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.

Rogue Cops and Reforming the PNP

camp-crame-0520Twenty years ago, I was in Crame. That was the first and hopefully last time I ever go there. The reason was mundane (a traffic accident) but I was led through what seemed like the bowels of one of the buildings. I remember passing by a small room which was empty except for only one chair in the middle. It was not even a second of time spent walking past that room, but I immediately got the shivers. After all, I am a Martial Law baby, and I have an almost organic fear of those army and police camps on EDSA. I imagined an interrogation, someone blindfolded and tied to the chair, a man with a cudgel or holding the ends of electric wires standing over.

How much of my sudden fear and revulsion was conditioned by Hollywood, and how much was based on reasonable assessment? I don’t know. But I am not ignorant to the reality that life is cheap in a poor third world country. I would have felt the same shivers in Bangkok or Jakarta, if I were Thai or Indonesian.

The recent bold killing of a Korean national right inside Crame only highlights the extent of depravity and abuse that still exists inside the PNP today. The exposure of generals and other high-ranking officials in the narco trade is another reminder. Some say the brutality is coming back due to Duterte’s war on drugs and the attitude of all out support to the uniformed services given by the President. It is therefore become more imperative that quick and decisive action be done in this high profile case.

PNP chief Bato, who once broke down in tears over the sad state of criminals among the PNP ranks, seems sincere in efforts to reform the institution, but this latest grotesque incident can only be taken as a slap on his face.

“Very angry. Very offended. Kung pwede lang matunaw ako ngayon sa kinalalagyan ko sa hiya. It happened sa loob ng Camp Crame. Kinuha nila doon sa Caloocan, dinala doon sa loob ng Camp Crame, at doon pinatay. Kung pwede lang matunaw ako ngayon sa hiya. Hiyang-hiya ako,” he said in a briefing in Malacañang.

There is no question about the sorry state of our institutions, the police and justice system chief among them. However, this does not mean that we should give up. The idea of waiting to wage a drug war until you have a totally flawless police is illogical. Should we just stop chasing criminals and enforcing laws since the police are corrupt? Should we stop putting out fires until we have the perfect, corruption-free fire department?

We should not forget that there are good and decent people in these services too. Duterte and Bato, I think more than any other previous top officials, have gone on record and stated publicly that they recognize the problems and want to reform the PNP and AFP. These are not easy nor uncomplicated tasks. Increasing the woeful pay of our police and soldiers is certainly one measure. If we didn’t pay them like slave animals, perhaps they would not act like animals. The other measure: to increase morale and heighten awareness for public service and love of country has certainly been done, and done well by no less than Duterte himself.

Unfortunately, these two measures are the ones being strangely derided by the anti-Duterte’s, who see it as coddling in preparation for Martial Law. In their view, the root of all evil is the President’s potty mouth. That seems to be the end all, and be all of their argument.

The recommendation then is obvious, act decisively in this sad case of Jee, prosecute the monster cops to the full extent of the law. (Incidentally, I think cases like this are exactly why Duterte wants the death penalty back). For the potty mouth, scale back and instead give explicit threats Duterte-style that criminal cops will be sorry they ever lived.

CE Jan 2017

Travel Thoughts – Singapore

250px-rear_view_of_the_merlion_statue_at_merlion_park_singapore_with_marina_bay_sands_in_the_distance_-_20140307

Singapore still elicits mixed reactions among Filipinos. Perhaps because it is: 1) a sucess story and 2) anti-thetical to many Filipino’s beliefs on the “proper way” to develop. In fact, some of these Filipinos would even question #1.

Many still believe the Singapore experience is a fluke, an accident of circumstance. A model that is not replicable or scaleable. In other words, Singapore was lucky enough to be small and have Lee Kuan Yew, and that’s all there is to it.

Nevertheless, standing on the quay where a stone merlion spews a lively jet of water into the bay, I thought I heard voices. Not surprising since this small city state, once a sleepy backwater, is where most Filipinos see ghosts of what-could-have-been. Amidst the Jetsons-inspired tableau, with the Marina Bay Sands shooting lasers into the sky, the merlion whispered to me, “Do not be afraid. Courage is needed to go against the crowd and break out of old models. The purpose of government is to make citizens’ lives better. Everything else is ego and whimsy”.

Do You Want to Oust Duterte?

36401874-frozen-picture

Sing to the tune of Do You Want to Build a Snowman (from Frozen)

Leni: Loida?
(Knocking: Knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock)
Do you want to oust Duterte?
Come on you know you want to play
It’s the man that we both abhor
Let’s kick him out the door
You’ve got billions anyway…
We have Goldberg, our best buddy
And now we’re hot
I’m so tired of standing by!
Do you want to oust Duterte?
You know we can oust Duterte..

The Morning of Creative Cropping

02_ppm-protest-11-30-16I respected your right to get together and air your grievances. I liked some of the witty slogans. However, there are a few facts that remain clear. Judging from the aerial photos (not the tight cropped ones that you are passing around), this issue is not enough to galvanize enough people. PNP estimated only 3,000 attended. Even if we generously multiplied that by 10x, it is clear that the Marcos burial, however passionate some individuals (especially the leftists) are on social media, is something that the majority would just rather get over.

All these efforts to pass off the size of the crowd as larger than it was, patting the unwitting millenials on the back, claiming to have unified broad sectors of society, is…overreaching. We can all see it.

Even on social media, all the exhortations were meeting lukewarm response. Someone even wondered aloud whether her FB was working since she was getting less likes on her posts about the issue. The comment that got me scratching my head is when someone tried to double down and say it was not even an anti-Marcos rally at all. Huh? Just teaching the youth to be activist?

You should all look ahead now. If you don’t want a Marcos comeback, come up with a better alternative than BBM. Find a real champion, someone with gravitas, not another non-executive widow. Kung si Hillary nga with all her experience hindi pa nanalo. You have to find a Bernie Sanders. An MVP? An Ayala? Razon, Gokongwei or Sy?

Let us Teach our Children

I am for educating our youth about history. To be effective, it has to be a COMPLETE education, and not a politicized spoon-feeding. Teach them about the Cold War and how Asia was carved into spheres of influence. Teach them about the Oil Crisis and hyperinflation of the 1970’s. Teach them about Marcos, but also about Suharto, Mahathir and Park Chung-hee.

I am a Martial Law baby. As a child, I remember seeing the almost daily riots of the First Quarter Storm. The first corpse I saw was the body of a student demonstrator lying face down on the road after Fidel Ramos’s PC Metrocom clashed with a huge red phalanx of them shouting “Marcos, Hitler, Diktador, Tuta!” 

I lived through the economic crisis when my family could not afford meat everyday even if we were solidly in the middle class. I can sing you the propaganda jingles of Kit Tatad. The songs and slogans. The New Society. Pulong-pulong sa Kaunlaran. Masagana 99. The metro aides. I remember riding the Love Bus to Escolta. There was no traffic then.

I was at EDSA in 1986. There was Chito Gascon and Rissa Hontiveros, then just student activists from UP and Ateneo, with megaphones giving instructions. We followed them, the leaders of our student government.

My history teacher told us that Marcos, like any other president, had some good points and bad points. She left it at that. So we had to decide for ourselves. This being the Ateneo, we sniggered and thought, “Marcos loyalist pala si Ms. A.”

Later on, after much reading and studying, travelling and living, I still remember what that history teacher said. I just hope my children can make up their own minds, not be slaves to politicians’ purposes, think critically and be able to use different lenses to view the world.

Charles Englund

November 2016

Mambo Duterte or Huling El Bimbo?

hulingelbimbo3-300x199

It does not help that you think I’m a blind follower, an apologist, a rude and crude supporter of a bloodthirsty maniac. You think I am a troll. Worse, you suspect I am a paid troll, or even, a bot. For how can anyone in their right mind support such a foul-mouthed monster?

On the other hand, WE think you’re hopelessly naive, a bleeding heart easily manipulated by click-bait articles, an unconscious elitist who, similar to the past administration, is out of touch with the pulse of the rest of the country, outside of the narrow Manila mindset that you inhabit. You are a conspirator to the perpetuation of oligarchy in the country.

The ammunition we use is easily inventoried by now. Yours are: Dutertard, Dutertite, Duterter, Hitler, Psychopath, bastos, troll etc. Ours are: Yellowtard (we know you were not necessarily a Pnoy supporter, but we know it’s damn annoying to be called one anyway), dilaw, ivory-tower, biased, bobo, etc. So everyday we open Facebook, we mark our territory, so to speak, and then just resort to these labels, labeling comments and each other.

It is pathetic and toxic. But also strangely exhilarating and hypnotic. For why else do we keep on coming back? There is adrenaline in the discussion. We need to vent and be heard. “What the hell is this guy saying? I have to get in there and teach him a thing or two.”

Such is the state of our online existence now.

There have been many explanations offered of how we ended up this way. One that I found particularly insightful was that we never stopped campaigning. Even after the elections were over, everyone stayed in campaign mode. Criticism of this administration started pretty much on Day 1. Forget the 100 day press honeymoon. One of the biggest, if not the biggest issue out there, is this huge question mark–how much of this criticism is coming from genuinely concerned Filipinos, speaking about issues important to them, and how much of it is politically-motivated? Nobody except those in the highest rungs of money and power can say for sure.

The other insightful explanation, most popularly attributed to F. Sionil Jose, is that we should recognize what the Duterte win in the election means. It is no less than a revolution, a movement for reform and drastic change in the country. In a way, Duterte is our Widodo. All over the world, voters are rejecting traditional politics and politicians. No matter the quibbles about Duterte also coming from a political family, the fact remains that he is the first President from Mindanao, and is not part of the traditional Manila power elite. It was his strong record as a sympathetic and effective local executive that brought him to the national limelight, more than his family name.

This revolution politicized huge swathes of the population, even segments that have previously been apathetic or excluded from the national discussion. People who used to say “Pare-pareho lang naman sila” (They are all the same), and “Kahit sino ang iboto ko wala namang magbabago sa Pilipinas” (Whoever I vote for, nothing will change in the Philippines anyway) suddenly could not be held back from the polling centers. I spoke to a Filipina OFW in Hong Kong who worked in the hotel convenience store. She has been abroad for 28 years, starting out as a maid, eventually breaking into the hotel industry. She says 2016 was the first time she voted since she was in her early 20s. She voted for Duterte.

This story can be multiplied millions of times. The simple fact is many Filipinos came to realize that the status quo does not work; that the system was failing them. We hit the proverbial iceberg with the OFW diaspora, the growth “strategy” that was no strategy at all, rather, the result of the failure of other strategies to grow jobs at home. The unintended consequence of this labor export was that millions of Filipinos saw first hand that life did not have to be so hard. It is possible to have a functional government and all that it entailed — clean, well-lit streets, low crime, adequate public services, public transportation, etc.

Budget airfares and the internet gave even more Filipinos a glimpse of “the good life”. They saw gleaming Asian cities where millions have been brought up from poverty in the span of a generation. The great thorn on the side is Singapore, a country that would have been euphemistically referred to as “shabby” compared to Manila in the 1970s. But there are many thorns in this crown of shame. We now see how Kuala Lumpur surpassed us, and then Bangkok and then Jakarta. Now it looks like even Ho Chi Minh is about to edge us out. The saddest thing to hear is Filipinos saying, “Naiwanan na talaga tayo.” (We have been truly left behind).

Apart from this mirror being help up to our faces, we saw how the world saw us: a country of maids, of natural disasters, a people that could never get their house in order, an object of pity. Sure, we have Manny Pacquiao and the occasional opiates to our mortally wounded national pride. It still doesn’t help if you’re cleaning your master’s toilet.

Now imagine all these newly aware, newly politicized, fed up Filipinos. On Facebook.

I have never threatened anybody on social media, or told anyone they should try being raped or killed by a drug addict. No matter how strongly I disagree with someone, no matter how insulting, how arrogant, or how much they try to pick a fight. Then again, I do have a wide enough vocabulary and can argue back. You pick a fight with me and I can fight back and vent in many a way.

But what about the millions of Filipinos on Facebook who have a problem forming a sentence in either English or Filipino? Or those who are so insecure about their language skills that they start a fake account and use memes? Is social media solely for the Ateneo, UP, La Salle, UST, San Beda, etc. crowd? Is everyone else “a troll”?

Do trolls’ opinions matter less because they cannot articulate it well, or within socially-accepted norms? (Whose norms?) How frustrating that must be.

I am not excusing their behavior, but we can’t forget the underpinning dynamic of the freshly baptized, newly-politicized people. As said before, the Duterte phenomenon has done that. Anger against the past administration and the collective failure of the post-EDSA era has done that. I just find it very strange that the same people who can sympathize with drug pushers and addicts pushed to drugs and violence due to poverty, cannot seem to sympathize with the broader demographic on social media, or with the inarticulate, overzealous troll.

To fail to understand that what happened was a revolution, the birth of a reform movement (and an overdue one), is one of the reasons you are puzzled by the vehemence and passion of Duterte supporters. Facebook has only amplified that existing rancor.

You know the other thing that bugs me, no end? That some of you have characterized our political divide into a battle of good vs evil. I mean, c’mon. Whether intentionally or simple-mindedly, the anti Dutertes have resorted to demonizing him and all of us, the pro administration people as “evil people” with no concept of human rights or due process. The trick here is to try and gain a moral ascendancy in the argument, which gives them carte blanche license to hurl all the abuse they can muster. It even gives them, in their minds, the rationale, to disregard what other (evil! misguided!) Filipinos think and believe in, and move to oust a duly elected government.

Nobody seems to recognize that the root of the divide is more due to different political priorities. Why are we always talking at cross purposes? Because at the top of your list are EJKs and the burial of Marcos at Libingan. At the top of my list is a move toward efficient and effective government, one that is sincere in its service to the people. I am for tax reform, higher fiscal spending and opening up to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). I believe what Lee Kuan Yew said about the Philippines is true: that the US style setup of the government has failed us even before Marcos tried to change it, and I believe we should move to a parliamentary and federalist system. We need to break up our huge archipelagic country into more manageable and governable federal states. I am concerned that the corruption we have always seen in Philippine politics may have links to drugs i.e. narcopolitics. I am for peace in Mindanao and a tough stance on terrorists and outlaws. I feel all these things are closer to happening with this administration. Duterte gets all of this and is the best chance we have had since…forever.

Then there are the other issues where we just outright clash. I am for a realist, multi polar approach to foreign relations. You want to confront China and take a harder stance; I believe the best solution to the China problem is diplomacy and compromise. You believe in media freedom; I believe in media responsibility. Your model for the country to go forward is the US system with all its bells and whistles, and you believe the status quo is working. My model is Singapore and I believe we need to make drastic systemic changes or continue to be overtaken by our Asian neighbors.

You insist on decency and statesmanlike behavior; I’m willing to give the man a break. Yes he is a crude, loud mouth with no filters. His comments make me cringe sometimes. He is imperfect and a product of his milieu, as a recent write-up of Manolo Quezon III (belatedly) made clear. I have gotten used to it and am not shocked by D30’s politically incorrect speech anymore. And the fact that many still are makes me just want to sigh and ask, so what now? You can’t change him. He won’t listen to your eloquent pleadings for more statesman-like statements. If anything, the more you call him Hitler, the more he will retort and say something you don’t like. Remember he had to be begged to take this job, and at his age he does not give a fuck.

Discourse breaks down when nobody recognizes the ironies anymore. When the likes of Princeton-educated Walden Bello, an ex-Senator, starts calling Duterte supporters short-penised dinosaurs on Facebook. When academics and intellectuals totally miss the point and say we are all just looking for a father figure or a messiah.

When a media outfit like Rappler starts a “stop the hate” campaign and then effectively blocks and censors its own readers who are disagreeing with their articles and demanding better media. Like a “pikon” child, Rappler then goes on to insinuate that Duterte supporters are really “bots” and fake accounts i.e. falling back on the paid troll accusation. (I have now resorted to posting pictures of my lunch just to show I am a real person).

Discourse suffers when the same people who turn the Delima investigation into a gender issue, then turn around and abuse strong, influential pro-administration women who are speaking their minds, like Mocha Uson and Sass Sasot, with below the belt, slut-shaming and anti-LGBT attacks.

Discourse is better served when we stick to the issues and seek balance. It is served better when we stop being so onion-skinned and whiny. It’s not like one side threw a rose and the other a rock. Social media is a strange animal with assholes on both ends. Balance is best achieved by not blocking everybody who disagrees with you, and by not living in an echo chamber. Perhaps there is a self-correcting element to our fights. Perhaps like newly weds, we are slowly whittling down each others rough sides and rough arguments. Give an allowance for vehemence because people are defending their political priorities and interest.

Discourse breaks down when you persist in talking about only what is important to you. Worse you use it as an overriding reason for criticism and even ouster. Because, let’s face it, what is really the end goal here? Will you be happy with apologies and promises to change? Even if a survey shows popular backing for the war on drugs, would you still insist you know better? Would you insist on “speaking for the poor”, when they themselves have already spoken? If we had a referendum on the Marcos burial and it shows the majority support it, or else don’t care, would you still insist and say, no the vote was rigged? How does that reconcile with your belief in democracy and majority rule?

Will you ever be satisfied short of “regime change”? People are already suggesting it in broad daylight. Clinton Palanca, in a recent piece in Esquire, wonders how long before the anti’s can unseat Duterte.

There lies the problem. I have the sneaking suspicion that your side has already given up on discourse. So what happens to my desire for a sincere and effective leader? For peace in Mindanao and terrorists eradicated? For a multi polar approach to foreign relations? For structural change in our form of government and to amend the constitution? What happens to my wanting the Filipino to have some pride and say yes, the son of a bitch who stood up to the US? My president. For my desire to see poverty reduced in the quickest possible way? For my desire to break from the old order that obviously does not work?

Only in the Philippines. Our so-called democracy is so “vibrant” that we always get mired down. We forget that political will is anchored to political stability, and that stability rests on the robustness of our institutions, and on us. And what have we done for our political stability lately? Precious little. As a people we like to think with our hearts and we will always be prey to click bait headlines and spin–because as rich in natural resources as the Philippines is, we lack in one very important resource–critical thinking. Even some of our elite do not question the status quo. They share their Western liberal biases with the international media, who rely on the local press and the local elite as their eyes and ears on the ground.

I have always marveled at this country’s tradition of shooting itself in the foot, of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. We are seeing it again. If democracy and rule of law gets supplanted again by the whims and vested interests of the Manila powers-that-be, then all hope is lost.

So what we have now is like two kids in a school yard fight. Shoving and testing each other. Gathering courage before somebody makes a move and throws the first punch. Somebody should just start it soon. And then we can go back to the Stone Age.

Let me put it bluntly in terms you would (hopefully) understand. And pardon the hyperbole, which I assure you is not that far off. If you haven’t realized it yet, this is the most popular Philippine President in a long long time. This guy is Mambo Duterte. The more political dirt you throw at him, the stronger he becomes. If anything happens to him, there will be class war, if not outright civil war. Visayas and Mindanao will secede. Your driver will go after you with a screwdriver. Your cook will poison your food. You think Duterte is a monster? He’s a pussycat compared to what comes after him if he is ousted or assassinated.