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Selling PAGCOR to get rid of the deficit is probably a good deal for the country

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PAGCOR in my hometown of Ciudad de Parañaque.

I think this Noynoy guy is doing a good job so far.

After delivering his inaugural speech in Tagalog, a language that is now generally understood throughout the archipelago, he immediately issued Executive Order No. 1 to investigate the previous administration’s corruption whose legacy of deceit, poverty, and greed was carried over to the present one. Noynoy then brazenly fired GMA’s midnight apointees as well as an inefficient PAGASA chief. He also made true to his promise about solving the decades-old impasse in his family’s controversial Hacienda Luisita (although many farmers still disagree with him).

Now here is an opportunity for P-Noy to finally get rid of that irritating budget deficit that has been harassing our economy for countless years:

$10B offered for Pagcor
Tycoon Ramón Ang bids for gambling firm

With President Benigno Aquino III facing cash problems, San Miguel Corp. vice chair Ramón S. Ang is proposing the privatization of Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) to raise as much as $10 billion and transform the country into a tiger economy.

Should Mr. Aquino listen to his suggestion, Ang said in a recent interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer that he himself planned to make a bid to acquire Pagcor with Malaysia’s “big boys.”

Ang was referring to Robert Kuok, the richest man in Southeast Asia with a net worth of $10 billion; Ananda Krishnan, second wealthiest in the region with a net worth of $7.4 billion; and Francis Yeoh, who runs YTL, one of Malaysia’s biggest conglomerates.

“They’re all my friends and they are interested in Pagcor,” said Ang, whose first investment outside the Philippines was in Malaysia in partnership with former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1998.

“San Miguel is not interested in going into gambling and I am going in this on my own. I do not intend to hold on this for long,” he said.

In his first State of the Nation Address, Mr. Aquino revealed his strategy of public-private partnerships and selling or leasing government assets to raise money for the government grappling with a deficit likely to hit P350 billion this year.

Last month, Mr. Aquino announced that he was open to privatizing Pagcor after assessing its assets and existing contracts.

Spectacular deal

“The sale of Pagcor fits in well with the President’s agenda. We are not asking him for anything but be true to his campaign promise of ensuring a level playing field for all businessmen,” Ang said.

“Why wait for six years to have $10 billion when he can have $10 billion in just six months? His government does not have to sell anything else and he will make the country a tiger economy immediately. Isn’t this a spectacular deal?”

Ang said that Pagcor would be worth at least P450 billion based on its 2009 gross income of P29.78 billion and the minimum 15 times premium value investors were willing to pay for a monopoly gambling business like Pagcor.

“It could go as high as 17 times premium compared to an average gambling firm which fetches an average premium of 10 times,” he said.

Indeed, if Noynoy decides to sell PAGCOR, then that will place our country on a much higher economic level in Southeast Asia. Never mind if this is all paquitang-guilas (an act of showing-off) on the part of Noynoy for his first 100 days in office. Never mind if Ramón Ang is his uncle Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco’s most trusted man. As long as selling PAGCOR will benefit the economy, then P-Noy should strike while the iron is hot.

You may read the rest of the story here.


Skeptical Response to the SONA’s Promises: The Widespread Perception of the Disgruntled Hoi Polloi

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Since the nation (or those who are concerned, whoever they may be) is still reeling from last month’s spite-filled SONA by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, I thought it best to publish another scathing essay which I wrote in response to one of her earlier SONAs, her second to be exact (2002).

Actually, the following essay was originally written to be delivered in an oratorical contest by Adamson University’s English Department (now the Foreign Languages Department). I just don’t remember the details of the contest anymore (who the orator was, which particular contest it was entered, etc.).

After reading this essay again, I’m so surprised that –seven years after the 2002 State of the Nation Address– we still haven’t progressed under the Arroyo Administration. Then as now, she consistently boasted of the country’s economic growth in all of her SONAs, but a seemingly undying poverty and discontent are as consistent as they’ve ever been as well. This is not to say that we worsened under her questionable presidency. Pero ang masasabi co lang, hindí pa rin natin naáabot ang La Gloria na ating ináasam…

The mugshot everybody wants to see.

The mugshot everybody wants to see.

José Mario S. Alas

More than anything else, this nation, like all of the other impoverished Third World countries, is a hoping nation. Insofar as President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s second State of the Nation Address, or SONA, is concerned, it is safe to surmise that the masses, however, have all the more reason to become more hopeless upon hearing the annual state briefing. And “why?” is a stupid question to that assumption; just like in last year’s SONA, this year’s version which was broadcast this past July at the Batasang Pambansâ was pelted with an avalanche of protests and cries of disillusionment, despair, and distrust. The president, despite displaying a braggadocio posture while claiming of a “strong republic” topped with numerous economic achievements, no longer have in her manacles the full support, not to mention the trust, of many Filipinos, rich and poor alike. Besides, she took over the reins of our country via a well-organized power grab.

President Arroyo’s unusual rise to power could perhaps give light on why the Filipino hoi polloi cannot fully give their whole confidence to her authority. Whether we admit it or not, she never had the charisma, not to mention the movie star allure of her beleaguered predecessor. Likewise, her elitist-friendly stance and socio-politically harmful foreign policies that are in relation to the national economy further dragged her name down from popularity surveys. The toiling masses’ eyes are keen and open. Their senses are made sharp to social observation because of the hunger pangs that are spurring them to stay alive in this hunger-filled world. It has been like that for several decades, and their condition only gets worse each day. Thus, their bitter existence can never complement the sugar-coated promises and feats of the Arroyo administration. Moreover, I am certain that many will never forget President Arroyo as one of the senators who pushed for the ratification of the notorious General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade back in the mid-90’s.

Let us now, therefore, analyze the public’s response to the president’s SONA. It is de rigueur that a SONA must be addressed to Filipinos regardless of social classes in order to draw out a favorable response. It has achieved, in its final written form, the way to unify each and every sector of a liberal democratic economy, which includes the working class. By emphasizing that a strong republic is independent from sectoral and class interests, which would stand for the benefit of all, and not just for the privileged minority, President Arroyo was successful in evoking a unified response from her national audience. Or so she thought.

The 50 or so ovations that her SONA had elicited during its delivery were dwarfed by a multitude of disgruntled militants who knows better what the real state of the nation is. And those protesters who were at the Batasan gates were seconded indirectly by millions of sullen and vexed Filipinos who were encountering the SONA through multi-media. Still, many of them did not even care to give a small piece of hell on the issue at all. We could already imagine them scoffing and yawning throughout the delivery of that national speech.

Such apathy towards national concerns may be attributed to rhetorical politics that has reached ad nauseam. Certainly, too much politics results into adverse complications. Either it results into social apathy or it could lead to Leftist or opportunistic Rightist continuity. For how could progressive-minded individuals allow such an almost inoperable social cancer to spread throughout their beloved country in wild abandon? All of a sudden, in sheer panic, somebody might think of instigating another EDSA.

Yes, the masses have had enough of politics. The non-productive bickering in Congress which seem to be ad infinitum, the self-interest-motivated sashaying of political fidelities, the existence of an alien éminence grise in our government, and the gaping chasm which further widens the gap between rich and poor is all but enough for the hoi polloi to shout “¡pátria o muerte!” Give me liberty, or give me politics.

So nowadays, who cares to listen to a dubious SONA? Well, last year’s SONA was filled with boldfaced promises to combat poverty. This year, the president said that she had “detailed a long list of measurable targets that would show a government on the move, marking progress by swift sure steps, despite the turbulent state of domestic and global affairs.” She also declared “tangible results in the delivery of government services,” and went on to flaunt the immediate crises that have been resolved.

Surprisingly, though, she did not disclose the fact that more than 5 million Filipinos today have no jobs. Just this April, unemployment rates peaked at 13.9%, a high percentage within the last two years. She also did not acknowledge a Population Commission data stating that 40%, or roughly 32 million people from a population of almost 80 million crises-hardened Filipinos, are subsisting in a shocking P38 daily budget! And a few days ago, the children of a prominent solon were kidnapped!

These, my friends, are just but some of the innumerable manifestations of today’s real state of the nation. This kind of degenerating situation is what President Arroyo blatantly omits during public fora and briefings. But the masses, even though majority of them are unschooled, cannot be fooled. They know the truth, because they are experiencing it. They feel it. The putrefaction, the stink, the lies within this obvious distortion of reality is only made manifest in the grumbling, hungry stomachs and unreachable dreams of the disgruntled masses! I am sure that when the honorable president of this debt-ridden republic was delivering her rhetorical hilarity, the masses were laughing, if not mocking, at her. To paraphrase a line from a popular Freddie Aguilar song way back in the 80’s, “tawanan na lang natin ang ating mga problema.”

Let’s just, instead, laugh at our troubles. After all, laughter is a temporary respite from all this highfalutin fabrications of society.

Philippine Travel Blogs: The Best Way To Promote The Country Online!

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This photo was taken from Ivan About Town, one of the most popular and widely known travel blogs in the Philippines.

Ivan About Town, one of the most popular and widely known travel blogs in the country.

Among the achievements that wasn’t given much limelight in Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s recently concluded State of the Nation Address (SONA) was the success story of Philippine tourism.

Arroyo mentioned it briefly yet powerfully:

“In the last four years tourism almost doubled. It is now a $5 billion industry.”

Many critics of Arroyo are still in doubt over the accuracy of the economic figures she mentioned in her SONA. But observers, especially in the travel and tourism sector, could never deny the sudden growth and liveliness of Philippine Tourism these past few years. This is due to an aggressive and relentless advertising campaign by the Department of Tourism, led by Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano, to promote the country not only to foreigners but to Filipinos as well. It is because the DOT is knowledgeable of the fact that thousands of Filipinos are themselves foreigners in their own country.

Many years ago, it was the dream of countless Filipinos to travel abroad not really for work but just for the sake of traveling. Nowadays, however, Filipinos have already set their eyes at home. Why travel to other parts of the world when there are as many breathtaking sights to discover as there are in other countries? Besides, there are still many scenic spots left unphotographed nor visited by the mainstream public.

Take the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park in Palawan or the white coastlines of Caramóan, Camarines Sur, for instance. These two, now a favorite of many locals as well as foreigners, were virtual unknowns as compared to the mammoth popularity of, say, Mayón Volcano of Albay and the Chocolate Hills of Bohol. The previous decade, Palawan’s underground river and Caramóan’s beaches were almost unknown. But now both places are in the mainstream of public consciousness.

Aside from the laudable projects of the Mr. Durano and the Department of Tourism, the local tourism sector has several anonymous people to thank for. And these are the online advocates of tourism (not to mention patriotism), the webloggers!

Travel writer and heritage advocate Ivan Henares and his hugely popular website IVAN ABOUT TOWN leads this online group of travel freaks who relentessly walk the endless mile of Philippine paradise. The website won The Best Travel Blog for 2007 in the inaugural The Philippine Blog Awards which I and my daughter were fortunate enough to witness. But unfortunately, Ivan wasn’t there to collect his trophy (he was out traveling! LOL!).

There’s no need for further introductions for Mr. Henares (he is also a member of the Heritage Conservation Society); all he needs to do is to take a bow and do some more traveling here in the Philippines because recently, I began to notice that he has included foreign trips in his blog as well. In my point of view, I don’t find it appropriate for a Philippine travel blog (especially since a rabid nationalism has been rubbed off on me by works of nationalist writers I follow). But of course, it’s his prerogative to do that and I have no right to meddle. He’s still doing a fantastic job for the local tourism sector as well as heritage conservation.

Next is PINOY TRAVEL BLOG, another popular travel blog which also focuses on local travel and tourism destinations. It is maintained by some of the best young writers/bloggers in the country today: Palanca Awardee and netrepreneur Abe Olandrés (popularly known as “Yuga” in the local internet scene), Marc “Hoop” Avellana, Arnold Zafra, and a host of others.

PHILIPPINE TRAVEL BLOG, much like PINOY TRAVEL BLOG, is also maintained by a host of contributors who have made traveling the archipelago their passion. Some of the contributors are Melo Villareal (travel photojournalist and online publisher), Jocelyn Dimaculangan, and Enrico Dee (who also contributes for PINOY TRAVEL BLOG).

We also have TRAVELER ON FOOT which also has a strong following. I had the pleasure of meeting this rather “mysterious traveler” last year. I said mysterious because, up to now, he still refuses to show himself up in his website! Instead, Mr. Traveler usually brings his son along with him and takes pictures of the latter in front of any scenic spot on hand. Quite unique and intriguing.

And of course, there’s WITH ONE’S PAST by my dear friend and fellow hispanista Arnold Arnáiz. Although his blog deals mainly with Philippine history and occasional socio-political commentary, “Arnaldo” is also using it as a platform to familiarize his readers with a rich historico-travel information on Philippine provinces. He’s currently based in Cebú and has already traveled to many Visayan provinces.

One of my favorites is PINOY MOUNTAINEER (especially since I’m a mountaineer myself). Although not exactly a travel blog, it somehow falls under this category because it’s proprietor, Gideon Lasco, travels, climbs, and documents almost every mountain there is in the Philippines. As of this writing, he has climbed over 50 mountains in the Philippines. This website (launched with the help of Ivan Henares) is a gold mine of information about Philippine mountains, popular or not, as well as a rich source of mountaineering knowledge.

LAKWATSERA DE PRIMERA (and it’s true… it’s not just another travel blog!) is another interesting online travel diary. This one is highly recommended since it contains awesome and much larger photographs of the places featured in it. You’ll also enjoy reading this particular blog post taken from the said travel blog: 100 THINGS I AM PROUD ABOUT THE PHILIPPINES.

My own, ALAS FILIPINAS, tries to become a travel blog, too. But due to time constraints, it remains mainly as my angst bin, hahaha! But seriously speaking, whenever I have time, I travel to different places and blog about it for the reading consumption of the Spanish-speaking netizens. Try this link, for instance.

I am sure there are still lots of local travel blogs around. And there will be many more to come. Wittingly or unwittingly, they should now be cognizant of the fact that they have made themselves Philippine online heroes because they have featured many places, cultures, and other aspects about the Philippines that have never been shown to the world before. Furthermore, travel advocacy promotes ecotourism and environmentalism, two very important attributes in Philippine tourism.

To all of you out there, thank you very much your travel advocacies and for patronizing our own. Helping out Philippine tourism is tantamount to saving the country as well.

One Angry SONA

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Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (in a fuschia-colored terno designed by Inno Sotto) delivering a rancorous SONA.

Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (in a fuschia-colored terno designed by Inno Sotto) delivering a rancorous SONA.

“The state of our nation is a strong economy. Good news for our people, bad news for our critics.”

Arguably that was the strongest line from yesterday’s hour-long State of the Nation Address (SONA) which was delivered by Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

As a trained economist, Arroyo has always strived to be known as an economic workhorse. And so she peppered her 9th (and supposedly last) SONA with fabulous figures of economic growth that, many will say, are too good to be true. Therefore, the SONA was applauded 124 times this year (as against last year’s 104 and 2007’s 103 — in itself a feat!).

Her SONA, however, wasn’t all talk about development and a “strong economy.” Since it comes but once a year, she made it an opportunity to fireback at her political foes and critics.

While a strong downpour outside the Batasang Pambansâ disappointed thousands of anti-Arroyo protesters, she made sour slights and indirect hints against those who have been heavily criticizing her presidency. But the unfortunate unnamed receivers of Arroyo’s rancorous remarks were pretty obvious.

In one instance, Arroyo declared:

Our efforts prodded the pharmaceutical companies to come up with low-cost generics and brands like RiteMed. I supported the tough version of the House of the Cheaper Medicine law over the weak version of my critics. The result: the drug companies volunteered to bring down drug prices, slashing by half the prices of 16 drugs. Thank you, Congressmen Cúa, Álvarez, Birón and Locsín.

Pursuant to law, we are placing other drugs under a maximum retail price. To those who want to be President, this advice: If you really want something done, just do it. Do it hard, do it well. Don’t pussyfoot. Don’t pander. And don’t say bad words in public.

It is widely known that Arroyo has been at odds against Senator Manuel “Mar” Roxas over the issue of cheaper medicines. Whatever their disagreement over the said issue, they certainly didn’t jive because last December, an angry Mar Roxas unleashed perhaps the most unparliamentary remark –a foul language at that– ever heard in the history of the Philippine Senate as a negative reaction towards Arroyo’s stance on cheaper medicines. And so on her SONA, Arroyo retaliated quite hilariously with a funny-sounding Brit verb that is rarely used nowadays: pussyfoot

What in the world does pussyfoot mean? The following definition is from

puss-y-foot [poo s-ee-foot] verb, noun, plural -foots.
–verb (used without object)

1. to go or move in a stealthy or cautious manner.
2. to act cautiously or timidly, as if afraid to commit oneself on a point at issue

Arroyo even thanked Congressmen Junie Cúa, Antonio Álvarez, Ferjenel Birón and Teodoro “Teddy Boy” Locsín, Jr., without acknowledging Roxas who was, in the first place the staunchest advocate of passing a cheaper medicines law.

The next victim of Arroyo’s seething anger was friend-turned-nemesis, former House Speaker José de Venecia, Jr.:

The noisiest critics of constitutional reform tirelessly and shamelessly attempted Cha-Cha when they thought they could take advantage of a shift in the form of government. Now that they feel they cannot benefit from it, they oppose it.

It’s interesting to note that in previous SONAs, Joe de V have had his palms all red due to numerous applauses he gave to his ex-friend.

Finally, Arroyo left no kind words unannounced for her bitter rival, President Joseph “Erap” Estrada:

I am falsely accused, without proof, of using my position for personal profit. Many who accuse me have lifestyles and spending habits that make them walking proofs of that crime.

We can read their frustrations. They had the chance to serve this good country and they blew it by serving themselves.

Those who live in glass houses should cast no stones. Those who should be in jail should not threaten it, especially if they have been there.

Arroyo was all smiles all throughout the controversial SONA. And those smiles weren’t just because she was declaring good news to her constituents, but because finally she was able to garner some payback time against those who have been attacking her left and right these previous months.

Yesterday’s weather and Arroyo. Both were on the same mood.

Regrettably, this angry SONA of hers began with a solemn prayer (for former President Corazón Aquino who is currently battling colon cancer). It’s quite ironic to begin an event with a prayer and then follow it up with a barrage of attacks against critics and rivals, not to mention questionable claims of economic progress.

Questionable. Because, you see — have all these proud declarations of development trickled down to a massive hungry populace?

Sic Transit Gloria: Arroyo’s 9th State of the Nation Address

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Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo

Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo

As of this writing, thousands of anti-Arroyo rallyists have already converged along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City to listen to her ninth (and supposedly final) State of the Nation Address (S0NA) which will commence moments from now.

It was also reported that at least eight senators (all from the opposition) and other militant lawmakers are planning to boycott the said event. This could mark the first time in the history of Philippine politics that numerous lawmakers will skip the president’s SONA.

All this may no longer negatively affect Arroyo’s mindset. Since grabbing the presidency in 2001, she’s certainly become accustomed to collective ad hominems and massive rallies against her. With all types of allegations being hurled against her person and her government through the years, she’s been through hell and back (what with all those countless protest rallies and coup d’états she had experienced). But what could certainly be troubling her mind all this time is a scathing editorial from the influential US daily The Washington Times. And this editorial was released at a most inopportune time: yesterday (Manila time), on the eve of her SONA.

The editorial criticizes US President Barack Obama’s decision to welcome Arroyo to The White House this coming Friday (Thursday, Washington time). It will be his young presidency’s first visit by a Southeast Asian leader. But this doesn’t sit well with the newspaper’s team of opinion generators.

The newspaper did its homework quite well because it cited Arroyo’s current standing in public approval polls (a ghastly 26 percent), the growing discontent of the masses (“Street demonstrations against her are routine and growing in size.”), not to mention her questionable victory during the 2004 polls (which many believe should have been won by local film legend and Filipino idol Fernando Poe, Jr.) and the bribe and extortion scandals. Furthermore…

The Philippines has become less free during Mrs. Arroyo’s 10-year presidency. According to Freedom House, “Corruption is extensive throughout the Philippine state apparatus, from the lowest to the highest levels. Bribes and extortion seem to be a regular element of the complex connections among bureaucrats, politicians, businessmen, the press and the public.” In Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index, the Philippines ranked 141st out of 180 nations on a list in which No. 1 is the least corrupt. The level of Philippine corruption is tied with Iran and Yemen and worse than in dodgy places such as Libya and Nigeria.

The corruption problem is affecting Manila’s relationship with other allies. A senior Philippine official told The Washington Times that German Chancellor Angela Merkel sent Mrs. Arroyo an ultimatum last month that Berlin-Manila ties are at risk if the Philippines doesn’t pay $60 million owed to the German government for Manila’s new international airport. The Philippine government seized the airport and refused to pay a German company — which is partly owned by the German state — for its construction after revelations that the contract allegedly was laden with millions in bribes and kickbacks.

There are also serious human-rights abuses in the archipelago. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, “The Philippines ranks sixth worldwide among countries that fail to prosecute cases of journalists killed for their work.” Between 1992 and 2008, at least 34 journalists were murdered in the Philippines; there were convictions in only three of these cases. Four more members of the press were killed this June alone. Opposition voices regularly disappear as well.

Surprisingly, it is apparent that the editorial shares the sentiments of many Filipinos, and in much precise fashion. For some political pundits and analysts, it remains to be seen if Arroyo’s spin doctors and speechmakers did hasty overnight revisions to her SONA just to counter the editorial. Or perhaps Arroyo will simply ignore it.

Whether or not Arroyo ignores the editorial content of The Washington Times in her SONA, the fact of the matter is that it has already disturbed her enough. She nor her spokesperson doesn’t have to admit this. Any major leader of a nation who has been loyal to the most powerful country in the world must win not only the attention of the American president but the American press as well. For as in most countries, the media still guide the flow of a body politic’s opinion.

Obama is still young. And such political youthfulness carries the innate wisdom to listen to the wise discernment of the Fourth Estate.

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