opinion

RP now off the “pirate list”

May 2, 2014

Coinciding with the visit of US President Barack Obama, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) announced the removal of the Philippines from the Special 301 Watch List.    The watch list identifies countries that deny adequate and effective protection for intellectual property rights (IPR) or deny fair and equitable market access for persons that rely on intellectual property protection.   Common types of intellectual property rights  (IPR) include copyright, trademarks, patents, industrial design rights, and in some jurisdictions, trade secrets.   Common examples of IPR violations are the sale of pirated CDs, software and fake name-brand wearing apparel, shoes, bags and other accessories. In Indonesia, for example, a top military brass even flaunts his collection of fake watches.   The Philippines’ removal from the list is certainly welcome news, considering that the Philippines first appeared on the watch list in 1989 and had been on it continuously since 1994.  The delisting also comes on the heels of the celebration of World Intellectual Property Day on April 26.   The USTR noted  “significant legislative and regulatory reforms to enhance the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights in the Philippines” as well as   “laudable civil and administrative enforcement gains.”   USTR has created a "Priority Watch List" (for more serious violations) and "Watch List" (for  serious violations) under the Special 301 provisions.   Continuous inclusion in either list could have a negative impact on foreign investment decisions in the countries in question.  It can also result in the elimination of tariff preferences or the imposition of  trade sanctions.   In 2001, for example, the US imposed on Ukraine prohibitive tariff on metals, footwear and other imports because of Ukraine’s failure to enact legislation to enforce copyright in relation to music CDs.   According to Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) Director-General Ricardo R. Blancaflor, the country’s removal “reflects a vibrant rule of law where foreign trading partners can feel secure in doing business in the country.” He attributes the removal to a “holistic approach” in curbing piracy and fighting counterfeits.    Blancaflor acknowledges, however, that more still  needs to be done especially in raising the public awareness level (currently at 54%) on the need to protect intellectual property rights. With the cooperation of all stakeholders, especially the LGUs, Blancaflor is targeting a 100 per cent public awareness level by next year.

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The world’s biggest cesspool

April 25, 2014

Of late, there has been a series of  local attempts to break into the Guinness Book of  World Records. Efforts and resources have been spent by local government units and corporate sponsors  to achieve the longest this, the longest that, and the biggest what not.   These attempts have attracted significant media attention. Some have been quite successful and the organizers definitely deserve our kudos for placing the Philippines in the Guinness map.   But there is one record that potential organizers have  overlooked. And that record is ours for the taking. I am referring to the biggest swimming cesspool in the world – Manila Bay!   Every summer, bathers go in droves to the poor man’s beach – Manila Bay.  The bathers, seeking relief from the oppressive summer heat,  soak themselves all day long   totally unmindful of the health hazards  posed by  swimming in the bay’s extremely polluted waters.   While  swimming in Manila Bay is expressly prohibited, authorities merely look the other way. “Pagbigyan na natin. Hindi naman kasi sila makakapunta sa Boracay,” an enforcer  told this writer.     Without any doubt,  Manila Bay’s breath-taking  sunset remains one of our tourist come-ons. But  if you know what is good for your health, don’t you try swimming in its cesspool.   A  research conducted by the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute  confirmed what has long been an open secret about Manila Bay.    “The waters of Manila Bay are the most polluted in the country, serving as a giant waste-dump for the metropolis. Here, domestic sewage, toxic industrial effluents from factories and shipping operations, leachate from garbage dumps and runoff from chemical agriculture converge into a hideous cocktail.”   The research further showed  that “unprocessed waste ending up in the bay has resulted in high levels of fecal coliform and the presence of heavy metals, pesticides and excess feeds in its waters.”   The Department of Health acknowledges that continuous direct exposure to these pollutants  “may cause cancer, immune system disease, endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, congenital malformation and developmental disorders, and many other diseases.”   How do you measure the quality of Manila Bay’s water?   The authorities have set up monitoring stations  along the shorelines around Manila Bay.  These stations are located along Noveleta, Tanza, Naic, Bacoor and Rosario in Cavite, Limay and Mariveles in Bataan, Navotas Fishport and Rizal Park in Manila.   These monitoring stations measure fecal and total coliform. Coliform is a bacteria found in the human and animal waste. The acceptable coliform count for “swimmable” waters is 1,000 MPN (most probable number per 100 milliliters).  However, an official in the know estimates coliform count in the Manila Bay area as “in the millions”.   Five years ago, alarmed bay area residents filed a petition with the Supreme Court to compel the authorities to stop the further degradation of Manila Bay. The Supreme Court responded by issuing a continuing mandamus to restore Manila Bay back to health.   The Supreme Court wanted Manila Bay to be once again “swimmable” and fit for other aquatic activities. The Supreme Court also set a deadline,  long since past, for the authorities to get their acts together.   It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out what needs to be done to stop the further degradation of Manila Bay.  There is an alphabet soup  of studies and operational plans which are already in place. (Eg. OPMBCS under the ESWMA)   These plans invariably revolve around three buzz words: education, engineering and enforcement. Other plans identify three issues that need to be addressed, namely: solid waste management, liquid waste management and informal settlers.   All these are well and good. So what else is lacking?   You have guessed it correctly: political will or balls.   Unless somebody with  balls steps up, all these plans of the authorities will  just be PPP -  Puro Power Presentation.

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Honoring our war heroes

April 11, 2014

When I was growing up, my favorite World War II hero was Audie Murphy. A most underrated soldier at the time of his enlistment,  Murphy was initially rejected because he was under-height, underweight and underage.  He emerged as the most decorated hero by the end of the war.    Murphy earned not only the Medal of Honor but also practically all the other medals which the United States and other allied countries could confer.   At Mount Samat, focal site of our yearly Araw ng Kagitingan, a relief celebrates the lone Filipino Medal of Honor awardee  in the battle of Bataan. Sgt.  Jose Calugas, a native of Iloilo, was a member of the Philippine Scout. Although Calugas  had training in artillery,  on that fateful January 16, 1942,  Calugas was assigned on KP or “kitchen patrol”. In other words, he was cook for the day.   When the fighting started, an adjoining battery position was silenced by enemy fire killing or wounding all the cannoneers.  The cook set aside pots and pans and  ran 1,000 yards under heavy fire to the embattled gun position. There, Calugas  organized a volunteer squad which placed the gun back in commission and fired effectively against the enemy. When the fighting stopped, Calugas, somewhat unmindful of what he had just done,  simply went back to kitchen duty.   Calugas had to wait until after the war to receive his Medal of Honor. When Bataan fell, Calugas was among the thousands who were forced into  the Death March.   Bataan and other  battle grounds  produced at least 44 other Filipino heroes who received the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest US military decoration. Among the Distinguished Service Cross recipients were  Gen. Vicente Lim,  Gen. Mateo Capinpin, Col. Jesus Villamor, Alfredo Santos, Macario Peralta and Ruperto Kangleon. Villamor also later received the Philippine Medal of Valor from President Ramon Magsaysay.   Three military camps are now named after Lim, Capinpin and Villamor, respectively. Alfredo Santos later became AFP Chief of Staff. Peralta became Secretary of National Defense. Ruperto Kangleon became  Secretary of National Defense and later   Senator. General Lim is also honored in the P1000 bill.   Two recent events provide a justification to review the heroic acts of our gallant soldiers.   Both President Clinton and President Obama have separately  acknowledged that deserving heroes might have been unjustifiably passed over in the selection  of Medal of Honor awardees because of racial bias.   Thus, President Clinton corrected an injustice to 19  servicemen of Japanese ancestry who fought in WWII  by upgrading their Distinguished Service Cross  to Medal of Honor. Among them was the late former Senator Dan Inouye of Hawaii (a very good friend of the Philippines.)   Just last March 14, President Obama upgraded to  Medal of Honor the previous Distinguished Service Cross awards of 24 soldiers of either Jewish or Hispanic descent.  The honorees were among those  who fought either in World War II, or the Korean War or the Vietnam War.   Will there be a similar review for Filipinos soldiers who fought shoulder to shoulder with the Americans?   It all depends how much persuasion President PNoy, Ambassador Albert Del Rosario and Secretary Voltaire Gazmin can exert on our “staunchest ally”.  But it is not as simple as that. A US congressional act is still  needed to trigger the upgrade of our heroes.                                                  In the early 1990s when Muntinlupa was still reeling from the effects of a devastating typhoon, Don Emilio Yap donated P1 million for the relief of typhoon victims. And we did not even have to ask him for it. Once more, from Muntinlupenos,  thank you Don Emilio. Rest well.  

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Did we overpay on our interest payments?

March 28, 2014

Recently, we read a rosy  report about the country’s external debt. As of 2013, total external debt, both public sector  and private sector  obligations, totaled 58.5 billion dollars. For those obligations, we paid last year  6.86 billion dollars  in principal and interest.   While in absolute amounts, the total foreign debts have gone up over the years, the debt ratio  has  gone down considerably vis a vis our gross national product. Also, compared to our international reserves of around 83 billion dollars, our public sector debt of 40.5 billion dollars is  at a very comfortable level.   In sum, from the point of view of   liability management, every thing looked just fine.   My enthusiasm, however, was somewhat dampened by lingering questions especially after reading  the latest news on the  LIBOR fixing scandal  which rocked the financial world  in 2012.   Is it possible that over the years,  we have been  over-paying on our interest payments?   If we go by the claims of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and various US cities, states and local agencies, the answer is  definitely YES!   Just this month,   the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)  sued 16 of the biggest names in banking.  Among the banks named as defendants were Bank of America Corp, Barclays PLC, Citigroup Inc, Credit Suisse Group AG, Deutsche Bank AG, HSBC Holdings PLC, JP Morgan Chase and Co, The Royal Bank of Scotland and UBS AG.   The lawsuit, filed in the federal district court in New York, alleged that the defendants’ conduct of conspiring to manipulate LIBOR caused substantial losses to 38 banks that the U.S regulator had taken into receivership since 2008.   The City of Baltimore as well as other US  cities ,   states and municipal agencies  also feel short-changed and have likewise filed suits against a dozen banks.   FDIC has not yet quantified   the full extent of the  38 bank’s losses.  On the other hand, according to early estimates, the rate manipulation scandal  cost US states, counties and local governments at least 6 Billion dollars in fraudulent interest payments.     Coincidentally, this is the exact  amount  of fines that regulators in the United States, United Kingdom , and the European Union have already  slapped on  banks  for participating in rigging interest rates. UBS topped the list when it paid a whooping 1.5 billion dollars, an amount which authorities said reflected the severity and extent of the LIBOR scandal. The others which have been heavily  fined in varying amounts  include  UBS, RBS, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan,   and Citigroup.   An investment bank estimates that the banks being investigated for LIBOR manipulation could end up paying an approximate 35 billion dollars, separately from any payment to regulators. The same investment bank concedes, however,  that “(r)elative to the size of the 16 banks ….. 35 billion dollars is chump change.”   Meanwhile, a top US law firm has stepped into the largest class action lawsuit filed against Barclays.   Barclays’ name was the first to crop up  in the scandal in 2012 – causing its Chief Executive Officer to resign and to forfeit a substantial portion of his benefits.  Barclays is  now being  sued by Guardian Care Homes over claims Barclays mis-sold Guardian Care interest rate hedging products.   The London Interbank Offered Rate, or  LIBOR, is one of the most important numbers in the financial world.  And until 2012, LIBOR was something that borrowers just accepted without any question.     Essentially, LIBOR is one of the main rates used to determine the borrowing costs for trillions of dollars in loans. These loans include not only sovereign loans, corporate loans as well as  consumer loans such  as mortgages, student loans and credit card accounts. LIBOR has also been used to price derivatives.   Interest rates on aforesaid transactions rise or fall when LIBOR moves.   It was  only in 2012  that an international investigation revealed a widespread plot by multiple banks to leverage LIBOR for profit.  Investigators have uncovered that the rate rigging may have started as early as 2001 and continued all the way to 2009.   The FDIC and the other aggrieved parties surely face many hurdles in proving damages. For one, it may be difficult to unbundle the rates  used between 2001 and 2009. For another, the rate riggers maneuvered  the rates upward or downward (not just one way)  depending on the traders’ positions.   But one thing is sure. The rate riggers made tons of money.  And as in any  financial transaction, for every winner,  there is a loser.

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Retired, but not tired

March 21, 2014

At 86,  Concerned Senior Citizen  Fidel V. Ramos, describes himself as :  “Retired, but not tired. Ex, but not excess. “   Indeed, the  former President is very much around, taking advantage of every opportunity to  exhort  Filipinos to “Care, Dare and Share” and to be  competitive as a nation  through  UST – “Unity, Solidarity and Team Work”.     He does this through his “Sermons”, a multi-volume compilation of his speeches and writings,  and through his  public speaking engagements, here and abroad.   FVR is now acknowledged as  an Eminent Person of Asia, if not of the world. But we, from Muntinlupa City, would like to remember FVR as Muntinlupa’s Favorite Son.   A long time resident of Muntinlupa,  FVR loves to recount how  early in his military career,  he  patrolled the Muntinlupa- Cavite  boundary area to catch cattle rustlers. When Ayala developed Ayala Alabang in the early 80s, FVR  became one of its first residents.   Many remember FVR as the quiet next door neighbor.  He moved around the village unobtrusively.  If he had any close-in security at all, they were practically invisible.   When FVR decided to join JPE at  EDSA, concerned neighbors organized their own   People Power to form a  protective ring around  Mrs. Ming Ramos and FVR’s daughters.  This event has come to be commemorated as “EDSA sa Alabang”.   A physical fitness buff, FVR frequented the Alabang Country Club  gym and its  swimming pool. A strong swimmer, FVR could swim backstroke the length of the pool, cigar in his  mouth, without the cigar ever getting wet!   At the height of  the nine coup attempts by Gringo Honasan against President Cory,  Alabang resident Elo Javier  could accurately predict  whether we would have a quiet day or not  just by observing FVR’s demeanor.   “There would be no coup attempt today,”  Elo Javier would confidently say.  “Look at FVR. He  is so relaxed reading  the newspapers by the pool side. Vintage Steady Eddie.”   (Elo and his elder brother Ted Javier served as  my volunteer security advisers when I was  Mayor of Muntinlupa.)   Wearing his famous  verrry short shorts,  FVR would be up early at the Alabang Country Club  to play a round of golf with his foursome. But it was not all golf. FVR would jog from one hole to another (instead of walking or using the golf cart).     Recently, I asked FVR about his  golf handicap. He shooked his head: “Tumaas na, Toting.”  Ask why, he replied: “When I was President, isang dipa pa ang bola sa butas, give na. Now, I always have to putt through.”   FVR is rightly given credit for many reforms which took place during his Presidency.  Three  of them  impacted me directly.   His efforts to de-monopolize telecommunication are  benefitting every Juan and Maria who now have easy access to telephone land lines and cell phones. Compare that to the time when one had to wait years to get a line.   For Muntinlupenos, FVR signed into law the Muntinlupa City Charter.    For BSPers, FVR  signed into law the New Central Bank Act which refocused the central monetary authority’s mandate to that of  keeping inflation low and stable.   Once, FVR visited Muntinlupa  City Hall to proclaim his official candidates for the 1995 local elections.  Over coffee, and his trademark unlighted cigar, FVR gave his anointed  candidates precious tips on how to campaign.   “I call this  4K,”  FVR started.    “First K. Kawayan. Wave at the people. By waving you immediately establish contact with them even from afar. “Second K. Kamayan. Up close,  shake their hands.  Your hand shake must be firm. While shaking  hands, don’t forget the eye contact. “Third K. Kumustahan. While shaking hands, ask a general question about the family. Everybody   appreciates being asked about his/her loved ones. “And don’t forget the last K. Kodakan. Filipinos are very fond of picture-taking.”   “4K is a sure-fire formula,” FVR said with a wink and a ‘thumbs up’.   One does not  need to  be a politician to profit from FVR’s advice.    Belated Happy Birthday, Mr. President!

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Less dirty, but improving?

March 14, 2014

Recent news reports that particularly caught my attention were about the two most polluted cities in the world. I am relieved that Metro Manila was not one of them – yet.   The news pertained to Beijing and New Delhi.   Here are news bits on the two cities as gathered from various online reports:   Beijing   The state-owned China News Service (as reported by the South China Morning Post) has acknowledged that “Beijing’s severe pollution is much worse than the average level… and the environment is far from meeting the (safety) standards.   The report added that pollution in the Chinese capital is “close to extreme” and makes the city of 20 million “barely suitable” for living.   The Associated Press, for its part,  reported:  A period of pollution in January saw density readings of PM 2.5 particles exceeding 500 micrograms per cubic meter… That density is about 20 times as high as the 25 micrograms considered safe by the World Health Organization.   Other reports stated:   -Beijing authorities have issued an “orange” alert – the second-highest in the four levels of urgency. “Orange” prompts health advisories and bans on barbecue, fireworks and demolition.   -Hospitals were overrun by the young and old, suffering from respiratory problems.   -People have been warned to stay indoors. Those who venture outside were asked to wear protective marks as they navigate the smog-filled streets.   -Sales of air purifiers for homes – as well as face masks – rocketed and some stores simply ran out.   But not is all bad as far as a high-ranking Chinese military officer is concerned.   He made the brilliant observation that the heavy smog provides a shield against US satellite surveillance!?*   New Delhi   A report carried by the Hindustan Times, an Indian Daily, claimed that New Delhi had “earned the dubious tag of being the world’s most polluted city. The Hindustan Times was quoting the Environmental Performance Index (EPI), a report put out by Yale and Columbia Universities.   In its own investigation, the New York Times indicated that “the Indian capital’s fine particulate matter has, on average, been worse than Beijing in the first two weeks of the year.”   Technicalities aside, here is how a man-on-the-street describes the situation in New Delhi: “….a city blanketed by an indistinguishable mix of fog, dust and toxic heavy particles. Parents may not be sending their kids to school in gas masks, yet, but it is not a fine day to jog.”   Having said that, what is the current situation in Metro Manila?   The Environmental Management Bureau uses two measures to gauge the air pollution level – 1) Total Suspended Particulates or TSP and 2) Particulate Matter 10 or PM 10.   TSP measures solid pollutants such as dust and soot in the air. PM 10 measures  smaller particles, small enough that they can be inhaled.   Using both measures, the EMB reports that air pollutants continue to EXCEED the reference values of 90 micrograms per normal cubic meter for TSP, and 60 micrograms per normal cubic meter for PM 10.   EMB emphasizes, however,  that present levels are down from 1995 levels  prior to the enactment of the Clean Air Law.   Translation for every Juan and Maria: Compared to 1995 levels, the air in Metro Manila is now Less Dirty.   But the law was not entitled Less Dirty Air Law. We are supposed to have Clean Air.   We refuse to believe that we can not have Clean Air.     And therein lies the continuing challenge for the national government, the local government units, the private sector, the environmentalists, the ordinary Juans and Marias – all of us.  

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