Saturday, May 29, 2010

Governments and climate research

(Note: This is my article for "People's Brigada News", submitted May 20, 2010)

Detroit, Michigan – Resting here at a Filipino friend’s house after the conference that I attended in Chicago ended two days ago. It was the 4th International Conference on Climate Change (4th ICCC) sponsored by the Heartland Institute, Our think tank, Minimal Government Thinkers, Inc. ( is the only Philippine-based institute that was one of many co-sponsors of the event. I was given a travel scholarship by Heartland to attend the 3-days conference, and out of the 700+ people who registered and attended that big conference, I was the only one from the Philippines and from south-east Asia.

Most of the participants there were scientists – physicists, geologists, meteorologists, climatologists, biologists, geophysicists, even former astronauts. Breakfast and lunch have two speakers each, then there were four simultaneous tracks or panel discussions to choose, two on science and one each on economics and public policy.

Being a non-scientist and very much interested in the scientific debate about “man-made warming”, I attended mostly the science tracks. My brief article discussing briefly the tracks or panels that I attended on day 2 of the conference, entitled “Sea level, the Sun and climate”, can be found at my blog, or at

On the third and last day of the conference, I attended the last 2 science tracks. On the first track, the four speakers were: Tom Segalstad of the University of Oslo, Norway; George Kukla of the Lamont-Dohery Earth Observatory at Columbia University, USA; Madhav Khandekar of Environment Canada; and Leighton Steward of the Institute for the Study of Earth and Man at Southern Methodist University, USA.

Dr. Sevalstad had an interesting paper, “Geochemistry of Carbon Dioxide: The whereabouts of carbon dioxide (CO2) on Earth”, and he explained that CO2 follows certain cycles, like day-night, wet-dry, El Nino-La Nina cycles, and stay just a few days or months or few years, depending on where they are deposited (upper atmosphere, lower troposphere, land surface, ocean, plants and trees, etc.) and not “several hundred years” as propagated by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Dr. Kukla’s paper was entitled “Interglacials start with global cooling and end with global warming.” He looked at the “obliquity” or the angle of the earth on the Sun's equator. He said that based on the angular position of the Earth through the recent years, global warming, especially in the tropics, will continue, and that humanity’s carbon mission has nothing to do with this climate cycle of cooling-warming.

Dr. Steward’s paper was on “Empirical evidence (Paleoclimates) and the disconnect of climate change” and he showed that CO2 is a useful gas and food plant, that without CO2 there will be no plants, crops and trees on the planet and life will not be possible. And that based on plenty of scientific studies, more CO2 actually results in more and faster plant growth, bigger harvest of crops.

The other science track that I attended had three speakers: William Kinonmonth of the Australasian Climate Research Institute in Australia; Victor Velasco Herrara of the Institute of Geophysics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico; and Ian Palmer of the University of Adelaide, Australia. Prof. Kininmonth presented a paper on “Natural responses limiting anthropogenic climate forcing” and argued that man-made carbon emission cannot be a big factor in affecting the Earth’s climate.

Dr. Herrara, a young physicist in Mexico, presented an interesting paper, “The new solar minimum and the mini-ice age of the twenty-first century”. He showed solar activity and inactivity via solar cycles and geomagnetic field index, and predicted a prolonged global cooling from 2010 to 2070. In the previous day’s presentation, a geologist from the Western Washington University, USA, was also observing the Sun and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and predicted that global cooling will start in 2014 and will last for the next 30 years or more.

While it was mentally tiring for a non-scientist to follow the presentations of those scientists who have been doing climate research work for years and decades, it was also very rewarding to realize that there are plenty of other factors, natural factors (the Sun, the ocean, volcanoes, geologic degassing, galactic cosmic rays, etc.) that affect the Earth’s climate, whether it is global cooling or global warming.

That is why I never believe Mr. Al Gore, a politician and not a scientist, and the IPCC, a political and intergovernmental body, not a scientific body, in their “man-made global warming” claims.

Global Capital 5: Cars, Mobility and Capitalism

(Note: These are my last notes a few hours before I leave Houston last May 23, then fly to Atlanta, for my Atlanta-Narita-Manila trip. It's also posted in

HOUSTON, TEXAS – Cars and faster mobility of people are among the clear examples of the success of capitalism in improving the lives of the people. Various car manufacturers from around the world compete for customer satisfaction, pushing all of them to produce better quality (based on the specific needs of each motorist) cars at more competitive prices.

The huge price differential of the same car model by the same manufacturer across countries can be explained mainly by the (a) cost of manufacturing and/or transportation of said cars in various countries, and (b) the level of taxes, fees and bribery, if any, imposed by governments in each country. Thus, while cars are generally cheap relative to the annual income of an average worker in the US and other industrialized countries, cars can be expensive and unaffordable to average workers in the Philippines and other developing economies.

I have been to the US several times the past three years to attend various conferences in various cities, then make short side trips to visit Filipino friends. What is noticeable here is the absence of public land transportation in the suburbs, except for a few trips by Greyhound buses and Amtrak (buses-trains). The city buses, trams and trains are found only in big cities. In the suburbs and small cities, they are nowhere to be found. Workers, visitors, students and household members drive their cars to their various destinations. A few ride big motorbikes but no one seems to be walking.

For some rich guys, they are buying huge cars like vans, SUVs and trucks. And much richer guys are buying those long and luxurious limousine cars.

The US government – federal and local – construct so many roads to almost anywhere. The wide roads, expressways and road interchanges seem to be full of cars everyday. Coming from the Philippines where there are millions of jeepneys, tricycles, taxis and buses, the sight of so many cars on the highways everyday – except on winter and during heavy snow, of course – do not fail to amaze me until now.

And not only in highways, the coastal cities in the west, east and southern coasts also have plenty of boats and yachts. Like the wharves in Kemah, Houston, full of so many boats. And not to mention the tens of thousands of commercial and private planes in so many airports around the US.

These sights could have prodded Mr. Al Gore, officials of the UN IPCC, environmentalist groups and NGOs, and some big banks and corporations, to push for more environmental regulations and taxation. There are just too much money to be collected when millions upon millions of motorists in the US alone are forced to pay higher gasoline and electricity prices and taxes. Thus, climate science has to be politicized whenever possible, similar to politicizing the setting of wages, fares, rentals and prices of other goods and services. The goal is to paint modernization and huge car use and ownership in many places around the world as “causing global warming and destroying the planet” and hence, as an evil thing. Thus, governments (the UN, various foreign aid bodies, national and local governments) and environmentalist groups should step in to restrict heavy cars and electricity use. And the mechanism to do that is through a carbon cap and tax measure.

Many people have glorified the “death or near-death of capitalism” in the US and many parts of the world as a result of the global financial turmoil of 2008-09. We may add that capitalism has “died” many times before – during WW1, during the Great Depression, during WW2, during the global oil crisis of the 70s, the global stockmarket collapse of 1987 and 2008-09. The problem, however, is that capitalism is “reborn” as soon as it is assumed to have already died and collapsed.

What the world needs now, the developing countries especially, is to have more economic growth, more modernization, more competitive capitalism, and to have faster mobility of people, goods and services across cities, countries and continents. This way, more jobs will be created, which reduces poverty and unemployment around the world.

People should not fall into the trap of believing that more government regulations and taxation, of having ever bigger and expanding governments, of reviving socialism, is the answer to the continuing scourge of high unemployment and poverty.

See also:

Global Capital 1: Why Market Turbulence are Necessary, November 19, 2007
Global Capital 2: ICT, Capitalism and Government, December 18, 2008
Global Capital 3: Service Charges and Capitalism, October 25, 2009
Global Capital 4: Facebook, Capitalism and Liberty, February 09, 2010

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Advice to the incoming President

(Note: This is my short article for the Manila Times today, sort of an advice to the next President of the country. I can make 10 proposals or more, of course, but given the space constraint as it is a "Special report" by the paper with a number of other contributors, I just focused on 2 proposals)

Enforce the rule of law and join the lower-taxes competition

Bienvenido “Nonoy” Oplas, Jr.
President, Minimal Government Thinkers
May 23, 2010

We would like to propose only two important measures for the incoming President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino 3rd to consider in the next six years: to promulgate and enforce the rule of law, and to join the tax competition among a number of Asian countries.

Rule of law means the law is above everyone. No one is exempted from the law and no one can grant exemption from the law. The laws against killing, stealing, plunder, rape, kidnapping and other crimes should be promulgated, and whoever violated the laws against such crimes should be caught and penalized. Even simple traffic laws like “Stop on red lights”, “No U-turn or left turn or counterflow” on designated streets should be upheld and implemented and violators, especially drivers of police and other government vehicles, diplomatic and armored vehicles, should be apprehended.

Many people do not obey the laws because they know and see that government people and policemen, the ones who are supposed to implement the laws and prohibitions, are themselves the first to violate these laws.

Vehicles of the Presidential Security Group are among the worst violators of traffic laws, no parking laws on certain areas. They behave like they own the roads, that they are masters of the public and the taxpayers. If the President and his/her family members are hurrying to go to a particular place or meeting, then they should leave early to anticipate traffic build-up on some streets, instead of whizzing away private motorists as if they are third-class or fourth-class citizens. The next President should change this image of the PSG and the Presidency, someone who respect the traffic rules and the right to road space of ordinary motorists.

The second important move for the next President is to join the tax competition among certain Asian economies like Hong Kong and Singapore. In income taxes for instance, these two dynamic economies that attract lots of foreign investors and tourists have only 16 percent personal and corporate income taxes. The Philippines has 32 percent top marginal personal income tax and 30 percent corporate income tax. The country therefore, can join the competition and bring down its personal and corporate income tax rates to only flat 10 to 15 percent in the next six years. The value added tax (VAT) can be adjusted upwards from the current 12 to 15 percent.

Low income taxes will encourage the entry of thousands of businessmen and entrepreneurs, both foreigners and Filipinos who are based abroad, to set up shop in the country and create millions of new jobs. Many businesses in the US, Canada, Europe and Japan want to get out but have nowhere else to go as income taxes, among other considerations, are not much lower elsewhere.

A related measure will be to reduce the number of taxes and fees that businesses have to pay, from 47 different taxes and fees every year, to only 10 or less. Hong Kong and Singapore collect only four to five different taxes and fees every year from businesses that are setting up in their economies.

Creation of new jobs for the almost 10 million unemployed and underemployed Filipinos by private enterprises should be the best poverty reduction program that any government can give to its citizens. When people have stable jobs, they can better take care of their households’ food, nutrition, education, housing and healthcare needs. Government subsidies for such programs need not be big and the taxes needed to finance such programs and the bureaucracy that will handle the program will also need not be big.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sea level, the Sun and climate

(Note: this is my article for, May 18, 2010)

CHICAGO, USA – Sea levels are not rising, polar ice are melting and growing in annual cycles, the Sun is the main driver of the Earth’s climate, and people should get ready for the coming global cooling in this decade.

These are among the main messages of the scientific papers presented in Day 2, May 17, 2010, of the 4th International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC) held at Marriott Magnificent Mile Hotel Chicago. There were plenty of participants, more than 700 people have registered and come. So after the breakfast and lunch speakers at the ballroom, participants can choose from any of the 4 simultaneous tracks or panel discussions happening in 4 different big rooms: two on science, one on economics, and one on public policy.

On day 2 morning sessions, I attended two science tracks. Track 1 had 4 speakers: Dr. Nils-Axel Morner of Paleophysics and Geodynamics department, Stockholm U.; Dr. Fred Goldberg of the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm; Bob Carter, FRSNZ, of James Cook U., Australia, and Dr. Don Easterbrook, emeritus prof. of Geology at Western Washington U.

Dr. Morner’s paper was straightforward, “No alarming sea level rise: nature against the IPCC, observation vs. models”. In his studies in Bangladesh, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Venice, north-west Europe and other areas, sea level rise was 0 over the past 40-50 years. While satellite altimetry and “personal calibrations” showed rise in ocean level of 3 mm/year, while global loading models showed rise of 2 mm/year, eustatic component showed rise of 1 mm/year, observational facts (geology, morphology, coastal dynamics) showed no increase, 0 mm/year.

Dr. Easterbrook’s paper was also clear and direct, “The looming threat of global cooling – geological evidence for prolonged cooling ahead and its impacts”. He presented cycles in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) like warm PDO and cold PDO, solar cycles, historical and geological climate and global temperatures hundreds of thousand years ago, among others. His projection is clear: global cooling that could be similar to the last little ice age (LIA) in the 16th and 17th centuries will begin in 2 014, to peak sometime in 2040.

Readers, take note of this: while they projected only last year that global cooling will set in for the next two decades, this year they are projecting that cooling will last for 3 or more decades. This is not impossible, based on the Earth’s geological records. The “Maundeer minimum” in the 16th century lasted for about 7 decades of cooling. The Norwegian Vikings for instance, that occupied Iceland and Greenland during the medieval warm period (MWP) more than 1,000 years ago, either died or left those islands during the LIA. Severe cooling is more deadly than severe warming. For instance, people in the tropics (like the Philippines) can endure one or two month/s of really hot weather, but many people die with just one day of heavy rains and severe flooding. Remember typhoon “Ondoy” September last year.

The other science track that I attended that day had 3 speakers: Dr. Willie Soon, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian center for Astrophysics, Dr. Habibullo Abdussamatov, head of the Space Research Laboratory at the Pulkovo Observatory in Russia, and Dr. Craig Loehle of the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement (NCASI). Dr. Soon’s paper, “The Sun, the Milky Way and the carbon dioxide monster” argued that solar forcing, not CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) forcing, has the most influence on the Earth’s climate, and CO2 is a useful gas as it is an important food plant, it is not a pollutant and evil gas. The Russian scientist’s paper is also straightforward, “The Sun dictates the climate” and also predicted global cooling in the coming decades. While Dr. Loehle’s paper is also very clear, “Natural climate cycles explain most of twentieth century warming”. Junk “man-made warming” claim by Al Gore and the IPCC.

Then I attended the track on Public Policy in the afternoon session with 4 speakers: Hans Labohm, an economist and former Dutch diplomat; Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), Dr. Laurence Gould, a physicist at the Univ. of Hartford, and Dr. Garth Paltridge of the Australian National Univ. They talked about the coming global climate bureaucracies, the new environmental regulations and taxation, the “scientific-bureaucratic complex”, and the myth of “settled” climate science.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Chicago, 4th ICCC, day 1

Day 1, May 16, of the 4th International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC, held here in Chicago, USA, was more of networking and meeting new friends. Registration started at 3pm, cocktails at 5pm, opening dinner with speakers at 6pm. It ended past 9pm. Then another round of networking outside with open bar until 10pm.

Among those I have met yesterday were leaders of think tanks which are members of the Civil Society Coalition on Climate Change (, among those which do not believe in “man-made warming” and more government environmental regulations and taxation. Like Julian Morris of the International Policy Network (IPN), Barun Mitra of Liberty Institute (India), Xingyuan Feng of CIPA (China), Martin Krause of CIIMA (Argentina), Jose Luis Tapia of ILE (Peru), Margaret Tse of IL (Brazil), Tim Wilson of IPA (Australia), Peter Holle of FCCP (Canada), Barbara Kolm of Hayek Institute (Austria), Wolfgang Mueller of IUF (Germany). Our group picture was at Jose’s camera, hope he can post or send it to us tomorrow so I can post the pics here.

Other important guys that I have met today are Dr. Willie Soon, a Malaysian-American astrophysicist as the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Boston. And Dr. Henrik Svensmark, a physicist at a Danish climate research office. Picture below with Henrik and Wolfgang Muller.

I also have a photo with Steve Goreham, author of the new book “Climatism” and Dr. Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit in Canada ( but the picture was blurred

Todays’s dinner speakers were Dr. Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, a geologist, former astronaut/moonwalker and former Senator, and Dr. Steve McIntyre. Jack talked about climate and environment policy and the US constitution. His conclusion is that while most energy and environmental policies may be legal, they may not be exactly constitutional as the US constitution specified certain limits on how and where the US Congress, the legislature. And Steve McIntyre talked about “climategate” and the “hide the decline” in historical climate records, and other climate data manipulations done by some scientists at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Ressearch Unit (CRU).

The UN IPCC and the UK government got a lot of climate “data” from the CRU, along with Prof. Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State U, which authored the “hockey stick” climate graph of the 20th century. What’s this graph?

Above are 2 graphs. The first is the “hockey stick” shape of data reconstruction by Prof. Michael Mann and was adopted by the UN IPCC: No warm period in the past 1,000 years, that’s why they call the current warming as “unprecedented” in history. Second graph below it is climate historical record accepted by many climate scientists showing the medieval warm period (MWP) that peaked in 1200 to 1300, a period much warmer than the warming of the past century, and the little ice age (LIA) of the “Maunder minimum” and “Dalton minimum” of the 1600 to 1800..

The “hockey stick” graph has gained notoriety for its notorious distortion of global historical climate records. Some people and groups made fun of it. Below is a sample of the graph, entitled “Mann-made global warming”, referring to a graph made by Prof. Mann. And beside the stick are the (a) program of the 4th ICCC, (b) my name badge, and (c) the book “Climatism” by Steve Goreham.

Among other materials that are distributed free in the conference are shown below. Materials from the Heartland Institute, Marhsall Institute, Pajamas Media, etc.

Other speakers that I have met tonight were Lord Christopher Moncton of the Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI) and former UK environmental secretary under former PM Margaret Thatcher and meteorologist Anthony Watts of

More stories and pictures tomorrow.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Automation and patience

(Note: this is the article I submitted for "People's Brigada News" last May 5, 2010)

The purpose of using computers and machines is mainly to speed up things. Speed up data inputting, speed up counting and computing, speed up release of results, and consequently, speed up official declaration of winners, in the case of elections.

Automation therefore, is to address impatience by many people. In the case of manual counting of votes as previously done in Philippine elections, candidates and voters alike were complaining that things were slow, and that the longer the time to officially declare winners, the bigger the suspicion of cheating and vote-rigging. So by using computers and machines, it is hoped that instead of waiting for one week to get the official winners, people will wait only a few hours or more than one day.

Currently, there are confusions, dispute and suspicions about the capability of the vote-counting machines and their back-up servers to really produce fast and unbiased, credible counting of ballots. There are three main factors for this.

One is on the ability of those machines to really count unbiasedly. The most recent testing in some cities, however, produced really false results. The Philippines never experienced a nationwide use of automated elections. So there are questions not only about the machines, but also about the election officials who will administer the machines during and after the election day.

Two is on the credibility of the institution that will administer the entire exercise, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC).

And three is the credibility of the current political administration which appointed the Commissioners at the Comelec, and have political control over the armed forces that will protect the sanctity of the electoral process, the police/PNP and the army.

For the elections to be considered as truthful and peaceful, all the three factors and institutions above should be credible. All of them. If one or two or all of them has/have little credibility, then public perception of the credibility of the results will be low or negative.

It is ironic therefore, that we have election automation and are being asked to remain patient at the same time. Automation is supposed to address impatience, but we now have to be patient with various questions hanging in the air.

The past two days, I passed by the barangay auditorium in Makati where I will vote this coming Monday. The counting machines are already inside, guarded 24 hours by one or two policemen and about two soldiers. Outside the auditorium are several civilians, they do not seem to be buddies as they are not talking to each other. I presume that they are supporters and watchers of certain candidates. Their job is most likely to guard the guards. And this already indicates the suspicion of the public of the credibility and independence of the armed forces to protect the sanctity of the ballot and the ballot counting machines.

If public perception of the independence of the state’s armed forces is low, then the leadership of these two institutions should exert extra effort to show their real independence.

This election, therefore, should be the best opportunity for the Comelec and the armed forces of the state to regain their credibility, to assert their independence from the political administration in power or from any other influential groups and political parties, to win public respect.

Meanwhile, the voting citizens should not put too much hope from their politicians as sort of their “savior”. The best saviors from social and economic problems are ourselves, our self-reliant and independent selves, our circle of friends and colleagues, and our voluntary organizations. We should learn not to be dependent on government and politicians’ dole out and special subsidies and favors, and we should learn to protect our individual freedom from heavy intervention, regulation and taxation by the same politicians that many voters hope will deliver them from misery.

So this coming Monday’s elections, let us support candidates who make the least promises of welfare and subsidies, who will not raise new taxes and fees, who will respect our individual liberty as self-reliant and proud parents or guardians who can raise industrious, responsible and law-abiding children and citizens.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Labor Econ 2: Labor Laws and Employee Forever

May 1 every year is the International Labor Day. Workers in the country and around the world were demanding for higher government-mandated wages, stricter rules against work lay-off and retrenchment, and so on.

Rigid labor laws, or laws that overly protect workers against possible "capitalist exploitation" is rooted in the socialist thinking and philosophy. Since workers do not own the means of production but only their labor and talent, then they are subject to capitalist exploitation and must be protected by the state.

Among the rigid labor laws applied in many countries, in highly welfarist European countries especially, are (a) high minimum wages (even the most unskilled workers should receive this salary); (b) security of tenure, protection from dismissal and lay-off (even if the employee is displaying laziness and declining productivity, or even if the company is losing money); (c) long mandatory leaves with pay (vacation leave, maternity leave, sick leave, etc.); (d) expensive separation pay and retirement benefits; and (e) very high taxes, both personal and corporate income taxes, partly to pay for generous unemployment allowances for the jobless. In short, a policy of "expensive to hire and retire, difficult to fire."

One result of rigid labor laws of a country is high unemployment and high underemployment rates. Many people do not consider this as result of rigid labor laws, but as additional reason to make the laws become even more rigid and more "pro-labor". That is, since unemployment is already high, the more that the government should protect workers from being laid off.

Looking at the other side of the issue, however, people will realize that unemployment is high in a particular country because many employers and businessmen would rather (a) put up their plants and offices in other countries where labor laws are more liberal; (b) hire temporary and contractual workers or job trainees than hire regular, full-time employees, or (c) use robots and machines to do the tasks previously done by people.

Another impact of "expensive to hire, difficult to fire" policy is that many employees are encouraged to become "employee forever" as their entrepreneurial spirit is discouraged. If the laws are stacked against being a businessman and entrepreneur, and in favor of employees, why aspire to be an employer? Why not become an employee forever, get promoted to senior levels and enjoy the benefits of "pro-labor" leaves-with-pay, and generous separation and retirement benefits? Better yet, become a politician or appointed government bureaucrat, and be the regulator of those businessmen, extort some money or personal favour so that you will give your signature and permission as a regulator.

As of the latest labor force survey in the Philippines this year, some 2.8 million Filipinos have no jobs, plus 7.1 million of those who have work are looking for additional work (the “underemployed”), mainly to augment their low income. Meaning almost 10 million Filipinos are either unemployed or underemployed, this is a big number.

Employment is not a right. It is a privilege. Only those who have some ambition, are willing to endure some hard work, and continue to learn new skills, will be able to find work or be able to employ themselves, mainly as micro- or small entrepreneurs.

It is important, therefore, for the government – national and local – to liberalize, not choke, the labor environment so that more private entrepreneurship and job creation will be encouraged. While it is desirable to get a high-paying, well-protected jobs, such may not be easily available, while "low-paying", unsecured jobs may not be glamorous but are easy to find.

The “easy to hire, easy to fire” policy may look heartless, but sometimes it is better in encouraging job creation than the “difficult to hire, difficult to fire” policy. If entrepreneurs will have a hard time firing their lazy and unskilled workers, they would rather hire very few people only and leave many job-seekers to remain unemployed. In a competitive business environment, employers will be forced to give good pay and various benefits to their efficient and hard-working employees so that the latter will not leave them to work in other companies or to become start-up entrepreneurs themselves. And those employees who would otherwise are lazy, will be forced to do their work well so that they will not be fired easily.

Labor laws meant to protect workers from "labor exploitation of capitalism" will be the same laws that will prevent them and their children from being easily hired, the same laws that will restrict them to become independent entrepreneurs and businessmen/women in the future.

* See also Labor Econ 1: What Determines Wage? May 26, 2006

LTO Bureaucracy 1: Hidden Costs in Vehicle Registration

Last week, I went to the Land Transportation Office (LTO) Makati to renew the registration of my 13-year-old pick-up. I was late by one week and there is a penalty of Php200. I got the emission test earlier and was surprised to pay a new mandatory fee imposed by the LTO, the “IT/Interconnectivity fee”.

When you go to an LTO office, lots of guys will meet you several meters away. They guide you to a vacant parking area and sell you the mandatory insurance certificate or third-party liability (TPL) required by the LTO. The closer you are to the LTO office, the plentier these guys are.

Inside the LTO office, there is a clear and customer-friendly diagram, “4 easy steps to motor vehicle registration renewal”. These are (1) show documents to inspector, (2) present papers to assessor, (3) pay to the cashier, (4) wait for release of registration paper and sticker.

It indeed looks easy and simple. What are not shown in the diagram are the required papers: (1) smoke emission test certificate and (2) TPL. These two can be costly since this is an annual requirement. Below is the list of required papers and their corresponding fees:

A. Pre-registration costs
1. Emission test fee Php 350
2. IT/Interconnectivity fee 80
Sub-total 430
3. Insurance certificate 980 (some charge P600, some Php1,000+)

B. LTO registration
4. MVUC Php2,000
5. Penalty 200
6. Computerization fee 169
7. Cost of stickers 50
8. Legal research fund 10
Sub-total 2,429
Total Php3,639

When you go for some private agents who will register everything for you so long as you have the emission certificate, the price could be at least P400 higher to cover their (a) stencil fee, (b) service fee, and possibly other fees.

My beef are the following.

One, since the motor vehicle user charge (MVUC) is a tax and the government is supposed to give subsidized or free services to the public in exchange for the taxes that it collects, then it should not collect fees for those “computerization, stickers, legal research”. Those fees should be zero.

Two, the “IT/interconnectivity fee” is questionable. Is this the replacement for the scuttled RFID scheme that was declared illegal by the courts? Connectivity for what and for whom?

Three, better check for various TPL providers. Some or many still charge only Php600. My mistake was that I went to the LTO office without one, the LTO personnel referred me to an insurance agent right in front of their office, and those guys charged me Php1,280! When I complained why it is too high, they immediately brought it down to Php980. The LTO personnel should be getting some commission from the higher charge from those insurance agents.

On another note, there are two good things now at the LTO compared to several years ago.

One, total waiting time from submission of documents to getting the registration paper was only one hour, not many hours. Two, it is not crowded as people do not stay long, and the waiting area is air-conditioned.

But one thing to notice among the LTO guys, and I guess among government personnel in general, is that they do not or hardly smile. They seem to look at the public as just milking cows who must go to their regulatory offices anyway, and must pay whatever taxes and fees, whether they like it or not. Which is the natural behavior of a monopolist. A monopolist is not worried that their “customers” may not go to them since there are no competitors anyway, the monopolist is the single provider of a service or commodity.

Compare the staff in malls, shops, restaurants, banks, or other enterprises where they have competitors. People there are friendly, they greet their customers and they are often smiling. The prices (or “fees”) of their products and services are flexible, they have to adjust their prices from time to time, depending on the prices of their neighboring competitors.

Ok, these concerns are too minor compared to the upcoming elections. But my main beef remains: when government comes in to regulate, thinks become more expensive.