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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Former DBM Secretary Ben Diokno doubts 6.6% claim of full-year growth, when imports barely grew at 2.6%. The 'elephant in the room'---rampant smuggling. Prospect of power outages even in Luzon would dampen FDI inflow. Main PCSO witness vs. GMA, Aleta Tolentino, develops vertigo when faced with prospect of withering cross by GMA lawyer Anacleto Diaz. Ed Tirona reflects on Manila Cathedral episode.




The 6.6 percent full-year growth of the Philippine economy in 2012, as bannered today in media, has drawn mixed reactions---from hosannas of joy among the President’s fans and true believers, to outright skepticism from critical folks in the internet and some economists.

Some unbelievers felt that there may be some degree of over-reading of data by President Aquino’s economic and finance officials in what was given to him to deliver at the recent opening of the 5th conference of the “Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption” (GOPAC) in Manila.

Thus, his stressing that “good governance means good economics” is understandable, given the world audience from 80 countries assembled here. But the over-stretching of truth may affect the credibility of some of P-Noy's  claims, and in the end it’s neither good governance nor good economics.   

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Former DBM Secretary Benjamin Diokno
UP Economics professor and former Budget Secretary in the Estrada administration Benjamin Diokno, as quoted by the Tribune, is among the doubting Thomases. While Filipinos from various political spheres have one common wish, i.e., to see the economy succeed if only to help alleviate the pervasive poverty of our countrymen, it is easy to see the logic of Diokno’s skeptical arguments.


For instance, Diokno, who was also former DBM undersecretary for budget operations in the Cory years, finds the “raving” of the National Statistics Coordination Board about the “remarkable performance of the external trade” tough to subscribe to.  

His explanation is simple: How can exports grow by 8.7% in real terms against a much lower growth in imports---when the raw materials used by most products that the country sells abroad still come from imports? “How can the economy grow at 6.8% (in the last quarter 2012) with imports barely growing at 2.6%?” he queries. Diokno answers his own query: "Maybe the statisticians ignored the huge elephant in the room: rampant smuggling." 

It should be noted that in the first two years of the Aquino administration alone, the value of smuggling totaled $39.2 billion, more than the $35.2 billion in the entire nine-year Arroyo administration. These figures reinforce the perception that there appears to be some big-time smuggling going on in this nearly three-year old administration. 
Diokno also points out that even as the economy grew last year. a million jobs was also lost mainly in the agricultural sector. 

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On the other hand, the prosperity index of the Legatum Institute in the UK, which annually measures the prosperity of nations around the world in eight categories and prepares perhaps the most comprehensive report on this subject, rates the Philippines in the past four years as follows: in year 2009, #61; 2010 (half of it already under P-Noy), # 64; in 2011, #66 and in 2012, #67. In other words it has been a downturn for Ph on the prosperity index, and this is known around the world.

What's also hard to dispute is the continuing poverty and rise in hunger statistics here, as shown by recent surveys, amid the lack of employment opportunities. This latter factor is, in turn, as much due to lack of skills training of the lowest levels of society, as to the failure of the country to bag foreign direct investments (FDIs) that economists know bring about REAL JOBS, in contrast to "hot money" coming in hefty these days.

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Statistics show that in Asean, Ph remains the laggard in FDIs, cornering only $3.5 billion in 2011 and 2012, compared to, for the same period, Singapore US$113 billion, Indonesia $32 billion, Malaysia $21 billion, Thailand $17 billion and Vietnam $15.4 billion.

The cause of Ph’s poor performance in FDIs is a combination of factors. Among these, perceived political instability stemming from fear of electoral fraud through the problematic automated election system and the PCOS machines, which the bishops have denounced so strongly; and the alarming rise in criminality even in the metropolis (our shopping malls, where Filipino families and tourists converge, have become target by hoods).

Then too, our country lags behind in energy infrastructure and our power rates are among the highest in the region. Mindanao has suffered power outages over the years, and now P-Noy’s economic planners warn of an energy crisis hitting Luzon in the coming summer months. This means right smack in the mid-term election season, which could affect the Liberal candidates whose victory P-Noy needs, to push his reform agenda for the other half of his term.

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On the other hand, the claim by President Noynoy of good governance also suffers in credibility, considering the harsh double standard for his perceived “enemies” as against his perceived coddling of corruption cases involving his KKK friends and allies, whom he does not hesitate to bail out.

It does not help perceptions that this administration is hiding something when the FOI bill has been shelved anew in this 15th Congress--- owing to the lack of political will of the leadership that, in turn was manifested in the failure to muster quorum in Congress for this bill. This is in sharp contrast to the very divisive RH bill whose urgency P-Noy unhesitatingly certified and where accusations of the administration buying votes with pork barrel have not been denied.   

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Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is Exhibit A in the President’s anti-corruption campaign, but the problem is that in the electoral sabotage case no other witness could be summoned except a discredited former Comelec official---prompting the trial court to allow GMA’s plea for bail.

The Ombudsman, once a respectable SC Justice who seems to have gone on a self-destruct mode in her post-retirement job, sought to reverse that bail by slapping GMA with another charge before the Sandiganbayan---non-bailable plunder---on the allegation that GMA had  helped herself to many millions of intelligence funds of the PCSO.

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But main state witness Aleta Tolentino, an extremely self-assured woman lawyer who serves as deputy of PCSO Chief Margie Juico, has admitted to the court that she has no direct knowledge of the case vs. GMA, going only by documents fed her. Faced with the prospect of a withering cross-examination by GMA’s lawyer, Anacleto Diaz, Aleta suddenly develops vertigo and absents herself from the hearing. 

But despite all these developments, GMA’s case continues to languish in the SC headed by P-Noy’s CJ appointee, where the former President has filed ad cautelam pleas for that Court to order the speeding up of her hearings in the Sandiganbayan, so that justice could be served her.

The problem is that like other graft cases filed in this administration where P-Noy’s public pronouncements of guilt of his adversaries substitute for fair and speedy trial, GMA’s case is so high-profile that GOPAC delegates are doubtless aware of the real score.  

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Defenders of social activist Carlos Celdran like to say that nobody was offended by his placard-bearing protest at the Manila Cathedral, and therefore he should not be meted out punishment by the state.  

Civic leader Edgardo Tirona
Allow me to give space here to the thoughts of a first-person eyewitness and participant in that unfolding drama, when Celdran barged into the Cathedral---civic leader Edgardo Tirona. Here’s Ed’s own thoughts:


“I was halfway through my reflection on the "May They Be One" ecumenical bible service in September 2010, when Mr. Celdran of the now infamous "Damaso" stunt walked in. He was hesitant initially, but when a bit past the lectern where I was standing, Celdran raised an illustration board while facing the pews. I thought he was just calling the attention of someone whose car may be blocking somebody else's. But, when he started to shout something incoherently, I knew it was something extraordinary, so I tried to speak louder and closer to the microphone to drown out his voice.


“I recall when he was already being led out, that I was in that part of my reflection saying something about understanding those who are not with us. No wonder Bishop Bacani told me in jest that he initially thought Celdran was there as my prop! Well, it was a publicity stunt that he was able to pull off at the expense of disrupting the solemnity of the occasion.

"If we interfere with the Court's decision, we will be making a mockery of justice and may even invite others, including Celdran himself, for a 'repeat performance.' It will be inviting chaos that may not end peacefully next time. Two months to one-year (depending on his behavior) reflection in jail for his premeditated illegal deed may even do him good for a lesson on civility and humanity.”




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