Monday, August 3, 2015

#NoyBi Failed Us, Blame the King Makers

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Vice President Jejomar Binay's True State of the Nation Address (TSONA) earlier marks a new low for the #NoyBi tandem that has dominated Philippine politics for the last five years. Much of what Binay has said is true: the woes of the MRT, the failure of crisis management in Zamboanga, the lethal ineptitude in the face of Yolanda, the breakdown of protocol in Mamasapano, the amateur handling of Luneta hostage crisis, and the return of fiscal dictatorship and discretionary spending via Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). And the truth - especially from a friend turned foe - will hurt.

But whatever little moral high ground Binay has is effectively obliterated by a single fact: he is part of the administration for the past five years, and he said nothing. His tarnished reputation is another thing, of course (Friendship Suites Hotel, Makati Homeville, Hacienda Binay, overpriced Makati City Hall parking building among other infra, the AMLC report; for others, check out former Sec. Rafael Alunan's long list). That he has the gall to speak against abuse of power when he won't even face his accusers in the Senate only demonstrates his cynical appreciation of corruption allegations as mere political spectacle, something one would throw when convenient, and something one should ignore as much as he can whenever possible.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Aquino’s Legacy: Exclusive Growth, Ineffectual Bureaucracy

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An Assessment of the Aquino III government (2010-2016)

James Matthew Miraflor
Vice President, Freedom from Debt Coalition
The verdict is in.

If there is one catch-phrase that can summarize the legacy of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III in his half-a-decade rule, it is this: “exclusive growth via an ineffectual bureaucracy”. A growth dictated by the moods of global market amid worsening poverty and stagnating inequality levels, and the failure of the bureaucracy to even spend the money it was able to collect to arrest poverty – these cap the legacy of who was once touted as a savior of Philippine democracy and commonweal from the dark years of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Did Aquino III measure up?
We argue that this is not just an accident of history that Aquino III failed to fulfill his mantra of “kung walang korap, walang mahirap”. Granting that we have made strides in the fight against corruption – a statement that is made with some reservation given the proliferation of patrimonialism in Congress and the national government agencies – it would have been simply illogical to assume that those strides alone will translate to better welfare for the rest of the Filipino people. Rather, we insist that the failures of Aquino III are deeply rooted to its philosophy of government – the vision it constructed when it translated its “social contract” into the 2010-2016 Philippine Development Plan (PDP).

Progressive groups such as the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) already criticized the 2010-2016 PDP from its inception, saying that it is weak on asset reform and fails to construct the economic underpinnings of a true “straight path” and “inclusive growth”. NEDA, under the neoliberal Director-General Cayetano Paderanga, basically ripped-off the agenda of Arangkada Philippines, a document prepared by the Joint Foreign Chambers of the Philippines (see letter from JFC to Paderanga here). This meant that the resulting PDP basically champions the interest of big capital over the interest of the Filipino masses. That the Aquino administration would end its term with increasing number of poor citizens in a growing economy demonstrates the bias it has set for itself when it began.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Nash, Lichauco, and Steering a Post-EDSA Economy

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by James Matthew Miraflor

Deaths of great intellectuals diminish us all, but more so the scholars who are the main conduits of their work. In a span of a few days, students of the Philippine economy are shocked by the demise of two important paragons of the field – first, nationalist economist Alejandro Lichauco, and then game theory pioneer John Nash. The loss is simply incalculable.

Separated by miles and interests, the two celebrated economists used their Ivy League training to interpret and shape a world in conflict. Both are products of the Cold War, yet their ideas have persisted in a modern age of computer-driven, high-volume stock trading and post-WTO regional trade partnerships. While Nash is known mostly in microeconomics textbooks and Lichauco via word-of-mouth stories of Marcos dictatorship survivors, both have made their in impact in the minds of the Filipinos who keenly follow the country’s economic development.

Anyone interested in Philippine’s escape from the so-called “Middle Income trap” cannot afford to ignore the lives and contributions of these two illustrious economists. It is now more than ever – in a world of uncertainty, hegemonic overtures, and political machinations – that we should review the lessons of Nash and Lichauco. Game theory and nationalist economics are indispensable items in our toolbox as we chart the Philippine’s economic future amid multidimensional issues of China’s territorial expansionism, the Mindanao conflict amid ASEAN geopolitics (read this, and this), and America’s seductive offer for trans-Pacific trade.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Towards Fiscal Democracy

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Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) Statement on 2015 Budget Deliberations

The Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) appeals to the 16th House of Representatives to push for crucial budget reforms in the last two years of the Aquino administration. Doing so will bring us closer to fiscal democracy and add credence to the administration’s maxim of “Tuwid na Daan”. Congress must assert its “power of the purse”, produce regular and transparent budgetary allocations, and work toward ending discretionary measures in the budget.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Kristel, Suicide, and History

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There may be a myriad of reasons why she took her life. As with the deaths of Kurt Cobain or Lee Kyung Hae or Aaron Swartz, we are left to our second guesses and interpretations of Kristel Tejada's motives, except perhaps that it was triggered by UP Manila's No Late Payment policy. This is discomforting for many, especially those who truly love her. But alas, we will never know what really happened. We will never know the exact array of private reasons that caused to emerge the thoughts of suicide in her head. History will never capture the exact truth. History will never give us the exact description of the complex psychology of Kristel's final escape.

Since we are nearing Holy Week. Another brilliant piece from the Pixel Offensive.

Are we then left perpetually blind by the fuzziness of history? Far from it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Bangsamoro, the Devolution Failure, and India-style Federalism: A Case for Asymmetric Autonomy and Strategic Reapportionment

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by James Matthew Miraflor*

The process is moving. Before 2012 ended, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III signed Executive Order No. 120 creating a Transition Commission (TC). The TC will supposedly draft the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law stipulated in the Framework Agreement between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

This is indeed a breath of fresh air to a land scented by the smell of blood and war. GPH Negotiator and now Supreme Court Justice Marvic Leonen, a former Dean of the UP College of Law, was able to garb the whole process with political legitimacy and language of legality. If we are to accept a legal realist position, it is expected that the Supreme Court will decide in favor of ending the conflict and allow the evolution of a legal narrative for self-determination. Insisting on a constitutional change as a requisite to actualizing the agreement may end up compromising the gains for peace.

The Proposed Bangsamoro Core Territory based on the GHP-MILF Framework of Agreement.
Mindanews Graphics by Keith Bacongco. From here
But no doubt, the implementation of the Framework Agreement will raise questions on constitutionality and the framework's compatibility with our existing unitary system. No doubt, proposals for converting our current form of governance from unitary to federal will once again fill the pages of our dailies. It is inevitable then that we ask: would a shift to a federal system really be better for the Philippines? And if we do decide to shift, what model of federalism should we adopt?

These questions are asked in a context of a widely perceived failure in devolution and trends of increasing recentralization in health, social welfare, and local governance after the landmark Local Government Code of 1991. This essay argues that while federalism can be a plausible model for the country, it should be asymmetrically implemented (giving some territories more liberties than others) - following India's model. A strategic mix of recentralization and devolution, following some principles from the concept of Optimal Currency Areas (OCA) and urban agglomeration, is thus proposed as a way forward in implementing a reapportionment of political boundaries under asymmetric federalism.