Venecia has weighed in with his own debt-to-equity scheme. But his plan has been ridiculed by Leftists and bankers alike. So what is the country to do? Even simple problems like population growth get bogged down in debate, with the Catholic Church steadfastly opposing birth control and browbeating spineless politicians into shelving any effective population control programs.

Is there anything we can agree on? Perhaps we should tackle problems one at a time and build consensus around the manner of solving these problems. For example, national debt is the most imminent threat to progress and stability. Perhaps we could prioritize this as the first in a long line of problems to solve. But we must have a clear and cohesive plan of action and we must collectively be ready to bear any of the pain that may ensue. Even if we feel that we have already suffered enough, there may be no escaping more economic pain in the future. If we can make progress on one problem, we can go on to another problem, step by step, one at a time. It may be a long and tedious process, but a nation's growth and maturity are measured by increments. As long as the increments are constant, no matter how small, there will ultimately be growth.

I do not know what can bring us together as a country. EDSA I brought us together for one brief shining moment, but it soon vanished when the country realized that the dictator was replaced by opportunistic trapos, scheming ideologues, incompetent leaders and corrupt relatives. Not to mention a handful of military coup plotters who styled themselves as saviours of the Republic. Can we recreate EDSA I and seize the moment to regain our lost opportunities? Perhaps. After all, the French Revolution initially succumbed to the "Reign of Terror". But some years later, France rose to new heights under the strong leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte. Nothing is impossible and all is not lost. But whether we can regain our bearings without pain or bloodshed remains to be seen. I certainly hope so. No one would like to see the painful and bloody lessons that France went through replayed in our country.

October 01, 2005 6:52 AM  
Anonymous Carl said...

Abe, I wasn't able to comment on what you wrote because I was very busy with work over the past week. You also raise very important points which require some thought.

Regarding areas for investment, I believe we should focus on our strengths. For example, agriculture is terribly neglected when it could be developed as an important engine of growth and employment. And provide us with self-sufficiency in food production. We have rich agricultural lands with generally good weather. But the infrastructure is not there. There are not enough farm-to-market roads, good-quality planting material, irrigation systems, post-harvest facilities. Our obsession with land-ownership has led us to forget that land isn't worth much if it isn't productive. And if you can't get your products to the market. There should be much more focus on agriculture, not mere lip service. But, like Thailand and Malaysia did, the infrastructure has to be there. And there must be a conscious, determined and systematic plan.

A concerted effort to develop agriculture could also alleviate the problems of urban migration and urban sprawl.

Tourism could be another big dollar-earner and job-generator, if developed properly and systematically. It cannot be done helter-skelter. We have natural strengths in this field: a gracious, amiable people, beautiful scenic places, a large expatriate population which can be enticed to come home for vacations and who can promote the country as a tourist destination. Spain, Italy, Thailand and Hong Kong have devoted much investment and effort into their tourist industry. And it has paid huge dividends. Now we have to play catch-up, but I believe it is not too late. However, a conscious effort has to be made to promote tourism. The sad example of NAIA terminal 3 illustrates how we are unable to get our act together.

This drift in creating determined policies to develop certain sectors and industries is one of the reasons why financial institutions and large investors prefer to keep their portfolios in interest-bearing sovereign notes. At least they are relatively risk-free and provide a fairly good return. It is too risky to invest in enterprise when policies are not firm and could change overnight. Or when government commits to certain undertakings but later leaves the investor high and dry. We should seriously examine these aspects if we want to create a dynamic entrepreneurial environment.

Those are but 2 possible areas of growth for our country. There are more. The fields of energy and information technology are still open to more investments and development. That could be discussed further another day.

October 07, 2005 6:58 AM  
Anonymous Carl said...

Regarding your views on how the elite pull the wool over the Filipino people, I will go to the extent of telling you that even murder will go unpunished as long as there is enough compensation. That is how materialistic and greedy the ruling classes are. I will cite the example of how Cory Aquino and the Cojuangcos were willing to be appeased for Ninoy's murder by their cousin, Danding Cojuangco. The elite can be very pragmatic when it suits them.

I have always wondered why the Aquino government always treated Danding with kid gloves, despite the fact that Cory herself once implicated Danding in Ninoy's murder. Furthermore, Danding was allowed to retain his ownership of San Miguel Corp. and vast landholdings in Davao and Negros Occidental, despite the pleas of millions of coconut farmers who were victimized by the infamous coconut levy. This highly irregular accomodation goes beyond the adage of blood being thicker than water. I have long believed that Danding struck a deal with his cousins in order to retain his hold over San Miguel and his farms.

It was the practice of Ferdinand Marcos, in order not to be linked to illicit wealth, to assign shares, foreign currency accounts and properties to his various cronies. Because Danding was the favorite and most trusted of cronies, a significant amount of Marcos' loot was in Danding's name. This loot gave Danding a fabulous chip to bargain with Kamaganak, Inc. after EDSA. That is why Danding's San Miguel holdings were never touched. And that is why Imelda Marcos is so furious at Danding, even going to the extent of running against him in 1992. Imelda's candidacy splintered the Marcos votes and deprived Danding of the Presidency. To this day, Imelda and Danding cannot see eye to eye.

To this day, too, we do not know who killed Ninoy Aquino. Perhaps Cory Aquino and her close relatives know, but have been appeased. Perhaps they decided it was wiser to adapt the Arab practice of accepting "blood money" for the murder of a relative.

October 09, 2005 9:01 AM  
Anonymous Carl said...

By the way, Abe, my assertion that Ninoy Aquino was sold down the drain by his own relatives is even more relevant in the light of recent news that Cory Aquino's close relatives looted Imelda Marcos' jewelry right after Edsa I.

October 09, 2005 10:19 AM  
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