Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Rizal Day Should Be In June, Not December

MOVE RIZAL DAY TO JUNE! Every year on December 30, the citizens of the Philippines celebrate José Rizál Day by killing their National Hero all over again. Every year, in a strange official holiday celebration, they imitate the Spanish Taliban of the 19th Century and execute José Rizál on Bagumbayan Field (also called the Luneta) for the Nth time since that day in 1896 when the tradition was indeed, established. The "First Filipino" -- as the national hero has been called -- was in fact the first Filipino to suffer capital punishment for writing blasphemous fiction and refusing to retract his heresies and apostasies. It is a truly embarrassing fact, lil mentioned if at all in polite society, that the Philippine national hero was, and still is, an excommunicant from the Catholic Church. It was, I believe, Pope Pius IX (Pio Nono) who made membership in Masonry a cause for automatic excommunication from the Catholic Church, as were Rizal and most of the Philippine Revolution's leaders. If his case had been adjudicated by the Spanish authorities in an earlier, more strictly incendiary age, Rizal might have been burned at the stake instead of being felled by musket shot in the back -- though there WAS an apocryphal twist insisted upon. But no matter how one looks at it, after more than a century, Rizál Day in December is a morbid commemoration on a day that always falls between Christmas and New Year. I think it is time to move the present Rizál Day celebration to June 19, and begin to celebrate José Rizál's brilliant and patriotic life in addition to his noble and tragic death. Historian Ambeth Ocampo considers the accusation that Rizal was an American-made hero in Soul of the Revolution. Since the academic school year also begins in the month of June for many schools all over the Philippines, especially the public schools, the June 19th Birthday of José Rizál could get things off to a good start every year. (And even if the schedule is moved to start in September, as it does in most of the Western Hemisphere, that would still mean graduations in the month of June, and thus a guaranted exemplary role for Rizál.)

This is a question that gets debated a lot around the time the kids go back to school in the Philippines. The answer given by virtually everybody trying to reform the education system is a resounding NO. But it seems that whatever the diagnoses of what is wrong with the education system someone comes up with, it also requires a cure that will cost a lot more money than what is being appropriated now. I think this usually leads to an intellectual dead-end for the analysis and proposed solution because I think the problem lies not in the amount we are spending, which has always increased in absolute terms, if not in per capita terms. I think the problem lies in HOW the money is spent, and on what: It goes mostly to salaries with little left over capital expenditures on school buildings, desks, computers, libraries and books.

Yet, the Education already gets "the highest budgetary priority" per the 1987 Constitution. To this point, I've been reading a very interesting document generated by the Congressional Planning and Budget Department An Analysis of the President's Budget For Fiscal Year 2006 (PDF). It's amazing what a treasture trove of information about the government and its spending habits such a document is.
For fiscal year 2006, the education sector will receive P146.45 Billion or 8.12% increase from theprevious year. Over the past years, the education sector continues to be the priority of the government as it receives a significant portion of the national budget, second to debt servicing. Apparently, the percentage share of education to total budget has been decreasing—from 14.85% in 2004 to 13.90% of the proposed 2006 budget. On the other hand, the share of debt servicing has jumped from its 2004 level of 30.90% to 32.28% in 2005. There was a 20% jump in budget for debt servicing while that of education had only a 5.17% increase.
Most illuminating is Table 8.7 on page 93 of the PDF, titled Deped Budget By Object of Expenditure, in which we find that the Department of Education (Deped) is programmed to receive 119.9 billion pesos in the 2006 fiscal year, of which 100.9 billion will go to salaries ("personal services") of the 400,000-strong national bureaucracy of teachers, principals, superintendents, directors, assistant-, under-, and acting secretaries, who by the way, also count the votes in our elections as Comelec's indentured and endangered, servants. It seems to me that the education budget is basically a hidden subsidy for the Commission on Elections.

I guess my answer is also, NO, we are not spending enough on EDUCATION as such, even if we are spending about 101 billion pesos this year on SALARIES. Any dispassionate analysis of the education system must face this fact. It is not so much an education system as it is a giant employment and welfare program in support of the manual election process. The share devoted to salaries in the budget far exceeds regional standards, and that given to capital expenditures such as school buildings, textbooks, computers, libraries, laboratories, etcetara, gets a miniscule 3.86 percent of the total budget. It's like running Fedex with 400,000 truck drivers you cannot fire, but without trucks, planes, computers, telephones or running water in the offices -- or even offices!

As members of the Republic's Board of Directors, citizens really ought to be asking why we should this year give 119.9 billion pesos of the public's meagre treasure to the largely faceless bureaucracy of politicians and their appointees and the rest of those government functionaries somewhere in Pasig. Why should we spend our money on them? Why DO we spend so much money on public education? Are we getting our money's worth? It does not seems so when Deped's own figures show that an inexplicable 2% (1 in 50!) graduates of the public schools were able to pass the standardized National Elementary and Secondary Assessment Tests (NEAT, NSAT) and that was with a passing grade of 50%! Moreover, it has been publicly admitted by the Deped that no one ever fails or is held back for academic nonperformance in the public schools. You either pass or drop-out. Is that an education system, or an aging vat?

Ah, but why are private school tuition fees so high?

I think it is because the "free public schools" have WARPED the education market. By offering free tuition at public schools, the government has taken over the lion's share of the education burden. Because its resources are necessarily strapped and limited, that education of a far lower quality than optimal or even acceptable by international standards. This durable ideology of "free universal public education" in a country like the Philippines, has only led to a ghettoization of the Have-nots and their children into the substandard public school system. Meanwhile the Haves, who groan and complain about exorbitant tuition fees in the private schools, nevertheless send their kids to them if their economic circumstances at all permit. Conversely, more and more people are moving their children to the public schools, when they cannot afford the high private school tuitions. But I don't believe that the largely religious Christian private schools are interested in MAXing out their tuition fees so they can repatriate obscenely large profits to their Mother Houses in Rome. I think it is akin to the situation that would certainly develop in the fast-food market if let us say, the government were to announce that henceforth, hamburgers will be free at all Jollibees restaurants because of a new government subsidy. People would still go to MacDonolds, KFC, and Chow King and even pay more for their non-subsidized food.

I think that by largely monopolizing the available market for students by offering tuition free public schools, the government is unfairly competing with the private school sector. I think giving even a billion pesos each to say the De La Salle Brothers, the Ateneo Fathers, the nuns of St. Theresa's and St. Scholastica's, and yes, even Assumption Convent, Ayala Corp., the Lopez Foundations, and the rest of the private sector would result in significantly more EDUCATION being delivered to the Filipino youth than what Deped, Ched and the national government have been able to accomplish under an essentially socialist education system.

Deped has a new logo. The website is highly functional and mostly up-to-date. Here is the Calendar for the 2006-2007 Academic School Year. Our best women--mothers, sisters, daughters--largely comprise the public school teaching corps. It is my belief that they are locked up in a system that is not designed, organized or run as an educational delivery system. Rather it is an adjunct of the traditional political system of patronage and the manual electoral system that is at the heart of Democracy's rot in the Philippines. I also believe that this sector of Philippine society, its teachers and nurturers of the hearts and minds of many, are the key to a new Revolution among Filipinos that will cast away the chains that bind them still, after centuries. There is no more grievous emotional loss, a famous philosopher once said, than that of an excuse for ones failures in terms of the actions of another. We have had no such excuse for over half a century, yet excuses are redolent in all of our Media.

I really think it is time for the Government to phase out of the education business and give the private sector a shot at illuminating the future of the Filipinos. Why should we give almost P120 billion to the government for educational purposes, when whoever runs the government only uses it for other things? Why should the public schools have an unfair, dare I say, unwisely granted advantage over the private schools to deliver education?

The national government has to get out of something at which it has been largely a monumental and historic failure, and the expenditures from the public coffers mostly a humongous waste. The hardest thing to change will be the utterly politically correct ideology of "free universal public education." Like in Cuba, or Russia, or China? Like most goods and services, I think most people would settle for education at the right price, even if it's not. zero I mean would you eat or support government-subsidized hamburgers at Jollibees? There are 18 million kids in the Basic Education sector, an overwhelming percentage of whom are in the public schools. But if government were not in the education business in such a big way, private school tuitions would go DOWN as economies of scale cut in. It is those economies of scale, competitive pressures, and enforced efficiencies, quality and productivity that a government-run education program, with its bureaucracies and monopoly position, simply cannot do very well at all.

Government should get out of education. It is unfair competition from the public schools that causes high tuition fees in the best schools in the country, not greedy nuns and priests who've taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in the very service of education. I say, privatize education.

UPDATE BREAKING NEWS: President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo reportedly asked the Palace Media to leave this morning's Cabinet meeting after Deped Officer-in-Charge, Dr. Fe Hidalgo, opened her presentation by saying there is currently a shortfall of 7,000 classrooms just two weeks ahead of School opening. I heard the taped exchange in which the President sounded really cross and "corrected" Dr. Hidalgo on her formula for computing the shortage in classrooms, just before she asked the media to leave. Poor Fe! I'm sure her ears are still ringing from what the President said after the cameras were turned off....Resigned Education Secretary Butch Abad came to Dr. Hidalgo's support however, saying that the government simply has not prioritized the building of these facilities. I agree! We are running a Fedex without any trucks or planes or computers. Oh well. She's good earnest person, but I never expected Dr. Hidalgo to get the Education post, which will surely be given to a POLITICIAN ahead of the real work of Deped next year: the 2007 national elections.

QUESTION: If you didn't have to turn it over to the Gang of Four Hundred Thousand in Pasig, what would YOU do with P149.9 Billion Pesos of cold hard cash every year to educate 20 million kids?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

La Mesa Dam -- and the Tragedy of the Commons

here are five articles in Sunday PDI's Talk of the Town section on the La Mesa Dam controversy, whose basic facts are laid out here by MLQ3 in The Desire for Land and Water. and in La Mesa Dam Quick Facts (no byline). Local Blawger Noel Punzalan contributes the meaty piece, Legal Issues in the La Mesa Dam controversy. Looks like bloggerdom was all over this one, at least from the legal standpoint, as La Vida Lawyer Marvin Aceron also weighs in with When Tribes Clash -- in which he considers the alternatives of the opposed sides and the national government.

Taken from the perspective of Game Theory, this clash of "tribal" interests over environement resources such La Mesa Dam, has surprising connections with many other quite general problems, such as the population explosion and nuclear proliferation. They come together in a classic problem that has been widely studied, called The Tragedy of the Commons. (This link is to Garret Hardin's well-known 1968 essay on the topic.) A relevant quote from this essay are in order:
Garret Hardin: "In a reverse way, the tragedy of the commons reappears in problems of pollution. Here it is not a question of taking something out of the commons, but of putting something in -- sewage, or chemical, radioactive, and heat wastes into water; noxious and dangerous fumes into the air; and distracting and unpleasant advertising signs into the line of sight. The calculations of utility are much the same as before. The rational man finds that his share of the cost of the wastes he discharges into the commons is less than the cost of purifying his wastes before releasing them. Since this is true for everyone, we are locked into a system of "fouling our own nest," so long as we behave only as independent, rational, free enterprisers...The pollution problem is a consequence of population. It did not much matter how a lonely American frontiersman disposed of his waste. "Flowing water purifies itself every ten miles," my grandfather used to say, and the myth was near enough to the truth when he was a boy, for there were not too many people. But as population became denser, the natural chemical and biological recycling processes became overloaded, calling for a redefinition of property rights."
The resolution of the issue as it stands will indeed be found by the Supreme Court, but I would be interested to see how my two blawger friends and MLQ3 might react to this same situation if the people involved were not "ex-MWSS employees" but let us say, indigenous peoples living in La Mesa Dam for generations. Would they have a different attitude or analysis of the situation?

BUT I was nonplussed by the last of the articles in Talk of the Town, Watersheds and Survival by Valerio Mendoza which opens with this sentence--
The human body and the Earth both comprise 75 percent water.
I know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but if any book seriously had this title I would have to think it was being misleading because the Earth is most definitely not 75% water. Rather it has a thin wispy covering of surface water and ice, at most a couple of miles thick, but is solid rock or molten iron for most of its 7,900-mile plus diameter. (via GeoScience) The human body is mostly water though, so we shall accept the point being made that water is important, even essential to human life on the planet, though it certainly does not inspire confidence to read such a brazen falsehood in the lead. The rest of Mendoza's essay is really a Paean to Forests ("...prevent soil erosion, hasten infiltration, fix carbon dioxide and many other greenhouse gases (GHG)...modify local temperature...act as the lungs of the metropolis, the reservoir of a genetic pool for our biodiversity. Forests are excellent sites for recreation and education...") But please see Michael Crichton's Environmentalism as Religion for a perspective.

SPEAKING OF POPULATION (via SCIENCEBLOG) 'Rhythm Method' May Kill Off More Embryos than Other Methods of Contraception Here is a new study from the Journal of Medical Ethics that suggests the only method of "natural birth control" allowed by the Roman Catholic Church may actually be more deadly to human embryos than artificial means of contraception! This could really shake things up since it has always been assumed by everybody that this "natural method" doesn't actually "kill." But look at how statistics indicates a chilling other possibility...

The money quote from Tragedy of the Commons, and the conclusion really to the only effective means of dealing with such problems is this: "Mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon." -- otherwise "tragedy" as Whitehead defines it inexorably occurs: "The essence of dramatic tragedy is not unhappiness. It resides in the solemnity of the remorseless working of things."

In this regard, Garret Hardin's conclusion is worth quoting in full:
Perhaps the simplest summary of this analysis of man's population problems is this: the commons, if justifiable at all, is justifiable only under conditions of low-population density. As the human population has increased, the commons has had to be abandoned in one aspect after another.

First we abandoned the commons in food gathering, enclosing farm land and restricting pastures and hunting and fishing areas. These restrictions are still not complete throughout the world.

Somewhat later we saw that the commons as a place for waste disposal would also have to be abandoned. Restrictions on the disposal of domestic sewage are widely accepted in the Western world; we are still struggling to close the commons to pollution by automobiles, factories, insecticide sprayers, fertilizing operations, and atomic energy installations.

In a still more embryonic state is our recognition of the evils of the commons in matters of pleasure. There is almost no restriction on the propagation of sound waves in the public medium. The shopping public is assaulted with mindless music, without its consent. Our government has paid out billions of dollars to create a supersonic transport which would disturb 50,000 people for every one person whisked from coast to coast 3 hours faster. Advertisers muddy the airwaves of radio and television and pollute the view of travelers. We are a long way from outlawing the commons in matters of pleasure. Is this because our Puritan inheritance makes us view pleasure as something of a sin, and pain (that is, the pollution of advertising) as the sign of virtue?

Every new enclosure of the commons involves the infringement of somebody's personal liberty. Infringements made in the distant past are accepted because no contemporary complains of a loss. It is the newly proposed infringements that we vigorously oppose; cries of "rights" and "freedom" fill the air. But what does "freedom" mean? When men mutually agreed to pass laws against robbing, mankind became more free, not less so. Individuals locked into the logic of the commons are free only to bring on universal ruin; once they see the necessity of mutual coercion, they become free to pursue other goals. I believe it was Hegel who said, "Freedom is the recognition of necessity."

The most important aspect of necessity that we must now recognize, is the necessity of abandoning the commons in breeding. No technical solution can rescue us from the misery of overpopulation. Freedom to breed will bring ruin to all. At the moment, to avoid hard decisions many of us are tempted to propagandize for conscience and responsible parenthood. The temptation must be resisted, because an appeal to independently acting consciences selects for the disappearance of all conscience in the long run, and an increase in anxiety in the short.

The only way we can preserve and nurture other and more precious freedoms is by relinquishing the freedom to breed, and that very soon. "Freedom is the recognition of necessity" -- and it is the role of education to reveal to all the necessity of abandoning the freedom to breed. Only so, can we put an end to this aspect of the tragedy of the commons.

Resty Odon, in comments to an earlier post, calls this position "fascistic." Opinions, anyone?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Why Gloria Denied Superferry 14 Was A Terrorist Attack

It was the deadliest terrorist attack on the Philippines since the December 30, 2000 Rizal Day Bombing of the LRT, (which a lot of people, especially in the Civil Society Media actually blamed on Erap and Ping.) But read how the Superferry 14 Bombing on Feb. 26, 2004, which took 116 lives, was blamed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on "pranksters."

A small item in PDI today carries the news that the US State Department's Rewards for Justice Program is rewarding two Filipinos with a cool $500,000 for information that led to the arrest last year of a key terror suspect in what still stands as the DEADLIEST terrorist attack on the Philippines since Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah and the Abu Sayyaf have been in business -- Superferry 14 on February 26, 2004 which took 116 Filipino lives just weeks before the Madrid train bombings.
Hilarion del Rosario Santos III, the alleged head of the Rajah Solaiman Movement, a group of Christian converts to Islam that has been closely associated with Al Qaeda-linked militants, was arrested in southern Zamboanga city in October together with six other suspects. His group is believed to have links to Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyah and the Abu Sayyaf, which is operating in the southern Philippines, and was suspected in the February 2004 bombing of a ferry in Manila that killed 116 people and the simultaneous bombings in Manila and other cities a year later, which killed eight people. He also was connected to plots to attack the US Embassy in Manila and American citizens, the embassy said.
What has been completely forgotten in all of this is how Gloria Macapagal Arroyo treated this bombing, which had come inconveniently, just as the 2004 Election Campaign season started and she was busy plotting FPJ's defeat. Here is TIME Magazine's August 2004 condemnation of GMA:
The unassuming young man who bought a ticket for Berth 51 on the 1,747-passenger SuperFerry 14 sailing from Manila to Bacolod and Davao on Feb. 26 called himself Arnulfo Alvarado. If security officials in the Philippines checked ferry-passenger lists—they don't—the name would have set off deafening alarm bells. Arnulfo Alvarado, say Philippine officials, was the name of a member, now dead, of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group. Two other Abu Sayyaf operators have used Alvarado's name to carry out previous attacks, according to Philippine intelligence officers. This Alvarado, whose real name was Redondo Cain Dellosa, hauled on board a cardboard box containing a television set. The TV, according to investigators, was packed with 3.6 kg of TNT. Making his way to the cheapest passenger section in the bowels of the ship, Dellosa carefully placed the box on his seat and slipped away just before the ferry cast off. An hour after its 11 p.m. sailing, just off Corregidor Island, an explosion tore through SuperFerry 14, starting a fire that engulfed the ship and killed a hundred or more passengers (some likely victims are still unaccounted for and may be missing). According to investigators, Dellosa, who was apprehended four weeks later, confessed that the explosion was triggered by a timing device—and that he chose the cheap seats to maximize panic and loss of life.

Responsibility for the attack was immediately claimed by representatives of Abu Sayyaf, a group of Islamic separatists chiefly known for kidnapping for ransom in the southern Philippines. But just as rapidly, officials in Manila scoffed off the claim; President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo dismissed it as coming from "pranksters." Despite promises of a swift investigation into the attack, concrete conclusions about the cause of the explosion have yet to appear.

Amazingly, the Philippine government did not even announce what it already knew about the Superferry 14 bombing until October 2004, after the elections had been safely GARCIED.

The person at the center of the US investigation, the purported founder of the Rajah Solaiman Movement who was arrested with six others in Zamboanga last year, is also known as Ahmed Islam Santos, whose younger brother, Dawud Santos got involved with last year's still mysterious Julius Babao Affair. It's just another one of those things for which the Public may never be told the truth. But it's pretty clear that Mike Defensor and that jerk Jonathan Tiongco are both mixed up in all this.

The President's managing of that deadliest terrorist attack on the Philippines by denying it's true terrorist nature reveals what a heartless political animal she truly is. Since the Palace was enmeshed in that entirely shameful controversy over FPJ's citizenship and the orchestrating of a series of public opinion polls in preparation for Garci's prestidigitation, and with the election campaign having just gotten underway, GMA was not to be bothered by a bunch of drowned and bombed Filipinos in the cruel seas near Bataan and Corregidor. Better to just attribute it to pranksters, even if there was a clear claim by the Abu Sayyaf, just a day after the bombing that they had done it!

Just as in the Angelo de la Cruz affair, and in every situation where honor and duty to country has mattered, Gloria has been a stunning and shameful failure.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Angara's Chacha Two Step

SENATOR EDGARDO ANGARA (LDP, Laban Ng Demokratikong Pilipino) just told ABSCBN News this evening that he is backing a two-stage agenda in support of Charter Change: (1) to tackle economic provisions of the 1987 Charter this year, possibly in time to synchronize a plebiscite on proposed revisions or amendments with the regularly scheduled 2007 national elections; and (2) to undertake the more complex structural and political reforms implied by a shift to parliamentary and federal systems, in the post-2007 period.

I think Sen. Angara makes a cogent case for Part 1 of the above Chacha agenda. I too support the removal of the so-called "nationalistic" provisions of the 1987 Charter, in particular the ban on foreign ownership of important economic entities, such as land and even Media. To support this position, Sen . Angara points to the singular fact that of the $80 billion US dollars in direct investment that annually flows into Asia, the Philippines gets about 0.2 per cent of the total. Why? Well, he's right. If you are an investor, looking to make multimillion dollar investments in Asian countries, would you do so only to buy into a minority stake in the company or economic enterprise you establish? Of course not. You go elsewhere, to countries where they are more hospitable to capital investments.

Angara's LDP fielded the late Fernando Poe Jr. against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in the 2004 elections, along with Senator Loren Legarda for Vice President, against Noli de Castro. While FPJ's electoral protest was rendered moot and academic by his death in late 2004, Loren Legarda's own electoral protest is still alive -- and though it is getting long in the tooth, it is a sign of Angara's own consummate political chessmanship to have it still in play. Considering that most of the "Irreconcilable Opposition" to GMA are united in the belief that she basically cheated her way into office in 2004 -- the seemingly futile, shot-at-the-moon Legarda protest in the Supreme Court, can only draw implicit if not sympathetic support from the broader anti-GMA opposition. Unkind things have been said of Loren Legarda, mainly by anti-Erap civil-society types like Bhel Cunanan and PDI, as well as the Assumptionista high society fashistas, (her fellow Convent alumnae!) ever since she ran with FPJ against GMA-Noli. Including that she had sold out after being the "Crying Lady Senator Judge" of the Erap impeachment trial in 2001. But I don't think we've heard the last of Loren Legarda. She's one tough woman and will have something yet to contribute to the politics of the Philippines. I understand she may run in the 2007 elections for the Senate -- which she once took by storm in 1998, topping the race as a neophyte political candidate with a whopping 15,000,000 votes, a million more than Gloria Macapagal's own Senate-topping run in 1995.

I don't know if the LDP's backing of Chacha, even in the two-step form proposed by Sen. Angara, will help the overall "Arroyo-backed" choochoo train -- as the ABSCBN anchor pointedly put it for Sen. Angara this evening, who corrected him by saying there are others who support Charter change other than the President (and JDV-FVR).

But does Sen. Angara reflect a more broadly held view within the Senate? Although the Upper House is seen to be largely hostile to Chacha because JDV's unicameral Parliament essentially abolishes it, I don't believe the majority of Senators are against reforming those key economic provisions. There is a broad concensus which does exist across the political spectrum that certain economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution are disincentives to the kind of direct foreign investment the country needs, which no amount of protectionist fervor can fill.

Regarding process, an important clarification has emerged. The mode of charter change called a "constituent assembly" is not a specially assembled thing like a constitutional convention. Rather, the Congress, in its normal configuration as two co-equal Houses of the Legislative Branch of government, may, by votes of three-fourths of their members, and of course voting separately as with all laws passed by the Republic, pass amendments and revisions to the Constitution. All that nonsense about three fourths of the entire membership has fallen into the dustbin where it belongs.

The Congress can actually pass all the constitutional amendments it wants to now, but only in the normal manner of a bicameral legislature, and with the higher three-fourths voting requirement, and the people's approval by plebiscite.

FOR THE NEGATIVE, ON REPEAL OF THE MINING LAW may I suggest the following Speech at the San Francisco Commonwealth Club by author Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park) on Environmentalism as Religion in which I think the money quote is as follows:
Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it's a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.

There's an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there's a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe.

Eden, the fall of man, the loss of grace, the coming doomsday---these are deeply held mythic structures. They are profoundly conservative beliefs. They may even be hard-wired in the brain, for all I know. I certainly don't want to talk anybody out of them, as I don't want to talk anybody out of a belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God who rose from the dead. But the reason I don't want to talk anybody out of these beliefs is that I know that I can't talk anybody out of them. These are not facts that can be argued. These are issues of faith.

And so it is, sadly, with environmentalism. Increasingly it seems facts aren't necessary, because the tenets of environmentalism are all about belief. It's about whether you are going to be a sinner, or saved. Whether you are going to be one of the people on the side of salvation, or on the side of doom. Whether you are going to be one of us, or one of them.
I liked this speech so much that I recorded it for anyone who might like to listen to a rendition of it instead of reading the transcript. (MP3)

Now here comes an olde-fashioned BOOK-BURNING, just to complete the scene in Manila.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Debate Over Repeal of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 (Part 1)

Manila Times Monday editorial, Fallout of Rapu-rapu takes up the current debate over the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, which has boiled over because of the government- appointed panel's recommendations regarding Lafayette Mining (via PDI) and the counter charges that the panel had pre-judged what it was tasked to factually investigate. Yet, this is only a minor skirmish in a wider debate that broke out after the Supreme Court reversed itself and declared that law constitutional in December 2004, thus re-energizing the Philippine mining industry.

The Manila Times lays out the situation:
The Arroyo administration had gone to great lengths in trying to revive the mining industry, which was being choked by socioeconomic, legal and environmental concerns. We cannot help but note the irony here, considering that the country’s vast natural resources remain largely untapped. We have the fifth-largest reserves of gold and copper in the world. Our gold reserves are estimated at 967,180,197 metric tons, and our copper reserves, 5,301,507,657 metric tons. We have nine million hectares of potential mining land, yet only 1.4 hectares are covered by mining permits. Nine years ago, 17 metallic mining firms were operating in the country. In 2002 the number dropped to 7. Mining companies employed a little over 100,000 workers. Thousands more toiled in small mining operations, concentrated mainly in Diwalwal. The industry was going nowhere.
Filipinos have long lamented with ill-concealed envy, the petroleum riches of countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. These are places where prosperity is literally being pumped out of the ground as a black liquid sold all around the world. Yet there has not been universal rejoicing in the Archipelago over the reports by the Mining and Geosciences Bureau of the Dept. of Enviroment and Natural Resources that we may have over 900 billion US dollars worth of gold, copper, nickel and other valuable minerals just waiting to be mined. An impressive array of forces, led by the Catholic Bishops, the local and international environmental movement, the liberal Press and Academe, as well as the Left in general are calling for REPEAL of the Mining law and seem unalterably opposed to mining as an economic activity. As a first foray into this vast topic, I have chosen the following Statement on the blog of CBCP's head as representative of these forces:

FOR THE AFFIRMATIVE: Archbishop Angel N. Lagdameo, President, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines
A Statement on Mining Issues and Concerns:Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell”(Num. 35:34)

Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

We are Pastors. We listen to the voice of the flock and take care of them. In our task to care for them, we reiterate our concern for the Earth.

In 1998, we in the CBCP issued “A Statement of Concern on the Mining Act of 1995”. We declared that the government mining policy is offering our lands to foreigners with liberal conditions while our people continue to grow in poverty. We stated that the adverse social impact on the affected communities far outweigh the gains promised by mining Trans-National corporations (TNCs). In our statement we also forewarned that the “implementation of the Mining Act will certainly destroy environment and people and will lead to national unrest.”

We reaffirm our stand for the repeal of the Mining Act of 1995. We believe that the Mining Act destroys life. The right to life of people is inseparable from their right to sources of food and livelihood. Allowing the interests of big mining corporations to prevail over people’s right to these sources amounts to violating their right to life. Furthermore, mining threatens people’s health and environmental safety through the wanton dumping of waste and tailings in rivers and seas.

Our experiences of environmental tragedies and incidents with the mining transnational corporations belie all assurances of sustainable and responsible mining that the Arroyo administration is claiming. Increasing number of mining affected communities, Christians and non-Christians alike, are subjected to human rights violations and economic deprivations. We see no relief in sight.

President Arroyo’s “Mining Revitalization Program” is encouraging further the entry and operation of large-scale mining of TNCs. Alarmingly, the mining tenements granted through the program have encroached into seventeen (17) of important biodiversity areas, into thirty-five (35) of national conservation priority areas, and thirty-two (32) of national integrated protected areas. The promised economic benefits of mining by these transnational corporations are outweighed by the dislocation of communities especially among our indigenous brothers and sisters, the risks to health and livelihood and massive environmental damage. Mining areas remain among the poorest areas in the country such as the mining communities in CARAGA, Bicol and Cordillera Regions. The cultural fabric of indigenous peoples is also being destroyed by the entry of mining corporations.

Moreover, we are apprehensive that the proposed deletion of the nationalist provisions in the Constitution by the Constitutional Commission (CONCOM) can pave the way to the wholesale plunder of our National Patrimony, and undermine our Sovereignty.

· To support, unify and strengthen the struggle of the local Churches and their constituency against all mining projects, and raise the anti-mining campaign at the national level;
· To support the call of various sectors, especially the Indigenous Peoples, to stop the 24 Priority Mining Projects of the government, and the closure of large-scale mining projects, for example, the Rapu-rapu Polymetallic Project in Albay, HPP Project in Palauan, Didippio Gold-Copper Project in Albay, HPP Project in Palawan, Didippio Gold-Copper Project in Nueva Vizcaya, Tampakan Copper-gold Project in South Cotabato, Canatuan Gold Project in Zamboanga del Norte, and the San Antonio Copper Project in Marinduque, among others;
· To support the conduct of studies on the evil effects of mining in dioceses;
· To support all economic activities that are life-enhancing and poverty-alleviating.

As we have said in our 1998 statement, “even our best efforts will come to nothing without the help of God, our Creator. We invoke upon you the grace of the Holy Spirit who renews the face of the earth. With gratitude in our hearts we ask the intercession of Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother, to obtain for us a renewed land and a converted people.”
There is much, much more along this same vein among the international leftist and radical environmental groups which agree with Archbishop Lagdameo and the CBCP, at this Mines and Communities Website.

To Readers: I would appreciate links to articles and posts on either side of the debate.

STILL ON DA VINCI CODE AND THE GNOSTICS: A conversation with Dom Cimafranca of the Village Idiot Savant is ongoing with his most recent riposte Of Gospels and Apocrypha, here.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A Virtue Greater Than Nationalism

ON-TOPIC UPDATE: Just saw the first working model of a $100 laptop from the Seven Countries Task Force meeting May 23, 2006. Here via Digg from Pete Barr Wilson and One Laptop Per Child. Those smart folks at M.I.T. engineered one devilishly simple looking computer, with horns! Check it out. Now all we need is cheap, universal access to a network that connects them all...>But what I really want is one of those new laptops with a SOLID STATE DISK...
ENGLISH AND MULTICULTURALISM: Regarding the recent "cause celebre" involving the alleged "Filipino cultural trait" of eating with a fork and spoon and 7-year old Luc Cagadoc at Ecole Lalande school in Montreal, Canada it suddenly occurs to me how utterly nutty and mentally loose-sprung this business of multiculturalism is.

Take the case of language, for example. What could be more essentially a Filipino cultural trait than the native tongue, or tongues as is actually the case? Yet all the most eloquent attacks on those awful, reprehensible, racist ogres at Ecole Lalande were conducted not in Tagalog or Cebuano or Pampango or even French, but in English. Surely not a "Filipino cultural trait." Or is it?

Then, there is this Newsweek (May 29 edition) article authored by Marites Vitug "The Philippines: Lost in Translation" which considers the issue of English language proficiency in the context of the challenge to compete in such important industries as outsourcing and call-centers.
Ms. Vitug:"Now, to become more globally competitive, the government is scrambling to promote English to young people as the ticket to a good career. Three years ago the Department of Education reinstated English as the primary language of instruction in schools. Various business groups, including both the U.S. and European chambers of commerce, are sponsoring public-relations programs lauding the career benefits of English; one of the campaigns is called "English is cool" and is designed to break young people of their habit of speaking "Taglish"—a mix of English and Tagalog. In addition, Arroyo has promised to set aside $9.6 million to help put so-called near hires—an industry euphemism for applicants rejected due to a weak command of English—through a 100-hour English refresher course. The grant was made after an aggressive campaign by the industry lobby group, which was getting worried about call centers' losing business to countries like India."
Indeed, looking at the government's 2006 budget (just passed today by the Senate minus P31 billion in excess porkahydrates) for the Dept. of Education, I notice a P1.5 billion peso special fund for English instructional materials and teacher training.

It's no wonder, not only Luc Cagadoc and his mother, but 10% of the Filipino population is out about in the wide world earning a living as Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). They aren't sending back over US $1 billion to keep the archipelago afloat using their Filipino cultural traits alone, I reckon. It's their HUMAN traits that others surely appreciate in our over eight million countrymen working abroad.

I think the issue of language proficiency presents a challenge to ultranationalists and "multiculturalists" about just exactly what their position is on the matter of assimilation in one's work place, or new home. In fact, I'm glad l'affaire Cagadoc happened, because it certainly proves to me that there has to be a virtue that is greater than nationalism, just as nationalism was greater virtue than tribal or clan loyalty. Let us call this as yet unidentified virtue as Globalism or Humanism--the notion that membership in the human species ought to be considered as being above membership in any one nation or culture, just as being Filipino comes before being Ilocano or Pampango or Cebuano or lumad. Certainly above being a Catholic or Protestant or Muslim.

I think that the angry, defensive kind of multiculturalism displayed by most of the local Main Stream Media and huge parts of bloggerdom in the fork-and-spoon brouhaha is a retrograde ideology that belongs in history's dustbin. Along with Mao Tsetung and Renato Constantino!

ENVIRO-PIG VS. FRANKEN-PIG Well, it looks like my day to indulge Newsweek. Here is another article from the May 29 edition about Genetically Modified Organisms, specifically,
"...a pig that is more efficient at digesting phosphorus, which would cut back on a source of pollution, and whose flesh is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which would make ham as good for you as salmon. The "Enviro-pig," as Silver calls it, will most likely never be allowed because of a popular prejudice against anything that involves genetic manipulation. By contrast, Silver points out, organic food is seen as healthier and environmentally sound, even though organic farmers are allowed to spray their crops with chemicals and pesticides like pyrethrin and rotenone."
The article has an OPEN Comment line to participate in the ongoing debate with nay-sayers who say such a pig would be a "Franken-pig" and that the true agenda of the scientists is to start making designer human beings. (Think about it!) Here again, there are opposed forces of progress and reaction that have a great deal to do with whether we see humanity as essentially united and one, or forever "multicultural." The centripetal forces and iconoclastic ways of scientific discovery and economic progress powerfully interact with tradition and culture.

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MARY MAGDALENE: I think that Mary Magdalene is the most fascinating literary character (next to Jesus Himself ) to emerge from that apparently large genre of story-telling and gospel-writing which was written in Greek during the first centuries of the First Millennium, A.D. I suppose the endpoint of this period has to be at the Council of Nicea when the "Church Fathers" deemed a few these works of purported historical testimony or witness (namely, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) to be divinely inspired and produced the canonical New Testament's Four Gospels. By necessary implication, those same Church Fathers had declared the rest of the genre of writing as not divinely inspired, or apocryphal.

NEWSWEEK (May 29, 2006 edition) has the scoop on the logical and rhetorical continuation of the Da Vinci Code premise that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene were man and wife, by focusing in this week's cover article on one of those apocryphal works: the alleged Gospel according to Mary Magdalene!

It's a worth a click over to Newsweek just to see this 15th century painting of Mary Magdalene and Mary the Blessed Mother, both at the crucifixion of Jesus. And the following paraphrase of the Gospel according John which places Mary Magdalene right at the very beginning of Christianity itself at the Resurrection -- then disappears completely! --
I have seen the Lord: such is the story of the Resurrection, as told in the Gospel of John. With it begins the history of Christianity, and with it ends the New Testament history of Mary Magdalene. Peter and Paul form the new church, Stephen dies a martyr's death, John the Divine envisions the End Times. But Mary Magdalene—a critical figure in his earthly circle—is neither seen nor heard from again.

Yet the Magdalene—that part of her name derives from Magdala, her hometown—lives on in another tradition that can be found in an obscure second-century text. Dubbed "The Gospel of Mary," it depicts Mary as a leader of Jesus' followers in the days after his resurrection. Written by Christians some 90 years after Jesus' death, Mary's is a "Gnostic gospel"; the Gnostics, a significant force in the early years of Christianity, stressed salvation through study and self-knowledge rather than simply through faith. The text was lost for centuries until found in fragments by a collector in Cairo in 1896. In its telling, Jesus rises and vanishes after instructing his disciples to "preach the good news about the Realm." The exhortation makes them uneasy: Christ had died preaching that gospel. What was to save them from a similar fate?
The plot thickens. I think Mary Magdalene's story will become a Hollywood blockbuster long before Judas does! Even the Gospel According to John paints a poignant image of Mary Magdalene, if you think about it. She's there at the Crucifixion of a man condemned by the Roman Pilate and the Jewish Sanhedrin; she's there to anoint his corpse a few days later; she is the first to see the risen Lord and to report it. Then she disappears from the narrative that goes through the Holy Roman Empire! Ah! Love!

ONE BISHOP BLOGGING: CBCP's head, Archbishop Angel N. Lagdameo has been blogging up a storm lately. But he doesn't get any comments inspite of the fact that I think he is the only one among the blogging bishops with an open Blogger Comment line.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Da Vinci Code, the Mohammed Cartoons, and Being Consistent

Lots of people ask me why I am so hard on the Philippine Daily Inquirer when for eight years they dutifully and unfailingly published every weekly article I produced (for which they paid me a tiny pittance compared to the shock and awe value of my excommunicant ideas in religion and politics.) Am I a disgruntled former contributor of the newspaper? (Ha he hi ho hu!) Truth is, no one can ignore PDI. It is about the best one will find in the Philippines, as newspapers and media go, because it has published more than its share of the consequential writers and thinkers in the Archipelago (Naturally that is a biased and self serving view!). Also, PDI has a generally coherent (if leftist) editorial policy. Moreover, the paper has destabilized at least two previous Presidents and may be working on a third. Although threatened by the Manila Bulletin in reader popularity, PDI has far surpassed the crony newspaper, the Philippine Star (which isn't worth linking to as they don't understand, or utilize, the concept of permlinks.)

So I am hard on PDI because they are a cut above the rest in the Main Stream Media's demagagosphere, and therefore its memes exercise a vast influence on the blogosphere, even when they get things wrong! Especially when they get things wrong! As in the Art Bell fiasco.

I am hardest on PDI on three general occasions, all involving a form of rhetorical or moral inconsistency:

(1) when they engage in ideological victimology, such as in the so-called cause celebre over fork and spoon in Canada, and the Subic Bay Rape Case here and here.

(2) when they take inconsistent stands on important issues of principle and politics such as on the issue of the role of the Military and the Supreme Court in the matters of mutiny Mutiny, Judicial activism and Regime Change; and

(3) when they take paradoxical or inconsistent stands on religion and religious issues in the democratic sphere, such as in the Danish Mohammed Cartoon controversy and the present Da Vinci Code phenomenon.

On the Separation of Church and Press was my reaction last February to this PDI Editorial on the Mohammed Cartoons controversy, entitled Indivisible Freedoms, which you may wish to compare with today's Sunday Editorial, Da Vinci Decoded.

Both are thoughtful, complex essays, but here are two crystal clear examples in which blasphemy against a great world Religion is claimed by some of its most devout adherents in both Islam and Catholicism, yet PDI takes two very different positions.

In today's editorial on the Da Vinci Code (a film by Ron Howard starring Tom Hanks, as if you didn't know!) PDI gets it right (almost):
Let’s talk principles.

Religious freedom, in the modern context of our constitutional democracy, must mean not only the freedom to practice one’s religious beliefs, but also the freedom not to believe. It is a right that protects both the devotee and the skeptic, the orthodox as well as the heretical.

Thus, in a predominantly Christian nation like ours, religious freedom must include space even for those beliefs or practices that Christians will find blasphemous. If we were to hold otherwise, then the privileging of the Christian religion would violate both the letter and spirit of our Constitution. It would lead, again, to “an establishment of religion.”

Caveat: I say almost because the "privileging of the Christian religion" does not just "lead to" but IS an "establishment of Religion" in the well understood sense that Separation forbids the State from promoting "Religion" by law or policy, just as much as it forbids the State from prohibiting the free exercise of "thereof". One does not have to actually establish an Official State Religion, to violate this great principle in the bill of Rights:
Art III Section 5. No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.
I otherwise agree with PDI's stance the Da Vinci Code controversy. But here are several passages from back in February regarding the Mohammed Cartoons:
Excesses such as rioting and complications such as some irresponsible provocateurs inserting two cartoons (the most offensive ones) among the real cartoons circulated among Muslims aside, the Islamic world has been adamant about its belief that the Western press crossed the line. Non-Muslims have also observed that what the Western media attempted to paint as purely a question of freedom of expression was not that at all; it was a question of secular contempt for religious conventions.
Caveat: The emphasis is mine, because this is a kind of coded message itself that tells the editorial reader (all 3 of us in the metropolis!), that this is PDI's own position and take on the matter. Who else could they be referring to as "non-Muslims" and "non-Western" journalists? PDI continues:
While the Philippines adheres to the principle of the separation of Church and State, and indeed, the Philippine media are heir to a tradition of anticlericalism dating to the Propaganda Movement, as a whole, Filipinos are profoundly respectful of religious conventions. Even the bigotry of certain Filipinos toward their Islamic countrymen does not extend to flagrantly heaping contempt on their faith. There are lines Filipinos do not cross, and rightly so (if only we did not cross more of them than we already do).
Caveat: Actually there is practically NO adherence to the Principle of Separation of Church and State in the Philippines, contrary to this amazing claim of the editorialist. Just ask any Muslim, lumad, Protestant, Buddhist, skeptic, atheist -- anyone who is not Romano Catolico cerrado. The claim that religious freedom reigns in the Philippines is utterly laughable when one thinks of the ostentatious display of Catholic religious idols, altars and sectarian symbols in government buildings and offices. We have already seen this risible claim contravened directly and its opposite amply demonstrated by the Executive Secretary, Ed Ermita calling for the banning of a Hollywood religious thriller and blockbuster in order to protect those of weak faith in "our predominantly Catholic country." Further proof that Spanish-style Talibanism is alive and well in 21st Century Philippines comes from the Manila City Council, which unanimously disgraced itself as no better than that provincial burg, Lucena City, which likewise 'banned' the film. Now it is not enough for me that these clumsy attempts at censorship have the entirely opposite effect on the movie's box office numbers. It is not after all, my goal to promote the film. But it should be the concern of all citizens, including the guardians of its opinions like PDI, to be sensitive to attacks on Democracy and culpable violations of the constitution, which these acts represent.

PDI concluded on the Danish Mohammed Cartoons as follows (but try reading this passage as if they were referring to Da Vinci Code film and novel!)
Islam and Christianity both pay the highest tribute to martyrs. Even secular societies consider martyrdom possible in defense of country or ideology. The question is whether any kind of creed, including secularism as understood in the West, calls for provocations that make it inevitable for people to become martyrs, whether unintentionally or by design. While we do not counsel self-censorship arising out of fear, we do believe that a proper recognition of the central role faith plays in the lives of millions would go far to avoid undue provocation against people who take their religion seriously. After all, since World War II, the world has rallied to defend the Four Freedoms: of speech and expression; of every person to worship God in his own way; from want; and from fear. They all go hand in hand, and to raise one over the other diminishes them all.
Well, which is it folks? Secular contempt for religion or freedom of religion and expression? Do they mean to imply that Islmists "take their religion seriously" while "Catholicists" do not? Are religious liberty and freedom of expression to be made a hostage to the most serious fanatics in the world. More serious, more respect?

In The Responsible Journalism of Conrado de Quiros, the irony is lost on PDI column writer of note, when he says,
I join those who say this is not an issue of freedom of the press at all, it is one of basic decency and respect...
This of course is not Mr. de Quiros' take on the Da Vinci Code's blasphemous attack on the Catholic faith. Another case of inconsistency enforced by an anti-American ideology.

Of course, in the case of the rioting Islamic fanatics, the Danish Cartoons were a case of CAPITAL blasphemy against their religious proscription against idolatry. So it is a matter of some interest to many that there are apparently no Catholicist crowds burning down the American Embassy or calling for the beheading of Tom Hanks for apostasy and "disrespect" toward Jesus Christ. Strangely enough, in the Philippine archipelago, it is secular authorities who've acted most like the theocrats of the bygone times of the Spanish Taliban. No less than the Executive Secretary Ed Ermita called for banning the film, the Da Vinci Code. So did a unanimous resolution of the Manila City Council and another troglodyte mental barrio called Lucena City.

It is of course entirely possible that the level of CORPORAL MORTIFICATION will change among the ranks of the so-inclined. (Up or down, who's to tell?)

A sampler of the Mohammed Cartoons postings and great Reader Comments here at Philippine Commentary:

Freedom of Religion IS Freedom of Expression

Danish Cartoons Broke the Muslim Taboo On Idolatry

It's Capital Blasphemy Just To Describe the Cartoons

Democracy Saves Religions From Each Other

Bitter Herbs and Purple Flowers

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Taliban In the Manila City Council

The Manila City Council is acting a lot like the Spanish Frailocracy did in theocratic times... Glenn Omanio of Newsroom Barkada has today's lead story on that bizarre unanimous Resolution by the 35-member Manila City Council, banning the Hollywood blockbuster, The Da Vinci Code, from being shown in the Ever-loyal City of Manila and urging the Mayor, Lito Atienza, to "take drastic action" to enforce it. It is a move more Catholic than the Bishops of the CBCP, who've wisely decided not to give the heretical and apostatic film and novel an even bigger publicity boost. The overwhelmingly Catholic population has apparently ignored all warnings of eternal damnation due to a shaken faith, as over 100 movie theatres reportedly played to packed audiences.

I can think of no better recent example of a culpable violation of the Principle of Separation of Church and State than this Resolution by the Manila City Council banning the Da Vinci film and so it is worth a careful Commentary.

Perhaps the most widespread misconception about the Constitutional Principle of the Separation of Church and State, is that it refers to the actions of religious believers and their leaders. You find lots of otherwise intelligent and knowledgeable people claiming that this principle is violated when priests or bishops meddle in politics. The truth is, this principle is addressed entirely to the State, and like virtually the entire Constitution, it is a carefully calibrated set of double prohibitions on the government and its officials regarding what they may or may not do with respect to "Religion." Here it is in the Bill of Rights:
Art III Section 5. No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.
It is crystal clear from the last line that in fact, the religious affiliation of any person engaged in the exercise of civil and political rights cannot be used as a test of whether such exercise is legitimate or not. For example, the Catholic Bishops may be seen to be meddling in political affairs far from their expertise, when they issue pastoral letters on burning issues of the day, but the Constitution does not forbid them from doing so. Indeed, I believe Catholic Archbishops may run for public office. Once elected however, as government officials, they may no longer pursue the full "freedom of religion."

What it does forbid is for the government to either promote or prohibit "Religion." Look at the first sentence, specifically at the two words "Religion" and "thereof." I think the key to really understanding the rhetorical heart of the Principle of Separation of Church and State, is to realize that these two words refer to one and exactly the same thing!

A law which is clearly unconstitutional because the State establishes or promotes religious acts, beliefs or expressions, would also be unconstitutional if the law were to forbid or prohibit such religious act or expression. For example, it would be unconstitutional for the State to require that all citizens worship as members of the El Shaddai. But it would be equally unconstitutional for the State to forbid people from joining El Shaddai.

No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

How compact and economical a principle!

Under this remarkable principle of neutrality, if some act or practice by the public is forbidden by the State, and we want to know if such policy is unconstitutional, we need only to ask whether we think that REQUIRING the public to undertake such acts or practices is unconstitutional. For if the answer is YES, then, almost certainly, forbidding that same act or practice would be unconstitutional by parity of reasoning in the first sentence of Section 5. For example, if the government passes a law requiring citizens to pray the Litany to the Virgin Mary whenever they visit Luneta Park, that would be unconstitutional if we think it would be unconstitutional to FORBID praying the Litany at Luneta Park.

Likewise, if the Manila City Council were to REQUIRE citizens to watch the Da Vinci Code movie, that would seem to be an unconstitutional requirement say on devout Catholics who might be disgusted with the movie and its premises that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had children. Likewise, it would be unconstitutional to FORBID citizens from watching the Da Vinci Code movie on grounds that it might shake their faith. This is clearly a case of religious discrimination, since it applies to all citizens and not all citizens are Catholics. Moreover, it seeks to make showing the movie illegal on purely religious grounds, a case of the State protecting Religion from secular fantabulists like Dan Brown, Ron Howard, Tom Hanks, and Leonardo da Vinci.

As such, Manila's councilors are guilty of a culpable violation of the Constitution and ought to be so charged. But the Executive Secretary has also called for a banning of the movie, even if the Bishops haven't. I seem to recall that just a few months after seizing political power from Joseph Estrada in 2001, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo sided with the Bishops in calling for the X rating on a movie entitled Toro, by Joey Reyes. The Taliban control the Palace too, I see.

But the most amazing admission comes from Vice Mayor "Mullah Omar" Danilo Lacuna who claimed on ABSCBN New's noon time show that they were concerned we could have a situation like the Danish Mohammed Cartoon controversy. Well, I guess in fact we do have such a situation. Except that the Manila City Council is playing the role of rioting Islamist mobs decrying blasphemy and passing illegal, unconstitutional Resolutions.

If the Manila City Council is right, however, we should begin to see large demonic bacchanals as the previously devout members of the faith emerge from the hypnotic brainwashing in the cinema houses now believing that Jesus Christ was a -- gasp -- married man with children. I suppose priests and nuns will dispense with the their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, should they be so unfortunate as to transgress the Manila City Fathers' wise and prudent establishment of a ban on a clearly heretic and apostatic expression of unbelief in the Catholic Religion.

But no, I don't think we are going to see crazed excommunicated Catholics running around rioting and calling for the beheading of Tom Hanks. However, the City Council should get a cut of the resulting windfall from movie theatre owners.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

First (and Second, and Third) Philippine Flags Planted On Mount Everest!

Update: A must read from Ambeth Ocampo...on the connection between Tenzing Norgay, the sherpa who is credited along with Sir Edmund Hillary with the 1953 summit of Mt. Everest's peak. Seems the Nepalese mountain climber once sired a daughter, Nima Tenzing-Galang, who married a Filipino graphic artist!

A third Filipino climber, Romeo Garduce, has also reportedly summited the mountain today, for a 1-2-3 accomplishment that will be talked about, justifiably, for a long time to come.

Get all the latest info at the Mount Everest Philippine Expedition Website.

UPDATE: 0840 18 May: Live report from Mt. Everest Base Camp has it that a second Filipino mountaineer reached the summit at 5:30 AM GmT+8, just 12 hours after the first climber reached the peak yesterday. More at ExplorersWeb.

LEO ORACION, a champion Filipino adventure racer is reported to have just planted the first Philippine flag on the summit of Mount Everest, the world's highest mountain, according to sponsor ABSCBN Network. The official time was 17:30 GMT+8. A second member of the First Philippine Mt. Everest Expeditionary Team, Pastor Emata is said to be following a day or so behind; and a third climber, sponsored by rival GMA Network, Romy Garduce, is also on his way up and could make it a stunning 1-2-3 achievement for Filipino mountaineers this year. People should be warned at this point that getting to the top is only HALF the battle, since the descent from the summit, while less dramatic, remains the most dangerous part of such an epic trek.

Here is a link to a satellite image of the Mt. Everest region in Nepal (courtesy of Google Maps). The summit of Mt. Everest stands at 8848 meters above sea level. Also flag link.

Explorers Web
has all the action covered on Mount Everest this week including a double amputee making it to the summit, along with the first Turkish woman to summit and a pair of Scandinavians who are skiing back down the mountain.

The British Army Team on Mt. Everest has a beautiful website with this page devoted to explaining the route up to the summit. The Brits are doing well although they had to ship their canine mascot, Shipton, back to the British Isles, after the dog ate THIRTY eggs belonging to the Sherpas with the team. I guess we Filipinos would know what to do with such uncouth and uncultured beasts...just don't tell the Canadians!

Sadly, at least six people have already died on the mountain this season, including four sherpas working on fixing ropes for various climbers, including some who are paying tourists.

Philippine Commentary proudly salutes all!

Above watercolor by Arnold Arre seems apropos on this occasion.

BACKGROUND on the members of the First Mt. Everest Philippine Expedition Team is contained in this Google Groups post by Ben Tumbling earlier this month.
Formidable free spirits, Filipinos all, with one goal -- to uplift the Pinoy spirit and empower them with an achievement the entire race can share. The Filipino assault on Mt. Everest in 2007 has been but a dream until the formation of this expert expedition team made up of the country's most passionate mountain climbers and adventure athletes. Together, they will ascend to the world's highest peak and shout from the mountaintops that indeed, the Filipino can!

Arturo T. Valdez expedition leader

His passion for mountain climbing gave birth to this First Philippine Mt. Everest Expedition. A master outdoorsman from Bacolod, he had wanted to assemble a team to assault the world's highest peak as far back as the 70's. By recruiting the members of this expedition, he is a step closer to making the Everest dream a reality for all Filipinos.

Ari Ben C. Sebastian

A corporate lawyer on weekdays, he's also a mountain warrior and extreme sports buff on the weekends. An accomplished scuba diver, skydiver and alpine climber, this former president of the Mountaineering Federation of the Philippines, Inc. (MFPI) was one of the first Pinoys to reach the Himalayas in the 80's.

Fred B. Jamili

His love affair with Mother Nature and mountain climbing stretches for nearly 30 years. This veteran has climbed most, if not all the known mountains in the Philippines, and some abroad. One of the expedition team's leaders, he is also an accomplished caver and adventure race setter.

Regie Pablo

One of the expedition's prime movers and team leaders, he is the current president of the MFPI on leave from his day job at Globe Telecom. A skilled mountaineer, he has conquered Razdelnaya Peak in Kyrgyzstan, Mts. Aylmenr and Cook in New Zealand among others.

Florentino 'Jong' Narciso

He is a physical education instructor in the International School. He is also and accomplished mountaineer, climbing gym instructor and adventure race setter.

Erwin Emata

Fondly called Pastor by the group, this Davaoeño's love for the outdoors is matched by his boundless, enthusiastic energy. The team's morale booster and resident comic, he is one of the best adventure racers in the country, having won numerous races such as the Carera Habagat, Survival Challenge in Guimaras, and Survival of the Fittest in Escalante, Negros.

Leo Oracion

Also one of the country's most prominent adventure racers, this Cebuano has also conquered international adventure races such as the AXN Challenges in various parts of Asia and the 10 day expedition racing in NZ.

Karina Davondon

One of the youngest and few women in the group, she is a formidable sport climber from Cagayan de Oro City. Recently, she joined the expedition to the peak of Mt. Muztagh Ata (7,546 meters or 24,758 feet) in China-Pakistan. This is the highest peak ever reached by a Filipino - or a Filipina!

Juan 'JB' Añonuevo

A freespirit who could not rein in his love for the outdoors, he quit his job in government and became a fulltime mountain guide in his native Mayon in Bicol. He is also a sought after race setter and winning adventure racer.

Levi Nahayangan

A climber from Lagaw, Ifugao province, he turned his passion for climbing into a thriving business, with Lagalag, a shop which supplies outdoor apparel to other mountaineers. He is also an accomplished mountain and rock climber and adventure racer.

Larry Honoridez

A mountaineer and adventure racer extraordinaire, he joined the expedition in order to bring pride to his family and country.

Janet Belarmino

A member of the University of the Philippines Mountaineers, she is also a fitness instructor for the Moro Lorenzo Fitness Gym in Ateneo. An excellent sport climber, lawn tennis coach and champion triathlete, she is also a consistent winner in the Philippine and HongKong legs of the AXN adventure races.

Ariel Ambayec

A mountaineer from Mandaluyong, this father of two has also been a participant of several adventure races.

Noelle Wenceslao

A prized member of the Dragonboat team, she (along with teammate Janet Belarmino) was also a winning fixture in the AXN races here and in Hong Kong. Noelle is also an expert biker and extreme adventure athlete and mountaineer while attending class as a Physical Education student.

Dr. Ted Esguerra

The team's physician is also from the Philippine Coast Guard. An accomplished mountaineer himself, he has conducted studies on the effect on high altitudes on climbers with the United States Air Force, making him an indispensable caretaker of the team's physical health on Everest.

John Tronco

The team's official video and photo documentor, his mastery of capturing nature's beauty on film is only matched by his passion for climbing.

Choi Aquino

This mountaineer, caver, and in-demand adventure racer lends his considerable strength and skill to help ensure the success of the Pinoy Everest ascent.
The wife of Expedition Leader Art Valdez reveals the plan for the entire Philippine Team to summit Mt. Everest by 2007, including the three women in the list above.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

NSCB - Intellectually and Graphically Dishonest?

UPDATE: Hat Tip to the Econblogger for a comment that inspired a new plot of the data. I decided to look at a "High Series" projection of the population growth rate in the 2005-2040 time period in order to compare its fit to the widely publicized "Medium Series" from the National Statistics Coordination Board, who use a formula based on mortality, fertility and migration data. Here all I did was multiply NSCB's published projections by 110%, yielding a very curious and neat 1.0% at 2040 and plotted this against the NSCB's "Medium Series." I think my "High Series" projection "fits" better the "continuity and differentiability" criteria. (Click to Magnify)
THE SMOKING GUN: I dug up the historical data on Population Growth Rate up to year 2000 and graphed it along with the NSCB's recent projections. Mathematically speaking any reasonable "projection" of a time series like the total population of a country, or its first derivative, the growth rate, should display "continuity" and "smoothness" at the point where the historical data is joined to the projection. The plot below shows the two sets of data: First, in blue, are the population growth rates (in percent per year) based on actual census data collected at various times between 1903 and 2000 (the last census). The data comes from this October 2002 National Statistics Report. Second, in purple, are the recent PROJECTED population growth rates from 2005 to 2040 published here by the 2006 National Statistics Coordination Board (renamed from NSO).

Apart from the discontinuous and unsmooth fit of the projected data to the historical data at Year 2005, there is also a key piece of empirical data that is unknown: What was the total population of the Philippines in year 2005?? Without this data point, virtually any projection could be justified for the period following 2005. But I made this plot after wondering why the heavy use of tables of numbers by NSCB's supporting details, then just popping up this statement in the covering Press Release:
The population is projected to grow by 1.95 percent in the 2005-2010 period, from 85.3 million in 2005 to 94.0 million in 2010.
A picture -- or an accurately drawn graph -- is worth a thousand words and numerical tables. The graph of the historical data together with the NSCB's current projections, suggest to me a "discontinuous" and "unsmooth" joining of the empirical and the prospective. Remember that the three data points at 1990, 1995 and 2000 are derived from the census data. Looking at that part of the population growth rate plot above, one gets the distinct impression that in that decade of the 90s, the population growth rate was in a shallow plateau just below 2.4% and had turned upward (with a positive slope) between 1995 and 2000. Yet the entire set of projected data have negative slope. This is what I mean by the unsmooth joining of projected data to the historical data.

Therefore, I agree with Congressman Neric Acosta. What the NSCB and the government are doing here is intellectually dishonest. Data projections like this could be used to justify the government's inaction on population explosion. In fact I would add that these NSCB projections are likely to be mathematically dishonest, because as any freshman student in Calculus knows, you can spot such dishonesty with the naked eye of mathematical aesthetics. I also caught my old friend from Harvard, Dr. Cory Raymundo and Prof. Ernie Pernia both of the University of the Philippines, talking to Ces Drilon, Monday night about this projection and how unbelievable it is, considering the government has in fact abandoned the use of legally and medically accepted forms of contraception and birth control during the 2001-2010 period. Now, by comparing the historical trend as shown above, I can say with some certainty that there is something mighty peculiar about NSCB's projections. It's almsot as if they decided to ignore the results of the 1990, 1995 and 2000 census count and draw a straight line from the 80s all the way to middle of the 21st Century. It's pretty obvious that this lil bit of prestidigitation with the numbers, means that the Palace can now make a self-serving but dangerous assertion: that population growth rates are trending down despite abandoning its support for serious birth control methods and effective family planning programs, apart from Catholic Church approved natural methods such as "Vatican Roulette." If it has been fudged for that purpose, and is inexplicably discontinuous from the 10 to 15 year trend of a plateau near 2.3% or so, this will result in a serious understimation of how many citizens the government should plan for in the first half of this century. It would be insanely irresponsble if that were the case.

MY FEARFUL PROJECTION: Looking just at the historical data, especially the post WW2 era, one notes that in the 60s and 70s the population growth rate was near 3%. I think this boom in the 60s and 70s is producing an "echo" in the 90s and 00s as their progeny begin to have children of their own! We may already be seeing the beginning of that echo in the uptick between 1995 and 2000. Only the data point at year 2005 would settle which projection is closer to reality, mine or NSCB's. It is crucially important for fiscal and economic planning reasons that the projection be accurate and reliable. I actually wish NSCB were right and that the discontinuity is due to some other very special factors like changes in migration patterns. But I can't see it even in the supporting details at NSCB.

ERROR ANALYSIS: When Ces Drilon asked an NSCB Director Abejo what the "margin of error" was for the NSCB data she was at a loss to answer. The reason of course is that the set of historical data, while collected using surveys, does not rely on random sampling techniques like the SWS and Pulse Asia Surveys. They are calculated based on the change in population between census years (about every five years). Theoretically therefore, there is no "statistical sampling error" associated with population data, like the plus or minus 3% in a 1200 respondent SWS survey, because a census is meant to count every single member of the population. But there are certainly errors of other kinds, such as errors in counting and reporting how many people live in a given household; clerical errors; and the inadvertent overcounting, undercounting, even double counting or not counting that occurs during a census. These error quantities are unknown--they are unlike the statistcal error in an SWS survey (which of course also suffers from them!) which can be calculated from the random sample size. These are empirical errors. As for the Projected Data portion of my plot, it has its own statistical and systematic errors that have to be analysed in detail: errors associated with estimating the components of Population Growth, namely, fertility rates, mortality rates and mirgration patterns.

In the projected portion of the plot above, one will notice the nearly perfect linear character of the projected curve of population growth rate. This is the signature of an artificial process--the wishful thinking of Palace Spin Meisters, if you will. The slope and behavior of the curve depends entirely on the assumptions that have been made regarding the fertility, mortality and migration rates. Such projects should be continuously validated by actual census measurements, otherwise, a great historical disservice will have been done by statisticians to the nation's generations yet unborn.

For a scientific, sociological perspective on the problem of population growth, I still highly recommend to Philippine Commentary readers a careful and complete perusal of Garret Hardin's 1968 classic, The Tragedy of the Commons.