Insights and opinions from our contributors on the current issues happening in the region






Casualties from making a choice for President

October 31, 2003

“…one who should aspire for such national posts should be one with integrity, performance, excellent academic background, knowledge and experience in policy-making, and good leadership qualities, they are violating the Philippine Constitution”.

Nothing in the Philippine Constitution of 1987, or in previous Constitutions, preclude a member of the elite class of our society or the poorest of the poor from trying one’s lick in any of the national positions contestable in an election.  Just anybody who meets the prescribed Constitutional requirements can run for Senator, Vice-President, or President of the Republic of the Philippines.  There is no educational prequalification, neither prior experience nor education, not even performance.

When the elite and the intellectual who pretend to belong to the elite (which is a psychotic aspiration by everyone who goes to a class – read “high-tuition fee-demanding” – high school or college, to be considered as a member of the “in” crowd or part of the “high class society”) argue that one who should aspire for such national posts should be one with integrity, performance, excellent academic background, knowledge and experience in policy-making, and good leadership qualities, they are violating the Philippine Constitution.  They insinuate that such are the qualifications (criteria) by which any Filipino national aspirant could be judged as eligible for candidacy.  That is a constitutional crime, and those committing it are therefore criminals against the State and the Filipino people.

I have not been formally enrolled in the College of Law, although I intend to as it is my personal dream to become a lawyer myself – and I mean lawyers who can educate the masses to interpret the law as it is expressed, but never by how it may be interpreted, because interpretation of any law (ordinance, statute, or law) is unlike any newspaper or television or radio editorial (which is the media’s bias).  However, I read laws, in legal books, in citations made by the local judicial courts and the Supreme Court (like those appearing in the Supreme Court Reports Annotated or SCRA and digests made on decisions hand down by the Highest Tribunal, or even the law on elections that are followed by the Commission on Elections.

From my readings enriched by explanations and discussions, even in drinking sprees, with some friendly lawyers and those studying law in college, I draw my learnings of the Philippine laws including the Constitutional Law which covers all the Philippine Constitutions.  Mind you, I have even cared to read the American Constitution.  But I am more knowledgeable of our own Charter, including the Local Government Code of 1991 which was fathered by Senator Aquilino Pimentel, Jr.  Thus, I can argue, from the legal viewpoint, and in fact, I can advise barangay officials and teachers what they should do according to law.  That makes me more qualified and credible than any elementary school teacher or barangay official who has not even mastered a single legal provision, even the provision on the qualifications required for one to become a President. 

In this country where most of the electors (those eligible to vote) come from the peasant sector- farmers who produce the food which the rich or the elite also eat of which more than 60 percent have barely gone through grade six, or if they had been to high school they ended up simply as drop-outs because of acute poverty- only someone popular to them and close to their heart in many ways for decades or simply a sufficient period of time should deserve their vote.

But against proposition is the contradiction of the poor class - the elite whose enormous wealth is power wielded though politics and governance. The money of the elite and the bourgeois can sway votes in favor of the elite class’ choice and against the poor man’s candidate.  It is the elite that ruins the destiny of the poor.  It is the elite that castigates the uneducated.  It is the elite that keeps the poor always poor, and exploits the poor for the aggrandizement of the capitalists.

In a glaring situation, by example, the ruling elite class waving the argument that it knows better by its access to power and resources so that therefore it must be the one to decide on how houses of the poor or the homeless should be built and what particular food should they eat, what clothing should they wear and how they should wear it, where to go, and what to become, gives what the poor does not actually need according to their means and capability.

On the contrary, the poor working class, since first seeing the light – and soon realizing that the world in which they are supposed to enjoy the freedom to dream and decide for their own dream is constricted, and restricted, after all.  When the poor innocently or ignorantly infracts the regulations and standards set by the elite, by which some regulations and standards the elite are exempted, the poor goes to jail, or is branded as thief or now a terrorist.  What a sad plight for the poor!  God have pity on them!

In a dream that is the poor’s own to choose their own candidate for President, the elite make it a nightmare, and, like a paranoid, exaggerate that dream like the effects of AIDS or SARS.   

At this time when the poor – 2 million of them nationwide, and still increasing! – are identifying themselves with Philippine Action King Fernando Poe Jr. (FPJ, Ang Panday) as their choice for President, the elite accuse them of being fools and ones who want to create havoc to the country’s economy. Whose economy? The elite class’ economy not the poor class’ economy.

Yes, they are two different things, which, by the way, are never taught properly in elementary, secondary and tertiary schools in the Philippines which are run under a system devised to serve the ends of the elite.  A poor class’ economy is defined in simple terms, by the poor, but that definition is rejected by the elite.  For instance, it means giving the poor a regular employment with a high pay, but the elite insists the poor could only be given a “casual” item, therefore, the elite class’ economy prevailing because anyway it is the elite class that rules (don’t you notice, only the rich can hold provincial chiefs’ positions? or pass pre-qualifying examinations for vacant positions, which are actually reserved by the elite for their fellow elite aspirants?)

This is the reason why quite every two or three months, many poor men and women hired as “casual laborers”, or under contract or job-order, become CASUALTIES.  They become CASUAL TIES OF THE ELITE CLASS ECONOMY.

When will the elite, and the social climbers, or pretenders be genuinely poor-people-oriented?





Righteous Leadership for Good Governance

July 29, 2003

What do you think the real reason why we have problems in the government? Is it because of corrupt officials? Is it because of those officials who don’t have knowledge on leadership? Or is it because of the political system we have in the government? And if those were the reasons, what do you think the possible solutions to the pressing problems we’re facing today?

We can give a lot of reasons regarding those questions, but have we ever realized that the problems we have in the government are “spiritual in nature”? And if it is spiritual in nature, the only best solution is also spiritual in nature? We are confronted with so many solutions to the pressing problems we’re facing today. But look, this is a question of the character of leaders we have in the government today. Do we have righteous leaders to guide us in our national journey; a national character for global competition and challenge?

What we need is righteous leaders who can lead our country righteously for good governance. But the question is, is there such as righteous leadership? The answer is definitely yes, but this kind of leadership must be based on God’s principles.

In Theology, Righteous Leadership – is an ethical function that conforms to the standard of God that empowers the creative sources of all people at all levels, which enables them to internalize the vision and make them participate in broadening the vision in order to attain its desired goal.

Firstly, with this definition, we can now judge righteously that the person to be chosen to be a public official is the one who conforms to the standard of God. A person whose God is the LORD and fears God. The solution to our root problem starts from a spiritual transformation of our society, an authentic turning to God and a commitment to adhere to morals established by God, beginning with a transformation of our people’s values.

Choosing a leader must not be based on money but on his personality.  Political problems in the country such as graft and corruption, inability of governance to deliver basic services, widespread decline in moral values of public officials and continued patronage on money politics, are the results of man’s unrighteousness. This is but symptoms of our national malaise and that the root cause lies in our mediocrity and apathy to righteousness.

Secondly, we need a leader that has a righteous influence. It is about influencing others in a worthwhile cause and enables the people to internalize the vision and make them participate in order to attain its desired goal.

Lastly, we need a leader who has a righteous vision. A proverb says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Prov. 29:18). People drift into a pointless, meaningless and listless existence if there is no captivating vision. His vision or purpose of leadership must not be based on money, power or name, but his willingness to serve the people.  True leadership is developed and sustained by the leader’s vision.

Now, 2004 synchronized election is now approaching, and we’ll once again elect candidates who’ll become our leaders. We’re sure many of our friends are planning to run in any position they desired. So we’ll once again hear flowering words of promises from them just to convince us that they are worthy of our sacred votes. But bear in mind, it will be again a great disaster for us if we‘ll elect a person to be in any position in the government who do not posses the characteristics of a righteous leader.

The decision is in our hands. Let us be responsible and be intelligent in putting a leader in the government. What we need are righteous leaders for good governance.

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Money Laundering in a Changed World

First published by United Press International (UPI)

August 21, 2003

Israel has always turned a blind eye to the origin of funds deposited by Jews from South Africa to Russia. In Britain it is perfectly legal to hide the true ownership of a company. Underpaid Asian bank clerks on immigrant work permits in the Gulf states rarely require identity documents from the mysterious and well-connected owners of multi-million dollar deposits. Hawaladars continue plying their paperless and trust-based trade - the transfer of billions of US dollars around the world. American and Swiss banks collaborate with dubious correspondent banks in off shore centres. Multinationals shift money through tax free territories in what is euphemistically known as "tax planning". Internet gambling outfits and casinos serve as fronts for narco-dollars. British Bureaux de Change launder up to 2.6 billion British pounds annually. The 500 Euro note will make it much easier to smuggle cash out of Europe. A French parliamentary committee accuses the City of London of being a money laundering haven in a 400 page report. Intelligence services cover the tracks of covert operations by opening accounts in obscure tax havens, from Cyprus to Nauru. Money laundering, its venues and techniques, are an integral part of the economic fabric of the world. Business as usual?

Not really. In retrospect, as far as money laundering goes, September 11 may be perceived as a watershed as important as the precipitous collapse of communism in 1989. Both events have forever altered the patterns of the global flows of illicit capital.

What is Money Laundering?

Strictly speaking, money laundering is the age-old process of disguising the illegal origin and criminal nature of funds (obtained in sanctions-busting arms sales, smuggling, trafficking in humans, organized crime, drug trafficking, prostitution rings, embezzlement, insider trading, bribery, and computer fraud) by moving them untraceably and investing them in legitimate businesses, securities, or bank deposits. But this narrow definition masks the fact that the bulk of money laundered is the result of tax evasion, tax avoidance, and outright tax fraud, such as the "VAT carousel scheme" in the EU (moving goods among businesses in various jurisdictions to capitalize on differences in VAT rates). Tax-related laundering nets between 10-20 billion US dollars annually from France and Russia alone. The confluence of criminal and tax averse funds in money laundering networks serves to obscure the sources of both.

The Scale of the Problem

According to a 1996 IMF estimate, money laundered annually amounts to 2-5% of world GDP (between 800 billion and 2 trillion US dollars in today's terms). The lower figure is considerably larger than an average European economy, such as Spain's.

The System

It is important to realize that money laundering takes place within the banking system. Big amounts of cash are spread among numerous accounts (sometimes in free economic zones, financial off shore centers, and tax havens), converted to bearer financial instruments (money orders, bonds), or placed with trusts and charities. The money is then transferred to other locations, sometimes as bogus payments for "goods and services" against fake or inflated invoices issued by holding companies owned by lawyers or accountants on behalf of unnamed beneficiaries. The transferred funds are re-assembled in their destination and often "shipped" back to the point of origin under a new identity. The laundered funds are then invested in the legitimate economy. It is a simple procedure - yet an effective one. It results in either no paper trail - or too much of it. The accounts are invariably liquidated and all traces erased.

Why is it a Problem?

Criminal and tax evading funds are idle and non-productive. Their injection, however surreptitiously, into the economy transforms them into a productive (and cheap) source of capital. Why is this negative?

Because it corrupts government officials, banks and their officers, contaminates legal sectors of the economy, crowds out legitimate and foreign capital, makes money supply unpredictable and uncontrollable, and increases cross-border capital movements, thereby enhancing the volatility of exchange rates.

A multilateral, co-ordinated, effort (exchange of information, uniform laws, extra-territorial legal powers) is required to counter the international dimensions of money laundering. Many countries opt in because money laundering has also become a domestic political and economic concern. The United Nations, the Bank for International Settlements, the OECD's FATF, the EU, the Council of Europe, the Organisation of American States, all published anti-money laundering standards. Regional groupings were formed (or are being established) in the Caribbean, Asia, Europe, southern Africa, western Africa, and Latin America.

Money Laundering in the Wake of the September 11 Attacks


The least important trend is the tightening of financial regulations and the establishment or enhancement of compulsory (as opposed to industry or voluntary) regulatory and enforcement agencies.

New legislation in the US which amounts to extending the powers of the CIA domestically and of the DOJ extra-territorially, was rather xenophobically described by a DOJ official, Michael Chertoff, as intended to "make sure the American banking system does not become a haven for foreign corrupt leaders or other kinds of foreign organized criminals." Privacy and bank secrecy laws have been watered down. Collaboration with off shore "shell" banks has been banned. Business with clients of correspondent banks was curtailed. Banks were effectively transformed into law enforcement agencies, responsible to verify both the identities of their (foreign) clients and the source and origin of their funds. Cash transactions were partly criminalized. And the securities and currency trading industry, insurance companies, and money transfer services are subjected to growing scrutiny as a conduit for "dirty cash".

Still, such legislation is highly ineffective. The American Bankers' Association puts the cost of compliance with the laxer anti-money-laundering laws in force in 1998 at 10 billion US dollars - or more than 10 million US dollars per obtained conviction. Even when the system does work, critical alerts drown in the torrent of reports mandated by the regulations. One bank actually reported a suspicious transaction in the account of one of the September 11 hijackers - only to be ignored.

The Treasury Department established Operation Green Quest, an investigative team charged with monitoring charities, NGO's, credit card fraud, cash smuggling, counterfeiting, and the Hawala networks. This is not without precedent. Previous teams tackled drug money, the biggest money laundering venue ever, BCCI (Bank of Credit and Commerce International), and ... Al Capone. The more veteran, New-York based, El-Dorado anti money laundering Task Force (established in 1992) will lend a hand and share information.

More than 150 countries promised to co-operate with the US in its fight against the financing of terrorism - 81 of which (including the Bahamas, Argentina, Kuwait, Indonesia, Pakistan, Switzerland, and the EU) actually froze assets of suspicious individuals, suspected charities, and dubious firms, or passed new anti money laundering laws and stricter regulations (the Philippines, the UK, Germany). A tabled EU directive would force lawyers to disclose incriminating information about their clients' money laundering activities. Pakistan initiated a "loyalty scheme", awarding expatriates who prefer official bank channels to the much maligned (but cheaper and more efficient) Hawala, with extra baggage allowance and special treatment in airports.

The magnitude of this international collaboration is unprecedented. But this burst of solidarity may yet fade. China, for instance, refuses to chime in. As a result, the statement issued by APEC last week on measures to stem the finances of terrorism was lukewarm at best. And, protestations of close collaboration to the contrary, Saudi Arabia has done nothing to combat money laundering "Islamic charities" (of which it is proud) on its territory.

Still, a universal code is emerging, based on the work of the OECD's FATF (Financial Action Task Force) since 1989 (its famous "40 recommendations") and on the relevant UN conventions. All countries are expected by the West, on pain of possible sanctions, to adopt a uniform legal platform (including reporting on suspicious transactions and freezing assets) and to apply it to all types of financial intermediaries, not only to banks. This is likely to result in ...

The decline of off shore financial centres and tax havens

By far the most important outcome of this new-fangled juridical homogeneity is the acceleration of the decline of off shore financial and banking centres and tax havens. The distinction between off-shore and on-shore will vanish. Of the FATF's "name and shame" blacklist of 19 "black holes" (poorly regulated territories, including Israel, Indonesia, and Russia) - 11 have substantially revamped their banking laws and financial regulators. Coupled with the tightening of US, UK, and EU laws and the wider interpretation of money laundering to include political corruption, bribery, and embezzlement - this would make life a lot more difficult for venal politicians and major tax evaders. The likes of Sani Abacha (late President of Nigeria), Ferdinand Marcos (late President of the Philippines), Vladimiro Montesinos (former, now standing trial, chief of the intelligence services of Peru), or Raul Salinas (the brother of Mexico's President) - would have found it impossible to loot their countries to the same disgraceful extent in today's financial environment. And Osama bin Laden would not have been able to wire funds to US accounts from the Sudanese Al Shamal Bank, the "correspondent" of 33 American banks.

Quo Vadis, Money Laundering?

Crime is resilient and fast adapting to new realities. Organized crime is in the process of establishing an alternative banking system, only tangentially connected to the West's, in the fringes, and by proxy. This is done by purchasing defunct banks or banking licences in territories with lax regulation, cash economies, corrupt politicians, no tax collection, but reasonable infrastructure. The countries of Eastern Europe - Yugoslavia (Montenegro and Serbia), Macedonia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Albania, to mention a few - are natural targets. In some cases, organized crime is so all-pervasive and local politicians so corrupt that the distinction between criminal and politician is spurious.

Gradually, money laundering rings move their operations to these new, accommodating territories. The laundered funds are used to purchase assets in intentionally botched privatizations, real estate, existing businesses, and to finance trading operations. The wasteland that is Eastern Europe craves private capital and no questions are asked by investor and recipient alike.

The next frontier is cyberspace. Internet banking, Internet gambling, day trading, foreign exchange cyber transactions, e-cash, e-commerce, fictitious invoicing of the launderer's genuine credit cards - hold the promise of the future. Impossible to track and monitor, ex-territorial, totally digital, amenable to identity theft and fake identities - this is the ideal vehicle for money launderers. This nascent platform is way too small to accommodate the enormous amounts of cash laundered daily - but in ten years time, it may. The problems is likely to be exacerbated by the introduction of smart cards, electronic purses, and payment-enabled mobile phones.

In its "Report on Money Laundering Typologies" (February 2001) the FATF was able to document concrete and suspected abuses of online banking, Internet casinos, and web-based financial services. It is difficult to identify a customer and to get to know it in cyberspace, was the alarming conclusion. It is equally complicated to establish jurisdiction.

Many capable professionals - stockbrokers, lawyers, accountants, traders, insurance brokers, real estate agents, sellers of high value items such as gold, diamonds, and art - are employed or co-opted by money laundering operations. Money launderers are likely to make increased use of global, around the clock, trading in foreign currencies and derivatives. These provide instantaneous transfer of funds and no audit trail. The underlying securities involved are susceptible to market manipulation and fraud. Complex insurance policies (with the "wrong" beneficiaries), and the securitization of receivables, leasing contracts, mortgages, and low grade bonds are already used in money laundering schemes. In general, money laundering goes well with risk arbitraging financial instruments.

Trust-based, globe-spanning, money transfer systems based on authentication codes and generations of commercial relationships cemented in honour and blood - are another wave of the future. The Hawala and Chinese networks in Asia, the Black Market Peso Exchange (BMPE) in Latin America, other evolving courier systems in Eastern Europe (mainly in Russia, Ukraine, and Albania) and in Western Europe (mainly in France and Spain). In conjunction with encrypted e-mail and web anonymizers, these networks are virtually impenetrable. As emigration increases, diasporas established, and transport and telecommunications become ubiquitous, "ethnic banking" along the tradition of the Lombards and the Jews in medieval Europe may become the the preferred venue of money laundering. September 11 may have retarded world civilization in more than one way.

(Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, and eBookWeb , a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent, and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101

Until recently, he served as the Economic Advisor to the Government of Macedonia.

Visit Sam's Web site at





Why Things Happened?

May 21, 2003

When your time is up…

…For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” (Romans 13:1)

You may ask why many of our public officials are not doing what they are supposed to do for the common good of the people. I think one of the reasons is that they forgot to realize that they are just “Steward”. Perhaps they don’t understand what to be a steward is.  In short, they have no knowledge about the principles of stewardship.

Hmm, you probably ask, how could I say this? Well, very simple. If all public officials are doing well, I think people will not be complaining against them. Please don’t raise that eyebrow, just agree with me.  Allow me to quote what is stated in Article XI, Sec. 1 of the Philippine Constitution and I quote, “Public office is a public trust.  Public officers and employees must at all times accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.”

Once again, let me remind our public officials that it is quite clear in our constitution that you’re accountable to your constituents, as elected by the people.  Being in that ‘hot seat’ or any position in the government doesn’t mean to be ‘somebody.’  You should not forget that you’re just entrusted by God in that position.  Don’t think that you are a boss but a servant, a public servant.

But OK, you have that good intension to serve the community with all sincerity, dedication for work as a public servant. No argue about that. But always remember that you, too, must be the role model and good deeds advocate. You are there in order to serve the people, for that is your duty.

Remember han tigsiring ka pala?  I like what my good friend often said,  “As a public servant you must show showmanship and relevance not only in your work place but also in all manners you decide to generalize the same in the countryside”

Talking about integrity, you must have that quality being of sound moral principle. I tell you, some of our public officials do not have this quality. Say mo?  Not only that, we often times hear about some public officials who are supporters of what we called bad elements of the society.

Patriotism is not being practice by them.  Let me ask you mga Sir and Madams, how many hours have you spent on the greatest act of stewardship that you’ll ever perform on this earth?  Remember life is short for we’ll not stay long in this world. When your time is up, then we will stand before God who is the master of all. We will be called one by one to account for what we’ve accomplished in completing this greatest act of Stewardship we’d performed.





Whence Come Wars?

May 5, 2003

From whence come wars and fighting among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? (James 4:1 KJV)

One of the perennial questions raised by skeptics is: "Why does God allow war in His world, if He is really a God of love and power?" Most of our personal lives have been profoundly affected directly or indirectly by the wars whether in other countries or here in the Philippines like what is happening in some parts of Mindanao.

The government is trying its very best in negotiating with those we consider as treat for the peace and order of the country for reconciliation, but sad to say until now real peace has never been attained.

Those in older generation all remember keenly, for example, just where they were on December 7, 1941 (Pearl Harbor Day), and how it changed their lives. Even now, over sixty years later, the event of September 11, 2001, were repeatedly being compared to that date, as another day of infamy, as US President Roosevelt called it sixty plus years ago. But of course let us not forget the war in Iraq who is making news headlines now a days.

But God gives a deeper insight on the cause of war than just blaming Hitler or Osama or some other powerful human leaders like US President Bush. God says we are all to be blamed. The lusts that war in our own minds and bodies lead to personal conflicts, and these to group conflicts, and ultimately to deadly combat between nations. Thus wars are going to continue in the world as long us there is sin in the world.

Every person therefore whether, American or Russian, Jew or Arab is by nature a warmonger not a peacemaker. Yet Jesus made peace through the blood of His cross…to reconcile all things unto Himself (Colossians 1:20). Before there can be true peace between man and man, there must be real peace between God and man. Until Christ Himself return as Prince of Peace, there is no other effective way.