Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Posts Tagged ‘Philippines’

Proportionally Represented Parliament

Posted by butalidnl on 20 November 2011

I am not really proposing Charter Change, but if comes down to it, I would propose changing the Philippine system from a US-style winner-take-all district system to a system of proportional representation.

In a proportional representation system, people vote for the party of their choice, and the total seats in parliament are divided based on the percentages of votes for a given party. Thus, if the parliament has 100 members, a party that gets 10% of the votes will get 10 seats.

Why is a Proportional Representation System Better?
A proportional representation system will result in simpler, cheaper government, and the development of real parties. This system could be implemented so that not only is the national parliament elected this way, but also provincial and city officials. Thus, mayors and governors will be selected by city or provincial councils.

Simpler Elections. People would only have to remember the name of the party of their choice, instead of the names of a lot of candidates. This means that he/she would need to remember at most 3 parties (assuming that he prefers different parties for various levels) – for parliament, province and city. Simple.

Administering such an election is simple; the ballots are simple, and if ballot boxes are separated by level (national, provincial, city), counting is just a matter of piling ballots. It also means that less money would be used in the campaign. There would be no need for sample ballots, and advertisements need to only project a party name. Also, campaign machinery is organized per party, there would be no need for a personal campaign machinery.  And because campaigning is cheap, there is less chance that rich people would control the election.

Programs. Members of Parliament will represent the people who voted for their party. And this means that a party’s program will be more important than individual candidates’ profiles. In Europe, this has led to parties representing various parts of the population, with different policy proposals. Parties who are simply for ‘clean government’ or ‘change’ (and thus, no real program) will be voted out. Parties will stress on the policies in which they stand out.

Every Vote Counts. In a district system, minorities have no voice. If you don’t want either of the two choices for an office, you can’t do anything. You may also decide not to vote if you expect that your candidate has on chance of winning. In a proportional representation system, every vote counts towards the seats that the party will be alloted. In theory, even a single vote could result in a difference of one seat in parliament.

No Pork Barrel. Since Members of Parliament represent parties (and not districts), pork barrel allotments would no longer be necessary or even applicable. Members of Parliament will be more focused on the making of laws, and not on naming a school or bridge, or other specific ‘goodies’ for their districts.

Not District Parliamentary
A UK-style district parliament would not be as good as a proportional representation type of parliament. A UK-style parliament will not make every vote count, there would be more (not less) pork barrel, and the rich can still control the outcome of elections. The UK-style system would only be marginally better than a presidential system.

A proportional system of electing representatives already exists in the Philippines – in the form of the party-list system. The party-list system just needs to be expanded to include all the members of parliament, and it should be opened to all political parties.

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

Foreign Male Sex Tourists?

Posted by butalidnl on 8 October 2011

US Ambassador Harry Thomas started a controversy when he mentioned during a roundtable discussion on or before 23 September on combatting human trafficking in the Philippines, with justices of the Appelate Court, that “40% of foreign male tourists visit the Philippines for sex”.
I think that the controversy on that statement is quite overblown. Thomas has since apologized for his statement – an act that may probably have been necessary to fulfill his diplomatic function well. But I think that he didn’t need to.

Let us approach this question from a number of different angles:

I am curious how Ambassador Thomas came out with his “40%” figure. He must have gotten it from one or another study. But which? We don’t know (yet). Statistics and surveys are funny things. An organization that commissions a study could prove almost anything, and come to quite amazing figures sometimes, depending on the way the survey is organized and the questions are formulated.

So, how does Thomas (or rather, the survey on which Thomas based his statement) define “foreign male tourist”? Does this refer to all males who enter the Philippines (by plane, I assume) who show a non-Philippine passport? If this is the case, there a LOT of kinds of foreign male tourists, including the following kinds:

  • foreigners with Filipina partners, in the Philippines for a family vacation;
  • ethnic Filipinos with foreign passports, visiting, either alone or with family;
  • children of Filipinos but with foreign passports;
  • foreigners who come on business, who engage in sex with a Filipina while in the country, paid or unpaid

If you include the above types in the statistics, I suppose you can say that 40% of male foreign visitors to the Philippines could very likely have sex while in the Philippines. We can even go further and wonder why the percentage cited by Thomas is not higher. After all, he’s saying that 60% of male foreign visitors to the Philippines ABSTAIN FROM SEX while there? Amazing. Are we some kind of Buddhist, contemplative place then, where people don’t have sex?

Did Thomas say: “go to the Philippines for sex” – meaning that sex was part of the tourist’s agenda in the country, or do they “go to the Philippines mainly for sex”. It could also be: “go to the Philippines and have sex”. The answer to the different statements would vary, a lot.

If Ambassador Thomas is referring to “males of non-Filipino ethnicity, who join a tour group whose main purpose is to engage in commercial sex with Filipinas”, then I would respectfully disagree with him. I believe that the figure of 40% is a bit too high. However, I, like Ambassador Thomas, would be basing things on a personal estimate (or on the acceptance of someone else’s estimate) of what the real figure would be.

I believe that it would be difficult for ANYBODY to come up with ‘correct’ figures on this. After all, how would the surveyors find out? Would they question male foreigners upon entry if they are in the country for commercial sex? I can just imagine how that would work out (i.e. not very well, obviously). But even if they somehow managed to do such a survey, how could we know that the respondents constitute a representative sample? or that they answered the questions truthfully? Most likely, a more serious researcher would arrive at a figure for (probably estimating it) the foreign clientele of brothels and compare this with a figure for overall tourist arrivals. But even this method may miss the Malaysians and some Chinese (since they may look like Filipinos) or count some Filipinos (who may look ‘foreign’) wrongly.  And then the Philippines is not Metro Manila, so did they go all over the country to count foreigners visiting brothels. And to even make matters worse, not all prostitutes are based in brothels.

The figures for tourist arrivals fluctuate per month and per year. So, if the surveying organization did indeed count foreign tourist clients at brothels and divide this with total tourist arrivals, the figures would depend on the year it was taken. The resulting percentage would be different if there were 2 million tourists in a given year, than if it was 3.5 million (which is the current figure).

After showing that Ambassador Thomas could not have a “scientifically valid” survey to back up his statement that “40% of foreign male tourists who come to the Philippines do so for sex”, there is also no way by which anyone else could prove (scientifically) that he had overestimated or underestimated the actual figure. In other words, he could be right or wrong, and it’s anybody’s guess which. On this basis, I think we should simply consider the statement to be his personal estimate, and treat it as such.

Should Thomas Have Raised the Point?
Several politicians have asked for an apology from Ambassador Thomas. Senator Lacson is one of them. As a former head of the Philippine National Police, I can understand Lacson’s point of view. The figure cited are an indirect slap to him and his performance as police chief. So, he has to go on record as objecting to it.  But the likes of Senator Escudero are something else. Escudero is a ‘bright boy’ political opportunist who sees this issue as a way of scoring political points. I have absolutely no respect for the stand of Escudero and similar politicians. Because if Escudero and others were really sincere, they would be proposing steps to stamp out prostitution. Instead they want an apology, and talk about national honor. How cheap can they get? Their move to attack Ambassador Thomas smells something like: “I know my mother is a whore, but only I am allowed to call her that.” Quite hypocritical, actually.

Thomas’ statement will not bother foreign tourists at all. It will not lessen tourist arrivals. If I were a tourist, my questions about the Philippines would be: does it have interesting sights? good beaches? are the people friendly? do they understand English? is transportation good? are hotels and resorts good? is it easy to withdraw money from ATMs? I may even ask further questions such as: will I be inconvenienced by demonstrations or strikes? by electric blackouts? run the risk of being hit by a bomb? or kidnapped by criminals or terrorists?
But I have never heard of a tourist who decided against visiting a country because of what other tourists do. (I know. I live in the Netherlands, and constantly talk to Dutch friends who visit other countries – including the Philippines – on vacation.)

Thomas’ statement will not hurt tourism. Will it hurt something as important, like the Philippines’ reputation abroad? Well, as far as I can make out, the only time Thomas’ statement is mentioned in the international press, if at all, is when politicians denounce him. And it makes a really small ripple in the news, really small.

So, the Thomas incident is only a problem in the mind of some politicians. I think they should leave Thomas alone. I would say to them: “denounce Thomas and the US if you like, but do it for a more substantial reason, not this.”

Address the Problem
We however need to recognize that it true that there are indeed many male foreigners who come to the Philippines to have commercial sex, often with under-aged girls and boys, who are invariably exploited. I don’t think that commercial sex is wrong, per se. In fact, it is practically impossible to have a lot of tourists without commercial sex workers catering to some of them. But the conditions for sex workers in the Philippines are horrible.

Ambassador Thomas, after all, did point out to a real problem.

Some would ask: Is not all prostitution exploitation? A very valid question, especially if all you see is the Philippine context. However, I live in the Netherlands, where things are a bit different. In the Netherlands, most sex workers don’t have pimps; they enter into the profession because they are ‘forced’ by personal and economic conditions to do so, and not because of pimps or traffickers. They get to keep most of the money that they earn (they need to pay for rent and other expenses, of course). They avail of medical care and even police protection. And the police regularly frees women who were forced into prostitution (who compete with the legal prostitutes) by crime syndicates.

The problem in the Philippines should be first tackled at its worst manifestation, which is under-aged girls and boys forced to be prostitutes. I believe that this has to be stopped. The foreign and local crime syndicates doing this should be stamped out. Next, free the other women who had been forced by pimps or syndicates to be prostitutes.  And then later, we may even talk about fully decriminalizing the sex trade and improving working conditions of sex workers.

Posted in Overseas Filipinos, Philippine economics, Philippine politics, Philippines, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

High Oil Price?

Posted by butalidnl on 25 September 2011

The recent strike against high oil prices was not only unsuccessful, it was also futile. Because the government’s response was limited to two choices: either to leave things as they are, or decide to subsidize oil prices. There was no chance that the government could, or would, force oil companies to lower their prices. And I think that subsidizing oil prices is an entirely wrong thing for the government to do.

High International Prices
The price of oil products is indeed high. Compared to previous months, the prices of oil products have risen quite significantly. However, this is simply because of high international oil prices. The local oil companies may have prices than are a bit higher than they should be, but this would be because of inefficiency and not greed.

Oil prices in the Philippines, despite appearances, are in line with international prices. Filipinos point out to spot prices of $88/barrel, and ask why the price at the pump is similar to when the price was $130/barrel in 2007. Well, there are two reasons why this is so. First, the price of oil that the Philippines buys is based on the Dubai crude price, not on the West Texas Index of the US. Dubai crude price is similar to Brent crude at $112/barrel, while West Texas crude is $88/barrel (price of West Texas crude is 27% higher than Dubai crude). The second reason is that the quoted West Texas or Dubai prices are spot prices, i.e. they are the price for single shipments for immediate (within a month) delivery. Companies importing oil pay prices agreed to in long-term contracts (contracts of a year or more) where the price is lower. In 2007, the spot price may have reached $130/barrel, but long term contract prices were probably only half that. But now, with spot prices lower, the long-term contract price is only a few dollars lower than the spot price. It may be that the long-term contract prices now are higher than those of 2007.

A better approach to looking at prices is to compare the retail price of gasoline between countries. Retail prices would already include all costs that go into gasoline e.g. transport, refining, distribution, taxes etc. A ( comparison of international oil prices ) show that US prices are about $3.79/gallon, while that of the Philippines is $5.00/gallon (On 9 Sept, average price of gasoline was P55.95/liter ).  If we consider than the price of West Texas crude is 27% more than Dubai crude, the Philippine price should be $4.81. And if we consider that WTI is the price of crude oil already in the US, while in our case, the crude has to travel from the Middle East all the way to the Philippines, or price of $5.00/barrel sounds fair enough. The countries near us (e.g. Malaysia, Indonesia) which have lower retail gasoline prices subsidize them.

Better Response
Bayan Muna, Piston and other leftists would of course reject the above reasoning. They would point out that the oil companies are ripping off everybody. And in a sense, they have a point. But if this is so, then a strike in Manila would surely not be enough to reverse a policy that even manages to ‘rip off’ US consumers and consumers all over the world. The local oil companies that we have are not doing the big rip off. In fact, as we have shown above, they are probably ripping us off a lot less than their US-based counterparts are.

The government could still take meaningful steps against the high prices of petroleum products.  First of all, it could promote gasoline efficiency, by providing tax incentives for people to buy hybrid cars. Or by having centers that check and improve the efficiency of engines, for a discounted price. The efficiency of many tricycle  and jeepney engines could be significantly improved by relatively small changes to the engine.

Then, the  government could also initiate the process of raising jeepney, bus and taxi fares. Not that an increase should be done now, but that there will already be a decision to raise fares when diesel price exceeds a certain amount. So that drivers and operators of public utility vehicles don’t need to do the whole process when the price does increase.

There may also be a need for the government to closely monitor the books of the oil companies, to make sure that any lowering of costs are passed on properly to the consumers, and that price increases are truly based on real increases in costs, and not merely in anticipation of them.

Posted in Philippine economics, Philippines, World Affairs | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Integrate the Informal Economy

Posted by butalidnl on 10 September 2011

Squatters have gained some kind of legitimacy as a result of the Philippines’ political process. In exchange for electoral support, many mayors protect squatters in their municipalities from demolition.  Economically, however, squatters and others who take part in the ‘informal economy’ are far from being integrated. This means that the country does not get the maximum possible benefit from their economic activities.

It may seem strange to collect rent from squatters. Local Government Units (LGUs) don’t collect rent from those squatting on government land because they fear that by doing so, squatters acquire some sort of right to stay.  They also feel that this is an added burden on the poor people.  Reality does not support the latter argument. Gangs regularly collect ‘rent’ from squatters, and the people readily pay them. They have the money to pay rent.

Collecting rent does not bestow renters a right to stay indefinitely. People who rent rooms or apartments can be told to leave, and so should people who rent land. The municipal government could make it clear that the land could still be used for another purpose, and that it will give something like a 3-month notice if it decides to do so. Collecting rent, however, changes the status of people from ‘squatters’ to renters; and this makes it easier to deliver other services to the area.  Part of the rent collected could also be shared with the local barangay (perhaps 1/5 of the rent). They could help ensure that nobody else collects rent from the people. The share of the rent could partly be used to pay for part-time barangay tanods to help police the neighborhood (who, among other things, would make sure that the gangs don’t collect ‘rental’ money anymore).

Street vendors of all types should be licensed. And the license fee should be rather high; after all, it would not be possible to collect VAT or business taxes from them. With the license, the vendors will no longer be harassed by the police. Corrupt police regularly milk vendors, and if they don’t pay they are arrested. The license fee will be welcomed by vendors, just to avoid paying the informal tax to the police. Licensing vendors also clears the way for the government to enforce health standards for food sales and some other regulations.

Public Parking
Many people suffer from the hassle of street kinds forcing their ‘Watch Your Car’ services on them. If you don’t pay the kids, something bad may happen to your car. In Cebu City, the government issues parking ticket booklets, which are sold through street kids. The kid who sold you the parking ticket also watches over your car; because the moment your car leaves, another car would need to be sold a parking ticket. The city gains money from this arrangement, and so do the street kids. And the car owners at least have a structured way of making sure that someone is watching over their car. I think that this is an example that other cities could emulate.

Water and Electricity
Extending water and electricity services to slums helps to improve the quality of life in slums, and greatly reduces illegal taps on water and electricity lines. But measures need to be made to make this work well. The barangay, or a barangay-level organization, should ‘buy’ electricity and water from the wholesale providers and distribute these within a given slum area, and collect the payments. The cost of illegal taps or leaks will effectively be distributed among neighbors, providing people with an incentive to report illegal taps, and to demand action against these.

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

Compel Lawmakers to Understand Filipino

Posted by butalidnl on 25 August 2011

On 24 August, during the House debate on the RH Bill, Representative Apostol of Southern Leyte demanded that Rep. Bag-ao be compelled to speak in English. Bag-ao replied that Filipino is an official language and that she had all the right to speak it in Congress. This was upheld by Deputy Majority Floor Leader Magtanggol Gunigundo who said that indeed Filipino is an official language. To this, Apostol said Filipino is not his official language, and that if Bag-ao persisted, he would then demand to have an interpreter.

This exchange may sound quite trivial, but it has bigger implications. Filipino IS an official language, and one of the implications of this is that government officials should be fluent at it. Being an official language also means not only that Representatives are allowed to speak it; but that the other representatives should be able to understand what she is saying. Otherwise, it would not effectively be an official language; because why have it as an official language if it cannot be used?

In Switzerland, they have four official languages ( German, French, Italian and Rumantsch). While the parliamentarians are not required to be fluent in all four, they ARE required to understand other parliamentarians speaking them. It is fascinating to attend such sessions, where the MPs speak in German (actually, the Swiss dialect of German), French, Italian or Rumantsch, and they don’t have interpreters! (When Italian or Rumatsch speakers want to make sure the others understand the nuances of what they say, however, they speak in either German or French) I think it would be unthinkable to have a lawmaker there who cannot speak fluently at least two languages.

I believe that Philippine government officials need to be fluent in Filipino, and not merely be able to comprehend it. I applaud PNoy’s consistency in speaking Filipino during his speeches. I note that he is speaking ‘ordinary’ Filipino, and not the version that is too ‘deep’ or ‘classical’. It has many borrowed words from Spanish and English.

The use of Filipino as an official language should also extend to our foreign relations. Erap Estrada was the first, I think the only, Philippine president who talked to US officials in Filipino; forcing the Americans (Sec. of State Albright) to hurriedly look for an interpreter. I think PNoy should follow Estrada’s example and talk Filipino to Americans, just to make the point. Talking in English to the Americans is a courtesy; the Americans should return this courtesy sometimes by listening to us speaking Filipino. I suggest that when Filipino officials talk to Americans in the Philippines, they speak Filipino; and if they talk to the Americans in the US or elsewhere, that they talk in English.

I understand the sensitivity of people like Apostol, who is a Cebuano speaker, to the predominance of the mainly Tagalog-based Filipino over other languages such as Cebuano. I am a Cebuano myself, and my father raised me to be English-speaking. But c’mon: Representative Apostol lives in Manila; he speaks colloquial Filipino every day. Why can’t he learn just a bit more Filipino to understand official talks in it? It isn’t really that difficult, a couple of months of study should do it. I know, I did it too.

The barrier to learning Filipino is more a question of arrogance, rather than difficulty. I bet that Rep Apostol couldn’t also make an official speech in Cebuano (his native tongue) either. He does all official duties back home in Southern Leyte in English (even though he surely speaks colloquial Cebuano fluently.)  It is really a question of an ‘air’ that he is educated, a lawyer, and speaking Filipino or Cebuano in official functions is below him.

I think this is a matter for the Supreme Court to decide. We could not have lawmakers declaring that Filipino is not THEIR official language. They should declare that having Filipino as an official language means that lawmakers should be able to comprehend it. They should decide to compel Apostol and other lawmakers to understand Filipino.

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