Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Justice for judges, justice for all

Eagle Eyes
Tony La Viña
Manila Standard

The imminent cut in the proposed budget of the Judiciary for next year raised uproar among court personnel and judges and elicited a strongly worded statement from the Supreme Court. It is a cry of protest that the President and Congress should not ignore.

Although constitutionally co-equal with the Executive and the Legislative, the Judiciary has a miniscule share in the national budget which stands at a little less than one percent of the total budgetary outlay. It is only within this meager budgetary space that the courts move in relation to its functions. No wonder some judges bring their own computers and office supplies and sometimes are forced to hold hearings in dilapidated court houses, antiquated structures or worse, under trees. This budgetary share has not improved although it has to cope with incessant demands of an increasingly litigious population resulting in clogged dockets and inadequate court facilities . If people lament the slow grind of the wheels of justice in this country, it is not entirely the fault of our Judiciary which has to contend with inadequate logistical support and human resource shortage.

True, there are remedial measures which have been undertaken through the passage of laws aimed to improve the salaries of judges and court personnel and provide adequate financing for judicial reforms. But then again, these may not be enough. For instance, the Salary Standardization Law to rationalize the compensation of all government personnel, and most recently, Republic Act No. 9946 granting additional retirement, survivorship and other benefits to members of the judiciary have not been fully implemented because of lack of funding from the national government. Even the Judiciary Development Fund to be sourced from an increase in docket fees of all courts is a spit in the sea to adequately provide the needed funding for judicial reforms.

These overwhelming limitations have not stopped the Judiciary, including the Supreme Court, from seeking to deliver justice for all. In recent years, as a professor of the Philippine Judicial Academy and as an environmental law expert, I have seen first-hand how the Supreme Court formulated and implemented many innovative measures to improve the administration of justice. The Writs of Amparo, Habeas Data and Kalikasan are examples of such measures. The program Justice on Wheels is another example of the Court’s outreach to give the poor greater access to justice. At the heart of the Supreme Court’s campaign for judicial reforms is the delivery of a more expeditious, orderly and corrupt-free justice system.

Other than physical inadequacies, the judiciary has to contend also with external and internal pressures from all sides that could compromise its independence and impartiality. Such impartiality and insulation from pressures by the political branches are essential attributes of judicial power if it is to be effectively discharged. Political pressures have doubled, maybe quadrupled partly as a result of the expansion of judicial power under the 1987 Constitution. Under the existing set up, judicial power includes not only the traditional exercise of judicial power - which is the settlement of conflicting legal rights - but also giving the Judiciary the power to review the exercise of discretion by the political branches of government. This was an attempt to prevent the Judiciary from shirking in its duty, as it was perceived to have done during the Marcos era, to review acts of the Executive and the Legislature by simply invoking the political question doctrine despite clear abuse in the exercise of powers. For example, in recent weeks, we have seen the Supreme Court being asked to rule on the legality of the Truth Commission, the so-called midnight appointment of the previous President, and the impeachment of the Ombudsman.

Under the 1987 Constitution, the Supreme Court has been vested with the power and authority to decide controversies within a much broader and more encompassing scope of our political and economic life. Because of this, the authority of the High Court to affect the lives even of ordinary citizens is felt more than ever. It is also because of this that more decisions of courts are made subject to public scrutiny. More than ever, we have seen individuals questioning, if not criticizing the wisdom of the courts.

As a law professor for the last 20 years, I believe that not all criticisms and dissensions must be proscribed. These criticisms, as far as I’m concerned, fall under two categories. Under the first category are the condemnable utterances which are baseless and unfounded intended merely to destroy the integrity and put the entire Judiciary in disrepute; and under the second category fall those criticisms that are rooted on the right of free expression and academic freedom. The former is condemnable while the latter must not be dissuaded on the premise that free speech is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy. While the first class is the product of ill motive, the second is predicated on the recognition that the Court, being a human and an imperfect institution, is not infallible. Despite its collective wisdom, the Court can and do commit errors. Even great justices register their dissents in many decisions of the High Court and they are no lesser jurists because of them. As one prominent jurist once said: “We do not purify the dissemination of thought by suppressing it.” Disapproval of Court decisions must not becloud our respect and trust on its independence. It is not meant to denigrate the trust and belittle its dignity, but merely a rightful exercise by the public to freely scrutinize the acts of a democratic institution.

Certainly, there can be no denying the influence and immense importance of the Judiciary in the life of our nation. As dispenser of justice, it has been constitutionally anointed to discharge a duty that impinges upon the very survival and stability of the nation. It is tasked to resolved conflicting social interests, the settlement of individual disputes and the channeling of social change. We do expect wisdom, fairness, and balance from the Judiciary, and particularly from the Supreme Court. During critical times, we expect the Court to avert constitutional crisis through its decisions so that the country is not plunged into anarchy and chaos. In the end, however we sometimes disagree with its decisions we must respect the decisions of the Supreme Court. The option of defiance is a slippery slope we do not want to bring our country to.

The Judiciary is performing a critical role and must be supported by all means and accorded the respect and dignity it deserves. Yet, in spite of this role, the Judiciary continues to suffer from logistical anemia. The first step towards this direction is to grant the budget it needs and deserves. Giving justice to judges is a precondition for justice for all.

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The innocent returns

Gary Olivar
Manila Standard

EARLY this morning, President Aquino returns from his maiden trip abroad as our head of state. The biggest booty he will bring back home from the United States is, of course, the long-delayed grant of $434 million in aid from the Bush-era Millennium Challenge Corporation. This is equivalent to nearly P20 billion, serious money indeed for an administration that is pinching every penny it can in its unaccountable obsession with deficit reduction.
Expect all the stops to be pulled out by the President’s communications group, now that they finally seem to have gotten their act together. [I especially like what I’ve been reading lately from the new deputy spokesman, Abigail Valte, and I look forward to actually seeing and hearing her in action one of these days.] Expect a deserved round of chest-beating and horn-tooting, especially now that the controversy over the Luneta hostage crisis seems to be dying down.

So, before the revisionists of the yellow army go to work with their usual vengeance (pun intended), let’s back up a bit and compare propaganda with reality. To be specific, let’s examine the truthfulness of the quotation below from the President:

“These past few years, our country has experienced modest economic growth, but the real life situations of our countrymen have only gotten worse. There have been few developments in the lives of Filipinos, especially in the areas of education and maternal health.” (from Pres Aquino’s foreword to the 2010 progress report on the Millennium Development Goals - MDG’s)

That’s the party line from Malacañang. What are the facts?


1. Growth was significant, not modest. This is what the MDG progress report had to say: “Over this decade, the Philippine economy posted significant economic growth… [Following the global recession], recent data suggest that the economy is on its way to recovery.”

Looking at the chart below, one is struck by the year 2007, when growth was so high that we ended the year only P12 billion away from a balanced budget. But then, one might also quibble over the downtrend in growth thereafter. In that connection, it’s thus worth remembering that the year 2008 saw successive price shocks in food (rice) and imported fuel, while the year 2009 saw the global financial crisis degenerate into a true recession worldwide.

An even more salient question is this: when we went through those crises the last couple of years, who would we have preferred to be at the helm of the ship of state? An in-your-face, surveys-be-damned micro-manager like Dr. Macapagal-Arroyo? Or her successor in office?


2. We have done well on most—not just a few —of the MDGs. These goals were first adopted at an initial global summit in September 2000, so the task of complying with them substantially fell to the former president during her nine years in office. This was her scorecard by the time she left the Palace:

So when President Aquino chooses to say that the glass is one-fourth empty, rather than three-fourths full, is he just committing a rhetorical slip? Maybe self-serving casuistry? Or could it be—heaven forbid—outright dishonesty?


To be sure, some people may point out that approval of the grant was repeatedly postponed during the Arroyo term because of concerns in the US about the issue of corruption—a governance criterion for the amount and speediness of approval for actual release of funds. This was a particularly troublesome test for the previous administration to meet, but also the same issue through which the new administration drew its line in the sane and thereby won its resounding mandate at the polls.

The credibility that President Aquino brings to his anti-corruption pledge has obviously impressed a foreign audience that has grown weary of the same old promises from one Philippine leadership after another. Both history and prophecy were midwives at the diplomatic breakthrough we enjoyed in New York last week, and between what was already achieved by the previous president and what is now being promised by the current one, there is clearly enough credit to go around.

Whether or not this is something the young Turks now in power will acknowledge, though, is another matter altogether. I will wager that this in fact is the shortcoming Sen Joker Arroyo really had in mind when he unflatteringly compared them to a “student council”.

It’s not just the issue of competence that might be bothering the veteran lawmaker—after all, competence can always be picked up, with enough time and experience—but the possibility of short-sighted arrogance, the tunnel vision of self-righteousness among our new leaders, which—if allowed to fester in their idealistic young souls—will make them nothing more than perpetual, trial-and-error students.


Gary Olivar is a director of the Center for Strategy, Enterprise & Intelligence (CenSEI), providing expertise in strategy and management, enterprise development, intelligence, Internet and media. He can be reached at gbolivar1952@gmail.com

Sy Jr., Ang may tie up on road, airport bids

Written by Cecilia Yap and Clarissa Batino
Bloomberg News
Business Mirror

HENRY SY JR., the eldest son of the country’s richest man, said he may work with San Miguel Corp. (SMC) president Ramon Ang on bids for road and airport projects as the Asian nation seeks private funds to boost transport links.

The two have had ventures previously and they will collaborate again “if there’s an opportunity,” Sy, 56, said in an interview. They would also seek other investors, he said. Ang would be interested in deals, he said in a mobile phone text message. Neither said whether Ang would act through San Miguel or a different channel.

President Aquino yesterday announced $2.8 billion of investment pledges from a trip to the US as he seeks to improve infrastructure to boost growth. Aquino, who took office on June 30, plans to invite bids for P739.8 billion of projects during his six-year term, including roads, railways, power plants and airports.

“The development of this country is hand-in-hand with infrastructure,” Sy said. “When you go to China they have really good highways; everything is so well done. We’re so many years behind.”

Sy plans to bid for most of the 10 road, rail and airport projects that form the first phase of Aquino’s infrastructure investment plans, he said. The government will begin to receive bids on the 10 projects, which have a value of P127.8 billion, as early as this year, Economic Planning deputy director general Rolando Tungpalan said this month.

Tollways and roads would be “the easiest,” Sy said. Airports would potentially link in with the family’s existing investments in tourism, he said. Sy this month bought 45.5 percent of UEM Development Philippines Inc., an inactive listed company, which he will use to expand in Philippine infrastructure. He said he will make a tender offer for the remaining shares.

Separately, Sy also said National Grid Corp. of the Philippines, operator of the nation’s high-voltage power network, will invest P8 billion this year on upgrades and expansion. Sy is president of the closely held company.

Sy is also vice chairman of SM Investments Corp., owner of the largest Philippine bank by assets, the nation’s biggest shopping-mall operator and the No. 1 grocery and department-store chains. His father, who built the family’s wealth from a shoe store opened in 1948, has an estimated net worth of $5 billion, Forbes Asia said in July.

SMC, the Philippines’ largest food and drinks maker, is raising funds to expand into industries, including railways, energy, telecommunications and mining where return on equity is triple that of its food business, Ang said in an interview in March.

Metro Pacific Investments Corp., a unit of Hong Kong’s First Pacific Ltd., will also study the infrastructure projects, chairman Manuel Pangilinan said on September 24.

The dawn of a new age

Written by John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

Three events occurred in the last two weeks that will have profound and lasting impact on the world and the Philippines. And it is unlikely you are aware of any of them.

It would be unkind to say that much of the local media live in a fantasy world of issues like “global people power” and a belief that the United States is still the Philippines’ “Uncle Sam.” It would be unkind but it is probably true.

China and Japan went to war two weeks ago. Japan lost. A Chinese fishing trawler was impounded by the Japanese Coast Guard for fishing in the disputed island area in the East China Sea between Taiwan and Okinawa—known as the Diaoyu by China and in Japanese as the Senkakuo. China demanded the ship be released. Japan refused. China stopped its exports of strategic metals (China now produces approximately 97 percent of the world’s rare-earth oxides) that Japan must have for its industry. The next day Japan released the Chinese fishing vessel.

China has made clear that the resources of the ocean area extending through the South China Sea are hers and any country may dispute this fact at its own peril. The “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” concept created by Japan in the 1930s has ended. China now owns Asia, including resources in the Spratly Islands.

The US and Israel went to war against Iran in June. Iran lost. The most sophisticated computer virus ever created, called Stuxnet, was unleashed on Iran, crippling its nuclear plants and processing facilities. Stuxnet has the ability to take over the industrial control system of a power plant, factory, or any other facility using a widely used, standard Siemens computer control system. Stuxnet can then open and close valves, over-ride and shut down critical safety systems, and make any vital control system do what it wants. Iran has publicly admitted that over 30,000 of its industrial computers are infected. Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant was scheduled to go online in August but was delayed “due to hot weather.”

Some interesting speculation about Stuxnet includes this: Was China involved in Stuxnet development or is China the next potential target?

The third event ushers in a new age for the financial world. A little background first.

There are two major schools of thought about the results of the failed $2-trillion stimulus and $15-trillion debt policy of the US government. One is that this will lead to a period of deflation and economic stagnation similar to what Japan has experienced in the last two decades.

By definition, deflation is a decrease in the general price level of goods and services because credit availability and the money supply are dramatically reduced. It amounts to an increase in the real value of money, allowing one to buy more goods with the same amount of money. The value of paper currency increases in purchasing power, but economic activity is stagnant. In light of the huge budget deficit and government debt, increased-value paper money would go to pay debt. Economic activity would resume when that debt is paid down.

The second alternative is a period of potentially hyper-inflation where the money supply is wildly increased to pay off debt, the currency is greatly devalued, and debt is paid back with near-worthless currency (in terms of purchasing power).

The US Federal Reserve through its policymaking Fed Open Market Committee (FOMC) last week confirmed the second option as stated policy.

From Larry Kudlow at CNBC: “Fed head Ben Bernanke and the FOMC dropped a new policy bomb at their meeting this week. Now they say inflation is too low. That’s the real problem. And the solution? Punch up the money supply and punch down the dollar.”

From another commentator at jsmineset.com: “If the Fed wanted to give the dollar the kiss of death with yesterday’s FOMC release, they certainly managed to accomplish their task. As it has done so, it has resulted in once again another huge inflow of funny money into the commodity sector in an exact replay of what was occurring in early 2008.”

The effects of the Fed deciding to inflate the money supply are predictable. The “funny money” will flow into hard assets: global stock markets, commodities, and currencies other than the US dollar. We saw the start last week with the dollar dropping against virtually all currencies, another explosion on the Philippines stock market with issues like PNB up 30 percent, and commodities including oil, silver and gold moving one way, up.

The Federal Reserve will now even more actively fund US government borrowing by buying US debt, which other countries and institutions are avoiding. Proof? Foreign central banks have been net sellers of US government debt in the last two weeks in the amount of $50 billion. The Fed will buy this debt with newly printed currency because that is what the Fed does, print and control the amount of money in circulation.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) is already looking at controlling capital inflow to keep the peso from appreciating too fast. But we will see an appreciating peso. We must see the peso appreciate as the dollar falls or imported goods such as oil will skyrocket.

This is the scenario that has been on the books for a year, since the failed stimulus produced very little US economic activity. This Fed-induced inflation will play out as surely as dawn follows darkness over the next nine to 12 months.

Gold will reach $1,600 per ounce. The Philippine stock market will not trade on corporate fundamentals as much as one of many shelters from dollar devaluation. All commodity prices will rise creating even more attractiveness to the Philippine mining sector. The peso will breach the 40 level in spite of BSP intervention.

If President Aquino’s recent trip to the United States is any indication, the government is dangerously behind the curve of adjusting to world events. No longer can the Philippines display a Third World, near-beggar mentality. This is a time to seize opportunities with a forceful economic policy that emphasizes natural resources, delinking from the US dollar and economy, and developing a clearly stated and very aggressive policy to create the Philippines as a profitable financial and investment destination.

It is the dawn of a new age and yesterday’s ideas and policies will create failure.

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