Friday, June 30, 2006

Confessions of a Rogue Samurai

As previously mentioned in this blog, I enjoyed immensely Manolo Quezon’s “I am a Bootlicker” essay (I must have read it at least five times already). Anyway, I resolved to write my own version of Manolo’s essay and the following is my clumsy attempt to imitate his work.

Confessions of a Rogue Samurai

I am a Ronin, a Masterless Samurai, a Rogue Warrior. And I am about to commit political hara kiri. Please come witness this absurd display of self-immolation.

I am a PR and political consultant for Filipino politicians. I am the guy who occupies the “Confidential” staff position in the plantilla. My position does not require any Civil Service eligibility and my term of office is co-terminus with my principal. As such, my fate depends entirely on the whims and fortunes of my boss. But although I am not a career government official, I influence how policy and decisions are made.

My job description is nebulous: I do whatever my principal asks me to do. I perform all sorts of tasks: from writing official correspondences to relaying orders to talking to constituents. I get paid to write press releases, develop friendships with editors and reporters, craft PR communication plans and think up odd political gimmicks for my principal. It is my job to know the peculiar dynamics between political actors and to identify/recruit potential “leaders” for my politician-boss. Occasionally, I also analyze data, give policy recommendations and dabble in advocacy work. Although I enjoy doing advocacy work (research, bill drafting and lobbying), my real bread and butter are elections. During the campaign period, I am a sortie organizer, itinerary planner, alliance-builder, close-in staffer, rabble-rouser and all-around gofer. My detractors usually call me a lackey, a factotum, a minion, a sycophant. But I like to romanticize and glorify myself and typically think of myself as a modern-day Samurai.

Like the Samurai warrior of feudal Japan who pledged their lives to their liege lord or Daimyo, I know how it is to work for something larger than myself, to believe in something/someone so much that it empowers me to do things I would not normally do. Like the Samurai who practiced the Code of Bushido and dedicated their lives to perfection, I too live by a certain code of conduct and constantly hone my “skills” to attain perfection.

I am a veteran of several “wars” – as elections in the Philippines are sometimes called. I first cut my teeth during the 1995 Senatorial Elections campaigning for the Lakas-Laban Coalition candidates. Fresh out of Ateneo, I felt I landed the best job in the world. Campaigning for the late Senator Raul Roco, I traveled the whole span of the archipelago in just five months staying in rustic hotels and networking with provincial governors, mayors, local businessmen and youth leaders. I was on a first-name basis with the senatorial candidates, persons who merely a year ago in college I only read about in the newspapers. Like a modern-day Samurai, I was dispatched by my liege lord to places I haven’t heard or been to before with a mission: to charm, cajole and coax VIPs to vote and support my Daimyo. And mind you, the job is not all glitz and glamour. There is also an element of danger involved like the time when I was on the road to Ipil, Zamboanga del Sur to distribute our campaign paraphernalia and meet with local youth leaders there. Coincidentally, Ipil was being raided by the Abu Sayyaf that day. Luckily for me and my driver, we did not run into the retreating Abu Sayyaf bandits on the road. But I have to admit, all the glitter, glamour, pressure and yes, even the close brushes with death are exhilarating. I relish the thrill of the “fight” and also the “spoils” of victory.

Roco was my master, mentor, model, my Daimyo. To embolden me to fight, my Master constantly drilled into me this saying: “courage is the chief of all virtues because no other virtue can arise without it.” Since he demanded perfection in everything that I do, I had no choice but to incessantly practice until I master my craft. Incidentally, Samurai in Nihonggo means “to serve” and we in his Senate staff saw ourselves as true servants of the people; warrior-crusaders fighting to improve the lives of ordinary Filipinos thru policy-making and legislation. All that we expected in return from the common folk was respect and of course, their votes come election time.

As they say, “in war there develops a bond of brotherhood.” Today, I count among my closest and oldest friends my former co-workers in the Senate staff. As former “trench-mates,” we developed a bond akin to those of war veterans. As proof of how a close-knit unit we were, I married an officemate and so did a couple of my co-workers. Today, most are already married, having kids and settling down but we still meet regularly to relive our glory days on the campaign trail, swap political tsismis and talk about domestic problems.

When our Daimyo died two years ago, we all felt that a void was created that will remain within us for the rest of our lives. With my Master's death, I became a Ronin, a Masterless Samurai. So like Caine in “
Kung Fu”, I am doomed to “walk this Earth” and wander the political landscape until I find another Daimyo who will take me under his wing or another cause worth fighting. Surveying the current political landscape, I can see that an unemployed Samurai like me can earn good money working for other Daimyos. I can be employed as a paid-hack, like that Samurai in the classic Akira Kurosawa movie Yojimbo. I can also become a Ninja - shadowy characters who are experts in character assassination, black propaganda and negative campaigning. In fact, after the 2004 elections, I landed several lucrative contracts “projecting” dubious Daimyos. But finding the work distasteful, I resigned.

I am weary of this life of never-ending warfare, constant conflict and incessant intrigues. I want very much to lead a peaceful life and transform myself into an ordinary fellah. I attempted several times to transition into the corporate world but I guess my skills and experiences are deemed irrelevant or not highly-valued in the private sector. Nowadays, I try not to think too much about politics and my previous life as a Samurai. I also do not intend to cast my lot in the ongoing “Impeachment War” because I believe that I will just be used by Daimyos who do not really care about me.

So there, the deed is done and I have already slit my gut for everyone to see. Thank you for witnessing my hara kiri. I hope you enjoyed it. Now get back to work.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

NBDB's Response to the "Air Conditioner" Issue

Yesterday, Manolo Quezon cited in his blog a Manila Times news article about the National Book Development Board (NBDB) having too many air conditioners. I alerted NBDB Chair Dennis Gonzalez (who is a good friend) and he told me that they have already issued an answer to that issue but it apparently did not see print in Manila Times or in any other publication. So, in the interest of fairness, I am printing NBDB's side on the matter as follows:

29 June 2006
The Editor
Manila Times
371 A. Bonifacio Drive
Port Area, Manila

Dear Mr. de la Rosa,

We protest the very unbalanced article “COA hits book unit’s excessive spending” written by your reporter Jonathan Hicap and which appeared on your paper yesterday, June 28. Mr. Hicap called up the Office of NBDB Chairman Dennis Gonzalez near the close of office hours on June 27, and his story appeared the very next day even though he had not yet gotten the side of NBDB.

Is there anything urgent in the story that Mr. Hicap could not wait to get our side? His story is based on a highly selective use of a COA audit report for 2005 dated April 10, 2006. The COA report is not really new and the NBDB Secretariat has formally and adequately responded to it already. Furthermore, if Mr. Hicap did his homework, he would have known that the NBDB Chairman presides over Board meetings usually once a month, and does not do day-to-day management of the agency. The daily manager is the Executive Officer, the head of the Secretariat, who is the person Mr. Hicap should have tried to reach.

Mr. Hicap makes selective use of the COA report. For example, he writes: “the book board incurred unliquidated cash advances worth P325,930.45.” What he does not mention are the following sentences from the report: “Cash advances granted during the year were all liquidated. Material cash advances pertain to those granted to a former member of the Governing Board of P150,499.00, which is the subject of a pending case at the Sandiganbayan and the P105,280.00 granted also to a former Governor who has not submitted his foreign travel report to date.” The bulk of the unliquidated advances are from former Board members in the late 1990s and not under the current NBDB officials.

For another example, Mr. Hicap wrote that the meal costs for board meetings reached as high as P603.26 per participant. What he does not know and could have easily found out is the fact that the budget for the monthly board meeting, which usually ends at 9 pm, is only P5,000.00, and those who partake of the meal are not only the 8 Board members and the Board Secretary but also 12 members of the Secretariat staff including some drivers. The P5,000.00 is for a meal of 20 persons, and in no way is it P603 per person. The COA has been made aware of this.

There are many other items in Mr. Hicap’s report which could have been placed in proper context if he were diligent enough and less hasty. We are appalled at his lack of competence and professionalism.

Very truly yours,

NBDB Secretariat
Meanwhile in Negros Occidental province, fear and terror engulfs the small town of Toboso where "long-haired, bearded men" (said to be members of a religious cult) have been spotted roaming remote barangays to abduct small boys. See the Visayan Daily Star report by Carla Gomez here.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Population Confusion

British Ambassador to the Philippines Peter Beckingham was in Iloilo last week to check on various UK-funded development projects. His first order of business upon arriving was to lay a wreath at the statue of his compatriot Nicholas Loney, who a century ago changed the destiny of Iloilo City by developing sugar into a major export crop. Before departing, Ambassador Beckingham made a statement to the media exhorting officials to double their efforts in curbing the region's population growth rate.

I don’t know where the good Ambassador got his data but Western Visayas today does not have a problem with its population growth rate. According to the Population Commission (PopCom), the current annual population growth rate of Region 6 is 1.56%, way below the national average of 2.36%. Likewise, the population rate of major cities in Region 6 are below the national average. Iloilo City, for example, is at 1.93% while Bacolod City is at 1.39%. In fact, some cities in Western Visayas suffer from negative growth rates. According to PopCom data, Silay City has a negative 2.76% growth rate while Sipalay City has a negative 0.64% rate. San Carlos City in Negros Occidental has the highest population growth rate at 3.34% followed by Talisay at 3.17%. I cannot see how we can further reduce our population growth rate in Western Visayas without compromising the future of our race. You see, a population growth rate of 2% is needed to replicate or perpetuate our species.

But I agree with Ambassador Beckingham that we should do something about the run-away population growth in the other regions of the Philippines. Overpopulation has a “multiplier effect” and is the root cause of most of our problems today: widespread poverty, pollution and environmental degradation, scarce employment and livelihood opportunities, inadequate basic services, poor student literacy, etc. There are simply too many people competing for scarce resources and we are producing more children than we can support.

But I differ with Ambassador Beckingham in the sense that I want us to gear our population management program towards encouraging college-educated Filipinos to produce more children while discouraging our less-educated countrymen from having too many children. This is because college-educated parents are most likely to produce college-educated children while poorly educated parents are most likely to produce poorly educated offsprings. The condition in the Philippines today is that less-educated Filipinos (who are generally less prepared financially and psychologically to raise children) are producing more children while our college-educated citizens are putting off having children. Moreover, our college-educated women are finding it hard to find suitable males to marry since Filipino males are generally adamant of marrying better-educated women. Our PopCom officials must find ways to reverse this cycle.

This "reverse" population management has been done before in Singapore by former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. As Singapore became more developed and its citizens more educated, the population growth rate in the city-state decreased. So Lee Kuan Yew thought of setting up a Singaporean match-making agency to help young Singaporeans find suitable mates. Although he initially drew flak for using Singaporean government funds to establish a dating service for young Singaporeans, Lee Kuan Yew's proposal eventually gained public support and many young couples today are thankful for the government "match-making" service he started.

That is why I was intrigued with the proposal presented by anti-child abuse advocates in the United States to require prospective parents “a license to give birth.” Their idea is to require aspiring parents to undergo parenting classes, psychiatric evaluation, drug tests, etc. to determine if they are fit to be good parents. Their money-making abilities and financial status will also be scrutinized. After passing this exam, only then would the couple be allowed to have a child. As one advocate succinctly put it; ”You need a license to drive a car, to carry a gun, to practice a profession, have a dog, heck even to catch a fish....but any ass can be a parent.”

I know the idea sounds “fascist” and I am not sure whether the group is really serious or just trying to dramatize a point. And even if, by some miracle, they manage to have a law enacted mandating a “license to give birth” decree, I cannot imagine how it can be implemented. But I agree totally with what they are trying to illustrate, which is: parenting is a serious responsibility. Children are not “economic units” to be used as household help or income-generators but demanding wards who require careful care, emotional maturity and much money.

My heart aches everytime I see streetchildren, especially in Metro Manila. Seeing them sniffing rugby along major thoroughfares, the foremost thought that comes to mind is: where are the parents of these kids? I sometimes feel so angry that I want to see the irresponsible parents of these children in jail. Unfortunately, it will not solve but only aggravate the problem. In the end, the solution is for government to implement a massive population management program aimed towards educating couples on how to become good parents.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Arroyos of Iloilo: Blood Lines, Bad Blood and Family Feuds

Atty. Mike Arroyo is again in the news. The controversial First Gentleman raised not a few eyebrows when he claimed to have descended from the same bloodline as St. Theresa of Avila (parang Da Vinci Code a!). He also stated that he is related to Maria Teresa Arroyo y Lacson and Rosario Arroyo y Pidal, two Filipino nuns who are currently up for beatification in the Vatican. (Read: "Arroyos claim saints for allies" by Armand Nocum, PDI).

Indeed, the Arroyos of Iloilo were wealthy merchants but they were of Chinese origins. Their original ancestors first settled in Molo district (famous for its Pancit Molo), which was then known as the “Parian of Iloilo” because all the Chinese immigrants and local Chinese-Filipino merchants were then quartered there. At the turn of the 19th century, the Arroyos became politically influential when Jose Arroyo was elected to the Philippine Senate. His younger brother, Mariano Arroyo, became Governor of Iloilo province. They later married into other landed families like the Lacsons, Locsins, Aranetas and Tuasons. As a symbol of their family's power and influence in the past, the Rotunda/Fountain located in front of the Iloilo Provincial Capitol is named the “Arroyo Fountain.”

Aside from being known as wealthy merchants and famed philanthropists, the Arroyos of Iloilo were then famous for being THE Nacionalista Party leaders in Iloilo and die-hard loyalists of President Manuel L. Quezon. But a falling out with President Quezon led to their demise in Iloilo politics. To this day, the Arroyos have never recaptured their old political supremacy in Iloilo. Another “old-rich” family, the Lopezes of Iloilo, were also bitter enemies of the Arroyos. The book Phoenix: The Saga of the Lopez Family by author Raul Rodrigo vividly captures the historical context of the "bad blood" between the Quezon, Lopez and Arroyo families. Excerpts from the book (pages 105 to 106):

"In Iloilo in 1929, the king of jueteng was a Chinese named Luis Sane, widely known as Sualoy. He operated with impunity; his establishments were safe from raids; secured, it was said, by generous bribe money to politicians and the local police.

In September 1929, Eñing Lopez
(Eugenio Lopez, the founder of ABS CBN TV Network and the grandfather/namesake of network top honcho Eugenio "Gabby" Lopez III) and El Tiempo (a local newspaper owned by the Lopezes) began a crusade against jueteng in Iloilo and the corruption it created in local government. The winning number each day was printed in a box in boldface on page one. Eñing came out with one expose after another, alleging that top politicians such as Iloilo Governor Mariano Arroyo, Iloilo City police chief Marcelo Buenaflor and his brother Congressman Tomas Buenaflor, had been bribed by Sualoy to turn a blind eye on jueteng.

Eñing did not choose lightweight opponents. Mariano Arroyo was the most powerful man in the province. He was the brother of the late Jose Arroyo, a Nacionalista senator and good friend of Quezon. As the public's outrage over the corruption began to mount, Arroyo issued a statement that jueteng did not exist in Iloilo. That it did and that local officials benefited from it were matters of public knowledge in the city. The question was not what needed to be done, but who had the courage to do it. As it turned out, Eñing Lopez did.

In March 1930, due to the pressure created by El Tiempo, Sualoy's headquarters was finally raided; not by the do-nothing local police, but the Philippine Constabulary. Sualoy was arrested, found guilty and jailed. He was eventually deported and died in China. With Sualoy out, the conflict had narrowed to a match between El Tiempo and the governor. The crusade had captured the imagination of Iloilo and made El Tiempo the city's leading newspaper. In August 1930, pushed against the wall, Governor Arroyo sued El Tiempo for libel. Eñing struck back by filing administrative charges against the governor. He also called in his friend and former boss Atty. Vicente Francisco to lead his defense against the libel charge.

As the struggle intensified, some Lopezes sensed in it some unwelcome echoes of the political tempest that had taken the life of Eñing's father
(former Iloilo Governor Benito Lopez who was assassinated in his office by a disgruntled constituent) 22 years before. El Tiempo's editor, Jose Magalona, was badly beaten by a local thug who was believed to be in the employ of the governor's men. The older Lopezes were afraid that as the row grew more heated, Eñing might eventually share his father's fate.

Fortunately, news of the case had reached Manila and attracted the attention of
(American) Governor General Dwight F. Davis. Governor Arroyo and his cohorts came under minute scrutiny. As a result of the scandal, the Nacionalistas and Quezon began backing away from Arroyo.

When Arroyo asked Quezon to recommend to Davis that he be acquitted of the administrative charges filed by Lopez, Quezon refused. Instead, Davis swiftly dispatched Judge Manuel Moran
(later chief justice of the Supreme Court), to investigate the libel case. Moran established that Arroyo and the police chief were in fact heavily involved in illegal gambling. They even ran a gambling den as a means of generating money for the upcoming 1931 elections. Moran concluded that Eñing and El Tiempo had not been guilty of libel.

In Arroyo's trial on the administrative charges, even more damning evidence against the governor came out. Pio Sian Melliza, a boyhood friend and active supporter of the governor, testified that when he had asked his friend to finally crack down on jueteng, the governor told him: “Compadre, why are you so determined to get rid of jueteng? Isn't it clear to you that most of the jueteng runners and sellers are our own political ward leaders? The elections are nearing, and I am running for re-election. Not including the money they are giving us for election expenses, they can hurt us in this election, because there are many of these jueteng runners in this province.”

On October 7, 1930, Governor General Dwight F. Davis ordered Governor Mariano Arroyo relieved of his post for corruption. Timoteo Consing, a friend of Eñing, was named as his replacement. Iloilo Mayor Eulogio Garganera and Marcelo Buenaflor were suspended. The ex-governor staged a protest rally and attempted to make a political comeback, but his disgrace had been marked and he sank into obscurity."

It is funny to note that the long-standing “family feuds” between oligarchic Filipino clans are still very much alive today. It only proves that the elite do not only inherit the money but also their family's enemies and their long-standing "bad blood." Reprising their role as present-day "crusaders" ala El Tiempo, the Lopez-owned ABS-CBN has been "consistently critical" of President Arroyo. In turn, the Lopezes are said to be "persecuted" by this administration. Madam Nini Quezon-Avanceña (the daughter of President Quezon) is one of the leading endorsers of the 2nd impeachment complaint against President Arroyo. Incidentally, her father-in-law Chief Justice Ramon Avanceña is from Arevalo, Iloilo City. Likewise, the father of close GMA ally DOJ Secretary Raul Gonzalez lost his post as Mayor of Jaro for incurring President Quezon's ire. President Quezon "collapsed" his municipality (via Presidential Decree) and subsumed it (together with Molo, Arevalo and La Paz) as part of a bigger Iloilo City. Reading our history, one can almost say that Philippine politics is just one big "family feud" between contending elites. Nothing really changes in this country.

A Korean Festival in Iloilo?

Nowadays, Koreans are investing in the Philippines big time. According to the National Statistical Coordinating Board, South Korean nationals poured in P51.7 billion worth of investment pledges for the first quarter of 2006, accounting for 81% of the total P63.5 billion worth of commitments. USA came in a far second with P6.4 billion. According to various studies, there are approximately 25,000 Koreans currently staying in the Philippines.

In Western Visayas as well as in other parts of the country, Koreans have become a permanent fixture in restaurants, malls, bars, supermarkets and beach resorts. Koreans have become an indubitable part of the local scenery and Korean “enclaves” have sprouted all over the country. In recent years, young South Koreans have been flocking to Iloilo City to study English and savor the laid-back Ilonggo lifestyle. Koreans usually stay here for months at a time, with some deciding to permanently put down roots in the city. No one here knows for sure who or what triggered this Korean “invasion” of Iloilo City. It could be that previous Korean visitors saw Iloilo as a fun and cheap city to stay in and passed along the information to their compatriots thru word of mouth. Irregardless, the arriving Korean tourists and investments are a boon to the local economy long dependent on OFW dollars. Likewise, Mayor Jerry Treñas has been quite successful in promoting Iloilo City as an IT/call center hub and an important conference venue in the South.

But despite the City Government’s successful PR promotions campaign, local Ilonggo businessmen often bemoan the fact that all the big celebrations in Iloilo City are scheduled during the first quarter (January-February), thus leaving the rest of the year without any noteworthy festival and therefore lesser tourist arrivals. Tourist and balikbayan arrivals in the city usually peak during the December-January-February months. Whether by accident or by design, Iloilo City’s grandest celebrations indeed occur in January (the Dinagyang Festival, Arevalo Fiesta, Chinese New Year) and February (Candelaria Fiesta and Paraw Regatta). City officials therefore need to come up with activities all year long if we hope to attract more tourists to Iloilo, especially once the new airport is completed and the expected “spike” in tourist arrivals is realized.

Local government officials are therefore exploring new ideas on how to draw tourists to the city all year long. One such “new idea” is the “Night Market” along Muelle Loney which was spearheaded by Iloilo City No. 1 Councilor Jed Mabilog.

One proposal worth looking into is the staging of a “Koreano-Ilonggo Friendship Week.” This idea was introduced by Iloilo City Congressman Raul Gonzalez, Jr. and he had already discussed this with Mayor Treñas. A “Korean Festival” in Iloilo City will not only promote better understanding between our two peoples but more importantly, will create new business opportunities for our local entrepreneurs. Should the city government adopt this proposal, Iloilo City will become the very first LGU in the Philippines to organize a festival in honor of Koreans. It could very well attract more Korean tourists to our city.

There are three things that Ilonggos have in common with Koreans. Koreans, like Ilonggos, like to eat and drink. In fact, some Koreans (like some Ilonggos) love to eat dog meat as an exotic delicacy or as pulutan. We can therefore organize a “FoodFest” or “Food Court” featuring the best of Ilonggo and Korean cuisine. Second, Koreans and Ilonggos both love to shop and go “malling.” Therefore, a “Korean Festival” cannot be complete without a “tiangge” or an open air bazaar where you can buy all sorts of clothes, accessories and assorted Korean or Ilonggo things. Lastly, both Koreans and Ilonggos share a passion for football. We both have exceptional football players. A friendly football match could therefore be arranged featuring the best Korean and Ilonggo football players. Naturally, the proposed “Korean Festival” should be scheduled during the 2nd or 3rd quarter of the year, for reasons already stated above.

While I commend City Councilor Jed Mabilog for spearheading the “Night Market” in Iloilo City, his idea generated mixed reactions from the local community. Maybe Ilonggos are not yet ready for a “Night Market” or it may simply be that Ilonggos just don’t have extra money to spend due to the hard times. Unlike the “Night Market,” I am confident that the proposed “Korean Festival” will generate sufficient revenues for our local entrepreneurs because it will target that segment of the local population which has “disposable income” – the Koreans.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Best Nursing Schools in Western Visayas

Due to the big demand for nurses abroad, nursing schools and review centers have become such a huge and lucrative business not only in Western Visayas but also the entire Philippines. Nowadays, nursing is the no. 1 choice of high school graduates. We have also seen the phenomenon wherein doctors, lawyers and other professionals are taking up nursing as a second course, in a bid to migrate abroad and create better lives for themselves and their families.

There are currently 96 universities and HEIs (Higher Education Institutions) all throughout Western Visayas, with most of the schools located in Iloilo City and Bacolod City. Out of this total, 14 schools are accredited by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to offer B.S. Nursing.
For school year 2004, a total of 2,289 nursing graduates from Western Visayas took the Nursing Licensure Board Exams supervised by the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC). Out of this total, 1,375 or 60% passed the exams. As expected, West Visayas State University and St. Paul College of Iloilo took top honors with a 99% and 98% passing rate respectively. The two schools have long been famous for being “Centers for Excellence” in nursing. Tied for third place are West Negros College and University of St. LaSalle both with a 75% passing rate.
Performance of Schools in the 2004 Nursing Licensure Exams – Region 6
1. West Visayas State Univ. (Iloilo) - 135 examinees; 134 passers (99%)
2. St. Paul College of Iloilo - 64 examinees; 63 passers (98%)
3. West Negros College (Bacolod) - 502 examinees; 379 passers (75%)
4. Univ. of St. LaSalle (Bacolod) - 137 examinees; 103 passers (75%)
5. Central Phil. University (Iloilo) - 161 examinees; 110 passers (68%)
6. Central Phil. Adventist College - 57 examinees; 36 passers (63%)
7. Riverside College (Bacolod) - 245 examinees; 150 passers (61%)
8. Univ. of San Agustin (Iloilo) - 171 examinees; 90 passers (53%)
9. Iloilo Doctor’s College - 171 examinees; 78 passers (46%)
10. St. Gabriel College (Kalibo) - 199 examinees; 86 passers (43%)
11. Colegio de San Agustin (Bacolod) - 138 examinees; 56 passers (41%)
12. Filamer Christian College (Roxas City) - 103 examinees; 32 passers (31%)
13. St. Anthony’s College (Roxas City) - 77 examinees; 22 passers (29%)
14. University of Iloilo - 129 examinees; 36 passers (28%)
G R A N D T O T A L - 2,289 examinees; 1,375 passers (60%)

It should be mentioned that in some colleges, school officials “screen” their nursing graduates thru a “pre-qualifying test” and students who fail this “pre-qualifying” exam are not allowed to take the PRC Licensure exam. This is done primarily to maintain the passing percentage rate of schools. Technically, this practice of “pre-screening” is not allowed by CHED but some school officials have found a loophole in the rules and CHED is quite powerless to stop this practice. Therefore, one should take the above Performance of Schools for 2004 with a grain of salt as some of the colleges in the list may have “pre-screened” their students to improve their ranking in the Nursing Licensure exams.

As more and more Filipinos take up Nursing, intense competition among the different colleges is to be expected. In choosing a nursing college, one must not only decide based on its tuition fee rates but also the school’s academic curriculum, reputation and track record in the licensure exam.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

P75 Wage Hike for West Visayan Workers?

Businessmen and employers are breathing a collective sigh of relief after the P125 Wage Hike bill was deferred in the House of Representatives. The bill, which was authored by Representatives Edcel Lagman, Renato Magtubo and Crispin Beltran, sent shock waves throughout the business community. It was loudly opposed by the Makati Business Club and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), Malacañang and NEDA.

Although the bill seeks to implement the P125 across-the-board increase in three tranches (P45 in October this year, P40 in 2007, and P40 in 2008), various business groups and government officials claimed that it will lead to massive lay-offs and runaway inflation. NEDA Chief Romulo Neri estimated that even just a P45 across-the-board increase alone would result in the displacement of between 288,000 and 620,000 workers. He added that between 225,000 and 424,000 more could potentially be laid off in 2007, and between 210,000 and 365,000 could lose their jobs in 2008. Guillermo Luz of the Makati Business Club also criticized the congressmen for railroading the bill and Donald Dee of PCCI threatened to withdraw their support of Cha Cha should the bill be enacted into law.

Although the bill may never pass third reading (considering its "powerful" oppositors), the P125 Wage Hike bill has succeeded in focusing attention to the plight of our minimum-wage workers who are finding it harder and harder to meet their basic needs on their current salary levels. Before the wage hike issue broke out in media, majority of business owners and employers were not really focused on granting salary increases for their employees. So in an effort to preempt its enactment, Regional Wage Boards all across the country are now fast-tracking approval of wage hike petitions in their respective regions.

Presently, the daily minimum wage in Western Visayas range from P160 (for agricultural workers) to P205 (for non-agricultural / industrial-commercial workers). Roughly, this translates to a monthly gross salary of P4,000 to P5,000. Exactly one year ago, the Tri-Partite Wage Board for Region 6 granted a P15 increase for selected sectors. It is currently deliberating a petition filed by labor groups in the region for a P75-wage hike. DOLE-Region 6 officials promised to fast-track their deliberation of the said petition, in consideration of the soaring prices of fuel and basic commodities. Roughly computed, a P75 wage hike will translate to a P2,000 increase in the monthly salaries of minimum-wage workers across Western Visayas. The question is, can our local businessmen afford to give such a raise?

Different industries will have different reactions to a wage hike. The sugar industry, agriculture and aquaculture sector, which employs a considerable percentage of Ilonggos in the region, may be adversely affected by a drastic P75 increase. The region’s manufacturing sector might also be forced to lay-off workers to comply with a P75 mandatory wage hike. But on the other hand, the booming commercial and BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) industries could very well afford to pay their employees more. In fact, call centers are already paying above-minimum-wage rates. Likewise, cellular phone companies, shopping malls and tourism-related businesses like beach resorts and spas can likewise afford to raise their employees’ salaries considering the brisk sales that they are currently experiencing.

The long-term solution to this problem of low wages ultimately lies with our people. Filipinos must upgrade their skills and increase their productivity in order to increase their household incomes. In this age of information technology where knowledge is power, we must familiarize ourselves with the latest technologies and harness it to enhance our competitiveness vis-à-vis our competitors. We must also polish our English skills because this our competitive edge from our more prosperous Asian neighbors. In fact, the call center sector in the Philippines would have grown faster if not for the lack of qualified English-speakers here. Lastly, we must not rely totally on foreign investments to generate employment but must also promote entrepreneurship since the more businesses we create locally, the more jobs we generate.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Ghana Defeats U.S.A, 2-1

This is one for the record books: Ghana, a poor third-world country in Africa, defeated the American team in the World Cup 2006. With their victory at Nuremberg, Ghana is ensured a spot in the last 16 matches of the Cup. Looks like the U.S. Team is going home early.

The American Dream is Over!
The first of two goals scored by
Team Ghana.

Ghanaian players hug after their surprising
victory against the U.S. team. (Photos courtesy of BBC)

Ghana will next face the powerhouse team of Brazil. Will the tough Africans be able to score an upset again? For more World Cup updates, visit this site.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Memoirs of an Expat

While surfing the internet, I chanced upon a book about two brothers of Swiss nationality who worked in the Western Visayas region from 1919 to 1935. Entitled “Meine Lieben: Swiss Letters from the Philippines,” the book was published jointly by the Ayala Foundation, Inc. and Filipinas Heritage Foundation. For a limited period, the Ayala Foundation permits internet browsers to download the book. The book is a collection of letters written by the two Swiss brothers about their thoughts and impressions about Ilonggo society in the 1920s-30s.

The older brother, Albert Irminger, worked as an employee of A.C. Lutz & Co. (later Lutz & Zuellig and then F.E. Zuellig, Inc.), a Swiss trading firm operating in Manila and Iloilo City at that time. Albert arrived in Manila from Zurich in 1919 and was assigned by his company to its Iloilo City branch a year later. His younger brother, Hans Irminger, arrived in 1920 and worked as a sugar plantation manager (encargado) for Walti & Hablutzel & Co., a Swiss company which owns several sugarcane plantations in Negros Occidental. Hans managed two plantations for his employers, Hacienda Canlaon and Hacienda Camansi located near Kabankalan.

In present-day terms, the two would be called expats – foreign professionals who work and manage businesses in the Philippines. The two brothers are unique because they worked in different environments: one worked in the city while the other on a farm. Thus, their letters give us a comprehensive picture of what life in pre-War Philippines was like both in the urban and rural areas of the country. Below is a letter written by Albert Irminger to his parents describing conditions in the offices of A.C Lutz & Co. in Iloilo City:

“In the office we worked very differently than at home: (1) more autonomously and (2) I don’t have to work on the typewriter – which pleases me very much. We have double the number of Filipinos than Whites for general office work, correspondence and bookkeeping. The Chief Bookkeeper, a Filipino, earns more than we ‘on our first contract,’ but he is subordinated to the Cashier, a 23-year old Swiss. Most Filipinos worked for a very low salary and can just the same maintain their families. Recently, one of them who earns not quite one-fifth of my salary, got married! One must of course take into account that we Europeans need much more money to be able to live comfortably in this climate.” - Albert Irminger, December 30, 1919

Albert’s starting salary or ‘first contract’ was 260 pesos plus 30 pesos cost-of-living allowance, quite a considerable sum during those days. His younger brother Hans sent this letter to their parents to describe his first year working as an encargado in Negros:

“You at home, and even in Manila and Iloilo, have no real idea of how life and work on a sugarcane hacienda are. Even Mr. Walti (the hacienda owner and employer) is not well-informed. His place of work is at the office. One or two visits a year (to the plantation) do not permit one to see and observe all. So it is understandable that much of what he told me or recommended, is false or even contrary to the facts. The patterns of behavior he recommended may be right for a boss, but not for me. I’m still far from being a boss – rather just a beginner. He told me for example that under no circumstances should a White man do physical work, or he will lose his authority over the Indigenous. Yes, this may have been so, once upon a time, under Spanish authority, but now the Americans are the supervisors of the country…This is now very different. If a task for whatever reason doesn’t progress as it should, one intervenes, helps here, helps there. Mr. Walti even said, I shouldn’t think that I have to drive the tractor. But if I understood the machine, I would do it even today….” - Hans Irminger, January 9, 1921

In his first letter to home, Hans could not quite reconcile with the idea that he is not supposed to do manual work and would have wanted very much to operate the farm tractor if he only knew how. Two years later, we read a much different Hans, bolder and more confident, a far cry from the tentative, newly-arrived encargado two years ago:

“I am really having a good time. I am always healthy and in good humor. My independent work pleases me very much, although I could have grey hair in spite of my 24 years due to much anger with the Filipinos. During the harvest I am responsible for about 150 workmen. As I am the only White on the hacienda, I am a kind of a small king in my kingdom. It is really a pity that nobody can take a picture of me – without my knowing. This might produce some quite interesting pictures, for example when I chase through the fields with my horse, the small felt hat somewhat oblique on my head, and wearing khaki shirt and khaki pants…Looking at such pictures you would probably believe that I am in the Wild West rather than in the Philippines…” - Hans Irminger, October 24, 1923

Europe in the 1920s and 1930s was marked by periodic political and economic instability. Faced with limited employment prospects at home, young European professionals like the Irminger brothers have to leave their homelands for greener pastures abroad. The opening of the port of Iloilo to international trade in 1855, the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, advancements in steam navigation and increasing world demand for sugar facilitated the growth of the sugar export trade in Western Visayas. And foreign trading firms like Ker & Co., Loney & Co., etc. played a vital part in providing the local sugar industry with credit and technology. By the early 1900s, Iloilo City was a thriving port city and many foreign businessmen were attracted to its lucrative sugar trade.

When he first arrived in Iloilo City to work for A.C. Lutz & Co., Albert Irminger was pleasantly surprised to find a large expatriate community there. Iloilo even had a Swiss Club and Albert would spend most of his free time relaxing in the company of his countrymen. In contrast to the civilization of Iloilo, his younger brother Hans discovered a backward, frontier town in Negros. Hans had to live in a simple hut (bahay kubo) and had to go to Iloilo City regularly to buy personal supplies, farm machineries, etc. He even had to go to Iloilo City in order to watch a movie or see a dentist. Below is Albert Irminger’s letter to his parents in Switzerland dated December 28, 1919 describing the general conditions in the Philippines at that time:

“…The national costume of ladies consists of a long dress reaching down to the feet and a type of starched blouse which leaves necks and shoulders free. One encounters here few women in European dress, and if one does, then they are young girls. Older Filipino women often still smoke cigars – which seems strange to us – and cigarettes which they stick with the burning part into their mouths. Men are dressed European style, mostly very elegantly, but on the other hand they live in a ‘stable’ and eat nothing but rice. Therefore they have little resistance to illnesses and die away like flies. One wonders that not more illnesses break out due to the incredible dirt in which they live in the many suburbs. Their huts sometimes stand on stinking quagmire.

Filipinos are in general musically gifted. There are excellent music bands which would be even better if they could afford more expensive instruments. Speed control of too fast drivers is very efficient. All day long some official motorcyclists chase so-called speeders, overtake and bill them if they drive faster than permitted. The first time, one gets an expensive fine; if repeated a prison sentence! Such a useful institution would also suit Switzerland! The traffic system of trams, cars, and other vehicles work perfectly.

As you know, the Filipinos would like to be independent. But it would be stupid of the USA to fulfill this wish, because they are as yet absolutely incapable of governing themselves. They have some freedom in internal affairs. Many Filipinos are employed in the administration, and they have their own Parliament. But they still need the guiding hand of a civilized people. There still half-wild tribes living in the center (interior?). Young Filipinos delight in military training, but look quite ridiculous with their wooden guns. They don’t succeed in looking smart. Our schoolboys at home do this better and with more seriousness…”

His younger brother Hans sent their parents this letter dated June 29, 1924 from Hacienda Camansi in Negros Occidental:

“In Ma-ao we visited a fairly modern hacienda, whose proprietor was a Filipino. There are intelligent guys among them. There is an interesting difference between the haciendas Camansi, La Carlota, La Castellana, Canlaon and the one in Ma-ao. In the first four haciendas, most of the hacienderos are Whites, foreigners. While the majority of the Whites work well and economize in order to be able to take much money back home, i.e. they have beautiful fields and primitive houses, the hacienderos of Ma-ao, all Filipinos, on the contrary don’t work well, have bad sugarcane, many weeds in the fields, but lead a grandiose life. They build the nicest houses on their haciendas, buy cars, enjoy all kinds of comforts and – most importantly – they have debts up to their necks. But, after all, they are living in their own country…”

Albert Irminger returned to Switzerland in 1928 to continue his business career. His last visit to the Philippines was in 1953. He died on September 30, 1979. His younger brother, Hans Irminger, stayed on to managed several sugar plantations for the Philippine National Bank. Sensing the possibility of a Japanese invasion of the Philippines, he left the country in 1935. Hans worked as an employee of Suarer AG, a trucking company in Arbon, Switzerland until his retirement. He died on July 24, 1973. In 1997, his daughter, Lisa Ammann-Irminger, discovered their letters and photos of the Philippines and presented these to the Ayala Foundation for publication.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A Tribute to James, “The Cobrador of Arevalo”

The Small Town Lottery (STL) is the subject of much discussion in Iloilo nowadays. The Catholic Church headed by outspoken Jaro Archbishop Antonio Lagdameo and some cause-oriented groups led by lawyer Rex Rico have spoken out against the evils of gambling, claiming that STL is inherently immoral. On the other hand, the group of local businessmen and Barangay Chairmen who won the franchise to operate STL in Iloilo City are arguing that legalized gambling will stop illegal gambling (the ‘daily double’) and that STL will provide much-needed jobs for our less-privileged countrymen. The two contending parties, both believing absolutely that they are right, are putting forth valid and impassioned arguments for or against STL and their public debates have become quite heated.

But in the ongoing public debate on STL, I notice that one vital voice is conspicuously missing. And that is the voice of the cobradors or bet collectors. So I have decided to devote today’s column to James, the “Cobrador of Arevalo” to give a human face to the numbers game.

James was a sort of celebrity in our area and everyone knew who he was. I can still picture him clearly riding his stainless steel BMX bike wearing a tattered T-shirt and his battered belt-bag where he put all his ‘paraphernalia’ - a ballpen, slips of paper, “tip” sheets, and the winnings of his bettors. All day long, James would roam around the Sta. Filomena-Dulunan-Sta. Cruz area of Arevalo District collecting bets for ‘jai alai’ and subsequently for ‘daily double.’ People were always glad to see him and bettors would gather around him to ask for that day’s winning number, to place their bets or to hear about the latest gossip in town. Because aside from being a cobrador, James knew all the latest “tsismis” in our community.

I used to place bets in ‘jai alai’ almost daily when I was a teenager. I lost touch with James when I went to college in Manila and I eventually lost all interest (or addiction) in the numbers game. A couple of years back, I learned that James had passed away. A new person is now collecting bets for the illegal numbers game in Arevalo.

During James’s time, bet collectors received 10% of the bets they collect as their ‘salary.’ And, depending on the generosity of the winner, cobradors also get from 10% to 20% of the winnings as their ‘balato’. On the average, a cobrador could earn around P5,000 to P8,000 a month depending on how lucky and hard-working he is. Aside from the monetary reward, bet collectors also enjoy the ‘psychic reward’ of being famous (or infamous) members of the community. Cobradors are not college degree holders or skilled artisans. With no marketable skills and faced with limited employment prospects, they become bet collectors because that is only the job available to them. They all lead a hand-to-mouth existence marked by periods of uncertainty, especially when they get raided by the police or their “bank” (or “capitalista”) goes bankrupt.

I am in favor of STL mainly because it will provide employment to the “unemployable” members of society. STL will give jobs to those who need it most: the indigent and uneducated people of Iloilo City. Now, if you are a college or a high school graduate even, your chances of getting employed in one of the business establishments in the city might be good. But if you are an uneducated and poorly-skilled person with no political connections, your options for employment are practically nil. My only discomfort with STL is that it takes the little money that the poor have to supposedly “return” it back to them thru charity projects and the like. I would much rather see our local government devote its attention more to setting up a casino. That way, we take money from the rich and give it to the poor.

I did not know James “The Cobrador” that well (I don’t even know his last name) but I can see that he was poor and that he died poor. His family to this day is still poor and uneducated. I just hope that the STL would give our cobradores enough wages and benefits (like SSS, medical insurance, etc.) so that they can afford to live decently and send their children to school.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Iloilo City is by far the most crowded city in Western Visayas today. According to the National Statistics Office (NSO), its population density as of 2000 is already at 8,724 persons per square kilometer. The most recent census, done by NSO more than ten years ago in 1995, reveals that Iloilo City had a population of 1,415,022 persons. Moreover, this figure does not show its “day-time population.” There are no existing surveys on Iloilo City’s daytime population but it is easy to surmise that it could be double because residents of Antique, Iloilo and Guimaras all go there to study, work, conduct business or do their marketing.

In contrast, the next most crowded city in the region, Bacolod City, has a population density of only 2,749 persons per square kilometer. Likewise, Iloilo City is more crowded than most of the other regional centers in the South. For example, Cebu City has a population density of only 2,282, Davao City 469, and Zamboanga City has a mere 425 persons per square kilometer (2000 NSO data). The population density of Iloilo City is already comparable to some areas in Metro Manila like Parañaque and Quezon City.

All these data only means that Iloilo City is nearing its saturation point and that we have to consider newer means to solve our “new” problems brought about by rapid urbanization and congestion. Residents of Iloilo City are now encountering the phenomenon of traffic jams, periodic floods and too much garbage: problems that in the past Ilonggos usually associated with Metro Manila and Metro Cebu. Thankfully, despite rapid urbanization and its high population density, the cost of living in Iloilo City has remained low and the quality of life continues to be one of the highest in the country (that is according to the 2004 AIM-City Competitiveness Survey). Likewise, Iloilo City’s crime rate is relatively low compared to other cities in the Philippines.

But the prevailing ideal conditions in Iloilo City might not remain for long if local leaders will allow things to slide. The vital question then, from a local policy perspective, is how to promote urbanization and development without sacrificing quality of life and low cost of living being that is being enjoyed right now by many Ilonggos?

One plausible solution is to create a metropolitan authority similar to the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), which is exactly what the local executives of Iloilo City and the surrounding towns of Oton, Pavia, Leganes and San Miguel have done. Several years ago, Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas and the mayors of the above-mentioned 4 municipalities formed the Metropolitan Iloilo Development Council (MIDC). The primary aim of MIDC is to foster closer cooperation and to coordinate development initiatives between Metro Iloilo member-LGUs. In a short time, the said Council has become an important venue for discussing wholistic solutions to local problems and has already initiated various projects towards investment promotion, environmental protection and heritage conservation.

The only drawback to MIDC is that it remains to be an ad hoc committee functioning primarily as a discussion group or planning agency. Unlike the MMDA, MIDC is not a “line agency” in the sense that it does not have the authority or manpower to implement projects. The MIDC is merely a policy-making body, not an implementing agency with financial resources and real manpower to execute and operationalize policy directives.

This is what House Bill No. 3577, authored by Iloilo City Lone District Representative Raul Gonzalez, Jr., seeks to change. The said bill wants to strengthen the current MIDC by creating the Metro Iloilo Development Authority (MIDA) and granting it the necessary funding and authority to implement its given mandate. The bill allots an initial sum of P50 million for the establishment of MIDA and will thereafter receive annual expenditures from the General Appropriations Act (GAA). The newly-created Authority will likewise be empowered to levy fines, impose fees and charges for the various services it renders. Lastly, each member-LGU will contribute 5% of its annual gross revenues (net of IRA) to MIDA.

Understandably, local executives have mixed reactions to House Bill No. 3577. Some mayors are concerned over the diminution of their authority once MIDA is in place while others are adamant to donate 5% of their gross annual income to the proposed agency. It may also be that the master plan to be designed for a Metro Iloilo might run counter to the desires of incumbent mayors.

But whatever “issues” local executives have against the creation of MIDA, I believe that it is an idea whose time has come. Our people are already feeling the effects of urbanization and are looking to our leaders to find solutions to their problems. The way I see it, the creation of a central authority to manage the problems of Metro Iloilo is the only way to preserve our city’s enviable position as one of the most pleasant places in the country to live in today.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Let’s Send Ilonggos to the Next World Cup

The 2006 World Cup kicked off this month in Germany. In about every country in the world (except probably here in the Philippines), everyone is glued to their TV sets to watch who among the 32 competing nations will become this year’s World Cup champion. As proof of its worldwide popularity, the 2002 World Cup was watched by a cumulative total of 30 billion viewers, with 1 billion watching the Finals Match between Brazil and Germany. Sadly, the Philippines is not represented in the World Cup so we just have to content ourselves to cheering for other countries. I myself am rooting for defending-champion Brazil and hope that they will be able to replicate their spectacular victory against Germany in the last 2002 World Cup.

Back closer to home, our local version of the “World Cup” was held last June 8-15 in Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo. Football, unlike in other regions, is relatively popular in Western Visayas and there are several strong teams in Iloilo and Negros Occidental. The small town of Barotac Nuevo, in fact, has carved a niche for itself as the “Football Capital of the Philippines” owing to the big number of exceptional football players hailing from that municipality. Aside from the “Barotac Selection,” other notable football teams in the region are the Don Bosco club, the La Salle-Bacolod squad and Hiroshi Football Club.

It is often said that Filipinos have a greater chance in excelling in football because we are naturally nimble and swift. But despite the fact that we lack the height advantage, Filipinos still persist in basketball. Today, basketball remains the king of sports in this country and corners most of the corporate sponsorships. Superstar cagers here earn millions of pesos and idolized by millions of fans. One good example is basketball stand-out James Yap (who is Sagay, Negros Occidental) who is scheduled to marry popular actress and rich political heiress Kris Aquino.

But despite the lack of financial reward, our Ilonggo booters still play football out of pure love for the game.

We should aspire to send a team to the next World Cup scheduled in 2010. Four years is enough time to prepare for it if we start now. And our sports officials don’t have to look far to find good football players. The “Barotac Selection” is already a strong, cohesive team and could probably form the nucleus of a “Philippine World Cup Team.” Our World Cup team could further be strengthened by recruiting outstanding players from the other clubs.

Hell, if we were able to send Filipinos to Mt. Everest, I don’t see why we can’t send Filipinos to the World Cup. If smaller and much poorer countries can afford to send teams to the World Cup, I do not see why we cannot do the same. Tiny countries like Bhutan, Eritrea, Grenada, Togo and Tahiti all have teams competing there right now. And it is not as though corporate sponsors will not benefit from the publicity to be generated from sending a Philippine delegation to the World Cup. Remember, the World Cup is watched by more people in the world than the recently-concluded South East Asian Games and even the Olympics.

What the sport actually needs right now is a champion, an “enabler” who possesses the right vision, political influence and the right business connections to make it happen. Someone like Art Valdez (a Bacolodnon) who was able to pull off the Filipino conquest of Mt. Everest. One candidate that comes to mind is Bacolod City Congressman Monico Puentebella who is a long-time champion and a former football player himself. Another is Iloilo 4th District Representative Ferj Biron who is a generous benefactor of the game. Both are respected, influential leaders who have the financial wherewithal and political connections to make this dream become a reality.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

And Now, The End Is Near .... P1 Billion Warchest vs. Communists

President Arroyo, during a recent out-of town Cabinet meeting in Isabela province, announced that she is allocating P1 billion to fund the “final war” against the NPA menace which has plagued our country for more than 35 years. What struck me most about the President’s statement was not the amount but the place where she chose to announce it. You see, the incumbent governor of Isabela is Grace Padaca, who won the position with the help of NPAs.

In the last 2004 elections, Padaca was able to neutralize the armed group of her opponent, former Governor Fautino Dy, Jr., thru the assistance of the local NPA command in Isabela. Jun Dy was not able to go out and campaign as much as he would like because he and his family were under constant threat of being killed or kidnapped by the NPA. On the eve of election day, an NPA commander named “Salvador del Pueblo” announced over Bombo Radio-Tuguegarao (Gov. Dy had closed down the local Bombo Radyo station in Cauayan, Isabela) that they will fight “fire-for-fire” any attempts to “steal” the election from Padaca.

Isabela was one of the Comelec hotspots during the last 2004 elections. There were reports of rampant ballot box snatching, vote-buying, armed goons roaming around intimidating voters, etc. When the smoke finally cleared, Padaca emerged as the winner with a 45,000 vote margin against Jun Dy. Her victory was hailed as a triumph of alternative politics over traditional politics and Padaca became to be known in political circles as the “giant-killer.”

With Padaca now as governor, Defense officials are concerned that Isabela might be turned into a “vacation spot” of communist rebels or may be used as a jumping point for NPA incursions of other neighboring provinces. This may be the reason why GMA chose to announce her new policy directive in Isabela: to send a strong message to the rebels that they can no longer use Isabela as their R&R spot. The President’s announcement is bad news also for Governor Padaca as Isabelinos will construe this as a sign of GMA’s disapproval of her continued stay as governor of Isabela province. It may also be that GMA just doesn’t like Padaca because she supported Raul Roco as president in the last elections.
Not that Padaca doesn't know how to play politics. As soon as she won as governor under Roco's Aksyon Demokratiko party, she switched her affiliation to Liberal Party. Her apperance can also be deceiving. She is a wily, astute politician and she will be hard to defeat in elections because she still is quite popular among the people of Isabela. But with the NPA on the run, I wonder if they can still duplicate their election "antics" in Isabela in the coming 2007 elections.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Pinoy Gurkhas in Iraq

ABS CBN reporter Jay Ruiz scored a major scoop with his story about Filipinos working as mercenaries for the U.S. forces in Iraq. The Filipinos mercenaries were said to be recruited from Dubai and are receiving salaries of $2,000 a month, with experienced soldiers and former policemen supposedly getting more. Sa hirap ng buhay ngayon, many Filipinos would kill for the opportunity to earn $2,000 a month (that’s roughly P100,000 a month), literally and figuratively.

It seems that the Americans have finally found their own Gurkhas in Filipinos. Gurkhas are Nepalese nationals who serve as soldiers in the British Regular Army. They have their own division in the British Army, the “Brigade of Gurkhas,” which have seen action and served with distinction in almost every war that the British fought in since their Empire Days. The Gurkhas are famed for their valor in combat and their fierce loyalty to the British. As proof of their striking loyalty to the British, the Gurkha Brigade suffered tremendous losses (327 casualties out of their total strength of 490) during the Indian Mutiny of 1857-58. Despite their staggering 67% casualty rate, the Gurkhas were able to hold the Hindu Rao's house, a key British position which was under continuous fire from the mutineers for over three months. Aside from being exceptional soldiers, Gurkhas are also relatively cheap to maintain since they are paid below the salary scale of white soldiers. But despite this, the Gurkha Brigade never lacks for enlistees because in a poor country like Nepal, a son or husband serving in the Gurkha Brigade is seen as a sure-fire way to escape a life of poverty.

The Filipino mercenaries have striking similarities with the Gurkhas. Like the Gurkhas, Filipinos also are fierce warriors, extremely loyal to Americans and relatively cheap to maintain. I saw the video footages of ABS CBN featuring the Filipino mercenaries and I can tell (despite their blurred/blotted out faces) that they are all content and happy. I can see that they are well-equipped with the latest weapons and all are even wearing bullet-proof vests. It is apparent from the footages that they are better armed, better paid and better supplied than our own Armed Forces here. Given the right officers and proper motivation, those Filipino mercenaries can do the enemy a lot of damage in Iraq.

But a question comes to my mind. Who is funding these Filipino mercenaries? Has the U.S. government declared it their official policy to recruit foreign nationals to “protect” their troops? I smell CIA. Actually, it’s quite funny to hear that U.S. soldiers (said to be the most modern in the world) are in need of protection. Soldiers in need of protection? Don’t they have guns? This is the first time I heard of such a thing.

I surmise that the Filipinos are being used for outer perimeter defense or “pambala sa kanyon” (cannon fodder) in Iraq. Securing and maintaining control over a large country like Iraq requires a huge occupation army. The Americans must be finding it hard to secure the entire Iraqi territory with the limited number of U.S. ground forces personnel deployed there. President Bush must be finding it hard to convince Congress to send more troops to Iraq in lieu of the rising body-count of dead American G.I.s. Iraq is becoming too costly politically for the Republicans, that is why they are resorting to more “imaginative” ways of procuring troops for their dirty, oily war in Iraq.

I remember back when the CPP/NPA was still at its peak, our own Armed Forces adopted a similar doctrine to contain communist penetration of the countryside by forming paramilitary forces (CHDF and CAFGU). The AFP deployed the CHDF and CAFGU as a local militia in the remote countryside villages to act as their “early warning device.” Without a doubt, the CHDF/CAFGUs were very effective in containing the NPA and their armed presence prevented many hamlets from being infiltrated by Communist cadres. Unfortunately, the human rights record of these paramilitary groups were atrocious, so much so that the AFP were forced to collapse them.

So, how should we look upon these Filipino mercenaries? I’ve carefully considered this question and have come to this conclusion: I say, leave them be. Let them work as mercenaries and earn for their families. I hate to say it but I have developed this perverse view that it is better for Filipinos to be known as adventurers-for-hire and ferocious mercenaries rather than as pliant domestic helpers and meek caregivers. Having seen so many of our OFWs maltreated, raped and killed by foreigners, I somehow feel pleased to learn that some of our OFWs are “wolves” and not all, after all, are sheep.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Why I Think Cha-Cha Will Succeed

I believe that Speaker Joe de Venecia’s efforts to amend the 1987 Constitution will eventually succeed for two reasons. One, the "sweeteners" being offered to politicians are too enticing even for the most rabid opposition leaders to resist. Consider the following "sweeteners" being dangled to them:

1. Automatic term extensions for all incumbent officials.
This means no elections in 2007. All elected officials get to
stay at their current posts in an interim manner until a new
Charter is enacted. This administration proposal is quite ironic
because it will benefit opposition leaders like Senator Franklin
Drilon and Congressman Rolex Suplico who are both on their last
terms and are finding that Iloilo is currently too crowded for
2. No term limits. Under the new Constitution being
proposed, term limits will no longer be in force which would
allow politicians (at least theoretically) to occupy a public
office for life.
3. 5-year tenures for all elective posts. This proposal to
increase tenures for all posts from 3 years to 5 years is very
popular among politicians. Local officials often complain that 3
years is too short a time to implement programs. And elections
also are becoming too expensive that one needs a little more time
to "prepare" for it.

These three "sweeteners" have convinced majority of our congressmen, governors and mayors to support Charter Change irregardless of their party affiliations. On the other side are the few senators and some leftist party-list groups who are opposing efforts to tinker with our present Constitution simply because it seeks to abolish their institutional existence. Cha Cha therefore is merely a battle of conflicting self-interests. And in this type of battle, the one with the most number of supporters wins.

Secondly, majority of our people just do not care anymore. The middle-class would rather concentrate on their own businesses or jobs rather than join protest rallies against Cha Cha. The masa, as usual, have no opinion on the matter and are preoccupied with their day-to-day existence. Sure there are surveys and studies pointing out that the people do not want Charter Change but administration political operators are confident that they could influence public opinion towards supporting their goal. Sigaw ng Bayan hacks are even proclaiming that they have the requisite number of signatures already. Hell, they were able to pull off a GMA victory over the immensely popular FPJ. They will be able to pull this one off with their eyes closed.

The only reason Cha Cha is not progressing as it should is the mixed signals coming from Malacañang and the Supreme Court decision finding a People’s Initiative illegal because of the absence of an enabling law. GMA’s support for Cha Cha can be best described as "sala sa init, sala sa lamig." No one knows for sure what is going on in her mind and pundits are currently puzzled on why the "People’s Initiative" initiative is once again being revived. Administration legal scholars have also yet to provide a plausible strategy on how to get around the Supreme Court ruling. One solution is for Congress to enact the enabling law but this would take time. It may not also pass muster in the Senate.
But once those two obstacles are done away with, you can be sure that we will have a new Constitution by Christmas next year.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Why I Think GMA Will Not Be Ousted

I campaigned for Senator Raul Roco in the last 2004 elections. No, “campaign” may not be the appropriate word lest some of you might think I was just some avid political fan who distributed a few of his stickers and posters to relatives and friends. Far from that, I was Roco’s over-all political campaign coordinator for Western Visayas. I was the guy who planned his itinerary, formulated strategy and coordinated all provincial sorties with local supporters in Region 6. I knew the man intimately having worked for him for almost 7 years. He was my very first boss right after I graduated from Ateneo de Manila University and everything I know about politics I learned from him.

So you might be wondering why a die-hard Roco partisan like me would say that efforts to oust GMA will fail?

The last 2004 elections taught me one hard lesson about electoral politics in the Philippines: voters expect candidates to have the capacity to “protect” their votes and to even cheat a little. I remember that during the early part of our campaign when Roco was still ahead in the surveys, GMA political operators hit us with several negative issues. First, they fabricated a corruption case against Roco alleging that he spent DepEd money for his posters, hired helicopters to ferry him to his school visits, etc. It didn’t stick. Then they attacked his character, claiming that he was a wife-beater. People didn’t believe that either.

Out of all the things they hurled us, what really hurt our campaign the most was this propaganda: “Sayang lang ang boto niyo kay Roco dahil dadayain lang siya.” And they polished it with a question: “Gusto niyo ba manalo si FPJ?” Our campaign guys were hard-pressed to come up with an effective “campaign trail” answer to this. The strongest reply that we could muster was: “Sila na nga ang mandadaya, ipinagmamalaki pa nila” and we would go off to point out how rotten our electoral system has become that cheaters brag about it in public and even make political capital out of it. The public didn’t totally buy this “ipinagmamalaki pa” pitch and towards the latter part of the official campaign period, we knew we have lost the “tactical initiative.” Even before Roco announced to media that he was leaving for the U.S. to have his prostate cancer treated, we knew we already lost the presidency.

Roco lost because he was seen by the middle-class as too idealistic, a politician who would never agree to cheating just to defeat FPJ. Roco’s inability to “protect” his votes and unwillingness to “cheat” was seen as a weakness and did him in with the voters, not his prostrate cancer. And mind you, it is not as if our camp lacked people who were willing and capable of manipulating election results. It was Roco’s personal decision and strict insistence to run on a “Platform of Hope” that stopped us his operators from conducting “special operations” on election day.

When the Garci tapes came out, I knew right there and then that it was not enough to topple GMA. Hell, the middle-class (tacitly) wanted her to cheat, spend government resources and do just about everything to prevent another moviestar from “ruining” this country. I know that deep in their heart of hearts, the middle-class "approved" of her actions during the elections and are willing to "forgive" her lapses in judgement. They chose GMA as the lesser evil over Roco who was more qualified and principled mainly because she was willing to do everything to stop FPJ from occupying the Palace.

So to those who are wondering why the middle-class, the traditional “enablers” of People Power, have not come out in droves to oust GMA I have this bit of news for you: the middle-class will not oust her because they have a sense of “authorship” or “collective ownership” of GMA.

I don’t feel any empathy for Dinky Soliman when she spent a night in a police precinct because she, together with Secretaries Emy Boncodin, Pat Sto. Tomas and Vicky Garchitorena, promised to join Roco’s camp but were prevailed upon by Malacañang not to do so. I am gleeful that Satur Ocampo and his ilk are now facing charges for rebellion because they too preferred to support Gloria in 2004. Buti nga sa inyo! Neither am I sympathetic to Senator Franklin Drilon who was supposed to be Roco’s Vice Presidential running-mate but backed out at the last moment when he saw Noli de Castro file his certificate of candidacy nor to Butch Abad and the rest of his so-called “progressive” Liberal Party bloc. I saw his book which was co-authored by Congressman Neric Acosta on sale at National Bookstore about “reforming electoral politics in the Philippines” and I laughed. They knew Roco was the most qualified candidate (they themselves said it) but didn’t have the guts to stand by their convictions. (In fact, their book is what triggered this rant.)

So to those who are now still actively advocating GMA’s ouster, I have only this thing to say to all of you: YOU SHOULD HAVE SUPPORTED RAUL ROCO BACK IN 2004. Your efforts will not succeed because the middle-class and the masa are tired of your political games. I know that most of you thought that Roco was “un-controllable” and too independent-minded that’s why you shifted your allegiance to some other “influentiable” candidate. Look where it has led you – a possible jail sentence.

For my part, I have pledged not to join another EDSA uprising if it will be led by the same old faces. The only way I would probably consider joining another EDSA is if all those so-called “leaders” involved in it will sign a manifesto to leave government service should the revolt succeed. This is my challenge to all those politicians advocating change.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Papa Isio: “The Lion of Kanlaon”

Papa Isio was the leader of a religious-military sect who waged one of the longest rebellions against our foreign colonizers in Negros. Papa Isio was so popular with the peasantry that it took authorities 8 years to put down his uprising. From 1896 up to 1907, Papa Isio inspired so much fear among hacienderos that the American-led Commonwealth government had to deploy one infantry regiment in Negros island to go after his group.

Legend has it that Papa Isio, whose real name was Dionisio Sigobela, was an ordinary plantation worker who murdered his cruel Spanish haciendero in southern Negros. Fearing prosecution, he fled the hacienda and hid at Mount Kanlaon where he founded his own religion and eventually proclaimed himself “pope.” His brand of religion combined Christian themes with ancient Filipino religious practices (animism). He also espoused a fervent type of nationalism (he wanted to drive away all foreigners from the island) and a radical approach to land reform (he wanted to redistribute land to landless peasants). His political and religious ideologies became very popular among the masses and in no time, Papa Isio (or "Pope" Isio) had attracted a huge army of religious fanatics (the babaylanes) from among the disaffected hacienda workers in the island. It may have also helped that he distributed anting-antings (amulets) to his followers to protect them from bullets.

From his mountain stronghold in Mt. Kanlaon, Papa Isio and his band of babaylanes waged a "scorched earth" guerilla campaign in Negros, burning Spanish-owned sugarcane fields and raiding town centers. In what is now known as the Babaylanes Insurrection of Negros, Papa Isio’s uprising did much to weaken Spanish control of Negros and complemented the various Katipunan-led insurrections in Luzon at that time. By 1898, it became clear that the Spaniards cannot effectively govern their colony anymore.

In late October of 1898, Papa Isio forged an alliance with wealthy Filipino hacienderos to drive out the Spaniards from Negros. He gathered all his followers at the foot of Mt. Kanlaon and proceeded towards the provincial capital of Bacolod City. There they linked up with Filipino troops commanded by Aniceto Lacson and General Juan Araneta to lay siege to the Spanish troops in the city. On November 6, 1898, the Spanish provincial government formally surrendered and thereafter, on November 27, 1898, Filipino revolutionary leaders declared independence and formed the "Federal Republic of Negros." Aniceto Lacson was elected its first President and Papa Isio was bestowed the honorary title “Military Chief of La Castellana.”

But three months after declaring independence, the elite-dominated Federal Republic of Negros pledged their allegiance to America thus becoming the first province of the Philippines to do so. Upon learning this, Papa lsio withdrew his allegiance from the “Negros Republic” and resumed his guerilla warfare against a new and more powerful enemy; the American military forces. In the course of several months, the babaylanes again razed several haciendas and instigated peasant uprisings in several towns in Southern Negros . To protect their businesses, hacienderos decided to pool their resources to form an armed militia (or private army) and requested that a regiment of American infantry be dispatched to the island to catch the “bandits.”

Despite all these plus the P2,000 price on his head (which was quite a sum in those days), authorities could not capture the elusive peasant leader. It was only on August 6, 1907 when Papa Isio, now a sickly old man, surrendered to an American military officer. After a quick trial, he was given the death sentence which was later commuted to life imprisonment. Dionisio Sigobela, the "Lion of Kanlaon," died in New Bilibid Prison, Manila in 1911.

Today, you can find no monument anywhere in Negros honoring Papa Isio. The Bago City government recently created the Babaylan Festival which is held annually on February 19 but it is not about honoring Papa Isio. Present-day Negrenses cannot seem to decide whether he was a hero or a heel. Some people see him as a dangerous (or loony) cult leader who engaged in banditry and idolatry while others view him as a genuine patriot whose political beliefs were too advanced for his time. Historians also tend to belittle his contributions towards our nationhood. But whatever historians think of him, it is quite clear that Papa Isio’s radical ideas on religion and agrarian reform enjoyed immense popularity among the masses. On my part, I believe that Papa Isio should be given the honor that he deserves for espousing an alternative, more “nationalistic” vision of Negrense society. If his revolution had succeeded, he would have created a more egalitarian society in Negros wherein the chasm between rich and poor would not be too wide.
(Mt. Kanlaon is again active and spewing smoke according to news reports. Two other Philippine volcanoes are currently rumbling, Mt. Mayon in Albay and Mt. Bulusan in Sorsogon. Alert levels have been raised in these provinces.... read story.. )

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Urbanidad - A Mark of Good Breeding

Back when I was little, I remember dreading visiting the house of a grand-aunt who was a strict disciplinarian. My grand-aunt, Rosario Mendoza Valdes, was chief of the Philippine National Red Cross in Bacolod City at that time and since she had no children and grandchildren of her own, she treated us as her own apos. My earliest childhood memories were of visits to her sprawling old house near Lacson Street in Bacolod City for Sunday lunches. Weekend lunches with her were splendid, leisurely affairs complete with fine chinaware, linen, silverware and muchachas shooing pesky flies with a kind of paypay (a stick with shredded newspapers on one end).

Despite all that, I loathed going to her house because she was very strict about table manners. I also hated it when she would come to stay at our house for a couple of days. Lunch with her was like eating at the Philippine Military Academy: do not put your feet up your chair, do not put your elbows on the table, do not slouch, chew your food slowly, etc. I still remember how angry she looked when I appeared at the table without a shirt on. One time, I accidentally banged the door making a loud noise while entering her room. She punished me by making me go in and out of the door repeatedly until I learned to shut the door quietly. She loved to correct everything; from my posture, manner of speaking to my style of dressing. She also caused a lot of consternation to my other relatives because she loved to correct and “meddle” in how they ran their households. Looking back, it is only now that I understand what my departed grand-aunt was trying to do, which was to teach her apo and relatives “urbanidad.”

Urbanidad is basically an unwritten code for proper decorum, sort of like a “good manners and right conduct for city-dwellers." For example, if you hang your laundry (panties and all) in your front lawn, that’s “walang urbanidad” because you cause an eyesore in your community. If you turn on your stereo full-blast at 11:00 pm waking up all your neighbors, that’s “walang urbanidad.” If you don’t take care of your personal hygiene and have body odor causing discomfort to anyone near you, that’s “walang urbanidad.”

Standards of urbanidad change thru the years. For example, wearing a ‘spaghetti’ dress during mass is now acceptable while a century ago it would cause a girl to be excommunicated by the Church. And as the “Filipino eating habit” controversy in Canada has shown, standards vary depending on the country and the culture. Eating with a spoon and fork is considered normal practice here but apparently not in Canada. But regardless of time and place, one rule is constant: urbanidad demands that you respect yourself (i.e. the way you carry and take care of yourself) and respect others (i.e. being considerate of other people's feelings and sensibilities). It means being sophisticated in your outlook and tolerant of people who look different than you.

Our Ilonggo forefathers practiced urbanidad to lessen the aggravation and misunderstandings that tend to happen when so many people live in one small area, like in a city. Try to examine all the petty neighborhood spats in your locality and you will discover that it is most likely due to the lack of urbanidad by one or both quarreling parties. If only everyone practice urbanidad, then our city would be a pleasant place to live in.

Ilonggos in the past consciously observed urbanidad. Urbanidad was viewed then not as snobbery but a sign of good breeding and it was practiced by rich and poor alike. In those days, Negros hacienderos would send their children to Iloilo City not only to obtain an education but also to acquire urbanidad. According to my lola, you can tell just by looking at a person if he has urbanidad by the way he dressed, carried himself and dealt with others. It used to be that one of the greatest insults you can hurl someone is by telling him “wala ka urbanidad.” Today, it is seldom you hear people use the phrase. The term commonly used nowadays is, “daw taga-uma ka.”

Sunday, June 11, 2006

An Independence Day Tribute

Tomorrow is Independence Day and I have decided to write a tribute to our national heroes, most especially to Graciano Lopez-Jaena, the only Ilonggo to have been declared a national hero. Although much has already been written about him, I feel that now is a good time to examine what lessons we can learn from this extraordinary man.

Born to poor parents, Graciano at an early age showed signs of exceptional intelligence and consistently excelled in school. But even when he was still young, Lopez-Jaena already displayed a rebellious and irreverent streak. This was manifested in 1874 when, at barely 18 years old, Graciano wrote “Fray Botod,” a satirical story about the fat and abusive friar of Jaro. Because of “Fray Botod” and his other subsequent run-ins with abusive Spaniards, the young Graciano was “blacklisted” by Spanish authorities as a “filibuster.” To prevent further trouble with authorities, his wealthy relatives in Jaro agreed to finance his medical studies abroad and young Graciano departed the Philippines for Spain in 1880.

One cannot write about Graciano Lopez Jaena without talking about Jose Rizal and Marcelo H. del Pilar much like one cannot imagine Athos without Porthos and Aramis. The three were the pillars of the Propaganda Movement in Spain. All three possessed exceptional qualities that distinguished them from their peers – equally talented, intellectually gifted, very patriotic and extremely ambitious. And like the Three Musketeers, each particularly excelled in one craft. Of the three, Jose Rizal was the finest writer because his two novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, inspired the people to revolt against Spain. Marcelo del Pilar was the better propagandist or PR man because, unlike Rizal and Lopez Jaena who both wrote in Spanish, he wrote in Tagalog which was better understood by the hoi polloi. But when it comes to public speaking, no one comes close to Graciano Lopez Jaena.

Graciano may not have been the most fastidious of writers but his oratory skills were legendary. Lopez Jaena was a very powerful, charismatic speaker and it is said that when he spoke about the injustices perpetuated by the Spaniards in the Philippines, his audience would almost always break into tears (including the Spaniards in the audience). Wanting to study and emulate his oratorical style, Jose Rizal once transcribed verbatim one of Graciano’s speeches and found it full of grammatical errors, awkward sentences, etc. Rizal concluded that Lopez-Jaena moves crowds not with elegant words but with his sincerity, his courage and his passion for his country. If he was born today, Graciano would have been the media spokesman of the group and thus would have been more famous than the other two heroes.

Graciano wanted to be the very first Filipino to sit as a member of the Spanish Parliament where he could use his oratorical skills to push for more reforms in the Philippines. But in the end, their lobbying efforts to put a Filipino in the Spanish Parliament ended in failure. The Propaganda Movement disintegrated when financial funding from home dried up and La Solidaridad, the newspaper Graciano founded, had to be collapsed due to lack of funds. Matters became worse when Rizal and del Pilar split over a petty misunderstanding. Giving up, Rizal went back to the Philippines to write his two novels while del Pilar and Lopez-Jaena decided to stay on to continue the fight in Spain.

It is interesting to note that Rizal, del Pilar and Lopez-Jaena all died within the same year: 1896. Graciano was first to die on January 20, del Pilar second on July 4 and Rizal last on December 30. But while Rizal died gloriously in Luneta, del Pilar and Lopez-Jaena both died in some obscure hospital in Spain due to tuberculosis. To this day, Graciano’s remains have not been found and returned to the Philippines because he was buried in an unmarked Barcelona grave.
The deaths of Rizal, del Pilar and Lopez-Jaena marked the end of the Filipinos’ non-violent struggle towards reforms. Soon after their deaths, Andres Bonifacio along with thousands of patriotic Katipuneros rose up in arms against Spain. And the rest, as they say, is history.
(Stateside Ilongga has some interesting photos of the Philippines Independence Day Parade in New York ... here.)

Saturday, June 10, 2006

More on Sunken Capiz "Galleon"

The Philippine Daily Inquirer today has a feature article on the Capiz shipwreck and the Manila Galleon Trade. You can read it here and here. You can also read my blog entry on the same topic which I posted 4 days ago here (Sunken Galleon Discovered Off Capiz Coast).

And if you still couldn't get enough of "Brokeback Mountain," you may also want to check out the interesting article by NEWSBREAK magazine on Filipino transsexuals.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Before Boracay, there was Sicogon

Before Boracay attained international renown, Sicogon island in Iloilo province used to be a favorite destination of tourists. Situated at the north-westernmost part of Panay, Sicogon is part of the Higantes group of islands which is under the territorial jurisdiction of Carles, a small 4th class municipality in Iloilo.

Sicogon used to be popular to tourists for its long stretch of white sand beach, said to be longer than Boracay’s 7-kilometer stretch. It is also known for its lush coral reefs ideal for scuba diving and snorkeling. In fact, the sea surrounding the Sicogon-Higantes island chain is the traditional fishing ground of local fishermen due to its abundant marine life. Unfortunately, unrestricted cyanide and dynamite fishing have done much damage to its once-lush coral reefs. Local environmentalists and cause-oriented groups have been advocating for a “moratorium” to wide-scale commercial fishing in the area to give the marine ecosystem time to regenerate itself. But since people have no other means of livelihood, the proposal has not gained much public support.

Anyway, to get to Sicogon, one can either take public transportation from Iloilo City or rent a van for the 3-hour drive to Carles. Upon arriving in Carles town, one can hire a banca (motorized outrigger canoe) to bring you to Sicogon island. If you are coming from Manila, you can also take the Roxas City route because Carles is more or less equidistant to both Iloilo and Roxas City. All in all, getting to Sicogon would take up half a day and an overnight stay there is bitin. One has to stay at least two days to really explore and enjoy the island. The downside (or the upside depending on what you want) is that facilities at Sicogon are not exactly world-class and tourists must “rough it up” a little. Cottages are just simple nipa hut affairs and there is no plumbing. Sicogon would appeal more to adventurous tourists, backpackers and nature-lovers than city-slickers accustomed to the comforts and amenities of home.

Things were not always this way at Sicogon. In the 1970s up to the early 1980s, Sicogon had a world-class resort which was supposedly visited by Hollywood celebrities and moneyed sun-worshippers from all over the globe. There even used to be a private airstrip and helipad on the island which was built by a Marcos crony. Unfortunately, the resort owner defaulted on his loan and the resort facility is now owned by the Philippine National Bank (PNB). To date, no developer is willing to touch the island because of this huge debt, which is said to run in the hundreds of millions of pesos.

My cousin, Dr. Boy Dumayas, used to be mayor of Carles town and tried to promote Sicogon as an alternative eco-tourism destination in Iloilo. But sadly, he lost his reelection bid (as usual, he was cheated) and the new mayor (a retired military officer) is not exactly an eco-tourism activist and environmentalist, to say the least.

Anyway, there are two other things Sicogon is famous for aside from its white sand beach. One is its giant clams, which can grow up to 4 feet in diameter. You can see these giant clams near the entrances of some old Spanish churches being used as vessels where you dip holy water. Sicogon is also famous for its siyukoy (a merman or a male version of the mermaid). According to local lore, the siyukoy is said to bring bad luck to fishermen and cause excursionists to drown.

But neither the siyukoy nor the inadequate facilities have stopped people from visiting the area. In fact, more and more Ilonggos are rediscovering Sicogon. For years, local residents and knowledgeable foreign tourists have tried to keep the secret to themselves lest Sicogon turn into another Boracay. But with Boracay already saturated, the drumbeat of commercialization is fast approaching the island and Sicogon might not remain in its present pristine state for long.