Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Pinoy Top Thinkers Today! (2015)

By Chester B Cabalza

(Copyright @ 2015 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved)

The Philippines is a game-changer in many fronts this year. 2015 solemnly started when His Holiness Pope Francis blessed the predominantly Catholic nation in Asia. In between the country has graced the world with sweet beam as the phenomenal love team of ‘AlDub’ skyrockets in Twitterverse holding a world record while the Philippines ascended on the center stage as it successfully hosts for the second time the multilateral trade forum of APEC summit attended by 21 world economic leaders. It happily ends the year of the wooden sheep with the crowning of the most beautiful Filipino woman in the universe. 

This year, Filipinos survive many political hullabaloos with a miscalculated strategy on a Mamasapano debacle that brought the elusive peace in Mindanao another challenge. This operational mishap perpetually highlights the heroism of the Special Action Force, a highly-trained elite police corps, as we mystify the so-called fallen “SAF44”.

On the external front, legal luminaries and our international law experts under the aegis of foreign affairs aid the Philippines win the first round of our case against a giant civilization-state as the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Peace Palace at The Hague held that the Philippine case has jurisdiction. The rule of law has prevailed as the tribunal is expected to decide on the second round of the legal bout on the merits of our petition against the aggressive neighbor as early as next year.    

Filipinos have also shown the world their multi-faceted potentials in business, economics, performing arts and film, international law, academia, and more other professional networks courtesy of our expanding diasporic communities worldwide and the nanosecond viral clout of transborder social media. 

Celebrating Filipino top thinkers today since its inception seven years ago is in itself a milestone as we see young and promising thinkers in the Philippines. This gives us more hope that our great country is a producer of knowledge in the knowledge economy of the twenty-first century.

Below is the gallery of thinkers and newsmakers who continuously contribute to the intellectual tradition and cultural transformation of the Philippines. Some of them rise as an ensemble as they outwit others despite pressures and odds with their clever talents while many of them single-handedly share their words of wisdom and expertise in their own respective fields.   

AlDub Cast (best entertainers, twitter record-holder) – the accidental hit kalyeserye (street series) of the noontime show Eat Bulaga surprised millions of Filipino fans or the AlDub nation across the globe that paved way for giant international media and foreign celebrities to digest and comprehend the popularity of the phenomenal love team of Alden Richards and Maine Mendoza or "Yaya Dub" supported by wacky and witty grandmothers acted by Wally Bayola, Paolo Ballesteros, and Jose Manalo. They changed the landscape of online and television advertising as they embraced the totality of a new genre of entertainment of the 21st century combining social media’s apps like dabsmash and a fusion of their own live and situational antics of romantic comedy, dramedy, parody, and positivism. They have cemented their presence on Twitter with their record-breaking 41 million tweets during the climax of the kalyserye’s “Tamang Panahon” episode. Their movie is certainly a top-grosser in this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival. The multi-awarded and bankable AlDub cast is also hailed by the powerful Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) for spreading commendable Filipino values.   

Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa (Ramon Magsaysay awardee) – as she gracefully dances her style called pangalay in the tune of ‘Twerk it like Miley’ in the primetime news to connect with the millennial crowd, this year’s Ramon Magsaysay winner earns the respect of the world as the keeper of living traditions of dance movements of the Sulu archipelago and the country’s link to the ancient and classical dance traditions in maritime Southeast Asia. In the RMA website, she has been recognized in “her single-minded crusade in preserving the endangered artistic heritage of southern Philippines and in creatively propagating a dance form that celebrates and deepens the sense of shared cultural identity among Asians.” This Tagalog ethnic dancer who deeply embraced her husband’s southern roots creates a healing power through her gift and craft as she advocates cultural empowerment amidst ethnic and religious strife in a plural society of the Philippines. Keeping culture alive through dance is her way of saying “a dance must be repeated, or else it vanishes.”      

John Arcilla (actor, thespian) – the rebirth of General Antonio Luna in film is also the rebirth of best actor John Arcilla. As a character actor in mainstream movies he rarely plays a lead role. Underrated for his holistic talent in theater, television and film until Jerrold Tarog’s game-changer indie film and highest grossing historical movie Heneral Luna paved way for John Arcilla to be recognized as one of the smart actors in the country as he cements his presence in the volatile world of tinseltown. Although, known for his award-winning supporting acting roles in the 90s and bags minor roles in Hollywood movies, his iconic and transformative acting in Heneral Luna  inspired students and history aficionados alike to rethink and review the role of Antonio Luna and other national heroes during the Spanish-American period in the Philippines. He has carried the film with confidence and in character, and he excellently plays the lunatic and ‘renaissance man’ persona of General Luna. With his sterling performance, the historical biopic has been picked as the Philippine entry to the 2016 Oscar’s foreign film up against 80 entries in Hollywood.
Christopher Ian Cabalza (multi-awarded physician) – he has traveled the continents of Asia, Africa, North and South America, and Europe to study and practice medicine. His never-ending search for knowledge and sense of volunteerism for the United Nations and other organizations earned him several local and international awards and distinctions. He received commendations like the Epic Award for Community Service and the Medallion and Certificate as Diplomate and Fellow of the Philippine Academy of Medical Specialists, Inc; TOYM 2015 nominee by the JCI, Inc; Dr Jose P Rizal Memorial Award for Filipino Physician with distinction for Community Leadership by the PMA; a Higher Career Ambassador by Commission on Higher Education Region II; and a Dangal ng Bayan and Asian Achiever Honoree. He is one of the editors of the International Institute of Ageing and outstanding blood donor in Guyana, South America. This multi-awarded young gerontologist and physician studied in Malta, Europe and Saint Louis University at Baguio City whose expertise is sought of by radio and television medical programs. He also lectures in medical schools in Region II for his wide-ranging knowledge and experience in community service which is lacking among many medical doctors today.   

Antonio Carpio (senior associate justice) – “equalizer” becomes his proverbial word as the Philippines legally battles with a big and strong country. “Intergenerational” summons his word of wisdom in describing our longstanding legal issue in the West Philippine Sea. He consistently cements his strong presence several times in this gallery of thinkers as long as we have not patched up our political and strategic difference with China over our national sovereignty and territorial integrity. His pioneering archival research on ancient maps can be used as one of our “prima facie” pieces of evidence in our will to win in the arbitration case for the second round. However, The UP College of Law class valedictorian’s legal opinion over presidential candidate Grace Poe’s flaws in SET ruling by stating that she is not a natural born under international customary law irked the lady presidential aspirant. Despite the legal opinion, he remains credible and respected in the legal community while his voice sounds powerful in shaping international law and maritime legal history.

Lav Diaz (award-winning indie filmmaker) – he is the elder statesmen of the New Philippine cinema and his films are haunted by his country’s past, describes http://www.filmlinc.org. He has become famous over the last decade for his works lasting six, seven and eleven hours, almost shot in black-and-white in small towns and countryside of the Philippines, writes http://hcl.harvard.edu. This award-winning filmmaker from Mindanao is known for his extensive films such as Batang West Side; Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino (Evolution of a Filipino Family); Kagadanan sa Banwaan ning mga Engkanto (Death in the Land of Encantos); Melancholia; and Norte, the End of History. His full-length films have been shown in the biggest, most respected, and oldest film festivals around the world as he consistently brings home laurels of honor for the country from the Independent Film Festival of Brussels, Cannes Film Festival, Cinemanila International Film Festival, Fribourg International Film Festival, International Locarno International Film Festival, Singapore International Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, and Venice International Film Festival. He is also a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship in 2010 and the Prince Claus Award of the Netherlands in 2014.

El Gamma Penumbra (shadow play genius) – they wowed the world with their genuine and unique talent with such an impeccable class. The group’s name was derived from Latin words meaning “the ray of light behind a man’s shadow”. The ensemble talents from Batangas popularized the human shadow play with just a tarpaulin and a halogen light as an improvisation during their humble beginnings. From a simple stage in a basketball court back in Tanauan to a sophisticated glistening world-class stage at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, they brought home honor for the Philippines tagged as the first Grand Winner of Asia’s Got Talent. Their winning numbers are well-thought of and heartfelt performances showing a masterful Filipino artistry and ingenuity in performing arts that does not deviate from social realism. In the world’s talent search, it is no wonder that our country proves that we are the land of many talents or a land that has its own league of God-given talents. This has been evident during the final's night of Asia’s Got Talent when four Filipino acts out of eight finalists competed in the contest. El Gamma Penumbra’s world-class talent has made them one of the tourism ambassadors of the country as they perform for “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” brand and they also shared their talent during the dinner hosted by President Aquino for world economic leaders during the APEC Summit in Mall of Asia.

Filipino Small Medium Entrepreneurs (Apec superstars) – the buzz word for “inclusive growth” has become a big question mark during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation as the host Philippines paves way for world leaders to expound in their speeches the bigger role of small and medium entrepreneurs. With the striving and expanding economic growth in the Philippines, Filipino small and medium entrepreneurs are key partners to enlarging a pool of middle class to fuel a booming economy. This unprecedented entrepreneurial culture among Filipinos must be mustered and honed more to compete in a globalizing world. Microentrepreneurs must engage with the globalizing world and to open freely their small and medium businesses that boost uniqueness and quality. Definitely to become big time one must start from scratch.   

Gilas Pilipinas (FIBA Asian silver medalist) – in Europe football players are the gods but in the Philippines Gilas Pilipinas are the sports superstars. Despite the looming political relations between the Philippines and China, first they competed to host for this year’s International Federation of Basketball, with the Philippines boasting the Philippine Arena as venue being the world’s largest indoor arena while China’s emerging economy boasts spectacular infrastructures for the event. Secondly, in the championship game, the Philippines and China draw close fight again for the top post with Chinese coach quips in jest by saying that it will give away the Spartlys Islands in case they will lose the game. With many technical glitches and hullabaloos, notwithstanding the obvious maneuvering in favor of the host country, many basketball fans deem that the Philippines truly deserve to win the gold. Nonetheless Gilas Pilipinas’ FIBA Asian silver medal is truly an honor placing the Philippines up to number 28 in world basketball standing, it jumps three notches higher after their breathtaking and intense game in FIBA Asia.

Doris Magsaysay-Ho (Apec business advisory council chairperson) – the shipping heiress wonderfully chairs the APEC Business Advisory Council in the recently concluded APEC Summit in Manila. As the daughter of a successful businessman father and award-winning artist-painter mother, she carries with her a rare breed of philanthropic endeavors with a degree in Industrial Design. As the Entrepreneur of the Year Awardee in 2004 and Socially Responsible Entrepreneur Awardee in 2003, she deems that women entrepreneurs should be empowered and stresses the importance of adopting government policies that promote MSME’s growth and trade.

Richard Javad Heydarian (rising young academic) – turn on to news channels and you would watch him live or listen to his incisive commentaries on various international issues. Surf the net and you may read his articles and stories on the South China Sea disputes, Asian and Philippines current affairs, the Middle East politics, and international political economic issues. This young academic is uber energetic as he thinks, writes, and speaks clearly with credibility. He reads and presents his papers in various international conferences and is sought of for his comments and perspectives in various academic and business engagements. He is the author of “How Capitalism Failed the Arab World: The Economic Roots and Precarious Future of the Arab Uprisings; and Asia’s New Battelfield: US, China and the Struggle for Western Pacific State. This University of the Philippines Diliman alumnus and De La Salle University faculty member has written for and/or interviewed by leading news agencies, local and international, according to his brief biography. As a rising young academic, his brilliant mind will definitely open more doors for him and the country needs this kind of caliber.

Florin Hilbay (solicitor general) – the 1999 bar topnotcher became the Solicitor General only this year but he authored a book entitled “Unplugging the Constitution” published by the UP Press covering theoretical, adjudication and legal hermeneutics on Constitutional Law and Family Relations. He obtained a Masters of Law from Yale University and became a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Boston College. He received Fellowships at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg, Germany and the Asian Law Institute for Comparative Public Law in the National University of Singapore. He is a proud alumnus of the University of Santo Tomas and the UP College of Law who also teaches Advance Constitutional Litigation in the premier law school. He handled several high profile cases including the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), both are considered pork barrels. He was also the principal lawyer for the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Ramon Jimenez Jr (tourism secretary) – call him the genius behind the phenomenal hit brand of “It’s More Fun in the Philippines”. As the catchy tag hits social media, it was a certified viral and every town and city around the country carry their own memes of “it’s more fun”. Tourism is one of the sunrise industries in the Philippines. We got plenty to offer beginning with our picturesque natural wonders, tasty food, customs and traditions, and the hospitable people. And the lacking ingredient to make the Philippines more fun would be Mon J, popularly known in the advertising world as a guru for his effortless ideas and successful brand campaigns. Because of this, tourism receipts and visits from foreign lands have increased. The land of the most social media savvy used the internet and spread their inherent wit, creativity and humor on the brand. Looks like every Filipino around the world enjoyed the brand and participated in its success. The success of the online campaign fits for Jimenez as he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Fine Arts major in Visual Communication from the UP College of Fine Arts and received the Gawad Alagad ng Sining from his alma mater. He was also awarded the Achievement Award from the Creative Guild of the Philippines and Pilak Award for the Mavericks of Marketing in the Philippines from Adboard.

Ricky Lee (prime scriptwriter) – this year’s Gawad Plaridel Awardee is unassuming and grounded despite his big name and reputation. He is recognized by his alma mater, the University of the Philippines Diliman, as he exhibits the highest level of professional integrity in the interest of public service. He is the noted scriptwriter of multi-awarded and influential films such as Himala, Jaguar, Salome, Moral, and Karnal that tackled various taboos and modern moralities in Philippine cinema. As a prime screenwriter, journalist, novelist, and playwright – he is still at the pinnacle of his career receiving left and right awards from local and international award-giving bodies. As a grandmaster of storytelling, he mentors young and budding scriptwriters and filmmakers by conducting scriptwriting workshops for free at his home. He joins his students in their immersion to Quiapo, Ermita, Luneta and other interesting places as refuge for creativity. His supreme writings are well-studied in film schools and he has significantly contributed to Philippine literature and popular culture through his filmography and fiction, according to UP CMC. Nevertheless, time will come he will be bestowed with the National Artist Award in the coming years.   

Ricardo Marquez (police chief) – as the police force is quite painted with dreadful image, we need a police chief that is charismatic, thinking, and clean. The farmer’s son is a product of public schools and graduated from the Philippine Military Academy Class ’82. Marquez is a bemedalled Constabulary and police official receiving 29 PNP commendation medals, four campaign medals and ribbon, two presidential unit citation badges and one honor graduate award. He was lauded for his hard work and work ethics who headed the PNP’s Directorate for Operations and led the Special Task Force “Papal Visit 2015” and under him about 25,000 police men and women were mobilized during the holy visit of Pope Francis, early January. As part of his training and qualifications as the new police director, he was assigned before in several PNP directorates including the Directorate for Human Resource and Doctrines Development, Directorate for Research and Development, Directorate for Intelligence, and Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force. Perhaps one of his challenges would be the looming crises in Metro Manila that is to ease the monstrous traffic courtesy of his uniformed men of the PNP Highway Patrol Group (HPG) who received mix reviews from irate commuters. As the new PNP chief, he has to prove that he can manage the hullabaloos of the upcoming presidential election next year and elevate public safety among Filipinos.

Aisa Mijano (engineer, scientist) – the salt lamp inventor shines during the APEC Summit in Manila. Her only wish is to power an entire island using just ocean or saline water. But to her surprise, even the most powerful man in the world made her shine and both thinkers enlightened the minds of world entrepreneurs and inventors. In sharing the center stage with US president Barrack Obama and billionaire Jack Ma, she wanted to emphasize the reality of climate change that scientists like her need to get funding for grants to make their inventions viable for all, especially those sectors in need of their masterpiece. As a former Greenpeace Philippines volunteer, she thought of a Sustainable Alternative Lighting lamp that is innovative and environment-friendly light source that may be suitable to those living in coastal areas. The SALt lamp is made of improved chemical compounds, catalysts, and metal alloys that when submerged in electrolytes will generate electricity. Mijano’s ground-breaking experiment received various commendations and awards in Japan, the Philippines, Singapore and South Korea. Despite the luster of world economic leaders during the APEC summit, Aisa Mijano came out to be the most promising star that young thinkers must emulate.  

Pinoy Young Math Wizards (over-all champion) – from the land of the best English speakers in Asia courtesy of our lead in call centers of the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), it is not a big surprise that Filipinos may also excel in mathematics. This is real and not a myth as the Philippine mathematics team bagged the overall champion award in the Singapore International Math Competition (SIMC). They won over Asia’s mathematics powerhouse including China and Taiwan. The young Filipino aces won 31 gold, 60 silver, and 125 bronze medals out of 216 medals. Then came another five young math wizards who took home gold medals in two tough math Olympiad held in China. This only proves that Filipinos are problem solvers and numeric with mathematical inclinations.

Enrique Razon (casino magnate, industrialist) – his luxurious casino resort has become the Pandora’s box for the mushrooming casino havens in Manila’s own Las Vegas strip at Entertainment City with the newly constructed City of Dreams and soon to be completed Manila Bay Resorts and Resorts World Bayshore. Imagine the thousands of local employment it could generate because of these big and plush projects. In 2013, Razon was listed as one of the country’s top thinkers in my gallery as ports tycoon and casino magnate. Wilson Lee Flores described this young accomplished industrialist as visionary, risk-taker, passionate, hard-working, traveler, perfectionist, straightforward, flexible, health buff, sports-minded, avid reader, charismatic, self-confident, good listener, globally-competitive and decisive leader. The third richest man in the Philippines is a street-smart as he left school at age 17 to take a blue collar job at the family’s cargo-loading business and toiled harder and worked his way through the ranks to become the chairman of ICTSI, their family business. His port empire now extends from Asia to Africa and Latin America.   

Howie Severino (multi-awarded broadcast journalist) – documentarist Severino is named as Journalist of the Year by the Metrobank Foundation, Inc. From an award-winning newspaper reporter to an editor-in-chief of GMA News Online and as the first blogger on GMA’s web platform, he is best known for his documentaries on i-Witness and GMA News anchor of the morning television show News to Go. Known as one of the pillars of GMA-7’s news and public affairs, this award-winning journalist has a History degree (magna cum laude) from Tufts University in Massachusetts, USA and a Master’s degree in Environment, Development and Policy from the University of Sussex, UK. He has received several awards including the Neil Davis Award, CMMA, Jaime Ongpin Grand Prize, Rotary Club of Manila, UPLB Gandingan Awards, Titus Brandsma Award, PUP Maringal na Pantas Award, PMA Rizal Award, Adamson Media Award, and La Sallian Scholarium Award. In 2007, he was named as the Broadcast Journalist of the Year and Investigative Journalist of the Year. He was also considered as one of the most trusted Filipinos by Reader’s Digest and Men Who Matter by the People Asia Magazine. He is the son of ASEAN’s former Secretary General, Ambassador Rodolfo Severino. He is married to a TOYM awardee and environmental lawyer Ipat Luna.

Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach (miss universe 2015) – she stands very tall in her confidently beautiful with a heart answer in the Miss Universe beauty pageant. Amidst the twists, surprises, and mistakes during the coronation night, her wit and poise outshines other beautiful contestants from all over the world. Her controversial answer in the first round and the substantive response in the second round of Q&A have made her the supreme queen of the universe and the darling of the crowd. Beauty and brains plus a va-va-voom figure pave way for wonderful opportunities for this stunning Filipina with a German-sounding surname. Although her road to the Miss Universe 2015 is filled with extra mile challenges and rough roads, by attempting thrice to represent the country in the local franchise of this international pageant; her long wait has paid off and her proverbial tweet to become the reigning queen has come true after a 42-year drought to reclaim the coveted crown for the Philippines. She turns out to be the brightest star in the universe for 2015.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Aquino seeks to end term on a high note

12:06 AM November 18th, 2015

WITH only a little over 200 days left in office, President Aquino has to make the most of his two days of being on center stage when he hosts the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Meeting on Nov. 18 and 19, the culminating activity of the year-long Apec conference series.

“President Aquino can banner this as one of his final accomplishments in his effort to revive the economy in his strong campaign for good governance,” said security expert Chester Cabalza.

Mr. Aquino, after all, is the “poster boy for good governance equals good economics” with his daang matuwid (straight path) political platform, Cabalza said.

‘PH can deliver’

Whether his critics acknowledge it or not, Mr. Aquino has made some remarkable achievements on the economic front.

From the investment upgrade ratings to a stable currency, several factors have made investors and analysts worldwide take a second look at the Philippines and baptize it as “Asia’s Economic Bright Spot.”

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte hopes that through the Apec meetings, the Philippines will be seen in the Asia-Pacific region as a “nation that can deliver on a very significant scale.”

“I think that, under President Aquino, we have enjoyed a kind of standing in the international community that allows us to forward our vision of a more inclusive nation and region. The opportunity we have now is the ability to harness that trust and confidence to better articulate and realize our vision,” she said.

Time and again the President has emphasized that the Philippines “is a responsible member of the international community,” Valte said.

“There’s so much evidence of this in terms of our willingness to help in peacekeeping, economic support, among others. Apec further highlights that fact—that the Philippines has arrived, can deliver and will continue to deliver,” Valte said.

Valte said the AELM—which brings together the leaders of the world’s biggest economies—is an opportunity for Apec leaders to see for themselves all the good news they have been hearing about the Philippines.

“It is different when they come and see for themselves that they can bring their business here. That is what the President has been saying, we are open for business, we are under a new management,” Valte said.

Serious player

Some would argue that there is very little political gain from organizing an international summit like Apec because it is primarily an economic forum.

But Cabalza said that hosting the Apec meetings “cements the Philippines’ position as a serious player in the Asia-Pacific region.”

“The hosting of the Apec summit has placed the Philippines in the radar of foreign investors facilitated by economic reforms done during the Aquino administration. Although there are more reforms that should be done, Apec will certainly open doors to more opportunities based from an evolving regional cooperation and integration,” he said.

“From the investment upgrade ratings, strong macroeconomic fundamentals, anti-corruption campaigns and other economic reforms, the Philippines is becoming an agent of change in the region and a game-changer in a very competitive globalized world,” Cabalza said.

The Philippines, however, should be careful not to “spoil this economic momentum to repaint its bad image,” he said.

Mr. Aquino’s hosting of the Apec summit will also be a “benchmark for aspiring presidential candidates in their bid to sustain economic momentum and inclusive growth to upgrade the standard of living of Filipinos and the next generation to come,” Cabalza said.

Primary gain

For the Philippines to be able to get “economies of various sizes to agree on a set of principles and turn those agreements into action points” is something that Valte considers a “primary gain” for the country hosting the Apec meetings.

“I think that the delegations sent by their respective economies have seen and will continue to see that the Philippines is an economy they can trust and really partner with. And to my mind that leads to greater prospects for our countrymen,” she said.

Valte said that the goodwill established by Mr. Aquino during the summit would almost certainly be carried over into the next administration, whoever the new President will be.

“You are talking to economies and our goodwill from Apec carries over because remember, you have an entire system of bureaucrats that speaks to the economies. So whatever happens in the political sphere, there is an institution that keeps talking to another institution,” she said.

As Apec conference host, the Philippines organized over the past year more than 30 meetings and events in different parts of the country focusing on different sectors and issues, such as food security, energy security, transportation, tourism, women empowerment, climate change, and disaster reduction and response.

All these were done under the banner of the Apec theme, “Building Inclusive Economies, Building a Better World.”

“Our theme, which has been a thrust of the Aquino administration, is inclusive growth, and every aspect of our hosting has tried to demonstrate that—from showcasing venues that serve as emerging regional centers for trade and tourism, to promoting topics like resilience and MSME [micro, small and medium enterprises] development, which have been vital to our growth strategy,” Valte said. MSMEs are key economic growth drivers that must be nurtured and honed to allow them to “integrate” into the global market, to be more competitive and “not be left behind,” she said.

“MSME is not just finding one person a job but also a capacity to move up because that one person is in a position to give jobs to other people,” she said.

Valte said the various meetings, not only among government representatives but also with the private sector, had allowed the Philippines to “make solid pitches” for sectors like agriculture and manufacturing.

The beauty of Apec is that it “gives us a forum to speak to other economies and make our concerns known,” she said.

“It also gives us the opportunity to not just air our concerns and issues but also…access to sharing of best practices in economies,” she said.

Face-to-face relationships

Apec is a forum that allows the economies to build “relationships face to face,” Valte said.
“Whether we admit it or not, economies sometimes talk to each other when their leaders visit. It is good also that down to the level of the senior officials, they have the chance to talk and interact and get to know each other because that goes a long way into entering into agreements that would benefit all of the parties,” Valte said.

“When you have that goodwill or when you have a certain familiarity with an official from another economy then it makes your work easier,” she added.

The series of meetings that began last January produced agreements intended to help the member economies with policy directions that would benefit the entire Asia-Pacific region.

These include the Cebu Action Plan that presents a road map for a more sustainable future for the individual Apec economies and for the Asia-Pacific region as a whole; the Boracay Action Agenda to Globalize MSMEs; the Iloilo Initiative: Growing Global MSMEs for Inclusive Development; Renewed Apec Agenda for Structural Reform; Apec High-Level Policy Dialogue on Food Security and Blue Economy Plan of Action; Apec High-Level Policy Dialogue on Women and the Economy; Disaster-Risk Reduction Framework for Cooperation; 2015 Apec Strategy for Strengthening Quality Growth; the Apec Services Cooperation Framework; the 2015 Energy Ministerial Meeting; and the 9th Transportation Ministerial Meeting.

“All these, of course, contribute to the macro and micro aspects of economic stability, a topic which our economic cluster secretaries will enjoy discussing,” Valte said.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar Heritage Resort

Photographs by CBCabalza. Copyright © 2015 by Chester B. Cabalza. All Rights Reserved.

#Apec2015PH - at the height of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), a multilateral trade forum, hosted by the Philippines on November 18-19, 2015, I had the chance to visit the historically mesmerizing and the architectural wonders of Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bagac, the province of Bataan!

The successful APEC Summit in Manila was attended by powerful leaders including three of the world's largest economies today in this order: the United States' President Barack Obama, China's President Xi Jinping, and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, among other 21 world leaders participating in the APEC.

Of the tourist sites and beautiful hosts for the Apec Summit around the Philippines (Bagac, Bacolod, Boracay, Cebu, Davao, Iloilo, Palawan, Tagaytay, and Manila) I got enthused of taking beautiful pictures around the well-paved and manicured complex of Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar Heritage Resort!


Monday, November 16, 2015

Xi’s presence a test for China

06:00 AM November 6th, 2015

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s attendance at the Philippine-hosted Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit would serve as a “litmus test” to determine how he would address the overlapping claims to the South China Sea, with questions on China’s actions in the disputed waterway expected to be raised at the conference, a security expert told the Inquirer.

“Apec being an economic forum with its multilateral approach will not deviate from broader realities, either political or security, in the region. China will nevertheless not be spared from questions about its military might and continued artificial island-building in the South China Sea that have had almost occupied some islands claimed by the Philippines in the disputed West Philippine Sea,” Chester Cabalza of the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP) said in a statement sent via e-mail.

“Xi Jinping’s presence in the Apec Summit hosted by the Philippines will become a litmus test of his commitment on how to deal with complex issues like the South China Sea disputes,” Cabalza said.

He said the Apec Summit is an opportunity for Xi “to show China’s political stance among its neighbors in the Asia-Pacific despite brewing maritime disputes, as China takes a serious step to multilaterally engage with bigger or smaller economies in the region.”

President Aquino will host the Apec Economic Leaders Meeting (AELM) on Nov. 18 and 19, the culmination of the summit that promotes free trade in the Asia-Pacific region.

There is no word yet on whether or not Xi would be attending the AELM.

MalacaƱang has confirmed the attendance to the conference of US President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Cabalza said Xi’s presence to the Apec Summit “is much anticipated,” especially after his recent state visits to the United States and the United Kingdom.

“His presence will cement his position as a global leader in his commitment to foster global prosperity and security,” Cabalza said.

If Xi decides to skip the Apec Summit in Manila, Cabalza said this would reflect on China’s “unpreparedness to hold greater responsibility as a regional power.”

“It does show an asymmetry of relations after his successful visits to bigger and powerful countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, and his absence to the Apec Summit hosted by the Philippines will only escalate mistrust in the region,” he said.

“[Xi’s] absence might stain the sincerity of the Chinese leader to answer complex and multiple issues as a giant neighbor in the region. If China really wants to cement its presence and show benign power in the region, the Apec Summit is one the best forums to demonstrate its commitments as a respected regional power. Xi Jinping’s absence will certainly draw flak from the international community,” Cabalza said.

If Xi attends the Apec, he has “every right not to comment” on the South China Sea dispute, Cabalza said, but the Chinese leader should still issue “pronouncements to assure China’s continued efforts to elevate peace and security in the most dynamic and important region in the world—the Asia-Pacific, since regional security greatly impacts economic stability of the region.”

A bilateral or pull-aside meeting between him and Mr. Aquino at the Apec summit is also much awaited, similar to what the two leaders had last year when Beijing hosted the conference.
President Aquino is pushing for the full implementation of a code of conduct among all claimant countries in the South China Sea but with only seven months left in office, he might have to step down without seeing a code of conduct agreed by China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Aside from the Philippines and China, the other countries who have wrangled over territory in the South China Sea are Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

China is laying claim to almost 90 percent of the South China Sea, a resource-rich and major sea-lane where $7 trillion in global trade passes, insisting on a so-called “historic right” using a “nine-dash line” demarcation.

The Philippines haled China to a UN arbitral tribunal questioning among several issues, the nine-dash line.

The court, based in The Hague, recently ruled that it had jurisdiction over the Philippines’ petition and set the hearings a few days after the Apec Summit.

Dumaguete - Siquijor Escapade

Photographs by Chester B. Cabalza
Copyright © 2015 by Chester B. Cabalza. All Rights Reserved.

After reading and presenting my scholastic paper in an UGAT Conference mostly attended by anthropologists and geographers  at Siliman University in the Land of Gentle People in Dumaguete City, I decided to spend the night in the mystic island of Siquijor. I brought with me the Lonely Planet as my travel buddy to the best sounds, smell, and sights in Dumaguete and Siquijor.

Dumaguete City

Aside from the beautiful and sprawling Siliman Univeristy, the oldest American University in Asia, my taste bud savored the culinary culture in this beautiful provincial City of Dumaguete and enjoyed their callos, sansrival and silvannas!


The fear of the unknown I had with this mystic island transformed my perception about the magical place. Local people are friendly and I was able to tour around the small island in five hours through the ever-reliable tricycle. I stayed in a resort owned by a Japanese couple well-recommended by Lonely Planet and spent the night soul-searching! 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Rule of law prevailed, says Aquino

03:15 AM October 31st, 2015

The rule of law has prevailed, and President Benigno Aquino III is “very happy.”

“We are very happy that the [UN Permanent Court of Arbitration] said it has jurisdiction (over the case),” Mr. Aquino told reporters during a visit to Eastern Samar province on Friday.

He was referring to the UN tribunal’s ruling on Thursday that it has jurisdiction to hear the Philippines’ case seeking the invalidation of China’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea, including waters within the West Philippine Sea.

The President also noted that the tribunal is expected to rule on the merits of the Philippines’ petition against China “as early as next year.”

“It’s a fast process. The discussion is quite complicated but we can say, who wouldn’t be happy that and we call the rule of law prevailed?” Mr. Aquino said.

Echoing a Supreme Court associate justice he did not name, the President said the rule of law was the “equalizer” in the relations between a big state and a small state.

Had the UN tribunal ruled that it did not have jurisdiction over Manila’s petition, it would have been “the end of such avenue” for the Philippines, Mr. Aquino said, referring to the legal track that his administration follows in resolving the territorial dispute with China.

Relations with China

Asked how winning the first round would affect the Philippines’ relations with China, Mr. Aquino said the clarifications made by the tribunal would, hopefully, be an “avenue for better relations” between the two countries.

He said the maritime dispute was only one of the aspects of the Philippines’ relations with China.

Before President Aquino spoke Friday, the government’s reaction to the tribunal’s decision was subdued and measured, especially with the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Economic Leaders’ Meeting to be held in Manila on Nov. 18 and 19.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has yet to confirm his attendance at the meeting.

Presidential spokespersons Herminio Coloma Jr. and Abigail Valte said in separate statements that the tribunal’s decision would allow the Philippines to present the merits of the case.

“Our people can be assured that those representing our country have been continuously preparing for this,” Valte said.

“[The] government would really be careful on how to play this up… The Apec should be an opportunity to start mending fences,” Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, told the Inquirer by phone.

Batongbacal said the announcement of the tribunal’s decision coming at the heels of the United States’ testing freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, as well as the upcoming Apec summit, was purely coincidental but “not exactly a good mix.”

“China could be taking time to study these things,” Batongbacal said.

President Aquino said the tribunal’s decision would be one of the issues to be tackled at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit in Kuala Lumpur next month.

President Aquino has consistently campaigned for the conclusion of a binding code of conduct in the South China Sea between Asean and China.

“The voice that we bring [to the Asean] must have an urgency, that we finish the discussions and we have a code of conduct. That would be part of the interventions we will have at the Asean [summit],” he said.

Regional peace, stability

The Department of National Defense (DND) welcomed the UN tribunal’s ruling.

“It’s a very good development not only for the Philippines but [also] for all nations believing in the Unclos (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea). We will closely monitor the developments in this court,” said Peter Paul Galvez, spokesperson for the DND.

He said the DND was optimistic that other nations would adhere to international laws for regional peace and stability.

“As long as we maintain freedom of navigation and [overflight] in the [South China Sea], then that is for the stability of the region,” Galvez said.

Sen. Grace Poe, a presidential candidate in next year’s general elections, hailed the UN tribunal’s ruling, which she said cleared the way for the hearing of the merits of the Philippine case.

“[W]ith this development, which I think the international community will support, I am hopeful that China will respect the ruling and desist from any actions that will negate any decision of the tribunal on the case in the future,” Poe said.

China won’t stop

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, head of the Senate committee on national defense and security, said the tribunal’s ruling validated the Philippines’ complaint against China and strengthened its call for global intervention.

Trillanes said, however, that he did not believe China would stop intruding into the West Philippine Sea, part of the South China Sea within Manila’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone.

“China, for fear of losing face, would likely continue with [its] activities and insist on [its] claims even if it eventually loses the case,” Trillanes said.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III said the tribunal’s ruling was good news, but it did not mean the Philippines would win the arguments on the merits of its case.

This is the next challenge for the Philippines, Pimentel said.

Senate President Franklin Drilon said the ruling was a “crucial positive step” in the Philippines’ efforts to protect its sovereignty.

“The Philippines remains committed to the peaceful settlement of conflicting claims in the West Philippine Sea in accordance with international law, in particular the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Drilon said.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. welcomed the tribunal’s ruling, but said the Philippines should not forsake its relations with China.

“We must remember that this sea conflict is only one aspect and that through many years our country and its people have had very close, fruitful ties with China and we intend to sustain that,” Belmonte said in a statement.

He said the tribunal’s ruling was a “big relief,” clearing the way for the discussion of the merits of the Philippine case.

More assertive China

Batongbacal warned that the tribunal’s ruling could provoke China into becoming more assertive in the South China Sea.

“The realities on the ground have changed and they are not in our favor. Possibly, we won the legal round but on the practical end, we might end up with substantial losses,” Batongbacal said.

He said he was worried about the Aquino administration’s “overreliance on the legal track.”

“Now we could have a hard time with China. We could have developed the diplomatic track to settle the issue amicably. We’ve also lost quite a lot in terms of the strained relations between President Aquino and President Xi Jinping,” Batongbacal said.

He said the timing of the tribunal’s ruling, coming only days after the United States tested freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, “was unfortunate.”

“I am pretty sure these events are not connected but the Chinese might interpret it as the US being behind it (tribunal decision),” Batongbacal said, adding that it could make China more assertive in the South China Sea.

Chester Cabalza, a professor at the National Defense College of the Philippines, agreed.

“Since China’s territorial integrity is now challenged by the United States, definitely they will stringently safeguard their air and naval spaces. China will continuously flex muscle and assert sovereignty over the South China Sea,” said Cabalza, who specializes in Chinese affairs.

“They will finish their constructions and island-building in the South China Sea that would help them secure their strategic interests with or without the tribunal’s decision,” he  said.

Cabalza added that even if the tribunal’s final decision on the merits of the Philippines’ petition would be nonbinding, “China will definitely be pressured by the international community.”

Code of conduct

He said the Philippines “must accelerate its position in the Asean to call for a mutually binding code of conduct in the South China Sea because of these new developments.”

Unlike Batongbacal, however, Cabalza believed President Aquino was right in pursuing the legal track.

“Although considered our last resort, notwithstanding our diplomatic and military woes, seeking legal means is the best strategy President Aquino has done,” Cabalza said. 

With reports from Julie M. Aurelio, Leila B. Salaverria and DJ Yap