MAY THE SAINTS PROTECT US FROM MEDDLESOME BISHOPS

August 24, 2009

MAY THE SAINTS PROTECT US FROM MEDDLESOME BISHOPS

Bishop Manolo de los Santos of the Diocese of Virac, Catanduanes, is up in arms over a proposed coal mine in the island province.  Other bishops have joined in and intend to ask Pope Benedict XVI to support their crusade.

Mining is regulated under the 1995 Mining Act, considered the most advanced mining law in the world.  It took a horde of engineers, geologists, sociologists, lawyers and legislators nine years to craft the law.  How come no bishop ever said anything during those years the bill was being debated in Congress?

Later, in a landmark decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of the law.  The Court also stressed the principle that the mining resources of the country are the property of the entire Filipino people and not only of those living on top of the ore bodies.

The 8,000-hectare grant is the maximum limit allowed on one exploration permit.  At the exploratory stage, the size and character of the ore body is determined.  The ground area of the ore body is determined electronically.  The depth of the ore body is determined by drilling three-inch holes every 500 meters.  With all these data on hand, the engineers can figure out the commercial viability of the project.

The newspapers have said that the ore body of the Catanduanes project is worth P6.2 billion.  By law, the towns affected by the coal mine will get a fixed share of this sum.  Also, the coal mine will create jobs in the communities.

The bishops complain of pollution of waterways, destruction of the biodiversity and the environment.  But in a coal mine, there is no chemical process involved.  A coal mine is like digging for gravel.

If the ore body is deep in the earth, then a mine shaft is dug up.  The coal is brought up mechanically, not chemically.  There is, of course, the danger of explosion, but this is inherent in coal mining and can be minimized.

If the ore body is located near the surface, then you have open-pit mining , as in Marinduque and in Toledo, Cebu.  The overburden is bulldozed away, but after the mining operations are over, the law requires that the original landscape be restored.

The bishops will point to the danger to human life.  Of course, mining is dangerous.  When you dig a large hole deep into the earth, you never know what forces you might unleash.  But the death rate in mining is relatively low.  The celebrated case of Marinduque Mines some years back did not result in any death.  Certainly, more Filipinos die on our highways than in our mines.

Finally, the bishops will say that what is legal is not necessarily moral.  So, let us discuss the moral issues of mining.

In His infinite wisdom, God endowed the Philippines with mining resources estimated to be worth over three billion American dollars, enough to wipe out our national debt.  In fact, there was a time when the mining industry accounted for 25 percent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  Today, that figure is down to less than two percent.

But, God works in paradoxes.  In the words of Bishop Fulton Sheen, God writes straight with crooked lines.  He did not pave Ayala Avenue with gold.  In 1,000 kilos of commercial grade ore, there is one solitary gram of gold.  Then, the ore is not buried knee-deep in Loyola Heights.  The ore is found deep in distant, far away mountain ranges.  We need mining engineers and geologists, armed with expensive equipment, to find those ore bodies.

If we are to stop mining altogether, as some bishops have proposed by asking for a full repeal of the mining act, are we not turning our back on God?

I find it downright hypocritical when bishops take an aggressive anti-mining stance.  The Church is the greatest beneficiary of the mining industry.  Cathedrals and basilicas soar to the skies on skeletons of structural steel.  I have not been to Virac in fifty years.  But the residence of Bishop de los Santos could not have been built without mining products.  Finally, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is performed on a marble slab.

As he raises the chalice and the paten during the Offertory of the Mass, Bishop de los Santos should ponder for a moment where all the gold came from.

When the Bishop’s petition reaches the Vatican, I am sure that Pope Benedict XVI, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, will tell the Bishops, “Follow the law of the land.  If you think the law should be amended, work with your legislators.”

May the Saints protect and preserve us from meddlesome Bishops!


VP NOLI’S PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN

August 16, 2009

In the campaign for next year’s Presidential elections, Vice President Noli de Castro is using his accomplishments at Pag-IBIG as his launching pad.

Skirting the law against premature electoral campaigning, he says that the full-page multi-colored ads in the major newspapers, the radio and TV talk shows – the so-called infomercials – are only meant to tell the Filipino people of the wonderful things that have happened at Pag-IBIG since Noli took over the helm.

In the Senate hearing last week, VP Noli was able to fend off the questions of Senator Loren Legarda, who did not ask the right questions.

Let us take a close look at those accomplishments.  Noli trumpets the low-cost housing loans, more than P18 billion by last report, bigger than ever before.  But the reason for the huge amount is the 6 percent yearly interest over an extended period (I have seen no specifics as to the term, but my guess is, it could be as long as 30 years).  I caught on radio yesterday a borrower saying that, for a 40-square meter housing unit, he was paying only P1,800 monthly.

Good for the borrower, but terrible for the member, especially anyone who has not borrowed and has no intention of borrowing from Pag-IBIG.

What Noli seems to forget is that Pag-IBIG is the mutual fund of government and private sector employees.  A mutual fund is run on the principle that money can be invested more safely and profitably when pooled under professional, not political, management.

Contribution to the Pag-IBIG is P200 monthly per member, shared equally by employer and employee.  A member can choose to cash in his investment after ten, fifteen or twenty years.  I cashed in my investment some 20 years ago, and I was quite happy with the return.

Now that Noli is lending out members’ money at 6 percent a year, and spending P170 million for those infomercials alone, how much net earnings are left to the members?  Probably as low as 3 percent, a pathetic return by any standard.

Also, VP Noli is ominously silent on what the repayment rate on these low-cost housing loans is.

Low-cost housing is the worst investment.  The books of accounts of the Social Security System (SSS) and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) are awash with long-overdue low-cost housing loans which can no longer be collected.

The private sector insurance companies do not invest in low-cost housing loans.  In fact, the Insurance Commission does not allow it.

Finally, VP Noli will flunk grade-three arithmetic.  At P400,000 per unit, a loan portfolio of P18 billion, is only 45,000 home buyers.  He sacrifices the safety of millions and millions of members for his presidential ambitions.  Does he really think it is smart politics?

For a supposedly smart politician, VP Noli is, oh, so generous with money that is not his.

When the vast majority of Pag-IBIG members chooses not vote for him in next year’s elections, he will find himself, pardon the cliché, in the dustbin of Philippine history.

Noli’s presidential campaign will blow up at the launching pad.

By the way, the middle initial in my name stands for “de Castro,” my late mother’s surname. But VP Noli and I are not related, not even remotely.  Lucky, lucky me.


CORY’S LEGACY TO THE WORLD

August 3, 2009

Freedom loving peoples all over the world will forever owe the late Corazon C. Aquino a tremendous debt of gratitude which can never be repaid.

The 1986 People Power Revolution rocketed Corazon Aquino, a widowed housewife with absolutely no experience in politics, into the Presidency of the Republic of the Philippines.

Her first official act was to set up, under the venerable Jovito Salonga, the Presidential Commission on Graft and Corruption (PCGG) to recover the ill-gotten wealth of Marcos and his cronies.  Then, she organized another Commission to rewrite the Marcos Constitution.  The result was the 1987 Constitution, sometimes called the Cory Constitution.  She survived five attempts at coup d’état by rebellious soldiers.

TIME enshrined Cory as Person of the Year, and Newsweek soon followed with its own cover story.

In 1990, Ronald Reagan invited Cory to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress.  She was only the second lady from Asia to do so.  The first was Mrs. Chiang Kai-Shek after Mao Tse-Tung’s Communists drove the Nationalists out of China and into Taiwan.

Wearing her trademark yellow dress, and speaking in her crystal-clear, convent-bred diction, she started her speech, thus:

“FOUR YEARS AGO, I LEFT YOUR COUNTRY IN GRIEF TO BURY MY

HUSBAND.  (PAUSE) TODAY, I HAVE RETURNED AS THE PRESIDENT OF A FREE PEOPLE.”  (THUNDEROUS APPLAUSE.)

Cory totally enchanted the hard-boiled politicians of the U.S. Congress.  Her hour-long speech was punctuated many times with prolonged applause.

But the core of Cory’s speech had a lofty aim and was two-pronged:

First, the U.S. should never again be a friend to any dictator anywhere in the world.  She was asking for a major shift away from John F. Kennedy’s pragmatic approach to foreign policy.  (“A dictator — like Ferdinand Marcos — might be a son of a bitch, but he is our son of a bitch.”)

Second, and more important, the U.S. should vigorously push the frontiers of democracy world-wide, and should be a strong ally to any democratic movement wherever it might be found.

After the speech, a Senator strode up to shake Cory’s hand and said, “You just hit a home run!”  Cory, who had become a Red Sox fan during Ninoy’s self-exile in Boston, replied, “I hope it was grand slam!”

And it was.  The U.S. – and, for that matter, the rest of the major democracies – wholeheartedly adopted Cory’s proposal for a double shift in foreign policy towards dictators and budding democracies.  This policy remains steadfast to this day.

Dictators, like Saddam Hussein, are gone.  Elections have been held in such unlikely places like Pakistan, Iran, the former Soviet Republics, and in darkest Africa.  For the first time, Kuwaiti women have won their right to vote.

Everywhere, dictatorships are on the retreat.  Democracies are on the march.  That is Cory’s legacy to the world.


THE FUTILITY OF PEACE TALKS

July 26, 2009

The President has ordered the Armed Forces (AFP) to cease all operations against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) paving the way for the resumption of peace talks. The MILF has responded by stopping all operations against the AFP, thank you very much.  It is not clear whether a Malaysian team will again act as facilitator, whatever that term means.

When will we ever learn?  How many times have the AFP held peace talks with the MILF?  If I recall rightly, there were talks during the Estrada presidency. After six months, Defense Secretary Orly Mercado called the whole thing off.  He said, “There was a lot of talk, but no peace.”

Also, peace talks will give the MILF time to recruit and rearm.  When the talks break down, as it surely will, the AFP will be faced with a stronger enemy, and our gallant troops will suffer more casualties.

Others have offered another solution to the MILF rebellion: pour in development projects into the area. But how can you develop an area when there is a war going on.  Besides, the congressmen in the districts where MILF operates have their pork barrel funds.  How have they been spent?  Obviously, not as efficiently as those of the congressmen in the rest of the county.

A century ago, Winston Churchill laid down the strategy on how to deal with an armed enemy.  Newly elected to the Parliament at the tender age of 26, he delivered his first speech.  His subject: the Boer War in South Africa.  He wanted “to make it easy and honorable for the Boers to surrender, and painful and perilous for them to continue in the field.”

These themes would recur in succeeding decades: no appeasement of the armed enemy; no revenge on the beaten enemy, no military encroachments on civilian authority; look ahead to what you want and remember that every action has consequences which affect the goal.

A century later, Tony Blair, newly elected Prime Minister, told the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which had been waging a forty-year war in Northern Ireland, “Lay down your arms, and we will talk peace.  Otherwise, you will be left behind, because the bus is leaving.”

The IRA did lay down their arms.  Two years of intensive negotiations ended in the First Friday Agreement.  At long last, peace and prosperity came to Northern Ireland.

And so, the first step to peace in Cotabato is for the MILF to lay down their arms.  If they refuse, the AFP should continue chasing them wherever they can be found.

By the way, is it not a worldwide policy among democratic nations never to negotiate with terrorist groups?

A more ludicrous round of peace talks has been slated in Oslo.  A government team will sit down with communist Luis Jalandoni, an ordained priest who has broken his vow of chastity and taken a wife.

I can see it now.  Jalandoni will start by making his demands for retribution.  The government team should call his bluff.  In return for the granting of his demands, what does Jalandoni have to offer?  He cannot order the New People’s Army (or what is left of it) to come down from the hills and lay down their arms.  They won’t listen to him.  Why should anybody else?

The best way to handle Jalandoni is to completely ignore him.  If he wants to, let him come to Manila without government escort.  He won’t last a week.  And he knows it.

Once and for all, Malacanang should lay down the policy: no peace talks with armed groups.  The first step to peace is for the MILF and the other rebel groups to lay down their arms.

The rebels should realize that no guerrilla force has ever won until it could have the arms to beat government forces in conventional warfare.  Only when Russia supplied Mao Tse Tung’s guerrillas with armor and artillery did it finally drive Chiang Kai Shek out of China and into Taiwan.  Only when China later supplied the Viet Cong guerrillas with armor and artillery did Ho Chi Minh ride victoriously into the Presidential Palace in Saigon.

Will the rebels here ever have the capability to rout the AFP in conventional warfare and drive their tanks into the Malacanang grounds?  Even such pigheaded communists like Jose Mari Sison and Luis Jalandoni must realize that theirs is pipe dream.

But there will be no revenge on the beaten enemy.  Then peace will finally prevail in our beloved archipelago.


CHEAPER MEDICINES

July 19, 2009

To bring down the atrocious prices of medicines and drugs, Malacanang wants to exercise its vast powers by issuing Executive Orders.  In other words, Malacanang wants to manipulate the market.

The best way to bring down prices of medicines and drugs, or any consumer goods for that matter, is to let an open and free market work.  Under the searing sunlight of a free and open market, where sellers and buyers meet in free-wheeling negotiations, prices will tumble down.

In a free and open market, prices rise and fall with supply and demand.  The lesser the supply, the higher the prices; the lesser the demand, the lower the prices.

You will find this pricing phenomenon in a public market or palengke.  For example, because of the most recent typhoon that hit northern Luzon, there is less supply of vegetables from Baguio.  As a result, prices have gone up.  When supply normalizes, prices will go down.

To bring down the atrocious prices of medicines and drugs, the government wants instead to use its vast powers.  The Senate summoned executives of pharmaceutical firms (Pfizer, in particular) to a public hearing (in full view of national TV cameras, of course) for offering to bribe no less than President Arroyo herself so that an impending Executive Order, imposing what looks like price controls, would not be signed.  Pfizer denied the charge in full-page ads in the major newspapers.

As I understand it, Pfizer has agreed to place under price controls some 21 items, the prices of which will be cut down by as much as 60 percent.  My guess is, and I must emphasize that this is only a guess, these items are not much in demand and the total sales volume is probably small.

But the most effective way to bring down prices of medicines and drugs is competition, including foreign competition, which is really what an open market is all about.  Anybody who has the capability should be allowed to import medicines and drugs, properly taxed, of course. The importations will flood the market, and, as a result, prices should come tumbling down.

Finally, we consumers can do a lot to bring down prices, by cutting demand of local medicines.  There is not a single hospital in the U.S. and Canada that does not have a Filipino doctor (250,000 of them, I understand).  Ask your doctor friend/relative to send over his free samples.  This is what I do.  My son Gerry, an internist in LA, sends me all the medicines I need.  I have not been to a local drug store in years.

By the way, has our Food and Drug Administration checked whether the medicines and drugs being sold by Pfizer and the others have been banned in the U.S.?


THE TYRANNY OF RED TAPE

July 13, 2009

We are all wrapped up with the problem of graft and corruption, as well we should. Yet, there is another problem as pernicious – government red tape, or simply red tape.  In fact, red tape is the breeding ground of graft and corruption.

Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary says the term red tape “comes from the red tape formerly used to bind legal documents in England.”  Today, the term means: “official routine or procedure marked by excessive complexity which results in delay or inaction.”

Red tape is such a terrible problem because it adversely affects anyone who has to transact business, small or big, with government, national or local.  Visit any government office.  You will likely find bundles and bundles of paper stacked up all over the place.  That is red tape.

When your application for a mayor’s business permit trudges through three dozen desks in three floors of the City Hall, you are going through a Calvary of red tape.  When the Securities and Exchange Commission takes three months to approve a simple amendment to your by-laws, you are going through a procedure marked by excessive complexity which results in delay. When your little office has to have a Plumbing Permit although there is absolutely no plumbing in your office, would you not call that red tape?

In June 2007, Congress enacted the Anti-Red Tape Law (Republic Act No. 9485).  A year later, in July 2008, the Civil Service Commission, mandated to enforce the law, issued the implementing rules and regulations under Resolution 08147.  This resolution was written in coordination with the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP), the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB), and the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC), and after public consultations with various stakeholders.

Is it not ironic that, to implement the anti-red tape law, the Civil Service Commission had to create more red tape?

At any rate, the rules offer no incentives for government offices and agencies to cut red tape.  Why should a government agency simplify its procedures, which is the very source of sideline money for every employee?

Of course, the rules allow the harassed citizen to file a complaint.  But where can we find a citizen brave enough to sue an erring government official at the Ombudsman?

In the insurance industry, competition forces each company to cut red tape.  The insuring public will buy more insurance from the company that has little of no red tape at all.

But there is a glimmer of hope.  The other day, I read where red tape has been cut at the Customs Bureau.  Well and good. Let us hope that other government offices will follow.

As I said at the start, red tape is a British term.  How has England handled the problem?  Margaret Thatcher has been ranked with such great men as Disraeli, Pitt, Balfour, Churchill as one of the ten best Prime Ministers England ever had.

But her claim to fame was none of her tremendous achievement in the fields of diplomacy, foreign affairs, or national defense.

Her claim to fame was that she cut down government red tape.  Do we have a Margaret Thatcher in the horizon?  Sadly, we have none.


WHY GOVERNMENT SERVICES COST TOO MUCH

July 9, 2009

If you think you are paying too much for government services, you can thank President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for it.

Back in January and March 2000, in the very early days of the Arroyo Presidency, Executive Orders 197 and 218 directed all national government agencies and government owned or controlled corporations to increase their fees and fines by not less than 20 percent.

A 20 percent increase would have been bearable, considering that fees and fines had not been raised for some years.  But since the 20 percent was a minimum, every office, it seems, went beyond the minimum.  At the Insurance Commission, some fees were raised ten times.

Not only that, some offices dreamed up some brand-new fees and fines that had never been slapped before.  The higher and more imaginative the fees and fines, the better.

I have a friend who wants to sue his neighbor for encroaching into my friend’s property. But he has not been able to raise the P10,000 filing fee.  And because of the hefty fee, his lawyer has also raised his retainer, and rightfully so.  See the escalating effect of increased government fees?

Where has the money gone?  It certainly did not raise the salaries of government employees.  It certainly did not go to the maintenance of government buildings, considering the sorry state of some of the buildings, especially in the provinces.

Perhaps, the extra collections went to finance first-class airline travel to balmy vacation spots around the world by government officials and their spouses.

These additional fees and fines are actually new taxes without benefit of congressional approval.  Isn’t raising taxes the sole prerogative of the House?

One problem in this country of ours is that every government agency is doing the job of other agencies.  The President raised taxes, thereby encroaching on the power of Congress.  The Department of Communications has taken from the Insurance Commission the supervision of the compulsory third party liability insurance (CTPL). The House wants to amend the constitution without Senate participation. The list is almost endless.

In view of the world-wide economic meltdown, what Malacanang should do is to scrap EO 197 and 218 and roll back fees and fines to pre-2000 levels.  This certainly will be a more effective stimulus package to the citizenry than Bangko Sentral’s cutting its lending rates by thinner and thinner slices.

Then my friend will be able to sue his neighbor and get back his land.