31 January 2015

Choosing Hope, Justice, Peace and Change

A pause for thought on the aftermath of SAF-MILF deadly encounter

January is about to end....

We welcomed the new year filled with hope and cheer. This month, we have witnessed the best and worst in the Filipinos. Pope Francis had brought out the best in the Filipinos in the middle of the month; unfortunately, the recent tragic clash in Maguindanao has just brought out the worst in us.

Yet, the most important question is how do we respond to all these events, and which way are we going to. May we choose the virtues and paths of hope, justice, peace and change.

I am convinced that President Aquino and his silent operator confidant Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, as well as the country's well-protected grand mason police general Alan Purisima, should all be held accountable, together with their principal US intelligence operatives. I have long given up targeting PNoy (and his clique) -- or any government leader for that matter -- because I have always thought he's an unprepared, mediocre President that must be pushed by enlightened people towards the right direction.

In a word, I mean: ang tunay na pagbabago ay magmumula sa mga mulat na mamamayan. Real change comes from enlightened and conscious people.

Source: MailOnline
In the final analysis, the greatest test is how will the people come out of this disaster. Can we see a critical mass now forming as countervailing powers to these power-holders -- which would include critically and wisely supporting and electing the best leaders for the country in the next elections?

'A Tale of Two Cities', as Charles Dickens has aptly sketched out for our choice, to where and between which we have the right to tread on and the responsibility to build:
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…"

26 January 2015

Teaching as a Process, Relations and Vocation of Learning

Photo by: Duane Schoon 
I just wrote a one-page 'Teaching Statement', and am sharing it here entitled 'Teaching as a Process, Relations, and Vocation' where I highlighted in bold the key concepts of my current teaching philosophy which, I believe, evolves through time and experience....

* * *

I regard teaching as a process, relations, and vocation whose foremost objective is learning.

Teaching entails a process of learning between interacting learners (i.e., both the teacher and student) through the sharing, reflection, acquisition, and generation of ideas. In this process, the student gains knowledge through ‘learning by studying’ and the teacher also comes to a self-realization, as well as generates and (re)produces knowledge, through ‘learning by teaching’. While research-based teaching is increasingly becoming the norm in the academia, I also believe in teaching-based research where the topics and courses taught in classrooms become a stimulating and significant basis for an academic’s future research endeavor.

Teaching thus implies a learning relationship between a teacher and student. Both are considered learned and learner. A teacher is both learned and learner, and a (university) student is not only a learner but must also be viewed as learned with the faculties for learning at the level of higher education. In this relationship, both have duties and responsibilities. Key to maintaining a healthy and meaningful relationship between the learners is mutual respect by upholding one of learning’s virtues: the giving and receiving of feedback.

But the teacher must take the leading role in mentoring and facilitating the learning process and relationship, challenged and inspired by the initial conditions, capacity, and aspiration of students towards particular learning objectives. It is the task of teachers to excite students with ideas. This includes the importance of preparation in teaching—i.e., never enter the classroom ‘cold’ when giving lectures and never show up in consultation meetings without having read students’ drafts. Unprepared teachers are most likely to spoil students’ enthusiasm in learning.

Having been a student myself from grade school to the postgraduate and doctoral schools and having had the teaching experience and exposure in different pedagogical methods in a number of systems—i.e., particular features of Asian, American, British, Baltic, European, Nordic and Scandinavian teaching styles—, I can say that there are advantages and disadvantages in their respective learning approaches. Thus far, however, I shun top-down model of learning; and I have come to believe in learner-centred, or student-centred, pedagogical method. Thus, teaching has to be considered an ‘art’ that requires from teachers the skill of creativity and the virtue of empathy. Central to this is a teacher’s reflection on the preparation and conduct of a course on the issue: How do students learn best? Or, what are the teaching techniques and approaches that could effectively help students learn best?

Finally, teaching is a vocation that requires passion, commitment and dedication. It is professionalism with ethics and a good sense of meaning and purpose. I am continuously inspired by mentors who have taught and shown me a seemingly old-fashioned academic culture that is generous, critical yet liberal, erudite yet humble, and purpose-driven. I have been lucky to have experienced this kind of generous academic culture from great mentors who are generous in time, advice, exchange of ideas, and resources. I wish to share this cherished gift and professional inspiration to my colleagues and students in the conduct of my teaching vocation.

13 January 2015

Empathy in Teaching

Grades submitted, and also received my teaching evolution and feedback from last year: rating 4.25 out of 5. Very pleased! 

Ah, getting old and progressing in life, now having the privilege and responsibiity of providing the rite of passage to master's students. While their project, I was also asking myself and reflecting on: what was my thought process, or how was I, ten or so years ago when I was doing my postgraduate studies?

'Empathy' - a mentor once told me is one of my important virtues and it's something that I should carry on in this vocation.

27 December 2013

Taxman vs Pacquiao hits need for Philippines reform

Asia Times Online has included my commentary as one of the front-page features of their year-end edition, specifically under the sections 'Business in Asia Today', 'Southeast Asia', and 'Speaking Freely'. I'm republishing the text here.

Taxman vs Pacquiao hits need for Philippines reform
By Bonn Juego 
Asia Times Online, 23 December 2013
Filipino boxing icon Manny Pacquiao's latest contest pitches him against the country's tax commissioner, Kim Henares, who has entered the ring with a US$50 million payment demand. The dispute sheds light on much deeper issues and the need for economic reform in the Philippines.
Something important is emerging from a high-profile battle between the Filipino boxing icon Manny Pacquiao and the country's prominent tax reformer, Kim Henares. With typical humor, the local press likes to present it as a fight between the Pacman and the Taxman. 

While their altercation has reached a kind of uneasy impasse for the time being - with each side blaming the other - it actually sheds light on much deeper issues of financial probity, transparency and accountability, and therefore the possibilities for much-needed economic reform in the Philippines.

The tax issue came to light when Pacquiao held a press conference on his return to the Philippines a few days after making a successful comeback in his latest fight in November. He made a popular (and populist) promise to help the victims of the catastrophic Super Typhoon Haiyan, but he could not immediately do so because his domestic bank accounts had been frozen by the tax authorities.

The allegations were serious: tax evasion on a huge scale - 2.2 billion pesos (almost US$50 million) according to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) - on income earned in lucrative fights in the United States in 2008 and 2009 when he was at the pinnacle of his career.

Pacquiao is no ordinary celebrity. Besides being considered the best pound-for-pound fighter of his generation, the only man to win world titles in eight weight divisions, the former street kid is also a very wealthy man. Even last year, Forbes magazine listed him as the 14th highest-paid athlete globally.

Pacquiao has also waded into the sometimes murky world of Philippine politics when he was elected member of the House of Representatives, with ambitions of eventually becoming president.

Despite being aligned (for the time being at least) with the ruling administration of Benigno Aquino III, Pacquiao says that the freeze order is "political harassment". In his defense, he says everything is above board.

"I have already paid my taxes in America. Had I not paid the correct taxes they [US authorities] would have come after me and I would not have been able to travel there". 

And in a well-aimed dig at the widespread corruption of the political class, Pacquiao asserts that his hard-earned assets come from the blood, sweat, and tears of the tough fight game and are not stolen from the public coffers or acquired through indecent businesses.

For her part, the tax commissioner Kim Henares denies any harassment. She says the tax authorities are simply doing their job in investigating Pacquiao's undocumented tax payments. She shrugs off the letter from Pacquiao's promoter, Top Rank, saying he has paid his taxes in the United States: "This is a mere scrap of paper. Anyone can write that," she says.

A former World Bank senior private sector development specialist and key economic adviser to Aquino's good governance reform agenda, Henares has gained a reputation as a strong-willed tax collector. She has spearheaded a name-and-shame campaign against tax evaders, including movie stars and rich businessmen who flaunt their wealth. Henares has been much lauded, even by credit ratings agencies, for the BIR's unprecedented tax collection efforts over the past three years.

Beyond the headlines the case has spawned, some much bigger issues about the state of the Philippine economy are beginning to resonate. These are essentially about the creation of a critical mass of opinion in favor of much-needed tax and economic reforms. 

Filipinos have dared to question the "rule of law" from the point of view of justice and to criticize the rhetoric of "good governance" from the perspective of democracy. If the moment can be seized then the possibilities for a deepening of political democratization and socioeconomic development may come just a step closer.

The current conflict brought about by the Pacquiao-Henares exchanges opens up significant issues for rethinking not only policy changes with regard to the tax regime but also the overall processes of social reform and economic development.

I sketch out here four interrelated problem areas that trace the points of conflict that will frame the struggle for substantive policy reform.

  • First, I unpack the "for whom" question in the political economy of the Philippine taxation structure.
  • Second, I draw attention to the significance of principles behind tax and fiscal policies.
  • Third, I propose that tax reforms and the goal of redistribution must be linked with strategies for the development of the economic mode of production.
  • Lastly, I point out the futility of the "pro- versus anti-Aquino" discursive framing in contemporary policy debates for the formation of a movement towards economic reforms and social change. 

    The tax structure
    A deeper political-economic logic underpins the tax woes of Pacquiao, beyond accusations of politicking, the incompetence of his accountants, or the belief in spiritual trials. It is about the very structure of the enduring tax and fiscal system of the Philippines. As is well known, this is patterned after the US system, which puts the tax burden on wage earners while cocooning extreme wealth, property, investments, and corporations. 

    The structural logic of taxation has been institutionalized through the country's tax code, which legally accords tremendous powers to the BIR, particularly its commissioner. Thus, if the BIR had really pursued its legal mandate with integrity, it would do the same as Henares is doing now in her pursuit of Pacquiao to come clean (or perhaps be even tougher), no matter who sits in the president's Malacanang Palace. After all, the effective introduction and enforcement of tax rules only require political will on the part of the state. 

    The objective of tax reforms should not be limited to meeting and increasing target and collected revenues. It must, in essence, be about altering the prevailing tax structure that has only reinforced injustice, inequality, and poverty in the country. 

    The political economy of resource mobilization in the taxation system, which has been brokered by the power elites and sanctioned by the state without the countervailing opposition of labor unions, is effectively disciplining and, to a large extent, punishing rather than rewarding the following identifiable social groups:
  • The poor and middle classes through the expanded value-added tax law (E-VAT), which pushes up consumer prices;
  • The productive workers from contractual and regular employees to freelancers, professionals, and celebrities who pay taxes between 25% and 32% - virtually at the level of income taxes in developed countries including Scandinavian welfare states that have universal state provision of free and decent health care, education, infrastructure, and other public services;
  • The creative enterprises from small and medium-sized enterprises and online entrepreneurs to the hard-working street vendors of the "informal" economy and other wage laborers; and
  • The working class in general, from the service sector to the entertainment profession, who have no "job security" and are subject to exploitation by those who pay them wages and talent fees and by the state which imposes on them onerous taxes. 

    If this is the reality, then why does the fiscal policy not impose heavier taxes on other obvious targets:
  • The "useless rich" - the non-creative and non-innovative - among the country's landowning oligarchs, many of whom are elected to Congress and executive offices, whose power and wealth are derived from land and the real estate economy; 
  • The FIRE sector - finance, insurance, and real estate - whose wealth comes more from capital gains and not from productive labor; and 
  • The rentier capitalists among the rent-seeking monopolists and oligopolists who are regarded as "takers" - rather than "makers" - of the nation's economic wealth, and who extract substantial rents from state resources and institutions? 

    In a word, why place the principal burden of mobilizing state resources onto labor but off capital? 

    Principles of taxation
    In one of her media interviews, Henares exhorted Pacquiao not to ruin the image of the BIR. In reality, however, it is not the "legally" delinquent Pacquiao who has been eroding the credibility of the reforming BIR under Henares's leadership. It has always been the government and its functionaries themselves that make the bureau and the system of taxation that it enforces look bad.

    Popular public support for Pacquiao's grievances is just a symptom of the fundamental causes of people's historical distrust in the BIR and the taxation system. A crucial cause of civil disobedience is the felt and perceived corruption, ineffectiveness, unprofessionalism, inefficiency, and lack of creativity of state agencies - at every level from the central to local government, and notoriously the corrupt pork barrel system enjoyed by elected officials.

    The dedicated reformer Henares should therefore join the critical multitude in pressing her colleagues in the bureaucracy, her counterparts in all government agencies, and the elected leaders to work together towards a socioeconomic and political reform agenda to encourage responsible citizenship.

    It is opportune, then, to use the current Pacquiao-Henares spat to raise awareness and consciousness about the very principles, purposes and practices of taxation, and not merely its narrowly defined rules.

    A core principle of taxation is that it must be viewed in "relational" terms - that is, it is a social contract and relationship between the state and citizen taxpayer. As such, both the state and the citizen have rights and obligations. But there is a problem if the state only asserts its rights to tax citizens without fulfilling its obligations to provide for social welfare, infrastructure, and other programs for development and redistributive justice.

    Based on the logic of taxation, the Philippine state - and thus, the Filipino people - has an interest in the successful boxing career of Pacquiao because the state gets balato (a share) from his earnings in the form of income taxes, which are then used for government expenditure.

  • The same goes for the US government which taxes Pacquiao's earnings from work done within its territory. In principle, the state, in return for citizens' payment of taxes, provides rents in the form of incentives, protection, or other social provisions. The US government, for instance, goes as far as militarily protecting the local and global interests of its taxpaying corporations. To maintain a harmonious relationship between the state and citizen taxpayers, both of them must be engaged in a mutual give-and-take relationship.

    In this so-called "reform" process - or what others call a process of "nation building" - the existing unjust rules of taxation need to be seriously questioned, examined, and reformed. This is to be done by coming up with new principles as the bases for "rules" of state taxation that embody the collective interest and welfare of the Filipino people's existence in pursuit of the good life. 

    Economic mode of production as base for tax, redistribution
    Policy coordination of each and every government agency is a must to effectively attain the social and developmental goals of taxation. Otherwise, there will be a conflict between the overly enthusiastic tax collector and the disgruntled citizen taxpayers. 

    Basically, the fundamental principle applies: the people must feel and see how and where taxes are spent. It is the task of the government to make people appreciate and realize that taxation is a collective social development process in which the conduct of business - the producing, selling, and buying of goods and services - is a social activity that has socio-economic consequences and implicates the entire society.

    Recently, the BIR has expressed an intention to pursue taxing of "online sellers" and the "informal sector". This is not an easy job. The informal sector, which comprises the overwhelming majority of the country's workforce, belongs to the so-called "informal economy" precisely because those taking part in it are out of government's taxation circuit.

    For sure, there will be conflicts, especially in a situation where the government only enforces its right to tax people without fulfilling its responsibility to create conditions for "full" employment, let alone "formal" employment. The immediate and long-term strategy and goal for an effective taxation scheme - thus, an active and socially responsible citizenry in a sustainable economy - is to get people into formal employment.

    Further, the Philippine state has to assert that it is the only authority that has the monopoly power to tax people, incomes, properties, and business activities within its territory and sovereignty. The government has to seriously address those known illegal taxation operations by organized criminal groups and syndicates such as so-called "revolutionary taxes" and protection money, which are reportedly collected by armed groups in the countryside or crooks in the cities.

    State taxation essentially requires political will and scrupulous enforcement. These are necessary but insufficient conditions for change. Alongside political will, there must also be the material means for a viable taxation system - which, in reality, only an industrialized or industrializing economy can provide.

    Tax and fiscal policies can be strategically utilized to jump-start and strengthen the country's production system. In other words, the Philippines needs to develop an ecologically sustainable national production system built on the synergy between technologically intensive manufacturing industries, modern agriculture, high skilled services, and innovative SMEs.

    If this could be achieved, it would produce two sources of long-term tax revenues: (a) goods, services, and enterprises; and (b) fully employed workers. This would then provide the government with the means to efficiently and conscientiously spend taxes for social welfare and infrastructural development.

    In doing so, the Philippines would be establishing an economy with huge division of skilled labor and with highly diversified professions, while respecting life choices of individuals and groups to live and work alternatively such as in sustainable communities.

    Something is terribly wrong in an economy where celebrities are the country's biggest taxpayers. Development common sense tells us that a country of entertainers, boxers, and unskilled manual workers won't be as economically advanced as a country of scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and skilled workers. The Philippines has to produce things and ideas with value. It has to stop specializing in being poor and in doing poor economic activities.

    The idea is to build a production system that creates wealth for the nation in the form of higher incomes for the workers, bigger earnings for businesses, and larger tax bases for the government. The creation of this mode of production should be the first order development agenda, one that serves as the foundation and lifeblood of the redistributive goals of taxation. 

    A movement for socioeconomic reforms
    The BIR's emphasis on the fear factor and civic duty needs to be challenged, not for purposes of civil disobedience but for the objective of deepening real policy reforms that are founded on, among other things, the principles of a democratic state's obligations in tax relations and the state's central role in the realization of social justice and the building of a mode of production for long-term socioeconomic development.

    The critical mass must continue to be stimulated and sustained, and be supported by principled and far-sighted policymakers, organized labor and social movements.

    What appears to be especially disappointing at this moment is the kind of political discourse in the Philippines where the dominant analyses and solutions offered fall into the "pro- versus anti-Aquino" trap. The deeper, structural issues get frozen out in the name of personality politics.

    Labor and left groups who fall into this trap end up insisting on taxation rules based on the principles of anti-labor economics and anti-democratic development policy. "Liberals" who also fall into this trap would find themselves, either latently or manifestly, defending institutions and practices that undermine their anti-rentier agenda for the modernization of Philippine capitalism through the promotion of free markets and competitiveness. 

    Framing contemporary sociopolitical issues along this debate - where the heart of the sentiments and arguments are tied in with personalities rather than principles and practices - is an added problem and not helpful at all. It is not bringing out the best in people and it often harms relationships even among (social media) friends.

    Doing away with the bankrupt pro- versus anti-Aquino discursive framing - and rediscovering the importance of analyzing specific historical and structural contexts of problems - would allow us to understand clearly the real conditions of the society and be able to propose and advance progressive reforms for social change in compelling ways. The fight has only just begun. 

    Bonn Juego is guest researcher at the Department of Political Science, Aalborg University, Denmark, where he also earned his PhD degree in the political economy of development. Currently involved as a postdoctoral researcher in a project studying the Asian Development Bank at the City University of Hong Kong, he is an alumnus of the Cambridge Advanced Programme on Rethinking Development Economics, Cambridge University, UK.

    15 December 2013

    Japan, China, and ASEAN

    Reference to Inquirer.net news

    Don't make a hasty conclusion that Japan is winning and China is losing the ties with ASEAN. Japan indeed scored on this occasion, but China has not lost ASEAN entirely. Japan may have the first-mover advantage in the region especially since the Plaza Accord in the mid-1980s which dramatically increased Japanese investments in East and Southeast Asia, but China is fast becoming the biggest investor in and trade partner of the ASEAN and its respective member economies. 

    With the exception of the Philippines and Vietnam with whom China has intense territorial disputes, every member-state (as well as ASEAN itself as a regional bloc) now has important political and economic bilateral relations with China. The interplay between the 'politics of business' and the 'business of politics' has always been important in understanding the political economy of Southeast Asia. 

    Still, the solutions to underdevelopment and poverty of the developing economies in the ASEAN cannot be depended on Japan and/or China. Given the current regional and global instability, self-reliance and self-sufficiency are never old-fashioned, stupid ideas for development strategies.

    14 December 2013

    Neoliberalism in the Philippine Energy Sector: Outlining the Cause of Electricity Rates Hike

    Reference on Rappler's: 

    Source: The Manila Times
    These are useful notes — "13 things Meralco consumers should know about the hike" — written by friends regarding the ongoing electricity rates hike in Metro Manila.

    I outline here some points for reflection and action on these notes and the broader issue of reforms in the Philippine energy sector.

    Wouldn't it be more strategic for raising public consciousness and more appropriate for analysis and offering solutions to the country's complicated energy problem if we brought back our fundamental critique on neoliberalism — specifically, the market-driven structure of the energy sector?

    There's a marked difference between:

    • a critique of "market abuse" based on the violations of the injunctions of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA); and 
    • a critique of "market abuse" as central to the structural logic of a neoliberalist (market-oriented) EPIRA law.
    By doing the former, we analyze the problem essentially in neoliberal 'economics' terms (i.e., law of supply and demand) as if perfect markets — free from any political distortions — should make the energy sector efficient and cost-effective.

    But if we anchored the critique on the neoliberalist framework of the country's energy sector as institutionalized by EPIRA, we would be able to critique the political economy of the current energy sector, particularly the political/politicized nature of markets and the realpolitik (vested interests) behind the energy market. At the same time, we could propose solutions for alternative sources, production, generation, and distribution of energy outside the bounds of the EPIRA law, which in itself has been designed for:

    • market abuse (collusion, anti-competitive behaviour, predation, greed of the power producers/suppliers and their distributor Meralco, etc.); and
    • state regulatory capture (delimiting policy space of the government especially in pricing, an inutile Energy Regulatory Commission [ERC] / Department of Energy [DOE] which at the very basic function cannot even regulate schedule of plant outages and maintenance, the danger of misuse of Malampaya funds on the President's plan to subsidise market greed instead of funding R&D for innovative ecological energy solutions, the logic of neoliberal regulation for market profits rather than state regulation for the common good, etc.).
    We are precisely experiencing the neoliberalization process itself being implemented in the context of the Philippine socio-economic structure. Recall that Ramos's first experiment of neoliberalism in the early 1990s was in the privatisation, liberalisation, and deregulation of the energy sector.

    The problem really is neoliberalism—and the strategic usurpation by it in the interest of the economic elites—as the overarching framework of the institutionalised EPIRA law where market failures and state failures are systematically absorbed by the people — specifically, by the market's consumers and the state's citizens. A key neoliberal strategy: privatising profits and ownership of public utilities, while socialising the risks and costs of doing business. Neoliberalism is not about perfect markets; at its core are the conflicts and contradictions entailing the use of the state for the preservation of the power of the capitalist class (local and transnational) in the market's drive for the appropriation of the basic needs and assets of the commons.

    I think that our task now as consumers and citizens is to reflect and act upon creative and viable solutions beyond the limits of neoliberalism, which simplifies the problem to correcting 'market imperfections' and its attendant goal of perfecting markets. Alternatives to the prevailing neoliberal discourse and policy on the energy sector are most urgently needed.

    * * *
    P.S. Some historical context here, excerpted from my PhD thesis, pp. 93-95:

    The Ramos Administration’s Intensified Neoliberalization 
    Aquino’s term ended in 1992 and her anointed candidate, Fidel Ramos, won the controversial presidential elections. Without the political baggage á la Marcos’ cronyism and Aquino’s oligarchic affiliations, Ramos took a more—albeit not purely—orthodox path to capitalist development in line with the neoliberal, free-market doctrine: that is, a growth-obsessed economy spearheaded by the private sector and supported with policies which liberalize trade, deregulate the domestic market, and privatize state assets and services. ‘Philippines 2000’ was the strategic development framework of the Ramos administration to ‘put the house in order’ through the accomplishment of three things: restore ‘political and civic stability’; open the economy by ‘dismantling monopolies and cartels injurious to the public interest, and leveling the playing field of enterprise’; and address the ‘problem of corruption and criminality’ (Ramos 1993; see also Habito 1993). Central to Ramos’ Social Reform Agenda (SRA), within the Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan for 1993-1998, was the focus on economic reform along the neoliberal discipline that meant the further empowerment of the private sector through the transfer of rights, assets, and social responsibilities traditionally enjoyed, owned, and done by the state (see NEDA 1993). These were to be realized through key reforms in the institutionalization of ‘sound’ macroeconomic policies of privatization, liberalization, and deregulation. 
    Rhetorically, Ramos espoused the ideology of capitalism and envisioned to ‘modernize Philippine capitalism’ which ‘not only emphasizes efficiency and individual creativeness but also cares for those whom development leaves behind’ (Ramos 1998: xiii). He claimed that rapid growth in capitalism would be achieved by ‘unleash[ing] the energy of self-interest, the drive for individual profit’, that ‘[t]hough wealth is best owned privately, its owner should use it for the public good’ (Ramos 1998: 72). 
    The Ramos administration had its first experiment of a state-orchestrated neoliberalization as the President was given special emergency powers by Congress, together with the reestablishment of the Department of Energy and the enactment of the Emergency Electric Power Law, to resolve the worsening electric power crisis when Metro Manila had to suffer from 8- to 12-hour brownouts a day in Metro Manila. Acting by virtue of this Congress-mandated emergency power, Ramos liberalized, privatized, and deregulated the energy sector by encouraging private investment in electricity generation through an expedited approval of contracts and licenses to independent power producers (IPPs). In effect, this can be construed as the state giving out rents not only to those supporters and benefactors of the incumbent government from the old established elites but to new elite economic players as well—in the spirit of competition and competitiveness. Though the first contract for independent generation was signed in 1988 under the Aquino administration, Ramos’ brisk neoliberal reform made more than 40 other IPPs to operate in the country. A World Bank study noted that by 1994 the Philippines had more IPP contracts than the rest of the developing world combined and then warned of the adverse consequences of overcapacity (World Bank 1994). Yet, despite this warning from a global neoliberal Bank, Ramos fast-tracked the signing of 12 more IPP contracts from 1995 to 1998 and initiated a 30-year Philippine Energy Plan (1996-2025). The unpropitious results of this rapid introduction of private generation into the electricity sector included overpricing as price determination was left to a deregulated, non-transparent market; an oversupply as demand was lower than expected; and, as such, deeper indebtedness as the Philippine government continued to honour to its disadvantage basic offtake obligations in IPP contracts as well as the burdensome provisions in the power purchase agreements—provisions for cost guarantees offered by a desperate state with a high risk economy to attract investors—that made take-or-pay or capacity payments unsustainable (see Woodhouse 2005; see also Corral 2003). A recent study of the World Bank (2009b) actually acknowledges the corruption risks involved in IPP contracts in developing countries, including the abuses and excesses in the Philippine procurement experience which has financially burdened the government because it has to continuously make payments even for unused capacity.
    On May 1994, shortly after Ramos’ emergency powers expired, amendments to the implementation rules of ‘build, operate, and transfer’ (BOT) schemes were enacted. Privatization of the management of public services were done through these BOT schemes where contracts to the private sector were paid in the form of rights to manage finished facilities as well as the right to have a substantial share of the generated incomes. Though it was in 1990 during Aquino’s presidency when the government’s Public-Private Partnership – Build-Operate-and-Transfer (PPP-BOT) programme was institutionalized with the enactment of Republic Act 6957—‘An Act Authorizing the Financing, Construction, Operation and Maintenance of Infrastructure Projects by the Private Sector, and for other Purposes’ (Philippines 1990), the Ramos administration not only amended the implementing rules but seriously executed the plan to make the economy more attractive to private sector participation and investment. The amendment made a provision on ‘unsolicited proposals’ for the state to liberally accept prospective projects from private sector investments other than those in government priorities—as such, non-prioritized projects are not supposed to receive special concessions from the government, whether in the form of equities, subsidies, or guarantees. The new scheme was by all means neoliberal in which market-based principles were affirmed and market interests guaranteed, but it compromised a democratic state’s requirements for transparency, accountability, and social responsibility. Within this scheme, markets were virtually exonerated from loss or bankruptcy since the state had to absorb risks. A four-part series research by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) unearths several anomalies and corruption issues involved in BOT projects, particularly IPP contracts, during the Ramos administration. The PCIJ report found ‘that former president Fidel V. Ramos personally pushed for the speedy approval of some of the most expensive power deals and justified signing more power contracts despite warnings from within the government and the World Bank that an impending oversupply of electricity could push up prices’ and ‘that individuals linked to Ramos lobbied for the approval of some of the more costly IPP contracts, which came with numerous other deals, including lucrative legal, technical and financial consultancies that were given to individuals and companies close to the former president’ (see Rimban and Samonte-Pesayco 2002a, 2002b; Samonte-Pesayco and Rimban 2002; Rimban 2002). The report thus manifests a conflictual and negotiated nature of neoliberalization in the Philippines, in which at least a couple of important tendencies can be noted: one is that neoliberalization is not totally dominated by global neoliberal institutions like the World Bank or by international market forces like transnational corporations, but local political elites and government functionaries have the capabilities to negotiate how the process is shaped; and the other is that market reform projects like the liberalization and privatization of an economic sector are not immune from inefficiencies, corruption, and bribery involving both state and market elites at the local and international levels in their common drive for accumulation. 

    10 December 2013

    On the 'Romualdez/Aquino' Viral Video

    That 'Romualdez/Aquino' viral video is, of course, politically motivated and obviously edited to serve a particular interest group. It's an in-your-face shot right on the turf of Malacanañg's spin doctor, Ricky Carandang.

    Mar Roxas's framing of "you're a Romualdez and the President is an Aquino" is not at all advisable, but the intention is not always perceived as it is. Though Mar meant the avoidance of accusations of 'politicking' against the Aquino administration if the central government takes over an LGU without due process, such kind of language framing reflects not only the mentality of the country's political elites but also the persistence of intra- and inter-elite conflicts and the permanent social crisis in the Philippines.

    Source: The EQualizer Post
    The kabuki theatre played by these elites — Marcoses, Aquinos, Roxases, et al. — only serves to sustain and increase the suffering and desperation level of the poor victims of the typhoon and the marginalised in the country's elitist social relations.

    Again, the solutions to our country's convoluted socio-economic ills do not rest on 'pro-/anti-Marcos and pro-/anti-Aquino' conflict and struggle.

    "Hindi pula't dilaw tunay na magkalaban
    Ang kulay at tatak ay di syang dahilan
    Hangga't marami ang lugmok sa kahirapan
    At ang hustisya ay para lang sa mayaman
    Habang may tatsulok at sila ang nasa tuktok
    Di matatapos itong gulo"