Part 1

“Everyone does it, so what’s the problem?”

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Philippine Star, March 31, 2017

I HAVE to come clean too. I am a married man and I have a girlfriend. In fact, I have two girlfriends. I can justify this since I am not an elected official and not even part of the Deegong bureaucracy. So, I don’t use government funds for my ladies.

I am not discreet about my liaisons. In fact, I flaunt them and have their photos with me plastered all over my FB wall. You can “friend” me on my FB if you want a glimpse of these gorgeous girls. The fact that no one has so far “un-friended” me on FB shows that my friends and readers have accepted my lifestyle.

Recently, I had one of them (by the way, she’s an American) accompany me to Davao, for a four-day vacation. Her name is Sylvie. I intend to also bring my other girl, Claudia, to Davao (she too has a Fil-American mother). In fact I plan to bring both to my home in Davao, if my wife, Sylvia, can handle them. The logistics are, however, formidable.

You see, both need their bottles every few hours and there is always the problem of diaper change in the plane which I can’t handle. Sylvie is turning three years old next month and Claudia is practically a toddler at one year and five months. And I can’t afford to pay for the plane fare of their nannies.

Lately, mainstream and social media have been inundated by news stories of married government officials with ladies on the side distracting our political leadership from the all-important task of governance.

What is upsetting is that we have these queridas (a more appropriate description), not congressional wives, accompanying these bureaucrats on official government trips, presumably paid for by public funds.What is even more appalling, is that these mistresses’ statements have been given credence by the mainstream press, invariably picked up by social media and go viral. And apparently, these paramours are relishing their newfound notoriety. Their principals, unable to restrain them, as I assume such women can’t be restrained as they hold their men by the balls (pardon the pun), use them as tools in their political disputes.

We, the ordinary taxpayers, are left wondering to what extent these concubines are exerting influence on the political actions and decisions of their partners, our elected lawmakers. Admittedly, these could also be said of their wives; except that these are not wives, but proverbial “kept women”. The difference is that wives are legally and morally bound by certain legal, cultural and religious precepts. Perhaps, this is a good argument as any to support a divorce law in the country, a law which the Catholic church is still hypocritically opposed to, effectively exacerbating this kind of “arrangements of convenience”.

This brought me to google famous mistresses in history who may have exerted influence on their powerful partners, some even changing the course of history. I hope to at least elevate the discussion of these openly illicit relations from the level of gossip. Here are some types of mistresses and examples of relationships, ancient and contemporary.

Hetaera of Athens, 400 B.C.

These were women who at a young age were brought to the Athenian court to be educated in the arts and letters for the sole purpose of entertaining and keeping company with Greek men—married or unmarried. One such hetaera was Aspasiathe, the “live-in partner” of Pericles. She was known to have been consulted by Pericles on political and military matters. Pericles, considered the greatest Greek of the ancient world, ruled Greece during its Golden Age with Aspasia by his side.

Courtesans in 17th and 18th century France

These women were mostly also the wives of lesser nobility or functionaries ambitious for juicy sinecures in the French courts. Two of the famous courtesans were Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV’s mistress from 1745 to 1751, and Madame du Barry, who occupied the exalted position of “maitresse-en-titre” (chief mistress of the King) from 1768 to 1774.

The former was the perfect mistress as she was reportedly sensitive to the status of Marie Leszczynska, the Queen of France and was even made her lady in waiting. Aside from her being a patroness of the arts, she was known to carry on an intelligent exchange with Voltaire. Louis XV granted her wide latitude in determining France’s foreign relations. Before her usefulness as the King’s lover ended, Madame de Pompadour arranged for other mistresses for the royal bedchamber. She died at the age of 42, leaving the king bereft.

Madame du Barry, the last French official royal mistress became a victim of the French revolution and was beheaded in 1793. In contrast to Madame de Pompadour, she never had a good relationship with the king’s family, carrying out a feud with the future wife of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette. She was not very influential in political and military matters but she was known to persuade the king to pardon friends of her friends from the guillotine. On one such occasion, the monarch declared graciously, “Madame, I am delighted that the first favor you should ask of me should be an act of mercy.”(Wikipedia)

Geishas of Japan

In traditional Japan, Confucian custom permeates cultural relationships between couples and love was not the primary consideration in marriage. The typical wife manages the home and children and the husband seeks sexual delights outside of the marital bed. This gave rise to the saburuko (serving girls) from whence the more educated of this class of women eventually morphed into the geisha. This was more than a thousand years of cultural acceptance. They are not technically mistresses in the contemporary sense of the word. Geishas go through years of rigorous training in the classical arts and the use of musical instruments to entertain men, married or single, and on occasion, women guests.

Powerful men in government and business repair to these houses of leisure for entertainment and intimate relations and when inebriated are wont to spew secrets as men do. One can just surmise the countless business tips and state secrets spilled out by these men to their favorite courtesans.

One famous geisha was Mineko Iwasaki, whose life was depicted in a book, Memoirs of a Geisha. She was an articulate and accomplished woman who became an author, famous throughout Japan. She retired at the age of 29 at the peak of her popularity.

Papal mistresses

There is evidence supporting the notion that men of great power and status are more often prone to having extramarital affairs. A study by Todd Shackelford from the University of Michigan found empirical evidence to support the positive correlation of infidelity and old age with having a higher status in life. Married men who are politically powerful are likely to have extramarital affairs. This does not exempt the papacy. Some of the popes from centuries back were themselves married, like Rodrigo Borgia who became Pope Alexander VI. Borgia was a scion of a prominent Italian family, the nephew of Alfonso Borgia who was later elevated as Pope Calixtus III. The latter created Borgia as Cardinal of the Catholic Church at the age of 25. He had several mistresses but his favorite was Vanozza dei Cattanei (1442-1518), who was married to a minor church functionary. She bore him four children, two of whom were the famous Cesare and the infamous Lucrezia. Pope Alexander VI’s children by Vannoza were lavished with honors and riches. When she died at the age of 76, she was buried with honors in the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo.(Part 2: The implications of the open but illicit relationships of elected officials on good governance.)
The recent controversy about rice importation is not about how much should be imported — in fact, there is no impending rice shortage—but about who should have control over whatever may be imported.

No impending crisis. In “The global market post – 2008 rice crisis era,” Rice Today, April-June 2017, Samarendu Mohanty writes: “The 2007-08 rice price spike seems like a distant dream now considering the calmness in the rice market in the past few years despite El Niño and other weather-related scares. Rice prices in the international market have been very stable after a steep decline in 2013. The record production in 2016-17 … has kept the prices stable.” The world rice inventory is 20 percent of total demand, which is a healthy 5 percent above what it was in the rice price crisis in 2007.

Dr. Mohanty heads the Social Science Division of the International Rice Research Institute (Irri). He recently reported that Philippine rice stocks are sufficient for 46 days and, moreover, that annual rice consumption per Filipino has fallen by about 20 kilos in the past 10 years. Per capita consumption was below 100 kilograms in the 1960s-1990s, and then rose to over 140 kg by 2007, but is close to 120 kg now.

The government’s Rice and Corn Situation and Outlook expects production in the second quarter of 2017 to be 7.7 percent above that of the first quarter, which in turn was 15.2 percent above that of the first quarter in 2016. Meanwhile, the average Philippine retail price of regular milled rice was 37.08 per kilo in the second week of April 2017, or only 1.0 percent over that at the same time last year.

“Rice from abroad is cheaper than domestically produced rice.” This is bluntly stated by economists Roehlano M. Briones, Ivory Myka Galang, and Lovely Ann Tolin, of the Philippine Institute of Development Studies, in “Quantitative restrictions on rice imports: issues and alternatives,” PIDS Policy Notes, March 2017.

The production cost per kg of palay (rough rice) is only P6.53 in Vietnam, versus P12.41 in the Philippines. The root cause is inadequate geography—the lack of wide, flat irrigated plains—coupled with a fast-growing population. In short, it does not make economic sense for the Philippines to aim for food security based on domestic production.

However, since time immemorial, the National Food Authority has had the sole legal authority to import rice. Unfortunately, you or I or any ordinary person may not simply place an order for rice from abroad. Its legal monopoly gives the NFA the leverage to exact huge favors/rents/bribes from those to whom it gives—more accurately, sells—licenses to import. This leverage is what the quarreling is actually about.

The simplest, and best, solution is to allow anyone to freely import (as well as export, when called for) rice of any amount, at his own expense and risk. This is the stance of the community of professional Filipino economists, including the Foundation for Economic Freedom.

This column is somewhat ex cathedra since I’ve been a rice economist. I apprenticed at Irri, did my master’s on the response of rice farmers to price, and my doctorate on the diffusion of new rice varieties in Central Luzon. I handled agricultural economics at the UP School of Economics, until Arsenio Balisacan took over. I worked with Rafael Salas, when he was Ferdinand Marcos’ “rice czar,” and also with the Rice and Corn Administration.

I once estimated that the annual retail price of a ganta of rice in Manila in 1956-67 fell by only 1.54 centavos for every extra 100,000 tons of imports, compared to 9.73 centavos for the same amount of production. The reason the price-impact of imports was so small? The market knew that rice was imported only during election years. See “The effect of importation on the price of rice,” Philippine Review of Business and Economics, December 1968.