Asia Liberty Forum and property rights

* This is my article in BusinessWorld yesterday. #AsiaLF16

The classical liberal philosophy of more individual freedom and more personal/parental responsibility, free market and less government intervention and taxation is not a popular personal and political philosophy in Asia yet, at least compared to similar movements in the US and Europe.

So annual events like the Economic Freedom Network (EFN) Asia conference, and now the Asia Liberty Forum (ALF), are very helpful in asserting the virtues of classical liberal, aka “libertarian” or “free market” philosophy. This concept is vastly different from other labels like “neo-liberal” and “US conservatism”.

The three-day 4th ALF event is held here in Renaissance Hotel Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This is a huge international event from Feb. 18-20 with many participants from Asia, US, and Europe. The main sponsors of this year’s conference are the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Washington DC, the Center for Civil Society (CCS) in Delhi, India, and the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) in Malaysia.

Among the important panel discussions in the conference will be on “Protecting Yourself Against Daylight Robbery — Current Challenges to Property Rights” on Day 3. The session will be chaired by Wan Saiful Wan Jan, CEO of IDEAS Malaysia. The speakers will be (1) Barun Mitra of Liberty Institute, India; (2) Kriengsak Chareonwongsak of the Institute of Future Studies for Development, Thailand; (3) Julian Morris of Reason Foundation, USA; and (4) Lorenzo Montanari of Property Rights Alliance (PRA), Washington DC, USA.

The protection of private property rights is among the hallmarks of a free and dynamic society. If other people can say that “Your car is also mine; your house is also mine; your farm is also mine. I can enter and use them anytime I want,” then society can easily degenerate into chaos and disorder. No meaningful economic growth and social development can happen in this type of environment.

The PRA has developed the annual International Property Rights Index (IPRI). The index is composite for a country’s performance in three areas: (a) legal and political environment, (b) physical property rights protection, and (c) intellectual property rights (IPR) protection. The scores range from 1 (poorest) to 10 (best).

I made a short study about the performance of some ASEAN countries in terms of property rights protection covering eight years from 2008 to 2015. Singapore and Malaysia continue to have high scores overall in property rights protection. The Philippines made a modest improvement in its global ranking, from 87th in 2011 and 2012 (out of 130 countries), it jumped to 77th in 2013 and 65th out of 129 countries in 2015.

If we observe the Philippines, the bulk of property rights protection — in malls and shops, hotels and restaurants, banks and condos, schools and universities, airports and seaports, etc. — is heavily privatized through the tens of thousands of private security agencies. It is not the police or army or barangay security personnel who guard and protect these businesses and residential, commercial areas, despite the huge and multiple taxes and fees that people pay to the government annually.

And this is an indicator that governments often forget their main purpose, their raison d’etre, which is the protection of the people’s right to life (against bullies and murderers), right to private property (against thieves, vandals and destroyers of property) and right to self-expression (against dictators). To have a rule of law.

When governments are busy giving away endless welfarism and subsidies, collecting endless taxes and fees, imposing endless regulations and restrictions, running banks, casinos, TV stations, and other businesses, there is a tendency to set aside its rule of law function and it is unfortunate.

Government should be big enough in enforcing laws on private property and citizens protection, and it should be small enough in intervening too much in the people’s daily lives, hence requiring small and few taxes to sustain itself.

Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr. heads the Minimal Government Thinkers, a member of Economic Freedom Network (EFN) Asia, and a Fellow of the South East Asia Network for Development (SEANET)

Property Rights Alliance meeting in Kuala Lumpur

The 4th Asia Liberty Forum (ALF) started last night here at the Renaissance Hotel Kuala Lumpur, with an opening dinner, keynote speech given by Tom Palmer of Atlas. Earlier, the Property Rights Alliance (PRA) headed by Lorenzo Montanari held a short meeting for its Asian partners.

Lorenzo discussed what the International Property Rights Index (IPRI) is all about,  its contents and ranking of countries, the value of property rights protection, etc.

From left: Arpita  Nepal of Samriddhi, Nepal; Wan Saiful Wan  Jan of IDEAS, Malaysia; Bican Sahin of Freedom Research Association, Turkey; me; Tricia Yeoh of IDEAS, Malaysia; Lorenzo; Barun Mitra of Liberty Institute, India; Baladevan Rangaraju of India Institute, Dhananath Fernando of Advocata, Sri Lanka; and John Humphreys of PRIME, Cambodia.


See my article today in BusinessWorld, “Asia Liberty Forum and property rights“.

More on IPRI 2015 launching in KL last year

I am reposting this article from the Property Rights Index (PRA, Washington DC) last year, about the launching of IPRI 2015 in Kuala Lumpur that I attended. The photos I added and not part of the original PRA article.

2015 International Property Rights Index

Monday, November 16, 2015 | By Dennis Cakert

The 2015 International Property Rights Index (IPRI) was officially launched this morning in Kuala Lampur, hosted by Wan Saiful Wan Jan, Director of Southeast Asia Network for Development (SEANET). Today featured an introduction to the IPRI given by the Executive Director of the Property Rights Alliance, Lorenzo Montanari, followed by a presentation on this year’s findings by the 2014-2015 Hernando De Soto Fellow, Prof. Sary Levy Carciente….

02Lorenzo Montanari released this statement earlier this morning:

“The 2015 IPRI emphasizes the necessity of property rights for creating a free market and driving economic growth” said Lorenzo Montanari, Executive Director of the Property Rights Alliance, “but we also recognize that property rights are first of all a matter of human rights. Property rights are directly related to the values and principles of individual liberty. The special case studies in this year’s edition demonstrate the importance of property rights for women and the poor in developing countries. This year data was available in countries where it was previously not, which is a good sign for future improvement. There are now 129 countries included in the analysis, up from 97 countries in last year’s edition. Countries that had strong property rights systems experienced significantly higher GDP per capita. In the EU, for example, IP accounts for 26 percent of employment and 39 percent of GDP. Societies undoubtedly achieve greater societal development by protecting property rights of authors, entrepreneurs, artists, innovators and inventors.”

There was also a presentation from Ganesh Muren, founder of Saora Industries, a Malaysian Innovative Social Enterprise that specializes in delivering safe and clean drinking water to rural and marginalised communities. Saora has innovated a proprietary solar powered water purification system that is able to purify any surface water (e.g. river water, rain water, pond) to safe clean drinking water through nanotechnology. The competitive advantage of Saora is their intellectual property. They have developed proprietary nanotechnology that replaces the usage of UV light to kill and eliminate bacteria and viruses. The affordability of this new technology developed by Saora makes it appealing and reachable to the poor, those at the “bottom of the pyramid”.

Mr. Burhan Irwan Cheong, Malaysia’s Lead Negotiator for the IP Chapter, Ministry for Domestic Trade, Cooperatices, and Consumerism, presented on the Intellectual Property Chapter in the TPPA and how it will implement a fair and transparent patent system in member countries. Young entrepreneurs like Ganesh Muren is a perfect example about how the TPPA will contribute to protecting the patent on his water purification system. Without the certainty of the rule of law, innovation does not exist.

noyLastly, Bienvenido Oplas Jr., President of Minimal Government Thinkers in the Philippines and a SEANET Senior Fellow, presented his economic analysis on the benefits of the TPP for trade. His extensive research showed that if the Philippines joins the TPP, exports are expected to rise 48 percent and real GDP will increase 61 percent. He also spoke regarding the importance of property rights to maintain order in society, while debunking the myth that IP hurts public health, proving instead that government taxation of medicine is the real problem.
Afternoon of that day, Dr. Sary Levy was interviewed in Bloomberg TV Malaysia, live. The place is outside KL proper.

2015-11-16 18.41.29

The interviewer was a pretty and very articulate lady. Among the footages shown while Prof. Levy was speaking. It’s Wan, the CEO of IDEAS and Director of SEANET.

2015-11-16 18.42.27

Growth, IPRI 2015 and the TPP

Two weeks ago, I attended the launching of  the International Property Rights Index (IPRI) 2015 Report in Kuala Lumpur, then I also gave a short presentation on IPR and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement.

I showed portions of Dr. Ramon Clarete (University of the Philippines School of Economics, UPSE) paper during the UPSE-Ayala forum, Going Regional: Which Mega Trade Deals Should the Philippines Join? last February 2015.

He used the Gravity model of trade in estimating the level of bilateral exports or imports between two trading partners.

* Dependent variable: flow of trade between and among countries studied

* Independent or explanatory variables, their expected signs or relationships: GDP (+), population (+), dist. between two countries (-), commonality of language (+), shared borders (+), landlocked state (-).

* In addition, TPP and RCEP indicators or dummy variables are introduced: (a) TB1, 1 if both trading countries are TPP or RCEP members, 0 otherwise, (b) TB2, 1 if exporting country is a TPP or RCEP member, 0 otherwise; (c) TB3, 1 if importing country is a TPP or RCEP member, 0 otherwise. For overlapping memberships, a dummy variable where TPP*RCEP =1 if both trading partners are members of the two trade blocs.

And here are some results.

Then I briefly discussed my article in BusinessWorld that day, Property rights protection in APEC economies. Then I discussed the IPR on medicines aspect of the TPP.


And showed actual texts in the TPP agreement….


Below, from left: Lorenzo Montanari, Exec. Dir. of the Property Rights Alliance (PRA); Dr. Sary Levy, author of IPRI 2015, and Wan Saiful Wan Jan, CEO of IDEAS and Director, SEANET.


Concluding Notes:

1. Joining the TPP has more gains than pains for member-countries, especially in exports and overall GDP expansion.

2. IPR health provisions in TPP are not scary, they do not reduce access to cheaper generic drugs. Existing TRIPS flexibilities are maintained.

3. It seems that the generic pharma lobby + the anti-capitalism, anti-globalization NGOs created more noise and fear than what the TPPA actually provides.

4. There is more to fear in government taxation of medicines, in mandatory drug price discounts and price controls, than IPR protection.

“IPR create incentives for businesses to invest in ideas, to develop new products, and to earn a profit from the sale of those products. This in turn leads to improved customer satisfaction, improved profitability, and greater employment opportunities.”
– Prof. Sinclair Davidson, RMIT Univ. (Econ Dept.), Melbourne, Australia.

The full presentation is posted here.

IPRI 2015 in APEC economies

* This is my column in BusinessWorld last Monday, November 16, 2015.


KUALA LUMPUR — The protection of property rights and promulgation of the rule of law are the cornerstones of peace and order in society. When such property rights are removed and unprotected, society can quickly degenerate into chaos and disorder. For instance, your house or car is also somebody else’s house and car, and he/she can take and occupy it anytime, anywhere.

Measuring property rights protection across many countries has been done by the Property Rights Alliance (PRA), a network of 74 independent, nongovernment, and market-oriented think tanks from 57 countries around the world and is based in Washington, D.C.

PRA produces the International Property Rights Index (IPRI) annual reports, which is a measurement of how governments in the countries covered promulgate the rule of law and protect property rights, public and private, physical and non-physical or intellectual.

The IPRI 2015 Report is launched today here at Park Royal Hotel in the capital city of Malaysia. The event is jointly sponsored by the PRA and the South East Asia Network for Development, which is a regional project of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs in Malaysia.

The event’s theme is “Protection of Property Rights, Economic Growth, and the TPP.” The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is included in the theme because of its recent approval by the original 12 member-countries including Malaysia. TPP of course will not be implemented unless each member-country ratifies the agreement.

IPRI is derived by getting the score (one to 10, 10 being the highest) of each country covered in three major areas:

1 Legal and Political Environment (LP), which includes judicial independence, rule of law, control of corruption and political stability;

2 Physical Property Rights (PPR), which includes registration and protection of physical properties, and access to loans; and

3 Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), which includes protection of IPRs, in particular patents and copyrights.

As a result, countries with high scores in two or all three of these areas will have a high IPRI score and global rank.

In the 2015 Report, the top 10 from 1st to 10th places are: Finland, Norway, New Zealand, Luxembourg, Singapore, Switzerland, Sweden, Japan, Canada, and Netherlands.

For this piece, the focus will be on Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) member-countries that are covered in the IPRI annual reports. Only 19 countries are in this table because Brunei was not included in the IPRI 2014 and 2015 Reports while Papua New Guinea was never included in all IPRI reports, past and present. (See Table)


APEC countries that were not included in the 2014 Report because of some incomplete data were given this observation in that report:

1 Philippines: Between 2010 and 2014, the Philippines IPRI score increased by +2.9%. In 2014 IPRI increased by +0.2 due to slight increases in all components. LP increased by +0.2 points due to all four of its items increasing in 2014. In particular, item Political Stability improved by +22.7% between 2013 and 2014.

2 South Korea: Over the 2010-2014 period of analysis, the South Korea IPRI score fluctuated around the value of 6.3. PPR data is missing from the analysis completely and IPR is missing for 2010 and 2011… In general, the overall IPRI value for South Korea is good and stable.

The Philippines’ jump in global rank from 77th in 2013 to 65th in 2015 is somehow impressive despite the flat score of 5.1 and 5.0, respectively. The reason for the big jump is because many countries have suffered significant decline in their scores from 2014 to 2015.

Within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-6 that are also APEC members and covered in this annual report, there is a mixture of results over the years. The bad news is that (a) the gap in overall score between high-ranked Singapore and low-ranked Vietnam was very wide, with the average score of the former almost twice that of the latter; (b) Thailand and Vietnam suffered significant declines in scores and global rank, both falling by at least 19 notches in ranking from 2014 to 2015; and (c) Indonesia global rank also fell significantly from 59th in 2014 to 70th in 2015.

The good news is that Singapore and Malaysia have managed to retain their high scores and global ranking.

The results of this annual study should prod the governments of the Philippines and other East Asian economies to remember the main function, the raison d’être or reason for existence, of governments: to enforce the rule of law, the protection of the citizens’ right to life (against aggressors), right to private property (against thieves and destroyers of properties), and right to liberty (against bullies and despots).

There is a positive relationship between economic development and economic freedom, and the strength of property rights protection. Civil society leaders should keep reminding governments of this reality, and dissuade the latter from enacting and implementing various programs that directly or indirectly erode the respect of private property.

Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr. is the President of Minimal Government Thinkers, Inc., which is one of the 74 think tank-members of PRA. He is also a SEANET Fellow.

IPRI 2013 Report

* Originally posted on September 19, 2013

The International Property Rights Index (IPRI) 2013 Report was released last week. Our think tank here in Manila, Minimal Government Thinkers, Inc. is the Philippine partner of the Property Rights Alliance (PRA, USA) in producing the annual IPRI.

There are many annual studies and reports measuring economic freedom, economic competitiveness and related concepts of countries, and ranking them. IPRI incorporates many of those factors and indicators, but it is focused on studying property rights and their protection worldwide.

IPRI is composed of three main indicators, which themselves have their own sub-indicators. And this makes the IPRI unique and useful.

For many governments that are stuck in the welfarist and central planning philosophy, they are characterized by soft or implicit disrespect, or less protection of private property rights. Since private property is among the cornerstones of a free society, disrespect of property rights is the path to socialism and dictatorship.

Here is the result of the 2013 IPRI, the ranking of 131 countries covered by the study. I separated the East and Southeast Asian economies for easier identification.

The Philippines ranked 77 out of 131 countries covered by the study. Not good for us.

And here’s the score for the three components of IPRI by country. The Philippines scored poor in legal and political environment (LP), pulling the overall IPRI score.

The report made this observation:

… there is a positive relationship between economic development and strength of property rights regimes. In addition,this finding is also confirmed when looking closer to specific groups, such as different regions or different average household income groups.

Kudos to PRA for persistently producing this annual report.

IPRI 2012 Report

* This is my article in TV5’s news portal last April 04, 2012.

Protection of private property rights and promulgation of the rule of law are the cornerstones of peace and order in society. Remove such property rights and society can quickly degenerate into chaos and disorder. For instance, if your house or car is also somebody else’s house and car, then they can take and occupy it anytime, anywhere.

There is one free market think tank, the Property Rights Alliance (PRA) based in Washington DC that conducts an annual study of how governments in the selected countries promulgate the rule of law and protect property rights. This annual report is called the International Property Rights Index (IPRI).

The study gives a particular score, then ranks those countries globally based on three major factors: (1) Legal And Political Environment, which includes judicial independence, rule of law, control of corruption and political stability; (2) Physical Property Rights, which include protection of such rights, registering property and access to loans; and (3) Intellectual Property Rights, which include protection of IPRs, such as patents and copyrights.

Our think tank here in Manila, Minimal Government Thinkers Inc. is among the nearly 70 independent and free market institutes, and the only Philippine-based think tank, that co-sponsored the publication of this annual study.

The 2012 Report has been released this week. Please note that while it was released this year, the basis of comparison were 2010 to 2011 data. Of the 130 countries covered by the study, the top 10 positions were garnered by developed economies with small populations. The first five, in order, are Finland, Sweden, Norway, Singapore, and Switzerland. The next five are Denmark, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Netherlands and Canada.

The Philippines ranked 87th out of 130 countries. While it performed fairly in Physical Property and Intellectual Property protection, it performed badly in the Legal and Political Environment. The culprit is the political instability, the bad state of corruption in government, poor observance of the rule of law and lack of judicial independence.

The country’s global rank in previous IPRI reports were 74th out of 115 countries in 2009, 80th out of 125 countries in 2010, and 87th out of 129 countries in 2011. So there was no change in the Philippines’ global ranking this year and last year.

Aside from Singapore, other Asian economies that performed well in the IPRI 2012 Report were Hong Kong in 12th place; Japan, 15th; Taiwan, 21st; Malaysia, 36th; South Korea, 40th; China, 57th; India, 62nd; Thailand, 69th; Indonesia, 86th; and Vietnam, also at 87th place.

The continued low ranking of the Philippines does not look good. If we need to attract more investors, grow the economy and create jobs, we need to assure entrepreneurs and employees, the average folks, that the fruits of their hard work and persistence in life are properly respected and protected. One should not toil hard abroad or in this country to buy a modest house and lot, only to find out later that the land is also being claimed by other people, resulting in additional costs and emotional stress in going to the courts and law enforcement agencies.

Populist and left-leaning policies – such as protection to squatters who illegally occupy private lands and an agrarian reform program with no final deadline and timetable – result in uncertainties.

These plus the weak rule of law end up in weak property rights enforcement for certain properties. These things must change if we want to retain the pool of talented entrepreneurs, as well as attract foreign professionals and investors, to come to the country.

Global Rank
Regional Rank (AO)
Legal and Political Environment
108 of 130
16 of 19
Judicial Independence
46 of 130
8 of 19
Rule of Law
40 of 130
7 of 19
Control of Corruption
40 of 130
7 of 19
Political Stability
13 of 130
3 of 19
Physical Property Rights
76 of 130
16 of 19
Protection of Physical Property Rights
50 of 130
10 of 19
Registering Property
117 of 130
16 of 19
Access to Loans
64 of 130
15 of 19
Intellectual Property Rights
73 of 130
11 of 19
Protection of Intellectual Property Rights
54 of 130
12 of 19
Patent Protection
Copyright Piracy
27 of 130
6 of 19
And this is my article in the online magazine last April 13, 2012.

In a small barrio in Pangasinan province that I visit from time to time to see the agro-forest farm that I help manage, I sometimes hear from our farm caretaker of small-scale robbery happening in the barrio or in the town proper. Things that are stolen are varied: from small items like vegetables, mangos, buko, chicken, kaldero, utensils; to more valuable ones like a tractor, a motorcycle, motorcycle parts, pigs, cows. There could be bigger items like land grabbing but I have not heard stories like that yet.

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