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Is the Philippine President reckless and a diplomatic noob?

I am not wont to give criticism (nor praise) to President Aquino. But now I am beginning to wonder about some recent pronouncements of his that are being reported in media. They sound awful.

I read this, this evening: http://globalnation.inquirer.net/75177/philippines-protests-chinese-warships-presence where the offending quote was:

““Our message to the whole world is clear: what belongs to the Philippines belongs to the Philippines,” Aquino said in a speech at a naval base in Cavite province south of Manila. “We can fight back and defend ourselves every time somebody will threaten us right in our own home ground.” (emphasis mine)

I guess we could . . .and face the consequences. He didn’t say anything about prevailing, winning or succeeding.

A blistering critique of the diplomatic ineptitude of President Aquino by Alex Magno: http://www.philstar.com/opinion/2013/05/21/944426/retreat

“For generations, Chinese and Filipino fishermen fished peaceably around the Shoal. For as long as no nation asserted sovereignty over the area (translating into exclusive access), this condition might have persisted for generations to come.

Things changed when,  in a moment of populist bravado, President Benigno Aquino declared in a major speech that foreigners will be accosted at Recto Bank like they were at Recto Avenue. That was good sound bite, but a disastrous policy statement. We drew a line on the sand that Beijing eagerly crossed. There is a price to pay for arrogant bluster.” (again emphasis mine)

Perhaps there is a pattern here.

The president is very popular and the most powerful person in the country. Perhaps he is forgetting that is simply not the case when you start playing in the international arena. Admittedy it is easy to second guess the actions of a politicians in the realm of diplomacy. The ultimate test would be where our relations will be with Taiwan and China in a few months. Is anyone optimistic?


Anger in Taiwan

There is so much anger now in Taiwan. The issue is that the Philippine Coast Guard shot and killed a fisherman in waters between Taiwan and the Philippines.


The Philippine government seems to moving slow. This is par for the course. So-called richer countries (e.g. Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia) have messed up politics as well. Can the attacks on Philippine overseas workers in Kaohsiung and other cities be justified? Sick.

I saw Taiwan as good place to trek up snowy mountains, eat stinky tofu, and watch concerts. I will not be welcome there these days.


A bomb exploded across the finish line of the Boston Marathon. What is there really to say except that we are periodically reminded that there is evil in the world. And what makes this act particularly dramatic, and calculated, is that those who were killed, and injured, were probably in a particularly vulnerable state, having just completed a 42 kilometer race.

I run in races, and I realize there is something I take for granted. When I am in a race, I have absolute faith that I am safe. It is the primary responsibility of the race organizer. As we run on roads or trails, we do not expect trucks to barrel down our race route, or fires to break out, or thieves with knives to block our paths, and much less terrorist explosions. A good number of people who race, and those who do marathons, are put in a different state when they run. The outside world fades. And what is real is the road, one’s muscles, one’s exertion and breath. But now, now, with this act, our minds are less in peace. We may still disappear into ourselves as we race, but this precious space that we have carved out, has been pierced by those who love destruction.

Thai leadership is into railways

Thailand is currently deliberating over some fairly ambitious spending plans for infrastructure. The figure that is being bandied about Thai media is Baht 2 Trillion (USD 68 billion) in spending over the next several years.

The Bangkok Post reports the breakdown of spending as follows:

  • ~1 trillion for high-speed trains and inter-city highways
  • ~590 billion for electric trains in and around Bangkok
  • ~355 billion for dual-track railways, ports construction and distribution centers

These are huge amounts that will be spent on rail — the spending of which is something the PH economy can only begin to dream about at this point.  Such large amounts of spending by government lead to the natural questions of  how this will all be managed.

Issues include the financing mechanism, as the 2 trillion will be borrowed, and to the criticism of the opposition, will not be financed through the annual budget process. Also, there is the question of the route of the high-speed trains. Shall it unnecessarily pass through the right provinces, which will benefit the “right” politicians? And of course, one needs talk about sustainability. A lot of rail systems in the world operate at a loss, and are subsidized by the government. To what extent will the Thai public subsidize this transportation system?

By what I am sure is not a coincidence, the Thai Cultural and Design Center has an exhibition on JR Kyushu, the tourist rail system in  Kyushu, Japan. Major Thai political figures were at the opening of the exhibition. Max Crosbie-Jones not without basis pans the exhibition, including the problem that “there is no attempt, beyond a quote from TCDC Director Apisit Laistrooglai, to tie it to the local context.” Nonetheless, it is a gorgeous exhibit which I would encourage anyone to attend, but more so those who find trains and train design exciting and romantic.

Edit: Today’s post says that pushing through with the spending bill for infrastructure is tantamount to giving these politicos a blank cheque.

I found myself missing my godfather today

He was an explorer, good with his hands, kind to people, and had a fantastic beard. 

Brace yourself for an onslaught of foreign capital

The country received an investment grade rating from Fitch today. Such a rating will encourage even more foreign capital to come into the country’s economy, and the results may not be pretty.

Expect the strong peso to wreck some further damage. Expect a weakening competitive edge for our exports and services (incl BPO). Expect foreign remittances to buy fewer pesos and put a squeeze on consumption. Expect annoying triumphalist declarations that a record-breaking stock market index bodes that all is well. Expect real estate prices to possibly enter a new and steeper price trajectory. Expect less motivation for an administration to enact any structural reform in the economy.

Expect hype, idiots and frenzy. One hopes that on the flip side, any investment generated will translate to better jobs, more jobs, and investments that will improve incomes, and general welfare. The reason I am not too optimistic is because I don’t see improved signs that the economy has a better absorptive capacity to use capital for productive investments.

What is a sign that the economy has better absorptive capacity? One could be a significant uptake on loans going to manufacturing, agriculture, and small and medium enterprises. These types of investments may generate the kind of employment that we need. Dr. Mendoza has a good explanatory piece in Rappler.

Bangkok, eating experiences

Through circumstances both happy and sad, I have spent more time in Bangkok.

Some places where I’ve eaten, based on resident’s recommendations and habits:

1. Smith at 1/8 Sukhumvit 49. So-called nose to tail cuisine. Good drinks.

2. Hyde and Seek at 65/1 Athenee Residence, Soi Ruamrudee. Sister gastro pub to Smith. Good drinks.

3. Spring Summer at Sukhumvit 49/11. Not a bad place for dessert. Modern ambiance and popular with Thais.

4. Supatra River House at 266 Soi Wat Rakhang, Arunamarin Road. Thai cuisine along the Chao Phraya. Riding their ferry boat across the river can be charming.

5. Sukhothai Salon at 13/3 South Sathorn Road. High tea alternative to the Oriental.

6. Hipster Cafe at Ground Floor of the BACC (I forget the name) at 39 Rama I Rd, Pathumwan. Good and strong coffee. Made me want to revisit Craft Coffee Workshop in New Manila (w/c is better)

7. Sustaina at 1/40 Sukhumvit 39. Organic, sustainable and Japanese. Love the grocery downstairs. Sweet potato cakes a highlight.

Dunkin Donuts at Dela Costa cor Tordesillas

The reason this blog is named 120delacosta is because that is my building address. I’ve recently found out that it might actually be 110 or 115 dela costa. I am not sure really. I just take guidance from my MERALCO bill.

In any case, every few posts will be devoted to the goings-on of the neighborhood, a small detour from the usual posts on commentary, music or reading. Sort of how Tyler Cowen changes things up at marginalrevolution. I can only dream, of course, to be anywhere as popular as Mr. Cowen.

There is a new Dunkin at Dela Costa cor Tordesillas, right near the Solar building. It’s different because it is one of those stand-alone stores that is not part of a strip mall (like in Paseo Center) nor is it a kiosk. I find these types of stores much more interesting. And as a recent article shares, a lot of consumers of Dunkin Donuts are ritualistic. They go there out of habit and sometimes out of nostalgia. I know I do, as Dunkin reminds me of my merienda habit in my last job, and also the brief time that I worked in the northeast part of the US. Hope to pass by the store soon enough.

Monday Morning Reading

I have some luxury to read a bit more this Monday morning because the leadership is at F1 Singapore.

1. Krugman once more talks about the ‘confidence fairy‘. I think that some of the ra-ra sentiment locally relies too much on this figment of the imagination.

2. A piece on the Economist this morning about Slovenia’s troubles.

3. Have been hearing about 3-D printing a lot these days — online, at work, and from actual people I know who are designing a business model which uses it. Is this really the next big thing?

4. Mark Pendleton on marriage not being the best option for relationship recognition (whether for straight or same-sex couples). I tend to agree with him. Pointer comes from @leloyclaudio

Not so random music

Just some things I’ve listened to and enjoyed over the past week:

1. M83  – Great concert in D.C. distributed via NPR

2. Nina Simone — pointer because a 13-yr old in X-Factor did a commendable cover during her audition. “You got soul” is thrown around so easily on reality TV these days. . .or so it seems.

3. Ciudad’s new album, Follow the Leader. A split-second purchase decision ‘coz the CDs were in the backseat of Justin’s car. That’s one way to sell music 🙂 This album contains There’s a Lonely Road to Sunday Night, which is used in the movie Ang Nawawala (I hope they continue to have a commercial run this coming week).

4. Radio Republic — Replays of the week’s shows during weekends. Greyhoundz contention is that much as the media focuses on Pop Music, the Philippines is very much rock country. Good interview of them by Basti Artadi. Saksakan sa Gen San, saksakan sa CDO.

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