Jan 31, 2011

Shouldn't the Philippines repeal the "60/40 Law" (and change its Constitution) to encourage investments?

Dear Filipino,

The Philippines cornered the least amount of foreign direct investments among seven selected economies in Southeast Asia in 2009, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its first global survey on FDIs. On a global scale, the Philippines ranked 60th out of 72 countries included in the Coordinated Direct Investment Survey.

Question: Considering that investments are needed to bolster economic growth -- e.g., $10B for infrastructure alone -- how should the Philippines become more investor friendly? How about repealing the 60/40 Law? This is one scuttlebutt that is impeding investors from coming in!

Mike T.

Dear Mike,

What prompted a guy like you with a “harvard.edu” email handle to ask a lowly blogger like me? Aren’t you guys supposed to hail from the “Know-it-all Capital of the Universe”?

Just a little good-natured ribbing there, of course. ;-)

Anyway, thanks for your question, but the “60/40 Law” you’re asking about is actually part of a HUGE issue that I really want to talk about with more breadth here. [For readers looking for more depth on a particular legal sub-issue, I recommend approaching knowledgeable legal professionals practicing in the Philippines.]

First, some Philippine constitutional background.

Under the heading “National Economy and Patrimony,” Section 1 of Article XII of the Philippine Constitution provides:
The goals of the national economy are a more equitable distribution of opportunities, income, and wealth; a sustained increase in the amount of goods and services produced by the nation for the benefit of the people; and an expanding productivity as the key to raising the quality of life for all, especially the underprivileged.

The State shall promote industrialization and full employment based on sound agricultural development and agrarian reform, through industries that make full and efficient use of human and natural resources, and which are competitive in both domestic and foreign markets. However, the State shall protect Filipino enterprises against unfair foreign competition and trade practices.

In the pursuit of these goals, all sectors of the economy and all regions of the country shall be given optimum opportunity to develop. Private enterprises, including corporations, cooperatives, and similar collective organizations, shall be encouraged to broaden the base of their ownership.
I added the italicization in the indented paragraphs above because I found those blurbs very admirable and impressive-sounding. And if the drafters of the Constitution really meant what they wrote, let’s give them some credit. Unfortunately however, when it comes to formulating laws in accordance with lofty stated policies, negative unintended consequences always pose a risk; in the Philippines, this problem becomes even more compounded by problems stemming from implementation.

So let’s talk about the main implementing law behind the constitutionally sanctioned policy of protecting local industry from “unfair foreign competition”: The Foreign Investments Act (FIA) of 1991 (as amended).

The FIA requires “the formulation of a regular Foreign Investment Negative List [FINL] covering investment areas/activities which may be opened to foreign investors and/or reserved to Filipino nationals.”

If you’re a “former Filipino” and now a citizen of another country and you haven’t yet gotten your dual citizenship or reclaimed your Filipino citizenship, you may want to pay particular attention to this “FINL.” This “negative list” is really a list of occupations, trades and investments where foreign participation is either limited or off-limits altogether. So if you are harboring any dream of someday going back to the Philippines to practice your trade, set up a sari-sari store or other small business, or invest, this list is very important to you.

Subject to all sorts of exceptions and asterisks which I won’t discuss here, the latest “negative list” under Executive Order No. 858 signed in 2010 includes the following:

I.  No Foreign Equity Allowed: Mass media (except recording); practice of all professions (engineering, medicine and allied professions, accountancy, architecture, criminology, chemistry, customs brokerage, environmental planning, forestry, geology, interior design, landscape architecture, law, librarianship marine deck/engine officers, master plumbing, sugar technology, social work, teaching, agriculture, fisheries, and guidance counseling); retail trade enterprises with paid-up capital of less than US$2.5M; cooperatives; private security agencies; small-scale mining; utilization of marine resources; ownership, operation and management of cockpits; manufacture, repair, stockpiling and/or distribution of nuclear weapons; manufacture, repair, stockpiling and/or distribution of biological, chemical and radiological weapons and anti-personnel mines; and manufacture of firecrackers and other pyrotechnic devices.

II.  Up to 20% Foreign Equity Allowed: Private radio communications.

III.  Up to 25% Foreign Equity Allowed: Private recruitment, whether for local or overseas employment; contracts for the construction and repair of locally-funded public works; contracts for the construction of defense-related structures.

IV.  Up to 30% Foreign Equity Allowed: Advertising.

Now, here’s where the term “60/40 Law” got coined:

V.  Up to 40% Foreign Equity Allowed: Exploration, development and utilization of natural resources; ownership of private lands; operation and management of public utilities; ownership, establishment and administration of educational institutions; culture, production, milling, processing, trading excepting retailing, of rice and corn and the by-products thereof; contracts for the supply of materials, goods and commodities to government-owned or controlled corporation, agency or municipal corporation; project proponent and facility operator of a BOT project requiring a public utilities franchise; operation of deep sea commercial fishing vessels; adjustment companies; ownership of condominium units; manufacture, repair, storage, and/or distribution of products and/or ingredients requiring Philippine National Police (PNP) or Department of National Defense (DND) clearance; manufacture and distribution of dangerous drugs; sauna and steam bathhouses, massage clinics and other like activities; all forms of gambling; domestic market enterprises with paid-in equity capital of less than the equivalent of US$200,000; domestic market enterprises which involve advanced technology or employ at least fifty (50) direct employees with paid-in-equity capital of less than the equivalent of US$100,000.

VI. Up to Sixty Percent (60%) Foreign Equity Allowed: Financing companies and investment houses regulated by the SEC.

Quite understandably, the restrictions are based on the premise that it is in the country’s best interests for these areas of concern to remain under the control of Filipino citizens and/or Filipino corporations.

And I for one think the premise makes some sense. A lot of countries, even the most advanced ones, also have some very restrictive laws about who can own what in order to protect their national interests. That’s why you have members of the US Congress intervening and threatening legislative action whenever a Chinese company is rumored to acquire a key American company. That’s why Scandinavian countries have very strong key local industries largely protected from foreign competitors.

When I was living in London in the middle of the last decade, a common refrain from locals, whether homeowner or renter, was the cost of housing. Why? Because wealthy foreigners from Arab states, among others, were gobbling up properties left and right, thereby driving up prices to levels completely out of reach for the locals.

We don't want that to happen in the Philippines, of course. But the problem with the Philippine situation, as you can see, is that the “negative list” is pretty broad-based and leaves little room for foreign professionals and investors to actively participate in the Philippine economy -- the kind of participation which may be necessary to globalize the country’s industries and spur economic growth.

This inevitably brings up the question of whether the law is indeed serving the country and its citizens as intended.

In one study about competitiveness of countries in attracting foreign investments, the Philippines did not only rank at the bottom – 6th out of the ASEAN-6 – in having a favorable regulatory regime, its score is not even close to its nearest competitor, Indonesia:

(Source: InvestPhilippines)
So while I am not in favor of completely doing away with the whole list, what I’m in favor of is a systematic, intensive but expeditious review of the list to see which areas have restrictions that need to be maintained and which areas can and should be fully liberalized, and thereafter a quick governmental action to effect the necessary changes. Although politically messy, this “action” will need to come in the form of Charter Change – there appears to be no getting around to it – if we must revamp the current law.

And revamp it we really must.

Why? Now, I know this is serious stuff but in honor of a favorite comedian, David Letterman, whose show, Late Night with David Letterman, officially debuted on February 1, 1982, let me present to you my...

Top 10 Reasons to Revamp the Philippines’ Foreign Investments Act:

[10] Lack of control over their investment understandably discourages foreign investors.

The restrictions mentioned above are the biggest barriers to foreign investments in the Philippine economy. It’s a fairly simple calculus really: When foreign investors are faced with a choice to put their money in two countries where risks are almost identical but where one country requires majority control to be in the hands of the locals, investors would naturally choose the other country which allows them to determine what happens exactly with their funds.

[9] The amount of available local capital is insufficient to meet the national demand for it.

It is no secret that many of the infrastructure-related projects needed by the country require billions of dollars in funding and that the available free capital among the local investors is simply not sufficient to meet the demand. In fact, it is impossible to meet the demand if the country will just rely on local capital, period.

How can it be possible? As of end-2010, the total stock market capitalization of the entire Philippine Stock Exchange (which means all the companies listed in the country’s stock market) is only PHP 8.87 trillion. This figure translates to just about US $200B, a sum not even 65% of the present market capitalization of one US company, Apple, Inc.  Put another way, the owners of Apple can swap the company with all the companies listed in the Philippine stock market and still have about $100B left.

[8] There is a shortage of actual companies/individuals who can partner with foreigners willing to invest.

Not only is the actual amount of local capital insufficient, but the list of actual Philippine companies and/or individuals who may have the wherewithal to partner with willing foreign investors is also short. Who among the locals can pony up the required 60% in big capital-intensive projects to allow them to serve as joint venture partners of foreign investors willing to enter the Philippine market? Thus, because of the current law, the legal ability of a foreign investor to fund a project is limited by the amount raised by his local partner.

To illustrate, let’s say a restricted project costs $100. Even if a foreign investor can put up the maximum allowed by law – i.e., $40 -- the law still requires his Filipino partner to come up with the other $60. If the Filipino can only raise $30, the maximum the investor can bring in is $20, not $70, leading to the collapse of the joint venture, or the project altogether. Where the project survives, the shortcuts taken to comply with the funding requirements naturally affect the quality of the finished project.

[7] The current law allows the local oligarchs to have their choicest pickings because of limited competition.

In her book 2003 book "World on Fire" (excerpted in a Prospect Magazine essay entitled "Vengeful Majorities"), Prof. Amy Chua wrote: “When foreign investors do business in the Philippines, they deal almost exclusively with Chinese” because “[a]part from a handful of corrupt politicians and a few aristocratic Spanish mestizo families, all of the Philippines’ billionaires are of Chinese descent.”

It’s true: If you’re a Chinese Filipino oligarch in the Philippines, the deals are literally walking to your doorsteps and lining up for your review. But the main reason for that is this 60/40 Law, whose provenance, interestingly enough, can be traced back to American Commonwealth times. Because the Chinese Filipino oligarchs who dominate the Philippine economy are the ones with the funds who can put up the required “Filipino” capital investment, naturally, foreign investors who want to come in are forced to approach them first for partnership possibilities, or the foreigners can’t come in at all.

This dynamic allows these oligarchs to have first crack at studying investment options as to where they can put their money. And with the limited competition, they are almost assured of hefty returns, thereby further concentrating wealth among the handful of them. In fact, in some situations where there is virtually no competition, it is easy to imagine how foreign investors and their local oligarch partners can even practically hold the Philippine government hostage and make it agree to concessions and guarantees that virtually eliminate risk for the investors.

[6] Inflexibility of equity-sharing encourages corruption and other law-breaking (e.g., use of “dummies,” etc.).

In an environment already rife with political corruption, the restrictions placed on foreign investors and their Filipino partners which limit allowable equity structures further stoke law-breaking, bribery and corruption.

A common tactic to get around the restrictions on equity participation is the use of “dummy” Filipino partners. Here, the local partners (often, the oligarchs mentioned above) “own” 60% of the entire venture on paper but the project is, in actuality, mostly (if not fully) funded, operated and managed by the foreigners despite their being just “minority” partners. This type of situation leaves projects vulnerable to extortion from regulators who learn about these arrangements, abuse by one partner over the other just to maintain the front of a legally compliant partnership, or worse, the collapse of the project altogether and ugly lawsuits thereafter.

There is an “Anti-Dummy Law” to counter the use of dummies, but because of inconsistent and/or lack of adequate supervision and enforcement, it appears to an outside observer to be often largely ignored.

[5] Cumbersome compliance issues lead to legal maneurings which may not be compliant with the spirit of the law and just add friction to what can otherwise be a smooth transaction.

The law has led to all sorts of legal squabbles including the most basic: What does “Filipino” mean? In areas reserved to Filipino citizens or domestic corporations whose capital is at least 60% owned by Filipinos, the “Filipino” classification is critical, as shown by the PIATCo-Fraport AG airport controversy where one of the main issues is whether there were violations of the Anti-Dummy Law.

The Philippine Department of Justice has adopted the “control test” in establishing the nationality of corporate stockholders covered by the law: If at least 60% of the corporate capital is owned by Philippine citizens, all the corporate shares, including those owned by foreigners, are considered Filipino. But if the percentage of Filipino ownership goes below 60%, only the number of shares that corresponds to that percentage is treated as Filipino. In other words, if one can show that at least 60% of the capital is owned by Filipinos, no further inquiries are made on the nationality of the owners of the remaining 40%. This means that when this ownership-restricted corporation invests in another ownership-restricted corporation, the investing corporation is treated as a “Filipino” investor.

Now, compare this test from the “grandfather rule,” which is still followed in some instances. Under this rule, the nationality of the individual stockholders or the owner of the stocks of the corporate shareholder affects the status of the restricted corporation in which the investment was made.

How to make sense of the two rules? According to SEC Commissioner Raul J. Palabrica, the current rule seems to be this: The "control test" is the main standard to determine the nationality of corporations but the "grandfather rule" will be applied if there are questions about compliance with Filipino ownership requirements.

One creative strategy to circumvent the ownership restrictions is the use of “global depository receipts” or GDRs in which investee companies would sell to foreign investors interest-bearing “depository receipts” using the stocks of the restricted investee companies as collateral.

Technically, the nationality rule is not violated because the stocks remain in the company’s name but the investors are assured of hefty returns on their investment without breaching the nationality rule. But it should be obvious that GDRs are, for all intents and purposes, “foreign investments” which should be covered under the nationality rule if the government is indeed serious about cracking down on these types of legal maneuvers which may be compliant with the letter of the law but not its spirit. Additionally, GDRs only increase the friction in business transactions for the companies trying to raise funds, adding unnecessary cost in terms of time and money to what would otherwise be simple transactions.

[4] Revamp of the law can increase the competitiveness of local industries and create jobs.

Foreigners are not only reluctant to invest their money if they do not have control, they are also concerned about intellectual theft if they are to divulge their corporate secrets to Filipino partners in a partnership where they are in the minority. This often entails their dialing back of their investment of intellectual capital in the form of industrial/product design, technology and market knowhow.

Allowing these profit-seeking foreigners to own their local subsidiaries outright 100% can translate to increased competitiveness for the local industries affected because the oligarchs who presently rule their industries will be forced to up their game. With increased competition, the affected industries will modernize, grow and, in the process, create jobs for locals.

[3] Revamp of the law can increase the country’s exports.

The current law is really anti-trade, and here’s why.

One way for the country to grow its export-oriented manufacturing industries is to enter into bilateral trade agreements (BTAs) with the right countries, especially with those whom the Philippines already enjoys robust trading. But the current law poses a hindrance to signing of BTAs because the Philippines’ counterparties will definitely demand preferential terms and more openness on the part of the country to allow investors from their countries to come in unencumbered by restrictive investment laws.

[2] The current law discourages even “former” Filipinos from investing or returning to the Philippines to set up their businesses or practice their professions.

While there is now a dual citizenship law which allows Filipinos who became naturalized citizens of other countries to reclaim their lost Filipino citizenship, many of them choose not to do so for various reasons. But because they are considered foreigners under the law, they are therefore prevented from setting up small businesses (e.g., retail trade enterprises less then $2.5M in capital; see the list above) under their own name and/or practice their professions in the Philippines. This is unfortunate considering these “former” Filipino professionals have much to share with the land of their birth, having learned immensely from their exposure in globalized and highly competitive industries all over the world.

[1] To retain the current law is to maintain the status quo.

‘Nuff said.

Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at askthepinoy@gmail.com.

Jan 29, 2011

Poetic license: Can we have fun with some anagrams?

(Source: BrandInfection.com)
An anagram is a type of word play where the letters of a word or phrase are rearranged to produce a new word or phrase using all the original letters exactly once.  Some of the more famous examples are: evil = vile; evian = naive; a decimal point = I'm a dot in place; Madonna Louise Ciccone = One cool dance musician.  The original word or phrase (i.e., evil, evian, a decimal point, Madonna Louise Ciccone) is called the subject. 

An antigram is a type of anagram where the meaning of the anagram is considered opposite in some way to the subject. A classic example is: funeral = real fun.

An egroupmate, Ed de Guzman, sent me some fun anagrams last night which inspired me to come up with some of mine too for this blog.  I came up with enough anagrammatic lines to make the 5-stanza poem below, with each line linked to a post which somehow relates to the line.  (Okay, okay -- admittedly, some lines don't make as much sense as the others, and others probably don't make much sense at all, but that's why I'm invoking poetic license here.)  Are they simple anagrams or antigrams?  I just post, you decide! 
Ask ThePinoy

He kin post ya!
He kin stop ya!
He kin spot ya!
Key points, ha?

A ken so pithy -
Hip to sneaky!
Hot penis yak!
He nip yo task!

A stinky hope?
Ah, spiky tone!
Hates pink, yo!
Ape thinks, yo!

A shy poet kin?
The soapy kin!
Hypo? Takes in
The okay spin!

This okay pen
Okays hip ten!
Hey, ink a post -
Inky ape host!
Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at askthepinoy@gmail.com.

Jan 27, 2011

Who is Dr. Gerard Francisco and why does he deserve a PhilStar "News Feature"?

Dear Filipino,

O Master, dost thou rememberst Teri Hatcher's unfortunate remark in Desperate Housewives against Philippine-trained doctors?  Dost thou knowest that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords now hath a Philippine-trained rehab physician, a UP alum just like thy kumander, The Filipina? 

Thy humble servant,

Dear MuQ,

Ah, it's you again!  But what's up with this Old English crap?  Will you please knock it off?  It doesn't quite ring well coming from you, you know? 

But thank you for coming up with your questions for me!  Perfect timing as usual!  (Makes me wonder how I would have written this blogpost if I hadn't invented you.)

Of course, I remember that offensive line from Teri Hatcher's character in that Desperate Housewives episode which ran September 30, 2007.  In it, she was about to see a doctor and then she remarked:

"Okay, before we go any further, can I check those diplomas? ‘Cause I would just like to make sure they are not from some med. school in the Philippines.”

Naturally, it stung and offended doctors who went to Philippine medical schools.  But not only doctors, MuQ -- also other Filipinos like me who got their degrees from the Philippines (my bachelor's degree was from there).  We felt the slur was really another swipe to lessen our accomplishments, our value.  Even though it was just a joke, we thought there was going to be something sinister afoot if it were not corrected -- a subliminal message which would feed more distrust and bigotry and condesc-- 

MuQ: Yeah, but weren't you and the doctors being too oversensitive?

Will you please not interrupt me, MuQ? 

As I was saying, it was very condescending and insulting.  And the incident hit me personally because I was reminded of my study groupmate and good friend in law school -- a white dude -- who was so surprised when he found out that I topped our midterm exam in Contract Law. 

"Of all people," he honestly told me, "you were the last person I would have predicted to do it." 

I asked, "Why?" 

"Please don't get upset, but it's because your first language is not English and, well, you graduated from the Philippines," he said.

That's why I got involved, MuQ, in protesting against the Teri Hatcher remark, even though I stayed in the background. I helped organize a demonstration in front of the Disney Store in San Francisco and I also helped research the law and other issues surrounding the incident to make sure the more prominent individuals who were leading the charge against the network which ran the show, ABC, were armed with data and information for better argumentation.  In the end, I'm thankful ABC backed down, apologized and cut out the offensive line.  Now --

MuQ: Wait a minute -- I think the title of your blogpost is a bit off.

I'm getting there, MuQ, but STOP interrupting!

Okay, here's why I really wanted to write this blogpost: The Philippine media loves a sensational story, a feel-good story, a story which their constituencies -- i.e., their readers/viewers -- would find some affinity with.  And that's all perfectly understandable.  What I lament though is the fact that in the pursuit of these types of stories, they sometimes do away with journalism standards that can get in the way.

The story of Ricardo Reyes is a good example of this.  Recently, the Philippine Star, along with other media outlets, featured the busboy who beat NBA stars in "Jimmy Kimmel Live!'s Pop-a-Shot Challenge."  In and of itself, Ricardo's story is great.

But Philippine media had to find a "hook" for Filipinos, and when they saw that (a) Ricardo had a Filipino name and (b) Ricardo had a Filipino look -- boom! -- they declared him to be Filipino without checking his background.

In fact, for Philippine Star, the story of Ricardo merited not just an ordinary news article but a "News Feature" [EDIT 1/27/2011: I originally thought the "Breaking News" heading applied to the article as well, but upon closer inspection, I now think the heading actually refers to the ticker of fresh news pieces]:

I saw the YouTube clips and I thought Ricardo's English accent was not really Filipino-sounding, so I dug deeper, and because there's not a lot of information online about him, I even contacted his manager.  In the course of my research, I found out that the guy actually immigrated from Mexico City!

I then left a comment in the comments section of this specific PhilStar article to inform the newspaper management and its readers of this mistake, but someone deleted my comment.  This left me wondering: Is there someone suppressing the truth about a story as petty as this?  For what reason?

Now, if PhilStar and Philippine media in general really want to do a good job for its readers and/or viewers, they could have applied the standard they applied to Ricardo Reyes -- Filipino name? Check; Filipino look? Check -- and they would have had a nice story on their hands about US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' new doctor, Dr. Gerard Francisco, MD, who is leading the team of doctors who are helping her during her rehabilitation from the effects of the horrific shooting which shocked America.  And with minimal research, they could have had a feature article that looks something like this:

Granted, Dr. Francisco's story is not as juicy as Ricardo's story, and Congresswoman Giffords is not a pop culture star like Kobe Bryant, but I think there's a lot of different angles that could have been and can still be pursued in Dr. Francisco's story.

But because I have not seen ONE feature article from any Philippine news media about Dr. Francisco, let me suggest just a few of the angles they can explore:

(1) How about the Teri Hatcher angle?  Because Dr. Francisco is not just Filipino but actually received his medical degree from the University of the Philippines, the fact that he's the Chief Medical Officer of TIRR Memorial Hermann rehab facility at Houston's Texas Medical Center and also the Department Chair of The University of Texas Medical School at Houston's Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation is worth writing about, I think. 

(2) How about the scholarship angle?  According to his 39-page CV, Dr. Francisco has received awards for Teaching Excellence, has been adjudged one of Castle Connelly's Best Doctors in America for several years, and has published tons of articles in his field of expertise -- these are also worth writing about, if only to impress upon the doubters and haters out there the quality of Filipino scholarship.

(3) How about the angle exploring Filipinos' outsized representation in the US medical field?  According to a study published by the American Medical Association, there are 20,861 practicing physicians in the US who obtained their medical degree from the Philippines, translating to 8.7% of all US doctors.  This is remarkable considering Filipinos just comprise about 1.5% of total US population. (Makes you wonder what the numbers are if you include Philippine-trained nurses, physical therapists and medical technicians, right?)  A journalist writing about Dr. Francisco using this cangle can even explore the related "brain drain" effect caused by these medical-trained Filipinos who studied in public schools in the Philippines but decided to move to the US for one reason or another, and maybe look at ways to incentivize them to be dual nationals not only on paper but also in terms of active Philippine societal engagement.

(4) Lastly, how about the Manny Pacquiao angle?  The Philippine media, the government, businesses, and everyone it seems, put out all the stops to share in the glory of Pacquiao, leading to exponential growth in interest in the sport of boxing among the impoverished young.  But as a nation, is the Philippines best served encouraging these impressionable kids to take up gloves as their way to wealth and greatness?  Why can't the country, its government and the establishment, even for just a tenth of how Pacquiao was glorified, honor people like Dr. Francisco, or my friend, who I will not name here because I do not have his permission, who got his Ph.D. in Bio-Informatics in the US and yet went back to the Philippines to follow through on his promise to go back and teach in his province? 

If someone from the Philippine media will just exert some effort to write about Dr. Francisco, I'm sure many Filipinos will find that Dr. Francisco's story is truly inspirational. And if the country is to succeed, I think the media really has to do a better job at finding stories that inspire -- with vetted facts to support them, if I may add.

Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at askthepinoy@gmail.com.

Jan 24, 2011

What are the keys to success in life?

Dear Filipino,
(Source: The Diplomatic Wife Blog.)
O Master, let me talk with thee, and pray tell, what are the keys to success really?

Thy humble servant,
MuQ (Made-up Questioner)

Dear MuQ,

Ah, your timing is impeccable, my friend!  I was just meaning to write about success because three "Filipinos" who exemplify the keys to success I wanted to talk about have been in the news lately.  So, without further ado, here's...

The first key: Genes. 

My dear MuQ, I know it's painful to hear for some, but there's just no getting around to it.  I mean, it's either you're beautiful or you're not; you're tall or you're not; you're model material or you're not.  And if you're beautiful, you're tall and you're model material, why, you can be the world's supermodel, of course!

And that's just what happened to our 5'9"" beauty, Danica Flores Magpantay, 17, who was recently declared winner of the 2011 Ford Supermodel of the World competition held in New York last Saturday, January 22.  Established by Eileen Ford in 1980, the Ford Supermodel of the World is reputed to be the largest and most prestigious international modeling competition in the world.

Besting more than 70 contestants from all over the world, the Fine Arts student from the University of the Philippines has the perfect genes because she is the daughter of Milagros “Lala” Flores, herself the winner of the Supermodel of the World Philippines in 1990.

But I'm sure you want to ask: "What do you do if, let's say, you want to beat the very best in something but you don't really have the perfect genes for it?  Do you just give up?"

No, of course not, dear student.  In fact, that question leads me to...

The second key:  Hard work.

By hard work, I mean, of course, you need to do what you need to do to be good at what you do.  That means practice, practice, practice.  Because if you practice hard enough, if you put in the work, nothing will faze you.  You'll be confident, you won't second-guess yourself, and you won't get rattled by anything and anyone when the moment of truth comes -- even if you're just, well, a "nobody" and you're going against the very best in a contest in which your opponents are the biggest celebrities and are being paid millions to be good at it: e.g., shoot balls.

This is exactly what Ricardo Reyes figured out early on.  Ricardo is only a busboy at Barney's Beanery in West Hollywood but after practicing during every break he got over the past 10 years, he humbled the biggest basketball professionals in Jimmy Kimmel Live!'s "Pop-a-Shot Challenge."

Lebron James came first, and Ricardo, wearing his trademark apron and unruffled demeanor, simply annihilated the self-proclaimed King, 72-42:

Another basketball royalty, Sir Charles Barkley, was next, and the result was the same -- a royal kicking in the fanny -- this time at 85-51:

Next up was Kobe Bryant, the reigning Finals MVP, who impressively put up a challenge but was still clearly overmatched, with the score settling at 82-58:

Now, one would think that other NBA professionals would have learned their lesson by this time, but Lamar Odom wanted to impress his Kardashious wife so badly that he almost lost her to The Man, 84-35:

Finally, the last challenger put up by Jimmy Kimmel was Carmelo Anthony.  The result was predictable, with Ricardo winning the match 72-38.  The comedian, bless his heart, had something up his sleeve though, and rewarded the unsuspecting Ricardo a beautiful red Ford Mustang.  Watch:

But MuQ, I hope you noticed that I placed the word Filipinos found in my very first paragraph in quotation marks.  What was my reason for that?

Well, very simple really: Despite Philippine Star's heart-warming news article dated January 19, 2011, and entitled "Fil-Am busboy outshoots Kobe," and many other Filipino articles and blogs similarly claiming the kababayan connection with him, the truth is, Ricardo is actually not Filipino

You heard it right here, MuQ: Ricardo is named like an ordinary Filipino and he looks like an ordinary Filipino, so many Filipinos assumed he's Filipino.  Can't blame them because the story is just such a feel-good, made-for-TV story.  But the guy is actually Mexican! 

Yes, according to Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated, Ricardo left Mexico City and migrated to the US about 20 years ago.

But just to make sure, I contacted Ricardo's manager, AJ Sacher, to confirm.  AJ's response?  "He's whatever you want him to be. :0"

Given AJ's response and since I'm The Filipino, I officially declare Ricardo "Honorary Filipino" on this blog.  And if anybody's got a problem with that, they know how to reach me.

Now, where are we?  Oh, right, the keys to success. 

MuQ, even if you have the genes, even if you put in all the hard work, you still need...

The third key: Luck.

Yes, MuQ: Luck is key.  Because to succeed, you need the stars to align for you; you need the gods to smile at you; you need divine intervention.

Most especially if you're going against priests!

That's what happened to Dr. A. Gabriel Esteban, who was appointed last January 11 as President of Seton Hall University, the oldest diocesan university in the United States.

Dr. Esteban has the genes: You see, both his parents were educators.  And before you get me wrong, let me tell you without equivocation that gleaning from Dr. Esteban's impressive credentials, I know he has also put in a lot of hard work.  After all, he had served a number of institutions prior to Seton Hall with distinction; he had provided exemplary leadership as university provost; and he had attended Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education as well as completed the Japan Management Program at the Japan-America Institute for Management Science.  He also holds a Ph.D. from the Graduate School of Management at the UC Irvine, an M.S. in Japanese Business Studies from Chaminade University in Honolulu, and an M.B.A. and B.S. in Mathematics from the University of the Philippines.

Where's the divine intervention?

According to the New York Times, last spring, the university was looking for a new president and it had named two finalists for the job, both of whom were Catholic priests in keeping with the university's bylaws.  But for some unexplained and miraculous reason, both priests withdrew from consideration, forcing the search to start over.

Now what? 

Well, at the time, Dr. Esteban was the interim president and he impressed officials of the university so much that the university's Board of Regents unanimously voted to appoint him President following a resolution passed by the university's Board of Trustees creating an exception in his favor.
(Source: NY Times.)

Didn't I say gods have to smile at you?

And if you're a skeptic, let me assure you, Dr. Esteban's accomplishment is nothing to sneeze at.  According to Wikipedia:

Seton Hall is made up of nine different schools and colleges with an undergraduate enrollment of about 5,200 students and a graduate enrollment of about 4,500. Its School of Law, which is ranked by US News & World Report as one of the top 100 law schools in the nation, has an enrollment of about 1,200 students. For 2009, BusinessWeek's "Colleges with the Biggest Returns" ranked Seton Hall among the top 50 universities in the nation that open doors to the highest salaries. Seton Hall's Stillman School of Business is ranked 56 out of the top 100 undergraduate business schools and #1 in the state of New Jersey according to BusinessWeek.
Since its founding in 1856, the university has produced numerous heads of major businesses and institutions, professional athletes, members of the US Congress, and countless other well-known personalities and politicians, including the current New Jersey governor, Gov. Chris Christie, who is believed to be a possible candidate for the Republican presidential primary next year. 

So there you go, MuQ -- the keys to success: Genes, hard work and luck.  And since the second key is the only one you can really control of the three, you better work your fanny off to succeed in L-I-F-E!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to practice my shooting for Pop-a-Shot.

Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at askthepinoy@gmail.com.

Jan 22, 2011

Do Filipinos hate -- and so won't date -- the Chinese?

Dear Filipino,

I find myself really attracted to this Filipino guy. I actually get along with him very well and I'm probably overthinking but...I was wondering if there was any chance for me to date him?

I guess I'm sort of young and naive, but the only stereotypes I know of Filipinos are that they are very peaceful, musically inclined, talented, and generally tanned. However, according to my Filipina friend, Filipinos tend to go after their own or go after whites in order to "marry up". She told me that's how she was raised, and that unless the person she dated was Catholic, Filipino or Caucasian, there would be no way she would be allowed to date. Furthermore, she told me that majority of Filipino people sort of hate Chinese people? So if I start a relationship with him, would I face a lot of prejudice from his family? Is it usually looked down upon to be of a different race?

Love-stricken Chinese Girl

Dear LCG,

Hey, what can I say?  Filipino guys are simply irresistible! ;-)  And as regards the stereotypes you mentioned, I can hang with those -- no problem! 

Seriously though, first, I must apologize. You've written me this a while back and it's quite insensitive of me to have kept you waiting for an answer that must be quite important to you.  But unfortunately, I can only answer questions at my pace, and though I was born in the Year of the Tiger, I'm really a Turtle Blogger. 

I actually thought of delaying my answer to you until Valentine's, but I changed my mind because "Chinese" seems to be on everyone's lips these days.  Locally, in the Bay Area, Chinese empowerment is the buzzword, as the first Asian-American mayor of San Francisco, Edwin M. Lee, was sworn in last week.  Nationally, in the US, Chinese power is said to be really ascendant, as shown by the way China's president, Mr. Hu Jintao, is being treated as he visits his country's largest debtor this week.  But more importantly, globally, Chinese superiority is also now being touted -- even in an aspect erstwhile deemed to be so personal to everyone: parenting.

So assuming it's true that we Filipinos only want to "marry up" race-wise, surely we must be re-evaluating our stand with regards to the Chinese, right?

But here's the thing: The truth is, Filipinos don't look down upon the Chinese; Filipinos generally don't restrict marriage to Caucasians, Catholics or fellow Filipinos only; and while Filipinos often do prefer lighter-skinned folks as potential partners in marriage (although changing, that's still the reality of today's world), I think it's not a stretch to say Filipinos, especially when compared to other groups, are in fact equal-opportunity daters. 

I don't know why your Filipina friend said those things to you, but don't believe everything she says, in the same way that you shouldn't believe everything I say here.  None of us can speak definitively for millions of people.  But I think the evidence weighs in favor of my position.  And while statistics will bear out that most of us do end up dating and marrying within our group, that's just natural, because cultural compatibility is paramount to most people who want to avoid conflict.  I'd like to think this is just what her parents were driving at, too.

Besides, we're mutts, you see, and so historically, we've really intermarried a lot with all sorts of "breeds."  In fact, estimates show that while the "pure" ethnic Chinese only comprise about 2-3% of the country, as many as 20% of the Filipino people have some Chinese ancestry.  Personally, I think these figures are understated because the Chinese have been settling in the Philippines since time immemorial -- or as far back as the Ice Age when a now-submerged land bridge is believed to have enabled many people from South China to settle in what is now the archipelago called the Philippines, and continued non-stop even during the Spanish (when they were referred to as sangleys) and American regimes, up to present times.  The sitting President, the national hero, the former dictator Marcos -- they are just a few of the country's more famous Chinese mestizos, offspring of mixed marriages.

And I think it's wrong to say we hate the Chinese, for if that were the case, those famous Chinese mestizos would not have achieved their positions in life.  Majority of Filipinos do hate hateful and abusive people, Chinese or not.  In fact, anyone would, don't you agree?

That's why I now think Tiger Mother Amy Chua's observation in her 2003 essay, "Vengeful Majorities," unfairly depicts Filipinos.  In it, she related how her Chinese aunt was killed by her Filipino driver and how the police classified the killing as an act of revenge.  But she did more than that: She also suggested that the driver killed her aunt because her aunt was a member of a rich, market-dominant minority while the driver was a member of a "vengeful majority" in the Philippines.  By doing so, she elevated the incident to somehow be representative of an ethnicity-influenced tension between the ethnic Chinese and the ethnic Filipinos in the Philippines. 

But even if I were to concede that there is in fact some tension, I guarantee you that it is almost negligible and in no way -- no way! -- comparable to the other ethnic tensions she also mentioned in her essay: e.g., Croats vs. Serbs, Hutus vs. Tutsis, Jews vs. ethnic Russians, Chinese vs. ethnic Indonesians, etc. -- tensions which are more violent and widespread, much more societally disruptive, and much, much more gruesome because they had resulted in riots, outright war, ethnic cleansing, and genocide in the past.

To understand what I'm saying here, let's reverse the roles in Chua's aunt's case.  If her aunt had been an ethnic Filipina who was killed by her Chinese driver because the latter couldn't take the abuse and enslavement anymore, I think you'll also understand why the police would still be justified to put the same reason for the killing: "Revenge." In other words, the murder was an act of "revenge" because of Chua's abusive aunt, not because the ethnic Filipino majority is somehow "vengeful."

So, no, I'm not worried about you being looked down upon by the Filipino guy's family, and I'm not concerned at all that you would face any prejudice from the guy's side.  You won't.  The truth is, I'm more worried about your family looking down upon my fellow good-looking Filipino.  I know we're just talking about dating here and not marriage, but Chua herself recently admitted that she married an American Orthodox Jew as a form of rebellion because her once father told her: "You will marry a non-Chinese over my dead body!"  With respect to us Filipinos, she was upfront and didn't even mince words when she wrote in her 2003 book: "For the Chinese...marrying a Filipino...is shameful."

I happen to know this is quite true among many Chinese in the Philippines.  When I was in college, I had female Chinese friends who fell in love with Filipinos, and even if the guys were from decent families and were decent themselves, the Chinese parents still objected to the relationships, going as far as threatening their daughters with disownment.  One Chinese lady I know was indeed disowned and her parents did not even bother to attend her wedding.  I heard the parents and the daughter only reconciled after the latter delivered her first baby.

Now, are you sure you still want to date that Filipino guy?

Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at askthepinoy@gmail.com.

Jan 20, 2011

Economy-wise, where is the Philippines in the US map?

Dear Filipino,

How's the Philippine economy like compared to the US?


Dear Bulakbol,

In the field of information science, there is a hierarchical model, aptly but uncreatively called DIKW, which is depicted as a pyramid.  In this acronymally termed pyramid, data is found at the base, followed by information, then knowledge, and finally, at the apex, wisdom.

How do people in this academic field differentiate these concepts?

Practitioners generally define data as "discrete, objective, and unprocessed facts or observations."  As such, they are said to have no value whatsoever -- the data, not the practitioners -- because they lack context and interpretation.

Defined in terms of data, information is "organized or structured data" and therefore valuable and useful.

Defined in terms of information, knowledge is considered the "synthesis of multiple sources of information over time" which provides a "framework for evaluating and incorporating new experiences and information."

While actually understood by many, the trickiest concept to define is wisdom because it does not lend itself to easy, formulaic definition.  Not that practitioners don't try.  But when defining it in terms of knowledge and information, they claim wisdom is "integrated knowledge" or, more sophomorically put, "information made super-useful."  Some of these academicians also turn philosophical on you and introduce another concept that's also difficult to define: Because wisdom, they say, requires the mental function we call "judgment." 

For its definitional simplicity, I like the version put forward in 1987 by Czechoslovakia-born educator Milan Zeleny.  For him, the DIKW model really equates to know-nothing, know-what, know-how, and know-why.

Now, where am I going with this preamble in answering your question?

I was reminded of these concepts for two reasons: (1) because The Filipina is involved in this field; and (2) because I stumbled upon the answer to your question while browsing the online version of The Economist.  I've always been a fan of the magazine because the folks there are really great at turning data into information and information into knowledge.

So let's proceed to your question. 

Found below is a US map.  Can you find the Philippines?

Source: The Economist

If you easily spotted the Philippines where the Bluegrass State is commonly found, I say, "Good for you -- keen eyes!" 

And if you were disappointed in finding it there, I say, "I'm sorry -- and I am with you." 

Because the map, which depicts the size of the economies of the individual American states and how they compare with other countries, tells us -- aside from the obvious fact that the US is really an economic colossus -- some unfortunate truths.  Among them:

One: The Philippines has an economy almost the same size as that of Kentucky despite having a population roughly 20 times bigger.

Two: The Philippines' next-door ASEAN neighbor, Thailand, has an economy equivalent to that of Colorado (which is a state bigger by about $100 billion than Kentucky), despite having roughly 30 million fewer people.

These are not happy facts to face, but face them we must -- that is, if we want the country to aspire to some objective, achievable targets.  Like becoming another Colorado, for instance, by the end of P-Noy's term. 

The country can do so because Thailand has already shown the way.  Filipinos, at home and from all over, just have to help, especially the Filipino Americans, who have a collective "GDP" also bigger than the Philippines.

This brings me back to the DIKW Hierarchy. 

Who would have thought that the singer-musician Frank Zappa would actually expand the model? 

Yes, he did, as shown in the lyrics of his song, "Packard Goose":
Information is not knowledge
Knowledge is not wisdom
Wisdom is not truth
Truth is not beauty
Beauty is not love
Love is not music
Music is THE BEST.
And this brings me to my concluding thoughts.

When I was in college, I was part of a group which performed a musical in front of audiences in the East Coast.  I've forgotten many of the details of that awesome period in my life, but I still cannot forget one memory.

After every performance, we would sing the song composed by Constancio de Guzman in 1929, Bayan Ko.  Without fail, many Filipinos in the audience would join and sing with us, and you could literally feel the emotions -- intense, raw, palpable, unstructured, tearful.  Unfortunately, I could tell many in the audience who didn't understand Tagalog could not quite grasp the significance of the song. 

So here's my parting gift to you to share with others as you feel necessary: The English version of the song as translated by the poet Ed Maranan. 

The beauty of his translation, which is incredibly faithful to the original language and its spirit, is that it can actually be sung following the same original melodic tune, the same music.  How cool is that?

Now, if Maranan's translation cannot be deemed wisdom, if it cannot be considered beauty, if it is not a manifestation of love of country, then I, for one, don't know the definition of these concepts anymore.

And pardon my preachiness, but for the Philippines to advance, you and I, and all the other Filipinos who care for even just one tiny bit about the country, really have to start showing it some love.

Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at askthepinoy@gmail.com.

Jan 19, 2011

PNoy and the Porsche: What's the going rate for The Filipino's "investment"?

Dear Filipino,

I'm sure you've heard about the Philippine president buying a Porsche supposedly so he can use it to unwind.  What's your take on it?

Poorish Pinoy

Dear Poorish,

I supported PNoy's candidacy so I was really upset about this news.  By support, I mean I invested time (by attending US-based campaign events in support of his candidacy -- no matter how inconsequential my presence at these events may have been in the grand scheme of things); treasure (by spending and/or contributing a little bit at these campaign events -- no matter how miniscule the amount I could afford); and talent (by sharing some of my ideas with the folks who were more prominently campaigning for him -- no matter how superfluous, naive and/or worthless these ideas may have been).

More than the 3 T's, I also invested in PNoy my personal emotions and my hopes for the country.  And as you will probably agree, emotions and hopes are always arguably the most costly aspect of any form of investment whenever an investment ends up not panning out. 

Please don't get me wrong: I'm not writing off my "investment" yet.  But if I have to render a graphical representation, it would look something like this:

The data points in the x-axis (which represents the timeline) correspond to the following events:
1 = Senator Noynoy's conduct at ex-President Cory Aquino's wake;
2 = Senator Noynoy's decision to run and conduct during the campaign;
3 = Senator Noynoy's winning the election;
4 = PNoy's inauguration;
5 = PNoy's handling of the kidnapping incident at Luneta;
6 = PNoy's visit to the US when he met with Fil-Ams (I attended two events);
7 = PNoy's decision to keep DILG Undersecretary Puno;
8 = PNoy's dissing of DILG Secretary Robredo (the best member of his Cabinet);
9 = PNoy's snub of the Nobel Peace Prize awarding ceremonies in Norway in order not to anger China;
10 = PNoy's purchase of the Porsche car.
As you can see, I'm at 60, down 40% from the starting price of 100.  But it's not at zero yet, so there's still hope for a rebound.

Additionally, the Porsche purchase indicates one thing to me: Now, I know for sure, without a shadow of a doubt, that he's not getting good advice from the folks around him who should be giving him solid advice.  And I think that's the problem when you have friends (his closest advisers are supposedly his friends) who are scared to give you the right advice because they don't want to offend you and would rather ingratiate themselves to you to keep their positions.

But my take on this Porsche matter was actually captured perfectly in an Inquirer column written by someone I respect a lot, Attorney Ted Laguatan.  I think it's impossible for me to improve on what he wrote so I am just going to reproduce it here for your convenience, as follows:

PNoy's Porsche: The good, the bad, and the ugly

To the shock of many, staid, non-flashy supposedly simple living PNoy recently purchased a Porsche.

Malacanang-sourced reports state that it is not a new car. Even if the model is not specified, based on the indicated P4.5-million (about $92,000) price, I would guess that it's one of those powerful iconic 911 supercar models in the Carerra series.

A seller of such a car would advertise it as: "Pre-owned like new. Only 62,000 miles. Rich leather interiors. Iconic model. Absolutely stunning!" Whereas a PR man trying to downplay the purchase would describe the car as: "A highly depreciated used third-hand entry level model with already 10,000 plus kilometers. Nothing extraordinary."

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda did in fact used some of these PR speak. To further downplay the purchase, PNoy announced that he paid for the Porsche by selling his old BMW and taking a bank loan. He also claimed that he needed the car to relax so that he can make better decisions.

Let's take a good look at the situation.

The Good

Purchasing the Porsche with his own money shows a lack of guile and honesty. PNoy could easily have asked a millionaire supporter to buy him a new Porsche. He did not. If he were corrupt, he also could easily have a fleet of even more expensive cars by simply favoring certain government contractors who would overprice their bids and gladly give these to him as kickback.

It also shows that unlike the children of other presidents, he did not enjoy the luxury of having this kind of expensive cars when his mother was president—which speaks well of him and his mother.

Bongbong, Jinggoy, or Mikey are probably cracking up with the news of fifty-year-old PNoy still getting excited with a used Porsche. They already had their taste of all kinds of new luxury cars when they were barely out of their teens. They are now into helicopters, private jet planes, and yachts.

If he were dishonest, PNoy could already have bought this kind of car when he was a congressman or senator by simply using his pork barrel funds and utilizing all kinds of shadow transactions to acquire it—a common enough practice. Or better yet, he could easily have used a crony to buy the car for him so nobody knows.

Like a little boy wanting an expensive toy, when he became president and could afford to, he impulsively buys this pre-owned Porsche. He believed there was nothing wrong with his purchase as he was paying for it with money honestly earned.

As president, he has access to other types of vehicles which he could easily convert to become his private toys: airplanes, helicopters, tanks, boats, etc. He does not want to do that. Instead, he uses his own money to buy a car that he would enjoy and relax with. Purchasing the car, by itself, is really not a bad thing.

All these indicate a naïveté of sort—maybe even a showing of admirable honesty if interpreted along honesty criteria.

The Bad

However, even if there was no corruption involved in this car purchase and given that he could afford it— even his mother and father would most likely tell him that it was an improper thing to do and that he was acting like an impulsive kid. Aside from honesty, affordability, and his personal enjoyment, there are other issues.

As president, he needs to show a polite sensitivity to the plight and feelings of millions of desperately poor Filipinos. Nearly one-third of our countrymen live in quiet desperation barely surviving in slum communities and go to bed hungry at night. Mothers and fathers helplessly see their children every day deprived of proper food, shelter, health care and education—condemned to a life without a decent future. Some quietly shed tears at night knowing their sick children will die because they cannot afford to buy medicines or medical services.

The president of a country where this kind of mass poverty and misery thrives appears to show an utter lack of sensitivity to the plight and feelings of the desperately poor in buying a P4.5-million Porsche. Who doesn't want to drive a fine car? However, proper discretion dictates that even if in fact he can afford to honestly buy the Porsche or that he thinks driving it relaxes him, it doesn't necessarily mean he should have one.

It shows not only insensitivity but also immaturity and poor leadership. There are better ways to relax, less expensive, and far less dangerous than to drive a super power car in the Philippines' dangerous highways. PNoy ought to be aware that he owes it to the people who elected him to show sensitivity, take care of his safety, and be a true leader. The image he also presents to the world brings respect or disrespect to the country and its people

Being president is a great responsibility. He is either a servant to the people or a curse to them. If the president is to be a servant and a great president, he must be willing to sacrifice his own personal needs and idiosyncrasies for his people.

The Ugly

We have just seen the end of the presidency of one of the most unpopular presidents in the country's history, marked by persuasive evidence of mass corruption. A corrupt leader brings massive suffering to the people. PNoy inherited a bankrupt government where the culture of corruption is the norm rather than the exception. From the ruins of the past government, the new administration is struggling to build an honest efficient government responsive to the needs of the people, a very difficult task in which everyone of good faith should help.

PNoy was elected by an overwhelming majority, a landslide victory. All of us who supported him and even PNoy himself would be fooling ourselves if we believe in any way that he won because of charisma. He also did not even have any notable legislative record to speak of.

What catapulted him to the presidency was the people's hope: that he could bring real change to their lives. At least with him, there was this chance that their impossible dream of having a better, less corrupt, less poor Philippines might become a reality. He had a father who sacrificed his life for his people. He had a mother who sincerely and honestly tried under very difficult circumstances to be a good president. With these genes and legacy, millions placed their hopes on him rather than on the other candidates.

If he fails because he does not understand the real sacrifices demanded of him, he only has himself to blame. So many millions are behind him to help him succeed in this great endeavor. If when his term ends and the country is worse off than when he took over, it will be ugly for him and for all of us.


With all due respect, Mr. President, allow me this personal note. Get rid of that Porsche. Please. That's not too much of a sacrifice for you. It gives you a bad image: an insensitive wild playboy which you are not. I also doubt that driving a super fast sport car on bumpy trafficky, mostly narrow Philippine roads and highways is going to relax you and help you make better decisions. It is dangerous—which might even make you more tense. Instead, utilize proven ways to relax and to get rid of tensions: solitude, meditation, prayer, regular gym workouts. A healthy diet and breaking the chain smoking habit will also help.

So much of where the country goes depends on you. Your enemies would like to see you fail. They'll pick on every single issue they can use against you. You need to maintain the shine on your armor in the great sacred fight against corruption, poverty, and other national problems. While this Porsche issue is not going to bring you down as no corruption is involved, it weakens you as it touches on the issue of sensitivity and maybe even sincerity. It's like feasting on a thick Wagyu steak while everyone else around you eats galungong or tuyo. You cannot take this issue lightly.

We who support you because we want a better country want you to succeed. Success means repeatedly pulling one's self together, making sacrifices, getting up after every mistake or failure, being sensitive to people's feelings and having a clear vision of desired goals. Additionally for you, the chosen one, it’s being a true leader to your people—meaning truly loving them and being unconditionally committed to their welfare. Your father and mother expect that much from you. We, whom you claim to be your boss ("Kayo ang akin boss!"), expect the same.
Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at askthepinoy@gmail.com.

Jan 17, 2011

To chew or not to Chua? To know or not to Nora?

Dear Filipino,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on various subjects and issues you discuss courageously in your blog.  I have shared your posts with some of my friends.  Those who have seen them have been impressed, and your readership I’m pretty sure has increased.  (You may want to start soliciting for advertisers – you deserve some income from this.) 

Anyway, I want to share my thoughts with you on some subjects you broached in your blog, and towards the end, ask you another "profound and complicated question."

Reading and chewing on your articles on Amy Chua have caused me mixed emotions and feelings – disgust and hatred, bordering on admiration and awe.  I have never heard of her previously, but Wikipedia has provided me enough general background about her, and it's quite impressive.  She graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School with a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree, worked as a corporate law associate, taught at Duke Law School, and currently is a distinguished professor of law at Yale Law School – all these perhaps a product of her own intellect and extreme conditioning from her Chinese Filipino parents.

Since she takes her maiden name, not unlike many Western professional women, and since she seems to be into parenting and perhaps not into women’s liberation, I am not sure I know how to address her properly.  Should it be "Miss Chua" -- but she’s not single?  Or "Mrs. Chua" -- but she is not her mother?  Or "Ms. Chua" -- but she may resent that?  Therefore, I have decided to just address her as Chua.  Tells you what I know about proper etiquette in addressing women; with men, it's simpler -- just call them "Mister."

On the Vengeful Majority

As much as I like to read, mostly mysteries, spy stories, lawyer stories, some classics and literature, some autobiographies, some histories, I have never read any of Chua’s books.  And she had written 3 books:  the first book is World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability; the second book is Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance – and Why They Fall; and finally Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which is currently causing a lot of controversies due to its extreme parenting method, its comparison to Western and other parenting methods, and Chua’s claim that Chinese parenting method is superior to others.  Guess these books did not belong to my list of desired topics and stories, fiction or otherwise.

Through your blog, I was able to read her essay on “Vengeful Majorities,” apparently with excerpts from her World on Fire book.  Some say this essay has been sensationalized to gain readership for her book and therefore increase its profitability – just like any other effort or action by any company or corporation with the bottom line being dollars and cents.  My money will probably not be used to buy her books, though I heard most parts of the books were intellectually written and show her knowledge of globalization and the law.

As I read that essay, I was totally shocked when she wrote very early in the essay in regards to her aunt’s murder: “For the Chinese, luck is a moral attribute, and a lucky person would never be murdered.  Like having a birth defect, or marrying a Filipino, being murdered is shameful.”  I was appalled and totally surprised by this statement and was hoping she was only being satirical and that she would recant it later.  But no such ‘luck,’ and as a matter of fact, Chua seemed to have justified the killing by saying: “But poverty by itself does not make people kill.  To poverty must be added indignity, hopelessness and grievance.”  Nothing can justify a killing, neither can one justify rudeness.

She repeated many times how her family, which belonged to the market-dominant minority in the Philippines, lived in a very exclusive, all-Chinese, luxurious, gated and guarded enclave, walled off from the Filipino masses.  And how they have bank accounts in various places in the US and had safety deposit boxes full of gold bars.  (I hope they reported their income, both foreign and local, to the Philippine Bureau of Internal Revenue.)  But then she related about her aunt stuffing her Gucci purse with free packets of ketchup when they ate at McDonald’s – sounds like petty thievery to me at a place I would never guess they dined.
Also, I don’t understand why her family’s splendid hacienda-style house in Manila in this exclusive Chinese enclave has servants' quarters where the poor, ignorant, ethnic Filipino servants sleep on a dirt floor.  When I was growing up in the Philippines, we were not rich, not even remotely close to the Chua’s wealth, but we also had some helpers and they were provided with decent accommodations and, God forbid, they never slept on the dirt floor, not that we had any.  But I digress, and rightfully so, since I seem to have noticed too many inconsistencies on her story.  Considering how intelligent Chua is, I don’t understand the inconsistencies.  Maybe I misunderstood, or perhaps I’m just getting petty. 

But can one blame my pettiness if somebody compares being married to your compatriot similar to having a birth defect?  Which reminds me how beautiful Filipinos are, of course for both sexes.  Look at how many Filipinas have been Miss Universe -- two in the last count, and an additional five Miss Philippines have been semifinalists.  How many of Chua’s Chinese were Miss Universe?  None that I know of, not even as semifinalists -- but that’s of course a cruel thing to say since I know a lot of pretty Chinese women and good-hearted Chinese Filipinos.

On The Tiger Mother

And then finally, here is Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, purporting how Chua’s Chinese method of parenting is superior to the Western method and, of course, to all other Asian countries.  Chua may be too smart to know that she may not be right the way she’s raising her children.  Reminds me of a Machiavellian pragmatism -- "the end justifies the means" -- though I don’t think I agree with it.  I cringed when her dad told her "to not ever disgrace him ever again" after she got only second prize in a national history competition, but she seemed to have justified that too.  She said she knew her father loved her and that he just wanted her to try her very best since he knew she was the best.  Imagine being the best among 6.8 billion people in the world: That’s such a prestigious honor, but really scary and so stressful – almost like Manny Pacquiao (yes, Chua, can you believe Pacquiao is an ethnic Filipino boxer?) being the greatest fighter ever in this world.

How does one maintain to be the best the world?  I’m realistic and I know I will never know.  I just want to be the best I can be.  But Chua certainly has a different outlook in life than most of us mortals.  That’s her family’s life philosophy and she certainly has the inalienable right to defend it – but then again it is her family and I’m glad not mine.  Life is too short to try to achieve perfection all the time – we need to aim for it but we should enjoy the trip.

On Our Filipino Way of Parenting

Briefly, allow me to tell you my own experience in raising two children here in America.  Like a lot of young engineers in the late 1960s, I immigrated to the US, met my future wife, got married, finished an advanced degree, and worked for a major US corporation.  We were blessed with a girl and a boy, and since we did not have extended family and since my new job moved us to a location where there was only one other Filipino family in town, we were left on our own to find the right methodology in parenting. 

Of course, we were neither experts nor very educated in parenting, but we used some of the lessons we learned from our own parents, picked up the good, and downplayed the ones we were not enthusiastic about.  Raising kids in America was more of a challenge relative to raising children in the old country.  This was a different culture and we did not have the presence of lots of relatives to provide some guidance and help.  What we tried to instill to our children was to do the best they could without threat of punishment.  We were not into extremism.  I was more like a "be happy and enjoy" guy and still am, although my wife was a little stricter but reasonable.  The way we raised our kids was to let them get into activities they liked, and we found out they excelled on things they wanted to do. Luckily, they were good kids and conscientious students too.  They also made mistakes along the way, but that was part of growing up and quite natural – and we were there to support them when they did, providing them with unconditional love, and just hoping that they would learn from their mistakes.

The girl excelled in dancing, gymnastics and piano, with no coercion from us but lots of support.  She was also an "A" student from the early stages of learning, garnered a BS in Sociology, then an MS in Medical Sciences, an MD degree, a residency, and finally a fellowship on her specialization – all at prestigious universities and institutions.  She is now a specialist surgeon in her field of expertise. 

The boy was a bit of a late bloomer, but also became an "A" student in high school through hard work.  He studied piano and saxophone but drifted to sports as he grew up.  He finished a BSME and an MBA degree also at prestigious universities, and now has a responsible job in a private corporation.  He married his college sweetheart who is also a lawyer and works for the federal government.  They have two little boys, our only two grandchildren – our pride and joy.

Our goals in raising our children were similar to those of Chua’s Chinese parents, but our approach was quite different.  Of course, we tried to instill in the kids when they were growing up to work to the best of their abilities.  Most of all, we thought we have to show that we love and will always support them and that was the most important thing in our lives and none of this ‘Chua’s Chinese disgrace’ nonsense.  In addition, since our ancestry came from a different culture and country, I urged them to be better than their American friends so they can feel equal with them (this was my own hang-up – I always knew I was just as good if not better than anybody else).  I’m not sure they understood that, but I know they are now doing well in their chosen professions and lives.

On The Philippine Economy

One has to remember that the United States really helped rebuild Japan after defeating it in World War II, while the Philippines which was an ally was not given the same treatment.  Despite this, the Philippines had the highest literacy rate in Southeast Asia during the mid-to-late 20th century.  It had an economy second only to Japan, ahead of Singapore and much better than South Korea and other neighboring countries.   It had prestigious universities where foreigners attended, taking advantage of their programs which could compete with the best of the best.  (Chua's essay reminded me of some Chinese classmates at the University of the Philippines; they did not speak Tagalog and they probably lived in the same enclave where the Chuas lived.  And though they were good students, they were not in the high percentile of our class.  I do digress again, but I’m just trying to show those critical intellectual ingrates that Filipinos can compete with anyone given the opportunity.)

In any case, as cronyism and corruption became rampant in the Philippines, perhaps fueled by briberies from the market-dominant minority to which Chua's Chinese family belong, the Philippine economy was fleeced bone-dry and the country fell to the bottom of the economic ladder in the region.  (By the way, another important point about the poor ethnic Filipinos that Chua always and relentlessly alluded to in her writings: Don't these impoverished people provide the clientele for the Chua companies to keep them reaping all those profits which make them market dominant or shamelessly rich?)

While things are beginning to change again with Pres. Aquino, all we can really do is just try to help in any way we can, pray, and hope fervently that the country will indeed recover and be what it once was -- and perhaps even better.  And I hope the market-dominant Chinese Filipinos will also do their part.

Finally: My Profound and Complicated Question

You know, I also just want to ask: Do you personally know, and are you really friends with, Nora Aunor?  :-)

Best regards to The Filipina and your family,

Pinoy na Inhenyerong Suya Sa Tsinitang Off-putting (aka "PISST OFF")

(Source: Video48)

Thank you for your support for this blog and your comments.  Wow -- Chua must have rankled you real bad to write the above. ;-)

But to answer your question, of course, I know who Nora Aunor is!  I mean, who doesn't, right?  A true morena and Bicolana, she is an uragon actress who bested dragon ladies by topping the Ten Best Asian Actresses of the Decade poll for the 2010 Green Planet Movie Awards which was held in Los Angeles, California.  The other 9 Asian actresses who also made it to the elite list include Zhang Ziyi (China), Gong Li (China), Maggie Cheung (China), Nae Yuki (Japan), Angelica Lee (China), Hye-Soo Kim (Korea), Yaqing Jin (China), Yoon-jin Kim (Korea), and Rinko Kikuchi (Japan).

And you know what too?  Because she has made my mother and aunts very happy as her fans with her remarkable decades-long acting (and singing) career, I consider her a friend.  And until she unfriends me on Facebook, I'll proudly trumpet to the world that I'm her friend, too -- regardless if that profile of hers on FB is the real Nora or not. ;-)

Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at askthepinoy@gmail.com.
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