Government News Analysis

Good – Bad – Ugly news

Robert Ruben Ornelas, 62.

Today we’re doing a wrap up of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly news – a few recent events that are worthy of note but which don’t warrant a great deal of analysis in their own right. In reverse order, then, here are …

The Ugly. Predatory paedophile, Robert Ruben Ornelas (FBI photo), who made trips to the Philippines over seven years to molest children – some as young as eight – was jailed by a US court on Monday for 190 years. That may get this animal off the street, but it won’t get him out of the minds of the girls he violated. They’ll live with those experiences for the rest of their lives. Even though he’ll die in prison, by the side of his perverted acts – as far as we’re concerned – 66-year-old Ornelas’s sentence was light.

But what makes this case even more grotesque is that family members of the victims provided sexual access to these girls in exchange for money. Claiming to be an attorney, this sick former Santa Ana, California, school teacher had promised to help fund the children’s education. Incomprehensible though it sounds, the relatives either believed that subjecting the children to repeated sexual abuse was a price worth paying to give them that education, or that they used the girls simply to make money. Either way, our question is this: Are these family members being held to account; to be prosecuted under the 1992 Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act?  And if not, why not?

This legislation was enacted specifically to deal with such cases. Having read the Act, it’s fairly clear that they committed a number of offences, including: acting as a procurer of a child prostitute; child trafficking; the corruption of minors; child sexual abuse and the exploitation of a child. If it’s not used for cases like this, why is it on the statute books?

As the country’s War on Drugs reduces the customer base and the market for those drugs by cutting off the supply of narcotics, the same formula could be applied to tackle the marketing of children for sex by taking the pimps out of circulation. Let’s face it; if there was no product – children – depraved creatures like Ornelas wouldn’t be washing up in the Philippines. And so the despicable ‘grown-ups’ who facilitate people like him – like the drug pushers – are what perpetuates this shameful trade.

Sadly for the Philippines this case – heard in Orange County, California – is not an isolated one, and as long as parents and guardians are left unpunished, pre-teens will continue to be used as cheap sex dolls. Isn’t it really time that the Philippine justice system and the country’s law enforcement took this problem seriously? Isn’t it time that Pervert Tours Inc – the thriving sex-tourism industry in the Philippines – was put out of business?

Among the seven felony charges for which Ornelas was convicted, was engaging in sexual conduct with a minor “in a foreign place” – in this case, a foreign place where such activities are relatively easy for paedophiles to avail themselves of. Between 2006 and 2012, he made repeated trips to the Philppines to sate his sexual lust for children. The court heard that Ornelas – who’d molested his Filipino victims “in a cruel manner,” videotaped the ‘sessions’ and taken the images back to the US – had been sexually abusing minors since the 1960s.

As we highlighted in our article, When a child is porn [18 January, 2017]: The Philippines has a wretched reputation as a market leader in the international child-sex industry. For a start, it’s recognised as the top destination for what’s called ‘webcam child-sex tourism’ – real-time trans-globe video streaming of sex acts by children for paying customers often thousands of miles away. According to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Philippines has become “the global epicenter of the live-stream sexual abuse trade, and many of the victims [there] are children”.

In that sub-sector of child-sex tourism – a sub-sector that’s globally estimated to be worth in excess of US$1 billion a year – in the Philippines, parents and close family members again are the intermediaries transacting between sex predator and sex prey.

As in the Ornelas case, the victims and their families are invariably poor. But in applying the law, poverty can never be a defence for child-sex trafficking and permitting the sexual abuse of a child. If that argument wins, then children in every poor part of the Philippines lose.

The Bad. The Philippines fell by 11 places in the 2017 Index of Economic Freedom – the annual trade-freedom rankings around the world put out by The Heritage Foundation – while maintaining the same score number as last year. But it wasn’t all bad news. It gained higher marks in the categories of property rights, government integrity, regulatory efficiency and monetary freedom. Dragging it down were government spending and tax burden.

Here, we’ve extracted the countries of Southeast and East Asia with their 2017 Trade Freedom world rankings and scores. Joint first with a score of 90 were Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore. Taiwan, rank: 48, (score: 86.2); Papua New Guinea, 53, (85.4); Vietnam, 63, (83.1); Thailand, 65, (82.8); Japan, 67, (82.6); Malaysia, 72, (81.2); Indonesia, 76, (80.5); Cambodia, 77. (80.3); Timor-Leste, 80, (80); South Korea, 86, (79.5); Philippines, 102, (76.4); Laos, 109, (74.6); Myanmar, 112, (74.2); China, 116, (73.6).

Of course, what’s relevant in all that is the Philippines’ placing within the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (Asean) – its main regional rivals for foreign direct investment. While Brunei is not among the 181 countries worldwide surveyed, the other nine members of Asean are; and what’s disappointing in not just that the Philippines is third last in the grouping, but that it’s so far behind the rest – 25 places behind Cambodia, a country it really should be ahead of.

Meanwhile, staying with indices, the Philippines maintained its poor showing in the recently released 2016 Corruption Perception Index, published by Transparency International. Here, the Philippines is ranked 101 out of 176 countries with a score of 35 out of 100 – a drop of six places since 2015 and a distinct Fail. Countries scoring less than 49 fall in the “Mostly Corrupt” category.

Again, we’ve extracted from the list the countries of Southeast and East Asia with their 2016 rakings and scores, to put he Philippines’ position in clearer context. Singapore, rank: 7, (score: 84); Hong Kong, 15, (77); Japan, 20, (72); Taiwan, 31 (61); South Korea, 37 (56); Brunei, 41, (58); South Korea, 52, (53); Malaysia 55, (49); China, 79, (40); Indonesia, 90, (37); Philippines, 101, (35); Thailand, 101, (35); Timor-Leste, 101, (35); Vietnam, 113, (33); Laos, 123, (30); Myanmar, 136 (28);  Papua New Guinea, 136, (28); Cambodia, 156, (21); North Korea, 174, (12).

Although the Philippines is ahead of five other members of Asean, with the exception of Thailand which dropped three places from last year, it stayed unchanged, as did Cambodia. The movements of the other four were: Thailand, -25; Vietnam, +1; Laos, +2; Myanmar, +6.

While we might be able to massage the Philippines’ performance figures upwards slightly – Transparency International is part of the progressive-Left nexus that’s unlikely to give President Rodrigo Duterte an easy ride – we know full well that corruption, at all levels of society, remains hugely high and these figures aren’t likely to be so far out that it would make a difference in the overall rankings.

Indices such as these shouldn’t be underestimated as they often form part of the calculus for investors seeking to enter foreign markets. Attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) is a highly competitive business and right now – given the government’s bold infrastructure plans – the Philippines needs all the FDI it can get. Our remark on the Philippine report card for its performance in these indices is: “Must do better!”

The Good. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has given the Philippines a clean bill of health, projecting that gross domestic product growth this year will remain strong at 6.8%, allowing the economy to remain resilient even in the event of external turbulence.

This was the conclusion of an IMF exploratory team which was in the capital, Manila, last week. Strong domestic demand for goods and services and a “mild” export recovery were the reasons for their optimism.

“Over the medium term, a continuation of sound macroeconomic policies and structural reforms would be important to sustain investor confidence and make growth more inclusive,” the IMF team said in a statement.

This, of course, flies in the face of the doom-and-gloom merchants who’ve been saying for months now that under President Rodrigo Duterte, the economy was set to lose the gains it made under the previous administration. It’s also a ringing endorsement by the global monitoring body of the management of Philippine monetary and fiscal policy by Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), the country’s central bank, with which members of the IMF team met during their Manila visit.

Furthermore, this is no flash in the pan. Last September, the IMF raised the Philippine growth outlook for 2016 from 6% to 6.4%. Then one month later, once the third quarter (3Q) figures had come in showing that in that period the economy had grown by an impressive 7.1% – the faster in the region and trailed by China, 6.7%; Vietnam, 6.4%; Indonesia, 5% and Malaysia, 4.3% – it revised its 2017 forecast upwards: to 6.7% from its previous call of 6.2%.

Meanwhile, at the end of last year the BSP indicated that economic growth in the Philippines this year will fall in the range of 6.5% to 7.5%. Less sanguine is the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB). Its economists have given a growth projection for 2017 of 6.2%, just above its earlier estimate of 6.1%. Based on the ‘knowns’ right now the ADB forecast looks a little too conservative.

Among the factors that contributed to the 3Q16 growth surge were a recovery in the agriculture sector, an improving export performance, strong private-consumption demand and sustained gross investment. In other words two of the worst areas of the economy which the government has pledged to get into better shape – agriculture and exports – are finally making a useful contribution to economic growth. This is commendable and, although it’s virtually a Cabinet-wide achievement, we believe this shows that the tireless efforts of Agriculture Secretary, Manny Piñol, are now paying off.

The main cloud on the horizon right now is inflation which rose to a 25-month high of 2.7% in January and is set to increase further. The BSP has set its 2017 inflation-target range at between 2% and 4%. Currency depreciation and higher commodity prices will largely be the determining factors.

Unlike the Philippines’ results in the indices (above) where the country hangs in the wake of much of Asean and East Asia, in this year’s IMF growth prospects it leads the pack. Here’s a glimpse at some of the IMF’s 2017 growth outlooks in this region. China, 6.5%; Japan, 0.9%; South Korea, 3%; Taiwan, 1.7%; and, most telling of all, ‘Asean-5’ (comprising Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam), 4.8% – a full 2% lower than the IMF’s individual outlook for the Philippines. Our report card comment: “Keep up the good work!”

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  • For me, the falling rank of PH’s in Trade Freedom and Corruption perception can’t b solely attributed with the current administration. Why? 2016 was shared by two administrations. The true and more accurate result will be between 2017 & 2018, wherein we will only have one administration.

    To be more specific, in 2016 PNoy’s admin might be doing bad and Duterte’s admin wasn’t able to lift up the rankings accordingly. On the other hand, PNoy’s admin might be in the upward trend and Duterte’s admin is the one who pulls it down. Not unless data of the rankings was collated before June 30, only then we can really say who’s fault is it?

    Finally, the real measure of the effectiveness of our current administration can be truly determine comes after 2017, where it is only govern by one president.