Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Against love�s histrionics

The denouement of the forbidden love affair between Kris Aquino and Joey Marquez has been such a big scandal these past few days that I half-expected the Philippine Stock Exchange to crash and the peso to take a nose-dive. Fortunately, nothing of such sort has happened. What we have instead is a gross and pornographic spectacle of a relationship falling apart, of erstwhile lovers turned into the bitterest of enemies.

Such episodes in one�s life are the most embarrassing�doubly so when the circumstances leading to the breakup are narrated in national television ad nauseam and dissected in our country�s risqu� tabloids.

The White House�s advice to president Marcos in 1986 should apply to lovers intending to break up: Cut quick, and cut clean.

A sense of level-headedness is called for in moments like this. Now, if only Kris Aquino had the levelheadedness of her brother, we could have been spared the emotional excreta that inevitably comes from love�s decomposition.

I guess Kris and Joey�s love for each other was simply too intense to survive. Nowadays, people would not settle for a relationship whose emotions do not rival the intensity of Catherine and Heathcliff�s love. No, love must be tempestuous, the kind of romantic love we see on soaps. Why can we not see more of Elizabeth Bennetts and Mr. Darcys , who approach love pragmatically and with good sense not to subject oneself to great paroxysms of emotion? A love like Kris and Joey's, so showbizy and marked with too frequent protestations of love, was never bound to last. Perhaps only Kris believed otherwise.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Edward Said is dead

The scholar Edward Said, a professor at Columbia University for most of his career, has died of leukaemia. Said is the author of Orientalism, the book that launched post-colonial studies. The Guardian reports on his death.

The Telegraph has a short bio on its website.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Who killed Jesus?

Slate has an essay by Steven Waldman on the topic. Waldman writes:

For a lot of Christians, the answer to the question "Who killed Jesus?" is "God did"�or "we all did," the abundance of sinful human behavior having made his sacrifice necessary.

The complexity of that debate notwithstanding, it is clear that the Crucifixion and Resurrection are central to the faith. While the Crucifixion in itself wasn't a good thing, it was, according to much Christian doctrine, an entirely necessary and pre-ordained thing. Without it, Christianity as we know it wouldn't exist.

So, really the answer to the question "Who killed Jesus?" should be: Who cares? Theologically, the answer is irrelevant, which means Christians can stop blaming Jews and Jews can stop being defensive. And people of both faiths can get back to disagreeing about more important things like whether you get more presents at Hanukkah or Christmas.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Arnault v. Nazareno and the right to privacy

Joaquin Bernas discusses Arnault v. Nazareno, the 1950 case cited by Sen. Angara to compel Iggy Arroyo to answer the questions asked of him in the Senate. Bernas opines:

The nation then did not yet have the experience of what is now a common phenomenon -- legislative harassment or investigations in aid of election. This phenomenon gave rise to a command now found in the 1987 Constitution: �The rights of persons appearing in or affected by such inquiries shall be respected.� These factors need to be considered in dealing with the Iggy Arroyo case.

Should Arnault v. Nazareno be upheld? Blogger Marvin Aceron has this to say:

In this age of the individual, can we afford to affirm the lack of power of the individual against the abusive transgressions of the police state? With all its resources and might, the Philippine State has become susceptible to abuse by politicians who cares not for public service but caters solely to personal and crony interest. There is no doubt that the Jose Pidal expose is motivated by political interest -- vengeance, resentment, political leveraging, what have you, but definitely not for the public interest or in "aid of legislation". The State is imperfect. Should it have the power fit only for a perfect State?

In defense of the Cancun Summit

Alex Magno laments the passing of the Cancun summit of the WTO and rails against the protectionist agenda of Philippine agriculture. He writes:

In order to maintain present policies covering rice and corn, including quantitative restrictions on imports, we have exchanged policies that removed all protection on the more efficient sections of our economy. It is a no-win situation with grim strategic implications. While our otherwise competitive sections crumble under intense competition, subsidies for our most uncompetitive sections drain our ability to invest in the broader economy.

Subsidies in our most inefficient agricultural sectors could have been diverted instead to, say, improving our educational system to reinforce our highly competitive services sectors or to cure the infrastructure gap that discourages investment in manufacturing which employs more and creates more value while using less land and water.

This is an irrational set-up. It will not only produce an economic disaster in the long term, it inflicts misery on many of our people today.

The irrationality persists because of sentimentality and ideology. The militant farmers groups must admit this as a matter of honesty. They must admit it is the irrationality of our own economy and not some foreign conspiracy that is to blame for the crippling poverty that plagues our people.

By refusing dramatic changes in the composition of our national economy, we are merely postponing the resolution of our structural problems and inviting an economic cataclysm down the road.

Instead of confronting the real problem, militant groups are marching in the streets urging our government to withdraw from the WTO. That distracts us from the real issues.

The inspiration for the WTO is inherently valid. It seeks to establish a regime of rules that will ensure fairness in global trade. It has failed in its vision not because a regime of fair rules is wrong but because nations could not do what is right because of the power of domestic constituencies that clamor for protection and subsidies � as well as the power of economic superstitions that grip the most conservative sectors resisting change driven by rationality.
Cancun postmortem

The World Trade Organization's two-year attempt to create a new global trade pact collapsed without an agreement on Sept. 14 in Cancun, Mexico. The immediate cause of the collapse, to the shock of many as the Economist reports, is not agricultural subsidies but the so-called Singapore issues which the EU countries have been pushing: rules on foreign investment, competition policy, government purchases and �trade facilitation� (things like customs clearance). As a result of the collapse, the WTO�s own 2004 deadline for a comprehensive reform in world trade may prove impossible to reach.

The deadlock on the Singapore issues, in a sense, preempted the expected showdown on agricultural subsidies. (The developing countries have been continuously pushing for rich countries (EU, US, Japan) to scrap their over-generous subsidies, which total about $300 billion a year, to domestic farmers.) The Economist reports that some cynics believe the Singapore issues were thrown in the negotiations by the EU and Japan to disguise their own intransigence over agricultural subsidies.

Ever since the current round of trade talks was launched in 2001, Japan and the EU have been on the defensive. The Doha round�s focus on agricultural liberalisation has forced them to defend some of the most illiberal but well-entrenched systems of agricultural protection in the world. Japan�s import tariffs on rice go up to 1,000%. The EU spends more on annual subsidies for each of its cows than most sub-Saharan Africans earn in a year. Both insist on progress on the Singapore issues as a quid pro quo for long-overdue agricultural reforms that still seem politically beyond them. If poor countries refuse to yield ground, the EU and Japan can blame them for their inflexibility over the Singapore issues, rather than taking the blame for their own inflexibility over agriculture.

The United States announced at the very start of the negotiations that it was prepared to do away with its own agricultural subsidies provided that the developing countries reciprocate by opening their markets to foreign investment. But as the New York Times reports, this initial posture by the United States was nothing but bluster. President Bush is simply not prepared to alienate his farmers before he gets re-elected. US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick in Cancun was not only negotiating trade agreements but was given the unenviable task of keeping safe President Bush�s 2004 re-election. The New York Times reports:

The farm states voted heavily in favor of Mr. Bush in the 2000 election, and were the backbone of the states that gave him the bulk of his electoral votes. Agribusiness, which profits from the low cost of corn, soybeans and other crops subsidized by American taxpayers, has shifted its allegiance to the Republican Party. Political contributions from agribusiness jumped to $53 million in 2002 from $37 million in 1992, with the Republicans' share rising to 72 percent from 56 percent, according to figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The collapse of the talks in Cancun, though, is not all positive for President Bush. It is, Business Week reports, �a serious blow to the Bush Administration's efforts at opening markets worldwide for U.S. exports and shrinking America's massive $500 billion trade deficit with the rest of the world.� With a hurting US economy, Bush Jr. may follow the career path of Bush Sr. come 2004.

Antiglobalization networks, such as our own Focus on the Global South, have been quick to claim victory after the collapse of the trade negotiations. Trade Secretary Mar Roxas is also quoted by the above Business Week analysis as saying, " We are elated that our voice has now been heard."

But as a statement of the coalition led by the Focus on the Global South said, the challenge lies in making concrete the reforms needed to match Mar Roxas's new-found rhetoric.

Monday, September 15, 2003

F4 as Chinese ambassadors

Newsweek has an article on the Taiwanese band F4. Newsweek reports that:

The members have turned into unwitting ambassadors for greater China. Thanks largely to F4, Thais, Filipinos and Indonesians�not generally known for their interest in contemporary Chinese culture�are embracing it with a vengeance. In Jakarta, �There is growing acceptance that Chinese boys are good looking,� says Tumiwa. �It�s quite a shift here.� Indonesia has had a checkered history with its Chinese population, highlighted by anti-Chinese riots and targeted violence. Now, the only mobs are those lining up to see F4 perform in concert. Young people are adopting F4�s style of dress, which tends to be casual with a flair, such as tight jeans and fitted white shirts.

Friday, September 05, 2003

The terminator's sex life

For people who are interested in Arnold Schwarzenegger's 1977 interview with Oui, where he admitted to, among other things, participating in a gang bang, click here. The interview caused quite a commotion in California, I understand. With Arnold's sex life now in the open, can his political views be far behind?

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Dual Citizenship

Joaquin Bernas on the law on dual citizenship, writing in his Today column.
Use of father's surname

The Senate has approved on third reading a bill allowing a child born out of wedlock to use his father's surname. Senate Bill 2510 amends Article 176 of the Family Code which mandates an illegitimate child to use his mother's surname.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Former US State Secretary Madeleine Albright has an essay appearing in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs. Albright must be on a writing spree these days. The latest issue of Foreign Policy also has an article written by her, this time on the relevance of the United Nations.

Below is the summary of the essay appearing in Foreign Affairs:

Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration has pressured every country in the world to make a simple choice: Are you with the United States or with the terrorists? But by casting the choice so starkly--and expanding the war on terror to include its campaign in Iraq--Washington has alienated many natural and potential allies and made the fight against al Qaeda more difficult. It didn't have to be this way. The White House has acted as if it doesn't care what others think, and the country is paying the price for its mistake.

Monday, September 01, 2003

A race to the bottom

Teddy Benigno is taking his annual one-month hiatus from journalism, but not before firing off this column deeply lamenting the sorry state of Philippine politics. Nostalgic for the bygone years of our country�s history, he is so melancholy that the column reads like Antigone resigned to her cruel fate, unable to find succor in any quarter. His grief is so great that he seems to run out of the signature metaphors in his writing.

Is Teddy Benigno merely being a laudator temporis acti or does his memory serve him right in characterizing the present juncture as especially wretched? (A little caveat: Old men are wont to wax poetic about things past.) But still he has a point. Government, these days, has indeed been transmogrified into one ugly wrestling bout, with politicians forcing each other off balance. As a nation, we are in a race to the bottom, and one can only hope that we get to it soon.
On the disillusionment of our PMA cadets

Benjamin Libarnes, former intelligence chief of the AFP, writes in Newsbreak about the disillusionment of PMA cadets upon leaving the idyllic confines of the military academy and fending off for themselves in a corrupt military bureaucracy.

Exactly what causes the disillusionment?

Cadets at the PMA, when compared to the other undergraduates in the country, relatively live ggod lives. They get to enjoy a first-class education in an elite institution at zero expense. They enjoy full scholarships and receive monthly allowances equivalent to a month's salary of a fresh graduate. They enjoy Baguio's weather, eat good vegetables, and accumulate pogi points during their stay at the PMA. Upon graduation, they are spared the lamentable experience otherwise known to the rest of the population as looking for a job; they get automatic assignments in the service of their own choosing.

But, alas, things fall apart once they enter the service. The government does not provide adequate housing facilities for soldiers of lower rank. They must sorely miss the spartan sleeping quarters at the PMA. Libarnes writes:

Young officers had to stay at the less-equipped Bachelor Officers� Quarters or rent a house or apartment outside the camp in the area of assignment. Military housing was practically not available for junior officers. Most low-salaried military personnel had to stay in squatter areas in the camps or outside since they could not be provided with government quarters. If they were married, they could not stay in the barracks with their families.

Added to this indignity is the offending sight of generals living in mansions they could not possibly afford had they lived honorably. Libarnes writes that if a soldier desires promotion and success in the service, it is necessary that he cultivates advantageous relations with certain politicians (ie, by currying favors here and there). This is essential because of the constitutional provision requiring the confirmation of the Commission on Appointments for promotion in the military. Libarnes avers:

Perhaps what is needed is the confirmation of those holding the position of chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) down to the area commanders with three stars. There is no need to confirm the promotion of officers with the rank of colonel up to major general.

All this is enough for an officer's blood to curdle. What more if he sees his secretary of national defense entrepreneurially selling the army's weapons to rebel forces.