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A purely analytical perception...


THE
Philippines

 

Continued from page 1

 

The Economist in an article about the election on May 9th, 1998, put it about as succinctly as we have ever seen when comparing Estrada with Alfredo Lim, the Mayor of Manila and an opposition candidate given to jumping in the air and clicking his heels when excited said, “But given the choice between a candidate who can jump like a frog and one said to drink like a fish, popular opinion favors Mr. Estrada.”  Estrada, for his part, says that he has long ago given up his vices, “drinking, gambling and womanizing,” but admittedly was left with at least one more vice, smoking.  Estrada, who took office as President of The Philippine on June 30, 1998, vowed after meeting with health officials that he would be a non-smoker by that date.  Right!  And he stopped womanizing as well, and of course all of us believe in the Tooth Fairy to this very day.

 

There is a custom in the Philippines that the incoming President is taken on a tour of his future home for the ensuing six years somewhat before he is installed in office, so that the shock has a little time to settle in.  It is called the Malacanang Palace and it was built by the Spanish in the early 1800s; it subsequently has served as home to the Philippine President since the end of World War II.  Ramos, the sitting president, acted as the tour director and showed Estrada the normal kind of things one would find in a small palace; you know, the golf course, the ballroom, the gym, and the disco hall.  But of even greater import, considering the fact that the palace has been attacked by the army several times, he revealed to Estrada the secret passages that snaked around and under the palace, seemingly for miles; and he showed him where each one started and ended.  Estrada seemed quite pleased to know that if the populous turned really unpleasant, there was a way out.  Ramos explained to Estrada that the tunnels would place a president on the run literally miles away from either revolutionaries or reporters; whichever might be the greater danger.  

 

In spite of the luxuries that are heaped upon the Philippine President, a local newspaper reported that one of Estrada's first official acts would be to spend 10 million pesos, ($232,000) in fixing up the palace kitchen.  This and other ill-timed moves hardly helped get the new president off to a flying start with his constituents.  The Press started coming down on many of Estrada’s carefully nonsensical responses to serious economic question. The Philippine Daily Inquirer stated: "The President is seeking refuge in the argument that domestic political factors have nothing to do with last week's rubbishing of the peso, that's washing his hands of the disaster.  Of course, the President is part of the problem.  The historically important Makati Business Club officially stated that, "However, on other occasions the President has himself and his people to blame…either way, the President's moves have created controversy of confusion, something which the country hardly needs at this time."  These statements are tame when compared with the Manila Times article calling the Estrada regime, "a chamber of horrors."   Hey, good start, El Presidente.

 

If you think that was a bad initial decision, how about an airline that has never made a profit and is seemingly convinced that it never will.  When the line declared bankruptcy for the umpteenth time, Estrada in a fit of nationalism, almost forced the re-opening of Asia's oldest airline, Philippine Airlines (PAL).  Estrada forced the workers to accept stock ownership in exchange for a moratorium on wage negotiating and strikes.  This was hardly enough, as the Airline, already saddled with $2 billion in debt and only a bunch of leased planes as assets, had literally nothing left to go to the well with.  While it is possible for PAL to survive, the debt service alone will eat up any potential profits, and it will need a permanent subsidy from the Philippine Government, something that they can ill afford.   But the story doesn’t end there:

 

“Last year, Mr. Estrada suspended an air-rights pact with Taiwan, citing accusations by Philippine Airlines that its Taiwanese rivals were poaching passengers with cheaper fares.  The Decision, which ended direct commercial flights between the two countries, largely benefited Mr. Tan, the majority owner of Philippine Airlines.  The rest of the Philippines has suffered: Taiwanese tourists no long flock to Philippine beaches, electronics parts can’t make it to Philippine factories and Philippine nurses and engineers have to take long and expensive routes to get to their contract jobs in Taipei.

 

Acer has been the hardest hit (Acer’s facilities are located at Subic Bay).  Most of the parts and motherboards for its personal computers come from Taiwan.  Without direct flights, the components take twice as long to arrive, at twice the cost, making the plant uncompetitive.  Mr. Wang has moved one PC-manufacturing line to China and two notebook lines to Taipei, cutting more than 1,000 jobs here.  While some employees have been absorbed into the notebook division, Acer can’t move ahead with its planned expansions.  Their factory has so much empty space that workers started playing soccer on the testing floor.”[1]   

 

That gives you an idea of what Erap will do for you if you are his buddy, but in terms of what Lucio Tan got, there seems to be no end in sight.  You see, Mr. Tan is easily the wealthiest man in the Philippines, and it has become apparent that Mr. Tan had an extreme aversion to paying taxes.  Worse yet, the tax collectors caught Tan literally with his hand in the till, and a major legal action was begun against him.  In addition, tax collections had been going so poorly, it was felt by the Treasury that making Mr. Tan’s case a public relations victory for the Government, people would realize that they should pay their taxes.  Everything was going well for the tax collectors until Tan’s buddy, Erap arranged for the tax evasion case to be thrown out of court on a technicality.

 

Erap managed to accomplish several things with this one move: he made the tax-collectors look like fools, people started disrespecting them even more and tax collections dropped even further.  Tan, on the other hand, got away with economic murder, and people felt that if the richest man in the country could evade taxes, so could they.  Estrada has also interceded for friends with the country’s Securities & Exchange Commission, and after he had pushed this envelope one too many times, Kilosbayan, Inc. and Bantay Katarungan, two “major cause” oriented groups in the Philippines sent the following letter to Estrada after his last SEC-oriented fiasco:

 

“Investors, whether domestic or foreign — especially the reputable ones whom you wish to attract — must know and perceive that the president is fair and impartial and that under your administration, there will always be a level playing field because justice can and will be administered by quasi-judicial agencies, such as the SEC, without fear or favor.  Good move, Erap, it is not so hard to see why you are getting impeached.” 

 

Just as an aside, one of the more amazing stories emanating from the coming election concerns the local race on the Island of Leyte.  The Governor, Alberto Veloso, is opposed by his cousin.  Alberto’s son is running for congress, while two of his cousin’s vie for his former job as vice governor, getting the party nod over five more cousins that had been in the running.  In a land where the leading presidential candidate at the time, Estrada, was not at all sure of what to do, either with retail trade or globalization, and worst of all was not even sure what they meant, one can understand the voter’s concern.  When asked about the two he stated,  "On retail trade and globalization, we will study that.  I cannot tell you the answer right now.”  Well, not knowing anything about retail trade doesn’t make the man a really bad person. 

 

Estrada ran on a mainly anti-pork barrel plank.  Pork barrel in The Philippines means that a certain amount of budgeted money is given to the individual congressmen to be used in their own districts.  Very little of the money historically finds its way back to their districts, however, and it is usually divided up between local politicians and placed in friendly banks far from The Philippines.  While Estrada found this practice unconscionable, the Lakas party, which won the majority of the house seats and now controls the parliament, believes that pork barrel is good for everyone, and they further believe that it is especially good for those that are recipients of it.  This looks to be the first major test of Estrada’s mettle, and it is shaping up as a battle between good and evil.   

 

His slogan was “You’ve tried intelligent people as president but where are we now?  Why not try someone like you?”  This, coming from the guy that been accused a number of times as acting as judge and executioner in his job as chief of the agency charged with hunting down kidnappers, drug pushers and robbers.  It has been said that very few of the people were ever taken into custody by Estrada or for that matter ever stood trial, but the crime rate did drop and maybe that is more important.  But Estrada, the consummate showman, was the first President in Philippine history to take the oath of office in his native Filipino language as opposed to the mandated English, when the oath was administered by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Andres Narvasa, Estrada’s lawyer.  He arrived at the ceremony, which took place in the church in Malolos, north of Manila (where the country’s first constitution had been written 100 years before the end of over three centuries of Spanish rule), in a horse-drawn carriage accompanied by Fidel Ramos, the outgoing president.

 

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, how on earth can anyone possibly want to prosecute a woman like Imelda who has a heart of gold.  We can only pray the prosecutors see the light and understand what a good person she really is.  But, the ballgame isn’t quit over, since in this case she can ask for another appeal, and if that fails, possibly receive a pardon. , And we know, deep down in our hearts that if she is pardoned, she will build a hospital with the stolen funds.  Can you image a $9 billion hospital in downtown Manila?  What a monument to the Marcos’ generosity that would be.

 

Meanwhile the search for the money goes on and surprise, surprise, a portion of it has turned up in Swiss banks: Swiss Bank Corp. and Credit Suisse, no less.  Logically, Philippine officials had asked the friendly Swiss Government to help them recover the money, which they stated belonged to the good people of the Philippines.  Naturally, the good-hearted Swiss Government indicated that they would be helpful.  At that point, the issue was raised that if they were going to be as helpful as they had been in the early stages of recovering assets for the holocaust victims, the good people of The Philippines would have two chances to recover the Marcos money, zero and none; or even if they recovered the funds, it would not be in this lifetime.  The Swiss are extremely careful people, and it took them over a half a century in the case of the Holocaust victims to even admit that there were any funds.

 

 “No” replied the Swiss officials; in this case we will let our highest court adjudicate what should be done with the money, and “you know how honest they are.”  Appeased for the moment, the legal process was allowed to run its course, and ultimately the court ordered the money repatriated back to the Philippines.  The good people there were overjoyed with the result and could not believe their good fortune that the process had only taken 12 years since Marcos had fled the country.  The Philippine people were overwhelmed, and some talked about erecting a monument in the image of the Swiss Government to memorialize their honesty and integrity. 

 

The overjoyed Philippine officials began the process of taking possession of the funds when Swiss Officials informed them that perhaps they were being a tad to hasty.  It seemed that some mysterious person, whose name would not be divulged, had filled an appeal to the Supreme Court’s final ruling, and the Court had started to place new restrictions on the money’s return.   The Court indicated that they “would have to be satisfied that the money would be distributed according to United Nations standards of legal procedure.”   This move sent Philippine authorities madly scurrying around to find out what the United Nations standards were.  So far, they have not been able to find any interpretation of the United Nations formal position on such matters.  Not to worry, for we get a warm and fuzzy felling knowing that our money in the Swiss Banks is in such conscientious hands.

 

Well, it turns out that the mysterious person seemed to know a little about the law, and just as the money was about to be shipped (all $570 million of it), the Swiss Government placed a caveat on its return: “It must be a fact that the money was stolen from the people for us to return it. If you let Imelda go free, that will mean that nobody stole anything and the money stays here,” they rightly said.

 

It is certainly very reassuring that the law abiding Swiss are so anxious to be helpful in these kinds of matters.  They would not name the party that appealed the original ruling, nor are they willing to provide any additional details on the case.  It is equally reassuring to realize how ready they are to willingly conform with a non-existent United Nations doctrine.  Far from being neutral, the actions of the Swiss in this and other cases regarding the return of stolen assets have certainly sent a strong message that this small nation (and its banks) is four square on the side of despots and thieves and will use every effort to protect their interests, as opposed to the legitimate interests of the people.   It certainly seems that villains like, Hitler, Marcos and Mobutu found the right country in which to safely invest their wealth. 

 

In the case of the Holocaust victims, the only thing that got the “flexible” Swiss to return the money that they had stolen was the foreboding chance that they would be locked out of doing business in the United States.  It was only then that they started ascertaining how much gold they had really taken from the Nazi's for safekeeping.  It was awesome how the industrious Swiss started uncovering the many accounts that couldn't be found previously.  Maybe the Philippine Government can try the same ploy and ban the Swiss from doing banking in downtown Manila.  Well, maybe they will have to go back to the drawing board for something a little better than that.

 

In the meantime, back home in Manila, Estrada got down to the job of legislating important changes in the way things are done in the Philippines.  He naturally addressed the important matters first, like the use of sirens and police escorts on Manila’s streets, which he claimed were causing noise contamination and accidents.  Estrada announced that only a chosen few will be allowed to make noise and cause accidents in the future, and then he signed into law the important regulation that permits this activity only from the Vice-President, Senate President, Speaker of the House and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court along with, naturally President Estrada himself.  We believe that this is perhaps the most important first act by a national leader in global history.  Only a man totally committed to a better life for his people would have considered such controversial legislation, and we tip our hat to this fearless leader.  He is the hands down winner of our “Most Important Regulation of the Year Award.”  What a guy?

 

Estrada was just getting started when he proclaimed the "siren law" and was about to enact something even more encompassing when he was tapped on the shoulder by his Chief of Staff, who enlightened him on the fact that there was not too much bread left in the treasury.  It appears that while he was campaigning for office, a recession had hit the Pacific Rim like a tornado, and not only was the cupboard bare, but tax collections were way down and people were out of work.  Darn, said Estrada, as he headed off to Imelda’s 69th birthday disco party, “I’ve got an idea he said.”

 

Imelda:            “Hi Erap, I’m really glad to could come to my birthday party, and by the way, thanks for the new headstone you arranged for Ferdinand; I’m sure he likes to be closer to home.”

 

Erap:               “Imelda, it was the least I could do.  After all, you know how long our families have been friends, and golly, we sure are proud of those kids of yours, Governors, Senators, I mean really chips off the old block; Ferdinand would really have been proud as well, I sorry that he didn’t live to see it.”

 

Imelda:            “Well Erap, enough of the small talk, make me happy for my birthday; I did throw all of my support to you in the election, the kids campaigned tirelessly for you and without my money you’d now be in the welfare home for unemployed grade B movie stars.”

 

Erap:               “Don’t rub it Imelda, your husband would never have made feel insecure that way, but I’ve been thinking…”

 

Imelda:            “The last time you had a thought Erap, I was sentenced to 12 years of hard labor; I don’t want to hear another one of your crazy schemes, and the next thing you know they’re going to hang me.”

 

Erap:               “C’mon Imelda, it wasn’t all my idea, and I’d just gotten started in politics; those kinds of things always worked in the movies.  I have an idea that will not only work, but you are going to look like a hero and with it I can balance the budget.”

 

Imelda:            “I ought to be committed for asking; what is it Erap, and it better be good?”

 

Erap:               “Well as we both know, those guys at the PCGG are never going give up looking for Ferdinand's money, at least without our doing something about it.  So I accuse them of being corrupt and incompetent, and worst of all, I tell them the people that the commission has outlived its usefulness.  Then after we run my statement in the newspapers for awhile and everyone is becoming really annoyed at the commissioners, I announce that it has been brought to our attention by an unnamed source -- you know, the kind of thing the Swiss got away with -- we have found totally reliable sealed evidence that unnamed members of the commission are totally corrupt. For that reason I am going to close the operation as of now.  Well how’s that for a start Imelda, do I have charisma? Or what?”

 

Imelda:            “That’s not a bad start, Erap, I mean how much is this deal going to cost me and what is going to happen to the 300 civil and criminal cases in which I am a defendant in?”

 

Erap:               “Imelda, I’m getting to that, be patient.  We use my old public relations firm -- you know, the people that came up with my presidential theme, "Estrada’s not very bright, but he’s a very nice person."  Those guys can sell anything, and the people loved it.  Imelda, we make everyone think that you were an innocent victim and have only been trying to help the people.  It was your husband who was the bad buy that wanted to steal all of the people’s money.  I think that we can pull it off, and everyone will think you are a hero. “

 

Imelda:            “Is that it Erap?  Why should the people buy that phony story after all of these years?  I mean, those stupid Swiss have already spilled the beans on the $600 million we took -- we can’t undo that -- and what about that wacko in Hawaii, I mean he has a $22 billion judgment against me, how do we get rid of that problem?”

 

Erap:               “I’m not done yet, keep your pants on, it gets better.  Therefore, we come down with a ruling that Ferdie stole the money alright, but that you are innocent.  That puts the screws to the Swiss, because now the money has been legally stolen, er, ah, well, you know what I mean.  This will force the Swiss to send the money back, and everyone is going to be happy, except for them.”

 

Imelda:            “Forgetaboutit!  Whatareyoucrazy?  Not only am I not happy, but also I’m asking what’s in this deal for me.  Go back to acting again; you are too stupid to be politician.”

 

Erap:               “Oh, darn it, I am always forgetting things, and this was important.  Now I remember, here’s the part where we make it work for everyone.  So you tell us where all the billions are, and we have this guilty verdict that proves your husband is as guilty as sin, which we serve on the Swiss and they have to give the money to us, because it’s the people’s money; and we now have the whole shebang.  No Imelda, we don’t give you any of the money directly.”

 

Imelda:            “I know, Erap, I know this is the part where I get screwed.  I can feel it coming.”

 

Erap:               “No, Imelda, we offer a 25% reward for evidence leading to the return of the gold and money and diamonds and the rubies and the platinum and everything else.  Then we give you the reward for finding it for us and we give you amnesty against all of those law suits.  The people will absolutely love you for it.”

 

Imelda:            “You know, Erap, for an actor, that isn’t half bad; do you think we could actually pull it off and do you think that there will be enough left to keep me in shoes?”

 

Erap:               “It’s a done deal, I guarantee it!”     

 

Erap faced impeachment charges, and the country is was to Hell in a hand basket.  He has literally become a joke in these parts, and  the Asian Wall Street Journal put his position into perspective in a recent article:

 

“A former actor in local B-movies, Mr. Estrada is known for his glistening pompadour, his Average Joe image and his vigor - he takes pride in his many illegitimate children.  Since he came to power, the Philippines has become the slowest-growing economy in Asia, after Japan (which isn’t growing at all).  It stock market has been among the world’s worst performers this year, privatization has stalled and foreign direct investment is down more than 40% this year from 1999.  Islamic rebels and Communist bandits are back in action, along with the cronies of Ferdinand Marcos.  The can-do optimism of former President Fidel Ramos has been replaced by daily Erap jokes, like:

 

How do you tell when Erap sends you a fax?

 

            It has a stamp on it.” ([2])

 

The people were landless, so Estrada came up with a scheme to make it look like they were getting land in their own names -- and yet, nothing really occurred at all.  The people started to become rather restive when it was announced that Erap had a substantial number of mansions, which the taxpayers maintained for him; in each mansion he had ensconced another mistress and would travel from place to place on his normal late-evening binges.  This was no longer a matter of just immorality.  The people began to chant that he was taking the land promised to them, installing his numerous mistresses in palatial surroundings, and forcing them to continue to live in hovels.

 

“The next time the urban poor receive pieces of paper from Estrada, they should have them photocopied several times before they give them back.  These meaningless pieces of paper could be made into paper planes and made to fly toward Malacanang, like protestors recently did.  Or they could be placed inside empty bottles (of Estrada’s favorite alcoholic beverage) and floated down the Pasig, so they end up as flotsam beside the presidential residence.” [3]

 



[1] In New Subic Bay Filipinos See The Bad Old Days, Robert Frank, The Asian Wall Street Journal, 9/21/2000

[2] In New Subic Bay Filipinos, See The Bad Old Days, Robert Frank, The Asian Wall Street Journal, 9/21/2000.

[3] Philippine Daily Inquirer, Poor to Erap: Where’s the land? Ma. Ceres P. Doyo. 11/23/2000

 

 

 

 

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