February 2009

by Perry Diazfredpanlilio

A battle royal is looming in the land of Cong Dadong Macapagal between his daughter, President — and anti-drug “Czarina” — Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Gov. Fr. Ed Panlilio of Pampanga. With all the government and political resources at her disposal, the Czarina has come down furiously at the priest-turned-governor through a series of Machiavellian strategies. But the priest is fighting back like David did to the mighty Goliath.

It all started when Panlilio and other governors were invited to a breakfast meeting at the Malacanang Palace in October 2007. During the meeting, a presidential aide handed brown envelopes to the guests without any explanation. The brown envelope that Panlilio received contained P500,000. After a few days — not knowing what the money was for — Panlilio went public and disclosed the money which he believed was a bribe. At about the same time, it was revealed in the news that brown bags were also distributed to about 190 congressmen who attended a separate meeting with Gloria in Malacanang. At that time, an impeachment resolution against Arroyo was pending in the House of Representatives. Soon after the meetings, the impeachment resolution was overwhelmingly rejected by the House of Representatives.

Panlilio’s expose’ of the bribery was tantamount to a declaration of war against the Arroyo regime. Pretty soon, Pampanga’s vice governor, provincial board members, and all the municipal mayors ganged up on Panlilio and openly opposed him on everything he did or wanted to do including eradicating jueteng and corruption.

Pampanga is known as the “Vatican of Jueteng” because the reputed Jueteng King of Central Luzon is believed to be a town mate and “kumpadre” of Gloria. With the influence of “jueteng power” over the people and political establishment in Pampanga, any attempt by Panlilio to stop the jueteng operations would likely fail. However, something good in a grand scale could be achieved in the process.

Unfazed by the resistance, Panlilio persisted and held his political enemies at bay. Last year, people believed to be associated with Lilia Pineda — one of two candidates that Panlilio defeated in the gubernatorial election in 2007 — launched a recall petition against Panlilio. Some people questioned if Gloria’s son, Congressman Mikey Arroyo, had a hand in initiating the recall move.

The recall was stalled momentarily when the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) didn’t have the funds to spend for the recall election. But in an unusual move, the Arroyo-controlled House of Representatives hastily approved a budget of P50 million specifically for the Panlilio recall election. Clearly, the Arroyo administration was hell-bent in removing Panlilio from office. However, there is a small window of opportunity for Panlilio to escape the recall. If the COMELEC fails to conduct the recall election by April this year, then Panlilio could complete his three-year term of office.

The Arroyo-Panlilio war came out in the open when Panlilio accused Gloria and Mikey of “coddling” the jueteng protectors in Pampanga. But Gloria challenged Panlilio to “show proof that the President allows jueteng lords to operate freely in his province.” This “show proof” counter-offense has always worked for Gloria.

Panlilio wanted to replace Senior Superintendent Keith Ernald Singian as Pampanga Provincial Director. He accused Singian as one of the protectors of jueteng operations in Pampanga. He also claimed that Mikey together with San Fernando Police Chief Superintendent Benjamin Medina and a certain Fr. Jun Mercado had been protecting Singian from being removed from his position.

At one time, Singian declared that jueteng did not exist in Pampanga. He could be technically correct because jueteng, which is illegal, has morphed into “Small Town Lottery” (STL), which is legal. Jueteng and STL are basically the same. It’s interesting to note that the STL operators are the same people who operated the illegal jueteng operations.

Panlilio had repeatedly complained — he said 18 times — to National Police Chief Director General Jesus Verzosa that jueteng was still rampant in Pampanga and that Singian had been protecting the jueteng (aka STL) operators. Under constant pressure from Panlilio, Verzosa finally acceded and directed the regional police director to replace Singian. Senior Superintendent Gil Lebin, Jr. was appointed to replace Singian.

After Lebin took over, he was interviewed by the press and was asked how he would deal with jueteng? His response was: “Does it exist here?” Whoa! Is Lebin a clone of Singian? Panlilio commented that “Lebin was recommended by the Pampanga Mayors’ League, who is chaired by the son of the alleged jueteng lord in Pampanga.”

The high-profile tug-o-war between Panlilio and Gloria — and her surrogates — has attracted a lot of attention in the country as well as abroad. Sad to say, it is contributing to Gloria’s bad image abroad. It’s no wonder that US President Barack Obama had avoided Gloria three times when she chased him around in the US.

Recently, Panlilio stated that he would run for President if God willed it. His base of support is growing fast in the country as well as in the Filipino global community. But should he decide not to run in 2010, he could become a strong catalyst for “change” and would be effective in helping to bring down the corrupt ruling party.

Almost a century ago, the powerful Romanovs of the Russian empire were deposed in a bloody revolution. The weakling Czar Nicolas II and his strong-willed wife Czarina Alexandra were oblivious of the suffering of the Russian people. Protected by the military led by corrupt generals, the royal family lived in pompous splendor while the people lived in abject poverty and hunger. And behind the Czarina was a mad monk. His name was Gregory Rasputin. He ill-advised the Czarina who virtually held power in running the corrupt czarist regime. In the end, the evil Rasputin was one of the causes — perhaps the catalyst — of the Romanovs’ downfall in 1917.

In the case of Czarina Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, another holy man — the good priest Among Ed Panlilio — could play a pivotal role in the 2010 election, an election that could eventually bring “change” to the country. Indeed, it could be a “change” that will bring forth — albeit belatedly — the true spirit and meaning of the unfinished “People Power” revolution of 1986.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

by Perry Diazpeso

Last February 13, 2009, the think tank IBON Foundation posted on its website an article titled “Gov’t ’Stimulus Plan’ A Mere Spin.” IBON implied that the much ballyhooed stimulus plan of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is a “mere public relations gimmickry to create the impression that something is being done to address the crisis.” According to IBON, “part of the reported P330-billion stimulus plan includes the P160-billion increase in the 2009 national budget, the P100-billion off-budget infrastructure fund, the P40-billion corporate/individual tax breaks, so-called alternative livelihood programs, etc.”

Sonny Africa, research head of IBON, stated that “the ‘stimulus’ funds are already there even before the recent descent into crisis… There is very little to indicate that, with the so-called stimulus plan, government is pouring any substantially new efforts to deal with the economic downturn.” He concluded that “all these imply that the administration is not really taking additional measures in the face of the crisis, and leaves the majority of poor Filipinos on their own.”

To begin with, the original stimulus plan was the brainchild of Albay Governor Joey Salceda who serves as an “economic adviser” to President Arroyo. The goal of the stimulus plan was to continue the country’s growth momentum and minimize the effect of the imminent recession in the United States. He submitted the P75-billion stimulus plan to Arroyo in January 2008. A few days later, Arroyo approved it.

But before the stimulus plan could take off, then Senate President Manny Villar said the stimulus plan should go through Congress for appropriation as mandated by the constitution. Fearing resistance from Congress, Arroyo scuttled the stimulus plan and replaced it with a P50-billion “performing budget” which was already in the 2008 national budget; thus, a congressional appropriation was no longer required.

In December 2008, the Arroyo administration made a surprise announcement: it planned to implement a P300-billion stimulus plan to “speed up spending on infrastructure and social services, and cut tax rates, in the first half of 2009 to ensure jobs are created and a major slowdown in growth prevented.” The stimulus plan was called the Economic Resiliency Plan (ERP). Gloria’s point man for ERP was Socio-economic Planning Secretary Ralph Recto.

Within a couple of weeks, Romulo Neri, President of the Social Security System (SSS), swiftly acted to channel P12.5 billion to the ERP as its share in the stimulus plan. Instantaneously, lawmakers in both chambers of Congress filed resolutions to investigate Neri’s plan to remove a big chunk of money from the private sector employees’ pension fund and “contribute” it to the ERP. Senator Ping Lacson suspected that the money would eventually find its way to the campaign funds of administration candidates in the 2010 elections. Assistant Minority Leader Congresswoman Liza Maza said that Neri “has to account to the about 27 million SSS members on how he is going to use their hard-earned money.” Indeed, Neri could be the “robbing hood” who steals from the people to feed the rich.

In another appearance of irregularity, Gloria signed A.O. 248 last December 4, 2008 which ordered the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to contribute P250 million to the ERP. That amount was to be used to finance OWWA programs as part of the stimulus plan. However, Migrante International Chairman Garry Martinez said that the money had been a part of OWWA’s annual budget since 1986. So why the double-budgeting? Martinez said, “We smell something fishy with this stimulus package. And as usual, they are targeting the funds of OWWA, which belongs to us OFWs.”

In the labor sector, the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL) had raised concerns that the stimulus plan did not have clear and specific programs. Daniel Edralin, the APL chairman said, “without clear programs, this ‘stimulus package’ will just end up ‘stimulating’ once more the oversized greed and pockets of Arroyo’s henchmen and sycophants.”

In January 2009, the stimulus plan was increased by 10% making it to P330 billion. Recto explained that the P30 billion increase would come from government agency savings, government-owned and government-controlled corporations. However, he did not say what the increase was for. Could it be one of those markups that we hear about that are earmarked for “tong-pats” or “commissions”?

Two weeks ago, Sen. Ma. Ana Consuelo Madrigal filed Senate Resolution 881 asking the Senate Committee on Ways and Means to “investigate the source, rationale, and detailed expenditure breakdown of the P330 billion ‘economic resiliency plan’.” Madrigal claimed that the stimulus plan is “not only unclear but seemingly padded with non-existent expense.”

I reviewed the outline of the ERP and its objectives were: 1) To ensure sustainable growth, attaining the higher end of the growth targets; 2) To save and create as many jobs as possible; 3) To protect the most vulnerable sectors: the poorest of the poor, returning OFWs, and workers in export industry; 4) To ensure low and stable prices to support consumer spending; and 5) To further enhance competitiveness in preparation for the global economic rebound. Hmmm…

The strategies to achieve its goals were: Improve Revenue Collection; Budget Intervention; and Off-Budget Interventions. First of all, how much would it cost to improve revenue collection? Doesn’t the government have agencies assigned to do that already? Couldn’t they improve revenue collection without increasing cost? But as we all know, the revenue collection agencies are some of the most corrupt agencies.

In regard to Budget Intervention, does this mean that the funds have already been included in the 2009 national budget? And in regard to Off-Budget Intervention, the government is going to raid the SSS pension funds, OWWA funds, government agencies, and government-owned and -controlled corporations. So, where is the “new money” to stimulate the economy?

The IBON Foundation is then right when it said that “the ‘stimulus’ funds are already there even before the recent descent into crisis…” There is no “new money” to be infused into the economy. In other words, there is really no new “spending plan” which is what a stimulus plan should be all about.

However, if there was a “spending plan” using “new money,” then it would require Congress to appropriate these funds for the stimulus plan. The fact that it never went through Congress shows that Gloria’s stimulus plan is nothing more than a stimulating gimmickry.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz

Riding the crest of the “Reagan Revolution,” the corporate Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) reached the pinnacle of power in the business world. As the preeminent leaders of American capitalism, they reigned high and mighty. But after three decades of sustained economic growth, their empires are crumbling and the CEOs are falling.

If Ronald Reagan were alive today, he would be horrified to see how his “trickle-down economics” — also known as Reaganomics — had gone wrong during the presidency of George W. Bush. Reagan won the presidential elections in 1980 on his campaign promise to reduce government spending, reduce taxes, reduce government regulation of the economy, and reduce inflation. He did. But somewhere along the way, things had gone awry.

Reagan peddled the theory of “supply-side economics” — a more palatable term for “trickle-down economics” — to the American people and they bought it. Coined by journalist Jude Wanniski in 1975, “supply-side economics” is the theory that economic growth can be achieved by providing tax cuts, incentives, and other benefits to businesses to produce goods and services; thus, benefiting the people as “prosperity” trickles down to them. However, during the 1980 primary, Reagan’s opponent George H.W. Bush deridingly called it “Voodoo economics.” Bush lost the primary to Reagan; however, Reagan magnanimously offered him to be his vice presidential running mate.

Whether it’s called trickle-down economics, supply-side economics, voodoo economics or Reaganomics, it was the vehicle that launched the Reagan Revolution. Massive capital flowed into businesses; thus, revving up the economy. Seventeen million new jobs were created from 1982 to the end of the Reagan presidency in 1988.

It was also the beginning of deregulation which removed, reduced or simplified restrictions on businesses. With hardly any government oversight, businesses burgeoned and accumulated wealth never seen before. As businesses grew, CEOs targeted smaller businesses for takeover. Others merged to kill competition and control the market. As businesses grew bigger, they became greedy. And so were their CEOs.

Soon, the CEOs started looking out for themselves. They demanded their boards of directors for bigger salaries, bigger bonuses, more perks and benefits, bigger incentives, larger expense accounts, and humongous stock options. With corporate profits going through the roof, the CEOs got what they demanded… and more. “CEO Greed” became the buzzword in the business world.

In 1997, the US economy suffered a setback during the Asian financial crisis. Many businesses downsized their operations and laid off employees. However, Business Week’s executive pay survey showed that the average CEO pay went up 35% to a whopping $7.8 million! The average base pay for a CEO was $150,000 a week — 326 times more than what factory workers received.

An example was a CEO who made $7.4 million in salary and $223.3 million in stock options for a total of $230.7 million — all in one year. The previous year, he only made a meager $94.2 million. Another CEO earned more than $400 million in stock options — the largest that year.

CEOs who were fired or retired as a result of downsizing received hefty severance packages. One CEO who was on the job for only 17 months received a severance pay of $6.7 million while the company lost $2 billion under his watch. But he wasn’t too happy about the going-away package. He thought that he should have received more. Another company laid off 3,174 employees, including the CEO. The CEO received $10.7 million in severance pay. There is only one word to describe all this — greed.

Over the next decade, the CEOs not only survived the economic downturns, they thrived. Even after 9/11, the CEOs continued to accumulate personal wealth from their perch in the business world. The real estate boom in the early 2000’s created a housing market that doubled in equity value within three years. Lenders liberally loaned money to home-buyers. Credit was driven by a scoring system — FICO — that defied reality. For those whose FICO scores were below the conventional level, the predatory sub-prime lenders came to the scene. And if a buyer didn’t qualify, the lender would offer one from a number of creative financing programs such as No-No (No down payment, no closing cost), SISA (Stated Income, Stated Assets), Neg-Am (Negative Amortization), Four-payment Option, etc.

Then something happened in 2004. Interest rates started to go up and the median prices of homes increased considerably. By that time, home prices had increased 400% since 2000.

In 2005, in a sudden turn of events, the housing market became stagnant. The following year, it slowed down considerably and home prices started to plummet. It was the beginning of the end.

Foreclosures started in earnest in 2007 and by 2008 more than million home owners lost their homes to foreclosure. In mid-September 2008, the “Big M” occurred — the financial meltdown started marking the end of the Reagan Revolution. By October, the country was virtually leaderless and rudderless. President George W. Bush became the lamest duck that occupied the White House.

Barack Obama’s star started to rise as he outpaced John McCain in the presidential derby. Obama won in the elections and became the 44th President of the U.S. It was the beginning of the Obama Revolution. And “Change” became the buzzword in the world.

The $700 billion bailout for the moribund financial institutions which was passed during the waning days of the Bush administration gave them a breadth of life. Meanwhile, the CEOs kept a low profile.

President Obama has only been in office for a couple of weeks when the CEOs emerged from their burrows. They’re up to their old “greed” game again. When it was exposed that the CEOs were given $18.4 billion in bonuses, President Obama was enraged. He acted immediately and put together new policies that would require the struggling companies that get government assistance to relinquish their CEOs’ “fat paychecks, corporate jets, golden parachutes and lavish junkets.” Greed must be stopped or else.

And finally, the CEOs met their match in Obama who holds the key to the bailout money. The CEOs have to play by Obama’s rules or face the consequences of Obama’s ire. With Obama’s determination to bring change to the government, the era of CEO greed may finally come to an end.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

 

by Perry Diaz

toilet

Little did Amador Bernabe realize that his “toilet habits” would propel him to international fame. For not cleaning himself up the “Australian way,” he was unceremoniously fired from his job by his Australian employer. Bernabe, a 43 years old Filipino contract worker employed by Townsville Engineering Industries (TEI) in Townsville, Australia, got himself in trouble for using water instead of toilet paper after he used the toilet.

Last January 22, 2009, when Bernabe went to the toilet with a bottle of water, his foreman told him that he could not bring the bottle of water with him. Bernabe insisted and his foreman followed him to the toilet. Bernabe protested the invasion of his privacy and told his foreman, “It’s my personal hygiene. I didn’t break any law, I didn’t break any rules of the company, why can’t I do this?” His foreman told him that he can’t do it and that he would report him to the manager.

The following day, Bernabe was called to the manager’s office. The manager, Byron Carter, asked him what happened. After explaining what happened, Carter told him that if he didn’t follow the “Australian way,” he would be terminated from his job. Bernabe responded, “Sir, then you better terminate me.” He was terminated.

Carter said that Bernabe was terminated because his toilet habits pose a “serious health risk.” In his report, Carter wrote: “Mr. Bernabe’s technique to cleanse himself with water after his toiletry visits leaves the toilet cubical splashed with water, suspected to be contaminated with feces and wet soggy toilet paper lying on the floor.” Whoa! “Suspected to be contaminated with feces”??? Water splashed in toilet rooms happen all the time! That’s why company restrooms are supposed to be cleaned up by janitors all the time. I used to work for companies where there were sheets posted daily on the restroom doors showing the times the restrooms were cleaned up, and signed by the janitors who cleaned them up. In my opinion, cleaning the restrooms is the ultimate responsibility of the employer.

The sacking of Bernabe sent shock waves around the world. The episode made it in USA TODAY and numerous newspapers in different countries. In Townsville, union bosses and politicians were angered by the apparent act of bigotry. “I think it is atrocious, an invasion of a person’s rights and cultural beliefs,” a union organizer said, “If it wasn’t so disgusting it would almost be laughable.”

Jenny Stirling, a spokeswoman for the Greens Party, praised Bernabe for what he did. “I commend the man for standing up for himself and I encourage the employer to have further talks with the union and the employee and I am sure common sense will prevail,” she said. “I would like to see how Australians feel when they go to Europe where in places they don’t have toilet paper.”

Indeed, sooner or later, the use of toilet paper could become a thing of the past. While the acceptable norm of “toilet hygiene” in many countries is the use of toilet paper, many people — especially from Asian countries — use water to clean themselves up after using the toilet. They believe that water cleanses, paper does not.

Using water for cleaning up has been around since the advent of mankind. In the 17th century, French furniture makers invented the bidet. The early models of bidet requires the person to ride it like a pony, which is “bidet” in French. A bidet is used for washing the private parts and anus. It has also been be used for washing other parts of the body and for bathing babies.

In the Philippines, bidets are being sold in home improvement stores for more than 50 years. However, I have seen them only in affluent people’s homes. When my family and I went on a European tour, the bidet was a common fixture in hotels. But in the U.S., I have yet to see a bidet in an American home although I’ve been to homes of some rich Americans. Americans use disposable paper in just about everything they do. Makes me wonder what’s going to happen when all the trees in America are gone.

About 15 years ago, a friend of mine showed me an electric-powered toilet seat that he was selling. The seat has a heating element embedded around it for use in cold weather. Attached at the back of the seat is a 3-inch high rectangular casing which contains the mechanism for washing and drying your private parts. There is a retractable wand under the casing that is electrically controlled to move it to a position at the precise area to be washed. After the washing is completed, the drying unit comes out to finish the job. It’s hands free and the only thing that you touch is the control panel located on one side of the casing. It’s made in Japan and the retail price was $2,000 at that time. I have seen more recent models in the Internet selling for less than $1,000 today.

A few days ago, I found another kind of sprayer in the Internet. It could be attached to a commode and used as a bidet, or it could be connected to a faucet or shower and used as a hand-held spray wand. The marketing blurb on this item is: “Go Green for Personal Hygiene. Cleansing with fresh running water is the most soothing and gentle way to remove germs and bacteria from your sensitive skin areas instead of using rough and abrasive tissue paper. Cleansing with fresh running water also reduces toilet paper use by 80%, which is an easy way to Go Green and save money.”

The furor over Bernabe’s “un-Australian toilet habits” could have a positive effect on the Green Revolution. It would remind us that there will come a time when everybody will learn to clean themselves with more water and less paper. With the forests vanishing rapidly, production of paper products could eventually come to a virtual end which would then be the beginning of a “paperless society.”

We can do away with newspapers, paper bags, paper towels, paper napkins, writing papers, copy papers, etc. But are we ready to do away with toilet paper? That could be traumatic for a lot of people — “What! no toilet paper? Oh, Lord! What am I going to use?” And Amador Bernabe would be there laughing, “Use water, brother. Ha ha ha…”