When “My Way” is Bulok

pexels-photo-750977.jpegIt would be cool if Filipinos had more news celebrating STEM accomplishment instead of another Idol type singer belting her lungs out.

If noontime tv shows had kids from different public schools competing in math and science, instead of sexy singing and dancing, would the chances improve? As it is now when you go to a poor community, you are treated to a variety show of young under 12 year old girls dancing provocatively with ultra loud music that kills brains cells.

What if there was a UP high school in every major city? What if we had something like the Indian Institute of Technology? What if we had regular coding competitions and hackathons with big prize money in state capitals? (ayan assuming Federalism na). Winners then go on to a national competition.

I know some of our kids have won international math and science competitions but wouldn’t it be cool if Filipinos did that regularly with products of the public school system?

What if instead of seamen and domestic helpers, we exported engineers and coders? In national defense, imagine a hacking culture like Russia’s?

Is it really a trade off? If you’re good at singing and dancing (the arts) you will be bad at math and science? Are we forced by Latin culture to go for the arts?

The bad thing is every other country has gotten rich first with the disciplines of science and are now venturing boldly into the arts. Think the Japanese and the Koreans. The Indians have Bollywood. Even the Singaporeans, Thais and Indonesians no longer have Pinoy bands in their hotel lobbies. They have homegrown singers now which are just as good, or else they employ Western bands.

How can the Philippines bend its policies and incentivize its youth to embrace more STEM? This is one of the things that only a strong fully functioning government can do on a nationwide level.

In the meantime, we can dream for that day when less Filipinos would die singing “My way” at karaoke sessions.


On that word “Manigong”

Now here is a Tagalog word that you only hear during new year’s eve (and even then, hardly). That is “manigong” as in Manigong Bagong Taon, the Filipino greeting for a Happy New Year.

I have always had a problem with this word, which I presume means “prosperous”. It is a word doused with generous obscurity and inaccessibility. For Merry Christmas , we say Maligayang Pasko, which is simple enough…since “maligaya” is of fairly common usage. But “manigong”?

In the whole history of the Tagalog language, a Rappler study says the word “manigong” has been used only 4 times in plebeian conversation, once in Cavite in 1956, once in Laguna in 1969, and the two other times yesterday in UP Diliman in a conversation between two leftist academics.

Did Filipinos just exhaust their vocabulary for “Happy”? If the intent was not to duplicate the Christmas adjective (maligaya) then we could have gone for Masayang Bagong Taon. But no, the intent seems to be a less Western, and rather a more Asian, focus on materiality and hopes for a better standard of living in the coming year. Think about all the Chinese wishings for a “prosperous“ or “bountiful“ new year. That’s what we are going for.

So we are stuck with “manigong” , which to me sounds like “maligo”, as in Maligo ka sa Bagong Taon! Quite a well-intentioned and meaningful greeting, especially if one is experiencing a particularly harsh winter and has been skipping showers.

Taking a daily bath is a very Filipino trait, and probably our most (only?) notable mark of cultural advancement. It shows dogged habit and discipline despite all odds, like lack of hot water. It also shows the concern for our fellows that we typically do not show otherwise. We will go counterflow and jam up traffic, but at least we don’t stink up the mall with BO, and people can enjoy their paseo.

Some would argue, the point is moot (like RevGov) because everyone in the Philippines says Happy New Year in English anyway. So why bother pointing out the inadequacy and peculiarity of a quaint archaic phrase?

Precisely because, if we had a catchier local way of saying Happy New Year, we would probably be using it more. The diagnosis is everything. And IMHO it is all the fault of that grinch word “manigong”.

So I will start a petition on Change.org and I want 100 million signatures to change “Manigong Bagong Taon” to “Maligo ka sa Bagong Taon”. Catchy, huh? No need for Con-Ass or Con-Con. No need for plebiscite to ratify. (Charles Englund has always been authoritarian).

In a complementary move, “manigong” will be demoted (or reassigned) to a new saying, “Mabuhay at Manigong Ka”. This is along the lines of the Vulcan, “Live long and prosper”.

The Path To Extremism

RIGI_GVeewei.jpg.885x520_q85_box-0,2,250,148_crop_detail_upscaleThe friction always arises once the revolutionaries win and become “the establishment”.

The Duterte revolution may have been won via the ballot, but it was a revolution nonetheless, with all the concomitant trappings and dynamics. The difficulty faced now by supporters is the same one faced by all groups after winning. The looming question is “what now?”

It was easy to know what we were against. Ineffective and callous government was the base grievance. We were sick of Yolanda, SAF 44, PDAF/DAP and the like. A systematic oppression via a flawed constitution that limited investment and jobs was also a root complaint for many.

It is almost inevitable now that people will want different things. The differences between the winning factions will become pronounced. They will start to disagree on how far the revolution should go. It is probably entropy that some people will now think the revolution has not gone far enough, that we need to root out the old and start with a clean slate.

Who does not want that? Most people recognize the quickest way to get all the reforms done in one fell swoop is via a revolutionary government (or RevGov as I have coined it). Even Duterte has acknowledged this as the short cut solution.

Unfortunately, in the real world there are always costs to starting over. Especially for countries. And the usual problem with shortcuts is that the devil in the details always comes out. These are my concerns:

1) If RevGov is declared we will have economic and political uncertainty. The markets will crash. The peso will plummet. Foreign investors will keep away.

2) Nobody knows exactly what will happen. There is no one coherent plan on how long RevGov will last, or even exactly what is entailed. We cannot even handle the many moving part of running an efficient MRT system and we think we can handle the dynamics of a RevGov?

3) There will be a sufficient number of Filipinos who will be against it, seeing it as a return to authoritarian rule. And then what will you do? Fire on the people at EDSA? Start throwing dissenters in jail? Remember during Cory’s RevGov, the Philippines saw multiple coup attempts. The prospect of civil war is real.

Duterte himself has said he is not the one to do a RevGov. An extra-constitutional move is seldom palatable to a lawyer. In my view, he just dangles the threat of RevGov in front of critics in the same way the cat teases mice. We know Duterte; he likes to threaten and shock.

Besides, Duterte has already laid out a plan to address what ails us. The constitution will be amended to open up the economy and create new jobs. Federalism will decentralize government, create competition amongst local leaders, and promote peace in Mindanao. It is my hope that a switch to parliamentary will also happen to make government more efficient and to encourage the establishment of real political parties, based on ideology.

Ultimately, that is why I support Duterte. He recognizes the problems at their base. If these structural fixes are done, we will have a chance to break out of this vicious circle of ineffective government, low investment, unemployment, and poverty.

My support ends if power is taken extra-constitutionally. We have matured beyond that. To fall into that mode again is to take several steps back into Banana Republic statehood. I understand people’s frustration and impatience. They see the game is stacked against change. The true fight, however, lies in sticking to the rules and matching wits, not in tossing the board game out of pique.

Have we even fully exhausted the means available to combat malicious reporting by some new personalities and politicians? The President has yet to file any libel cases to my knowledge. No measures have been taken to hold certain media outlets accountable for what they print.  Do you think we are drowing in noise and partisanship? There are perfectly legal and creative ways to address that.

Let us stick to the path of moderation. The middle path is still where I believe the bulk of support lies. RevGov is already an extreme position. And that road to extremism is dark and full of terror.

Nice Try, Florin Hilbay

ellen-tordesillas-florin-hilbay-20172004In a democracy, we can all theoretically push ideas and changes we want to see happen. It is with this kind of ideal in mind, that I read thru Florin Hilbay’s recommendation to create (yet another) government body called the ‘Institute for the Integrity of Information”. Hilbay says:

“The way to counter-balance government disinformation is through the creation of a public institution whose sole task is to identify and publicize government dishonesty. When public officials become dishonest, it is the obligation of the State itself to correct distortions in the marketplace of ideas.

“I propose that Congress enact a statute creating the Institute for the Integrity of Information, a sort of Ombudsman for public information provided by government, or an information police for government officials. What are the main features of the Institute for the Integrity of Information?

1) It should be composed of a board whose members are academics, media practitioners, policymakers, scientists, information technology experts of the highest credibility and competence.

2) They should not be appointed by the President or by any of his alter egos. In my opinion, this can be done without violating the Appointments Clause under Article VII, Sec. 16 of the Constitution.

3) Its function is four-fold:

• To create standards for verifying information provided by government.

• To actually verify information provided by government.

• To publicize its findings.

• To issue rewards to citizens who are able to spot fake information provided by public officials.

With all due respect, this is a bull crap proposal. Mr. Hilbay, this mechanism already exists. It’s called “the press”. It is their duty to fact check what government says. There are also NGOs that can, and already do, this sort of thing. Lately, social media has also been very effective in quickly exposing mistakes or misrepresentations.

Your proposed insitute sounds like (yet another) body that will be used for political attacks on the administration. It will be a vehicle for the opposition to launch information attacks on the incumbent, whoever he or she is.

Parang nakikita ko na kung sino ang members ng institute na ito: 1) Ellen Tordesillas, 2) Karen Davila, 3) Randy David, 4) A bishop; and of course, 5) Florin Hilbay.

These continued attempts to have the last say on information is just another transparent attempt to control minds and play politics. Ultimately, the people decide for themselves what is true and what is not. If this does not agree with your “truth”, then tough. Maybe that is why they didn’t vote for your side.

Confessions of a Frustrated Troll

I suspect many of my fellow pro-Duterte commenters on FB are here out of frustration more than anything else. I know that’s why I am here. I don’t think we are here to spread propaganda or sing praises, even if that’s how it appears to the antis (which in itself is frustrating).

No. We defend when we think the logic of the attacks is poor or inaccurate. That is the source of the frustration. That’s why many of us wade into some of the public posts that attack Duterte. (which I tend to do less nowadays because, really, nobody cares to listen anymore. People are so embedded and invested in their positions).

We are also frustrated about the way the opposition is opposing, the manner of which does not offer any alternative pragmatic solution, but seems just to be opposition for opposition’s sake.

We are frustrated that the people who don’t understand the problems are the noisiest. And those that understand the problems resist change out of fear or negativity (“hindi aandar yan. Or “bago yan, eto muna dapat”). And it just stops there. Sometimes the biggest sin in this country is to ask, “What if?”.

We are frustrated that the traditional powers-that-be: the oligarchs, the clergy and the media are always taking the opposite side. There is no respect for democracy and the voice of the people. I am repelled that some people think they know better or their views matter more just because they can get printed in the New York Times.

Stop attacking and we will stop defending. Stop calling pro-Duterte people idiots…because sa totoo lang ang dami ring idiots na anti-Duterte. We see them everyday on social media.

Our Soldiers Saluting the Flag in Butig

I like this photo of our soldiers saluting the flag after retaking the town of Butig in Lanao del Sur. The photo is from mindanaopost.

It is not glossy or stage-lit, like the ones we see where the people look like they were posed by an unseen director. The photographer here did not edit or add drama to the photo in post-production. This is not the New York Times after all.

We see instead just the clean formation of assembled troops. We do not even see the soldiers’ faces. And there is something emotionally gripping with their anonymity, an anonymity that symbolizes and recalls sacrifice. I imagine the faces are stoic, defiant, tough. Perhaps there were a few young men whose eyes welled with bitter tears for fallen comrades.

They are after all saluting the flag. Ang mamatay ng dahil sa iyo. And what a flag it is in this photo. This is not a ceremonial parade flag–clean, large, fluttering from a tall metal flagpole. You know those flags that look good in glossy pictures. This flag looks almost makeshift, small and hanging from what looks like a bamboo pole. It is a battlefield flag.

The next time we meet a soldier, we should thank him for his service to the country.

Charles Englund June 2017

With a Congress Like This, Who Needs Enemies?

One thing again made obvious is how inefficient and ineffective is our current system. The CA process is just one example that shows up how Congress is a den of special interests, oligarchs, and dynasties. 

Switching to a parliamentary system abolishes congress and combines the legislative with the executive. It is a faster, more efficient system.
We would not have a VP who has no job but to play politics for the next election. We would not have to suffer through impeachment processes, as sitting leaders can be replaced overnight by their party. We would not have the Senate as a necessary pool of potential president wanna-be’s, and would instead focus on mayors & governors with executive skills. We would have less of a personality and celebrity-driven politics, and issues would matter more.

At the very least we will be paying less salaries and pork to these families who have ruled us forever. We do not need 321 lawmakers who actually do not give us the reforms we need, but just act as gatekeepers and toll collectors.

PRRD we voted you for drastic change and you yourself recognize these things. Please initiate the shift to change the constitution to adopt a parliamentary and federal system.

Kung hindi, nag-aano-han lang tayo. Parati na lang ma-So-Sotto ang bansa.

Charles Englund – May 2017

Four Points of Depression

This whole ICC business is depressing. First, because it shows that perceptions matter more than actions: it’s not what you do; it’s what people think you did or represent. It’s what you look like and what you say. It’s how you sound and the color of your skin. Boiled down, it’s really all about what the cool, rich kids think and say about you. In other words, we haven’t evolved much from the school playground.

Second, the more I read about the ICC the more I think it’s an unjust, flawed and unfair mechanism that subjects poor countries’ internal issues to the judgement of foreign eyes. Sure the concept of an international super court sounds good on paper but in practice it can be manipulated to serve political ends, as what we are seeing now. It is not surprising that only African leaders have been indicted in the ICC (the ICC’s chief prosecutor is an African woman, Fatou Bensouda of Gambia).

Even the US State Department criticized the ICC, saying there is “insufficient protection against politicized prosecutions or other abuses”. Of course, the US does not recognize the ICC when it comes to its own controversial torture, drone bombing campaigns, nor potential war crimes in a Afghanistan, etc.

Which brings me to depressing point number three. Because the ICC is fighting to rationalize its own existence and to fend off criticism that it has only been going after African leaders, it seems the easy thing for it to do now is to indict a brown leader from Asia. The case is a lousy one, but the coordinated press attacks have primed public opinion. It has all been building up to this.

Finally, depressing point number four: At a time when all Filipinos should be uniting to support the duly-elected president, and vehemently protesting this blatant foreign interference, some (the usual suspects) are clearly smacking their lips with pleasure and anticipation. They don’t know or don’t care that the country has moved closer to the prospect of chaos.

Will history repeat itself? Will the Philippines again shoot itself in the foot, grab defeat from the jaws of victory, due to our consistent penchant of putting political self-interest before the national well-being?

The Problem with Lampooning Mocha

The problem with lampooning Mocha Uson is not only the backlash from her millions of followers. It requires a very fine touch–lampooning skills that are normally beyond the reach of even the best Filipino writers in English. 

In addition, lampooning has to start with self examination. Are you yourself vulnerable to playing a caricature, perhaps a crass cartoon of the simpering, elite effete? This is all the more important when your subject is Mocha, warrior queen of the working class, veritable voice of the masses.

Be ready when Mocha answers back. And she will. Usually, it ends up pretty ugly–her adversaries end up like roadkill or pesky flies swatted with a hefty, rolled up newspaper. Splat.

So many have tried, none have even scratched Mocha’s skin. If anything, they only managed to anger her and push her to be more resolved.
Worse, in their attacks, the attackers are themselves weakened and diminished. Apart from the temporary thrill, their brand is damaged. They are exposed for all to see–for their hang ups, their poor logic, and their latent biases.

Nerdgasm Over Dutertenomics

It is usually not the norm to have a country’s economic team regarded as “rock stars”, but as I listened to the Dutertenomics symposium I was gripped by excitement. (I have a Finance and Eco background, so indulge me).

The massive infrastructure spending program of this administration is going to be the largest ever in the country’s history, amounting to over 1.1 trillion pesos spent in the first year alone and ramping up every year, to the tune of around 5.3% of GDP, on roads, rail, bridges, airports, etc.

Best of all, one gets the impression that finally (!) the Philippine government understands what needs to be done AND has the political will to do it. Probably the best soundbite of the afternoon came from Transport Secretary Art Tugade who said that in the past it was always “talk, talk, talk”. Now it’s going to be “build,build, build”.

Budget secretary Diokno tickled all the Keynesians in the room, confirming that it’s going to be deficit spending for the next few years, pegged at 3%.

NEDA chief Pernia estimates the creation of 1.7 million new jobs until 2022 as a result of the infrastructure spending.

DPWH Secretary Villar gave a sneak peak at the upcoming projects, which include a high-speed spine highway network connecting much of Luzon, enabling transport from Bicol to La Union in 12hrs, for example. A harbor link will be built – from Manila’s ports to points north – eventually to be used by the 40,000 logistics vehicles that now jam edsa and c5.

There were many more sexy projects mentioned such as the buildup of Clark as a commercial airport and the development of a new modern city there to decongest Manila. There is apparently a plan for a subway that will run from Quezon City to Taguig. The Mindanao Rail and Panguil Bay Bridge.

Finance Secretary Dominguez summed it all up emphatically. The plan is to move to an inclusive, investment-led growth fueled by government spending on infrastructure–a rapid catch up on what our neighbor’s have been doing for the past decade. We cannot rely on low interest rates and cheap oil any longer. DOF’s kicker is tax reform to rationalize income and corporate taxes and make us more competitive with our neighboring Asian countries.

Viewed from the perspective of historical austerity measures and underspending of previous administrations, the plan is indeed crazy wild. In Dominguez’s words, it is “audacious”.

Quite fitting for this audacious president, the likes of which we have not seen before.

Charles Englund April 19 2016