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AsiaGlobal Voices

Trending Opinions From Across the Region

AsiaGlobal Voices is a curated feed of summaries of opinion articles, columns and editorials published in local languages in media from across Asia.

The publication of AsiaGlobal Voices summaries does not indicate any endorsement by the Asia Global Institute or AsiaGlobal Online of the opinions expressed in them.
Marcos Revisited: He Didn’t Have Strong Policies
Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Marcos Revisited: He Didn’t Have Strong Policies

Richard Heydarian, Research Fellow at National Chengchi University in Taiwan, in his column Horizons in Philippine Daily Inquirer (September 22, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Bro Jeffrey Pioquinto, SJ)

Marcos Revisited: He Didn’t Have Strong Policies

“Only in the Philippines could a leader like Ferdinand Marcos, who pillaged his country for over 20 years, be considered for a national burial,” lamented the late Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. “[Marcos] might have started off as a hero but ended up as a crook.”

What made Lee a legendary leader was his uncompromising work ethic, deep grasp of global geopolitics, ability to maintain optimal ties with both the West and the East, and zero tolerance for corruption and incompetence. Under his watch, Singapore developed one of the world’s centers of bureaucratic excellence. But even more impressive were his counterparts in neighboring Taiwan, South Korea and, later, post-Mao China. Unlike Marcos, or even Lee, the leaders of these countries oversaw the establishment of global brands and industries, from Hyundai (South Korea) to HTC (Taiwan) to Huawei (China).

So, what was the secret of their success? The first thing one notices is that it’s not about form of government or even type of regime. China remains a single-party communist regime, while Taiwan and South Korea, with their own unique presidential systems, have become even more dynamic since their transition to democracy in the 1980s.

Whether authoritarian or democratic, they have had remarkable economic performance. Clearly, it is not also about “race” or “culture” per se, since all of these countries were extremely poor just a few generations ago.

What is common in the success stories of these NICs (newly industrialized countries) is their well-organized, autonomous and competent bureaucracies, which have maintained national dynamism through proactive trade and industrial policies. The Philippines’ main problem is that it never had a “strong” state with a combination of “policy autonomy” and “functional capacity” to discipline the oligarchs and promote national interest.


“Mafia” Deals in the Public Healthcare System: In Need of a Better Normal
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
“Mafia” Deals in the Public Healthcare System: In Need of a Better Normal

Michael L Tan, medical anthropologist, veterinarian, and chancellor of the University of the Philippines Diliman from 2014 to 2020, in his column Pinoy Kasi in Philippine Daily Inquirer (August 19, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Ben Pederick/Good Morning Beautiful Films)

“Mafia” Deals in the Public Healthcare System: In Need of a Better Normal

Our chronic problems with PhilHealth and its predecessor Medicare reflect a deeper malaise: our refusal to build a public healthcare system that responds effectively to the needs of people, regardless of their paying capacity. This happened because we insisted on blindly following the US model of healthcare, which has been an abject failure. While Western Europe and many other countries around the globe put up national health services with tax-based benefits so everyone had access to care, we followed the Americans with patients left to pay out of their own pockets, or through expensive insurance.

Think back to scandals like ghost patients in dialysis centers, and the victimizing of senior citizens in urban poor communities, recruited for unnecessary cataract surgeries. “Mafia” deals have eroded PhilHealth’s funds, with predictions that there will be no funds left in a year, this happening during the pandemic.

This is not surprising because the Philippines just does not look at healthcare as a right. Nor do we look at it as an investment. We look at public health as inferior healthcare for the poor so our dismal record handling public-health problems is not surprising. When Covid-19 broke out, our health department abdicated its duties and left them to the military and politicians.

Worse, PhilHealth and Medicare were seen as milking cows for bureaucrats, in collusion with unscrupulous doctors and hospitals. Covid-19 was a wake-up call. The lack of universal healthcare and other social safety nets like unemployment insurance made us so much more vulnerable to the pandemic’s adverse effects. We need a better normal for our social services. We need a public-health system – one that covers the preventive, curative, rehabilitative and promotive aspects of healthcare – supported by well managed funds, and one to which committed and competent health professionals would be drawn to serve.


Censoring the President for his own Good
Wednesday, August 19, 2020
Censoring the President for his own Good

Manuel L Quezon III, writer and television host, in Philippine Daily Inquirer (August 12, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Minette Rimando/ILO)

Censoring the President for his own Good

In the past, a late-night television appearance by President Rodrigo Duterte would have been a major event. But times have changed. The president recently made an appearance, but the spirit of the times is such that, in mid-rant about his wives, state media cut him off, abruptly ending the broadcast. The government was having to censor its chief executive for his own – and his administration’s – good.

From the start of his administration through the mid-term, academics and analysts would outdo each other in arguing that the president was far more cunning, crafty, consistent and capable than people assumed. The president is none of the above, but instead is a member of a petty provincial dynasty long used to doing a minimum of executive work by bullying and blustering his way out of every predicament. And has quite a chip on his shoulder not least because his bark and bluster disguises weak leadership. Having been forced to resume the pandemic lockdown in Manila and then rambling on air to cover his helplessness, the people saw through the act. State media dared to do what they have never done to a sitting president – kick him off the air in mid-sentence.

A rumor has been circulating that the armed forces would be unable to meet its payroll. This was denied, but the seriousness of the fiscal situation was underscored by the president himself. Fitch Ratings has warned that the government might be forced to spend more on fighting the pandemic and to help revive the economy. There will be even more pressure to spend if the recovery stalls, it added.

Besides bayonets, it is the fiscal stick that is the most potent in the arsenal of any president. But with empty coffers, even the reliability of bayonets becomes shaky.


Does it Matter if we are not Truly Democratic Now?
Thursday, August 6, 2020
Does it Matter if we are not Truly Democratic Now?

Michael de Castro, lawyer, in Rappler (August 3, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Robinson Niñal/Presidential Communications Operations Office)

Does it Matter if we are not Truly Democratic Now?

Is the Philippines a truly democratic country? Does it matter if we are not truly democratic now? This Republic is just 32 years old, counting from the first day of the effectivity of the 1987 Constitution. For all intents and purposes, it is just starting its life.

Youth has the inimitable quality of not letting itself be encumbered by the weight of tradition. We have yet to write the most important passages of our history. Remember your own awkward teenage years. The Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte is exactly that, writ large. The tens of thousands of murders in broad daylight, the hundreds of thousands of illegal arrests, the daily warrantless raids, the uneven hand in the implementation of laws – these are the zits, the stretch marks, the growing pains of our youth as a people. Every single evil is painfully avoidable, but the totality is necessary for the growth of our collective conscience.

Democracies older than ours do not speak lightly when they claim that every right, every phrase, every word in their own Constitution was written by the blood of their ancestors, in broad strokes by the force of history. They say that rights only matter when the people to whom they have been bestowed are brave enough to wield them.

Rights make sense only when they have been taken away. All of these freedoms were mere words in our recent past, yet now they take on the gravity of life and death.

No matter. This period in our history can only lead to our growth. Painful as it is, it can only make us stronger.

We, the people, are young. We are free to determine the trajectory of our shared fate. So, my dear fellow youth, do not give in to despair. Stay the course.


Open Season on the Free press
Wednesday, June 24, 2020
Open Season on the Free press

Randy David, sociologist and journalist, in his Public Lives column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (June 21, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: PCOO EDP/King Rodriguez)

Open Season on the Free press

When Rodrigo Duterte became president in 2016, the media organizations that had been critical of him during the campaign became his principal targets. He named three in particular: the newspaper Philippine Daily Inquirer, the broadcast network ABS-CBN, and the news website Rappler. He attacked all three for biased and distorted reporting.

Duterte accused the Inquirer owners of not paying the correct taxes on their other businesses, and of illegally extending a lease on a choice property in the city owned by a government agency in exchange for low rental. He denounced ABS-CBN for taking his money and not airing his campaign advertisements during the 2016 presidential election and accused its owners of not paying their debts to a government-owned bank. He vowed to prevent the renewal of the network’s franchise, telling its owners to sell the company instead. Irked by its critical reporting on the conduct of his bloody war on drugs, he banned the Rappler reporter from entering Malacañang (the presidential palace).

All this would have been more than enough to cue everyone in the hunting party to pursue the prey. But the president never stopped issuing the call for the hunt. He would repeat the same charges each time he went off-script in his rambling speeches. It came to a point when he sounded as if he wanted nothing less than a lynching.

To ignore this context and the authoritarian viciousness that has preceded the state-enabled proceedings against the Inquirer, ABS-CBN, and Rappler is to subject oneself to willful blindness. It would not be unlike covering the rest of a patient’s body with a sheet during surgery to show only the choice tissue of the moment. It is to disregard the rest of the morbid mess underlying the president’s obsessive focus on the offending wound.


Anti-Terror Law – Or Anti-Filipino Law?
Monday, June 15, 2020
Anti-Terror Law – Or Anti-Filipino Law?

Leila De Lima, lawyer, human-rights activist and Senator, in Rappler (June 13, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Philippine News Agency)

Anti-Terror Law – Or Anti-Filipino Law?

Is the anti-terror bill protecting us from terror and fear? Or normalizing them? If this bill passes, no part of any person’s life is secure anymore, as it gives the government the power to track down or follow anyone, and to tap, listen, intercept or record any message, conversation, discussion, spoken or written words, including computer and network surveillance, and other communications of persons.

The government says that there are safeguards in place, including judicial authorization. Yet the law allows so much discretion on the executive, including in the determination of what constitutes terrorist attacks and who are terrorists and terrorist organizations, that it is easy to imagine a scenario where even the courts might not be willing, able, or prepared to stand as safeguards against abuse.

So, what is the danger? First, this is a criminal statute. It puts people in danger of losing their liberty, possibly for the rest of their life. People have the constitutional right to know what acts are being punished before they are penalized from doing them. Second, given the vague definitions, it could be weaponized as a tool of harassment against those that government wants to silence.

History has taught us that repressive regimes can and will abuse any power they can get, even to the point of using it against persons who are merely exercising their legitimate rights and freedoms.

Of course, we need to improve our response to terrorism. I applaud those who wish to amend the bill to protect the people. But the government cannot protect the people by perpetually and absolutely placing their lives under threat. Otherwise, the government will be doing a better job than the terrorists.


Dissenting Against the Anti-Terrorism Bill
Thursday, June 11, 2020
Dissenting Against the Anti-Terrorism Bill

Jovito V Cariño, Chair of the Department of Philosophy, University of Santo Tomas, in Rappler (June 11, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: NDFP-ST)

Dissenting Against the Anti-Terrorism Bill

There are different kinds of critiques of the controversial Anti-Terrorism Bill. The ones I call “popular” emerge organically, riding the wave of public uproar against the bill with a little push from influencers and social media. The rejection of the bill at this level is almost knee-jerk but thanks to its popular base, it spreads like wildfire and generates public interest.

The next kind of critique, which I call “legal”, calls for amendment of the infirm provisions of the bill but does not reject it outright. For those who espouse this critique, the problems found in the bill are purely legal and are best left to legal minds to resolve.

The third kind of critique, the one I label “academic”, opposes the bill but does not call into question the political culture that gave shaped it. Proponents of this critique are ambivalent about whether or not to reject the political and ideological foundations from which the bill has derived its notorious chilling effect.

The fourth kind of critique I call “political”. Advocates read the texts as mere flexing of power by those who hold the reins of government, which both local and global observers have described as authoritarian.

Some would say that fear of the bill is hypothetical or imaginary. There is nothing hypothetical or imaginary with what we have seen the last four years: the culture of impunity, selective justice, summary killings, perversion of sovereignty, incompetence, and vindictive politics. They are all on record, documented by reports of media organizations and various watchdogs. These are the tales of the change that was promised but not delivered. They make the Anti-Terrorism Bill such a scary specter. I do hope I am wrong but until proven otherwise, I prefer to dissent.


The Jobs-Education Mismatch From The Students’ Perspective
Tuesday, May 26, 2020
The Jobs-Education Mismatch From The Students’ Perspective

Cielito F Habito, economist and professor, in his No Free Lunch column in Philippine Daily Inquirer (May 26, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes

The Jobs-Education Mismatch From The Students’ Perspective

Our high school graduates appear to be making the wrong choices of college courses, as they pursue degrees that do not lead to high-paying jobs. Yet earnings are their primary motivation for getting further education or training, according to a survey of college graduates who completed their studies between 2009 and 2011. The study affirms the widely observed jobs-education mismatch in our labor market, this time from the perspective of the learners.

The survey found that 15 courses accounted for more than 70 percent of the graduates, and nearly half had bachelor’s degrees in just five fields: nursing, elementary and secondary education, business administration, and commerce. But of the graduates in BS Nursing, which was the top course choice comprising 25 percent of females and 18 percent of the males of the graduates surveyed, nearly half (47.2 percent) were not working as nurses. They ended up as contact center information clerks (11 percent), retail and wholesale trade managers (8 percent), general office clerks (6.2 percent), cashiers and ticket clerks (3.5 percent), and even police officers (3.2 percent) and other unrelated occupations.

The biggest mismatch, it turns out, is in the graduates’ lack of the core skills of critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills, much more than technical skills. Both employers, in many past studies, and graduates, in this one, point to these as the serious gap that could be hardest to fill. It is the neglect of developing these in basic and college education that our education reforms must seek to change, if Filipinos are to propel our economy and society into one that is competitive, prosperous and resilient.


Letter to the President: Reconsider Deployment Ban of Nurses Abroad
Wednesday, May 13, 2020
Letter to the President: Reconsider Deployment Ban of Nurses Abroad

Bruce Rhick Estillote, registered nurse, in Rappler (May 12, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: J De Guia/ILO)

Letter to the President: Reconsider Deployment Ban of Nurses Abroad

This open letter asks you to reconsider the deployment ban of overseas healthcare workers. We feel grateful for your intent to protect Filipino nurses from the risk posed by Covid-19. However, I believe no one understands the danger better than healthcare workers.

In the past, we sent soldiers abroad to fight for our allies, despite the fact that we were under threat of war on our own soil. The difference is that soldiers are at the disposal of the government. Nurses are not. Nurses who want to lift their families out of poverty have been singled out. This pandemic will not be gone soon. How long will they have to wait? Three or four months? Maybe a year or so?

Desperate times call for desperate measures. But a pandemic, like a war, is a threat that is never gone. Military enlistment is not best done at the brink of a war, and neither is the massive employment of nurses during a pandemic. Prevention is better than cure, says the old adage. Before we reached this point, there were not enough efforts to attract nurses to work in our country because the popular belief was that the supply was great, that there was nothing to worry about.

Had it not been for the pandemic, our nurses here would not have been seen as more valuable. Data suggests that the Philippines has surpassed other countries in terms of death tolls among healthcare workers. It seems that neither the situation here or overseas can make us feel safe. But soldiers and nurses alike know what they signed up for. At least, once abroad, we can send our families financial support to help them get by during the pandemic.


Our Global Heroes – Health Workers and Seafarers
Monday, April 27, 2020
Our Global Heroes – Health Workers and Seafarers

Roberto R Romulo, Chairman, Philippine Foundation for Global Concerns, and Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines (1992-1995), in his column Filipino Worldview in The Philippine Star (April 24, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Nurses Uniforms and Ladies Workwear)

Our Global Heroes – Health Workers and Seafarers

Our overseas workers are modern-day heroes because of the sacrifices they make while working abroad. Their remittances have sustained the Philippine economy. Two sectors – health workers and seafarers – are not only heroes of the country but also of the world, particularly when the coronavirus pandemic has the global community reeling.

Our overseas health workers – estimated at 254,000 – are at the frontline of the fight to save lives of the victims of the pandemic – the US, the UK and the EU in particular. In the UK, 20 Filipino nurses have to date, perished after contracting the disease while on duty.

Our seafarers man the ships that move the global supply chains that feed the world, fuel vehicles, supply the raw materials for manufacturing and deliver the finished products to consumers. They are crucial to the country’s economic recovery with their remittances.

Ninety percent of global trade is carried on ships. Filipino seafarers – some one million of our citizens – account for 25 percent of global seafarers. They rotate in and out of the country in the course of a year, with some 400,000 out across the seas at any one time. They sent home close to US$7 billion in 2019, representing approximately 23 percent of total estimated remittances to the Philippines.

Returning seafarers need suitable accommodations where quarantine and testing will be administered. The plight of the seafarers deserves the support of all, they are the backbone of the global maritime industry: in their own way, they are the frontliners for all of us, providing the medicines and other products we consume.

Healthcare and logistics remain vital as the world emerges from the devastation that the virus has wrought on human lives and their livelihood. So it is crucial that the deployment of these workers be as friction-free as possible.


The Plight of Non-Bailable Detainees During the Coronavirus Crisis
Thursday, April 23, 2020
The Plight of Non-Bailable Detainees During the Coronavirus Crisis

Raymund Narag, Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice, School of Justice and Public Safety, Southern Illinois University, in Rappler (April 22, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: LightField Studios / Shutterstock.com)

The Plight of Non-Bailable Detainees During the Coronavirus Crisis

As the threat of Covid-19 knocks at the doors of jail and prison facilities, there are discussions on whether to release low-risk bailable and non-violent detainees and prisoners. The Supreme Court will address this issue soon.

One key segment of the detainee population that is seldom discussed is the "non-bailable" offenders, who account for at least 50 percent of detainees in jails and police detention centers. Persons charged with capital offenses may post bail if the evidence of guilt is not strong.

Given that all court hearings are suspended to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, courts cannot conduct hearings to determine the strength of evidence. Non-bailable detainees have no other recourse but to wait until the crisis is over. This is a very precarious state, compounded by jail congestion and the lack of medical resources.

A majority of the non-bailable detainees face drug-related charges and are non-violent first-time offenders. Some may have the capacity to post bail but cannot do so because judges have not ruled on whether the evidence of their guilt is strong or not. Given the threat of infections, being charged with a non-bailable offense, while still presumed innocent, can be a death sentence.

Our courts may adopt the following procedure:

  1. Counsel for the accused will submit a petition for bail, which can be done online to meet social distancing requirements.
  2. The judge will evaluate the case based on an assessment of the public-safety risk.

If deemed a low public-safety risk, the accused can be released on bail, subject to conditions placed by the judge. When the crisis is over, failure to attend court hearings, commission of new offenses, and violation of release conditions may be grounds for re-arrest.


Fear and Hope Amid Uncertainty
Thursday, April 16, 2020
Fear and Hope Amid Uncertainty

Randy David, sociologist and journalist, in his Public Lives column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (April 12, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: PCOO EDP/King Rodriguez)

Fear and Hope Amid Uncertainty

The Inter-Agency Task Force on the coronavirus has confirmed that the government is extending the lockdown across Luzon till the end of April. In a speech the night before, President Rodrigo Duterte had appeared reluctant to do so not because he thought an extension was unnecessary but because he was concerned that prolonging the shutdown would not be sustainable. The government, he acknowledged, would run out of funds to feed those most in need.

For the first time, the president sounded helpless in confronting a problem. He admitted that he is waking up at three o’clock in the morning and pondering what to do. He ended by requesting citizens to join him in prayer that the nation may survive this pandemic.

It must be difficult for Mr Duterte to moderate his default rhetorical swagger. He was struggling to contain the virus of narcissism and arrogance that seems to prod him to pontificate on any issue. He thinks that a president must know everything.

If I were he, I would say only a few heartfelt words to comfort the nation and then step aside and let those with adequate knowledge explain the situation and clearly tell us what to do. A leader must have enough humility to admit that we still know little about the virus. When to lift the lockdown and how to relax precautions are the most important questions to which those in charge need the answers. Yet nobody knows how this will end so it is hard to know what to do. Right now, clarity is needed no less than courage.


Which Kind of Filipino are We?
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
Which Kind of Filipino are We?

Solita Collas-Monsod, broadcaster, economist, writer and Minister of Economic Planning of the Philippines (1986-1989), in her Get Real column in Philippine Daily Inquirer (March 21, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Shubert Ciencia)

Which Kind of Filipino are We?

The three requirements to deal with the Covid-19 crisis successfully are a well-prepared health system, good governance and social capital. Working together, they will flatten the curve of the rise of the disease, preventing our healthcare system from being overwhelmed and minimizing the economic and social impact, especially for the poor.

The government needs to have targeted policy responses instead of a general “divide-by n: approach” in which everybody gets an equal share. It has announced a 27.1-billion-peso (US$527.5 million) financial package, of which 24 billion pesos (US$467 million) are for economic and social costs. This is about 0.13 percent of GDP. Australia’s stimulus package is 0.93 percent of GDP, while in the US, their proposed package is 4.7 percent of GDP.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) worst-case scenario for the impact of Covid-19 on the Philippines is a drop of 1.7 percent of GDP and a loss of 730,000 jobs. The government’s rescue package allocates 2.8 billion pesos (US$54.5 million) to farmers and fisherfolk, with a maximum 25,000 pesos per borrower. That means the fund will accommodate 112,000 borrowers. According to the agriculture census, the Philippines has about 5 million farmers and fisherfolk.

If the Philippines is to get through the crisis without hurting the poor badly, the government has to go back to the drawing board and find a better way. It has thanked the tycoons and oligarchs for cooperating with the government. They should be acknowledged, but remember that they are giving from their excess, not from their substance. They will make less profits, but they will not be losing.

Are you the kind of Filipino who thinks not of “me” but of “we”, gives of your substance even though it hurts, and does not seek glory? 


Help the Nation, Our Countrymen and the President Get Through the Crisis
Friday, March 20, 2020
Help the Nation, Our Countrymen and the President Get Through the Crisis

Roberto R Romulo, Chairman, Philippine Foundation for Global Concerns, and Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines (1992-1995), in his column Filipino Worldview in The Philippine Star (March 19, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: aldarinho / Shutterstock.com)

Help the Nation, Our Countrymen and the President Get Through the Crisis

The tragic way in which Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has been vilified on social media must stop. A video posted on Facebook of him with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong should be taken down. As the country struggles to get through the Covid-19 pandemic, we should behave as adults. “We have a solemn obligation to help the nation, our countrymen and the president.” 

Some corporations in the private sector have responded in an exemplary way, announcing such initiatives as aid for government hospitals, donations to poor communities, the creation of funds to battle the pandemic, the waiver of rental charges to tenants, and efforts to support employees, including the continuation of salary and bonus payments. More and more companies will be taking such steps in the coming weeks.


Don’t Tax Workers’ Overtime Pay
Thursday, December 12, 2019
Don’t Tax Workers’ Overtime Pay

Ralph Recto, Senate President pro tempore of the Philippines, in Usapang Barako (Bar Talk), Abante (December 10, 2019)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes

Don’t Tax Workers’ Overtime Pay

December is the busiest time for Filipino workers. There is still a lot of work to be done before the holidays. Employees are likely to claim a lot of overtime. With our hard-working workers in mind, we have filed a bill to eliminate the tax on overtime pay. If this bill becomes law, it will benefit 26.7 people in both the public and private sectors.

While the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) does not support this bill because it would collect fewer taxes. But this money will not disappear. The extra cash goes into the pockets of works who will use it to purchase goods and service. This will stimulate consumption, boost the economy and eventually result in greater revenue for the government.

To be honest, nobody wants to work overtime. The administration is implementing new taxes on alcohol, cigarettes, sugared drinks and more. So, let us ensure that employees fully enjoy the benefits of their overtime pay. This would be an early Christmas present to hard-working Filipino workers.