When trolls and propagandists occupy the Internet

My name is Bambi and I am a young street dancer awakened by the twerking movement of the 70s… That is, according to Wikipedia before we changed the text back to my true, albeit less vivacious, biography.

Apparently, I have what is now known as an Internet troll changing my Wikipedia page regularly.

My troll made me a Ninja Turtle a few times in the past and, though that is extremely flattering, I unfortunately don’t have the martial arts skills to back it up.

In the curious case of Bam’s Wikipedia page, the untruth is so outrageous that it’s clearly unbelievable.

But in other cases, it is not so easy to distinguish fact from fiction or, dare I say, propaganda.

These days, there are people whose job is to sway public opinion on social media, whether it’s a strategic communications campaign or a swarm of troll accounts flooding a comments section.

While creativity and innovation in marketing and communications is more than welcome, untruth and ill intentions are not easily detected.

The biggest phenomena of the Internet age, social media and search engines, incorporate paid advertising to the user experience and now, money can buy eyeballs as well as people to produce bots and troll accounts to post, like, share, and comment incessantly. Click on a regular troll on any popular Facebook page and you may find him or her lacking a true identity.

Online manipulation

This is a difficult pill to swallow when a large part of me prefers to engage people who genuinely agree or disagree, and are not being paid to do so.

There is a lot of manipulation happening online.

A far cry from the free marketplace of ideas that we envisioned the Internet to be, it has transformed into a lawless arena where gladiators compete for our likes, shares, eyeballs, clicks, and money by whatever means possible.

When we first discovered the World Wide Web, people celebrated the idea that anyone and everyone could use it as a venue to speak out, to share information, to formulate opinions and generate insightful discussions.

We found a space without propaganda or advertising, free from the control and influence of powerful politicians and wealthy businesses.

Today, what we have is a battleground of messages ceaselessly pushing us to buy a product, watch a video, share a meme, or vote for a particular candidate.

The boon and the bane of the Internet is the freedom it provides. Anyone can share information and go viral like the Al-Dub phenomenon and our DOTA2 related post about Team Rave that was shared 3,445 times!

This freedom also allows anyone to mask lies as truth and post it a hundred times from a hundred different accounts until it worms into your psyche.

Campaign season

So how do we take back the Internet?

Should we look at regulation to control trolling or do we leave it up to the websites to ban abusive language and verify identities?

Do we just tune out when confronted with abrasive comments, potentially ignoring opposing ideas that are worth our consideration?

Do we doubt everything we see online and limit our network to a curated circle, wasting the potential of an open, diverse, unpredictable debate?

Will we end up restricting our use of the Internet to that of self-expression?

How do we take the Internet back from the paid trolls and propagandists, especially during the campaign season where candidates have the machinery to invade both traditional and social media?

In our case, we take back our Wikipedia page by checking it everyday and updating it as often as possible. Perhaps, as users, more diligence is required when absorbing information.

Maybe there is a need to evolve our thinking – to be more analytical, to sift through the barrage of messages on the World Wide Web before we come to our own conclusions.

Bambi’s fearless forecast? The more trolls and propagandists attempt to take the Internet away from us, the more we will put up our own filters, exclude them from our circles, take their comments with a pinch of salt and heaps of humor, and find ways to generate free and open spaces for genuine dialogue and exchange of ideas.

First Published on Rappler.com

Because entrepreneurs need access to capital

For entrepreneurs, no matter how hardworking you are and how much potential your business has, one thing is for sure: you need starting capital.

Access to credit, with reasonable terms and interest rates, is a critical piece in the business development pie, whether for start-ups and micro-enterprises, small and medium enterprises, or large businesses.

When it comes to bigger, established businesses, banks often compete to offer them loans. Their solid track record for success together with assets they can sign off as collateral decreases the risk of lending to them.

But what about our micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), which comprise over 900,000 registered businesses in the Philippines?

The MSME sector, a sector fundamental to our country’s inclusive growth and development, is lacking in financial support.

According to a recent study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) on SMEs in Asia, the Philippines was ranked one of the lowest in terms of share of SME loans to total bank loans in 2014.

The average share of SME loans to bank loans in lower-middle income Asian countries is considered quite low, at 14.6%. But the Philippines falls shorter than this average at only 10.3%, which is just enough to meet the mandatory compliance requirement for banks provided by law.

What’s more, a closer look at the data reveals that lending to micro and small enterpise by banks was only at 5.6% in 2013 and 4.6% in 2014, both below the legally mandated 8%, which tells us that banks would rather pay penalties than take on the risk of lending to our smaller businesses.

Bridging the gap

Given the situation, the government must take a more proactive stance in bridging the gap between MSMEs and their capital needs.

With policy-mandated quotas unable to encourage banks to lend to our entrepreneurs, we must look for other ways to complete the financing spectrum for this sector.

For micro-entrepreneurs, a growing microfinance industry is a great sign. In 2013, a study released by the ADB showed that there were 2,000 microfinance institutions and 200 banks servicing over 7 million microfinance clients.

Some of them even go beyond offering loans at reasonable terms and work closely with their clients in building their businesses through training and market linkage. These are the microfinance NGOs that will benefit from our recently ratified Microfinance NGOs Act.

However, MFIs are limited to loans between P5,000 and P150,000. The largest gap in access to credit lies in loan requirements from P200,000 to P5 million, which are primarily for our small enterprises.

This break in the chain of financial inclusion hinders the growth of local enterprises and, therefore, must be addressed.

One technique to bridge this gap is to provide them the collateral that banks require – hence our Credit Surety Fund (CSF) Cooperative Act that was just finalized at a recent bicameral conference.

What this legislation does is bring the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), Department of Finance, Cooperative Development Authority, and Local Government Units (LGUs) together with various cooperatives and NGOs to create funds that will serve as a guarantee or a form of collateral for members of these cooperatives.

The CSF Cooperative Act will give entrepreneurs access to loans from financing institutions by quelling the risk with a “guarantee fund.”

What not many may know is that credit surety funds are already in existence in the Philippines thanks to the 7-year program run by the BSP. There are already 40 CSFs involving 548 cooperatives across 50 LGUs.

With the ratification and signing of the CSF Cooperatives Act within the year, these guarantee funds become accessible and available to more entrepreneurs around the country.

We can hope that more Filipino entrepreneurs will get the financing they need to grow successful businesses, generate more jobs, and spread wealth and opportunities throughout the Philippines.

We can also hope to continue strengthening support for entrepreneurs and complete the range of financing products for MSMEs through policy and inclusive and innovative financing.

First published on Rappler.com

Vanquishing the voices of doubt and cynicism

To be honest, when I was invited a few months ago to address all of you today, I was quite flattered to be chosen. It was a pleasant surprise to be invited today, a pleasant surprise that came with a tremendous amount of pressure!

How does one inspire such bright minds as the graduates of the Ateneo Graduate School of Business? How does one reach the hearts and minds of our country’s current and future business leaders?

How does one inspire the hearts of intelligent individuals that will drive the Philippine economy to even greater heights? How can yours truly possibly affirm, motivate, and, dare I say, entertain such brilliant men and women?

Alam ninyo naman, the pressure on commencement speakers is high today. After all, it’s the era of YouTube and going viral. 

With seemingly every single part of our lives on the Internet – what you had for breakfast, your outfit of the day, how many friends you have, how many people heart your new pair of Nikes – truly, we live in a world markedly different from even just a decade ago.

As much as this new, exciting world has brought communities closer together, given us tools to reach out, communicate more easily, and do business more conveniently, it does have a dark side. 

To put it quite succinctly, parang ang daming nega.

I need not look further than my own Facebook page. During the campaign, we started to play with my nickname and proclaimed proudly that BAM also stands for: Bida Ang Mamamayan. 

Of course, some wise aleck instead said BAM stands for: Bobo Ang Maniniwala. Another one went on a rant on my page, and I quote, “Oooooo wow plastic rimmed glasses makes you look like your grandpa and that automatically qualifies you to run for senate taking advantage of the “masses”… nice… *slow clap*”

Excuse me, Ninoy is my uncle, not my grandfather.

But on a serious note, these days, there seems to be a stronger, overwhelming voice that says, “Hindi mo kaya! It won’t work. It cannot be done.” 

Whether it is a voice within us or the collective voice of critics, the unnerving voice of skepticism too often drowns out the voice of optimism and confidence that says, “Kaya natin. It can be done.” Holding on to this voice, especially through times of adversity, is what will make all the difference.

I wish to share with you the story of Nolie Estocado, a daughter of a modest laundry woman and farmer who barely earned enough for day-to-day expenses. Even as she worked tirelessly for a handicrafts company, she never seemed to climb out of poverty.

In 1983, she decided to start her own business, even as her friends and relatives warned her of what they saw as her “inevitable” failure. Nolie had a mighty inner voice and the immense will to fight through the skepticism.

She overcame devastating challenges to build an enterprise that now hires up to 100 workers. Today, Nolie owns a house and lot and an apartment.

Nolie did not let the voice of skepticism drown out her inner voice and it paid off.

This voice of optimism also lives in groups, collectives, and companies. Since 2008, the Jollibee Group Foundation has been running its Farmer Entrepreneurship Program (FEP) that links small farmers directly to the supply chains of institutional clients like the Jollibee Food Corporation (JFC).

One of the first approached were the Kalasag farmers of San Jose, Nueva Ecija. After going through agro-enterprise capacity building, the first challenge was to meet Jollibee’s quota of 60 metric tons of onions, which a challenge the Kalasag Farmers failed.

Some questioned whether the farmers would ever produce enough onions to meet Jollibee’s benchmarks of quantity and quality. But like you, dear friends, the voice that says “Kaya natin!” was strong among the Kalasag Farmers.

The voice of optimism, the confidence and belief in our countrymen was tenacious within the Jollibee Foundation. Trusting that the Kalasag Farmers could step up, Jollibee raised their quota to 197 metric tons for the next delivery.

Diligence, perseverance

This voice of optimism and confidence fed the farmers’ diligence and perseverance. This time, they surpassed the allotted volume, delivering 235 metric tons of quality onions to Jollibee. Last year, Kalasag’s delivery reached 480 metric tons of onions.

When I went there last year, I saw for myself how their quality of life improved – their houses are now made of concrete, their children now go to school regularly, some of them have graduated from college, and, most impressively, when it was time for us to go, everyone took out their smartphones for a selfie.

Nolie, the Jollibee Foundation, and the Kalasag Farmers fostered their inner voice of optimism and confidence and overcame skepticism and defeatism to be rewarded with success.

Within our office in the Senate, I would like to think that the voice of optimism is strong and alive as well. When I was newly elected as Senator two years ago, I was told, assuredly, that I shouldn’t expect to pass any laws in my first 2 years.

But in our first year, we passed two laws: the Philippine Lemon Law and the Go Negosyo Act, the first inclusive growth and pro-poor legislation passed by the 16th Congress.

As we entered our second year, we were told it would be impossible for a neophyte senator to successfully pass a landmark bill, such as the Philippine Competition Act, through Congress. But just last month, the President signed into law the Philippine Competition Act and the Amendments to the Cabotage Law, two landmark policies authored and sponsored by our office.

These laws have been struggling to pass through our legislative system for decades and you can bet that there were critics and naysayers that chuckled at the thought of a neophyte senator passing these landmark bills.

But our office of bright, idealistic, and passionate individuals did not listen to them. Instead, we collectively exclaimed, “Kaya natin ito para sa bayan!”

When we sift through stories of people that have revolutionized systems and reformed long-standing practices, we find that there were always critics and there were always naysayers; but the inner voice of optimism triumphed and shone through.

If Bill Gates gave up after his previous business ventures failed, we may never have had “a computer in every home.” If Steve Jobs gave up whenever his ideas were shot down, we wouldn’t have “a computer in every pocket.”

If Mahatma Gandhi gave up those countless times he was thrown in jail, we would never have known the power of non-violence. If Cory Aquino believed those that said a housewife could never be president, who knows if we would have freedom and democracy today.

They had the will and the grit to cut through the criticism and negative chatter to drive revolutions, drive reforms, and ultimately, create change.

Here in the Philippines, we are witnessing unprecedented economic growth. From being the “Sick Man in Asia,” we are now called “Asia’s Bright Spot.”

Once known for our tremendous debt, we have now garnered investment grade ratings from the most reputable rating agencies. Once considered one of the most corrupt countries in the world, we have since pushed for justice against the most powerful in all of the three branches of our government.

We are now the second fastest growing economy in Asia, second only to China, and we expect to continue on this trajectory.

Fight the tide

All these developments are a testimony to Filipinos like you with a strong inner voice that says, “Kaya natin!” Kaya nating umangat. Kaya nating tumino. Kaya nating umasenso.”

I trust that the people in this room will continue to fight the tide, swim against the current, and listen to that voice inside that says we can make that difference!

But of course, being Ateneans, we are called to do more – magis. Unfortunately, for those of us trained in the Jesuit traditions, heeding the call of our inner voice is not enough.

Our challenge is not just to listen to our inner voice, but also to be that voice for others. Be that voice of confidence for those that have known nothing but disappointment. 

Be that voice of motivation for those that are overcome with failure. Be that voice of inspiration for those that have heard nothing but criticism and reproach.

We are called to speak up, for them, and not remain silent. We are called to silence the paralyzing voices of cynicism!

As we step out of this room and back into the dim world of critics, skeptics, and defeatists, let us become the loudest voices of inspiration. Kaya nating umangat! Kaya nating tumino! Kaya nating umasenso! 

First published on Rappler.com

When weather makes you tougher

After the burning summer heat, in comes the rain. It sets a totally different mood as we see less beach and travel photos and more sentimental #tbts on our social media feeds.

It’s the season when coffee tastes better, hugs are tighter, and home is much tougher to leave.

It’s the season for rain boots, umbrellas, sweaters, blankets, and lots and lots of vitamin supplements.

It is also the season to be wary of typhoons, storm surges, floods, and the destruction they bring with them.

Unfortunately, we are particularly vulnerable to these calamities. The Philippines is one of the most affected nations when it comes to the effects of climate change.

How can we forget Typhoon Yolanda in 2013, the deadliest typhoon in our history? It affected millions of people and took thousands of lives in Eastern Visayas.

The super typhoon earned us the top rank in the 2013 Climate Risk Index (CRI), which ranks countries affected by extreme weather events. In the Long Term Climate Risk Index (CRI), we are ranked the fifth most affected country in the world.

One silver lining is the fact that, even when the rain clears and a new season rolls in, rebuilding efforts and disaster preparedness initiatives are sustained.

We can proudly say that Filipinos have moved past being merely reactive.

Today, we course through the entire spectrum, from preparation and prevention to response and rehabilitation. 

We have established the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council that has released the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan (NDRRMP) for 2011 to 2028, identifying the capacities we need to develop and the roadmap to follow in order to become tougher in the face of catastrophe.

The province of Albay even established the first Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Academy for local government units and included DRR and CCA in their public education curriculum.

Even more inspiring is the outpouring of concern and gusto among young Filipinos within their own communities. During times of crisis, it is the youth that turn basketball courts, restaurants, and function rooms into warehouses with a seemingly endless supply of volunteers and donations.

These efforts are sustained throughout the year by youth groups with programs and initiatives in the field of DRR.

Foresight and programs

In Cauayan City, Isabela, the Red Cross Youth and Junior Rescue Team design and build Disaster Management Eco-rafts from recycled plastic bottles for communities that live by rivers and other areas that are prone to flooding.

After realizing that most of their members don’t know how to swim, the Hayag Youth Organization in Ormoc, Leyte came up with “Swim for Safety” or “Langoy Para sa Kaluwasan,” which provides swimming lessons to young Filipinos in vulnerable areas.

Thanks to their foresight and their program, all members were spared from the flooding brought by Yolanda.

Lastly, the Rescue Assistance Peacekeeping Intelligent Detail (RAPID) conducts training sessions for emergency response, first aid, bandaging, evacuation, and other skills.

Graduates of RAPID’s 56-hour training program were among the first responders when a ferry sank along the coast of Cebu. The trainees utilized cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to save an 8-month old baby – a skill they learned thanks to RAPID.

These are only three examples of the many youth groups that are making a tangible impact on improving disaster resilience among Filipino communities.

Currently, local government units are already working with the youth, usually as volunteers.

Now, with the Responsive, Empowered and Service-Centric Youth (RESCYouth) Act of 2015, young leaders will be formally included in the NDRRMC on a national level and on local levels – in the Regional, Provincial, City, Municipal, and Barangay Disaster Coordinating Councils.

Youth representatives will be included in the planning process, identifying strategic efforts, mobilizing communities, and making risk preparedness and disaster resiliency a part of Filipino culture.

Currently, the RESCYouth Act has passed on the third reading in the Senate and we are determined to course this through the legislative process quickly.

There is tremendous support for this legislation – from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Local Government Units (LGUs) to the NDRRMC and the National Youth Commission – and rightfully so.

Including all sectors, particularly our bright, imaginative, and passionate young Filipinos in building a stronger Philippines can only elevate our capacities.

With all hands, hearts, and minds working to build a disaster resilient Philippines, preparedness will surely be better, response operations will be tighter, and the country we call home will be much, much tougher. 

The K to 12 challenge

As we welcome a new school year, we are reminded of our need to constantly improve the quality of education for Filipinos across the country.

Aligned with this goal is the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013 or Republic Act No. 10533, which was signed into law on May 15, 2013 and resulted in the implementation of the K-12 Basic Education Program.

The last country in Asia with a 10-year pre-university cycle, the Philippines is one of only three, along with Angola and Djibouti, stuck in a 10-year basic education system.

Far from being a quick fix to our laggard status, the K to 12 program was carefully studied and designed by both private and public education stakeholders based on research from other countries and our own local successes and failures in education.

Many would agree that actualizing the K-12 system in the Philippines would result in more young Filipinos equipped with the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes to enter the workforce.

And even though there are those that disagree and question whether or not we should transition to a K to 12 education system, this article is not about that.

The challenge we face now, in my view, is not whether we should or shouldn’t, but whether we can or can’t.

Are we ready to bring the K to 12 vision of progressive and transformative education to reality? Are we ready with classrooms and infrastructure to accept 2 more grade levels? Are we ready with the curriculum to move our education system to the world-class standard we have long been aspiring for?

To be fair to the Department of Education (DepEd), they have made progress in terms of infrastructure and curriculum development.

The backlog of 66,800 classrooms in 2010 was addressed with DepEd building over86,478 classrooms from 2010 to 2014 with plans to build over 40,000 more this year.

The shortage of 145,827 teachers in 2010 was addressed with DepEd hiring over 128,000 teachers from 2010 to 2014 with over 39,000 more to be hired this year.

Increased budget

But what about the 25,000 or so teaching and non-teaching staff that will be displaced once the K-12 program is completely implemented? DepEd reports that there will be at least 30,000 teaching positions in public senior high schools open for hiring, not to mention the need for principals and other non-teaching staff.

A P12-billion Tertiary Education Transition fund is also in the pipeline to offer grants, scholarships, and financial assistance to displaced employees so they may be qualified to continue working in the field of education.

With more classrooms and more teachers, congestion in our public schools has gone down and this is evidenced by the big reduction in schools that employ a two, three, even four-shift system. When in 2011, 21.24% of our elementary schools resorted to shifting, only 3% utilized a shifting system in 2014.

(Writer’s Note: Most of the schools that fall under the 3% are located in the National Capital Region (NCR) where DepEd has no more space or land to expand schools and build new facilities.)

Looking at these figures, we can clearly say that tremendous improvements have been made. But, to be frank, not a lot of our citizens know that DepEd has hit these numbers in the last 5 years. In fact, when I go around schools, students still ask me why the government keeps cutting the budget for education.

In truth, we’ve actually increased the budget by over 200% from 2010 to 2015, from P174.75 billion to P364.66 billion.

These gains we have had in the past years put into perpective the ability of DepEd and our education stakeholders to make necessary preparations and improvements in the condition of education across the Philippines. These small victories should give us reason to believe in our ability to overcome challenges in improving the quality of Philippine education, or at least dispel any doubts about our capability to perform.

But the truth of the matter is, even with these numbers facing us, there is so little trust in the government’s ability to implement major reforms. And from the feedback of some of our countrymen, a number of Filipinos don’t believe we can get this done by 2017.

Definitely, there are legitimate concerns that demand solutions. Definitely, a lot of work still needs to be done. Definitely, there will be unforeseen challenges along the way. It will definitely not be easy.

But the good news is, we still have time. There is an entire year before the full nationwide implementation of the K-12 Program and the performance of DepEd thus far gives us enough reason to trust that we can get this done together.

Now is the time for our communities to get involved. Now is the time for the private sector to offer their expertise and resources. Now is the time for all of us to get behind a program that will empower our youth with knowledge and skills that can propel them and their families to live better, more comfortable, and more meaningful lives.

Now is not the time to hit the brakes on a national reform we desperately need and have been working towards for the past years. Now is not the time to prematurely declare that we cannot make it happen. We have a year to implement this major education program and DepEd has asked for our help (For concerns and suggestions, email action@deped.gov.ph or call (02)636.1663 / (02)633.1942.)

For those who believe that we need to improve our educational system in the Philippines, this is our chance. We must not miss another opportunity to raise the level of our education to one that is world class. Let us support DepEd in creating a better, more robust, more effective, and more progressive education system for our young Filipinos through the K to 12 Basic Education Program.

First Published on Rappler.com

A glimmer of hope for the SK

After years in the legislative back-burner, there is a glimmer of hope for the reforms needed by the beleaguered Sangguniang Kabataan.

A number of youth leaders, including former SK members themselves, have been calling for the overhaul of the SK system, while battling the sentiment to just scrap the system altogether.

In the last month, leading up to a 2nd postponement of the SK elections, senators and congressmen finally agreed to move forward with the necessary reforms so that the SK assuming office next year will be unburdened with a flawed system and instead have the hope for success with much-needed reforms in place.

In the end, both houses decided to work together and simultaneously postpone the SK elections for 2016, while committing to passing the reforms asap.

This was the compromise made by the senators who were pushing for radical systemic reforms with the congressmen who leaned towards abolishing the youth representation mechanism.

Fulfilling its side of the bargain, the Senate passed the SK Reform Bill last February 9, with game-changing reforms that will surely rock the boat (if not eventually, the vote) in 2016.

The four main reforms are: 1) adjusting the age of the SK officers; 2) making leadership training mandatory; 3) inserting a broad and far-reaching anti-political dynasty provision; and 4) creating a Local Youth Development Council body to further support the SK as its advisory council.

The first reform is the most basic one, and seeks to correct a mistake that legislators made in 2002, when they brought the age of the SK down to 15-17 from 15-21.

With the reform bill, the age of SK officials will now be at 18-24 years old. This coincides with the usual age that current youth leaders are in. Because this new age range is within the legal age, the officials are now legally capable of entering into contracts, and consequently, can be held accountable and liable for their actions.

Another reform is mandating that the officials undergo leadership training programs to expose them of best practices in governance and to guide their development as leaders.

During a forum in the Far Eastern University (FEU), Kenneth, a former SK chairman from Batangas, expressed his approval and hope with these proposed changes. He mentioned running for SK chairman at the age of 16 and having no clue what to do once elected.

Attracting older, more responsible, and more experienced candidates and bolstering their skills with training are necessary reforms that will get universal support.

The third reform, though, may be contentious but can be a major game-changer. The Senate was bold enough to include an anti-dynasty provision in our SK Reform Bill.

In many cases, young members of political families feel pressured to run for office, whether or not they see themselves as qualified.

On the other hand, youth leaders that are motivated to serve the community are discouraged to run for office when their opponents are related to incumbents.

The current provision bars relatives within a second level of consanguinity to all elected and most appointed officials from sitting as SK officials.

In short, gone will be the days that the son or daughter of the barangay captain or even the mayor can vie for the SK post.

I am hoping that our counterparts in Congress can also support this major reform which, in my estimation, can truly overhaul the current system.

More effective body

The fourth major reform is not as sexy or controversial but is close to my heart. When I was in the National Youth Commission over a decade ago, the more successful youth structure on the ground was not the SK but the Local Youth Development Council (LYDC) that was established in some areas.

The LYDC served as the more active and effective body that helped the LGU with programs, projects and policies that were for the youth of the locality. It was composed of youth representatives from student councils, Church and faith-based groups, youth-serving organizations, and community-based youth groups.

The SK was part of this council that was a broad representation of youth leadership and development in the area.

The basic idea here was that if the SK officials were not isolated, and instead, dealt with other youth leaders, they would tend to be less traditional and instead be more rooted with their constituents.

In the current reform bill, LYDCs are mandated and will be formed to work hand in hand with the SK.

LYDCs can help fix the quality of SK programs and projects in their localities.

The National Youth Commission is tasked with making the Philippine Youth Development Plan which serves as an overall plan for the youth with respect to the executive branch of government. But because this is not cascaded properly through the appropriate channels, it often remains as a wonderful policy paper that is not made tangible on the ground.

With the LYDC structure though, the NYC now has a mechanism to ensure that its national plans have a way to cascade, be localized and reach more young Filipinos through actual programs and projects on the ground.

Pasay, Naga, Cebu and Cagayan de Oro, among others, have already adopted the LYDC model.

These reforms will hopefully move the SK toward a merit system that values competency and away from patronage politics. We hope that these changes can bury ineffective practices and give rise to a tangible and measurable impact for the youth sector.

We are hopeful that this can be the beginning of a renewed Sangguniang Kabataan that reignites true community service, volunteerism, passion, and excellence within the Philippine government.

The Youth Development and Empowerment Act or Senate Bill 2401, with the reforms stated above, was passed on its third and final reading in the Senate.

Congress will release their committee report within two weeks. With even more young people backing these reforms, I am hopeful that we can finally pass the SK reform bill before the end of March.


First Published on Rappler.com

Towards fair competition, healthier economy

In a competitive market, businesses gain success by creating quality products, managing expenses, achieving operational efficiency, and effectively communicating and catering to their market.


Nations around the world recognize the need to create a business environment that best reflects this through competition policies that guard against bad business behavior.

Back in 1890, the US enacted the US Sherman Act, the first set of national laws to deal with monopolies and restraints of trade.


Australia followed suit in 1906 with the Australian Industries Preservation Act. After World War II, Japan passed its Monopolies and Restrictive Practices (Inquiry and Control) Act.


More recently, our neighbors in Southeast Asia have also passed their respective competition laws: Indonesia and Thailand in 1999, Singapore in 2004, Vietnam in 2005, and Malaysia in 2012.


Finally, after two decades worth of attempts, the Philippines is on its way to enacting its first comprehensive competition law – a legislation aimed at protecting local businesses and building a vibrant, more competitive economy by putting an end to anti-competitive agreements, cartels, collusions, unfair & abusive practices.


At its core, the competition law is about maintaining opportunities for all to compete so that present market leaders cannot exclude up and coming challengers who might be able to lower prices, improve product quality, offer consumers more choices, or spark the next wave of innovation in the market.


The Fair Competition Act of 2014 has successfully passed through the Senate and the House of Representatives just recently approved the bill on its third reading – a big win for the Philippine economy, for local businesses, and for every Filipino consumer.


Reaping benefits


The benefits of healthy competition in industry, in developing countries in particular, have long been acknowledged. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Global Forum on International Investment (2008) hailed the positive impact of promoting market competition in a number of developing economies, and among them is attracting foreign investments.


The OECD paper, “Competition Policy Enforcement: Experiences from Developing Countries and Implications for Investment,” stated that an effective competition policy will eliminate barriers to entry and exit of new business entities, curb anti-competitive practices, and lead to increased competition and, inevitably, greater investment into the country.


In our recent history, there are actual, observable examples of how increased competition has improved industry, spurred innovation, and resulted in better and cheaper choices for consumers.


In fact, we reap the benefits of healthy competition every time we flip through TV channels, struggle to decide which new restaurant to try, or marvel at the new upgrades on our latest smartphone.

Try and recall the first mobile phones introduced to the market in the early 1990s. Who would have guessed that in just two decades, those bulky analogs would transform into light, touch-screen devices of the future?


In just a few years, cellphones of all shapes and sizes were introduced, each one trying to one-up the other. The antenna became obsolete, screens got bigger and more colorful, batteries got lighter and more compact, and a variety of new features were introduced until the cellphone morphed into an all-in-one life-hacking device with an HD camera, editing tools, a music library, Internet access, Candy Crush, world maps, GPS tracking, Twitter, and a wealth of other helpful applications.


In the Philippines, with more and more companies selling mobile phones, there are a variety of brands and models to choose from. With this power to choose comes the power to demand quality phones at the lowest prices.


In 1997, a Nokia 5110 cost over P10,000. Today, that amount can buy you a Nokia Lumia with features that move well beyond calling, texting, and playing snake. Plus, you can purchase a similar, local brand mobile phone from Cherry Mobile or MyPhone for just a fraction of that price.


While the mobile phone used to be a status symbol for the elite, today you see anyone from students to sari-sari store owners and taxi drivers swiping through their own touch-screen phones.


Competition between mobile phone manufacturers spurred innovation in targeted markets, diversifying products while driving down prices for the benefit of both the industry and the consumers.


We’ve seen the same pattern in the airline industry. In the 1980s, the flights zipping through our archipelago were few, far between, and expensive. Flying to Davao to visit my mother’s family was a calculated, budgeted expense.


But with more airline companies came more flights and more choices for us Filipinos. Companies began getting to know the market better and started targeting specific groups – like budget travelers. Opportunity was found in lower prices and today, the country is in a flurry with ever promo fare announcement.


Power of competition


Now, more Filipinos get to explore the Philippines and the world for cheap. More entrepreneurs can fly across seas quickly and at any time of day to scout for partners and make sound business deals. The local tourism sector also benefitted greatly from the intense competition in the airline industry.


Such is the power of healthy competition in these specific industries, which we hope can be replicated in even more industries in the country. The Fair Competition Act can spearhead this healthy, competitive environment for our local business sector.


The legislation’s priority is to create a fair environment for all businesses – new or old, small or large. It penalizes business behavior that is anti-competition and that hinders our markets from providing the best options and opportunities for our consumers.


Businesses can no longer make moves to create barriers to entry for new players nor can they bully smaller enterprises by selling below cost or restricting market opportunities.


Colluding with other dominant players to fix prices, divide territories, or refuse deals with particular vendors will also be penalized and, in fact, criminalized.


But while this law is vigilant against exercise of market power, it is not against bigness. It respects dominance gained by competing on merits.


The Act seeks to establish a Fair Competition Commission (FCC) to look into the cases filed and objectively determine whether there have been abuses. The FCC is tasked to promote competition, enhance economic efficiency, and prohibit anti-competitive acts and abuse of power.


It will be supported by the existing Office for Competition (OFC) of the Department of Justice (DOJ). It will serve as the prosecutor in criminal cases filed and have exclusive authority over the criminal enforcement of this Act.


The FCC, OFC and other government agencies will work hand in hand to build a better business environment that the consumers desire and deserve.


For too long, the lack of a competition policy has crippled new businesses and left micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) vulnerable to abuse. At the end of the day, it is our consumers that are robbed of better quality, more choices, and lower prices for products and services.


The Fair Competition Act is pro-poor, pro-people, and pro-business. It safeguards the welfare of businesses, large and small, and protects honest, hard-working entrepreneurs against abuse of dominance and other unfair practices that put them and their consumers at risk.


With four years of sustained economic growth, it is now time to work on strengthening our local industries, promoting a culture of competition and innovation, and boosting our potential to serve the global market with outstanding products and services.


While we acknowledge that the Fair Competition Act is not the miracle cure that will sustain our thriving economy, we believe that this is the necessary step, the significant leap towards a culture of healthy competition that promotes efficiency, and inspires ingenuity, creativity, and innovation in the Philippines.

More importantly, this culture of healthy competition is a fundamental building block in our transition to a sustainable and inclusive middle-income country – a dream for many of us Filipinos that now has a chance of becoming a reality.


First published on Rappler.com



The best gift to Filipino graduates

Every March, as I attend graduation ceremonies, I get a rush of inspiration seeing so many young Filipinos reach a major milestone and life achievement – completing their studies.

We can see both pride and relief in their eyes. They exchange hugs and high fives, happy to be free from the shackles of their terror teachers.

Parents, too, beam with delight as they applaud the end of tuition fees and other school-related expenses.

This year, about 700,000 fresh graduates will be scouring newspaper advertisements, join job fairs, sign up on online job websites, visit companies and inquire about possible employment vacancies.

A number of these graduates will find jobs in the Philippines; a number will find jobs abroad. Some will work in a formal company; others will be working more informally. And unfortunately, some will join the ranks of the unemployed.

This is the unfortunate milieu our 2015 graduates are entering. We need to build a bridge between education, and employment and entrepreneurship, and we need to fill in the gap at the soonest possible time.

In the case of New Zealand’s Ministry of Education, they created an agency called Careers New Zealand (NZ) to bridge this gap by working with both the private sector and educational institutions.

They determine the qualifications demanded by the workforce then ensure that the right skills and expertise is developed in schools. Therefore, graduates match the job opportunities in the market.

Inspired by New Zealand, our office is currently working with Generoso Villanueva National High School in Bacolod to match the needs of the job opportunities in their area, which include call centers and HRM opportunities, to the skills that they are teaching to their students.

Offering alternatives

To scale this up, Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Armin Luistro committed to establish placement offices in public high schools in the K to 12 system, upon our suggestion during the budget deliberations of DepEd in the Senate.

But with the lack of jobs to fill in the first place, we need to offer more alternatives to our young graduates, and entrepreneurship should be a viable option for them.

Micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) compose 99.6% of total establishments in the Philippines and contribute 61.2% of the country’s total employment. Already, MSMEs play a vital role in providing livelihood and prosperity to millions of Filipinos.

Entrepreneurship can also serve as a means for our unemployed youth sector to pave their own way out of poverty and into financial independence. Not to mention, they can create more job opportunities for their peers.

The Department of Trade and Industry is now establishing 100 Negosyo Centers all over the country this year with our recently enacted Go Negosyo Act, which will consolidate all efforts in assisting starting and current small business owners.

Potential clients can access help in business registration, financing, product development, financial management and market linkage from these Negosyo Centers.

We also authored and sponsored the Youth Entrepreneurship Bill, which aims to expose our Filipino youth to entrepreneurship at a young age and give them a good foundation for business creation in the future.

If enacted into law, course programs in entrepreneurship will be developed for primary, secondary and post-secondary schools to give them basic knowledge on financial literacy and how to start and run their own businesses.

Moreover, the bill aims to create a fund and support structures to aid starting entrepreneurs in their product development, access to capital, training and other services, to help them establish their own enterprises.

The Youth Entrepreneurship Bill was passed on third reading in the Senate and was passed on second reading in the House of Congress recently.

With our improving economy, there is no better time than now to empower our youth with the values and skills of innovative entrepreneurship.

I am hopeful that the Philippines can offer our wide-eyed, idealistic, and well equipped graduates a wealth of opportunities – from job openings in successful institutions to the possibility of putting up a thriving business around their innovative, world-class ideas.

Firs published on Rappler.com

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