Sunday, January 30, 2005

De Soto is not Tito, and only one of them is funny

A few weeks back, President Gloria Arroyo trotted out the name of Hernando De Soto before a captive urban poor audience in Mandaluyong. She seemed to be telling the squatters (yes, we call them that don't we?): Your lives will be great, your miserable existence as deadbeat drunkards, pregnancy-prone laundrywomen, tricycle driving elementary school drop-outs, short-life-span rugby-sniffing streetchildren, will soon end, once we implement the genius of De Soto right here in Mandaluyong.

Good luck.

But I hate this pa-uso policy-making, this system that lets decision-making be based on some excited-and-excitable whisperer from the Cabinet, or from the endless line of Presidential 'advisers,' 'assistants,' the assistants of advisers, or those advising the assistants, or from the USAID's pool of whisperers in Manila dropping the De Soto name, waving it around as the new-thing-to-distinguish your-administration from the previous one solution.What did they whisper this time: oohh Madame President you should meet this Peruvian economic genius who solved Peru's and some other disastrous Third World country's problems...and there we have it: a De Soto tour. Did anyone in Malacanang, that pit of policy plagiarists and pathetic sycophants ever bother to find out if De Soto in fact did anything good for anybody with an idea that is just a step above printing money when your economy is sinking in debt?

De Soto says we need the rule of law to develop. That sounds so familiar. And why? Says De Soto: "the genesis of the rule of law -- which will allow a modern nation to grow and so bring peace, stability and prosperity to the world -- is property rights. That is where it actually starts." That smelly little box of cardboard, bald tires, stolen G.I. sheets and shit-strewn-mud: De Soto wants to confer legal title to that so the the 'owner' can, in the De Soto fantasy, go to the bank and use it as collateral. Sure. I want to see some fired-up, De Soto-inspired squatter bring his brand-new title over these shanties in Payatas, to this bank. If they let him mortgage that piece of shit as collateral, I'm going to shine De Soto's bald head for the rest of my li...week.

Along the same lines of this argument about letting the poor become the great capitalists that they would be if only they weren't so poor, some De Soto type genius in the World Bank has now suggested that the poor, too, should use patent law to so they can profit from their knowledge within the WTO's intellectual property regime. Sure. Now the poor can get a patent on the very creative means they resort to in order to survive: some patent perhaps for sorting through garbage, or a trademark for the pushcart as the symbol for selling empty bottles, or maybe a copyright for the wailing of that 2-month old baby forced to eat spoiled rice because his malnourished mother doesn't have enough breast milk anymore for him? Or they could eat what Tito Sotto once suggested in his (and Vic's and Joey's) version of a Beatles' song, to the tune of "The Long and Winding Road": "Talong at bagoong/ang ulam natin ngayon." Tito is funnier that Hernando. Not that I would prefer this Sotto to De Soto. But, hey, who knows? If it works, wake me up. In the meantime, who will stop this continuing national disaster?


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