Monday, September 18, 2017

BWorld 150, Rising state-inspired murders and budget 2018

* This is my article in BusinessWorld last August 25, 2017.


The second week of August 2017 would possibly be the bloodiest in the drugs war of the Duterte administration. More than 80 people were murdered mostly by the Philippine National Police (PNP) in various drugs-raid and victims were described as “nanlaban eh (they fought the police).”

Perhaps 99% of all countries and governments in the world have their own “drugs war,” like the Philippines. Punishment range from imprisonment to death penalty. Many of our neighbors in the ASEAN have death penalty for drug crimes like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore.

The “war on drugs” therefore is not a unique program or policy of the Philippine government, the Duterte administration especially.

What makes the Duterte drugs war unique is the absence of due process for poor victims.

True, there is due process for very rich drug suspects like those implicated in the P6.4-billion drugs smuggled from China and passed through the Bureau of Customs. Not one of the personalities implicated including the President’s son, Davao City Vice-Mayor Paulo Duterte, were shot or murdered. They enjoyed due process of investigations, filing of affidavits, dismissal of allegations, if proof is weak.

It is the poor or several middle class or rich but not-politically connected people who get murdered on mere suspicions of being drug users or pushers. Of the roughly 9,000 estimated casualties in the Duterte drugs war, majority are labeled by the PNP as death under investigation (DUIs). However, for those who were killed outright by the PNP because they supposedly resisted arrest, no police investigation is expected.

These are state-inspired murders. The President himself is urging the police to have more deaths for drug suspects, warning the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and other human rights advocates that he will order the police to shoot them.

The continuing murders from mid-2016 — when the Duterte administration was inaugurated — to the present has coincided with the big increase in the government budget, P667 billion in 2017 and P417 billion in 2018. I checked the PNP’s budget and I wondered why its allotment for this year fell by P17B despite the increase in personnel from 184,000 to 194,000 during the same period. What explains this discrepancy?

In interviews by various media (local and foreign) and human rights groups of self-confessed but anonymous murderers, the murderers claimed that they get cash from the PNP for each murdered victim, usually previous or current drug users or pushers but people who are generally poor. Remember also the testimonies at the Senate of several ex-Davao policemen (LascaƱas, et al.) who claimed they got paid by then Davao City Mayor Duterte for the murders they made.

If this claim is true — and I hope it is not — where would the government get extra resources given the decline in the PNP budget?

I checked the other items of the proposed 2018 budget and there were five big items that stand out. They get P566B of the P667B total increase in 2017 budget, and P260B of the P417B increase in 2018 budget (see table).


If the claims of the anonymous hired murderers, of LascaƱas et al. are true, then the extra resources may be sourced from “Miscellaneous personnel benefits fund” and from “Gratuity fund.” But since this is only surface data, this is hard to prove.

On another note, the Economic Freedom Network (EFN) Asia will hold its annual meeting and conference this coming Sept. 11-12 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. While the focus is on economic freedom and trade, political freedom will also be tackled among network members because there are instances of decreasing political freedom and rising dictatorial trends in the region. These include the continued rule of military junta in Thailand and the rise of murders in the Duterte government.

Economic freedom cannot prosper well in an environment of threatened political freedom and decline in the rule of law. Rise in public health care spending to save the lives of sick and weak people becomes a farce when the same government is engaged in state-inspired murders by the thousands.

Bienvenido Oplas, Jr. is the head of Minimal Government Thinkers, a member of EFN Asia.
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See also:

Sunday, September 17, 2017

IPR and innovation 37, US-China dispute on IP

Last month, there was a high profile dispute between the US and China, the former accusing the latter of having policies and practices that discriminate US companies' IP rights and innovation. Here's one story from Fox, August 03, 2017.


Weeks after that, this news from Lexology, August 22, 2017.


The China government, its state-owned enterprises and perhaps many private enterprises, have the tendency to act like business monopolies because of their political monopoly, one-party-state character. So Mr. Trump is checking this behavior.

The WTO and its relevant agreements like TRIPS should play a role in resolving this and many related disputes among member-countries.
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See also:

BWorld 149, Free tuition and irresponsibility

* This is my article in BusinessWorld last August 17, 2017.


There are many reasons why the new law providing for free tuition for all students — rich and poor alike — in all state universities and colleges (SUCs) is wrong, but for this piece, we will limit them to only four arguments.

One, the government has no extra cash to cover extra spending on these already substantial expenditures. This means the deficit — which happens when revenues are lower than spending — that will require new borrowings will become bigger. The projected budget deficit rose from P353 billion in 2016 (during the Aquino government) and projected to rise to P482B this year to P524B in 2018, P576B in 2019 (see Table 1).


Note that the deficit is based on the cash budget, “the actual deposits and withdrawals of cash of national government agencies from the Bureau of Treasury (BTR) for payment of current and previous year’s obligations.”

If the obligation budget, “the proposed amount of commitments that the government may incur or enter into for the delivery of goods and services in a fiscal year” is considered, the deficit will be much bigger: P923B in 2017, P927B in 2018 and P968B in 2019. The law calling for free tuition in SUCs — enacted in August 2017 while the proposed 2018 budget was submitted to Congress in July 2017 — would fall in the obligation budget.

Two, spending in public elementary and secondary education is still limited and it is unwise to further expand spending in public tertiary education.

Numbers below show that out of the 16 countries and economies (10 in the ASEAN, six in Northeast Asia), hiring of teachers in the Philippines was 2nd lowest in primary/elementary education, second only to Cambodia. In secondary education, Philippines was 3rd lowest, next to Cambodia and Myanmar (see Table 2).


Three, students who are absolutely destitute do not reach university level. They drop out after elementary or after high school and start working, especially now with the K+12 years of pre-college schooling. So those who reach universities are lower middle class to rich students.

If one sees the cars and SUVs in the University of the Philippines and many other SUCs, one will wonder why these students are getting subsidies. Budget Sec. Ben Diokno even oppose this new law and said that this welfarist program alone will cost P100B/year — on top of existing deficit and high spending.

Four, people’s values will be corrupted because personal and parental responsibility will be assumed by the state. As a result, children’s education from elementary to university level will no longer be the responsibility of their parents but of the state.

Health care is already largely a state responsibility. Soon more parents will be drinking or partying or gambling more often because their children’s education will no longer be their responsibility.

Before you know it, proponents and supporters of this lousy free tuition law will demand that each student in SUCs should be given free laptops and free Internet access. Or that the monthly water and electricity bills of the poor be paid for by the state as well.

The number of free riders, irresponsible people, and tax-hungry bureaucrats and consultants, welfare-dependents and people pretending-to-be-poor will increase.

For any problem, their “solution” is more government, more “tax-the-rich” schemes. Then people will complain of massive wastage, inefficiency, and plunder in government. As government expands, stupidity and irrationality expands.

There are several remedial measures about this new law. One is that it can be questioned and rendered void at the Supreme Court for being anti-taxpayers, anti-fiscal responsibility.

Second, it can be replaced with a new law that will void or drastically revise it, like no free tuition for rich students in SUCs while extending limited subsidies to poor students in private universities.

Three, taxpayers should remember the main authors in the House and Senate and penalize them in the next round of elections.

As someone said: “A government that’s big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take everything you’ve got.”
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See also:
BWorld 146, Mining and industrialization in Duterte SONA 2017, August 12, 2017 

BWorld 147, Sugar tax and health alarmism, August 15, 2017 

BWorld 148, Energy Trilemma Index 2016, September 16, 2017

Saturday, September 16, 2017

On the CHR P1,000 or $20 budget for 2018

The House of Representatives led by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez passed the proposed 2018 budget and it gave the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) a mere P1,000, less than $20, budget for 2018. Key Duterte officials are displeased with the CHR, headed by Atty. Chito Gascon (a friend since the 80s in UP Diliman) because of its investigation of many murder cases where the main suspects are policemen.

Last Wednesday, September 13, while I was queuing at NAIA for my flight to the US via Korean Air, Chito called me, he would be on the same flight as mine. Picture muna :-)


The CHR was created by the 1987 Constitution, not by Congress and much less by the House of Alvarez. Alvarez wants Chito to resign as CHR head, then he will reinstate the proposed P600+ million 2018 budget. Now look at his reasoning below. Low life logic.


Another lawyer-friend from UP, Gigo Alampay, explained it well in his fb wall the other day.

It is the responsibility of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to protect the rights of the people from abuse BY STATE AGENTS such as the government, police and the military. As a response to our experience with Martial Law, the CHR was created to ensure that the government will not abuse and violate its duty to protect the primary rights of the people.

It is NOT the job of the CHR to investigate violations committed by a non-state or non-government actors, such as criminals. This is not because the CHR condones those heinous acts. Rather, it is simply because investigating crimes is the job of the police. Requiring the CHR to expand its responsibilities to these violations is not only redundant. It would also be a massive waste of manpower and resources. (Is Congress prepared to add the equivalent of the PNP's billion-peso budget to the CHR?)

Do not fall for what appears to be a systematic effort by the President, legislators in the majority, and by Pro-Duterte apologists to discredit the CHR by confusing the public on this issue, and insisting that the CHR must investigate ALL cases of human rights violations.

A former tv clown and entertainer and now Senator Tito Sotto added his equally low-life argument. Suggesting that all government officials including those heading constitutional bodies (CHR, COA, Comelec,...) should always obey the President's orders and wishes.


When I posted my photo with Chito in my fb wall, a certain Manuel Saludadez jumped in with this accusation.


The man did not provide any proof, even news link. I have a term for this type of attitude -- emotional or arrogant idiocy. If one should make a serious accusation of robbery or plunder ("nakulimbat"), one should present some reliable proof. Otherwise, remove the comment or say "sorry, I do not have proof, I take back my words" or similar statements. If there is humility. There is none.

Meanwhile, I think the Senate should also give a P1,000 2018 budget for many agencies that are favored by the President and the Speaker, like the DOJ. That way, a compromise can be made between the two chambers.

BWorld 148, Energy Trilemma Index 2016

* This is my article in BusinessWorld last August 11, 2017.


The Philippines has acquired a growth momentum that started a few years ago in the past administration and we are now looked upon as among the fastest growing economies in the world. Sustaining fast GDP growth will require stable and cheaper energy because almost all economic activities now require energy and electricity.

The World Energy Council (WEC), a UN-accredited global energy body composed of 3,000+ organizations from 90+ countries (governments, private and state corporations, academe, NGOs, other energy stakeholders) produces the annual World Energy Trilemma Index.

The Trilemma index is based on a range of data sets that capture both energy performance and their context, indicating energy sustainability of countries. The index is composed of three factors: energy security, energy equity, and environmental sustainability, defined as follows:

Energy security — effective management of primary energy supply from domestic and external sources, reliability of energy infrastructure, and ability of energy providers to meet current and future demand.

Energy equity — accessibility and affordability of energy supply across the population.

Environmental stability — achievement of supply and demand-side energy efficiencies and development of energy supply from renewable and other low-carbon sources.

There are 125 countries covered and ranked. Top five countries overall in the 2016 report are Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands, and Germany. Here are the rankings of selected Asian countries. Some Asian economies not included in the study are Indonesia, Taiwan, and Vietnam (see table).


Based on these numbers, here are the implications for the Philippines in energy policy:

1. Environmental sustainability: We are already world’s number one in this category. We have high reliance on renewables like hydro and geothermal plus newly added renewables like run of river hydro, biomass, solar and wind. There is no need to “further decarbonize” as suggested by the CCC, DENR and other greenies, suggesting that we close or discontinue having more coal power plants.

2. Energy equity: We are very low here, ranking 92nd because of our expensive electricity, 3rd highest in Asia next to Japan and Hong Kong. However, there has been a steady decrease in generation cost of electricity in the country. The Load Weighted Average Price (LWAP) at the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) has decreased from an average P5.37/kWh in 2012 to P4.65 in 2014 and further down to P2.81 in 2016. This is the result of more big coal plants, more players, more competition. But there are other factors that can neutralize these as discussed further below.

3. Energy security: We are midway, ranking 61 out of 125 countries in this category. We need to add more big conventional plants to take over many aging plants, and to put in place an LNG facility in Batangas to import gas in case no substantial gas reserves are discovered when Malampaya gas runs out sometime around 2024.

There are at least four dangers in Philippine energy policies resulting in prices either rising or flatlining.

One is feed-in-tariff (FiT) or guaranteed high prices for 20 years for variables renewables especially wind-solar. FiT has been rising steadily and slam-dunking all electricity consumers from Aparri to Tawi-tawi: four centavos/kWh in 2015, 12.40 centavos in 2016, 18 centavos middle of this year, and going up to 26 centavos (Transco petition at the Energy Regulatory Commission [ERC]) later this year.

Two is transmission charge. NGCP must add more ancillary services to stabilize power supply from intermittent wind-solar, and build more transmission facilities in far-flung areas where these wind-solar plants are constructed. Consequently, transmission fees will slowly and steadily rise.

Three is system losses. High losses in provinces — areas which are run by monopoly electric cooperatives (ECs) — are ultimately passed on to the consumers. Current ERC and legislative proposals plan to allow these ECs to retain their high system losses while pressuring private distribution utilities (DUs), which on average have low system losses, to further bring this down.

Four is the impending renewable portfolio standards (RPS). This will require all ECs, DUs, and retail electricity suppliers (RES) to get a mandatory, minimum percentage of their electricity sales to come from expensive wind-solar and other variable renewables. If these renewables are cheap and getting cheaper as claimed by their developers and lobbyists, there is no need for RPS. But because they are expensive, RPS is made mandatory and coercively imposed.

Nature has given the Philippines energy advantage. Volcanoes have given us plenty of geothermal resources and potentials. Our big mountains have given us more waterfalls and big river systems.

Government policies favor expensive electricity via FiT, RPS, priority dispatch of renewables at WESM, accommodating more renewables in the grid. These policies must be reversed soon. Only then will we have higher scores in energy equity and energy security and finally, economic security.
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See also:
BWorld 145, Energy agenda of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, August 11, 2017 
BWorld 146, Mining and industrialization in Duterte SONA 2017, August 12, 2017 

BWorld 147, Sugar tax and health alarmism, August 15, 2017

Earthquakes and economics

Among the recent strong earthquakes (EQs) that I personally felt was last August 11, 2017. I was in the office, 25/F of the building and I felt a bit dizzy, then I watched the door swinging by itself, the window blinds were swaying -- for nearly one minute, it was long. And it was a magnitude 6.3 EQ.

We get about 3-4 EQs a day on average in the Philippines, though most of them are mild (magnitude 1, 2) that only seismographs can detect them. Or they occur under the sea in Philippine territory.

EQs are our friend. The whole PH archipelago came from below the sea, a product of volcanic and geological movement hundreds of millions of years ago. That huge Benham/PH rise west of Luzon island is a product of volcanic and EQ movements. Though about 1+ kms. below sea level by now, it keeps rising, few cms a year.

Tectonic movements below allow gases and molten rocks from the core and mantle to move to the crust. The gases help mineralize ordinary rocks and stones into metallic products; they give us steam for geothermal power, natural gas, etc. Volcanoes that protrude from below the seas create new islands, like the current PH archipelago. 

All real estate developers in the country are aware of the high EQ frequency. EQs are 100% part of PH's geographical DNA. Hence, buildings should be strong. 

Government should tax less those strong buildings, them that use lots of steel, strong steel, in their posts and beams. But it seems the opposite happens, government taxes (real property tax by LGUs, VAT and other taxes by the national government) are higher in bigger, taller, stronger buildings. There is little danger living in strong skyscrapers even if EQs reach magnitude 7 or 8, possibly even 9, because of the huge volume of steel and more modern architectural designs for these structures. Dangers would be indoors like falling chandeliers, cabinets, bottles and glasses from tables and wine cabinets if the EQ is strong but the structures would normally withstand the swinging and sideways pressure.

BWorld 30th anniversary

BusinessWorld turned 30 years old last month. A big celebration was held at Manila Peninsula Hotel and among the invitees were the paper's columnists.

From left, Jemy Gatdula and Phil. Star's Jay Sarmiento. Jemy has been a BW columnist for more than a decade now.


From left: Arnold Tenorio, me Boojie Basilio, Krista Montealegre. Arnold was my opinion editor in interaksyon.com for three years (2012-2014) and was head of research of the paper until last month. Boojie is the current BWorld oped editor. Krista is a finance reporter of the newspaper. I have been a  BW columnist for 2+ years now (BW Weekender for about half year, Opinion page for 2 years).


I first sat in a table with other columnists like Romy Bernardo, Men Sta. Ana, Toti Chikiamco. Then I moved to the above table. Lots of entertainers, lots of wine and food.

More power, BusinessWorld.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

BWorld 147, Sugar tax and health alarmism

* This is my article in BusinessWorld on August 03, 2017.


“To what extent will the poor merely replace more expensive colas and 3-in-1 coffee with unsafe sugared water in plastic bags, samalamig, or home-brewed sugared coffee, none of which are covered by the tax? … there is simply a great deal we do not know, which is all the more reason to proceed with reserve and caution.” -- Emmanuel de Dios, “Just take it, it’s good for you”

Among the tax-tax-tax plan of Dutertenomics to finance the budget swell is premised on health alarmism, that government is concerned about public health and dangers of obesity so it will confiscate more money from the public via the sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) tax.

Simple joys of the poor like 3-in-1 coffee, mango or guyabano powdered juice, softdrinks, etc. add flavor to meals and whet more appetite so people eat more, which help their nutritional intake. But the government says this is bad and must be taxed.

Before you know it, the government will increase taxes twice, thrice, or even four times, citing whatever health alibi is handy when the real goal is to collect more money for the state, for the politicians, for the bureaucrats and their consultants, not to mention those who are already dependent too much on welfare.

There is one paper from Harvard Heart Letter that said: “Eating too much added sugar increases the risk of dying with heart disease” by Julie Corliss (updated Nov. 30, 2016).

“Sugar-sweetened beverages such as sodas, energy drinks, and sports drinks are by far the biggest sources of added sugar in the average American’s diet. They account for more than one-third of the added sugar we consume as a nation. Other important sources include cookies, cakes, pastries, and similar treats; fruit drinks; ice cream, frozen yogurt and the like; candy; and ready-to-eat cereals.”

Since this seems an authoritative article, then the SSB tax of Dutertenomics suffers from an old disease of selective harassment and taxation.

If they have to be consistent, they should tax not only soda, powdered juice, energy drinks but also cakes, ice cream, chocolates, cookies, yogurt, candy, pastries, samalamig, banana-Q, etc.

If all the claims of various health and environmentalist groups are true -- that there are more diseases, morbidity, and mortality due to high sugar consumption, man-made climate change, high maternal death, etc. -- then life expectancy of Filipinos should be declining, not rising.

Numbers below show that this is not the case -- that life expectancy among Filipinos and other people in the region are rising (see table).

Life expectancy at birth  in the ASEAN, years 


Source: WB, World  Development  Indicators database 2017

From only around 61 years in 1970, Filipinos are living longer and healthier compared to the past and they can expect to live to 68 years old, as of 2015. This, despite the fact that more Filipinos are eating and drinking more “unhealthy” products.

So, what to do?

One, the government should not impose a sugar tax. No to selective harassment and taxation of sugar-sweetened drinks and food and confiscation of more money from the pockets of ordinary Filipinos.

Two, if they have to tax some sugar-sweetened beverages, they should tax all of them without exceptions. Just keep the tax as low as possible.

Three, proceeds from the substantial sin tax revenues should be enough to promote health awareness and finance the fight against infectious and communicable diseases on top of regular DoH and LGUs’ health budget.

Health is not just a “right” but more importantly, health is also a personal responsibility.

It is very likely that proceeds from the tax are designed more to pay the multitrillion-peso loans to Duterte-beloved China-funded infrastructure programs. And since this government is run like a one-party state, they will get what they want from Congress.


Tax-tax-tax mentality and policy is wrong and ugly. And this is the philosophy that Dutertenomics wants to impose on the whole country.
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See also:
BWorld 136, Income tax and the politics of envy, June 12, 2017
BWorld 144, Individual liberty vs state coercion and taxation, August 10, 2017 
BWorld 145, Energy agenda of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, August 11, 2017 

BWorld 146, Mining and industrialization in Duterte SONA 2017, August 12, 2017