Software Development and Government

Random thoughts while walking at night: The structure of government can be a bit analogous to the structure of a software development project.

The Constitution is like the requirements for a project. It’s kind of high-level and (I believe) shouldn’t be too detailed. Supposedly the requirements are written by the client. For a country like the Philippines the client is “we the sovereign Filipino people”.

Slight tangent: I used to know this guy who was one of those rabid “we need to amend the constitution” types and he asked me to review a “mathematical model to track the budget as a function of tax collection and monetary policy” that he wanted to include in a proposed new constitution. I told him I didn’t believe such detailed rules shouldn’t be in the constitution – that would unnecessarily tie us down to a specific model that we may or may not regret later on. I ended up declining to help him with his strange hobby.

The Legislative branch are the analysts. They make the detailed specs/laws to define how we’re going to satisfy the requirements/constitution. In a real project, the client usually signs off on the specs. In government, we supposedly sign off when we vote for the legislators.

The Executive branch are the developers. They’re responsible for implementing the specs/laws in order to fulfill the requirements/constitution. They can decide the technical approach to use, as long as they satisfy the specs and the requirements.

The Judiciary is the QA, they review the work of the developers/executive and make sure they’re following the specs/laws and adhering to the requirements/constitution. Sometimes they even have to review the specs/laws themselves to make sure they aren’t contradicting the requirements/constitution.

Sometimes a project is so large and you need to form smaller subteams to specialize in different areas or modules. That’s called Federalism. Or maybe local government.

Sometimes one person handles specs, development and QA. That’s called dictatorship.

Sometimes people want to rewrite or amend the requirements/constitution. That’s called agile development. Or maybe scope creep.

Sometimes the bureaucracy needs to be reorganized to be more efficient. That’s called refactoring.

The big difference between government and software projects is that in software projects, team members are selected based on meritocracy. In theory at least, you choose the best people for the job. In government, who gets the job is determined by who is best at bamboozling the largest number of people to vote them in. Maybe someday we’ll get a meritocracy in government too, but until then I’m probably sticking to software development.

A Bus Ride in Metro Manila

 
“Grabe naman kasi ang ginagawa nyo sa pasahero” (This is too much for the passengers), she said. She was a short, old lady trying to get to the front of the bus so that she could disembark. But like most city buses in Metro Manila during rush hour, the bus was filled to the brim with people, many of them standing tightly packed in the aisle, holding on to handrails on the bus ceiling or the nearby seats. Her young son, a short boy of maybe 14 years, weaved through the standing bodies packed in the bus’s aisle to retrieve a plastic bag they had brought on board.
 
It took them more than five minutes to disembark, even with the driver getting off to help them with their bags. City buses usually have a conductor to collect fares and assist passengers, but at this stop the conductor was way at the back collecting fares.
 
It was a Saturday early evening. A couple of hours earlier at around 4pm I had decided to take a bus from the Mall of Asia in Pasay. I was headed home to Tandang Sora in Quezon City, on the opposite side of the urban sprawl that is Metro Manila. I had the option of a short jeepney ride to the MRT station and taking the train, but I was rather sleepy so I decided to board a city bus even though it would probably be a longer ride. “It’s Saturday,” I said to myself. “Surely there won’t be much traffic.”
 
I got on board a Fairview-route bus waiting near the mall. Since this was the first stop for the bus, I was able to get a seat up front near the driver and the bus doors. I paid my fare (P40 apparently) and put my head down on my bag, hoping to catch some zzzs along the way. I assumed the ride would take around an hour and a half.
 
I managed to get a little sleep, but even when I woke up almost an hour later, the bus had just managed to make it past Buendia. That was only around a third of the trip. Looks like I was in for the long haul.
 
By this time, the bus was already full. No more seats were to be had and any passengers that boarded would have to stand in the aisle. “Diretso lang po tayo sa likod!” (“Let’s move to the back please”), the conductor would urge, to free up space for disembarking passengers near the front. But for some reason or another, Metro Manila commuters always prefer standing around near the bus doors, which means that area is always the most crowded. Pretty soon, new passengers are no longer able to move to the slightly more spacious far end of the bus. Many of the passengers are women, some senior citizens even. I think about getting up from my seat to let someone else sit, but like many times before I come to the conclusion that being a rather large person, it’s far more space-efficient for me to be in a seat than blocking the aisle.
 
“Grabe naman siksikan dito!” (“It’s too tight in here!”), one of the male passengers complains. But the conductor is not taking any of their complaints. “Ganyan po talaga pag rush hour! Kung ayaw nyo po ng siksikan magtaxi kayo!” (“That’s how it is during rush hour! If you don’t like it, you should take a taxi!”)
 
He’s not wrong. Almost always during rush hour, city buses passing through the middle parts of Metro Manila’s main thoroughfare EDSA are filled to overflowing with people. Many non-airconditioned buses will even have people standing in the open doorway, hanging on to the bus railings for their livesPick-up points near the middle of the route, such as Megamall in Mandaluyong, are often battlegrounds where commuters struggle and elbow each other to get into standing room positions on already crowded buses.
 
Most commuters have little to no alternative. While the MRT was supposed to supplement public transport along EDSA, most of the time it is crowded as well and these days prone to breakdowns. Most of the stations often do not have working escalators so many commuters, especially older people, are hesitant to use it. Most of the poorer city denizens can’t afford to take taxis, but even then they are in short supply. Even if you are lucky enough to find a taxi, many drivers are selective and will either ask for exhorbitant ‘tips’ or outright deny fares who want to go too far away or through too much traffic. Uber’s surge prices get insane during rush hour as well.
 
A lot of people, especially drivers of private cars, complain about city buses, and justifiably so. Drivers and conductors are paid on a “boundary” basis. To maximize their earnings, they need to get as many passengers as possible during their trips. This means many of them are overzealous and often cause small to large traffic jams in their pursuit of more passengers. They have no concern for overloading laws (which are rarely enforced anyway) and will pick up passengers even if there’s no bus stop. At least as long as there are no traffic enforcers around.
 
Every so often there are suggestions to reduce the number of buses on EDSA. Anyone who’s seen how full these buses get during rush hour should realize this is a ridiculous proposition. Despite being undisciplined drivers, EDSA buses are far more space-efficient in terms of the number of commuters they are able to ferry across the metropolis, as compared to the large volume of private cars on the road. What’s needed is more professional bus services. Drivers and conductors should be paid a fair salary so that they don’t chase after passengers so ruthlessly. But such proposals never gain headway – the bus franchisees often complain that they are barely making enough money as it is.
 
I’ve been a commuter for most of the past two decades, and I’ve steadily seen the congestion for city buses and EDSA traffic go from bad to worse to much, much worse. These days I try to avoid commuting too far (I’m lucky to have that option). But on days like these when I’m crisscrossing the entire metropolis, I’m reminded of how bad the situation is. The congestion on EDSA is representative of the congestion in Metro Manila itself.
 
It’s almost 6:30pm before I make my stop at the Quezon City Memorial Circle. The bus ride took nearly two and a half hours. The old woman who takes my seat is grateful for the reprieve. A few minutes before me, the man who had been arguing with the conductor disembarked, and they exchanged another set of bitter words.
 
“Gago, tatandaan kita! Di na ko nagpapasakay ulit ng ganyan!” (“Fool, I’ll remember you. I won’t let you board next time!”), the conductor shouts after him. He turns to the rest of the passengers and reiterates that they shouldn’t complain about the congestion, since that’s how it always is. I remarked, as I got ready to get off the bus, that perhaps that man and that old lady weren’t regular commuters, and some of the other passengers chuckled.
 
Sadly, this was the reality that Metro Manila commuters had to live with. It’s a reality that can perhaps only be addressed by a concerted effort to decongest the metropolis and to professionalize and modernize the public transport services. There are no quick fixes or solutions coming forth. So for the foreseeable future, this is what we live with.

War

As of today, our country (The #Blessed Republic of the Philippines) is already at war with:

  1. Drugs
  2. Illegal gambling
  3. Communist rebels

Some other things we might consider declaring war on (in no particular order):

  1. Poverty
  2. Ignorance
  3. Misinformation (sorry, “Alternative facts”)
  4. Abusive government officials
  5. Traffic
  6. Rights abuses
  7. Pollution
  8. High power rates
  9. Political dynasties
  10. Poor quality of local cinema offerings
  11. Politicians putting their names everywhere
  12. Internet trolls and bullies
  13. Lack of critical thinking
  14. Redundancy
  15. Overtime without overtime pay
  16. Government officials blatantly lying or pulling statistics out of thin air
  17. Slow and expensive internet
  18. The MRT breaking down
  19. Cruelty to animals
  20. Poor quality of local anti-piracy ads
  21. Jejespeak
  22. SMS spam
  23. Typhoons
  24. Taxis that don’t give exact change
  25. War
  26. Irony
  27. Spoilers
  28. Pineapples on pizza
  29. Poor grammar and/or spelling
  30. Hashtags
  31. Hypocrisy
  32. Multi-level marketing
  33. Working at “Edi sa puso mo”
  34. Redundancy
  35. Low effort blog posts that start out serious but end up trying a bit too hard to be funny
  36. People who don’t understand sarcasm
  37. People who stand in malls and shove fliers in your face
  38. Commenting on posts without reading the actual article
  39. Lists that end abruptly at weird numbers so you’re not sure if there’s more or what

Appearances and Diplomacy

(A bit of Philippine politics in this post, if that sort of thing bothers you)

Recently as the whole world watched one of our political leaders display his expected lack of diplomatic finesse on the global stage, I couldn’t help but think about how in my younger days there’s a good chance I might have approved of his frank, straight-talking, shoot-from-the-hip brand of diplomacy. I have a bit of a reputation myself for preferring to speak frankly and directly instead of dancing around the issues, although these days I understand the wisdom of adapting to the situation as needed

In my youth I was the sort of person who disdained those who prioritized form over substance. For this reason I disliked protocol and ritual and dress codes and formalities and all that. I imagine that IT people are notorious for preferring casual dress and disliking suits. I proudly enjoyed games with dated graphics when other people would fawn over the latest Crysis or whatever. I felt that anyone who prioritized appearances was somehow shallow and that one should focus more on the functional and practical. This is somewhat related to my views on lying and salesmanship

As I got older though, I began to appreciate that sometimes appearances can matter too. Formalities and rituals can have meaning, especially when other people value them. And sometimes you have to dress up, either to impress people, or to fit in with the situation. These are concessions one has to make in order to be member of society. As Sheldon Cooper would say, “it’s the social convention”. I guess I consider learning to navigate society’s social conventions is part of being a mature adult

Which is part of why the current leadership’s lack of diplomacy is so annoying for me personally. It smacks of immaturity. Reacting to criticism with cussing and swearing and dredging up century-old mistakes and calling other people gay, these are behaviors I’d (sadly) expect from a 10 year old on XBox Live, not the leader of a sovereign nation.

And supporters will say at least he’s honest and direct and real. I’m pretty sure I’m honest and direct and real (ask anyone!) and I don’t go around swearing at people just because they point out my faults. There’s no reason to antagonize people just because they don’t agree with you. It’s possible to disagree and still be diplomatic. Not even the leadership of North Korea talks like that. Well, I could talk my head off politics if given the chance, so I’ll just abruptly end this post here

 

 

Investigating the Drug Killings

It’s no secret that many are unhappy with the way the congressional investigations into the so-called “drug war” and related killings here in the Philippines. If I were in charge of these investigations, these are the some of the questions I’d want answered:

(Disclaimers: I’m not a lawyer or any kind of expert. Understandably, the resource persons may be reluctant to answer some of these in open session, in which case an executive session could be done. Some may have already been asked/answered during the hearings and I just missed them as I do not watch all the sessions live. Additional or different sets of resource persons may need to be called upon)

Drug war and prevalence:

  • Are there any official marching orders regarding the drug war? What are they?
  • What is the prevalence of drug usage in the country?
  • How many drug users are there?
  • Where does this data come from?
  • How does the prevalence compare with previous years and administrations?
  • How does the prevalence (per capita) compare with other countries, particularly those with similar economic levels?
  • What are the sources of intel that leads to the “drug watchlists”?
  • What are the sources of intel that lead to the president’s “narco-list”?
  • How do our tactics in this drug war compare to those of other countries with similar programs? Which of those countries have been successful?
  • Do we have data on the prevalence of drug usage during the president’s term in Davao? Have the harsh methods proven to be effective?
  • Do we have any updated data since the “drug war” began? Has the drug prevalence gone down?
  • Do we have any quantifiable target for the “drug war”? When do we declare success? Can we receive regular updates?

Drug surrenderees:

  • How many of the drug surrenderees were previously on police watchlists?
  • How many came forward vs rounded up by the police?
  • What are the consequences for not coming forward?
  • How many of the surrenderees surrendered or gave confessions with the benefit of legal counsel? Are they entitled to legal counsel?
  • Have any of the surrenderees later been found to still be involved in drug operations?
  • There are reports of people mistakenly added to these surrenderee lists or forced to come forward, are the police investigating them?

Suspects killed during police operations (“nanlaban”):

  • How many drug-related operations have the police conducted? How does this rate compare with previous years and administrations?
  • How many suspects are killed vs arrested? How does this rate compare with previous years and administrations?
  • How do the above rates compare with other countries, particularly those with similar drug prevalence rates? How does it compare with other countries that have ongoing “drug wars”?
  • How many cases of suspects killed during police operations are under investigation? Who conducts the investigations? Do they have enough resources?
  • What are the rules of engagement during police operations? Are all officers given the proper training re: these rules?
  • Are there any resources or other things that could be provided to the police to help minimize unnecessary loss of life?
  • What is the protocol/procedure when a suspect is killed during a police operation? Is there any automatic investigation or counseling for the officer involved?
  • Is there any autopsy or other forensic analysis done on suspects killed during police operations? Are they checked for powder burns, or for fingerprints on the alleged weapon they used? Ballistics matching on bullets recovered at the scene?
  • Is it possible that some officers are becoming overzealous because of the president’s violent rhetoric? Is it possible that some officers misinterpret the president’s violent rhetoric?
  • Do we have data on the incidence rate of police killings during the president’s term in Davao? How did it compare to other areas?
  • If relatives of those killed suspect foul play, who can they turn to? Most of them will be poor with limited resources, do we need to provide them legal assistance?

Suspects killed while in custody (mainly “nang-agaw ng baril”):

  • How many suspects have been killed while in custody (compared with arrests)? How does this rate compare with previous years and administrations?
  • What is the protocol or procedure for officers handling suspects in custody? Are there any procedures to prevent the suspect being able to grab officers’ weapons? Are all officers given the proper training re: these rules?
  • What is the protocol/procedure when a suspect is killed  in custody? Is there any automatic investigation or counseling for the officer involved?
  • Are the involved officers under any sort of administrative or criminal liability for carelessness in such situations?
  • Do we have data on the incidence rate of suspects killed in custody during the president’s term in Davao? How did it compare to other areas?

Non-suspects killed during any sort of police operations (“collateral damage”):

  • Are there any such incidents?
  • In case there are such incidents, are the involved officers under any sort of administrative or criminal liability? Is there any automatic investigation or counseling for the officers involved?

Vigilante killings (“cardboard killings” and riding-in-tandem killings):

  • How many such incidents have been recorded and are under investigation by the police?
  • What are the statuses of these investigations? What priority is given by to these cases?
  • What is the protocol/procedure when a body is found under such circumstances?
  • Are police able to identify all the victims? Why or why not?
  • Is there any kind of autopsy or forensic analysis done on the victims’ bodies?
  • Many of the victims are alleged to be drug users or pushers, have the bodies been tested to check the truth of this?
  • How many of the victims were on police watchlists?
  • Where are the victims killed? What weapons are used? What materials are used for the cardboard/tape/etc? What model and make of vehicle/motorcycle are often used?
  • Which areas have the highest rate of such incidents? Do they correspond to areas with high drug use? Has there been any initiative to increase police visibility in those areas?
  • Is there any common pattern or modus operandi identified in such killings?
  • Are there any leads? (Understandably, the police may not be able to disclose this, or maybe only in executive session)
  • Do the killings bear any similarity to any previous cases?
  • Is it possible that there are law enforcers involved in these killings?
  • Do we have any intel or watchlists for hitmen the same way we do for drug dealers?
  • Do we have data on the incidence rate of vigilante killings during the president’s term in Davao? How did it compare to other areas? Were the police able to find ways to reduce or solve those killings?

Bonus: Bilibid drug operations (in addition to whatever narrative the DOJ secretary felt like bringing forward):

  • What % of drug volume in the country passes through Bilibid? Where does this data come from? How does it compare to previous years and administrations?
  • How many inmates are involved in illegal activities inside Bilibid?
  • What is the daily routine of the involved inmates?
  • What are the existing legal procedures/protocols for inmates caught in illegal activities inside the Bilibid? Are we allowed to isolate or transfer the problematic inmates?
  • Which/how many Bilibid officers and guards are aware of the illegal activities?
  • How long have these illegal operations been going on? Are they still going on?
  • Where do the inmates get the money to fund these activities or to allegedly give to the former secretary as payoffs?

Final disclaimer: This is simply a thought exercise on my part, as to what guide questions I would start asking if I were in search of the truth. I have no expectations that any of the people in authority would actually follow these lines of questioning. I’m also sure there are many other pertinent questions that I have not considered at this time, but basically my approach would center around: what is the data, where does it come from, how does it compare to other data? And what are the procedures, who is liable for any problems, what is the progress of investigations? These avenues would seem to me (as a layman) to be the most useful in terms of improvements to legislation

We Must Speak

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you’ll know I have a tendency to be pretty vocal about any problems I have with our country’s erstwhile leadership. But for the most part I’ve restricted it to those channels and have tried to avoid posting about current events in the country on this blog (outside of my personal choices for the election), but I feel that now more than ever those of us who can speak out have a responsibility to do so whenever we can, for several reasons

Village Idiot Savant says:

“Third, write. But don’t write as you would for the consumption of social media, write instead to keep a record of these times. Write in long form, write reflections, write your frustrations, write with big words, write even if it appears you are rambling. Write with Art and with Irony. Because we will eventually emerge from this period of madness, hopefully to a season of sanity, and we will need to look back and remember, and if needed, to indict. Write because it will someday be history.”

That last part resonated with me. “Write because it will someday be history.” It reminds me of where we are currently with the Marcos legacy, with an entire generation having been brainwashed to believe that Marcos was actually a hero and a positive influence on this country, all because in the intervening years since the EDSA revolution we (and by we I mean we the people, not just the government) grew complacent and believed that exile was sufficient and that we would not have to worry again about such a dark time in our society to come back and haunt us again

And yet here we are again on a road, perhaps even a slippery slope, towards a dark future. Marcos is again being glorified, and the state is once again extending its reach with the similar excuse of “peace and order”. We do not yet know where this path ultimately leads, perhaps it won’t be the darkness many of us can foresee, perhaps we as a society are able to turn away from the brink before it is too late. There are those who believe it is already too late, that we are already in the darkest timeline

Even if our country falls under a shroud of darkness, like the darkness of Martial Law it will also eventually pass and hopefully we emerge on the other side stronger and wiser as a country. In the hopes of that light beyond the darkness, we must write. We must take our voices and speak out against what ills we see. It often feels futile, with many of our countrymen already having surrendered their wills to the violence. Many are unwilling to listen, many treat the current leadership as if they are infallible demigods who could do no wrong. Maybe there is really no one listening and you are but a lone voice crying in the wilderness. It is not for them that we need to write, but for those of us who still hope for a better future. And for those in the future to recognize and learn from the mistakes of our time

We must write and speak, while we still can. We don’t know whether we will still be able to speak up tomorrow.

In addition, we should write to spite those who would silence us for our opposition. For many of the administration’s supporters, anyone who speaks out is an open target for harassment and accusations most vile, as one of Rappler’s correspondents recently found out:

I can appreciate those of my friends who limit themselves to “like”s on the posts of those who speak up, or who limit their support to private discussions. Not everyone has the liberty to speak up. Not everyone can afford to sacrifice time nor ego to the possibility of a horde of online trolls pouncing on you. Not everyone can afford to be stressed out over this. Not everyone has the temperament to be willing to offend other people or risk losing friendships. All the more reason for those of us who are able to speak up to keep on going and to persist in the face of overwhelming ignorance and hypocrisy. The ones who cannot afford to speak, we speak for them too

One of the reasons I didn’t write about this too much on this blog is that I didn’t want this channel to become about politics. But it feels like so much more than just politics now. Despite what some fanatics may have you believe, we do not voice opposition simply because we believe in another camp or because we want to destroy the current administration. We voice opposition because we want the best for our country, and we believe that these issues – the continuing demonization of human rights and due process, encouragement of a culture of killing and violence, intellectual dishonesty and willful ignorance, and so on – are issues worth raising up and discussing

I am sure I have friends and family who are tired of me bringing up such subjects. At least one person has unfriended me already without explanation, although circumstances dictate it was about “politics”. For my friends and family, I apologize. If you are tired of me speaking up, please trust that I am tired too

Internet History

No, not that kind of history, don’t worry.

Twenty-five years ago this month, the first website went up on the world wide web. That was 1991. It took a few years for the Philippines to catch on, the first internet connection in the country was only set up in 1994.

My personal experience with the internet came a bit later, during our freshman year in University, sometime in the schoolyear 1995-1996. Around that time a couple of friends and I would walk out to this computer shop along Katipunan avenue that had internet access. Computer shops weren’t prolific back then, and most of them offered only document editing and printing services. They didn’t even have LAN gaming back then, as DOOM had only come out the year before and Starcraft was just a gleam in Blizzard’s eye. This particular computer shop we trekked to had 2-3 terminals with internet access, which at that time we mostly used to browse anime-related websites and fanfiction (RIP Anime Web Turnpike)

Internet usage grew quickly in the succeeding years. A couple of friends got internet connections first. One of them lived near the University so a bunch of us happened to hang out there often, not just for internet access but also to read manga and watch anime. We jokingly referred to his house as “the Entertainment Capital of UP Village”

I forget when we got our own internet connection at home. I don’t even remember the provider we used. We stuck with one of the monthly plans for a while, but also went through a period of trying out prepaid internet access plans (RIP ISP Bonanza) and sometimes even hacking a free email service to also give me internet access (RIP Edsamail). It was the days of dial-up modems and beeping sounds, when piracy consisted of arcane commands issued in dark IRC channels. (The first time I got pirated music wasn’t off the internet however – for some reason I had gotten an MP3 of Oasis’ Wonder Wall on floppy disks. Yes, multiple disks).

Aside from the piracy and the fanfiction, the internet was a treasure trove of information. I quickly learned the usual web development skills – HTML and CSS were relatively easy, and I had a geocities website set up back in the day, a strange green-text-on-black-background kind of thing (I was never particularly good at web design). My email address for most of the university years was a Yahoo one (RIP Yahoo 2016), which I often used to join discussion groups on various geeky topics like video games and anime and what not – these days we have reddit for that.

Today, internet in the Philippines has come a long way and is a big part of daily life for most people. There’s still a lot of improvement to go – broadband here is still very expensive and very slow compared to other countries and there is no real competition yet, something hopefully to be solved soon.

What was your first encounter with the internet?

Elections 2016 – My Ballot

This has been one of the most divisive and shenanigan-filled election campaign seasons ever, and politics is normally crazy in this country so that’s saying something. There’s a strong use of social media this time around, and it’s led to the internet being a hotbed of opinions and propaganda and memes and lies and half-truths and threats of violence. I was hoping greater citizen involvement via social media and the debates would mean citizens have more information and thus would get to be more discerning, but it seems that things have only gotten worse. Hopefully we’ll get there someday, but it doesn’t look like that day is soon.

The presidential race has been particularly difficult, I would generally say this is the worst crop of candidates we’ve had since I started voting. I cannot find any clearly acceptable candidate, all of them have their own trade-offs. For the discerning voter, it’s a matter of which trade-offs you are willing to accept and live with. In fact, at this time, I am still unable to finalize my choice. I will probably decide who I will vote for president when I wake up in the morning on the morning of election day itself. That being said, for sure I will not vote for Binay (should be self-explanatory) or Duterte (risk of instability, too many things I disagree with, including character, foreign policy, diplomacy, etc). For both of the above choices, I feel that the worst-case scenario is significantly worse than the other three.

Grace Poe, I do not like mainly due to her inexperience, she has the most variance among the remaining candidates. Difficult to predict what happens with a presidency under her, although one can assume it will be reasonably similar to Roxas. I am not actually too concerned with her having been an American citizen (I am not very nationalistic in that regard), and if the SC says she can run, fine (with reservations). I will probably vote for her if I wake up feeling like I want to try to prevent my two negative choices from winning.

Mar Roxas, for all his faults, actually has a reasonable track record (I did vote for him as VP in 2010 on the strength of that record after all). He however suffers the misfortune of working under an administration that despite it’s accomplishments, has exhibited poor judgment and poor leadership at certain points over the past six years. As a regular commuter, I am also personally very annoyed at how the administration has handled the traffic situation in Metro Manila (although as one of the other candidates has pointed out, it is a difficult problem that may not be resolved in six years). A vote for Roxas is kind of a safe bet, we can easily assume that his administration will perform similarly to how the previous administration did: some bad spots in leadership, with some accomplishments along the way. It also means living with the traditional politics of the Liberal Party. I will probably vote for Roxas if I wake up feeling neutral or positive (if I wake up with any hate or anger or annoyance, I will vote one of the other two haha)

Miriam Defensor Santiago, my main issue is her endorsement of Marcos, which for me is a non-starter. That I’m even still considering her for this slot is a testament to how shallow the pool is. She’s brilliant and has an excellent track record, and her administration would probably be the most unconventional among the three. She is however, very much a political animal, with her own history of poor political choices here and there. I will probably vote for her if I wake up feeling hipster or contrarian.

If I wake up feeling like I cannot stomach any of the above choices, I will shade in Roy Seneres on the ballot (virtual abstain)

Okay, that was the tough part. The rest of the choices are relatively easy.

For Vice President, there is no other choice but Leni Robredo. Full disclosure: My uncle is married to the sister of the late Jesse Robredo, so my family is strongly in favor of Leni anyway (last weekend one of my visiting relatives told me I should be campaigning for her more :p). That being said, I’ve never met her myself, although my parents have. My choice is based on what I see and hear about her compared to the other choices. Her track record is not as extensive as the others, but her character is unquestionable, and she has been involved in grassroots community work even before she entered public service, and she has had a productive term as congresswoman.

For the Senate, just a quick run through:

  1. Risa Hontiveros – I voted for in 2010, still voting for her now.
  2. Lorna Kapunan – a newbie, but given one of the likely winners of the presidential race, we will need more Human Rights advocates in the senate
  3. Ina Ambolodto – some representation for our Mindanao/Muslim brethren. She was recommended by Jesse Robredo to be part of his team in the DILG, a big plus for me
  4. Leila de Lima – for Justice! Not afraid to go up against influential groups
  5. Francis Pangilinan – reasonably good track record, focus on agriculture
  6. Joel Villanueva – on the strength of his TESDA track record
  7. Sherwin Gatchalian – I still associate him with some text spam ads during the previous elections, but multiple people have vouched for how he has improved things in Valenzuela, so I’ll give him a chance
  8. Rafael Alunan – reasonably good track record during the Ramos administration. As a Duterte supporter, he is also my concession to their camp; as an intelligent man I hope he can help keep the mayor’s baser instincts in check should he become president
  9. Dick Gordon – he’s not perfect, and I disagree with his stand on a number of issues, but if I was willing to vote for him as president in 2010, there’s no reason not to vote for him now as a Senator where he would have less power
  10. Roman Romulo – focus on education. He’s only here because I’m a sucker for his political ad haha. He also has a reasonable legislative record focused on education
  11. TG Guingona – filling out the slots with a couple of re-electionists. #11 and #12 are soft slots, they are more likely to change depending on my mood during election day. Both of these guys seem to have reasonable track records and I don’t mind re-electing them.
  12. Ralph Recto – see above.

For party-list, once again I’m voting for AGHAM. I always heavily favor science and education, because playing Civilization taught me that it’s difficult to keep up with other civs if our science % is too low haha.

For mayor and vice-mayor, I will grudgingly vote for Bautista and Belmonte, who are running virtually unopposed anyway. I’m not too happy with HB and some of his shenanigans, but Quezon City is doing fine anyway.

For congressman, I will abstain. Kit Belmonte is running unopposed, but I have no idea of his track record, might as well abstain. I do not know the candidates for councilor either, so I will not vote for any councilors either.

Things can still change between now and election day, but more or less this will probably be the slate I’m voting for. Despite the fact that I enjoy seeing the shenanigans unfold, I’m tired of this election season and looking forward to it being over just under a week’s time. I’m sure that won’t be the end of our political circus (far from it), but I expect the toxic atmosphere online to at least maybe lighten up even just a little bit. Hopefully?

Edit: I was told that I take my votes too seriously. Cannot deny haha. Here’s my 2010 post for reference: http://roytang.net/2010/05/elections-2010-my-ballot/

Comparing Singapore and PH: Apples and Oranges

 

(Originally posted on Facebook)

Heaven knows we are in need of some serious income tax reform, and the government needs to work a lot on efficient utilization of the revenue they do earn, so of course when I first saw the image below like any middle-class Filipino I found it a bit enraging. But then I thought to myself: if Singapore has such low taxes, where does the government get their operating budget from? Are they simply 20 times more efficient in using their money? I had time, so I thought I’d do a bit of research. (I’m just pulling figures off the internet and using what limited understanding I have of economics so feel free to correct me where I am probably embarassingly wrong)

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First off, 1M pesos annual salary = around 30,000 sgd (more or less, let’s just make the math easy). According to the table from the original article (https://sg.finance.yahoo.com/news/highest-income-tax-rates-world-160000035.html), that’s the second lowest tax bracket (200sgd + 3.5% of the excess over 30k sgd). While the 240,000php annual salary is in the third highest bracket for the Philippines, taxed at 20%. Obviously Singapore has a lower tax rate than we do, but it seems a bit disingenuous to be comparing one of the lowest brackets with one of the highest. The highest tax brackets are 20% for Singapore and 32% for the Philippines

The comparison was a bit exaggerated, but that’s fine. Singapore tax rates are lower. How much money do they collect? According to http://www.singaporebudget.gov.sg/budget_2015/RevenueandExpenditure.aspx, it was some 61B SGD (around 2T PHP) in 2014. For a population of 5.67M, it comes out to roughly 11K SGD (362k PHP) per capita. Roughly 36% of that was corporate and personal income tax (which I assume are the ones levied as a portion of income)

For the Philippines, revenue was at 1332B PHP in 2014 (source: http://www.bir.gov.ph/images/bir_files/annual_reports/annual_report_2014/cmtt.html) for a population of 100M, roughly 13k PHP per capita. Roughly 58% of that was for taxes on net income (which I assume includes both corporate and personal income tax)

So: Singapore has lower tax rates, but they manage to collect almost 3x as much money per citizen somehow, and less of it is from income taxes. As far as I can tell, complaining about the poor quality of service vis-a-vis the tax rate is ridiculous given the PH government has almost 20x as many people to serve and is earning only around 2/3rds the revenue). The Singapore government can afford to provide better services because their citizens earn more money and hence the government earns more money, despite the lower tax rates. Even if we were able to utilize all the govt revenue 100% (with nothing lost to corruption/inefficiency), we’d still have only 4% as much to spend on services per capita as compared to the SG government. As pointed out by a friend, SG also has a much smaller area to govern and hence much lower expected expenditures.

So it’s not a straightforward “we should be getting better services because we have a higher tax rate!”. We still need to build up our economy so that we can support lower tax rates without giving up too much in social services. At the very least, comparing ourselves with Singapore is an apples and oranges type of deal

PHVote: Choosing your 2013 Senators and Party List

Resources

The content of this post is regarding my own opinion and who I plan to vote for. If you want to do your own research (I highly recommend it), here are some links to get you started:

Here’s a link to a Google doc of my own notes on each candidate, which I used as basis for recommendations below. (I didn’t want to clutter up the blog post with details)

 

Recommendations

A number of people have asked me to recommend who they should vote; while I prefer that they do their own research I don’t mind giving suggestions. Here are my recommendations:

Strongly recommended: Jun Magsaysay, Risa Hontiveros, Teddy Casino

It’s okay to vote for: Legarda, Escudero, Pimentel, Madrigal, Zubiri, Hagedorn, Poe

It’s okay to vote for the following if you don’t mind them being members of or associated with political dynasties: Cayetano, Gordon, Angara, Ejercito, Aquino

It’s okay to vote for the following if you don’t mind their strong association with religious groups: Delos Reyes, Villanueva

Definitely DO NOT VOTE: Honasan, Trillianes, Maceda, Mitos Magsaysay, Villar, Enrile, Binay, Cojuangco

For the “it’s okay to vote for” groups, just use your own preferences, i.e. if you don’t like Erap you probably won’t vote for JV Ejercito.

 

My Ticket

The following will most likely be the 12 I will vote on Monday (barring something ridiculous happening):

  1. Jun Magsaysay (Team PNoy)
  2. Risa Hontiveros (Team PNoy)
  3. Teddy Casino (Independent)
  4. Legarda (Team PNoy)
  5. Escudero (Team PNoy)
  6. Pimentel (Team PNoy)
  7. Madrigal (Team PNoy)
  8. Zubiri (UNA)
  9. Hagedorn (Independent)
  10. Gordon (UNA)
  11. Angara (Team PNoy)
  12. Aquino (Team PNoy)

I understand that the choices aren’t perfect (I’m not too fond of some of them…), but we have a limited selection of viable candidates and I’d rather fill up all 12 slots to at least have an infinitesimally small chance that the candidates I don’t want don’t get in.

 

What about the Party List? There are really too many Party Lists to evaluate. Just don’t vote for some ridiculous group; look for a group with a strong advocacy and track record. My personal preference is for #95 AGHAM Party List, because SCIENCE! Here’s a list of legislation they’ve supported if you’re interested.

 

That’s the last post from me before the elections on Monday (I’ll probably be ranting more on Twitter). If you have a chance to vote go out and do so, but be sure to do so wisely; it’s your privilege and an expression of what you want for this country. Let’s hope that the surveys are wrong and the voting public miraculously smartens up.

 

Edit: The original recommendations list missed out Grace Poe. Also added a short note on imperfect choices.