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Oh, misery! [Photo source: fastcompany.com]

By JoeAm

As we often do, we find it is necessary to begin with definitions.

You is every Filipino or other person on the planet who loves the Philippines and wants the best for her diverse, spirited, warm and intelligent people.

Hope is pretty much as Google says: “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.”

Miserable needs some discussion.

The rich and entitled do not feel miserable, in the main, and that is the single biggest problem in the Philippines. They care so little about the Constitution, the values in that document, and the well-being of people who are not rich and entitled. They have little conscience and little inclination to take risks or sacrifice for the betterment of the nation. Many government officials are rich and entitled, including many senators and House members who display clear signs of populism and self-dealing rather than earnest, or what I would term “moral”, work. And it includes the princes, princesses, and dukes who run the LGU’s . . . the provinces, cities, and municipalities. They engage in “immoral political” work.

Sub-definitions: Moral work is work that is done to fulfill the intent of the Constitution. The Constitution explains what is right and what is wrong. Immoral political work is work that is done to favor an individual or group of individuals without regard for what the Constitution says. It may even damage the Constitution (breakdown of the separation of branches of the State, for instance).

The most miserable Filipinos are the “yellows”. These are the educated, western-leaning, morality based, disciplined, honorable believers in the Constitution, human rights, freedoms with responsibility and accountability attached, and the competitive and fair energies that make honest capitalism work to produce prosperity. The irony is that it is the “yellows” who are miserable while the poverty-stricken masses are not.

The poverty-stricken masses are in miserable straits, as most economists and human rights advocates would agree. But they don’t know it. They don’t know how an economy works, or a government, or human rights. They don’t know what to do about abuses. They accept their miserable lot as the way it has always been. They are the product of disenfranchisement, ignorance, and passions turned inward rather than outward to build a great nation.

So the term miserable as it is used in this article means the kind of living people do when the gap between what the government OUGHT to be providing and what it is ACTUALLY providing is huge, and they are discouraged by that.

With that as background . . . and recognizing that a whole lot of discouragement accompanies misery like a heavy cloud of rancid smoke from burning rubber tires . . . where can you look for hope?

  • One can find hope in the fact that the Constitution is a real document. It exists. It IS the law of the land. And it is hard to change. Citizens have to vote on it. And, although a lot of Filipinos are ignorant (not taught properly), that does not mean they are stupid.
  • The Duterte term ends in 2022.
  • A lot of people in government DO abide by the Constitution as their moral framework for honesty, respect for laws and others, fairness, and hard, earnest work. Most generals, a lot of judges, many educators, a handful of senators, a smattering of congressmen, some priests, imams, and ministers, and a lot of government agency workers respect the Constitution. The nation has a moral core. It may be smallish, but it is strong.
  • Businessmen are neutral. The economic foundation of the nation is sound and its OFWs help anchor that stability. The nation is set to grow fast once the immoral political self-dealers are out of the way and honest capitalism and human ingenuity are put to work. By human ingenuity, I mean applied effort to end instability and attacks on cherished institutions (separation of powers, journalists), attract investors, get rid of red tape, stop corruption, develop manufacturing, expand exports, and actually collect taxes.
  • The chronic immoral political self-dealers . . . the ones who set the tone for the junior corrupt people like LTO officials . . . represent, what, only about 10 percent of the population? The moral core is bigger than that.
  • Strip ignorance from the masses and it sides with the moral core.
  • The AFP remains above politics for the most part. It is a moral force.
  • The tenor in social media is changing from immoral trash and fake news to a clean-up campaign and honest information and opinions. This is huge given that mainstream media tend toward immoral political ethics, bending to the crass commercialism of star power and the force of harassment by the Administration (Ressa persecution, threats on franchise licenses, forced ownership changes, etc.). Social media are becoming a moral watchdog.
  • The universities have awakened and become more outspoken. This has drawn notice from the President who is now starting to list opposition students. This is Marcos redux, for sure.
  • The Catholic Church has awakened and become more outspoken. The Church has not yet moved from complaint to aggressive action, the possibility of which I suspect is what makes the President nervous. The President is striving mightily to attack the moral foundation of the Church. Is it moral, or is it not? That’s up to the bishops, I suppose.

Nothing will ever be as it was. We should recognize that and remove it as a wish. We can’t go back, only forward.

Hope has to be realistic. Over-population, climate change, the descent of mankind into emotionalized divisions on hard lines, new alliances, social media . . . they can’t be reversed to go back in time, spun on a dime. These dysfunctions and changes are the new foundations upon which we all must build to go from hope to work to fulfillment.

The biggest hope, I suppose, comes from the fact that there is so much of the stuff.

If there are other beacons of hope that you recognize, I’m sure readers would appreciate your sharing them in the discussion section of the blog article.

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by Wilfredo G. Villanueva

You have to see her to believe. It’s the energy, the quick laughter, the one-liners, folksy. Philippines, we have a rock star, and her name is Samira Gutoc, Sam for short. She’s exactly what the country needs, new blood instead of the same dynastic politics.

She’s not a typical Muslim, she said. Oh, she’s devout, but she breaks out in laughter, even shrieking like a little girl opening gifts. I didn’t have a preconceived notion of a Muslim woman, but it’s safe to say that she would be uhm… dour, even unapproachable.

Turns out she puts you at peace. No barriers. She pulled up her feet in her seat, long-sleeved blouse and skirt keeping her whole body covered, completely at ease with this Catholic man and his wife Renée asking questions.

She loves crowds. Grew up in the Philippine embassy in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia where she was born. Attended the Philippine school in Jeddah for her primary, elementary and high school education. The Gutoc family left Jeddah when Sam was 15, so she was a little over her formative years.

WGV: Where do you draw your power? (She has strong public speaking skills, thinking on her feet in back and forth, makes a point with eye-to-eye contact.)

Samira Gutoc: “When I was young, mother trained me as the eldest to speak and perform in a crowd. We sang Whitney Houston songs, five of us siblings, so parang Michael Jackson’s family kami. Speak English or else palo (clapping her hands in mock spanking).”

How do feel about your low standing in surveys?

“God is great! It’s moving upwards. Number 35 ako sa Pulse Asia, 29 sa Social Weather Stations, 24 now. Ninety days to do this!” (Laughing with glee as if on the verge of a road trip.)

Did you debate in college?

Yes, in college of law, Arellano and Mindanao State universities. I also finished journalism in U.P. (University of the Philippines) College of Mass Communications.

You took the Bar?

“Several times. Didn’t pass. I corrected Jessica Soho. She referred to me as a lawyer. Magagalit ang Supreme Court.” (Refreshing, her lack of guile, don’t you think?—WGV)

Ba’t ka pumayag tumakbo? Alam mo ba ang hirap ng pinasukan mo?

“I know! I had five months of introspection. I told Senator Kiko, ‘Hindi ko kaya. What promise can you give me?’ I didn’t enter blindly. I am a David, sila ang Goliath…”

Who are the Goliaths?

“The Villars, Cayetanos… Mainstays… Lapid, Revilla, Legarda, Pimentel, Poe, Zubiri…”

Your relationships with other religions?

“I’m very fond of them because since I was a college student, I was an interfaith leader. I am familiar with URI (United Religions Initiative), the Peace Makers Circle… With Catholics, very much—Cardinal Chito Tagle, Cardinal Orlando Quevedo…”

Kids? Husband? Full family support?

“I have one kid, Ameer Gutoc Tomawis, three years old. My husband is an engineer in Marawi. We traverse Marawi and Iligan, 45 minutes travel. Spiritually, even logistically my husband supports me, but not in the national level. He has a role in Marawi. May 30 ang birthday ni Ameer…”

Oh, a birthday gift for Ameer if you win!

“May 13 ang elections (dreamily, looking sideways, showing the famous profile).”

The last time you talked with President Duterte? Describe the tone.

“In passing lang, when he inducted us as commissioners (in Bangsa Moro Transition). ‘Hi sir,’ I said. ‘Hi,’ he said. ‘You know an uncle of mine.’ I said. ‘Ay okay, okay’. Don’t know his reaction when I resigned.”

Your narrative of your falling out with the president?

He has this supporter, the head of peace talks, Ms. Irene Santiago, she ran for vice president of the republic. I texted her shortly after the start of the Marawi siege, on May 26, 2017 when the president said he will answer for the rape of women by AFP personnel. ‘Ma’am, I am leaving,’ was my message. She didn’t reply. I came out with my position, talked with Catholic bishops and Congress, was bashed by trolls as a result.

She went on to talk about Marawi…

“Naparalyze ang mind ko… ‘Nung bombahin ang Marawi (her voice faltering)…”

Did I detect your voice breaking?

“Yes. This is personal. Maranaw siya. Bakit niya ginawa ito sa kapwa niya Maranaw? Nakapagsalita ako sa congress, naging viral ang video.”

Favorite books?

“Alvin Toffler’s, mysteries, Agatha Christie. I’m reading a book on WPS (West Philippine Sea) by PCIJ (Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.”

Cook?

“No. I don’t do it everyday.”

Favorite dish?

“Putanesca, pesto, carbonara.”

Describe your most frightening experience in Marawi.

“Frightening: so many memories… Riding through the highway where a house was under bombardment, about 500 meters away.”

Did they all die in house?

“No way to know.”

Did you carry a gun?

“Didn’t carry a gun. Don’t know how to fire a weapon. I’m the last person to use a gun. I might be fearless in terms of Bato (dela Rosa), pero takot na takot ako sa baril.”

Seen dead people?

“Once a week, in the hospital.

Badly mangled?

“Hindi badly mangled…”

Smell?

“Maybe my mind is protecting me; can’t recall.”

Was the military courteous?

“Yes.”

Was the other side courteous?

“We didn’t see them. We didn’t enter the war zone.”

(She returned to the bombing of the house.)

“Scared for the people in that house… it was a World Trade Center moment… supposedly walang tao.”

(Continuing her recollection.)

“They come to us, I was the leader of the rescue team. All news outfits came to me… I was the contact person in Marawi.”

What did the Marawi war and the ensuing devastation teach you?

“Resiliency. It’s something na alam ko kaya ko pa. My mom’s house survived intact. Pero my husband’s, wala na. Others lost more than us. Baby Ameer was more than a year old. Maaga siya nailikas not like the rest who were left behind. Iligan is safe. We lived with my brother, in a small two-storey apartment. We were lucky. In some houses, tabi-tabi, five children.”

No enmity between Christians and Muslims?

“Muslims had to help Christian laborers to get back home, like Pagadian. They had to give them money for transportation. They had to help each other.”

Muslim community support for you?

“I don’t know po. I served four million people in Maguindanao, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Marawi city, when I was commissioner. There are 10 million Muslims nationwide…”

Do Muslims vote as a bloc?

“No po. Non-political po ang imam.”

How do you start your day?

“5 a.m. wake up. 7 a.m. leave house in Makati. Nakikitira ako sa aking mom. She’s 70 years old.”

She’s still okay?

“Wow. She’s handling my tarps. She’s hands on.”

Your most memorable experience going around the country?

“In Capiz. Before 5,000 barangay health workers. I had to sing. Can’t give platform speech, yung serious, full text, no. The issue is support, kaya heart-to-heart talk and singing ‘Maging Sino Ka Man’. I said guys raise your hands. They did. Enjoy ako!”

Your first bill to file in the Senate if you make it?

Check on how women funding is getting along, yung funding for gender development. Specifically, how many women survivors in Marawi are being supported.

Any rape cases?

“None that I know of, but Gabriela is making a case documentation…”

Sports? Exercises?

“College football, no longer now. In going to MRT, a lot of walking, climbing stairs, not worried about security.”

Word association. I’ll say a word, please reply with a word that comes to your mind. (She was game.)

  • Country – “Philippines.”
  • Beauty – “Catriona.”
  • Favorite activity – “Meeting people.”
  • Love – “Husband, Baby Ameer.”
  • Food – “Halo-halo.”
  • Movie – “Julia Roberts, Notting Hill; ‘I’m just a girl’, yan ang sinasabi ko: ‘Ako ay isang babae lang asking you guys to vote for me’…”
  • Rest – “Sleep.”
  • Hate – “Away ng mga tao, don’t like away (quarrels).”
  • Guns – “Violence.”
  • Prayer – “Solemn.”
  • Quran – “Kneel.”
  • 12 noon – “Half a day, yehey, malapit nang matapos!”
  • Vacation – “Pool.”
  • Alone time – “Sitting down alone.”
  • Talk – “Speech”
  • Law – “Anti-discrmination, Sharia, should be inclusive.”
  • Senate – “Miriam Defensor-Santiago.”

Idol mo?

“Not necessarily but she’s someone ideal.”

  • Philippines – “My beloved.”
  • Muslims – “God, country.”
  • Family – “Only one.”
  • Infidelity – “Oh no, sad, tragic.”
  • Marital breakup – “Last resort.”
  • President Duterte – “Tragic, he’s making a lot of mistakes.”

Did you vote for him?

“No.”

  • Winning – “Sana.”
  • Losing – “Sana hindi.”

Wear makeup?

“I have to, now.”

You’re girlish!

“Hahaha! I carry lipstick now.”

Talk to the Filipino people.

“Hindi ako kilala. Hindi ako artista. Baka matakot pa kayo sa aking mukha dahil sa belo ko. Pero matagal nang kasama ninyo ako sa kalye. Matagal nang kaibigan ng mga Katoliko sa interfaith dialogue. Beterano po sa paglilingkod. Half a million people affected by my work. I know what I’m taking about. Pag walang bahay, hindi buo ang pamilya. Importante ang may titindig para sa atin. Pare-pareho lahat ng Pilipino. Kailangan ng dignidad. Bilang ina, ititindig ko ang bayan kasama ang mga katutubo.”

Why does the Senate need you?

“I have seen the worst of it all. Poverty and conflict. No other candidate has my experience. I can deliver the message that we need laws to guarantee peace of mind. We need oversight to see where funds go to ensure peace of mind. Yawyaw ka nang yawyaw, eh ngayon ikaw naman!” (Referring to herself.)

It’s a happy life?

“Yes, but with tragedies for many… I used to speak about tragedies, ngayon ako na mismo ang affected…”

Otso diretso? If they win, mahihinto ba ang EJK, can the loans from China be stopped?

“I can say yes. They have a definite stand on these issues.

Enjoy ka ba sa interview?

“Trabaho ko ‘yan. Correspondent ako dati sa Philippine Daily Inquirer for Marawi. Reporter and civic worker combined. What I read, what I write, I can work on it.” ∆

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Journalist Maria Ressa, Time’s Woman of the Year in 2018, is arrested in the Philippines in 2019. [Photo source: Philstar]

By JoeAm

There are two topics in the article heading. They are connected.

The Philippines is a lost nation

What do nations typically try to do? They work to safeguard their citizens, make sure citizens have food, jobs, and good health, and are growing more prosperous.  In a world with conflicted interests, that “safeguard” component has several elements. Military defense and domestic policing are important. And health care. A part of health care is emotional well-being and self-fulfillment.

The prosperity . . . and the funding for safeguarding . . . come from economic development. With more people working productively, the state becomes richer.

Democracies believe prosperity is best achieved by people WANTING to work. Being inspired to work. Being given the freedom and rules of fairness to compete for prosperity. And the right to choose their own leaders. Dictatorships believe prosperity is best achieved by people following the orders of a select few. Dictators choose the leaders.

The Philippines does so very little of what most nations do, if you think about it. What are the nation’s goals under the Duterte Administration? It is hard to see them. The drug war, ‘build-build-build’, and forming a partnership with China. Those are the main thrusts we can recognize. Fighting terrorists and rebels, that, too.

But those are projects, they are not national direction. The drug war is not security. It threatens. Build-build-build is not the economy. It is but one element. The economy today borders on unstable. There is little effort to add manufacturing or exports or investment. The jobs seem to be for Chinese workers, bizarre as that may be. The Administration works against itself by destabilizing its institutions, creating political divisions, suppressing free expression, and fostering killing fields. The President’s loose lips challenge civility, decency, and moral values. Women, the Catholic Church, human rights. Journalists. Other nations. All targets. Investors shy away.

What are the nation’s values these days? Values determine the standards for honor.

The nation is a democracy, but its leaders undermine the ideals and institutions of democracy. This leads to strange arrangements such as a partnership with autocratic China, a thuggish, lying, belligerent nation that has stolen Philippine seas. As you choose your friends, so are you, too, defined.

A huge internal conflict is playing out in the Philippines. Not harmony. Not agreement on a direction. Not achievement of security, prosperity, health, or unity. The nation is so lost that there is not even any discernible patriotism in the Philippines.

Oh, citizens love their homeland, no doubt. But do you see unity and joy and pride about the nation’s direction and achievement? Or it’s character?

That brings us to the second point.

The Philippines is a nation without honor

What is honor?

Google says: honor, noun: high respect; great esteem. “His portrait hangs in the place of honor.”  Synonyms: distinction, privilege, glory, tribute, kudos, cachet, prestige, fame, renown, merit, credit, importance, illustriousness, notability.

Well, I’d like to dig deeper.

I’d propose that you can’t have honor if you don’t have standards for living, and you can’t have honor if you don’t connect your own way of living to those standards.

A soldier is said to fight with honor when he displays courage under fire and does not wilt. His own personal character will not allow him to bend to fear. The standard is fearlessness in the face of risk. That’s what honorable soldiers do, it’s how they live.

A judge is called “your honor” because he is granted the power to determine what is fair and what is not. Most judges do that with earnest effort and a clear reading of evidence and laws. They are the arbiters of conflict, the people knowledgeable and schooled in right and wrong, the orchestra leader in the courtroom, and the final decision-maker on matters of fairness and harm. They earn their title by living for knowledge and moral wisdom.

Legislators are skilled at resolving conflicts and coming up with solutions to problems. Their standards are an understanding of their constituency and the ability to craft new laws that make everyone safer, more productive in a fair competitive arena, and more prosperous. They write laws so it stands to reason they will live by them. It is honorable to do so.

People are considered honorable if they are not crooks, abusers, or liars. That is, the standard is kindness, civility, hard work, fairness, and right thinking. People spend their lives being good members of their family, community, work place, church, and nation.

But the Philippines, because of its conflicted state, can have no honor. The standards are not agreed to. Is one supposed to be loyal to the constitution or to the President?

Some judges in the Philippines do not follow the laws, they follow the political wind. How is that honorable? It’s the same with legislators. Pork, pomp (wang wang), and propaganda are common engagements.

And the people do not VOTE for kindness, civility, an economy that will give them jobs, fairness, and right thinking. They vote for popularity, brutality, and even plunder. So where’s the honor in that?

Honor cannot exist, today, in the Philippines.

Only soldiers in the Philippines today seem to have honor, and some of them sell guns to the enemy or engage in human rights abuses.

The only way honor can exist is if everyone is on the same page, that page being the fundamental values stated in the Constitution.

But in the Philippines, today, the judges, legislators, and people are not on that page. They are on a political page or a self-dealing page, not a constitutional page.

There are no standards by which anyone can say, without challenge, “yes I am an honorable Filipino”.

The yellows for sure believe they are honorable. They follow the Constitution.

But they are being harassed and marched off to jail.

Honor is found in obedience, says the State.

It is?

Obedient to what values? Honorable to what values?

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Respect, by unknown artist [Source: yesmeansyes.com]

By JoeAm

Echoes of the mind . . .

Please excuse my belaboring this point. I don’t like the way the entire world is descending into abusive and illogical reasoning. We need to do better.

The world is growing dumber, as a point of fact. It is growing angrier and less capable of the kinds of earnest discussion that put solving problems ahead of posturing. People aren’t working together, except as gangs that stay within demarcated territory. People defend their position. Than’s all. And they do it with bad reasoning (fallacies), lies, propaganda, threats, and tools other than understanding. Other than knowledge. Other than good faith.

If that is the new environment, one must choose: (a) excel at the new disciplines, or (b) double down on civility, knowledge, and earnest inquiry.

How does this cancer . . . this hostility, stupidity, and bad faith . . . affect us? What are the symptoms most of us are experiencing?

  • We are reading less and operating more on emotions rather than knowledge.
  • We don’t have the patience to research before we decide. We decide and defend.
  • We don’t understand how to debate issues forthrightly. We use bad reasoning and argumentative fallacies to defend our ignorance.
  • We apply “confirmation bias” that acts as a wall to new information. We take a position on an issue and, without even thinking, defend it. The goal becomes winning, not learning.
  • We gravitate toward the gangs that give us support rather than people who make us uncomfortable because they have different ideas. We can learn a lot from the people who make us uncomfortable.

I have developed an exercise that has helped me immensely to see my own biases. It is a form of medicine I guess. It is called “trying to understand Teddy Boy Locsin”, the Secretary of Foreign affairs. Although this is a specific case, it can be generalized by the concept of “getting outside ourselves”. That’s the medication I recommend.

As I wrote in another article, the vaccine was injected into my brain by a DFA official whom I respect. He said Secretary Locsin is a diplomat and many misread him. I take that as a fundamental truth.

Then how do I reconcile the Secretary’s off-putting remarks supporting the drug war or defending other Duterte policies with the KNOWLEDGE that he is an earnest diplomat?

Well, the first thing I had to do was set aside my confirmation bias on many topics. I had to set aside the idea that the drug war has NOTHING about it that is defensible. There must be an element that is defensible. Find it. Accept it. I’m still working on that.

I had to set aside the idea that China is ONLY an enemy. It is not simply them vs us with a hard line in between. There CAN be cooperation. I believe that is true . . . but a lot really depends on China.

Then I had to deal with the fact that many of my friends shout against the Secretary on social media, calling him a traitor and an imbecile, and arrogant. These shouts were beckoning me to join the chorus, to get emotional, to get on their side of the demarcation line. In today’s world, it is understood that, if I did not join them, the gangs might pounce on me, too.

But more than anything, I had to understand that the Secretary’s choices were framed by circumstances that I could not comprehend because I did not know the people he knew, the reading he has done, the dealings he has done, or live the political life he has led from Cory Aquino to Rodrigo Duterte. Nor could I understand his aspirations . . . but I could understand that he would have them.

We all have them.

My friends, this was not easy.

I recall defending President Aquino’s choice to be with Japanese investors rather than attend to the arrival of the Mamasapano coffins in Manila. I once was a business executive, and I understood that decisions come fast, information is imperfect (it never shows us the future clearly), and we do our best, if we are earnest. My operating KNOWLEDGE was that President Aquino was an earnest, principled public official. His decision on the coffins was not intentionally offensive. Indeed, it was undoubtedly, in his mind, to the best advantage of the Philippines. I held to that, gave him the respect he had earned, and believed that the millions of angry people shouting at him had it wrong.

I still do.

Alas, now the angry horde is my friends shouting at Secretary Locsin.

What do I think about that? Is the Secretary the worst man for the job, or the best? Who do my friends want in that position?

Do they want, say, Bam Aquino there? Do they want a ‘yellow’ there?

Then they have no knowledge of President Duterte, or they deny knowledge in favor of their confirmation bias. They only want to win on the issue, and they will deny knowledge to do it. President Duterte will not appoint a ‘yellow’ to the position, nor should he have to, as the duly elected President who is empowered by the nation’s votes to run his office to the best of his ability. A ‘yellow’ might give him grief. Cause him to fail, perhaps. He should pick someone he trusts, and who he believes can do the job he wants done.

So if we accept the knowledge that the President is entitled to appoint a person who is or CAN BE loyal to his initiatives, then we can’t expect a yellow. That said, we ought to have no patience with another incompetent like former Secretary Cayetano.

Why do I say “appoint a person who is or CAN BE loyal”?

The mind is a wonderful instrument. We ought to give people credit for having one, if they have developed it well. What if the real knowledge is that Secretary Locsin is well-read, informed on laws and people, understands social and political forces, and has circulated long enough to develop competencies in interpersonal relationships important for good diplomacy?

What if he is not, himself, a killer or a traitor, but is confident enough of his ability as a diplomat . . . or dedicated enough to the Philippines . . . to strive to be a diplomat who can negotiate between the harsh demands of the ‘yellows’ and the untoward tendencies of the President?

What if he knows the nation cannot withstand another Cayetano and remain respected in international affairs? What if he understands that President Duterte needs help? Not undermining. Not incompetence.

If we accept those fundamentals as to why Secretary Locsin is there . . . and believe it is not money or bad moral values that underpin his work . . . then we can interpret what he says in a new light. We can believe that throwing brickbats from our position of political bias and emotionalized rhetoric is not helping things at all. It may be hurting.

There is a difference between shouting and not being heard, and talking sense and being listened to.

If we can accept that the Secretary is an earnest professional, if a rather loudmouthed and opinionated man, we will look for new knowledge rather than automatically discard everything coming in. We might even find APPRECIATION that he amended the memo of understanding for commercial development with China to keep it within Philippine constitutional bounds. He kept Philippine law as the required framework for joint commercial development in Philippine seas.

We can appreciate that he is genuinely interested in, and working for, the betterment of overseas Filipinos. That he is working on a smooth passport process. That he is listening to people who speak with respect and sense.

We can learn to disagree on some points while keeping our eye on the big picture. And from our newfound position of respect and civility, we can push our own points . . . civilly. Respect granted, respect received. And we are no longer shut out of the dialogue.

I think we need to develop such skills, and encourage others to develop them.

We need to perfect getting outside of ourselves. That does not mean we have to be weak or unprincipled. It means we have to concede that we are not other people, and they have their own context.

  • Other people have knowledge that we don’t.
  • It cannot be our way all the time.
  • We can work to keep doors of communication open rather than slam them shut.
  • We can use calm reason rather than emotion in our dialogue.
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The Philippines, by Master Chef China. [Photo source: thecookinggeek.com]

By JoeAm

I am impressed with China’s strategic approach to gaining global power. I don’t like it. But I am impressed.

China uses small steps unrestrained by laws or matters of fair play, kindness, or respect. She does not need an army. She has agents on the ground. Filipinos, in the Philippines.

When push-back occurs, she criticizes the people pushing back, side steps, and continues forward. It is relentless, it is successful, it is the cabbage strategy.

It’s awesome to behold.

It is so successful that the Philippines is like an unaware frog in boiling water, only it is a cabbage.

And China is peeling the Philippines one leaf at a time like a very blind cabbage.

The first thing China did was find willing agents in the Philippines. It was like establishing a beach-head, the place from which invasion could be launched. How did she recruit these agents? Promises? Money? Power? We don’t know.

But we can see one thing clearly. These agents are not acting in the interest of Filipinos. They are gifting seas and fish to China, jobs to China, economic opportunities to China (high interest debt, construction employing Chinese workers, casinos, Boracay, Marawi, reclamation space in Manila Bay), letting mainland workers in by the millions on shady work permits, welcoming Chinese military ships and planes in Davao, gifting prize developments . . . including a Chinese telco . . . to Dennis Uy, and seating Bong Go in the Senate.

Speculative you argue? Hmmmm. Clearly the Philippines’ acceptance of China in Philippine seas is fact. And we can witness former DFA Secretary Cayetano blaming the Aquino Administration for making China mad about Scarborough. It’s as if China were the patriot and Aquino the villain. (See “Philippines, not Aquino, lost Scarborough“)

And 3 million new mainland Chinese immigrants? That is fact. And Dennis Uy’s amazingly fast rise to oligarchic riches, or Bong Go’s insertion into the Senate on unethical terms (using public resources and premature campaigning). Fact. A Chinese consulate office in Davao? Fact. Chinese military ships and planes visiting Davao? Fact.

These all advance China’s interests in the Philippines. They do not protect Filipino fishermen, laborers, public servants (like Aquino), people who like to eat fish directly from Philippine seas rather than imported from China at a mark-up, or future leaders who must deal with the damages being done.

The Chinese military rudely shout orders to Filipino pilots flying over Philippine seas to “get out”, and its Coast Guard ships chase Filipino fishing boats out of Philippine waters.

These are all cabbage leaves being peeled away, one by one, as Philippine sovereignty is reduced to a piece of tattered paper called a Constitution that her own political leaders disregard in favor of . . . well, their own well being.

It is really quite a sorry sight, this Philippines, with no spine, no brain, no honor. Perhaps it is best that most Filipinos remain unaware of all of this, for the shame of it all.

“A jellyfish named Philippines.”

I’m sure the movie will be out soon.

As well as I can figure, here are China’s primary agents in the Philippines:

  • President Duterte, who is driving the friendship policy
  • Former DFA Secretary Cayetano, who failed to protest China with authority but did protest Aquino . . . rudely
  • Aspiring Senator Bong Go, who appears to be the architect of the pro-Chinese push
  • Oligarch Dennis Uy, who seems to be channeling Chinese commercial interests into the Philippines
  • Senator Francis Escudero, who effectively awarded China Telecom a role in building out, and profiting from, the next telco

There are others. The ‘Build Build Build’ architects who accept China’s above-market interest rates to fund projects, sticking poor Filipinos with the future burden. The senators voting Mislatel (and China Telecom) a prized role among Philippine telcos. The government agency officials accepting P5,000 per case to issue work permits to Chinese immigrants. The Filipinos smuggling sand out to help build Chinese islands.

But it is interesting. I don’t sense as much broad support for the pro-China policy as there has been for the President’s deadly drug war. Indeed, a lot of voices are speaking out, such as Senator Villanueva protesting the way illegal workers are being allowed into the Philippines. There was rage last weekend when a Chinese national threw her dessert on a Filipino policeman . . . and was released a short time later.

Impunity is getting bigger.

Objection is getting angrier.

Perhaps . . . just maybe . . . this China policy is becoming so offensive that even ordinarily dense and self-dealing politicians can comprehend. Maybe they can imagine Chinese overlords in the Philippines taking THEIR jobs or making their sweet lives difficult. It is also possible that a “law of proximity” in play here. Patriotism runs deeper in the Philippines the further away from the Duterte government one gets.

But any way you look at it, the Philippines is being peeled by China, one sovereign leaf at a time.

I’m not even sure if the Philippines is a real nation anymore.

I can’t readily identify the spine, that’s for sure.

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By Edgar Lores

The midterm elections are upon us.

Soon we will have the power to change our shared destiny.

Soon we will have to make up our minds who to vote for.

And soon we will decide who will govern us — hopefully in power wielded well and wise — at several levels: municipal, city, provincial, House of Representatives (HOR), and Senate.

All levels of governance are important but the last level is of special importance. We see this reflected in the news and social media where the battle for the Senate occupies the front pages. We see this in the TV ads and the billboards and banners that drape buildings and clutter the highways.

Why is this so?

Well, if you are Bong Revilla, it is perhaps a chance to siphon away P224.5M in pork barrel funds – and perhaps be declared innocent.

The nerve.

But the main reason for this is that the fight for the Senate is at the national level. It affects everybody. More than the HOR, the Senate represents the second branch of the three branches of government. Here, 24 supposedly wise heads counter-balance the power exercised by the single head of the Executive as well as by the 15 heads of the Supreme Court.

I say “supposedly” because we know the Senate has not been doing its bounden duties… ever since the ascension of Rodrigo Duterte in 2016. Not in its duty of circumscribing the drug war. Not in securing the WPS. Not in limiting the extension of martial law. Not in preventing the unconstitutional ouster of a Chief Justice. And not in protesting the incarceration and maltreatment of one of its members.

The shame.

It is of supreme importance therefore that we discuss the Senate election and how we might go about selecting half of the new Senate.

I would like to propose a simple method for doing so. It is derived from two other methods:

  • The triage method (TM)
  • The Von Manstein Matrix (VMM)

The Method and the Matrix

TM is used to determine the priority in the treatment of patients in medical emergencies. The method is now a 5-level system. However, the original system divided patients into the three classes of emergent, urgent, and non-urgent. Or high-risk, middle-risk, and low-risk.

VMM is a method of selecting the best military officers (or managers in business). It is named after General Erich von Manstein, who is regarded as one of the most brilliant commanders — if not the most brilliant commander – of Nazi Germany in the Second World War.

I shall call my proposed method the “Von Lores Matrix (VLM)” in honor of the General… and in homage to my father who, although not of noble birth, was of noble principles.

The VLM is similar to TM in determining who to treat (or vote for) first and who to treat last. And it is similar to the VMM in using two main factors in determining eligibility for office.

As one can see from Diagram 1, the two factors are Intelligence and Work Ethic.

Intelligence can be Clever/Stupid and Work Ethic may be Industrious/Lazy.

Thus, the four quadrants of the matrix are:

  1. Clever and lazy
  2. Stupid and lazy
  3. Stupid and industrious
  4. Clever and industrious

Diagram 1: The Von Manstein Matrix

Von Manstein thought that the officers most suited to high office were those who were clever and lazy. How strange! And counter-intuitive. One would think the best would be those who were clever and industrious. But no.

The explanation is that clever people make good strategists. And if they are lazy, they delegate work and have time to make good decisions.

In a brilliant insight, Von Manstein thought that the stupid and the industrious were not to be considered as officer material. They were, in his opinion, a “menace and must be fired at once.”

The explanation is that hardworking people are relentless and, if they are stupid at the same time, they create and cause endless havoc.

Stupid and industrious. Does not this insight remind you of someone? Perhaps a Cabinet member or two? Some appointed USECs and ASECs? Certain Senators? Indeed, the majority of the HOR?

Anyone else? Someone higher up?

Hmm. I shall not name names. My lips are sealed.

The last two quadrants we have not yet considered are:

  • Clever and industrious. These make excellent staff officers (or middle management/Cabinet)
  • Stupid and lazy. These are generally harmless and make good foot soldiers (or factory workers/laborers)

Clever and industrious people put me in mind of the captains of industry and Filipino wives. This is why the latter are much sought after – worldwide. That they have other sterling qualities is a bonus.

As for stupid and lazy people, they are unremarkable and harmless… unless they happen to occupy the White House.

The Von Lores Matrix (VLM)

As presented in Diagram 2, my proposed VLM is a slight modification of the VMM.

Diagram 2: The Von Lores Matrix

I keep the first factor (Intelligence) but substitute the second (Work Ethic) with Character, which is subdivided into its antithetical poles of Moral/Amoral.

Why Character?

The answer should be obvious. Our elected officials have the qualities of personality but not the qualities of character. Consequently, the nation is drowning in a river of blood covered with garbage flotsam.

What the Senate needs most now are people with character. Senators with integrity. Senators who are capable of thinking and coming up with long-term solutions. And perhaps most importantly, Senators who can say no.

No. Such a simple two-letter word that is so hard to utter.

Astute readers will draw a parallel of my two factors to Robredo’s matino (Goodness or Character) and mahusay (Competence or Intelligence).

(I have half a mind to call the VLM the Robredo Matrix. Perhaps after the election so that it is not dismissed as propaganda.)

Apart from introducing Character, I have rearranged the order and labels of the VMM for ease of reading.

  • Instead of “Stupid/Clever,” I use “Smart/Dumb” with the positive trait appearing leftmost. Clever has a pejorative connotation. Smart does not unless coupled with the hind part.
  • Instead of “Industrious/Lazy,” I use “Moral/Amoral” with the positive trait appearing topmost.

This rearrangement enables the quadrants of the matrix to be ranked left-to-right and top-to-bottom in an order of merit. Thus, using primarily the Olympic medal colors, we have:

  • Gold — Excellent Public Servants
  • Silver — Middling Public Servants
  • Bronze — Usual Trapos
  • Black — Toxic Trapos/Tyros

I have populated the quadrants according to my most objective impressions of the candidates. If Joe Am sits like a spider with his sensitive web wrapped around the globe to gather material for the blog, I too have my psychic antennae attuned to the slightest vibration from the senatorial candidates.

I know my classification will invite – provoke? — disagreements. Without a doubt, you will have firm and opposing opinions on where each candidate should be pigeonholed. That’s alright. Disagreements give color and life to discussions. But I hope you will agree with me on the general thrust of the model and my assessments.

The central point of the matrix — to put it in the form of a motto – is “Hold the Gold and block the Black.” At. All. Cost. One may choose from the Silver and Bronze pools but never, never, never from the Black pool.

Never.

NEVER.

The Three Cs

Thus far, we have formed the Gold and the Black pools. This is our first pass in which we have made our primary selections and eliminations.

Thus far, we have come up with 5 candidates. Well and good.

How then do we proceed and go about choosing among the Silvers and the Bronzes?

You will be aware that the Silvers and the Bronzes violate Robredo’s requirements. He said matino and mahusay. Not matino or mahusay. But the world in its variety of offerings often gives us apples and oranges but also spiders and crocodiles. And we must make do with what we have.

First, we should ask: Do we prioritize Intelligence over Character?

Personally, given the present national crisis, I would elevate Character over Intelligence. Thus, Silver over Bronze and not the other way around.

Second, we should ask: how do we decide between two silvers (or bronzes)? Say, between Alejano and Cayetano?

This is where the Three Cs come in. We have our primary C — Character. Our secondary Cs are elements of the primary C. These are Compassion, Conviction, and Courage.

They are the qualities of character that we seek.

I will note that the Three Cs formed a part of my sorting of the candidates.

First, Senators must have Compassion. Then they must have the Conviction of their Compassion. And finally, they must have the Courage of their Convictions.

Between Alejano and Cayetano, I would thus ask:

  1. Who has shown greater Compassion? (Say, for victims of the drug war, for Marawi, and for women.)
  2. Who has shown greater Conviction? (Say, by speaking out each time the need arose.)
  3. And who has shown greater Courage? (Say, by speaking truth to power.)

When you ask these questions earnestly, the answers will surely come.

Conclusion

As Rizal said, our society has been infected with social cancer. We must inject healthy stem cells to stop the rot from spreading. You, the voters, are the doctors.

Therefore: Hold the Gold and block the Black. And value compassion, conviction, and courage.

Please pass the popcorn.

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Mark Twain, John Lewis – From Mark Twain House & Museum

By JoeAm

Facebook follower Al Hadj Bin Aday asked me when Philippine journalists would start to write like I do, which I presumed to mean directly with a touch of literary flair to align words in a way that hits meaning on the head with a #10 ball-peen hammer.

I reflected on the writers that influenced my literary bent the most and responded with:

“When they read enough Mark Twain and Charles Dickens to absorb the humility, humor, humanity, and morality of meaningful expression.”

On reflection, I would add a dash of Lewis Jenkins and Kafka for their passionate reading of the absurdities that act as spice in any dish of humanity. Haha, and Somerset Maugham and Joseph Conrad for their travels, John Steinbeck for his American roots, Jonathan Swift for his satire, Robert Lewis Stevenson for his swashbuckling, and . . .

Oh, my, so many riches in those paper pages . . .

Well, back to Facebook, a medium that is so broad in reach that one seldom gets to the depths most certain to be below the splatterings we paste upon the walls.

That remark I made is perhaps the wisest remark I have penned in my decade of blog-writing in the Philippines.

Those four qualities – humility, humor, humanity, and morality – can be found within the writings of both Twain and Dickens, an American and a Brit, both possessed and passionate about the social struggles of their times. Both aware of poverty and the way it warps civility and kindness. Both cynical about governments. Both wanting to do something about the unfairness and cruelties imposed on commoners’ lives by the greed, meanness, and ignorance of their betters.

The two books that best put these four qualities of authorial character on the table are Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn”, America’s most well-read book, and Dickens’ “Oliver Twist”, the greatest casting of good versus evil in all the libraries holding record of our shortcomings and heroism as a people. Well, neither is an easy read. Twain creates his own dialect for Huckleberry Finn to capture its raw earthy rendition of life in the poor southern United States. Dickens writes in such fine detail and intricate, emotive wisdom that I would sometimes only be able to manage a few paragraphs at a time, then pause, having been whacked someplace deep with impressions beyond words of how much living there is to be had in life.

  • Humility is what you find when you realize you are neither a hot-shot nor a failure. It is a place of acceptance where there is no longer a need to show off, and so you can let others into your life, no risk, no loss, no expectations, no need to impose or even explain.
  • Humor is finding the way life fits together in unexpected ways. It does not only mean jokes and punch lines, it means irony and surprise and joy at the way words knit together or explode to be, for some reason, funny. Both Twain and Dickens found humor in the most wretched of scenes, and that humor made the wretched even worse, and the hope even greater.
  • Humanity is what most of us miss because we are too busy defending ourselves or trying to impress others or earning a living. Humanity is the truth about pain, in the main. And the exquisite joy from overcoming it and seeing the dark burdens dissolve.
  • Morality represents the rules we impose on ourselves because, to be without them, we would be weeds rather than flowers.

Journalists in the Philippines mistake subservience for humility, I think, whenever they engage with powerful politicians. They never get to the real meanings, they don’t challenge, they accept what they are told. Humility is not like that. It is strong. It is calm, unshakable. It is not weakness. It is attached to truth, not to power. It NEEDS truth, the real truth. Not the stories and nonsense.

Humor. Journalists take themselves too seriously here, I think. They are not themselves, they are little stickmen and stickwomen taking notes and writing words to fill a page and get to the next story. They are the product of rote teaching that demands obedience and not independent thought. Twain and Dickens write about the right to life that we all deserve, to explore, test, learn, fall down, get up, challenge, succeed, fail, smile, grow some more, and always, always, always remain excited about the possibilities ahead. Philippine journalism lacks insight and so the nation lacks it.

Humanity. Philippine journalists get it, I think. They know of poverty and suffering and joy and pain. But humanity is like the cloud above rather than the earth beneath their feet. And, on the ground, they do tabloid stories and plaster bloody dead bodies across the TV screen for junior to gawk at, and raise evil up as good. They are the designers of Filipino lifestyles putting halos on Imelda Marcos and Bong Go and Grace Poe and Rodrigo Duterte as if they were people who can bring goodness into our lives, even if they are without that capacity in their own humanity. Philippine journalists rarely transfuse humanity into the content of their work.

Some Philippine journalists seem to have morality. They know right from wrong. They display good values when interviewing guests. But they have no real ethical fiber. They don’t impose those values on other journalists. They accept that their profession can be populated by Tiglaos and Tulfos and Failons and purchased journalists and it doesn’t affect them at all. Well, ethics are the standards of a group, and as long as these self-dealing showboats are allowed in the profession, the profession is a fly-by-night collection of unethical story-tellers in which gullible people presume lies are truth and dirty tricks are more righteous than honesty.

It’s just like legislators and judges and department officials blowing smoke at Filipinos every day rather than building a great nation. It’s called the Calida Syndrome, where sense and civility fall victim to purpose.

The result of this abuse of journalistic character is a country that worships stars, thinks badly, elects incompetents, and accepts nonsense as virtue.

The land is rich. The people are beautiful. The nation is ugly.

I hope more and more Filipino journalists find and express their humility, humor, humanity, and morality.

As they write, so goes the nation.

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[Photo source: National Geographic]

By JoeAm

One of the greatest failings of all Philippine administrations from Aguinaldo to Duterte is the poor management of the nation’s glorious natural resources. The lands are among the richest on the planet for ores and fertility. The surrounding waters are seas of plenty.

But the care-taking is just horrible.

The poorly considered assignment of land use enforcement to local governments has generated chaotic patterns of use that push money into the pockets of the entitled, chop up arable or scenic lands into private domains, and keep the poor unlanded and living on the slopes of dangerous hills and river banks.

The failure to properly title and manage ownership of lands has stripped wealth from the nation’s people and from the economy. Taxes leak away, land is not used to gain the leveraging power of loans, and there is a weak market for exchange of land. It is hard to convert property into cash.

And today, today . . . the government so little values the lands and seas of sovereign Philippine domain that the Duterte government thanks China for its intrusions into Philippine waters:

“PH ‘should thank’ China for ‘rescue center’ in West PH Sea – Panelo”

Supreme Court Justice Carpio, who knows the law better than just about anyone in the nation, advises the Philippines to protest this intrusion because welcoming it is tantamount to gifting the island and seas to China. Forever.

Another leaf of the cabbage is peeled away (“China invokes ‘cabbage tactics’ in South China Sea”).

Well, my friends, this is plain insanity. One of the poorest nations in the world fails to understand and realize the value of its natural resources!! Give us a break! The nation is like a drunk so steeped in misery lying there in the gutter that he cannot rise to do something about it.

Here’s what needs to be done about the lands and seas. Pardon me for being blunt. I have little patience for the pains of self-punishment:

  1. Adopt a commitment to self-sustenance in a global environment of considerable threat. Feed the nation. Keep Filipinos safe. Keep them healthy. Jail Persida Acosta.
  2. Enforce the nation’s hard-won rights to the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone. Protest China’s intrusions with authority and determination. Make clear what international law says. Not what China says. Do not go to war. Save the reconciliation for a later time. Defend Philippine sovereign rights in international courts. If China fails to respect the Philippines, Filipinos, and Philippine rights, do not consider her an ally or a lender or a market or a supplier.
  3. Nationalize land use laws and enforcements. Get a grip on a proper allocation of land by function: preservation of agricultural lands for self-sustenance, designated industrial, commercial, residential, coastal, and PARKLANDS. Ban buildings in dangerous areas and anticipate even more intense storms in the future. Accelerate the building of public housing.
  4. Step up the pace and sophistication of the automation of the titling of property. Build a sophisticated real estate agenting profession. Make a market for land and buildings. Release the values and they will explode into new wealth for the economy and pay for that automation expense many times over. Home ownership will be available to the common man, and not just on terms set by the Villars.

Is that hard to do?

Really?

Then just lie stoned there in the gutter.

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By Chemrock

Shylock, the Jewish moneylender, demanded a pound of flesh from his debtor who could not repay a loan. With that, Shakespeare condemned a moniker on the Jewish community for posterity. Few are those who bother to contextualize what they read or hear. In ancient days when Jews were dispersed all over Europe, they were terribly discriminated against and denied almost any employment or profession. Moneylending in those days was a detested occupation as it was considered immoral. What were a discriminated people to do but take up the jobs that nobody wanted? Many in the Jewish communities ended up as hated moneylenders. Shylock was a consequential creature of the circumstances of the time. As a historical footnote, antisemitism probably evolved out of a perception of Jews as  cold-hearted blood-sucking parasites of humanity.

Throughout history in the Judeo-Christian world, the hand that lends earns ostracism, the hand that borrows earns sympathy. Moneylenders have been chastised, vilified, jailed, killed, expelled, made to make restitutions, properties confiscated. Today, it is fashionable to strip bankers of their veneer of respectability and call them ‘extractive’. What exactly does this mean? It’s a take-off from the term ‘extractive economy’ which describes an economy primarily based on the extraction of non-renewable resources, and an elite community that skims off the top, diverting much wealth to non-productive activities instead of being ploughed back to further develop the economy or distributed to the poor. So bankers are extractive, although not much is explained how they do it. One criticism is bankers don’t do any productive work, they let their ‘money earn money’. The issue is basically an old dead horse named USURY that has been kicked around since time immemorial.

Religion killed usury:

In the ancient world, ‘interest’, as we understand it today, was an unknown concept. ‘Usury’ was what a borrower paid for the use of a loan. It could be additional money, some items of value like a goat, some grains, or in Shylock’s’ case, a pound of flesh. Usury is viewed as immoral in most great religions – in Verdic texts, in Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. Great Roman and Greek thinkers of the past too, viewed usury as immoral. Art reflects the times, and so Shakespeare has his hook-nosed Shylock; in the Divine Comedy, Dante has a special place in Purgatory for the moneylenders; Charles Dickens has his evil Fagin in Oliver Twist and his money-grubbing Ebeneezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. Where did this deep sense of morality come from? In their worldview, and the simple economy of the time, lending predominantly would have been done at times when someone was in dire need. When someone is in need of shelter, or food, the right thing to do is to provide it free. To do otherwise is to take advantage of the helpless. It has to be from this circumstance that usury became viewed as immoral and unethical.

Justification for the economic activity of lending faces a morality-practicality dichotomy. Philosophers and theologians who wrestled with this have provided no definitive solutions. Morality is in constant conflict with the inalienable need in the real world for loans.

“Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of anything that is lent upon usury. Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury; that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all that thou settest thy hand to in the land her thou goest to possess it.” …Deuteronomy 23:19-20

Even the Abrahamic God is undecided. The final word from the Old Testament is basically Jews are not allowed to take usury from fellow Jews, but they can take it from the Gentiles. During the early part of the Middle Ages (5th-15th century AD) Jews were lending to the Saracens who were conquering the Levant and parts of Europe. (The marauding Arabs were called Saracens till the 10th century when they became known as Muslims). Jews were allowed to lend to their enemies, since the rationale was to pauper thy enemies with usury. Usury was so detested that the Torah requires all debts to be extinguished in the Sabbath Year.

In the New Testament, there was the only time Jesus was totally out of character when he displayed great displeasure and reacted physically at the Temple. How he thrashed and ranted at the moneylenders. On the totem pole of Sins, Usury is probably right at the top, a heinous sin, as this single episode suggests.

The Church has been selective in its position on usury. Sometimes it turns a blind eye, sometimes it comes down hard on moneylenders. Some usurers stay in their good books, some don’t. In 325 AD, the Council of Nicaea banned the practice among clerics. The Church was instrumental in getting Emperor Charlemagne to implement the prohibition of usury into law in 800 AD. Yet, where moneylenders were driven out, it was to the Church that people turn to for loans. Monasteries took on many mortgages for farmlands. After the Knights Templar were disbanded in 1312 AD, the Church took over some of their banking business, funding princes and lords of the land.

During the Reformation years (16th century), Protestant thinkers tried to find leeway to accommodate usury. Given the background of the ecclesiastical competition of the time, it could have been a populist move to win memberships.

Martin Luther, a Reformation leader, felt usury was a grave enemy second only to the Devil, and men are too corrupt to be guided by Christian morality. However, he recognized usury was inevitable. The secular authorities should allow and control it, he said.

John Calvin, another Protestant theologian, postulated that since God allows usury on ‘strangers’ (non-Jews), usury should not be discriminated against. He saw a difference between a person who collects a one-time usury (who should be allowed), and one who sets up business as usurer (who should not be allowed). Usury should be allowed, but subject to a golden rule of observing the Christian morals and charity. He felt usury must not be collected from the needy, but it is alright to lend to the wealthy if it is for a Christian cause.

(Singapore stole Calvin’s idea when it implemented the law against chewing gum. It is illegal to sell chewing gum in Singapore, but there is no law against its consumption. Anyone caught entering the country with a packet of chewing gum has nothing to fear as it’s for personal consumption. But if several packets are found, then it’s deemed for the purpose of selling which is illegal).

Morality of Usury cannot be rationalized away:

In the Age of Reason, Aristotle came down hard on usury. He reasoned ‘money is barren’ and served no productive purpose. The lender does nothing, but rides on the hard work of the borrower like a parasite and extracts his usury. Aristotle was one smart Alec, but he certainly was never omniscient. There were lessons he learned from Plato that were false. But that does not mean he was dumb either. Contextualization is always helpful. He simply didn’t have the evidence to reason otherwise in his days. In the 4/5th century, the thinking was money was just a means of exchange, all things have intrinsic value. So 1.000 pesos today is the same as 1,000 pesos tomorrow. His view of ‘money is money, ‘money is not productive’, and ‘money cannot make money’ were persuasive thoughts that heavily influenced the old world. Despite the fact that the concept of time value of money is now generally understood, the Aristotelian view still holds sway in some quarters to this day.

In the late Middle Ages came the Scholastic thinkers. Scholasticism is a method of critical thinking with a strong emphasis on dialectical reasoning. Scholastics did not invent anything, their legacy is in their methodology which laid the foundation for all those great universities that sprung up during the Renaissance. They too could not make an argument that usury is not immoral. Their contribution in this conundrum is the proposition that Time has value. The lender is denied the use of his own money. Had he not loaned the money out, he could have used it in other productive ways. Thus usury is compensation for the loss of use. However, they reasoned, Time belongs to God, therefore the lender cannot make money on what does not belong to him. Nevertheless, here was a breakthrough — the idea of time value of money.

In the mid 1500s, Charles Dumoulin, a jurist and a Calvinist, wrote the book Treatise on Contracts and Usury. He argued that money does bear fruit. Loans enabled the borrower to produce wealth which he would not have been able to do otherwise. He was forced into exile by the Church and the book banned. This was the first ray of light that went on to influence European thoughts on money-lending. Again to contextualize, the economy was getting more complicated and lending was increasingly being observed as a necessity in the real world.

Francis Bacon (1561–1626) saw the utility of loans in the provision of liquidity and capital to consumers and businesses. Biblical morality requires loan gratis which is an impossibility. He suggested an usury of 5% on loans for everyone, and a higher usury on some loans to be acquired by some permit system. Bacon basically introduced the modern concept of a base rate and risk pricing on loans.

Usury in the real world:

When things get complicated, answers are to be found in ordinary minds. It’s like a variant of Occam’s razor. What do people do when usury is forbidden – money lending went underground. Soon they found loopholes and ways to circumvent the laws. One common way was to lend in a different currency with usury explained off as exchange differences when the loan was repaid. They invented currency swaps long before our time.

Lending is an inalienable necessity in human affairs. It has oiled the wheels of the economy, no matter how backward or advanced that may be. The Knights Templar banking services enabled the pilgrimages into the Holy Land and grew rich funding the princes and lords of the land. The Church usurped some of the Templar banking activities and grew equally rich. Loans were necessary for the trading and business activities as well as funding wars in the ancient days. No matter the condemnation, discrimination, dangers — money lending persisted because there was a need.

In the Renaissance Period, the New World opened up and trade and commerce expanded at great speed. It was also the Age of Exploration. Economy was no longer the same as in the old days. Capital was in much greater need — to fund commerce and exploration. Had lending still been forbidden, Europe would have remained in the Dark Ages. It was lending and banking activities that pushed Europe into the Industrial Age. It was already evident that lending activities, where permitted, or at least tolerated, the place or city prospered. Genoa was laissez-faire to financial activities and the city flourished. It grew in importance and power that the Church took no action. Holland was the best example. The financial activities supported an economic boom as trade passed through their great ports and made Holland a power in shipping and shipbuilding in the 17th century. In our modern world, better developed and economically successful countries have one thing in common — a sophisticated financial system, one that’s missing in poorer countries.

The utilitarianism of lending gradually gained acceptance, but it could not remove the stain of immorality. In the 1200s, the concept of ‘interest’ began to gain acceptance. ‘Interest’ is from the Latin word ‘to be lost’ so the idea is one of opportunity cost. The lender is compensated for the lost of the opportunity to use his own money. To pay someone for a ‘loss’ is palatable, but a ‘profit’ is detested. In places where lending was not banned, ‘interest’ was used, elsewhere, ‘usury’ continued to be used. This problem of not calling a spade what it is, is the same as what Islam struggled with and decided ‘interest’ is haram (dis-allowed under Sharia Law), but ‘risk-profit-sharing’ is halal (allowed). And so Islamic banking arrived on the scene providing a repackaged usury, fooling no one but themselves.

In modern times, lending and interest is mostly left to individual contractual rights on a willing party basis. Interest is an accepted cost of capital, but excessive or exorbitant interest is usury. In most countries, interest is in fact set by the government. The Fed decides on the US$ rates and central banks of each country determine their respective rates. All governments are in constant search for Adam Smith’s ‘perfect’ rate. With the base rates determined, lenders add a spread to cover their costs and risks. To prevent predatory lending, countries have various legislation to protect the weak, such as banning illegal money lending. In US, states have laws that set a usury rate which is the highest rate that banks are allowed to charge for loans.

Where are the economists:

“Economics is not a morality play…. The market economy is a system for organizing activity — a pretty good system most of the time, though not always — with no special moral significance.” …. Paul Krugman

Adam Smith (1723–1790) believed that there is a cost to be paid for borrowed money but that the government must regulate the rate. Left unchecked, high interest rate will damage the economy and hurt society. There is somehow, a ‘perfect’ interest rate. Thus the welfare of society was the only justification against the utilitarian argument.

John Keynes (1883–1946) agreed the government must control the interest rates and accepted usury is necessary but condemned it as ‘foul and unfair’. “Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still.”

Whose fault is it anyway:

In almost every financial disaster, the bankers get chastised. Seldom has there been any serious examination of the true nature of the problems in each specific event. Here’s Franklin Roosevelt putting the blame for the Great Depression of 1929 on bankers :

“The rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted failure, and have abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men . . . [We must] apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.”… Franklin Roosevelt

The 2008 sub-prime housing mortgage bubble brought condemnation on Wall Street bankers. Everyone knows about the complicated and junk financial derivatives that brought the market down. Yet none will say it’s the government that created the whole situation. In a nutshell, Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac were agencies set up by government to help provide housing loans to the low-end market, a segment that would not have been able to obtain a housing loan. Clinton and Bush Jr pushed the envelope for the 2 agencies to further their social objectives. This eventually resulted in Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac underwriting all those sub-prime mortgages into billions of $ exposures. With risks fully under-written, financial institutions practically gave real estate loans away to any guy they could pull off the streets. In an era of cheap money, borrowers went overboard into buying houses that they could never afford to pay, driven by greed to cash in during a fast rising real estate market. Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac were government-owned, it then went public (with govt owning the preferred shares), and after 2008, they were nationalized again. Here is a great example of bad outcomes to those tantalized by government take-over of the corporations of the oligarchs.

The investment banking arm of a bank involves certain activities that are of a higher risk (trading in complicated financial instruments and derivatives) whilst the commercial banking arm involves depositor money and financial services to commerce and industry. In the financial disasters of 2008, the high risk investment banking activities brought the banks to bankruptcy. The govt took to pumping cash into the banks. Not to do so would have created a systemic failure to the whole economy because of the closure of the commercial banking arm. Bankers were handed free passes which angered the public. Yet, the deeply rooted cause of the problem was the repealing of the Glass-Steagall Act by Bill Clinton in 1999. Under the Glass-Steagall Act, banks were not allowed to do both investment banking and commercial banking.

In today’s highly corporatized world, owners often no longer run the business. Hired operatives run the business, although many are compensated by stocks and thus gain ownership. But these are not the original family owners. Hired operatives are profit driven with a lower time horizon than the owners. Owners, on the other hand, are more driven by adding value. Down the chain of command, departmental managers running profit centers, with hefty compensation on commission packages, have even shorter time-frame views. They take action that often is in conflict with other departments or long-term interest of the corporation. In today’s economy, transactions and volumes are getting mega-sized. Operations and products are getting extremely complex and technology driven, leaving operating staff, monitoring management, and regulatory agencies, far behind the knowledge curve. The collapse of Baring Brothers in 1995 is a good illustration of what can go wrong. A young hot-shot futures trader, Nick Leeson, practically ran their Singapore office to the ground with his Pounds 827 million losses in speculative trading. Back office supporting staff, head office management, and external auditor all had no idea of what was going on.

Conclusion:

Witches, real or suspected, were burned at the stakes in the mad witch-hunts of the Middle Ages. Moneylenders as a group probably suffered just as much. King Edward I expelled the Jews in 1290, never to return again till the 17th century. In 1190, a group of Jews sought refuge in a castle in York, England, to escape rising anti-Semitism. Some local nobilities who owed substantial money to some of the Jews, capitalized on the situation and instigated violence that ended with the massacre of 150 Jews. Each occasion where the Church, lords of the land, or Kings expelled moneylenders or ordered restitution, borrowers instigated the expulsions from the land or rejoiced. Where would morality be if all of us, having some unpaid mortgages or overdrafts or credit card debts, demonstrated for the heads of these so-labelled parasitic bankers.

Condemnation of bankers as detestable usurers still resonates everywhere. Some quotes extracted from TSOH :

  • “.. bankers…. are parasitic creatures of the capitalist system..”
  • ” They don’t do anything productive in the real economy.”
  • ” They make money off money”
  • “…other people do the heavy lifting.”
  • ” … capitalism in the country <is> based on neo-liberal principles and enabled by parasitic bankers….”
  • “… does not create value or wealth in the real economy. On the contrary, it extracts, it siphons wealth from the economy through punishingly high interest payments…”

If these all sound familiar, they indeed are. Here are some of Karl Marx’s views :

“…. all production is a result of manual labor. The capitalists take advantage of their control over the means of production — secured to them by private property — and “loot” the laborers’ work. Moneylending and other financial activities are not productive, but exploitative; moneylenders exert no effort, do no productive work, and yet reap the rewards of production through usury…”

Capitalism, it’s warts and all, at least worked alright generally and served a free world creditably. Banking services which are free and open have been the crucial engine that led the world out of the Dark Ages and into the modern world. The experiment with the economics of communists is over. We know what happened. The hearkening call to the good old days of proletariat-bourgeoisie rhetoric fails to take heed of some wise words :

“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.”…. Karl Marx

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A telecom Goliath. [Source: CNN]

By JoeAm

Due credit to regular contributor NHerrera for raising this issue and providing graphic exhibits and some references used herein.

To set the scene for this discussion, we have to recognize that hard battle lines are shaping up globally with democracies facing off against autocratic states China and Russia. Several of those democracies have elected leaders with autocratic tendencies, leading to confrontations that are direct . . . and dangerous.

In the case of the Philippines, there is such a awkward public display of affection between the (still democratic) Philippines and China that it makes us want to exclaim “take it to the bedroom.”

One flash point for the global conflict is Huawei, an enormous Chinese telecom company that has global reach and is being pushed back by democratic states that do not trust the company.

Pushback against Huawei [Source: CNN]

Huawei must abide by Chinese laws, and one recently imposed law law requires Chinese companies working overseas to be intelligence-gathering arms of the State. Government owned or independent, they are required to gather intelligence as required by the State:

“[China’s] Intelligence Law . . . repeatedly obliges individuals, organizations, and institutions to assist Public Security and State Security officials in carrying out a wide array of “intelligence” work. Article Seven stipulates that “any organization or citizen shall support, assist, and cooperate with state intelligence work according to law.” (Beijing’s New National Intelligence Law: From Defense to Offense)

This conflicts with American laws on privacy and propriety of corporate technology and methods, and so we see the recent arrest and possible extradition of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou from Canada under charges that Huawei, through it’s American affiliate, has stolen trade secrets, conducted wire fraud, and obstructed justice. (Huawei: how the telecoms giant is seen around the world)

That is background, it is intense, it is dramatic, and we will watch it play out as it plays out.

Huawei is already deeply engaged in the Philippines providing equipment for Philippine telecoms and making cell phones sold here. Other Chinese companies are also active, the most prominent being China Telecom which is bidding to provide a video intelligence network across Manila and to become a part of the third nationwide telecom provider in addition to PLDT (Smart) and Globe. China Telecom is a Chinese state-owned and operated corporation. Both initiatives – video network and third telecom – are under review by the Philippine legislature with primary objection being security risks . . . the basic fear driving pushback around the world against Huawei.

Are Huawei and China Telecom friends or foes of the Philippines?

If the Philippines embraces independence, these companies are a risk. Foe may be too strong a word. But they are a risk to the sovereign and legal parameters that frame the Philippine Constitution and laws that emphasize open and fair enterprise, proprietary rights, privacy, and human rights.

Well, herein lies an awkward rub. The current national government, autocratic in style, seems to many to be a risk to the sovereign and legal parameters that frame the Philippine Constitution and laws.

So it is no surprise that the current national government sees Huawei and China Telecom as constructive players in the need to develop strong telecom services across a nation that lacks them.

And, indeed, how can we argue against the need for better telecom services when services here are so unreliable, slow, and expensive?

If China is motivated to provide money and technology to speed things up, meanwhile wrapping the nation tightly within its nationalistic embrace, how can we object if the risks have not yet materialized as damages?

Worst case it.

When a future autocratic Administration’s State Police use facial recognition to find and shoot critics, it will be a little late to judge that the risks are too great. When conflict arises and China can tap into anything the Philippine legislature, Executive, courts, and generals in the Armed Forces of the Philippines say . . . it is too late to peg the risks.

What advice would you provide to the senators who are looking at these cases?

Better service versus sovereign risk?

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