Democracy at the Crossroads

images_church_stateIt is utterly shocking to learn that women could be banned from wearing trousers in Sudan. In Egypt, women resort to the use of fake hymen to “restore” their virginity before marriage so their future husbands don’t divorce them. The re-virgination is also a way to prevent their very own family from embarrassment and avoid the dreaded and feared “honor killing” on them. The Egyptian government wants to ban the product and punish those who import and sell them to the public. We Pinoys cringe at the thought of such restrictive and oppressive practices of other cultures and pride ourselves with the freedoms we enjoy in our country. Yet for a long time we harmed ourselves the opposite way, by our government’s inaction and lack of political will to confront the most serious threat to our country today, the problem of overpopulation and its tragic consequence of poverty. At last, after more than a decade of debate, the RH bill is finally put to law. There is reason to rejoice. The approval of the RH bill in both legislative houses is an epiphany, a profound pronouncement to the world that Pinoys live in the present and not the medieval times. The approval is well timed to complement the country’s plan towards economic prosperity. Today, Pinas’ economic numbers are solid and the country is now an acknowledged emerging “Tiger Cub” economy of Asia poised to break out in the next 3 decades as the 16th largest economy in the world. The government needs to create a long term plan to ensure that the momentum gained is maintained and sustained in the long haul.

THE CHURCH AND STATE

church_stateThere is no doubt that a large population creates a strong consumption economy but it is only strong when such population collectively contribute to “creating” the economy and not becoming a wholesale encumbrance, a liability to the government. Creating human beings isn’t the goal. Rather, creating human beings that won’t wallow in abject poverty and sub-human conditions should be the goal. A country’s exploding population that outruns economic growth exacerbates poverty. At some point it has to slow down, not totally stop and prudent population control strategy is the right approach. The RH bill will provide the much needed sex education to prevent teen pregnancy and help parents right size their families, to that which they can financially support. This kind of strategy is a necessary ingredient to any country’s social program, that is if such country believes that it no longer exists in the medieval times. It took 14 years for the bill to get passed. In the the end the state was able to sail through turbulent waters – the church’s incessant meddling and fear mongering. The reason for the separation of church and state in the constitution is express and unambiguous – to guarantee and maintain the secularity of government in the context of democracy.  In short, the law of the land not the law of religion is in force to rule the country. Unless we are prepared to run democracy with its core principles intact, we better return it to the Americans.

RH BILL MOMENTS

RHThe RH bill created a passionate debate amongst Pinoys where the pro and con supporters take a stab at the issue whenever they can, sometimes in a humourous, satirical fashion. I watched Ann Curtis diss Andy Eigenmann who in the movie A Secret Affair played the role of the slutty woman who was desperately trying to snatch lover Derek Ramsey from her – “ I wish the RH bill was approved long time ago so a slut like you could have been prevented to come into this world “. It sounded a tad gaudy and clumsy but hey, we hear the point 😉 Of course who could have missed that Iskul Bukol moment in the Senate when Sen. Sotto, a staunch opponent of the bill, asked what he thought about contraceptives for men said “ Is there such a thing ? If so then it’s the women’s turn to protest about it “ 😉 I have never been a fan of Sen. Miriam Defensor. This pugnacious and scrappy lawmaker, an outspoken supporter of the RH bill, is an acquired taste for most people but I thought she put the kibosh on the accusation of heresy when she compared herself to Nicolaus Copernicus, the 16th century astronomer whose theory that the earth revolved around the sun, not the other way around as believed by the Catholic church was condemned as heretical. Science proclaimed Copernicus’ discovery to be true, years after he posited his theory. Copernicus body was reburied in 2010 and proclaimed a hero 500 years after lying in an unmarked grave. He was never given a Christian burial because the church denounced his work until the day he died. You can trust I am with you on this one Miriam 😉 And who could forget Cong. Manny Pacquiao, who said that the 2 minute slumber he experienced from that Hulk Hogan punch courtesy of Marquez made him appreciate the sanctity of life even more, hence his NO vote for the bill. He obviously forgot the Incredible Hulk punch he delivered on Ricky Hatton’s head in 2009. It laid the poor guy motionless on the mat for 4 minutes. 😐

LOSING WITH DIGNITY

loserIn the aftermath of the bill’s approval, it is not uncommon for people to be disappointed when the result isn’t what they expected. But that’s the essence of democracy lest we forget – the rule of the majority takes precedence. The CBCP is extremely upset with the result. How dare the flock lend a deaf ear to its leaders ?

“I never thought of losing, but now that it’ s happened, the only thing is to do it right. That’s my obligation to all the people who believe in me. We all have to take defeats in life”. Muhammad Ali

Perhaps the bishops and cardinals must ask themselves the question – why have we failed ? What did we do wrong ? The result is crystal clear. It is not Pnoy nor the legislators. The church has clearly failed to connect with its people. In retrospect, the church, along with its anti RH bill supporters trumped their chance to win with their lame, fear mongering tactic of labeling contraceptives as abortifacients. In a way, they shot themselves in the foot with such idiocy. This scare tactic was meant to garner support from the bottom of the social ladder, the impoverished and the most ignorant among us. Contraceptives are already legal and available at the pharmacies to those who can afford a doctor’s prescription. When the government proposes to make contraceptives available to the poor – free to those who cannot afford, all of a sudden they’re abortifacients ! Since when ? If they are dead serious about their abortifacient pitch, why not lobby to take these pills out of the drug store shelves NOW ?

The CBCP’s call for civil disobedience and the exhortation to Catholic voters to defeat the pro RH politicians in this coming election is a clear violation of its statement of faith, a throwback to its mission as mediator and pacifier of men and a clear insult to the democratic processes and principles it must uphold, respect and promote. It is tragic that the church has engaged in the game of dirty politics to compensate for its shortcomings. It has failed to understand that genuine faith has to come from the heart – not coercion. Sadly is has behaved like the church of the days of the Inquisition, intent to destroy and burn those who contradict its views. It has refused to accept defeat in a democratic exercise blaming the heretics for the failure and not itself. Poor loser is such a heavy word. There is dignity in defeat. My wife’s response to the RH bill was bluntly simple – ” they could enact any law they want but the decision still rests with the woman, right ?

Archbishop Tagle said it best :

“It is tragic and unfortunate but we do not take it as a defeat of truth for the truth shall prevail. We call on all Filipinos to work towards healing, and journey together humbly and justly as children of God.

Now that’s the mark of a truly enlightened leader. I wish there are more church leaders of his mold.

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AN UNTITLED POST

I am back after a long recess. My brain is a little rusty. The reason for twiddling my thumbs and procrastinating for my comeback post was insanely simple – I couldn’t drum up a good title. I am serious. One thing I’ve learned is that a long lay off makes you lazier to write. Maybe the excellent summer weather or the relocation of my office to another city had to do something with it. I had such a terrific summer that I couldn’t muster enough gusto to write. I am disappointed that I could only whip up a measly 10 posts or less this year. Driving 1.5 hours one way ( more depending on traffic) may have contributed to my remissness. My early morning ritual at the driveway is like going to an excursion or fishing trip. My laptop bag, gym bag for the workout , lunch bag plus the usual 3 fruit a day combo, my holy trinity of fruits – banana, apple and orange – my tall coffee mug filled with extra large brewed java, a breakfast to go cereal bar takes me a couple of trips back to the house before finally slamming down the trunk of the car. At the height of summer I would have to throw my golf clubs in the trunk every now and then. After work a short trip to the driving range or a quick 9 hole at late twilight ( 5pm) at the nearby golf course extends my work day until sunset, except that in summer the sun sets at 930pm here. I had to watch TV too. Blogging had to take a back seat.

It’s autumn , getting a little colder therefore things move a little slower. No more golf, no more fishing, no more picnics, no more backyard bbqs. People seem to have a bit more time to recoup and focus on things they have missed during the busy summer season. You see I have a whole slew of topics I’d like to blog about but they’ve been sitting idle in my smartphone’s memo pad for months. I have no excuse for not having any ideas to blog about. It’s just plain laziness.

WARRING POLITICIANS

When I did my last post in April, Barack Obama was president. I was kinda speculating that in my comeback post he might not be the president and a republican would take over. I’m glad Obama won. I’m not American so I can’t vote but Barack Obama bailed out Wall Street and that’s the reason why I still have a job. I work for a Wall St. bank outside the US of A. Like the US auto workers who were bailed out by Obama, I would have no second thoughts of voting for the man. If he saved my job – he gets my vote. Prove me figging wrong – or can you ? No brainer eh ? Politicians fulfill the saying – you cannot establish a reputation by telling people what you are going to do. Yep, all the crap talk and the lies included. I shake my head knowing that Mitt Romney unequivocally opposed the bailout of the auto industry, yet in his campaign he trotted around GM, Chrysler and Ford counties asking for their votes and promising the world – a glaring testament to the two-facedness of politicians at its best on display here.

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Presidentiable or Scoundrel ?

images_presI’ve been monitoring this 2010 Presidentiables website and noticed the frequent changes of the personalities that seek to vie for the most powerful job in the nation. At this early juncture, the list is dynamic as political parties jockey and strategize, changing candidates depending on polls and survey results. Some candidates are incumbent politicians who have been endorsed by their respective political parties. Others are religious leaders who feel that their self-avowed righteousness is the antidote to the plague of corruption that could avert the social and economic atrophy that threatens the disintegration of the nation. Party-less as these two religious leaders are, I am amazed at their audacity. I have thought all along that in a democracy, the executive power of the president complements the legislative and judicial powers in the governance of the nation. Minus the political machinery that backs the president in the upper and lower legislative houses, how could independents Villanueva and Velarde possibly survive the presidency should one of them win? Is the Pinoy president an autocratic ruler, some kind of emperor whose subjects are beholden to his eminence and expected to acquiesce to his every behest?

images-erapAnd of course, the ultimate embarrassment to the Filipino race is the name of convicted plunderer ex-President Joseph Estrada who has the gall to run for the presidency. In a complete turnaround after his pledge not to run for public office as condition for President Arroyo’s imprudent pardon from his sentence of reclusion perpetua, Estrada is back on the campaign trail, trying to  reclaim  the throne that once was his. His name is back in the headlines reeking with more controversies as his political enemies dig more skeletons in his closet to smear his credibility. Lawsuits are being filed left and right – again. Haven’t we gotten enough of this vampire already? Why are we wasting time with a convicted felon who equates the presidential pardon (granted due to his frail health) as exoneration from his crime ? Worse, there are those among us who believe that Erap is the comeback kid, reminiscent of his movie exploits, and is on his high horse seeking to exact revenge on those who mauled and left him for dead 😦

The recipe for a consummate disaster for the nation would be an Erap win. It might be unlikely, but not mathematically impossible. Should it happen, it will be the triumph of poverty – both intellectual and spiritual. As Pinoy writer F. Sionil Jose aptly said ”

“We are poor because we have lost our ethical moorings. We condone cronyism and corruption and we don’t ostracize and punish crooks in our midst. We allow their practice because our loyalty is to family or friend and not to the larger good”

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Post Christmas Blues

santa_after_boxOnce the all the Christmas parties are over and done with, a respite from the rather strenuous holiday comes in form of a brief lull until the New Year’s celebration. The house is in a bit of disarray – garbage bags of boxes and gift wrap paper need to be recycled, fridge smacking full of left over food, car oil change schedule missed, and darn we worry about our diet which had been deferred until the season is over. It’s time to get back to routine things that were postponed all because of Christmas. There’s a sense of relief that big day is over but then there’s the anxiety on the ton-load of things to do 😯

When you think that the day after Christmas you can loaf around, it is not the case in this country. Dec 26th is Boxing Day, a statutory holiday and this is not to say that we spend the whole day watching boxing matches on TV – I wish we did 🙂 Boxing day is the day when prices of goods fall off from the cliff, a much anticipated day for people to shop and haggle with stores especially for big ticket items. It is a rather hectic day for some when they have to queue up early morning hours for the appliance stores to open before the stock runs out. If your wallet got burned with Christmas, it’ll be charred by Boxing Day if you’re not careful. Having said so, I did buy my large screen HDTV on a Boxing Day and boy it was a real sweet deal. This time, I’ve opted not to visit a store on Boxing Day. The bad news is Boxing Day prices last until New Year’s day. 😦

 
santaOne FM radio station here plays the yuletide carols ad free all day on Christmas Day since carols are are slowly taken off the air after Dec 25th. Maybe it’s just me but have you noticed the sudden surge of big name artists cutting Christmas albums lately? I don’t mind listening to Hall and Oates singing Jingle Bell Rock but James Taylor singing Santa Claus Is Coming to Town is kind of odd. He sounds like a drunken octogenarian peeing in the bushes, murmuring to the goblins to duck his pee. Michael Bolton singing White Christmas grunting and frowning like tacks are piercing his butt can cause depression to the weak hearted. Absolutely no comparison to the original Bing Crosby version. I was a bit shocked to hear Willie Nelson sing O Little Town of Bethlehem. It’s a rather solemn song fitting a church choir setting and Willie’s country style, mousy sounding pitch didn’t quite do justice to the song. Like it or not – time to say bye bye to the carols. Not in Pinas though. Last time I came home for vacation – the last week of Jan, the Little Drummer Boy was still playing his drums at the NAIA airport speakers 🙂

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Rethinking Capitalism

About a year ago, as I was flipping through my cable channels, I stumbled upon author Jeremy Rifkin lecturing to his studio audience the context of his interesting but rather disputatious book – The European Dream. Disputatious in a sense because he predicts that the recently formed European Union will replace America as the superpower of the future. To make the story short, according to Rifkin, “the European Dream, which champions communalism, sustainability, and human rights over property rights and radical individualism, is better-suited to 21st century challenges than the “American dream” of personal fortune, which may be obsolete”. Rifkin went on to say that Canada is caught between the American and the European dream but rightfully managed to preserve its identity and carve its own vision of the future.

The recent financial meltdown saw the US government manufacture money so it can bail out its ailing financial institutions. It likewise sought the help of its G7 allies to save the world from a paralyzing economic catastrophe. In the midst of the bedlam, French president Nicholas Sakorzky threw a curve ball by exhorting the leaders of advanced nations to “rethink capitalism”.  Perhaps the capitalism that America championed and revolutionized had grown into a runaway train that is bound to collapse into a barrier and disintegrate and derailment is the only cure. The CNN investigative report “ The Fall of the Fat Cats” seem to accentuate Sakorsky’s foreboding. The report said that prior to the financial crisis, Wall Street players were spending about $250 billion a year on personal acquisitions, a staggering amount that eclipsed the annual spending of the entire population of Italy.

The Greenspan economic poker strategy of betting heavily on debt as a prime mover and shaker of prosperity had finally unraveled and paid back all its gains. As early as 2005 , economist Ravi Batra wrote the book “ Greenspan’s Fraud” to warn the world of the impending disaster of an economic policy that put too much premium on productivity  yet freezing wages but encouraging people to get in debt to satisfy their acquisitiveness. Here’s a 10 minute interview of Batra on the Canadian Business News Network (BNN) on the subject.

RETHINK CAPITALISM

 

Noam Chomksy underscores a strong point that resonates very well with the European dream and that is capitalism that works to seek for the interest of the greater whole, the community rather than personal gain. With this statement I am reminded of those capitalist nations that took a bit more taxes from the pockets of its citizens to institute a universal health care system for everyone. I also think that it is incumbent upon countries to prune capitalism to its needs, rather than emulating the system to the letter. Emulating the American style capitalism in Pinas may not work at all because the playing field is completely different and there are dynamics such as culture that can be incompatible hence ruinuous . Persisting in such an incompatibility is akin to stuffing the latest Microsoft Office Suite on a Windows 98 PC. It is recipe for disaster.

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Election Blues and Failed Promises

It is often easier to fight for one’s principles than to live up with them…. Adlai Stevenson

I’ve been watching elections for quite a stretch in my adult life – Philippine, U.S. and Canadian elections to be exact. Canadian parliamentary elections are slated for October 14 and the U.S. elections November 4. Every election scenario is eeriely familiar – politicians showcasing their grand plans to promote prosperity and the usual promise “to do better” to restore the people’s trust in the government. In truth, everything that comes out of the politician’s mouth during election campaigns are nothing more than horse shit yet poor me, and thousands of gullible citizens like me listen to the dung and crap these people spew into the airwaves. We watch debates and judge candidates of their wit and resolve yet we all know that it’s a sham, a theatrical spectacle designed to delude people and make them believe that there are noble men who are willing to sacrifice their lucrative business careers and opt to receive a quarter of their 7 figure incomes so they can be given the privilege to lead and serve their country.

The Philippines is no exception. Our daily preoccupation is non-stop bickering and throwing of scathing accusations of misgovernance and all forms of tirades to discredit the government in power, every incumbent government for that matter. People are made to believe that principles are being fought for, when in fact it had been proven over and over that changing governments made no difference, for those that fought hard for their principles failed to live with them when given the opportunity.

The recent failure of the U.S. Congress bailout plan is an affirmation that despite the horrific scare of a depression, lawmakers care more about partisan sniping than saving the country from disaster. As one newspaper put it, dissenting Republican congressmen allowed the “entire country to be hurt because they were hurt” by a supposedly injudicious statement of Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi who labeled the bailout a stop gap solution to the Bush administration’s failed policies.

Politicans fight for their principles come hell or high water yet when given the opportunity to govern, fail to live up with them. It is a viscious cycle that happens every 4 years or so. We know it’s a farce but we don’t do much about it. Western countries that call themselves democratic and capitalist are pretty much fucked up like their Asian counterparts, the difference being their people seem content to bask in the halo of their inane prosperity rather than bombing and killing to vent their indignation and frustration .

BLIND DATE

Have you been on a blind date ? Well, here’s something that might interest you. How about going on a blind date and eating your food literally blind ? 🙂 A lady friend of mine who told me about her experience “dining in the dark” in her recent trip to Zurich, Switzerland. She had dinner with a friend, a former “young” actress in the Pinoy cinema. Hey, I am not trying to embellish the story but truth needs to be told 😯 Food is served by servers wearing night vision goggles and consumed by patrons in total darkness. What does one gain by eating pricey food in total darkness? My friend told me it enables one to savor the taste of food much better 🙂 Huh? Methinks it’s just one of those gimmicks, with the likes of the hanging restaurant, to attract people for the experience. I would never dare eat in this joint if I was starving but heck, it would be a real dandy place to go on a blind date when the spookiness might cause you to lose a bit of your inhibitions 🙂 I wish we have one of these restaurants in town. I would love to try it.

I did eat blindfolded once but it was part of a management course on coaching. I was totally deprived of sight and my partner was verbally instructing me the positions of the utensils and dishes and it was truly chaotic. The weird exercise wasn’t done for mere fun but to illustrate the difficulty of coaching and the need for patience which is a necessary ingridient of the endeavor.

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The Capitalist Pig In Me

I’ve always been fixated on the notion that a man’s prosperity is directly proportional to how hard he works to attain such prosperity. In short, for someone who hasn’t inherited a trunk of gold from his ancestors, the only way to succeed is to work his butt off to acquire assets to proudly call his wealth. It follows that a democratic and capitalist society that promotes the virtues of individual initiative is proper and fitting , for such an environment offers a person the much needed latitude to explore his potential and the opportunity to pursue his dreams. Growing up in a capitalist society like Pinas where people had been brainwashed by the proverbial notion of the American Dream, I have seen how the value of government as a primary partner of prosperity diminish and the private sector being hailed as the true agent and purveyor of wealth and prosperity.

When I came to this country, I highly admired the right wing, conservative, pro-business political party agenda because of my unshakeable belief that a government must be run like a business. Working in the corporate world for sometime it was just natural for me to be influenced and blinded by the notion of productivity – less effort for more results, less expense for more profit – there could be no other way. I have survived the trials and tribulations of downsizing and became impervious of its social consequences, convinced that a company must be lean and mean and its loyalty to the almighty dollar the ultimate name of the game.

I lauded political parties that were favorable to businesses and disdained socialist leaning parties that subscribe to the belief that big and strong government is extremely essential, as if people’s lives depended entirely on it. I favored political parties that called for lower taxes and hated those that called for tax increases to boost social assistance programs. I hated the idea of people going on welfare and government subsidy because I never quite understood the concept. From the country where I came from, people never depended on the government for help. If you didn’t work, you didn’t eat – period. I was averse to the idea of my taxes going to those people who don’t work. Deep inside me, I abhorred freeloaders. Heck, if I break my back working to achieve my dreams and wants, why should I support these people who don’t move their butts to support themselves?

After so many years living in this country and witnessing the volatility of politics and the unpredictability of the economy on the global scale, I have come to appreciate more and more the imperfections of society and the unreliable mechanisms that govern it. The Enron imbroglio, the war in Iraq, the oil crisis, the sub-prime mortgage meltdown are examples of the dangers of the wealthy turning a capitalist regime into a plutocracy, distorting the balance of wealth and shattering people’s hopes for a bright future. The trillions of dollars written off by financial institutions all over the world in the sub-prime debacle had shrunk many people’s assets. Many lost their homes, their retirement, their lifetime savings. The root of all of these was the capitalist greed, the desire to amass wealth at every opportunity no matter how risky. Who do they turn to now for help? The government ?

I hated the socialist principles but it was Tommy Douglas, the leader of the first socialist government in Canada and North America for that matter, who introduced and implemented  universal public health care in Canada. It was the socialists who had the fortitude to think that the government must take care of its citizens when they get sick, that everyone, poor and rich alike must be given the same kind of treatment and more importantly, must not be burdened by medical expenses. In a way, the socialist agenda respects the fact that not we are not all equal, that there are the intelligent and not so intelligent among us, there are weak as there are strong, there are wealthy as there are poor, there are the motivated and the discouraged and those who lag must not be left behind and condemned for failing to make the grade.

I am gradually appreciating the virtues of socialism and the notion of a strong government that acts as a social safety net when everything else fails. I believe in the government being a primary partner to prosperity, not only as a universal health care giver and a donor to the underprivileged but also as a catalyst of progress. The capitalist pig in me still believes in prudent fiscal policy and reasonable taxation schemes for businesses and individuals alike. I would like to see an increased presence of socialists in the provincial and federal political arenas not as ruling governments but as strong opposition , to challenge and check the excesses of the capitalist majority agenda. Yes, I admit that I am gradually but cautiously understanding the wisdom of the socialist agenda on the pursuit of equal access and opportunity for all but I am not yet ready to turn into a socialist swine.

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