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

Let’s Play Gangnam Time!

Question: Why are Leni and Trillanes in Korea?

Top Six Reasons:

1. Observing socialized housing of North Korea which involves settling people in the demilitarized zone (DMZ), over landmines.

2. Both wanted a stress free vacation, away from Manila traffic and crime, free from the prospect that war could break out at any time and nuclear warheads can rain down on your head.

3. Kim Jong Il has hired Leni and Trillanes as special consultants to train North Korean sleeper agents in destabilization operations.

4. Both are fans of Lee Min Ho and want to get selfie and autograph.

5. On advice of Georgina of OVP, both are doing music video with K-Pop group to improve their public approval ratings. 

6. CIA (realizing they have allied themselves with bumbling idiots) told them to wait in Seoul until further notice for big payload…er, payoff.

Charles Englund – April 16

Newsflash! The Real Reason Lascanas is in Singapore

Now it can be told. Lascanas is in Singapore for a job interview in Universal Studios. Insiders say there is an urgent need to fill an important and high profile position in Shrek’s Castle.
Officials say Lascanas is supremely qualified to fill the role of Pinochio, the wooden puppet whose nose is a dead giveaway whenever he lies.

One Size Fits All?


Actor Raul Mendez as Cesar Gaviria, former president of Colombia in the popular Netflix TV series, Narcos.

There is too much noise and misunderstanding about the drug war, and the press has made it worse instead of clarifying the many different assumptions. People and politicians are all too willing to jump on the bandwagon, for whatever reason or agenda, and ride this  emotional issue.

As controversial as the war on drugs has been, there is no disagreement that a serious drug problem exists in the Philippines. Even the Church has agreed it is a problem and that something has to be done. There is some debate on whether the real number of drug addicts is 1.8mm or 3 million, but that is a sideshow with no real import. Either way it is a problem. To those who object that Duterte is fudging the number and exaggerating for the purpose of rationalizing, one need only ask if Duterte’s policies or public support would be any different with either number. I think not. Policy does not really change drastically whether drug addicts are 2%, or in fact 3% of the population.That’s why it’s a sideshow, a fringe argument.

What people are arguing about, in fact the core of the controversy, is the conduct of the war, the methods used, and the body count. This argument is unfortunately clouded by a multitude of differing assumptions on either side. One side insists the body count is 7,000 dead, while the other side chooses to look at the official police figures which are closer to 2,500. There is also no agreement on the term “EJK”, or whether the deaths are “state-sanctioned”. (What happened to the national murder statistic; is everything now being lumped into a 7,000 “EJK” number?) There is no agreement on whether the drug cartels themselves are doing the killings, or whether rogue cops are acting as masked vigilantes. Depending on who or what you read, you can even believe that users are being killed along with pushers, that there are quotas, or there is a cull list.

Perhaps an attempt to simplify and whittle down the main sides can be done as follows: a “hardline” stance that includes aggressive police effort vs. a “softer” approach that includes decriminalization. These sides can then serve as polar guides and we can all locate ourselves at the poles or along the spectrum.

The former president of Colombia, Cesar Gaviria, judging by his op-ed piece is for a softer approach. Relatively, the governments of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia are for a harder approach i.e. no decriminalization and the death penalty for drug traffickers. These nations believe that a country should determine for itself what is the correct approach that best suits its unique needs and circumstances.

Once we have agreed there is a problem and have identified the possible approaches, the other debate which should be happening is “how do we define success in the drug war”? Does one million surrenders spell success? How many buy-bust operations and arrests? How many rehabilitated? Does lowering in all other crimes count as one of the factors in determining success? As any manager would tell you, the goals have to be explicit and the results have to be measurable.

This definition of what would constitute a “win”, should also take into consideration, that like poverty, zero drugs is an impossible dream. So what constitutes an acceptable level? That should be part of the measures in determining success.

These are the things that people should bear in mind when discussing the issue. As with all controversial matters, the complexities sometimes get the better of us. An understanding of each other’s assumptions would contribute greatly. Perhaps we should remember that “one size fits all” hardly ever works.

Of Rappler and Harvard MBAs

A certain Harvard MBA who is friends with the folks at Rappler has a rebuttal to my carinderia investment analogy (Galit sa Gulay – A Case Study, Feb 3., 2017). Normally, I would leave it at that; I mean obviously the man feels like he is standing up for his friends and business connections. Fair enough. What irks me though is that he adopts the same tone that underlies most all social media arguments nowadays…anybody who disagrees with me is a troll. Worse, there is the barely disguised arrogance among his set (the Pinoy Harvard Venture Capitalist set) that they have the sole franchise on financial literacy in the Philippines. 

Lo and behold, the man has a blog. There he explains the reason why people might invest in a losing company. His main argument is that Rappler is not really a media company, but can be viewed as a “tech company”. As is common with tech startup investing, you are buying the future potential earnings of the company, not the current losses.

Just for fun, I have composed the below reply:
“So your argument is that Rappler is not a media company but rather a tech company, and should be valued as such. And as a tech company we can supposedly be free and loose with valuations because, hey it’s a GROWTH company. Reminds me of the crazy heydey times during the tech bubble of 2000.  

Did you seriously just compare Rappler to Amazon? I’m sure such “vision” comes in handy when talking to potential investors. So as a tech company, Rappler’s value is in its mood-meter? Its big data analytics? The same big data that predicted a Hillary Clinton win? 

No, thanks. I will invest in the carinderia.”

Charles Englund, Feb 7, 2017

Revolution or Terrorism?

espejo-cpp-npa-ndf-20150726-640-2One of the great burdens of our country, the communist insurgency from which we all enjoyed a shaky respite, appears to have gone back to its hateful, violent norm. After brief hope that the Duterte administration’s ceasefire and negotiations with the CPP-NPA would bring about peace, the recent killing of 6 soldiers and kidnapping of another 2, has ended the dream, at least for now. Duterte has rightfully dropped the proffered olive branch and announced renewed war.

As President Duterte said, he cannot be faulted for not trying. Government efforts started as early as the SONA when a unilateral ceasefire was announced. What this failed effort calls into question anew is whether the CPP-NPA can be sincere in its desire for peace, and capable of keeping its side of the bargain. Or is it in fact a bit like negotiating with an entity for it to kill itself? Is it like negotiating with cows to end the existence of all cows? How embedded is violence and overthrow of the government with their stated ideology of the the workers’ and farmers’ struggle?

Likewise, the idea of the CPP-NPA as an organized force reporting centrally to a recognized common leadership is thrown into doubt. The CPP-NPA seemed unable to even enforce a ceasefire in its ranks nationwide. No wonder. It stands to reason that with such a diverse and geographically separated country like ours, the CPP-NPA shares similarities with the Moro insurgents. There are probably numerous splinter and rogue groups, only nominally still under the CPP-NPA umbrella. How many of these groups are actually disguised kidnap-for-ransom and extortion gangs? How many are just plain bandits wanting to live off “revolutionary taxes” and act like warlords in their area? How do you even negotiate with such a multi-headed hydra?

If ideology were really important, then the CPP-NPA should already be seeing in Duterte a great opportunity. How many Philippine presidents have invited communists and leftists to join the administration? Isn’t that the end goal of the fight–to have a seat at the table and influence or even make policy? If they cannot be happy with partial participation, then they should also support Duterte’s call to change to a Parliamentary system, because they can then consolidate as a political party and run in the elections. That could lead to the birth of a real party system in the country that is distinguished by ideologies.

The non-violent Left should already be distancing themselves from their violent counterparts. The self-styled leftist sympathizers and the anti-Duterte crowd have found common ground and are already making noises about the failed peace talks. As usual, the noise is grating because it gives too much credence to a discredited ideology and the CPP-NPA, as if it should be treated like an entity equal to the government. How anybody can not be on the side of the government on this just speaks to partisan agendas and an overall lack of patriotism.

The cards are on the table. Anyone who insists on supplanting the government via the force of arms should not be romanticized and hidden behind the term, “revolutionary”. In fact, as Duterte himself has realized, the correct term for these people is “terrorist”.

Thoughts on TP’s latest Pasabog on Rappler

Should media companies like Rappler be allowed to circumvent foreign ownership restrictions imposed by the Philippine constitution just by utilizing some creative financial engineering i.e. a loophole? This was a question likewise raised by Tiglao in his article in Manila Times last October 28, 2016.

Philippine Depository Receipts (PDRs) have allowed Rappler to receive capital from foreign funds Omidyar Network and North Base Media to the tune of an estimated 100 million pesos. In effect, Rappler Inc. became 100% foreign-owned in 2015, as the local investors’ capital (represented by parent company Rappler Holdings) was wiped out by the several years of operating losses. (According to its 2015 SEC filings shared by TP, Rappler Holdings had a negative equity of some 35 million pesos.)

So the use of PDRs has effectively disguised the “takeover” of foreign shareholders. Voila! Rappler is a 100% foreign-owned media company–in clear contravention of the nationalist spirit of the Philippine constitution that feared foreign meddling and control of local media.

What is more concerning, as TP points out, is that both Omidyar and North Base have links to Soros, who has advocated regime change in other countries he deems to be “undemocratic’. Maria Ressa’s claims that the foreign funding will have no influence on editorial decisions can be believed, if only because their interests were already aligned to begin with.

My google search says the SEC had already put out draft rules back in 2012 that it would not allow PDRs to mask foreign ownership. Does anyone know whether this was later adopted formally? If so, Omidyar and North Base Media will have to sell.

I am passing the hat around –we can all buy Rappler collectively. It may not be profitable but think of it as your contribution to nation building. Wink.


Charles Englund (Facebook Post – Feb 2, 2017)

Galit sa Gulay – A Case Study

Suppose I wanted to invest in a fancy, money-losing carinderia–Aling Maria’s Carinderia. I can either lend it money i.e. invest in its DEBT (in which case I become a creditor), or buy its shares i.e. invest in its EQUITY (in which case I become a pro-rata owner). Hmm, ano kaya?

I really want to invest in the carinderia but if I lend it money, the required interest payment will kill the already fragile cashflow. So debt looks like a no go. Besides, sa atin-atin lang ha, I DO want to influence the menu. <insert sinister contrabida music here> Gusto ko chicken inasal at inihaw na baboy lang. Araw araw! Bwahaha (kulog. kidlat)! Why dafuk else would I invest in a money-losing business? Kailan naging charity si Charles Englund?! Even if the carinderia loses money forever, I don’t care.  I get my kicks in a different way.

So, Equity ang sagot. Equity grants me ownership, and as an owner I would have a say in how the carinderia is run. Si Aling Maria ubos na ang capital, pero masaya lang siya basta makapagluto. Mahilig magluto yon eh. And like me, she is also an inasal lover.

But, Ooops! It seems like the killjoy 1987 Philippine constitution has an ownership restriction against bloggers owning carinderias in the Philippines. This is to prevent those nasty, evil bloggers from influencing the menu of the nation’s carinderias, thereby having undue influence over the Filipino waistline.

Alam ko na! Bigay ko muna sa friend ko ang pera. My friend, Pedro (let’s call him PDR for short) is NOT a blogger so ok lang. I make a contract with PDR so that he “owns” the stock but really is bound by our wink-wink agreement to do as I say. Even if PDR grows a conscience and thwarts my evil inasal plans, I can still go to friendly Aling Maria (who knows I am the real one buttering her pan de sal). So may influence pa rin ako.

Let’s go Maria. Let’s go Pedro. Heto ang pera. File niyo na sa SEC. Under industry classification be sure to put “Food and other related restaurant business”, ok? Mabuti na yung hindi nagsisinungaling, baka dyan pa tayo masabit.

That Post-Truth Glass of Water

201208-omag-quiz-half-empty-glass-949x534It amuses me how some people can so easily (and arrogantly) dismiss the possibility of “alternative truth”.
Do we really live in a world of absolute truths? Unquestionable facts?
“The only path to salvation is thru our Lord, Jesus Christ.” That is an example of absolute truth to some people. But ask a Moslem or a Hindu, and they will disagree and have their own truth. An alternative truth.
“Trump and Duterte are the same.” That is truth in the sense that both have had controversial statements regarding women. “Trump and Duterte are different”, however, is also true when one considers that Trump is a conservative, and Duterte is a liberal. Unlike Trump, Duterte has a great track record of fighting for women’s rights, reproductive rights, and the LGBT community.
So how can two diametrically opposed statements be true at the same time? Surely, we have to realize that there are multiple factors and dimensions to consider. To arrogantly say that only your truth is true, is now the ultimate statement of simple-minded entitlement, exactly one of the gripes behind the populist revolts seen round the world.
The next time we are tempted to think we now live in a post-truth world, we should perhaps  remember that proverbial glass of water from time immemorial. Until now, people are still arguing whether it is half-full or half-empty.