Of Mines and Hyenas

hyenaI’ve killed a blog. It is pragmatism, though, not murder. This is its replacement, a two-fer dealing with two very different subjects.

The King-king Mine

I had started enthusiastically researching the King-king mining project outside of Davao, a huge, $2 billion dollar project to move mountains for copper, gold and silver. Rappler ran an article on it that reported 45,000 jobs and smooth sailing as reflected in a photo of the three principles beaming upon completion of an agreement to bring the third partner aboard. The article passed through the headlines so quickly you may not have caught it. Good stories tend to do that, I’ve noticed. Those dealing with dirt and slime stick on the front page like superglue on a shoe.

However, research findings tossed cold water on my enthusiasm for King-king and I had to scrap a couple of pages of glowing review.

I discovered that:

  1. Another mine across the hills has just pulled the plug on its operations due to strenuous objection by the local Catholic Church. They are firing most of the people and selling all their equipment.
  2. The two main investors at King-king are in a royal and sometimes physical battle for control, and the winner appears to have excluded the other from any Board or operating role. Boy, what a way to run a company. History shows a four-year track record of court battles among various parties. Any thing but harmony.
  3. A recent court ruling put a stop to a similar open pit mine in Luzon due to environmental constraints.
  4. I am aware that President Aquino has halted mine development pending comprehensive legislation enhancing Philippine tax revenue. So the entire industry has pushed pause.

Clearly, some forces are flowing against the King-king project. The three main investors and the shares they appear to own are:

  • Jose G. Ricafort (62%)
  • Conrado T. Calalang (20%)
  • St. Augustine Gold and Copper (18%) (Manny Villar is on the Board of this Canadian mining technology/operations company.)

Ricafort and Calalang investment groups are battling for control. Both are wealthy Filipinos. The joint investment company pursuing the King-king Mine as its sole project is called Nationwide Development Corporation (NADECOR), but I couldn’t access the web site when last I tried. Maybe it was pulled or hacked due to the dipute.

I’ll return to this project once the dust has settled and they actually do some digging. I hope in the meantime that Ricafort and Calalang recognize they are both likely to go down to defeat. All their nice words about the environment and local support and getting investors are meaningless with the fight as the main event.

This project is too speculative to waste your or my time on.

When Respected People Turn Hyena

My vision of a Hyena is an ugly, drooling, snarling beast hovering near a dying animal, rushing in to grab a bite, then rushing back out to safety. When the animal is dead, they rejoice. Laugh as it were.

There are also packs of hyenas roaming the legislative hallways and headlines in both the U.S. and Philippines. Dressed in congressional clothing mostly. Also visible people with big yaps, everyone from economists to priests and self-appointed leaders of public rallies.

The American scene is gross for its incivility, led by Hyena in Chief, John Boehner, who is intent upon undermining both the person and office of the presidency. That goes beyond politics. Politics would be okay with the undermining of the person, but not the office. The current tiff over recently enacted health laws has the authority of the OFFICE under attack. Republicans propose to weaken the Office by pursuing a legislative technique that mandates the President bend to the minority will, and places the full faith and credit of the United States at risk if the President refuses. It is a form of intellectual terrorism and it is disgusting. It weakens America.

These for sure aren’t leaders.

Let me also be harsh with the Philippines because I very much worry that too many people are acting too brashly and risk damaging the Philippines.

The Philippine scene sees a lot of complaining about President Aquino’s stance on discretionary funds. I suppose Senator Santiago is the harshest critic but there are many others, including packs of citizens crying out in indignation.  These critics of “pork” wish to see all discretionary funding ended, including the President’s. The justifications are: (1) the obscene Napoles theft of legislative pork, and (2) the perceived abuse of the President’s discretionary spending by: (a) passing million peso chunks of cash to legislators after the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona, and (b) spending billions of “savings” from various projects for purposes not budgeted by Congress, the purposes essentially being the incenting of economic growth.

I’d caution that the critics might take care lest they become hyenas ripping the life out of the Office of the President.

I have retreated from my first stance on pork, that all discretionary funds should be ended, ruled out, cancelled, outlawed. Let me explain why.

What do we want of our president? Should he be weak or powerful?

I hold that the president should be powerful. And of high character. Furthermore, the checks and balances against abuse of power should be strong. The president should not be so hamstrung by regulations that he can’t influence, can’t spend, can’t do anything except cut through red tape to try to get things done, endlessly slogging up hill like Sisyphus on his eternal vertical treadmill.

Indeed, the Philippines today is a “Red Tape Union”, held together, and held backward, by too many rules and processes that control and constrain.

Do we really want to tie the hands of perhaps the most productive President in Philippine history?

I’ve argued that a benevolent dictator can be a better form of democracy than one that is confined by political process and game-playing. Witness Singapore. And witness the demise of American global authority due in large part to partisan backbiting and bickering on the domestic front.

It seems to me that Filipinos have four choices. They can elect a President of:

  1. Good character and lots of ability to influence.
  2. Good character and little ability to influence.
  3. Bad character and little ability to influence.
  4. Bad character and lots of ability to influence.

Why are people coming down on a good president to try to tie his hands? I mean, if the payoffs to senators and representatives WAS in a soft way connected to the Corona trial . . . ummmm . . . would we rather still have Corona running the Supreme Court? And if President Aquino indeed spent a lot of savings to give the economy a boost, would we rather have that money sitting in the bank, or get the 1.6% GDP growth it inspired? Or should we send it back to the House for distribution?

You know, the House full of dictator’s wives and boxers and thieves and porkers.

So my vote is AGAINST doing away with the President’s discretionary spending power. Let him have wide latitude to spend and influence and move the Philippines forward. But I DO want a good Freedom of Information Act alongside the discretionary powers so we know exactly how money is spent.

I advocate for:

  • A powerful President who can get good things done.
  • Elected officials of good character.
  • Checks and balances that monitor but do not unnecessarily constrain.

As I think about it, it seems to me that people are crying and wailing because THEY, the people themselves, have been negligent at electing leaders of high character. Perhaps they first ought to accept accountability for THEIR, the people’s failings, and figure out how to do a better job as citizens.

People ought not be protesting against President Aquino, but against voter ignorance,  vote-buying and acts of intimidation prior to elections. I rather think the “People” are playing the hyena and protesting the wrong thing.

So my take: elect leaders of high character and empower them to act. President Aquino is one of those leaders – of high character – and he should not be constrained because the People elect legislators of low character.

12 Responses to “Of Mines and Hyenas”
  1. Joseph-Ivo says:

    You cannot change a culture overnight. But you can have dreams of a perfect world overnight though. One should not confuse both (too much). And is it all about corruption or about inclusive economic growth and eliminating crippling income disparities?

    As in cancer treatments the difference between killing the tumors and killing the patient can be very small. The corruption cancer is very vicious with metastasis throughout the body. But the president found the right mix of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. The healthy part of the civil service still serving the economic development in a major way.

    I love the steady progress this president is making. After each step the next one becomes acceptable and feasible. First wala wang wang, no special privileges for those who can afford it, even the president stuck in a traffic jam. Then the 4 iron ladies, firm and believable. The elimination of a chief justice dishonest to the bone, serving as the last defense for the previous abominable administration. The bickering with the custom millionaires and the exposure of their devious ways. The immanent imprisonment of senior politicians stealing from emergency funds for disaster victims. A clear next step is to reduce ways to cheat the system and to increase transparency through the FOI bill. Hopefully it will culminate in the education of voters to elect more trustworthy people instead of a colorful menagerie of unreliable self serving clowns.

    Managing the expectations of the concerned citizens is not easy. The resistance of the trapo world is larger than just hyenas, look at the sharks, the vultures, the creepy deadly hornets. Actions without any mistakes impossible. But I admire the step by step progress, yesterday’s world getting unimaginable. Clone this president, we’ll need a second one to finish the gargantuan job.

    (Hope he can cure the Ampatuan cancer of political killings too!!!)

    • Joe America says:

      Yes, indeed. That steady progress in so many different areas, albeit with an occasional bump and grind. FOI would be yet another step forward.

      The sharp and shrill expectations are what this blog aims at, a cautionary message not to throw the baby out with the bath water or the President with the pork.

      The 2016 ticket: President Poe with VP Aquino.

      Political killings are symptomatic of the penchant to look at elections as personal rather than civic. The nation will be stronger when people prize civic, and civil, and I hope as well this will be an outcome of rooting out corruption far and wide. Civic workers need to be paid more, I think. Not abruptly more, but there should be plans to walk salaries higher.

  2. essie says:

    I think the abolition of “presidential pork” doesn’t make sense. I don’t think the government (or any organization for that matter) will function without discretionary funds. How is the government supposed to deal with emergencies or contingencies without discretionary funds? What we need are better controls on how these funds are used. The legislature should do their job and find a way to empower COA and other agencies that will implement these controls. And maybe they should move their butts and pass the FOI law so everyone can see for themselves if the money is being put to a good use.

    • Joe America says:

      Yes, I agree. It is important for people to consider what we want “on the other side” of the vocal objection to being ripped off by Napoles et al. Do we want a weaker President?

      I find that I use the term “pork” when I refer to the money Napoles ripped off, and “discretionary funds” when referring to President Aquino’s DAP expenditures. Pork is loaded negatively. Discretionary means well thought out and used positively. Protesters seem to be using the term “pork” to slander well-spent money.

  3. manuel buencamino says:

    I agree with your assessment we do not want a eunuch as chief executive but the term benevolent dictator is an oxymoron.

    Abolition of pork, defined as all lump sum appropriations and discretionary spending, is not the way to stop theft. Theft cannot be stopped completely,thieves will be thieves. We can only limit theft by making it as difficult as possible. So what you need to do is (1) put strict controls on the disbursement of funds (high fences) and (2) guarantee jail time for those caught stealing.

    • Joe America says:

      Yes, I argue the dictator point to suggest a Eunuch in Chief is not really a very good form of leadership. And I agree wholeheartedly the solution is not to remove discretion, but to have rules, make spending visible, and jail crooks.

    • Joe America says:

      How interesting. All three of the articles argue that the power of pork to influence is a good thing. That without it, the U.S. political leaders have no way of trading favors to get harmony on things like the debt deal and obamacare. So we get the sty, full of muck, and nothing on the table to eat. I believe people give and get, and a “market” of pork projects creates ways to negotiate for progress. It is just when looking at some of the pork projects in isolation (the bridge to nowhere) that the questions arise as to how, exactly, we were so crazy to spend THERE. The benefit part is missing: influence. Thanks for the good reading.

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