Next flashpoint?

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Sunday, April 27, 2014


AMERICAN President Barrack Obama’s current Asia-Pacific trip to push the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement along with the Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation tells us much about things to come.

For example, the US is not about to hand the Asia-Pacific leadership to China on a silver platter. After the troubles in the Middle East and Ukraine, is Asia-Pacific the next global flashpoint?

China has not been bullying only the Philippines. And I also agree with Robert Kaplan and Strafor on two reasons why China has been bullying us more. One, the Philippine is the weakest militarily among the West Philippine Sea claimants. Two, with the Philippines having a formal treaty with the US, China could very well boast back home of standing up to America, not bullying a weak neighbor.

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Many Filipinos, including top government officials, welcome American power to counteract China. They just accept the fact that in a geopolitical sense, we are an American neo-colony. This special relation, they naively believe, will prompt the Americans to defend us.

Those advocating a more independent Philippine stance, however, worry about this readiness to return to America’s protection. They can still remember how we kicked out the American bully only to get him back because we are too weak to defend ourselves against Chinese bullying.

The way I look at it, the Philippines can very well pursue an independent course. But this means pursuing internal peace, not only with Muslim insurgents, but also with communist rebels. This way, we can focus our military resources on strengthening our military capability against foreign bullies.

***

I thought the Aquino government’s resolve to clean up the customs bureau was much like the Arroyo government right after Edsa 2.

To recall, shiploads of smuggled rice were normal during the Erap years. When President Arroyo took over, she went into the motions of cleaning up the bureau but in the process succeeded only in dismantling the smuggling infrastructure of FG’s rumored mistress.

Aside from putting in place the system of importing rice through the NFA using farmer coops, we saw how the “tara system” based on misdeclaration of shipments was systematized. With the Aquino administration already in its fourth year, the customs grapevine is telling us that top officials are seriously going after misdeclared cargoes. Moves against customs officials with alleged unexplained wealth are also being pursued.

It could be that the players are merely going deeper underground away from the prying eyes of nosy journalists. Hmmm.

On the other hand, there was a time when customs insiders would insist that intensified campaigns against smuggling would result in less importation and thus less revenue for government. However, the current collection performance of the bureau belies this.

Customs collections reached P29.3 billion in March 2014, an increase of 34 percent year-on-year, on the back of an increase in the volume of goods imported as well as ongoing systemic and process reforms, particularly in valuation.

***

The problem with increased tax collections is mistrust on how government is spending it. Investigation into the pork barrel scams does not include corruption in other aspects of government, especially public works.

I cannot shake off the suspicion, for instance, when I see the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) closing traffic to repair good roads. That used to happen only in the national highway to the south.

***

I haven’t been attending meetings of the Cebu Coalition against the Pork Barrel System but I’m happy to get an e-mail invitation in behalf of Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma to join preparations for people’s congresses.

Apparently, efforts to unite seven groups to wage only one people’s initiative campaign succeeded. I was invited to represent the Maghisgot Kita’g Politika, Bay to a meeting at the archbishop’s residence on May 23.

Meanwhile, the Cebu archbishop is inviting workers, business leaders, and local government leaders, among others, to a concelebrated mass for workers on May 1 at 4 p.m. at the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral.

“On May 1, we will celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker and the International Workers’ Day. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, said, “It is necessary to reaffirm that employment is necessary for society, for families and for individuals. Its primary value is the good of the human person, as it allows the individual to be fully realized... Therefore, it follows that work has... above all, a purpose that regards man and his dignity,” Archbishop Palma said.

(Follow me @anol_cebu on Twitter)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on April 28, 2014.

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