magkano ang dignidad ng pilipino?

The problems of the country are many. The solutions are elusive. You look to the next presidential election for someone who can build on the gains of the current dispensation. Revolutionary progress is what you long for, someone who can lead us towards a great leap forward. Sadly there is no one who fits the bill.

Why the great leap forward? Well, the world has left us behind. And the gap only grows wider as we bicker among ourselves on petty things like who graduated from Wharton or problems of our own making, e.g. Metro Manila traffic.

Even if we were somehow able to correctly diagnose the root cause/s of our challenges and start working on the right remedies for these problems, we would still be at least half a generation away from seeing and feeling tangible progress. This is what makes the conduct of the current presidential race unbearably frustrating.

This early, I see the 2016 election as another lost opportunity in a long line of missed opportunities. The current line-up of candidates focuses so much on destroying each other. This leads me to believe that none of them have a comprehensive plan for government which would at least start to chip away at the gap between us and the rest of the world or dig us out of a hole that we have been digging for ourselves since well – forever.

I cannot even disagree with anyone’s platform of government because either they don’t have a sensible one or don’t have one at all. Motherhood statements as the entirety of one’s platform of government are so frustrating because of the sense that they are made for the sake of having a platform. They lack the substance that would make one believe na nag-iisip ang taong ito. And to think that having such substance is just the first step towards progress. The actual doing and what comes before that are certainly more important in attaining tangible progress. It is sad but wala akong nakikita na kandidato sa pagka-Presidente na nagdadala nito sa hinaharap natin na halalan.

My imagined ideal candidate would:

1. Focus on the elimination of barriers that keep the majority of our people poor. Economic inequality has engendered social inequality made worse by the fact that we don’t admit that it exists. Tangible steps towards this would include:

– a total makeover of the educational system which currently produces uncompetitive graduates. The educational system should be made more rigorous with students who fail being made to go back. Substantially more funding should be channelled to teacher education to make them better, well – teachers.

– remove economic barriers which have served to protect entrenched interests. This would include the removal of foreign ownership limits on industry to generate competition; a competition law with teeth; amendment of existing laws which limit competition.

– building on agrarian reform by re-directing or otherwise increasing financial and technical support to the beneficiaries of the program. We have spent so much on buying land to be distributed yet the promise of better stewardship of the land by the beneficiaries has not been realized as evidenced by agriculture continuing to be a dead industry.

– incentivising research and development in agriculture and manufacturing/ technology. We cannot forever be servants to the rest of the world by an overly skewed focus on providing services (e.g. OFWs, BPOs). We need to be building things para sila naman bumili sa atin.

– a strong Freedom of Information law.

2. Reduce the size of national government. We are definitely not getting our money’s worth with the inefficient delivery of government services. Continue to reduce the number of GOCCs by privatizing what can be privatized and shuttering those which have outlived their usefulness or failed their mandates. Reduce administrative/services positions of line agencies by further automation/ technological solutions. Remove layers of middle-management. Consolidate what can be consolidated. Do attrition through normal means (retirement/resignation) and extraordinary means (one-time separation benefit). Use some of the savings to increase compensation of smaller bureaucracy to match private sector compensation to attract more candidates for public service.

3. We cannot beat China, or any other interested country for that matter, in a shooting match over our territory. The best we can hope for is a military that can hold on until help arrives from allied countries. That is not being defeatist, it is being realistic. As such, our military should be built through training (including on strategy and tactics), organization and equipment focused on finally ending internal insurgencies. The police cannot do it. Do not overspend on a military that will not be able to withstand external aggression on its own. Continue to be aggressive with multilateral initiatives to defend our territorial integrity.

4. Stop focusing on resolving the problems of Metro Manila and start focusing on the problems of the whole country. Build infrastructure elsewhere. Be more aggressive with geographic economic incentives to build industry outside the current capital. Give people in Metro Manila incentives to go to other economic centers.

5. For the second time, rebuild our educational system. This is that important. Make it simple – math, science, english, critical thinking. Make it more difficult, more rigorous. Provide support for after-school programs (nutrition, tutoring) for those who need it.

6. Give more to local governments. They know more about what they need. They are closer to the people, they will become more accountable the closer they are to those they serve. Some local governments will be better than others. Some local governments will be more corrupt than others. That is what we have now, so what’s new. By giving more resources and responsibilities to local governments, those which are better at governance will reward those they serve with a better quality of life. Give people the opportunity to come closer to determining their own destiny. To curb excesses, strengthen national accountability bodies (COA, Ombudsman, CHR). Yes – this is a path towards a Federal state. The Philippines can no longer rely on a national government to do everything for everyone.

7. Most crimes that are committed in our country can be directly correlated to poverty or the lack of economic opportunity. This not only includes crimes against property but also crimes against people. Problems in our criminal justice system are mere symptoms of a more insiduous problem which are meant to be addressed by the other points in this platform. Yes – there are other crimes that fall outside the economic opportunity generalization and its solutions lie in making these difficult to commit, making them easy to detect and prosecute and making their consequences severe (motherhood statement, I know, but can be addressed later).

These would be the things I would lay out as a platform of government. It is a platform whose ultimate aim is more than the eradication of all forms of inequality in our country but rather ang pagkakaroon ng dignidad ng bawat Pilipino sa sarili niyang bansa. A dignity that allows him to provide for the needs of his family sa marangal na paraan. A dignity that allows him to stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone in his own country. A dignity that he knows will allow his children to be proud of him in his own country.


PASAY CITY – Jojo Binay. Mar Roxas. Grace Poe. One declared, one anointed and one undeclared presidential candidate. In 20 months and 29 days, we will all go to the polls and elect a new president.

As the years pass by, you begin to feel the optimistic future begin to slip away. You begin to feel a sense of despair at the growing feeling of helplessness at the thought that our country will never be what you want it to be. Given the significant problems that the country faces, the selection of what you hope would be a transformational president becomes even more important. Is it too late to hope that such will happen in your lifetime?


illustration credit:

We need radical solutions to our problems. Baby steps will not do. To do that, we need a leader with the moral courage and the intestinal fortitude to battle the powerful and deeply-rooted institutions (formal and informal) which will fight tooth and nail to keep the status quo.

The prospective candidates for the 2016 polls are of the establishment. It is difficult to divine whether they have a true grasp of the problems that we face much less the solution to these problems. Our problems as a nation are not just those that are tangible (poverty, corruption, crime), so much more is intangible or things we do not accept and recognize as problems.

There is no sense of Filipino nationhood. We profess to be one nation but what is that rooted on? We are one nation by a geography drawn by and cemented by foreigners. Like the former Yugoslavia which eventually broke up to become Serbia (Serbs), Montenegro (Montenegrins), Croatia (Croats) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (Bosnians), we identify more with being Batangueno, Ilocano, Cebuano, Waray, Ilonggo, etc.

Our current crop of leaders are too inward-looking and narrow-minded. The majority of them have no sense as to the radical changes that need to be undertaken to make the country, a nation that is for all. Most have no discernment of where or what our country should be – a lack of vision. Those with vision have very limited or narrow ones with little understanding or specificity as to how to achieve such a vision. Many shy away from radical measures because for them “para que pa?”.

The writer, F. Sionil Jose, propounds that a president strongly backed by the military would be the solution. A Marcosian solution one thinks. Behind his thinking, however, is the allusion to the fact that we are such a poor excuse as a nation that we need a dictator or at least a strong president to get us all in line. The lack of discipline, the abject disregard of the rule of law, the lack of purpose, the being mayabang na wala namang ipagyayabang, the pretentiousness, the every person for himself mentality (just look at the traffic), the national inferiority complex – all these need to be eradicated for us to really change and fulfill our potential as a nation. F. Sionil Jose believes a Lee Kuan Yew-type leader is required (my interpretation).

To lift all of our people from poverty does not go far enough although it is a good start. Really, we need to free Filipinos from that mental state that makes them set imaginary glass ceilings and does not allow them to throw off the chains of mental bondage. We need to empower ourselves to think that we can go far beyond our current circumstances.

For this to happen, the way our current institutions are set up and function will have to radically change. Many laws that we currently have will have to be amended or thrown out all together. As the Peruvian economist, Hernando Soto, said, institutions are important and their ability to reform their legal systems contributed to successful examples of now-developed countries. The problem we have are that our institutions are corrupted and do not have the ability nor the willingness to think beyond themselves. This consigns us to the status quo which benefits the few at the expense of the many.

It is hard to accept that only a military-backed dictator will be able to launch a revolution to “re-form” our institutions.

The Philippines and the Filipino people is/are an impressionable lot. Rather than a military-backed dictatorship, we need a visionary leader who will also have the “sticktoitiveness” to push through with the necessary steps to build on a broad-minded vision. Someone who will have the balls to say what needs to be done and actually get it done. Someone who will argue by force of reason and logic rather than someone who will do so with the barrel of a gun pointed at your head.

Our Constitution, with its imperfections, is a relatively good one. We argue on the constitutionality of things based on technicalities. This misses the point. Our Constitution is a set of aspirations and promises. Sadly and very frustratingly, our institutions which are tasked with fulfilling these promises and thus getting us closer to these enunciated aspirations have failed us. The presidential oath of office binds our President to protect and defend its Constitution. It would have been better had the phrase “and fulfill its promises” been added. Regardless, we need someone who will understand this and do so.

Sadly, there is no one in the horizon for 2016 who seems capable of doing so.




give me back my taxes

I’ll tell you, Dave. I’ve been over this stuff a bunch of times. It just doesn’t add up. Who does these books? I mean, if I ran my business this way, I’d be out of business.

The quote above is from the movie Dave. Dave Kovic played by Kevin Kline runs a temp job agency with a side job as a stand-in for the President of the United States. When the real President suffers a stroke, Dave is asked to continue to impersonate the President to cover up the President’s condition. While impersonating the President, Dave brings in his accountant-friend, Murray Blum (played by Charles Grodin) to make some sense out of the US Budget. Blum quips about his impression of the budget after going through it several times.

filipino_child_watching.jpgIf one were to seriously go over the Philippine budget, I am sure many would feel the same way. Many would share the following sentiments:

– some of our money is being stolen

– not all of our money is spent wisely

– we are paying for things that we shouldn’t be paying for

– the government has enough money to fund real priorities if it chooses to do so

– there is enough money to give some of it back to taxpayers.

In 2012, individual taxpayers paid about P222 billion in taxes. This is about 20% of the P1 trillion that the BIR collected from all sources last year. The funds collected by the BIR accounted for 2/3 of all government revenues which was P1.53 trillion. Contrast this with the P1.77 trillion that the government spent in the same year. In simple terms, gumastos ang gobyerno ng P1.77 trillion ngunit ang kita ay P1.53 trillion kaya nagkaroon tayo ng deficit o pagkukulang na P242 billion. Sa negosyo – LUGI! Para mapuno ang pagkukulang, ang gobyerno natin ay nangutang ng pera.

Madali talaga mawala ang pera kung TRILLION, TRILLION na ang pinag-uusapan.

So why exactly can’t our government live within its means. Cutting P242 billion from the national budget represents a reduction in spending of 13.6%. Is there no way to find P242 billion from our budget to cut? Take the following:

a. We spent (budgeted) P353 million combined for the Philippine Sports Commission, the Gaming and Amusement Board and the Philippine Racing Commission. Is there a way where we can combine some of their functions and eliminate duplication?

b.  We have two legislative bodies which were budgeted a total of P8.6 billion. Why do we need 2 (under)performing bodies?

c. Other areas where we could do better:

– Parole and Probation Administration (P450 million)

– Philippine Textile Research Institute (P51 million)

– Science Education Institute (P1.4 billion)

– Technology Application and Promotion Institute (P84 million)

– Inter-Country Adoption Board (P25 million)

– Office of Transportation Cooperatives (P15 million)

– Office for Transportation Security (P36 million)

– Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (P293 million)

– Budgetary support to government corporations (P22 billion)

– Miscellaneous Personnel Benefit Fund (P109 billion)

– PAMANA Fund (P1.8 billion)

– Unprogrammed Fund (P153 billion)

These are but a sampling of areas of government spending which could stand some explanation. I am sure there are a lot more.

When we pay our taxes, there is an implicit compact between the government and its citizens about the use of the money. The government does not own the moneys reposited to it by the people rather government acts as a mere conduit to spend the money for services that benefit the taxpayers. The money is not for the use of government per se because the money is not theirs.

It has become very obvious that this pact has been broken by government. If government has lost sight of why they are entrusted with these funds, then they must return these to the taxpayers who might just know better how to use their own money.

it’s (really) more fun in the philippines (for a few)

Photo credit: REUTERS/Erik de Castro

Photo credit: REUTERS/Erik de Castro

MAKATI, Philippines – On May 15th of this year, the Philippine Stock Exchange index hit an all-time high of 7,403.65 points. The euphoria of multiple upgrades by the credit rating agencies and the perceived positive outcome of the national elections still had to wear off.

Thirty seven days later, the index closed at 6,182.17 – a massive 16% drop in just over a month.

Forgive my Monday-morning quarterbacking but this steep and costly fall was bound to happen at some point. I just didn’t expect it to happen this fast. I don’t think any of those stock market pundits did either. I feel for those who bought stock on May 15th, they’ve lost a lot of money. What makes it worse is that they were led to believe the market would keep on going higher. That’s what you call a rude awakening.

The Philippine stock market will surpass the high that was hit on May 15th. As to when that will happen, who knows? Anyone who tells you that they do – they’re lying.

Stock prices are ultimately driven by the ability of companies to generate income. Theoretically each company stock has some intrinsic value of what it’s worth. Each stock market analyst worth his salt has some target value for the stock of a company. How he arrives at it – well, there are many ways which includes putting his finger in his mouth, taking it out and figuring out where the wind is blowing. The analyst will always be proven right because unless a company blows itself up it will eventually report income that will justify an analyst’s target price.

The problem is that when you impute time into the equation, very few analysts can say when the pay-off will be. In the meantime, when the stock market and the stocks that comprise it go into a free-fall, very few have the guts to tell an investor – “I’m sorry, I made a mistake let’s get the hell out and fight another day.” Most likely, poor Mr. Investor will hear something like – “it’s okay, things will eventually get better” or “the fundamentals remain intact” or whatever other well-worn gobbledygook that has been peddled out in the past. All this as Mr. Investor sees the value of his investment go down from P100 to P98 to P95 to P85 to P60… And, eventually Mr. Analyst starts becoming real scarce and leaves Mr. Investor poorer for the experience.

I still believe in investing in the stock market. It works if your know what you’re doing. Many analysts remain stuck with theory, “rule of thumb” thinking and conventional but outdated investment philosophies to do well by their clients. The advent of technology has changed the ballgame to the disadvantage of small investors and out of touch fund managers. A buy and hold strategy works for a steady market but not for a small, very volatile and illiquid market like the Philippines. The old adage that the less you trade, the better is no longer always true. Controlling trading and other friction costs to maximize returns no longer works when stocks fall more than 20% regularly. It’s better to spend P5 to sell a stock when it falls P10 when the chances are momentum will make it fall more than P20.

Using macroeconomic data to project the growth of the stock market works only up to a certain point. Ones fortune lies in knowing the individual company stock that you are investing in. How well is that company positioned to take advantage of economic growth? The sad part is that the Philippine stock market and indeed the growth of the Philippine economy will always be hamstrung by our economic situation which does not allow for the full benefits of economic growth to trickle down to the majority of the population. Much as many knowledgeable people choose to ignore it, the benefits of economic growth will, for now, continue to be captured by a relative few.

What that means is that while there is growth, many companies will not be able to fully capture its benefits because the majority of our population will not benefit from it and have the money to buy more things and services from companies who make these things and offer these services. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that the Philippine economy is growing very fast. My real beef is that it is sad that not enough of our people get to enjoy this and improve their lot in life.

In a sense, we still live in a feudal state where only a few control the economy. You can’t really blame these few for that. What really breaks my heart is that we will continue to be in this feudal state because the cards are stacked against anyone in the bottom 90% of our population who dare dream of joining the privileged few. That is the reality we find ourselves in and unfortunately none of the candidates for Congress in the last election said anything even remotely close to addressing this problem in a realistic and game-changing manner. For how could they when they themselves (well at least most of them) belong not to the top 10% but to the top 1% of the nation’s economic elite.

The status quo is hard to change. Indeed, it is MORE FUN IN THE PHILIPPINES for those who can afford it.



i’ve run through the gates of hell: dan brown vs. francis tolentino

“Sienna imagined they were going to feed poor fishermen or farmers in the countryside, which she had read was a wonderland of geological beauty, with vibrant seabeds and dazzling plains. And so when the group settled in among the throngs in the city of Manila – the most densely populated city on earth – Sienna could only gape in horror. She had never seen poverty on this scale.

How can one person possibly make a difference?

For every one person Sienna fed, there were hundreds more who gazed at her with desolate eyes. Manila had six-hour traffic jams, suffocating pollution, and a horrifying sex trade, whose workers consisted primarily of young children, many of whom had been sold to pimps by parents who took solace in knowing that at least their children would be fed.

Amid this chaos of child prostitution, panhandlers, pickpockets, and worse, Sienna found herself suddenly paralyzed. All around her she could see humanity overrun by its primal instinct for survival. When they face desperation…human beings become animals.

…She cleared the tears and grime from her eyes and saw that she was standing in a kind of shantytown – a city made of pieces of corrugated metal and cardboard propped up and held together. All around her the wails of crying babies and the stench of human excrement hung in the air.

I’ve run through the gates of hell.”

These passages are from the new novel, Inferno, by Dan Brown – he of The Da Vinci Code fame (or infamy, depending on who’s judging). These are drawn from 3 pages of the 462 pages (including the Epilogue) of the novel. The contents of these three pages drew a 5-paragraph rejoinder from MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Sienna is Sienna Brooks, the other main character in the book. The main character is Prof. Robert Langdon, a Harvard-based symbologist whose character was portrayed by Tom Hanks in the movie adaptation of The Da Vinci Code.

Sienna Brooks is a doctor who grew up as a child prodigy with a genius-level IQ. Growing up, she struggled to fit in – as is apparently the case with many child prodigies. As she tries to find meaning for her life, a psychiatrist recommends that she stop focusing on herself and instead devote her energies to helping other people. She comes in contact with a humanitarian group which is how she finds herself in the Philippines.

She obviously did not have a memorable time in Manila. Sienna leaves Manila in a huff after an attempted gang-rape by three men in an informal settlement (i.e. squatter) area. The rape is averted when an old, deaf woman stabs one of the men in the back scaring the two other men away.

Atty. Tolentino, in his letter to Mr. Brown, expresses his disappointment at the “inaccurate portrayal of our beloved metropolis”. He goes on to state his displeasure at how Manila was used “as a venue for a character’s…disillusionment in humanity”.  He goes on to defend Metro Manila in this manner:

 “More than your portrayal of it, Metro Manila is the center of the Filipino spirit, faith and hope. Our faith in God binds us as a nation and we believe that Manila citizens are more than capable of exemplifying good character and compassion towards each other, something that your novel has failed to acknowledge. Truly, our place is an entry to heaven.”

Nice. Duh…An entry to heaven? What has he been inhaling? Oh wait – yup, that pristine Metro Manila air.

Yes, yes – it’s a novel but let’s try some fact checking.

Manila – the most densely populated city on earth: check (see this: Pop Density

Poverty on this scale: maybe, maybe not (we certainly have mass poverty but i’m sure there are other places in the world (e.g. somalia, sudan, etc.) where things could be worse, on the other hand, we don’t know where else Sienna Brooks has been to)

Six-hour traffic jamscheck

Suffocating pollutioncheck (we’ve probably just been acclimated to it)

Horrifying (child) sex trademaybe (i just don’t know)

Panhandlers, pickpocketscheck, check (A police officer was interviewed on TV yesterday in a report on crime in Divisoria with the back to school sales going on. He advised women to put money inside their bras to avoid being victimized by pickpockets. He went on further to say that you should divide your money between your two pockets “para kung madukot yung sa kabila, meron ka pang natitira”. With cops like these – &%^$#@)&^).

Atty. Tolentino cites his disappointment and displeasure but his letter doesn’t really contradict any of the specific depictions which he describes as inaccurate. Instead he wails about the fact that the niceties about the metropolis that he mentions are not mentioned in the novel.

Chairman Tolentino is borderline being intellectually dishonest with this letter. It was he, after all, in his book – “A New City – A New Metro Manila, A New Future”  who alludes to all these symptomatic problems of Manila as a basis for building a new national capital (see this:

Akala niya siguro makalusot dahil walang nagbasa ng libro niya. I actually admired him for the courage that it took to write that book. Imagine the grief he must have gotten from Metro Manila mayors for daring to propose something as audacious as building a new capital and taking away their bread and butter. Pero ngayon, was that all just lip-service?

When I saw the news about Chairman Tolentino’s letter, I was actually more amused than anything. I was not, however, really thinking about writing about it. But, I witnessed something yesterday afternoon that changed my mind.

I was stopped at a traffic light along Taft Avenue when I saw what must have been part of some sort of gang war. What was disturbing was seeing the combatants who looked to be barely in their teens brandishing sticks, stones and box-cutters while sniffing plastic bags most likely containing rugby. These combatants appeared to have taken over the stretch of Taft from Pedro Gil to Quirino as their battleground with nary a policeman in sight. When I wrote about the loss of civility and our descent into chaos (, I wasn’t really thinking about this but this is just terrible.

This post is not about defending Dan Brown. I’m sure he can take care of himself (i.e. ignore Atty. Tolentino). Rather it is about acknowledging our dire problems and seriously and systematically work to fight them. Atty. Tolentino’s attempt to portray some sort of utopia is sadly way off base and is not reflective of the true state of Metro Manila. When we choose to ignore criticism of real problems, be it in fiction or in fact, we delude ourselves into thinking that things will take care of themselves. They won’t go away just because you paint an alternative reality for the sake of pakitang tao.

Sana naman we grow up naNiloloko lang natin sarili natin.

We may not have the worst poverty problem in the entire world like what Sienna Brooks perceives. But we have it and we have it really, really bad. No amount of (macro)economic growth can hide the fact that the majority of the Filipino people continue to wallow in a pitiful existence that we should all be ashamed of. Huwag na natin takpan. Atty. Tolentino’s assertion of Manila’s citizens being more than capable of showing compassion to each other will only acquire real meaning pag nagkaroon ng makatotohanang lunas ang mga kapwa nating mga Pilipino sa BASECO, Payatas, Bagong Silang, Lanao del Sur, Eastern Samar at sa marami pang lugar sa Pilipinas.

I already know that poverty in the Philippines will not be meaningfully resolved within my lifetime. But – that shouldn’t stop us from trying so that hopefully, we see meaningful progress in our children’s lifetimes. To do so, however, requires that we stop being onion-skinned with criticism or dire depictions of our problems alam naman natin na nandiyan ‘yan. If we continue to ignore this fact because naka-angat na tayo sa iba, bubulagain ka na lang isang araw to see poverty and its problems that you can no longer ignore because it is right outside your front door.



i am not running for Senator but…(a different take on political dynasties)

S&P investment grade confirmed!!! 😀 (How will a trapo now argue against success?) While we are giddy, and understandably so, the underlying task remains — that is, to see the trickle down effects of our efforts take root. That will come in time. We like-minded public officials, in that DoF attached agency known as the Bureau of Customs, remain committed to seeing the process through. Mabuhay!!!

– Atty. Juan Lorenzo “Jorenz” T. Tanada, Deputy Commissioner, Bureau Of Customs

Red herring is an English-language idiom, a logical fallacy that misleads or detracts from the issue.

– Wikipedia

MAKATI, Philippines – The current election campaign for 12 seats in the Philippine Senate can be seen as notable in the sense that 18 of the 33 candidates have either themselves held national office or are relatives of those who have. Thus, it is probably no surprise that many of these candidates and those running along with them are asked about their take on political dynasties.

Some kind of avoid directly answering the question, some use the “good dynasty, bad dynasty” rationalization to defend their candidacies while some use the “let the people decide” excuse. On the other hand, I don’t think anyone has yet come out saying that the political dynasty provision in the Constitution should be struck down for being a violation of their right to run for public office.

English: Composition of the Philippine Senate.

English: Composition of the Philippine Senate. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The framers of the 1987 Constitution sort of washed their hands of the issue by appending the phrase “as may be defined by law” to the political dynasty clause. In management, one of the considerations for setting goals is that it should be attainable. Unless some sort of miracle happens, the passage of an Anti-Dynasty Law by any Philippine Congress will fail the test of being attainable.

The goal of having an Anti-Dynasty Law is to sever the seeming monopoly of public office by a few. Political dynasties are said to spawn corruption and as PNoy’s line goes “kung walang corrupt walang mahirap.” Ergo – walang mahirap kung walang political dynasty. Such a neat storyline. Unfortunately, things are not that straightforward with simplistic generalizations.

Atty. Jorenz Tanada is a friend of mine. We met through our common love for football. We worked together in the organizing committee of the 2014 World Cup Qualifying matches that we hosted for our Philippine Azkals’ campaign in 2011. Prior to that, Jorenz and I along with a common friend would muse about his wanting to go into public service. At that time, he was thinking of seeking an appointive position with a government agency but was not sure how to go about it and had qualms about doing it through the “padrino” system. I haven’t asked him what happened but he either never applied for that position or applied but was not selected.

Just over a year ago, Atty. Tañada finally joined government as part of Ruffy Biazon’s team at the Bureau of Customs. I am happy for him not because he got THAT appointment but more so because he finally gets to do what he has wanted to do – be in public service in the true sense of the phrase.

Jorenz belongs to the Tañada clan of Quezon. He belongs to the fourth generation of Tañadas who have been in public service. The Tañadas, as a political dynasty, are respected and held in high regard. An Anti-Dynasty Law will likely cut short any dreams that Jorenz and his cousins have of running for any elective public office.

The Constitution sets rules as to who may run for public office. Those rules currently do not include disqualifying those who have the same last name as someone else in public office.

The anti-dynasty provision of the Constitution and the current clamor for the passage of an enabling law makes for good political theater. The question is – is it the right thing to do?

If we are to divine the apparent logic behind the anti-dynasty provision, we can take that it follows from the first phrase of Section 26, Article 2 which states:

The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.” (Emphasis mine)

I would argue that the two ideas expressed in this provision are not necessarily a “buy one, take one” proposition. They can be taken separately based on the thought that equal access does not necessarily mean banning political dynasties nor that the prohibition of political dynasties does not necessarily mean having equal access.

Those who propound the anti-dynasty story make a presumption that the two go together which may not necessarily be true. Yes, our current situation does prevent people from being elected to public office or even think of running for one because certain advantages are conferred upon an opposing candidate belonging to a politically-entrenched family namely name-recall, better organization and (more often than not) more resources (i.e. money). Yes, an anti-dynasty law may prompt more people, who may otherwise be disinclined from doing so, to run for public office.

All these argue that an anti-dynasty law may indeed make running for public office a more realistic option. But then again, is this really what is meant by equal access?

We must remember that running for public office entails winning votes from more people than your opponent. Theoretically anyone can do that. Does getting the votes needed to win an elective position necessarily entail the passage of an anti-dynasty law? Our current reality may say yes.

I would, however, propound that the advantages of a candidate belonging to a political dynasty can be mitigated or even offset. A candidate just has to work harder and smarter to do this.

Name-recall? If you are worthy of the position that you are running for, there are ways to package your accomplishments and qualifications to generate name-recall. You may be starting further back relative to a well-known candidate but it can be done. Moreover, movie stars and professional athletes also have name-recall, so this is not solely the domain of political dynasties.

Better organization? Win the right people to your cause and you can chip away at this presumed liability.

More resources? It’s not necessarily having more resources that wins elections (though realistically it goes a long way), it’s also how smart you are with spending the resources that you have.

There are also existing laws which already address these items such as limits on campaign spending and others. Our enforcers just need to be serious and more forceful in punishing transgressors.

I devote Part 2 of this series to the anti-dynasty issue not necessarily because of where I stand on it. I do this to show our propensity to solve our problems by treating the symptoms rather than the root causes. Our problem is not that we have too many Arroyos, Aquinos, Cojuangcos, Cayetanos, Binays, etc. in public office. Our problem is that our system allows mediocre people to be elected to public office. Our problem is that when we elect mediocre people to public office, we leave the solving of our serious and real problems to people who are neither equipped nor capable of doing so. Note that being a member of a political dynasty is not a qualification for being mediocre.

Other than the citizenship, age, residency and literacy requirements of being a candidate for public office, the Constitution only requires that:

“…Public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.”

The anti-dynasty debate is a red herring. It is propounded as part of the solution to our real and serious problems when it is not. The inequalities that it seeks to address are only real because we fail to address with real solutions, the underlying issues of income disparity and poverty. It is an issue that is taken seriously because we have not acquired the intestinal fortitude of confronting the real issues kasi mahirap and there is no political will to make decisions that will upset the unacceptable status quo.

In the meantime, an anti-dynasty law (if enacted) and by extension, the anti-dynasty provision of the Constitution, do real damage. They seek to deprive a Filipino citizen of his right to freedom of expression, his right of suffrage (i.e. being able to vote for himself), his right to equal protection of the law – rights that are enshrined in the same Constitution. It discriminates against someone solely because of his last name and/or fault and punish him for being born into a family which chose to serve the Filipino people.

For those who will argue that the rights of one end where the rights of others begin, we can debate the point relative to this topic. For those who will say that depriving someone of his right to be selected by his fellow Filipinos to be their leader will be for the greater good, I ask – is it really?

I, for one, would rather see someone like Jorenz be allowed to stick their hat in the political arena because, at the end of the day, his heart is in the right place and he is capable of making a difference – Tañada or no Tañada.

[Editor’s Note: Atty. Juan Lorenzo “Jorenz” T. Tañada is not running for any public office in this election nor do I know whether he ever will.]

(To be continued. In Part 3 – realism and the tough choices we need to make as a nation.)

I am not running for Senator but…(Part 1)

We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty God, in order to build a just and humane society, and establish a Government that shall embody our ideals and aspirations, promote the common good, conserve and develop our patrimony, and secure to ourselves and our posterity, the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace, do ordain and promulgate this Constitution.

 Preamble of the 1987 Constitution


The maintenance of peace and order, the protection of life, liberty, and property, and promotion of the general welfare are essential for the enjoyment by all the people of the blessings of democracy.

 Article 2, Section 5 of the 1987 Constitution


The State shall promote a just and dynamic social order that will ensure the prosperity and independence of the nation and free the people from poverty through policies that provide adequate social services, promote full employment, a rising standard of living, and an improved quality of life for all.

 Article 2, Section 9 of the 1987 Constitution


The State shall promote social justice in all phases of national development.

 Article 2, Section 10 of the 1987 Constitution


(Emphasis mine)


MAKATI, Philippines – Free the people from poverty.

Photo from

Photo from

The quoted passages above from the 1987 Philippine Constitution all come before Article 2, Section 11 which covers the guarantee of human rights. Whether by design or by circumstance, the framers of the Constitution seem to have understood the inequality existing in our country – an inequality which consigns the majority of our people to eternal poverty.

Article 2 is the Declaration of Principles and State Policies. It is supposed to convey who we are as a people and our aspirations as to how we would like things to be. All these, however, are just words.

Our company has our Annual Budget and Operating Plan sessions where we look at how we did in the past year and how we plan to do better in the following year. It is a gruelling event for those who have to present their performance and their budgets and for those who have to critique the people making the presentations. I noticed that the presentation preparations always seemed to take an inordinate amount of attention. This is, of course, relative. Relative to what? Relative to the amount of time they should be spending executing the plan that they present and monitoring their performance relative to their plan. I tell them – presenting a plan should be easy; the hard part is actually executing it.

So it is with our Constitution and its Declaration of Principles and State Policies. Declaring these principles and policies is one thing; making sure the principles are observed and the policies followed is another.  More than abiding by principles and following policies, however, it must be remembered that these are all just means to an end. And that end is to provide a better life for our people.

The good thing about our annual (and 5-year) plan is that there are specific and measurable benchmarks that we set out to achieve, there is a robust review process and accountability is easily identifiable. Such is generally not the case with government.

Despite that, it is sad that over 25 years (hey did we even celebrate this?) after the Constitution was ordained and promulgated, the promises it contains have not been fulfilled. Fairly typical, I would say.

In all honesty, other than lawyers, who actually gives a damn about the Philippine Constitution? For those who know it exists, well – it exists. For the vast majority of Filipinos, – ano ba ‘yan?

Making the Constitution and its promises come alive is a shared responsibility of the three branches of government. If we seriously think about where we would want our country to be, 28 years after the EDSA Revolution, we really haven’t gotten anywhere. To be frank, wala talagang nangyayari at mangyayari sa atin unless baguhin natin ang makitid nating pag-iisip.

We currently bask in the glow of (presumed) world attention (maybe I overstate this, oh well) due to PNoy’s TIME 100 appearance, the current absolute and relative strength of the economy and the investment-grade rating by Fitch. This attention does reflect acknowledgment of some substantive work particularly by our economic managers in the current and previous administration.

On the other hand, the poor in our country remain poor. I kinda felt for Dr. Arsenio Balicasan, the head of NEDA, for having to explain why the rate of poverty incidence had remained practically unchanged over the past 6 years blunting the otherwise rosy economic picture. It also lays to waste the (prematurely) touted impact of the centrepiece Conditional Cash Transfer program of the PNoy administration.

Of course, we hear and will continue to hear that “the trickle down effect of the economic growth that we have seen will take time before it reaches the rest of the population” or words to that effect. That sounds logical enough. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen.

Lifting someone out of poverty is a simple proposition that is difficult to achieve under our current circumstances. It entails providing opportunities to generate income, ensuring the stability of that income and providing for mechanisms to save some of that income to build wealth. While our country is currently in the midst of an economic expansion, it is difficult to imagine this expansion as being significantly sustainable. It is also probably close to impossible to imagine it making a permanent difference to the rate of poverty incidence. Moreover, given that poverty incidence is calculated based on a rate as a percentage of the population, what this actually means is that mas dumami ang naging mahirap dahil tumaas din ang dami ng Pilipino sa kabuuan.

At this point, whatever lift that economic expansion has given to increase individual incomes, mechanisms to retain this income to build wealth are not accessible to all. That is assuming that the typical Filipino can even save. Sa ngayon – kung ano man ang kinikita, nagagastos kaagad kasi kulang pa nga ito sa pang araw-araw na gastusin. So – sino ang yumayaman? Sa madaling sabi ang mga kasulukuyang mayayaman ay lalong yumayaman, at yung kasulukuyang mahihirap ay mahirap pa rin. Walang “trickle down effect” kasi ang kasulukuyang kalakaran does not lend itself to this economic theory.

Everything in the Philippines is stacked against the poor. They have no meaningful voice, they are many but are not organized and oh yes – they have no money.

It is unfortunate but it will take a revolution in thinking and doing to change this sad state of affairs. Many who can do something about this don’t want to do it because it changes the status quo to which they owe their standing in life. Many more don’t know care. Those who care are either too few to matter or are pursuing the wrong solutions. And of course, there are always those who seem to care but are only out to get more votes.

Yet – a solution to freeing our people from poverty is out there. It has been done before. Many other countries are in the same boat as we are. Some have not done anything about it, some have done a little something about it and some are doing a lot about it. In his book, The Mystery of Capital, the economist, Hernando de Soto, cites these countries as having the following, among others, in common:

  • Strong underground economies;
  • Glaring inequality;
  • Pervasive mafias; and,
  • Flagrant disregard for the law.

 Sound familiar?

Yet, there is a way out.


(To be continued.  In Part 2 – the long, hard (but doable) road to freeing Filipinos from poverty and it’s not a through a POLITICAL DYNASTY LAW.)