Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Archive for February, 2010

Spanish, anyone?

Posted by butalidnl on 24 February 2010

The Philippines just signed an agreement with Spain (on 23 February) to reintroduce the teaching of Spanish in Philippine public high schools.  The Philippines plans to do this by 2012. Oh no! Some people will say. After all those years of struggling to get rid of the Spanish requirement, why is the government reintroducing it?

I don’t know exactly what government officials think, but I think the teaching of Spanish is a good idea. In the first place, Spanish is one of the world’s main languages, and is spoken in many countries. With many Filipinos living and working in Spain, and perhaps soon also in other Spanish speaking countries, it may be good for Filipinos to have some background in Spanish.

The Philippines is unique among former Spanish colonies in not having Spanish as the national language. But the Philippines is still close to the heart of Latin Americans; and our country is in a good position to link Latin America with Asia. Think about Latin American companies setting up their Asia headquarters in the Philippines.  And of Filipino workers going to Latin American countries.

And of course, with the language comes the culture.  Latin America is rich in experiences, be it cultural, economic or industrial.  This wealth of experience is not known to us, primarily because it has to be translated first into English before we can learn about it. But, in-depth experiences from the people of Latin America will continue to be deprived to us, as long as we don’t speak Spanish. And of course, Filipino experiences can also not be shared with Latin Americans.

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Permits to Campaign

Posted by butalidnl on 22 February 2010

The New People’s Army (NPA) is again selling Permits to Campaign (PTCs) to politicos who want to campaign in the areas they control. The NPAs charge fees depending on the position that is being campaigned for. So, presidential and senatorial candidates would need to pay more.

These PTCs are instruments that go against the development of democracy in the Philippines. In the first place, only the richer candidates can afford such PTCs. So, if the NPA-controlled area is large, and only the richer candidate could campaign there, then it will be the richer candidate who will have a better chance of winning. And this candidate, once he becomes an official would have an additional reason to be corrupt – to recoup his PTC fee. Thus PTCs are promoting corruption.

In many cases, the poorer candidate is the better one – the more principled, more democratic, less corrupt. Thus, the NPA with its policy of PTCs is indirectly promoting the victory of the more corrupt politicos.

In the second place, the charging of fees for PTCs is a corrupt practice in itself. It is actually trying to “cash in” on the fact that the NPA has armed men in the area. It is not different, in essence, from warlords who charge politicos to go into their areas. And, with the PTCs, do the NPA also offer to “campaign” for the politicos with the PTCs?  Campaigning done by armed men is really not very democratic. Who will dare vote against them?

Of course, we could say that since NPA-controlled areas are not that many, national politicians could afford to ignore these areas. But this would mean that politicians are then indirectly influenced in order to avoid rural areas, and simply concentrate on the urban areas which they can access. This is also bad for democracy, since democracy presupposes that all citizens count, not only those in urban areas.

And if NPA-controlled areas are not so significant for national politicians, they might make up a considerable proportion of the voters for some local politicians. This would mean that the NPA would be promoting the election of corrupt local officials.

And after the elections, what then? Well, the NPA could say that they are independent of the politicians who got implicit support during the elections. But how true is this going to be? Do you think that the NPA will only be cozy with these politicians during election time? I think this whole practice of PTCs will skew NPA actions in the local areas for years. And, what about revolutionary change and the peoples welfare – do this go down the drain also?

Posted in Philippine politics, Philippines, politics | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Dutch Government Falls

Posted by butalidnl on 20 February 2010

The Dutch government fell last night.  This is not as earth-shaking as it sounds.  The government composed of the CDA (Christian Democrats), PvdA (Social Democrats) and Christen Unie (“Christian Union”) fell apart last night (as in 2 am) on the issue of whether to extend the mission of Dutch troops in Afghanistan.

The Dutch have been in Afghanistan since 2007, originally for a two-year mission. Then, in 2008, they extended it for another two years, till the end of this year. Now, the CDA (with pressure exerted by the Americans) want to extend the mission AGAIN – though in a smaller form – and the PvdA said no. The PvdA said no, because that was the agreement of two years ago. The troops have been there long enough,  the resources of the military are already all used up, and the war is unpopular among the Dutch. Actually, the Parliament as a whole is against the troop mission, but since the Cabinet is the one to decide these matters, it was up to the PvdA to “put its foot down” on the issue.

The issue is complicated further by the fact that local elections are also about to be held – by 3 March. Because of the elections, the PvdA could not afford to have any flexibility on this matter.  Any sign of a compromise would reflect badly on their local candidates. But the CDA was under intense pressure from the US, which wanted the Dutch to stay on. So, the ruling parties met yesterday, met about it – and they met, and met, and met… 16 hours straight – from 10 am till 4 am. But, no solution was found. So, the PvdA “pulled the plug” on the government.

What happens next is still quite open. Now, the ball goes to the queen (Queen Beatrix). The prime minister will present her with his resignation; then, the Queen will consult with all party leaders on what to do next. Because the choice is either to try to form a new government from the present parliament, or to have elections. And if a new government is to be formed, who will form it.

For ordinary citizens, the falling of the government has no immediate effect. The government bureaucracy goes on with its work, and of course government services go on as usual. But the decisions for example on financial policies, especially with the economic crisis ongoing. The Cabinet was supposed to put together an economic plan for going out of the recession. Now, this goes to the caretaker cabinet, which has much less powers.

So, even if the effect is not immediate, the country should not go too long without a government.

Posted in politics, The Netherlands, World Affairs | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Obama is funding the wrong kind of nuclear plant

Posted by butalidnl on 19 February 2010

President Obama announced on 13 February 2010, that the government is going to provide $18.5 Billion in federal loan guarantees to the Southern Company which plans to build two nuclear reactors in Burke, Georgia. This will be the first time in 30 years that the US is going ahead with the building of a nuclear plant. Obama said that nuclear plants are a good way of producing energy without generating greenhouse gases, and that the country needed to restart the building of nuclear plants in order to keep the expertise alive within the US.  The US now has a total of 103 nuclear plants, which supplies 20% of the country’s electricity needs.

I can see the logic of Obama, especially about keeping the expertise alive. After all, most of the 103 plants are old, and the technicians and scientists that run them are also getting old. They are nearing the end of their 40 year lifespans, and are busy getting extensions for 20 more years. And this means that if no new plants are built, the US may be required to import nuclear plant operators if it does not build new plants soon.

Even the greenhouse gas argument may have some point. Solar and wind energy are not yet cheap enough to really replace coal and nuclear, at least as long as the US refuses to take painful political steps such as a carbon tax.

However, my objection to Obama’s plans is that he is authorizing the wrong kind of nuclear plant. While Russia and China are going ahead with the building of Generation IV nuclear plants, the plants that Obama has authorized are of the older, Generation III type.

What’s  the Difference?
There is a whole lot of difference between the Generation III and Generation IV nuclear plants. Generation IV is made up of “fast neutron breeder” reactors, and Generation III is the most modern thermal reactor (or “slow neutron reactor”). Fast neutron reactors advantages are: it uses up more than 90% of the uranium (instead of the present 5%), thus there is very little nuclear waste; then, the nuclear material does not need to be constantly reprocessed (thus, less danger of proliferation); and, the process does not allow for nuclear meltdown.

The only problem is that Generation IV is still rather experimental. Russia has an operational Gen IV plant that generates 600 MW electricity. It is building a 880 MW plant to go operational in 2012, and is selling two 880 MW plants to China.  The reactors are safe, but are not yet fully matured, although the 600 MW plant that Russia has has been operating since 1980.
So, if the US wants to set up a Gen IV nuclear plant fast, it would be a good idea to also buy one from Russia. Or, the US would need to set up its own Gen IV experimental plant. I think the US is not eager to buy Russian technology, even if it is the fastest way to leapfrog France and most others in term of technology.

If President Obama was really serious about developing ang preserving a cadre of specialist nuclear scientists and engineers, it would be best for the US to simply acquire the technology from Russia, and then improve on it. His present course of funding the construction of Gen III nuclear plants will be counterproductive. The fact that the existing plants are old and up for retirement is actually an excellent opportunity to gear up with the new type of nuclear plant, which is safer and more economical. And his cadre of nuclear specialists would be trained in using the newest type of nuclear plant.

Posted in environment, World Affairs | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

No Work, No Pork

Posted by butalidnl on 17 February 2010

In August 2009, Nueva Ecija Representative Eduardo Joson proposed to have a policy of “No Work, No Pork”, in which Congressmen who are frequently absent in Congress sessions be deprived of their share in the PDAF ( Priority Development Assistance Fund, or “pork barrel”).  Joson proposed that a Congressman who has three unexplained absences from Congress’ plenaries in a month would be subject to such a punishment. The proposal was shot down by House Speaker Prospero Nograles because he says that it would be unfair to the congressman’s constituents to be deprived of such government spending – to the tune of PhP 70 million per year.

Fast forward to today.  Speaker Nograles has told Negros Occidental Representative Jules Ledesma that he will only get his salary and PDAF if he attends the last two sessions of this year. Rep. Ledesma is the House’s most notorious absentee congressman, having attended House sessions only twice in the 14th Congress. If he does so, he will get paid his full salary and get his PDAF for having attended House sessions for a grand total of 4 times in 3 years. I think this is scandalous.

Absenteeism in Congress is a big problem for its work. A lot of bills have had a difficult time being passed, because the House often lacked a quorum.  It has gotten so bad that sometimes, Representatives get paid (as in bribes) just to be present during the discussion of certain laws, even if they would vote against it,  as long as there are enough Congressmen around to have a quorum. I think this is scandalous.  The country spends a lot for Congress, and they are continually lacking quorum.

Perhaps it is time to again take up Joson’s proposal for “No Work, No Pork”. It may be too strict to say that three absences are needed before sanctions are taken on a Congressman’s PDAF. However, perhaps we could be a bit less strict. Let’s say that the limit is still 3 absences in a month, and if they exceed it, 1/12 of that Congressman’s  PDAF is taken away (that should be almost PhP 6 million). That way, they always have a chance to behave better in the next month.  And, so as not to be unfair to their constituents, let the PDAF portion be given to the provincial governor, with the specific restriction that it has to be spent in the congressman’s constituency. Or, alternatively, the amount could also be divided among the various municipal mayors in his district. This would take care of the problem of the constituents suffering for the sins of the congressman.

As for the absentee Representative himself, there should also be a sanction if he is continually absent.  For example,  if he is absent for 2/3 of the sessions in  a year, he would be expelled from the House of Representatives. And if he is expelled this way, that he will not be allowed by Comelec to ever run for a legislative position again.

All that is needed to implement this plan, is for the House as a whole to amend the House rules.

Posted in Philippine politics, Philippines, politics | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »