opinion

Compassion for refugees?

July 22, 2019

Is the European Union  (EU) choosing self-interest over compassion for refugees? A very interesting question asked by German TV-commentator Bernd Riegert. And it seems, he is already able presenting his answer: In the EU's game of "refugee bingo," far-right Italian Interior Minister Minister Matteo Salvini can only win. He has little reason to give in to states looking for lasting migration policy.      "Miserable" was the word German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer used to describe the current situation for migrants fleeing to Europe from Libya. It's a reference to "refugee bingo," cynical jargon for the game the European Union plays whenever a private rescue ship saves dozens of migrants on the Mediterranean Sea and brings them to Italian shores. The EU commissioner for migration gets on the phone with interior ministers from around the bloc, cajoling them to take a handful of people. Then the merciless haggling begins - as Bernd Riegert and many others describe the present situation at the south border of Europe.      Yes, being very honest: the process has become a rallying cry for Italy's far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who has achieved domestic political success by stoking anti-refugee sentiment and presenting himself as the unyielding protector of Italian interests. Close the ports, deter the migrants, problem solved — that's Salvini's populist recipe. And several other opinions go into the same direction.      Fact is: refugees sent to Libya under EU deal face 'catastrophic' conditions. A few EU member states, notably France and my home country Germany, have had enough of this game. They want a lasting arrangement that determines which country takes in how many migrants.      We can probably thank the courageous ship captain Carola Rackete for Seehofer's support in finding a solution. Her daring landing on the Italian island of Lampedusa made global headlines. It's even got German Challencor Angela Merkel's feuding government coalition seeing eye to eye.      If we take a closer look to Europe: no one taking responsibility. Really sad to say.      Yet the today's Helsinki meeting has made clear that nothing will change in the near term. An agreement will have to wait at least until September. Until then, the miserable game continues, largely because Italy and those countries ready to do more cannot agree on one point: Other member states are only willing to accept migrants with a good case for asylum. The rest, accounting for at least 70 percent of all migrants, would have to stay in Italy.      Allow me to quote Riegert again: Salvini wants to see all of the migrants sent elsewhere, immediately, and not be left with the hopeless cases. He knows that it can be difficult to deport them back to their countries of origin. Other receiving countries, such as Germany, know that deportation is now off the table for those who don't stand a chance at asylum. That would explain why they are sticking to the rules as they are: Migrants are registered in the arrival country, in this case Italy, which decides who deserves asylum protection and who doesn't. That can take months, then more months until other EU members agree to actually take those asylum-seekers.      Even if a time-limited redistribution of the relatively few people brought in by rescue ships is agreed to, the larger problem remains. The EU's asylum system needs reform that redefines responsibility and quotas — a huge step for a hopelessly divided bloc that has been negotiating for years and remains far from a solution. The EU's eastern states, along with Italy and Austria, have been the biggest obstacles of all.      Incoming German - European Commission President elect Ursula von der Leyen says she wants to untie this Gordian knot. But she'll only enjoy a very, very little  little success so long as Salvini-like populists in Italy, Hungary and Poland are in charge. Migration is the ongoing European crisis they can repeatedly pick up votes with, no matter that, in absolute figures, the number of people coming to European shores keeps dropping dramatically. So why change course? Is it  a matter of putting self-interest before compassion for refugees and migrants? I can't answer this question at this moment now. Future will show. +++      Email: doringklaus@gmail.com or follow me in Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin or visit my www.germanexpatinthephilippines.blogspot.com or www.klausdoringsclassicalmusic.blogspot.com.

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How Brigada Eskwela makes a difference

July 22, 2019

When more than 21 million public school students  return to their respective schools on June 1,  most of them will find their schools cleaner and more beautiful than when they left it before the summer vacation.   Thanks to the tens of thousands of  Brigada Eskwela volunteers who contributed their time, resources and, most important,  their sweat to do minor repairs, painting and cleaning of public school premises.   The volunteers came from all walks of life -  students, teachers, school officials, parents, community members, policemen, soldiers, firemen,  local government officials, non-government organizations, church groups and the private sector representatives.   Some came for a day, others for a couple of days, still others for one whole week. But they all came with one purpose. They all realized that while government has the main responsibility of providing free and quality education for every Filipino child and youth, the community has just an  important stake  in achieving this goal.   They have all come to realize that  keeping schools clean and beautiful is an innovative way to bring children to school, keep them there and ensure that they will learn.   Brigada Eskwela had its roots in Republic Act 8525, which was enacted during the time of President Ramos.  The Adopt-a School Program aimed  to encourage volunteerism and public-private partnership in public education. RA 8525 provided tax incentives for private interventions in schools. It is estimated that over the years, Adopt-a School Program has generated more than P6 billion in public school projects .   During  the time of President Arroyo, the Brigada Eskwela took effect with the launching of  National Schools Maintenance Week every third week of May starting 2003.    DepEd reports that in 2007, “Brigada Eskwela  hit a record high of 90% participation among school communities, generating more than P2.5 billion worth of support-in-kind and volunteer man hours. It has proven to continue to gain more mileage among communities, corporations, small-medium enterprises, government and non-government organizations and private individuals.   DepEd concludes: “Indeed, Brigada Eskwela is becoming DepEd’s model of genuine public and private partnership in action.”   A volunteer explains the success of the program. Brigada Eskwela benefits not just the recipient. It is just as beneficial and uplifting  to the volunteer.   Vernon Go, a young Cebu  professional  who  regularly participates  in Brigada Eskwela, blogged about his experience at a public high school in Mandaue.     “We woke up real early on a Saturday to join Brigada Eskuwela to help clean and beautify this small public high school.  And so we moved some furniture and some of us helped clean their computers and did some hardware testing as well.  We cleaned the room’s ceiling fans and windows.   “With the help of student volunteers, we repainted the arm chairs as well as the stairway rails. We even saw brave souls who took on the task of cleaning the school restrooms.   “We also swapped stories and gave encouraging words to student volunteers who helped us during the activity while taking a photo break or two. Eventually, we got tired and took a water-food break with chit chats in between. And soon enough, it was back to work. But with everyone’s help, we finished earlier than expected.   “With everyone gathered, we imparted some of  our life lessons with regards to education and environmental awareness. After all the talk, it was time for games and entertainment.   “To show our appreciation, we also shared our food together with give away school supplies to the 30 student volunteers.   “Friendship was the bond created between the volunteers and students. Perhaps this event can become a memory shared by us for life.”   I have seen many photos of Brigada Eskwela events  with participants wielding native brooms (walis na tingting). A very fitting symbol, I would say, of the collective strength of the public and private sectors  when bound by a unity of purpose.

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Battles that changed the course of history (17)

July 22, 2019

Scenes like these were  repeated all over the Philippines  except in some areas where word of Japan’s surrender was not received. In Lubang, Mindoro, for instance, a group of stragglers refused to give up unless they received direct orders from their superiors. These stragglers were either killed in subsequent encounters or died from starvation or disease.  Lt. Hiroo Onoda finally gave up – some thirty years later – when his own commanding officer flew in to Lubang from Japan  to convince Onoda that the war was indeed over.   Surprisingly, the Filipino guerrillas – a good number of whom survived the Death March  and internment at Capas- did not exact revenge from the surrendered Japanese soldiers. Three years earlier, the troops of General Masaharu Homma shot or bayonetted surrendered allied prisoners who failed to keep up during the infamous Death March. And just 7 months prior, the Japanese systematically killed and  violated civilians,  burned and looted  Manila in what has become known as the Manila Massacre. The Manila Massacre resulted in over 100,000 civilian casualties, second only in magnitude to the Rape of Nanking.   Military historian Cesar Pobre (“Victory in Northern Luzon”) wrote:   “The surrender of thousands of Japanese military officers and men to the Northern Luzon Filipino guerrillas in the latter’s advance command post at KM 90 is worth remembering. There, they were processed as prisoners of war,  fed, medically checked and treated, sheltered, and taken care of prior to their evacuation to the USAFIP, NL headquarters in Darigayos, a barrio of the seaside town of Luna, La Union and eventual return to Japan.   “The sick, the infirm, and the like were brought down by trucks. Some 2,000 of the surrenderees certified to be strong and healthy by the Japanese military doctors themselves were made to walk the distance from KM 90 northward through Bessang and Cervantes, and then down west by Highway 4 to Suyo, Ilocos Sur.   “From Suyo they were taken by trucks to Darigayos. With food and rest stations strung along the way the well-behaved marchers did  what appeared to be something like a marathon of sorts under an atmosphere understandably more subdued than otherwise.   “They negotiated the stretch in record time with neither mishap nor untoward incident interfering, thanks to the equally well-behaved guerrillas who were assigned to escort them and secure their route, lest some “wise guys” on the sides did them harm.”   The behavior of the Filipino partisans was indeed exceptionally commendable. They gave no quarters and asked for none during  actual combat. But  they refused to kick their defenseless adversaries once their adversaries  were already down.   But somebody had to answer for all the atrocities committed against the  Filipinos. As soon as things settled down,  General McArthur created a military commission which tried Yamashita and other top-ranking Japanese officers for war crimes. McArthur also ordered the extradition of General Masaharu Homma, Yamashita’s predecessor, to face charges related to the Bataan Death March.   The military commission – composed of 5 ranking US Generals – held marathon trials at the U.S. Resident Commissioners Office.  On December 7, 1945, the fourth anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor,  the military commission handed a guilty verdict.   Yamashita’s case was subsequently brought up  to the US Supreme Court. In denying the appeal,  the US Supreme Court articulated  what has come to be known as “The Yamashita Standard”.   Yamashita had claimed that he did not personally participate in or order the commission of the offenses charged. In fact, his order to Admiral Iwabuchi to abandon Manila was allegedly ignored by the latter. Had Iwabuchi obeyed said order, the Battle of Manila and the attendant Manila Massacre could have been avoided.   Iwabuchi was not around to either confirm or deny Yamashita’s claim. Iwabuchi committed suicide on February 26, 1945 at his headquarters upon learning that Intramuros had been overrun by Allied troops.   The Court described the heart of the charge as being “an unlawful breach of duty by (General Yamashita) as an army commander to control the operations of members of his command  by ‘permitting them to commit the extensive and widespread atrocities.”   The Court held that General Yamashita was, by virtue of his position of Commander of the Japanese forces in the Philippines, under an “affirmative duty to take such measures as were within his power and appropriate in the circumstances to protect prisoners of war  and the civilian population”.   Yamashita was executed by hanging on February 13, 1946.  Homma was executed by firing squad on April 3, 1946.

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Battles that changed the course of history (9)

July 22, 2019

Bataan and Corregidor were very significant.  3 years earlier, McArthur was ordered out of Corregidor by President Roosevelt,  leaving behind General Wainright.  Japanese forces defeated Filipino and American forces in Bataan (April 9, 1942). A month later, General Wainwright surrendered  Corregidor (May 6, 1942), marking the end of formal armed resistance against the Japanese.   In the two battles, the allied forces put up a very stubborn defense delaying the Japanese timetable for conquest in Asia.  As a result, the Commanding Officer of the Japanese Invasion Force General Homma was severely criticized in Tokyo “for not being aggressive enough”. Homma was forced into retirement in 1943.   Homma was later tried by a military court in connection with atrocities committed against American and Filipino soldiers during the Death March. Homma was executed by a firing squad in Los Banos, Laguna on April 3, 1946.   The Allies not only wanted to settle a score  but  strategically, they wanted control of Bataan and Corregidor “to secure the western shore of Manila Bay to enable the use of its harbor and open new supply lines for American troops engaged in the crucial Battle of Manila.”   It was also important for McArthur to expeditiously free the POWs whom he feared would be massacred by the Japanese. On February 23, 1945, the lightning Raid at Los Banos was brilliantly executed by US troopers and Filipino guerrillas (principally the Hunters ROTC and  Marking’s Guerrillas). The raid resulted in the liberation of over 2,000 allied internees.   The Battle to Retake Bataan commenced January 31, 1945  (about the same time that  a “Flying Column”  was on its way to  Manila to liberate US internees in Santo Tomas).  The Battle of Bataan  ended February 21, 1945 (around the time when Allied troops   were pounding Japanese defenses in the New Police Station, St. Vincent de Paul Church, Manila Club, General Post Office and Manila City Hall.)   Captain Ramon Magsaysay figured prominently in the early stage of the battle in Bataan, when his guerrillas took control of  San Marcelino airstrip prior to the landing of  US troops in San Narciso. Before long, other vital targets - the port facilities of Olongapo as well as Grande Island in Subic Bay - were captured.   Inland, “the Japanese decided to make a stand in the rugged Zambales mountains at the northern base of the Bataan Peninsula (nicknamed by the Americans as Zigzag Pass). “  Fighting became very heavy at the first Japanese strongpoint called “Horseshoe Bend”.   On February 15, Allied troops made two separate amphibious landings to put additional pressure on the Japanese.  “A final major engagement occurred during the night of 15 February, and mopping up operations continued throughout the peninsula for about another week. Finally, on 21 February, after three years, Bataan was again secure in American and Filipino hands.”   The Battle for the Recapture Corregidor (February 16 to 26, 1945 )  occurred about the same time that the final phase of the Battle of Manila was being fought.   Although daily aerial bombing of Corregidor started as early as January 23, it was not until February 16 that the Allied troops tried to take the island.   It started with a daring and hazardous  airborne assault  on the morning of February 16. Around 1000 US paratroopers jumped over a very small landing zone  on an elevated portion of Corregidor called Topside.    Because of strong winds, “some paratroopers were blown back into Japanese held territory. .. (s)ome had fallen close to the rocks and had to be rescued.” Considering the risks involved in making the jump,  the Japanese mistakenly  assumed that an  airborne attack was unlikely.    At the same time that the paratroopers landed,  the first wave of seaborne troops waded ashore and established a beachhead at the eastern end of Corregidor , called “Black Beach”.   “The most ferocious battle to regain Corregidor occurred at Wheeler Point (nicknamed Banzai Point) on the night of February 18 and early the next morning. ….At 22:30 under a black, moonless night, 500 suicidal Japanese marines came out of  the Battery Smith armory and charged  American and  Philippine positions….The savage encounter ended in failure with more than 250 Japanese corpses strewn along a 200 yard stretch…”   “For eight straight days, (allied troops)  staved off successive banzai charges, and mortar attacks. The Japanese defenders refused to surrender and many preferred to commit suicide by blowing themselves up inside the Malinta Tunnel.”    “An M4 Sherman tank fired a shell into a sealed tunnel suspected of harboring Japanese soldiers but which instead contained tons of stored ammunition. The subsequent explosion threw the tank several dozen feet, killing its crew and 48 soldiers nearby, and wounding more than 100 others in the immediate area.”   On February 26, Corregidor was declared cleared.  By March 1,  Corregidor was opened to Allied shipping.  Six days later,  McArthur returned to the island which  he had been ordered to leave three years earlier, to preside over the ceremonial hoisting  of the Stars and Stripes.   (to be continued)

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In pursuit of banking excellence

July 19, 2019

BAIPHIL supports the banking industry through continuing education, research, and information exchange while upholding the values of good governance, competence and integrity, service, teamwork, and innovation. Newly-inducted President Blesilda P. Andres, (Head of BPI’s Regulatory Compliance) pledged to carry on BAIPHIL’s legacy and sustain the vision “to be the leader in pursuit of banking excellence, aiming to be one of the best in the Asia Pacific Region”.  BSP Governor Benjamin E. Diokno, who was both the inducting officer and guest speaker, reminded BAIPHIL of the challenges faced by the industry given the ongoing digital transformation of the banking system.  Diokno cited the urgent need for collaborative governance to manage technological opportunities and disruptions.  Here is where  BAIPHIL could be a strong catalyst “to support and reinforce the banking industry’s seamless transition into the digital age”, Diokno said.  For BSP’s part, Diokno reaffirmed the central monetary authority’s  commitment to providing a proactive, enabling environment that will usher the efficient delivery of digital financial services and promote greater financial inclusion.  Also Inducted as BAIPHIL officers  were Restituto C. Cruz, (BSP Assistant Governor) First Vice President; Myrna E. Amahan, (FVP/Chief Audit Executive, Union Bank) Second Vice President; Romel D. Meniado, (FVP, Robinsons Bank)  Secretary; Arnel A. Valles (SVP, United Coconut Planters Bank) Treasurer.  Inducted as Directors were: Marilou C. Bartolome (SVP, Metrobank), Mary Jane C. Japor, (AVP, Australia New Zealand Banking Group); Racquel B. Mañago (VP, Philippine Veterans Bank); Estrellita V. Ong, (Chief Internal Auditor, BDO); Edeza A. Que (FVP, Philippine Savings Bank); and Edel Mary Vegamora (EVP, RCBC). Immediate past president Dom B. Gavino, Jr. (ING Bank NV) joined BAIPHIL’s Advisers who include  Ma. Dolores B. Yuvienco (BPI), Josefa Elvira E. Ditching-Lorico (BSP), Antonio V. Viray, (Chief Adviser for Legal Affairs) and Rhoneil S. Fajardo (Deutsche Bank).  Named to various committees and sub-committees were: Dom B. Gavino, Jr. (ING Bank NV),, Godofredo L. Martinez (UCPB), Carol P. Warner (SBTC), Ma. Bernadette T. Ratcliffe (Maybank), Maria Victoria P. Ronquillo (UCPB), Iñigo L. Regalado III (BSP), Mardonio C. Cervantes ( Associate Life Member ), Belinda C. Rodriguez (PBB), Irene DL. Arroyo (PDIC), Amelita G. Cua (Philtrust), Carlota A. Bacani (Australia and New Zealand Banking Group), Maria Rachelle A. Fajatin (Equicom), Francis B. Albalate (Union Bank), Leila P. Paz-Aguba (Union Bank), Emma B. Co (PSBank), Josefa Elvira E. Ditching-Lorico (BSP), Teresita L. Andres (Associate Life Member), Susan R. Alcala-Uranza (former president BAIPHIL ), Reginald C. Nery (Bank of Commerce) and Shirley G. Felix (PDIC). Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Assistant Governor Restituto Cruz traced the roots of BAIPHIL, which even antedated the Central Bank of the Philippines.  BAIPHIL was founded in 1941 as a non-stock, non-profit corporation under the name National Association of Bank Auditors and Comptrollers (NABAC), primarily with the goal of increasing the efficiency and uniformity in bank accounting, auditing and operations among banks. It metamorphosed into the Association of Bank Audit, Controls and Operations, subsequently the Bank Administration Institute (Philippine Chapter) and finally into the Bankers Institute of the Philippines. From a small circle of accountants and auditors, the Institute has evolved into a prestigious and respectable bankers’ organization.   It now boasts of 62 institutional members composed mostly of universal, commercial, foreign, thrift and government banks, the BSP, PDIC, PCHC, BANCNET, and more than 300 key bank executives as associates and sustaining life members.

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Bank of the the Philippine Islands @ 165

July 18, 2019

At 165 years and counting, Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) -  the country’s first bank - continues to notch many “firsts” in the banking and financial  industry.   Originally named Banco Espanol de Isabel II ( after Spain’s then reigning monarch), BPI  was established  in August 1, 1851,  by the Junta de Autoridades. The Junta was a Manila-based committee of civil and ecclesiastical officials,  which was created in 1828  by royal decree of King Ferdinand VII.   The bank’s original capital was provided by Obras Pias – which handled charitable contributions to the Catholic Church.  Among the original stockholders was prominent businessman Antonio de Ayala, forebear of current BPI Chair Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala.   During simple rites commemmorating the bank’s 165th anniversary earlier this month, Cezar P. Consing, BPI President,  described  the bank’s evolution and growth, as follows:    “The Church was the dominant shareholder until 1968, when Ayala became the bank’s largest shareholder.   Some of the best names in global finance have been BPI shareholders:  J.P. Morgan, taking a 20% stake in 1974, DBS buying J.P. Morgan’s stake in 1999, and the Government Investment Corporation of Singapore acquiring a portion of DBS’ stake in 2014.”   Acquisitions complemented organic growth. “..in 1974, People’s Bank; in 1980, Comtrust; in 1984, Family Savings Bank; in 1996, Citytrust; in 2000, Far East Bank; and in 2005, Prudential Bank.”   Consing enumerated the many “firsts” in BPI’s glorious  history.   1851 – BPI made its first loan to a Filipino-Chinese merchant.   1864 – BPI lent money to the colonial government to build Arranque Market and Hospital de San Juan de Dios.   1888 – BPI financed Jacobo Zobel’s Companie de Tranvias de Filipinas, the steam operated railway that replaced horse-drawn carriages.   1896 – BPI issued the Phippines’ the very first bank note.    By royal decree, BPI was given the monopoly of  issuing  notes to extent of three times its capital stock of 1.5 million pesos. “Its bank notes were designated as Pesos Fuertes, in denominations of 5, 10, 25, 50, 100 and 200, payable in Mexican or Spanish-Filipino silver coins.” ( from Money and Banking in the Philippines)   The bank notes were jointly used  with Mexican peso coins, Alfonsino pesos, Spanish coins and  Manila-minted Spanish-Filipino silver coins.   1982 – Pioneered in electronic banking.   1990 – Established the first ATM network.   2000 – Established the first bancassurance company.   2009 – Established the first mobile microfinance institution.   2013 – Built the first solar-powered bank branch. ( Ayala Avenue Extension Branch)      2016 – BPI, together with ADB and Credit Guarantee Investment Facility (CIGF) issued the first Climate Bond certified in emerging markets for a single project.  This P12.5B transaction was provided to Aboitiz Power Renewables, Inc .   Despite massive volatilites faced by international and financial institutions in 2015,  BPI had another good year. The numbers showed significant improvements across all metrics, eg.,  total assets, loans , deposits, asset yields, assets under management, capital adequacy and  market capitalization. Particularly impressive was BPI’s CASA ratio – a barometer of client loyalty and cost competitiveness – which is now the highest among peer institutions.   In addition, BPI continued to engage the community in several fronts.   -BPI Foundation directly engaged and advanced financial wellness, financial inclusion, financial literacy and sustainable development.   -The BPI-DOST Science Awards continued to provide the country’s brightest students a platform for presenting and implementing science and techonlogy-based business concepts.   -BPI Sinag continued to  empower young Filipino entrepreneurs via a complete program of  social entrepreneurship boot camp, mentorship and access to incubation financing.     -BPI also nurtured the civic spirit of its employees through the BPI Bayan Volunteerism Program.  In 2015, as  in previous years, BPI staffers contributed thousands of volunteer hours to  assist targetted communities in conceptualizing, organizing, fund-raising and implementing self-help projects.   Consing attributed BPI’s longevity and prosperity to its faithful adherence to its Credo:   “BPI has prospered throughout its long history because it has never shirked from its primary responsibilities: to our Clients—we do well when our clients do well; to our People—fair rewards for integrity, professionalism and loyalty; to our Shareholders—superior risk-adjusted returns and prudent management; and to our Country—inclusive and responsible nation building.”   (Disclosure: This writer was an officer of BPI prior to joining government in 1986. He  recently  rejoined BPI as an independent director.)

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