Saturday, January 31, 2004


I have lately been terrified by news all around about the rampant kidnappings happening in this country. The real terror is knowing that if it ever happens to my family (oh, heaven forbid!) I would have nothing to pay those kidnappers with but perhaps -- dig this-- my services as a lawyer. Indeed, it cannot be ignored that everyone in this country with a little money can be a target for a kidnapping.

Why did we ever get into this mess?

It occurred to me today while looking at the parking lot in Eastwood, Libis, Quezon City. The Volvos, Bmws and SUVs in that parking lot have a combined value of at least PHP 50 Million -- about a million dollars, enough money to generate hundreds of jobs for our poor people. But too bad for us, the rich people who own them have chosen to burn their money on those fancy cars. Thus, those poor people who could have taken those jobs are now plying other trades such as drug dealing and kidnapping.

Yes, kidnapping in this country is one of the curses that was brought about by the apathy of the elite.

It is time we realize this. Had the rich of this country given the poor people the chance to prosper on their own, given them jobs, given them opportunities, given them loans without charging them usurious rates, educated their children, paid their taxes properly, ran the government well, thought about them for one second -- it would not have come to this. We wouldn't be what we are today -- a rich country with lots of poor people some of whom have made a cottage industry out of kidnapping the children of the rich.

Can we ever undo the sins of the past? I don't know. Perhaps we can start by admitting that each one of us has somehow contributed to this mess. Let's say we're sorry for every selfish thing we did in this country that pushed our brethren to the dark side. Let's all make our act of contrition and let's have it on a national day.

Just one day. Let's say sorry for the selfish things we did and think about the others.

And perhaps after this one day, there will be another and another and another, until finally everyday our people, rich and poor alike, will have a genuine concern for others and find the peace and prosperity that eludes most of us.

A National Day of Contrition -- when? Today sounds like a good start.

Sunday, January 25, 2004


(Image taken from copyright on the image has expired.)

In recent days, a little debate was played up in the papers between the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the National Food Authority (NFA) on whether it is worthwhile for the Philippines to pursue self-sufficiency in rice production. It is quite a surprise that IRRI, the lead organization in rice research and technology, appears to be throwing in the towel, as it were. It's arguing that given that it is too expensive for the Philippines to plant and grow rice on its own, it might be better off importing rice from its neighboring countries like Thailand and Vietnam where rice is produced more efficiently and with a lot less expense.I have not been able to follow the conclusion of the debate. I, however, have been giving the proposition a lot of thought recently knowing that it is one of the side debates in this big globalization issue that has gotten this country divided.

Coming from a trip from Baguio City, I noticed that vast tracks of land in the central plains of Luzon that used to be planted with rice have started to disappear. In their place instead where Jollibee, 7-11 and Mcdonald's and other stores. This appears to be a clear indication that those folks who owned those ricelands near the highway have found it more profitable to put up the commercial shops than to maintain their farms. I guess it supports the IRRI argument somehow.

But what has gotten me into thinking is the realization that the Filipino culture is deeply rooted in farming. If we were to give up farming, then our culture will also be uprooted from the land. We are going to give up our nation's romance with the soil.

Our nation's romance with the soil has been wrought with happiness and pain. The experience has been inscribed in our poetry, songs, images, myths and stories. Yet, this early I am wondering how my kids could relate to the song "Planting Rice". My grandparents were all farmers but my parents and I have chosen the city life. My grandmother used to sing that song to me. During dinner time, when she finds that I have not cleaned up my plate, she would often say that I should eat every grain of rice on my plate because in the farm she would painstakingly pick each grain that fell from the sack and put it back with the rest. I guess, succeeding generations of my family will become less and less familiar with the song and with these words of my grandmother as members of my family become more and more detached from the soil as shown by the fact no one among us have been minding the farm. "Planting Rice", Jose Rizal's homage to the Filipino farmer, would be then just a play of words to my kids to the kids of their generation.

It's also the stories. The literature of NVM Gonzalez, who spent a lifetime writing the stories of the kaingin farmers of Mindoro, would be harder to comprehend for the new generation of readers who would not have the amazing experience of planting and growing their own food.

(Image taken from I believe it is now part of the public domain, although the painting remains the property of its current owner.)

And what about Amorsolo's paintings on the life in the farm? This wealth of images from our past remain valuable as they are for so long as our people can relate them to their experience. Indeed, the globalization of agriculture is not just an economic issue but also and more importantly a cultural issue. The side bar to the argument is whether we are prepared to shed our agriculural heritage -- generations of songs, images and letters -- and break from the past for the promises of the green bucks.

The next question is what are we going to be if we are not going to be farmers anymore? Our grandparents who lived through the horror of World War II decided they were sticking it out with the soil. War and famine they fought with the backbreaking work of planting and growing their own food. The generation that succeeded them have tried out the city life even going international -- doctors, nurses, construction workers, seafarers, domestic helpers, and entertainers. They are making big money, but their families are paying the price for separation. Now that the few who have decided to remain as farmers are being egged by global economics to give it up and be something else the question should not be ignored: what are we going to be if we are not going to be farmers anymore?

A few months back, CNN had a feature about the hunger in Ethiopia. They had this reporter live with the villages of Ethiopia for nine weeks and had it documented with a crew of cameramen and lightsmen. It was a little mean because while the members of the crew were allowed to bring their own food supplies, the reporter had to eat what the villagers eat. And when they had nothing to eat, the reporter also didn't eat. Thus, the documentary captured the angst and pain of hunger as reported by somebody living through the experience. What caught my attention is the fact that Ethiopia, or at least the villages that were subject of the report, did not seem to know that it was possible for them to plant and grow their own food and not to rely on aid. It didn't seem to occur to them, that the wild cabbage that they hunted could be planted and harvested with the passing of the season and that chickens could be raised from the backyard and be their food. The idea of agriculture as a way of life is simply not there.

And this brings me to my last point why I hesitate to buy IRRI's proposition of global economics: If we break away from agriculture, we may also be taking away the ability and disposition of our people to plant and grow their own food. Sure, we can probably buy food from our neighbors who may be able to produce them abundantly for many years. But how sure are we that the food they make is not going to run out one day. How sure are we that there will always be food to buy? The harder part is knowing that the moment we break away from our agricultural past, it would take years for our people to go back, if at all. Just look at Ethiopia and behold a nation which doesn't know how and does not want to feed itself. The very moment food supplying nations refuse or fail to sell us food, Ethiopia can happen to us.

In 2003, our farmers have produced 94% of our food requirements. This year, the number would probably hit 100%. But the folks in IRRI are not impressed. It's cheaper to buy rice than to plant it. The collective consciousness of the decisions makers of this world appear to be taking the road to globalization. The magnificense and beauty of a world without borders, a world where countries become increasingly dependent on each other, cannot be ignored.

(Image taken from Again, copyright on this image I believe has expired.)

But are we really going to give up our romance with the soil? The issue of globalization is not only about economics, but also about culture, identity and national security. Surely, questions like this deserve a lot of thought and prayer.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

SC nullifies Pagcor online gambling contract

See Philstar Report here.

Senator Jaworski scored big points with the release of the Supreme Court decision yesterday nullifying the PAGCOR and SAGE agreement for the operation of internet gambling casinos. He argued that since the internet was invented only recently and PAGCOR's franchise was enacted in July 1983, PAGCOR's operation of a internet casino in tandem with SAGE could not have been contemplated in the franchise. The argument is as silly as a left handed hook shot from the three point lane. The basketball player turned Senator didn't know that the internet was already around as early as 1960's, although not in the grand scale prevalence that it is today.

Still, the Supreme Court managed to invalidate the PAGCOR-SAGE Agreement under the same arguments that invalidated the PAGCOR-BELLE Corporation Agreement to operate the Jai-Alai Games. Simply put, the Supreme Court ruled that the PAGCOR franchise to operate gambling casinos may not be extended to another entity, particularly a private entity.

I appreciate this point. However, what does that make of the provisions in PAGCOR's charter giving it the broad power and authority to enter into joint venture agreements with other entities? The authority to enter into joint venture agreements is all-encompassing and did not prohibit PAGCOR from entering into partnerships with a technologically capable party like SAGE. Really from a legal standpoint, the Supreme Court has been very conservative in its interpretation of the PAGCOR Charter and PAGCOR's power to enter into partnerships with the private sector.

Too bad, I was hoping that the runaway success of SAGE in the internet gambling scene would spur the growth of internet ventures by Filipinos. SAGE was a perfect experiment for Pinoy techies on how to do things right on the web, particularly in network security.

I guess the "G" word did them in. Gambling -- why is it such a polarizing word in this country? I really don't mind, especially considering that SAGE's profile of a typical online player is that of a bored housewife with the husband's gold credit card. At least, their boredom could help propel technological growth. It sounds better than gold cards being maxed out on ladies' drinks in girlie bars.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

The Amateurs in Government

Briefly, here are the reasons why the Supreme Court voided the COMELEC bidding:

1. The COMELEC resolved to award the contract to Mega Pacific Consortium on the basis of an oral report from the members of Bids and Awards Committee. The written report recommending the award to Mega Pacific came six days after the award.

This is a problem because under the Rules on bidding, the losing bidder has seven days to file a protest from the time that the winner of the bid is announced by the Bids and Awards Committee. Further the rule also states that no award should be made until the protest , if any, has been resolved. How then can the loser protest if the award is made even before the Bids and Awards Committee can write its report on the winning bid? It gives you the feeling that this contract was rammed down the COMELEC's throat or rather, it rammed the contract on its own throat, so to speak.

2. The Rules for the bidding required that bidders be a corporation, a single proprietor, or a joint venture. Mega Pacific was not one of any of these at the time of the bidding. It claimed that it was a joint venture, but it failed to submit a joint venture agreement during the bidding.

All it has to prove the existence of the joint venture is a signed receipt by its purported President. Worse -- can you dig this? -- the rules of the bidding did not appear to have required the submission of a joint venture agreement or if it did, the men who evaluated Mega Pacific's documents didn't realize it was missing. How could people miss that? A gang of kidnappers could have filed a bid and by the looks of its would have qualified as a joint venture.

3. Mega Pacific's bid failed to meet the technical criteria set by the DOST, such as accuracy rating, ability to detect previously downloaded data to prevent double counting, and ability to print audit trail. For the bidding, all they had was a "demo" version.

Obviously, the winning bid was still a work in progress, Yet, in spite of the fact that technical guidelines required more or less a finished product, the COMELEC settled for the demo copy. I am outraged. How could we be so cheap?

4. COMELEC allowed Mega Pacific to correct its "demo" software. The Supreme Court said by doing this, the COMELEC went contrary to the purpose of a public bidding because it changes the bid.

Well, because the consortium won, and yes the COMELEC had remembered that the winning software bid had to be used for the May elections, COMELEC argued that the winning demo copy of the software could be changed or improved. They shouldn't have called for a bidding then. They could have just appointed this Mega Pacific as contractor to write the software until it got the whole thing right.

5. COMELEC's unnerving assertion that the problem in the software could be corrected could not be relied upon. You can almost hear Chairman Abalos saying, "Ok na yan. Maayos did 'yan pagdating ng eleksyon." Said the Supreme Court, it's too risky to put the elections on the line with this wishful thinking.

Well, this last one really is not a legal basis but well, its the Supreme Court speaking.

A copy of the decision can be found here.

Justice Tinga's dissent can be found here. His main point is that the elections is really a province of the COMELEC and the Supreme Court should afford itself a greater restraint considering that the COMELEC is a constitutional body.

Well, good point. But apparently not enough to win the votes of the rest of the court. Besides, it's not really very comforting, considering the elementary errors that the COMELEC committed in this bidding, as discussed above.

Based on experience with government biddings, it really isn't very heard to follow the law on government procurement, which is Republic Act. No. 9184 with its implementing rules. The law and the rules clearly spell out in detail the actions that the Bids and Awards Committee will do in the conduct of the bidding. What makes the entire exercise difficult is when business interest backed up by government influence and graft money starts dictating the process. Deviations from the norm and imprudent actions begin to happen in the procurement process. You can tell, just by the simple deviations that somebody was making money.

And this is what separate the amateurs from the pros. The amateurs will balk, take the money and do what the riggers say, even to the extent of making fools of themselves in public.

The pros -- they give the riggers the finger and say, "Follow the rules you prick. It's my ass on the line!"

Just look at Chairman Abalos. Tell me if he is a pro.
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Sunday, January 11, 2004

The Ring of Power

I have just seen the third installment in the sensational movie trilogy, "The Lord of the Rings", and I've been tossing on my bed because an insight is germinating in my mind. Of course, the pomp and grandeur of this film trilogy is unsurpassed. For this reason, I am placing it side by side with the Godfather series as my favorite movie series of all time. And probably, I am going to concede that it is my number one by a huge distance to the Godfather, because it has made me think.

I am thinking of the "Ring of Power" -- the one ring to rule them all. This is the heart of the adventure that sends the Fellowship of the Ring in its quest to destroy the ring by casting it in the fires of Mt. Doom. The idea is no one should possess the absolute power bestowed to the ring bearer because no one is capable of using absolute power for the good of all Middle Earth.

I've been thinking that if there is a ring bearer in real life reflecting the metaphor of the book, it has to be that jerk of a man they call Dubya. It gives you the shivers down your spine, doesn't it?

An uncle from the abroad asked how I would react to this essay. The writer appears to be a History professor out of Syracuse University who specializes in the Spanish-American transition in the Philippines. The writer makes a case for American Power. In so many words, he argues that America could be trusted to wield its enormous power because if it doesn't others which are far less trustworthy would rule the world.

And I go back to the proposition of the Lord of the Rings -- the ring of power should be destroyed because nobody, even benevolent America, could be trusted enough to possess it. And I search for that reason why the proposition has to be so. It brings me to Socrates and Plato who taught us the fundamental human condition -- "We know we do not know." We cannot know. The proposition for absolute power can only work with absolute knowledge. Good intentions are not enough. The bearer of absolute power must have absolute knowledge. The wielder of absolute power would be able to achieve what is good for all only if he is in the position to make no mistakes. And mistakes are brought about by flawed knowledge or in military parlance -- flawed intelligence.

In the context of the exercise of military power, the greatest military intelligence network, the CIA, for instance, has committed big mistakes which have caused the loss of the lives of millions. In Saddam's case, for example, the intelligence report on his weapons of mass destruction appear to be false, misleading or even fabricated. Yet the US exercising "absolute power", setting aside the position of major allies like France and other members of the Security Council, decided to go for broke on Saddam, destroying the country and trampling upon the rights of the sovereign people to determine their future. And all this for nothing. The guy turned out to be incapable of manufacturing those so-called weapons. Sure, the world is better without Saddam in Iraq, but Dubya could have done it to Gloria Arroyo and the Philippines, and it wouldn't have made a difference. Who could have stopped Dubya if he built the same case against Gloria as the perpetrator of 9/11? Colin Powell and his powerpoint galore could bring down any sitting president at will -- and notwithstanding conscientious objectors in the midst.

Absolute power without absolute knowledge is like a bazooka on the shoulders of a blind man in a world where everyone else is blind.

Tolkien is right. The best of this world is not good enough for the ring -- the hobbits, the elves, the dwarves, the wizards, the men, and most especially, the jerks. The ring must be destroyed.


Others have this to say:

1. Todd Setimo

2. James Pinkerton


4. Blogs for Bush

Friday, January 02, 2004


Last New Year's Eve, I found myself straining my lungs on the notes of Matt Monro's "The Impossible Dream". It was not exactly a coincidence that the song was on cue when it was my turn to sing, I had in fact a few days earlier decided to put my career at stake on a Law Firm concept paper that came to me like an epiphany in the last week of December. The "Dream" has gotten me hooked. The song was just a befitting start for the pursuit of the Dream.

I would describe the "Dream" as a paradigm shift in the manner that legal service is delivered in this country. Briefly, the task is to align all the young law practitioners from Batanes to Jolo into one single network of lawyers. They will have a common office system developed by a head office. Knowledge, training and continuing legal education provided by the head office. Billing and collection consolidated under one roof. Everybody is then connected with a communication network of cellphones, landline, fax machines and the internet. The Dream lawyers would have a high standard of service and an ethic rooted in justice and fairness.

And the clients? How do you think Manny Pangilinan (President of PLDT) would react if I tell him that with the "Dream", he could have a competent lawyer assist any of his men anywhere in the Philippines in ten minutes? Ten Minutes -- just about the same time that it takes his Makati lawyer to open a litigation file where he can log his billable hours in his Daily Service Report. Danding Cojuangco's San Miguel delivery van driver arrested in Dipolog in a traffic accident? A Dream lawyer would be in the closest court to fix bail in ten minutes and get his man out in a few hours. The same time it would take for Danding's Makati lawyer to book a flight from Manila and get himself a nice cozy hotel suite chargeable to the Boss.

Best of all, the Dream will also serve as a network for free legal aid. With a consolidated effort, the Dream can render fast and efficient legal aid to any sector of society oppressed by the justice system. There will be plenty of causes to fight for. Right now, I think of all the prisoners in city and municipal jails who have out served the punishments for the crimes they were charged with but have somehow stayed in jail because their trials have not moved fast enough. The Dream lawyers will set them free -- all at the same time.

How is this all going to happen? Four words. Sun Tzu. Detailed Plans. I've written it down. It's possible to do it in ten years at the most. The first in the agenda is to organize the Dream Team. It's not easy, but it can be done.

I'm thinking of Bill Gates the day that he decided that from then on, Microsoft was just going to do Windows. He was putting his company at stake. DOS is out Windows is in. That's how it is going for me. It is time to take legal service in this country to the next level.
The Dream is on.

So help me God.