Wednesday, May 30, 2012

(A) Justice on Trial: Part 2

A few days ago I saw a political cartoon in the "Philippine Daily Inquirer" depicting "Juan dela Cruz" (a nickname for  the  individual  Filipino) keeping an eye on the impeachment trial proceedings of the  Supreme Court of the Philippines Chief Justice, Renato Corona. Along with  Juan dela Cruz was a symbol of the rest of  the world watching the trial as well.

Alas, the cartoon was only  partially accurate.  The Philippines has been transfixed by this event which was has played out since it began in January. But from what I can determine, internationally (except perhaps for Filipino communities abroad)  it was not considered a newsworthy event.

And more's the pity.  It was the first such removal of a Supreme Court Chief Justice in the nation's history.  The impeachment of the country's top jurist which was conducted by the Philippines Senate concluded yesterday.  Corona was convicted by a vote of 203.  He has agreed not to contest the verdict and will step down from his post (not that he had much choice. The Senate's decision is constitutionally final)    

There were several charges against Corona, including  accepting a legally questionable midnight appointment from former Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as she was leaving office. But the charge on which he was finally tried and convicted was failure to report all his bank accounts on his SALN (Statment of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth ) which every government employee is required to file and complete accurately. How he amassed his huge fortune as a SC justice  about which claimed legitimacy  was besides the point and may  be taken up under separate investigative proceedings.

The impeachment trial itself had many twists, turns, and blunders by both sides.  It was capped last  week when Corona himself staged a dramatic walkout after submitting his testimony  which was a three hour speech that really did little to dispel  the likelihood of  his guilt. The manner of his attempted departure from the Senate and the building (which was stopped by security) was done in an apparent deliberate attempt to insult the senator--judges.  By conducting himself in this arrogant manner, he sealed his own fate.

The guilty verdict was a victory for President of the Philippines Benigno Aquino III who had challenged  Corona's appointment as SC Chief Justice from the beginning.  Aquino ran for office on an  anti-corruption platform and Corona's removal is a feather in his cap toward this end. 

IMO the impeachment proceedings were carried out fairly. with the prosecution and the defense presenting their respective cases and witnesses  to the senatorjudges who with a few exceptions displayed no overall bias for  either side. But in the end, the evidence was overwhelming against Corona.I was especially impressed by 88 years old Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile who despite his advanced age is still as sharp as a tack and oversaw the proceedings as masterfully as an orchestra conductor.

And it is for the reason of this impartiality in a country where fairness and due process in legal proceedings are very uneven except for the wealthy and well-connected (and who could be more influential than a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?) that the world should have been made more aware of this trial. As a result of this lack of coverage, it missed an opportunity to witness a  possible sea change  in the dispensation  of justice in a country where such a transformation is long overdue.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Of Pipe Dreams and Alarming Demographic Trends

Newspapers in the Philippines abound with fine columnists.  One such journalist is  Conrado Banal whose commentaries appear in the "Philippine Daily Inquirer" business section.  Mr. Banal has his ear to the ground and is  authoritative regarding the topics about which he writes. In his April 18 column "High Economic Gloat", he expresses guarded optimism regarding the basis for the optimism expressed by two government officials in the matter of the Philippines economic growth, which they believe will take off if the country merges its manpower of 45 million young people who will turn 22 in 2018 and ready to start their careers, with the capital and technology furnished by other member countries of  the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN). This potential serendipitous confluence of economic sectors is referred to as a "sweet spot". And although he believes that the theory has merit, Mr. Banal's rightly placed concern is that this opportunity accelerated development for the Philippines won't come to fruition if the country fails to invest in infrastructure and education.

But there is the elephant in the middle of the living room (or perhaps I should say bedroom) that could spray a trunkful  of cold water on this plan and which neither Mr. Banal nor the two officials mention: The Philippines' natural resources and economy are already  being strained by overpopulation. And the above referenced 45 million youth who happen to constitute about half the total number of people in this country are a ticking time bomb. This is because that although in a few years, they will become economically productive, there's something else that they will be producing:


Think about it. One source places the fertility rate of Filipinas at 3.19 as of 2011 .  So even just half of these young people start having families about the time that they enter the labor force six years from now, they will add another 66 million to the population in the course of their reproductive years.

But wait. Some of their contemporaries are not even holding off until then to have kids.  According to the Philippine Star, the Philippines has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in Southeast Asia: 53 for every 1,000 Filipinas ages 1519. One consequence of giving birth at this age is that it usually scuttles the mother's education and job opportunities. This is one reason that passage by Congress of the Reproductive Health Act bill which has been hanging fire for about four years and would facilitate family planning, especially easier access to contraceptives for the poor,  is so desperately needed.

At present, OFWs (Overseas Filipinos Workers) are propping up the local economy including the favorable rate of currency exchange with their remittances  from almost every corner of the globe back home to their families.  Yet this does nothing to address the issue of overpopulation here. For the same reason, it may just be magical thinking for the Philippines to pin its hopes on an ephemeral "sweet spot" from ASEAN.

The Philippines can neither continue to keep shoving off its hopes and dreams for a better society by relying on other countries to carry the country's economy.  Nor can it keep kicking the the population issue down the road for future generations to solve. For if the people do not shed their fatalistic mentality and fail to tackle these matters immediately, how can the Philippines expect to even have a future?