Monday, July 31, 2006

The Small Steal Small, The Big Steal Big

In the news today are two Ilonggos who have given a human face to graft and corruption in the Philippines. One has achieved not only nationwide but also international media mileage while the other has merited only passing reportage in provincial media outlets. One is involved in a P728 million fund scam which caused tremors that shook the foundations of the Arroyo administration while the other is facing charges of bilking P5,000 from local Iloilo businessmen. I am referring to former DA Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc Joc” Bolante and Electrical Inspector II Ricardo Gumabong of the Iloilo City Engineers Office. Bolante and Gumabong are perfect illustrations of the old adage, "the small steal small while the big steal big."

I believe that most Filipinos have already heard of Joc Joc Bolante and how he allegedly misappropriated the Department of Agriculture’s fertilizer fund amounting to P728 million for the 2004 campaign of President Arroyo. Thus, there is no need for a lengthy discussion of his case here. Bolante's story has been well-covered by Philippine media and has even been the subject of text jokes. And since his recent arrest at the Los Angeles airport, Bolante’s case has now gained international media attention. Joc Joc Bolante, who as an Agriculture Undersecretary and an Arroyo campaign insider, moved in the upper echelons of Philippine bureaucracy. He has become a symbol, a poster boy for the typical "big-time, big-stakes” Filipino crook.

In contrast, only a few Filipinos have heard about Ricardo Gumabong. Although he was frontpage material a few weeks back, Gumabong’s story has been reported only in the local dailies in Western Visayas. A member of City Hall’s “Task Force Boltahe,” Gumabong was caught red-handed extorting money from small business establishments and homeowners in Iloilo City. Originally created by former Iloilo City Mansueto “Mansing” Malabor to go after electricity pilferers in the city, Task Force Boltahe eventually became a cash cow used by unscrupulous City Hall employees to extort money from residents. The group’s modus operandi is simple: catch a residential or business establishment with illegal electric connections and blackmail them into paying a small “fee” for not pursuing pilferage charges against them.

Subsequently, investigators found out that Gumabong is not even a registered master electrician and thus not qualified for his job at the City Engineer’s Office (CEO) Electrical Safety Division. Professional Regulatory Commission (PRC) Records Section Officer Emma Francisco revealed that Gumabong’s scholastic records appear spurious because his name does not appear in the list of board passers to the 1979 Master Electrician licensure exams. The photocopy of Gumabong’s employment records at City Hall show that he took the Master Electrician exams on September 2, 1979 and obtained a general average of 75.5 percent. His records show that his license was issued by then PRC Commissioner Eric Nubla.

While many people may not have heard of Gumabong, most Filipinos are familiar with his type. Gumabong embodies the typical Pinoy petty crook; low-ranking bureaucrats who use their narrow powers and limited discretion to prey on hapless Filipinos. You can find "Gumabongs" in any public office, especially in regulatory and enforcement agencies. And the only reason why the "Gumabongs" of this world thrive is because ordinary Filipinos ordinarily prefer to avoid conflict. Nobody really wants to make a big fuss over a few thousand pesos, especially if it helps "facilitate" things or worse, if one is caught violating a rule.

I am glad that Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas has already stepped into the "Task Force Boltahe" mess, and corruption charges are already being readied against Gumabong. Likewise, I am happy to learn that Bolante is similarly situated and is finally being made to "suffer" for his "crimes." As a Filipino, I feel it is really shameful to see Bolante just touring around the world and having the time of his life while everyone back home is trying to make him account for the fertilizer fund. I think it is also embarrassing that it took American "intervention" to catch Bolante and to effect some measure of "justice" in his case. It makes us Filipinos look like a bunch of immature adults unable to take care of our own affairs. No wonder the Philippines can't get no respect from other nations!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Judy Roxas: Grand Doyen of Ilonggo Politics

Today is the birthday of one of the greatest Ilonggas of our time. I am referring of course to no other that the grand doyen of Philippine politics: Madame Judy Roxas.

Variously described as the “Grand Dame of the Liberal Party,” “Matriarch of the Araneta Clan,” and the wife of Senator Gerry Roxas, Judy Roxas is better known today as the mother of Mr. Palengke Senator Mar Roxas. But lest people think that Mrs. Roxas is merely basking in the reflected glory of the prominent men in her life, let me state that Madam Judy is an accomplished person in her own right.

Born to a wealthy haciendero family from Bago, Negros Occidental, Judy Araneta Roxas is the eldest child of Don Amado and Doña Ester Araneta. Aside from owning vast tracts of sugarcane fields in Negros, the Araneta family also owns Ma-ao Sugar Central and later branched out into real estate development in Metro Manila. Her family owns Araneta Coliseum, the new Gateway Mall in Cubao and the Pizza Hut franchise in the country. Mrs. Roxas studied in Assumption-Manila from elementary thru college, obtaining her Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree in 1954. In 1955, she married Senator Gerardo “Gerry” Roxas and their union produced 3 children; Ria now Mrs. Augusto Ojeda and mother of three, Senator Mar Roxas, and the late Congressman Dinggoy Roxas of Capiz.

In her lifetime, Judy Roxas suffered three catastrophes that would have destroyed lesser mortals. In 1971, while campaigning for Liberal Party senatorial bets, two grenades were lobbed at their miting de avance rally at Plaza Miranda which killed and injured several supporters. A number of Liberal Party stalwarts also suffered serious injuries, including Mrs. Roxas who was hit by a grenade shrapnel in the leg. The Plaza Miranda Bombing of 1971 effectively crushed the presidential ambitions of Gerry Roxas because soon after the incident, President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial rule. So from being a “First Lady-in-waiting,” Judy Roxas became a political pariah as most of their political allies stayed away out of fear of Marcos. More than the physical wounds, the Plaza Miranda incident must have inflicted deeper psychological scars.

The second calamity is the death of Gerry Roxas. He was only in his early 60s when he died. Gerry Roxas died at an age when he should have been at the height of his political powers. Before Martial Law was declared, he was already being touted as a strong contender to succeed President Marcos (together with Senator Ninoy Aquino) who at that time was constitutionally barred from running for a third term. Gerry Roxas and Ninoy Aquino were both opposition giants who suffered much under Marcos. Their only difference was that while Ninoy Aquino died gloriously, dramatically assassinated at the Manila Airport tarmac, Gerry Roxas died quietly in a hospital due to cancer, surrounded by family and close friends, a true patriot to the end. Roxas was assiduously courted by Marcos to support and lend his credibility to his Martial Law regime. A highly principled man, Roxas never wavered and till the end of his days never pledged his allegiance to the dictator.

Shortly after the death of her husband came the untimely demise of her youngest and dearest child, Gerardo “Dinggoy” Roxas. Only in his late 30s, Dinggoy died also of a rare type of cancer. As the namesake and political heir of his father Gerry Roxas, Dinggoy died when he was just starting to make his mark in Philippine politics. As proof of his political charisma, his funeral in Roxas City was attended by one of the biggest crowds in Capiz history. Charming, humble and approachable, Dinggoy Roxas was truly loved by the people.

Despite life’s misfortunes, Judy Roxas remains buoyant and full of life. She could have attained dizzying heights of political power but in her humility preferred to let others get the limelight. It is said that after EDSA1986, she was offered a slot in the administration senatorial ticket by President Cory Aquino. As the widow of Senator Gerry Roxas and backed by her family’s tremendous resources, she would have been a shoo-in for the Senate. But she declined, preferring to just quietly work towards the good of her countrymen. And there, I think, lies the true measure of her greatness.

Judy Roxas, even at her advanced age, continues to chair the Gerry Roxas Foundation. Established in 1958, the Foundation has already helped 56,000 outstanding high school graduates nationwide and assisted 1,200 scholars get a college degree. She is also Senior Vice President of Progressive Development Corporation, the Araneta family firm which administers their myriad business interests. She is also active in Liberal Party affairs, helping young and aspiring politicians get elected to important government posts. Ask any governor, mayor or just any "old school" Ilonggo politician and chances are he will tell you that he owes his first "break" in politics to this lady. Ask any outstanding student leader, journalist, business leader or government executive and chances are they will tell you that they were once a GRF (Gerry Roxas Foundation) awardee and scholar. Without people even knowing it, Judy Roxas has touched countless lives, never asking for something in return.

In recognition of her humble service and humanity, Judy Roxas was personally bestowed the Papal Award in 1987 by no less than Pope John Paul II. The Papal Award is one of the highest honors a Catholic can hope to get from the Vatican. The late Jaime Cardinal Sin also gave her this accolade: “Judy Roxas has remained a woman of great faith working with and treating other people with a soul of consideration and gentleness even when tragedy touched her life.”

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Puppy-Naming Contest

About two months ago, my dachshund Jackie gave birth to this cute fellow here. Since we still could not come up with a good name for the puppy, I thought of soliciting suitable names from fellow bloggers. The puppy is male and is just beginning to learn to walk. He is a product of an incestuous relationship between Jackie and Bruno (who are brother and sister). We initially thought Bruno could not impregnate Jackie because he only has one scrotum (a birth defect). Now we learned our lesson: a dog with only one ball is still deadly.

For more pictures of my dachshunds, please visit My Photos at the sidebar.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Fitch Ratings: "RP May Lose Credit Standing Due to SONA Projects"

Fitch Ratings, Inc., a respected international credit rating agency, has warned of a possible credit rating downgrade for the Philippines if the Arroyo government would resort to additional borrowings to fund its big-ticket infrastructure projects mentioned in the SONA. According to James McCormack, Director of Fitch's Sovereign Ratings Unit, the Philippine government has to generate more revenues locally to fund its planned "spending spree" otherwise it would face a deterioration in its credit standing. Moody's Investors Service, for its part, emphasized that aside from generating more revenues locally, the Arroyo administration has to maintain political stability in order to maintain its current credit standing. Read the Manila Times article here.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Boy Cuadra is Guilty

Finally, the reputed drug lord of Western Visayas has been found guilty of drug trafficking and was sentenced to life imprisonment plus a P500,000 fine by Judge Niovady Marin of RTC Aklan. Immediately after the sentencing, police authorities whisked Boy Cuadra to the Kalibo airport to take him to the National Penitentiary in Muntinlupa. Local authorities hail his conviction as an important victory in the war against illegal drugs in the region. According to the police, Cuadra’s operations covered Negros Occidental, Bacolod City, Kalibo, Aklan and Boracay Island.

On April 22, 2003, Cuadra was arrested by the Caticlan aviation security while about to transport 11.33 grams of shabu to Bacolod City on a chartered plane. Prior to his arrest in Caticlan, Cuadra had four pending cases, two for illegal drugs possession and the other two for illegal possession of firearms.

There is another interesting side story in this “made-for-movie” court drama. Even while he was in jail pending resolution of his drug case, Boy Cuadra’s name was dragged into the so-called “Kalibo Ati-Atihan Massacre” about two years ago. PO1 Jonathan Moreño, who incidentally was one of Cuadra’s arresting officers at the Caticlan airport, ran amuck during the Ati-Atihan Festival and fired his M16 rifle into a crowd of merrymakers killing five civilians and two of the highest ranking cops in Aklan, PNP Provincial chief Odelardo Magallanes and Kalibo PNP head Manuel Elijay. As the principal witness in the Cuadra case, PO1 Moreño was said to be under heavy pressure by his peers to “give up” the case. Subsequent investigations showed that Moreño run amuck because he suspected that fellow officers were planning to kill him for not “cooperating” in the case. Moreño's suspicions turned into reality when responding police officers shot him dead to prevent him from further harming to the public.

Although the courts took three years to try the case, I am glad to know that there has been a closure to the Boy Cuadra saga. I only hope that this will be the last time the public will be hear ing from this hooligan who has already caused so much suffering and damage to society.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Onli in da Pilipins

I came across this very funny article in the Far Eastern Economic Review by Nury Vittachi---

THERE'S A SIGN ON Congressional Avenue in Manila that says: "Parking for Costumers Only." This may be a misspelling of "customer." But the Philippine capital is so full of theatrical, brightly dressed individuals that I prefer to think it may actually mean what it says. This week, we'll take a reading tour of one of the most spirited communities in Asia. The Philippines is full of wordplay . The local accent, in which F and P are fairly interchangeable, is often used very cleverly, such as at the flower shop in Diliman called Petal Attraction. Much of the wordplay in the Philippines is deliberate, with retailers favouring witty names, often based on Western celebrities and movies.

Reader Elgar Esteban found a bread shop called Anita Bakery, a 24-hour restaurant called Doris Day and Night, a garment shop called Elizabeth Tailoring and a hairdresser called Felix The Cut.
Smart travellers can decipher initially baffling signs by simply trying out a Taglish (Tagalog-English) accent, such as that used on a sign at a restaurant in Cebu: "We Hab Sop-Drink In Can An In Batol." A sewing accessories shop called Beads And Pieces also makes use of the local accent.

Of course, there are also many signs with oddly chosen words, but they are usually so entertaining that it would be a tragedy to "correct" them. A reader named Antonio "Tonyboy" Ramon T. Ongsiako (now there's a truly Filipino name) found the following: In a restaurant in Baguio: "Wanted: Boy Waitress;" on a highway in Pampanga: "We Make Modern Antique Furniture;" on the window of a photography shop in Cabanatuan: "We Shoot You While You Wait;" on the glass wall of an eatery in Panay Avenue in Manila: "Wanted: Waiter, Cashier, Washier."

Some of the notices one sees are thought-provoking. A shoe store in Pangasinan has a sign saying: "We Sell Imported Robber Shoes." Could these be the sneakiest sort of sneakers? On a house in Jaro, Iloilo , one finds a sign saying: "House For Rent, Fully Furnaced." Tonyboy commented, "Boy, it must be hot in there." Occasionally, the signs are quite poignant. Reader Gunilla Edlund saw one at a ferry pier outside Davao, southern Philippines, which said: "Adults: 1USD; Child: 50 cents; Cadavers: subject to negotiation."

But most are purely witty, and display a love of Americana. Reader Robert Harland spotted a bakery named Bread Pitt, a Makati fast-food place selling maruya (banana fritters) called Maruya Carey, a water-engineering firm called Christopher Plumbing, a boutique called The Way We Wear, a video rental shop called Leon King Video Rental, a restaurant in the Cainta district of Rizal called Caintacky Fried Chicken, a local burger restaurant called Mang Donald's, a doughnut shop called MacDonuts, a shop selling lumpia (meat parcels) in Makati called Wrap and Roll, and two butchers called Meating Place and Po. People in the Philippines also redesign English to be more efficient. "The creative confusion between language and culture leads
to more than just simple unintentional errors in syntax, but in the adoption of new words," says reader Rob Goodfellow. He came across a sign that said "House Fersallarend." Why use five words (house for sale or rent) when two will do?

Tonyboy Ongsiako explains why there was so much wit in the Philippines. "We come from a country where you require a sense of humour to survive," he says. "We have a 24-hour comedy show here called the government and a huge reserve of comedians made up mostly of politicians and bad actors."

Time is the best teacher. Unfortunately, it kills all its students.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

SONA Bonanza!

Since everyone in blogosphere is talking about the SONA, I am sharing my impression of President Arroyo's speech yesterday.

What actually struck me most was the President's claim that the government now has money to spend on infrastructure projects, especially when only a couple of years ago she announced that the country was in a fiscal crisis. According to the "2006 SONA Technical Report" prepared by the Presidential Management Staff, the Philippine government has increased its revenue collections and balanced the budget this year. It cited the following figures to support their claim:

1. P31.5 billion fiscal deficit from January to June 2006, P58.9 billion below target ceiling of P90.4 billion for the 1st semester 2006;

2. P471.1 billion revenues for the first 6 months of 2006, up by 21.1% from P389.4 billion collected last year; and,

3. Expenditures of P502.6 billion from January to June 2006 is P43.9 billion below the P546.41 billion ceiling for the first semester of the year.

I suspect that this fact (that government now has money for projects) caused the most excitement among the public officials who attended the SONA, especially with elections coming next year. For my part, I am excited most with the fact that Western Visayas will be made into a "Tourism Corridor" what with Boracay and most of the most beautiful white sand beaches located there. Tourism Secretary Ace Durano is also doing a good job at DOT what with tourist arrivals in the Philippines increasing by 10% annually, most of them visiting the Visayas region. Tourism-related businesses like resorts, restaurants, spas, etc. have never had it so good here.

Monday, July 24, 2006

It's Official: STL to Operate in Iloilo City

The Iloilo City Council has approved a resolution allowing the operation of Small Town Lottery here. The only problem now is who among the two corporations that have filed an application with the city government, the Iloilo Small Town Lottery and Gaming Corp. (ISTLGC) or the Green Diamond Multi-Ventures Corp, will be granted the franchise by PCSO. Based on PCSO rules, only one group can operate STL in a certain area.

Bacolod Drag Race Tragedy. Negros Occidental Board Member Lorenzo Suatengco is in critical condition after figuring in a serious car accident. Eyewitnesses claim they saw Suatengco, who was drag racing along Lacson Street, hit Augusto de Leon, a local teacher, killing him instantly. Three other persons were injured. Suatengco, who is only 19 years old, is the current Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) youth sector representative at the provincial board.

Also last week, the Iloilo Economic Development Foundation was formed by prominent civic-minded Ilonggos to promote Iloilo as a viable tourism and investor destination. Businessman Alfonso Uygongco was elected chairman while Ortigas Center executive Rex Drilon was chosen as its first President.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Philippine SME Success Stories (Part 3)


Barely three months after returning to the country in 1994, overseas seafarer and BS Marine Transportation graduate Hermogenes Comahig decided it was high time to stay put and be productive in his homeland.

Armed with the basic welding skills acquired as a seafarer, Comahig put up a welding, steel works, and metal crafts shop he named "Hermes Metal" in Tagbilaran City, Bohol to serve the needs of the construction industry of the city. The firm started with an initial capital of P150,000 plus a single welding machine, a push drill, two bench vises, one welder and one helper.

While it started small, the company soon earned the trust and confidence of more and more clients in Bohol and the neighboring provinces. Swamped with orders coming from as far as Mindanao, Comahig availed of a P1.3 million credit line under the SULONG program. The infusion of additional working capital enabled Hermes Metal to increase the efficiency of its operations though advanced technologies and new equipment.

Today, the firm has doubled its production of materials such as steel gates, steel windows, furniture, railings, and steel trusses, and other products requiring metal craftsmanship. Hermes Metal has also benefited from the rapid urbanization of Tagbilaran City and the mushrooming of residential and commercial establishments.

Like most entrepreneurs, Comahig is proud that he has been able to help a number of his town mates through his metal shop. "Providing jobs to my workers gives me a sense of fulfillment. And it's not just about the wages I give them. When they leave this shop, I know they have learned something valuable about metal craft which they can use in the future," he notes. Today, Hermes Metal employs 14 skilled workers, with the number swelling to around 24 during peak seasons.

Showing concern not just for his firm but for the metal industry in the province, Comahig has organized the Bohol Association of Metal Industries (BAMI). BAMI aims to uplift the quality of metal works of its members, as well as promote the sustainability of the metal industry in the province.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Philippine SME Success Stories (Part 2)

Aklan's Boneless Bangus
Spouses Roberto and Reva Grace Sazon started making and selling plain and smoked boneless bangus (milkfish) in June 2000. It instantly gained wide market acceptance in Aklan because of its distinct flavor and taste. Soon, the demand for their boneless bangus increased not only in Aklan but also among distributors in other provinces and in Metro Manila.

When competition among producers of boneless bangus became tight, Mr. Sazon concocted non-traditional marinates to set their product apart. He then invited his family and friends for a taste test of the new flavors.

After getting positive feedback from them, he sold his produce in the local market which became popular among consumers for its unique taste and flavor. Their boneless bangus now comes in honey, barbeque, lemon grass, garlic, calamansi and vinegar flavors. Later, they introduced other preparations in response to other consumer demands like embutidong bangus, spicy flavored bangus, baby split deboned bangus, choiced cuts bangus and bangus belly.

The Sazons are now the proud owners of Aklan's Boneless Bangus - producer of quality and clean bangus which strictly complies with recognized standard for Good Manufaturing Practices and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point.

At present, the Sazons manage their highly sanitized, well-equipped and organized plant with 45 skilled workers and office staff. They also employ regular workers for their fishpond which supplies milkfish.

Aklan's Boneless Bangus currently produces hundreds of tons of bangus products sold in its outlets in Iloilo and in Metro Manila. It also regularly supplies bangus to big clients like Red Ribbon, Chowking, Max's, SM Supermarkets, Gaisano Group of Companies and Macro Asia to name a few. Their products are also being exported to the US, norway, Japan, Canada and UK.


Friday, July 21, 2006

Philippine SME Success Stories

Since July 19 to 23 has been declared "SME SULONG Week" by the government, I will be featuring several SME success stories to hopefully inspire Filipinos to also start their own small businesses. The following stories are to be found in the "SULONG Makes Enterprises Grow" souvenir program that was handed out during the SME Week opening ceremonies.

Nueva Vizcaya

Guillermo Peros, Jr. and Jenet Felipe Peros, both architects and sculptors of wood and clay, began their business primarily as a hobby. However, their love for art and nature, and the desire to keep traditions alive, transformed this hobby into a serious business.

Their creations, which include jars, candleholders, masks, plates, bowls, indoor fountains, garden accessories and art pieces received enthusiastic response from buyers at the very first trade fair they joined, the 2001 Pagayaya Festival, initiated and coordinated by the DTI. They were further encouraged when they joined the Congressional Spouses Foundation Trade Fair where they received "The Most Original Booth" award.

Alsong Potteries's participation in the Panagyaman 2003 (Nueva Vizcaya Provincial Trade Fair) in Boyombong, Nueva Vizcaya brought in P40,000 in cash sales. It took part in the 2003 National Trade Fair where it drew nationwide promotion, exposure, and acceptance. They were featured in Channel 2 and Studio 23 and in both local and national newspapers. All these helped in generating P84,670 cash sales during the fair, plus a hefty P171,275 post-fair sales from five buyers. Their regular buyers now include Tatak Pilipino, Carca International, Porwasa Sirinupongs. They also receive orders from specialty stores, antique shops, art galleries and boutiques.

Its most recent client is the coffee shop in one of the best known hotels in Nueva Vizcaya, the Saber Inn Hotel and Restaurant. A clear mark of distinction is the firm's inclusion in the Nueva Vizcaya Product Catalogue.

Aside from the marketing boost it got from the trade fairs, Alsong Potteries received support from various government agencies. Also, it was able to access loan from Small Business Corporation in the amount of P2 million. Peros also staged a week-long one-man show and exhibit at the Nueva Vizcaya Provincial Museum with the help of the local government unit. It was also referred to the Municipal Government for possible registration as BMBE client.

All this led to assets growth from P300,000 to P1.6 million; rise in average monthly sales from P10,000 to P60,000; increase of production capacity from 30% to 50% with the help of eight full-time workers (from six full-time workers) plus one group sub-contractor.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

SME Week

I recall that during the 1970s, the buzzword of international funding organizations was "cooperatives" and most of the foreign-aid dollars coming into the country was alloted for the formation of electric cooperatives, farmers cooperatives, etc. In the 1980s, the new catchword then was "NGOs" (or non-governmental organizations) and most of the international money that poured into the country in the aftermath of the tremendous "goodwill" generated by the 1986 EDSA People Power went into NGO "capability building," trainings and seminars. Today, the favorite catchphrase of international donor institutions seem to be "SMEs" or Small and Medium Enterprises.

In the past few years, international donor organizations like the ADB, USAID, AusAID, JICA, KFW and UN (IFOD) have been sourcing money to fund the development of Filipino SMEs. This is so because in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, America resolved to defeat terrorism by eradicating poverty in Third World countries since, as their theory goes, it is in these poverty-stricken communities where terrorists get their recruits. And one way to defeat poverty is by giving people sources of income and access to credit. If poor people are preoccupied with making money for themselves, then they will not be able to think of doing "shitty" things (to paraphrase President Bush). And if Filipinos are making enough money in their country, then they don't have to seek work in other countries.

The Arroyo administration has benefited politically from this foreign funding and has since translated it into government programs. One such program is "SULONG" which stands for SME Unified Lending Opportunities for National Growth. July 19 to 23 has been declared by Malacañang as SMED 'SULONG' Week and President Arroyo will lead its opening ceremonies scheduled today at the Market! Market! mall in The Fort.

Now on its third year, SULONG is the brainchild of then-DTI Secretary Mar Roxas. His idea was to improve credit access to SMEs and combining the financial resources of 7 GFIs (Government Financial Institutions) for a "unified" SME lending scheme. The 7 participating GFIs are the following: Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP), Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), Philippine Export-Import Credit Agency (PhilExim), Social Security System (SSS), Quedan and Rural Credit Guarantee Corporation (QUEDANCOR), National Livelihood Support Fund (NLSF) and Small Business Guarantee and Finance Corporation (Small Business Corp.).

The over-all goal of SULONG is to release P72 billion in loans to SMEs over a three-year period (2003-2005) in the hope that by improving their access to credit, Filipino SMEs will grow into large enterprises. According to incumbent DTI Secretary Favila, they have surpassed their three-year goal; in 2003, P26.765 billion was released, in 2004 P27,050 billion and for the January-October 2005 period, over P25 billion in SME loans were already released or roughly P78 billion in all.

It is my hope that all these money being released to individual Filipino entrepreneurs will truly result in economic development and jobs for our people. SME development is truly our last best hope. We have already squandered billions of foreign-aid dollars by allocating it to the thousands of NGOs and cooperatives that sprouted in the 1970s and 1980s. Today, only a few hundred continue to exist. We have already seen that most group endeavors (like cooperatives and NGOs) fail because of the human factor (i.e. mismanagement, jealousy and distrust among members, etc.). Maybe this time around, if we give the money to individual enterprising Filipinos (who only have personal profit in mind), then the chances of success of SMEs might be better.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Bush & Blair Caught on CNN "Candid Camera"

For almost a week now, war has broken out between Israel and Lebanon. Reading today's newspapers, what struck me most was not that fighting erupted between the two nations (Jerusalem and Beirut have been at it for decades already) but the fact that Lebanese nationals can still afford to hire Filipino domestic workers. Despite being constantly torn by war and strife, Lebanon's economy has remained strong or at least strong enough for its citizens to afford to hire foreign domestic helpers. And I did not expect that so many of our countrymen are working in Lebanon. According to news reports, there are approximately 30,000 OFWs in Lebanon.

Anyway, I want to share with you this hilarious video featuring Bush and Blair in an unguarded moment talking candidly about the Lebanon-Israel problem - a dramatically accurate depiction of how the US-UK "special relationship" works. This must be every politicians' nightmare: for their off-the-cuff comments to be caught by TV cameras. The Bush/Blair "candid camera" disaster reminds me of Senator Avelino and his classic "what are we in power for?" line which effectively sealed his political career in the Philippines. It is good Bush is no longer running for reelection. I could not wait to watch how Jay Leno and David Letterman will play this latest blooper by President Bush. As a PR practitioner, I am also interested to see how White House spindoctors will handle this crisis. So far, all the White House spokesperson can offer is a "no comment" comment.

The video only confirms my suspicions na si Bush at si Blair lang ang nag-uusap when it comes to deciding important world affairs. Parang nagmukhang tanga tuloy ang ibang G8 leaders na andun din sa St. Petersburg conference.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

What DepEd Needs is a Politician

The appointment of Jesli Lapus as Secretary of the Department of Education was greeted by protests by militant teachers led by Domingo Alidon, DepEd Union president and Antonio Tinio, Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) president. The two had opposed Lapus' appointment saying that they do not want another politician to occupy the post.

Mr. Alidon and Mr. Tinio did not say exactly why they do not want politicians to occupy the DepEd post but I suspect that they are still "traumatized" by the reforms instituted by the late Secretary Raul Roco. You see, it was during Roco's tenure that DepEd Central Office personnel lost their "overtime pay allowances" - which sometimes amounted to twice their monthly salaries - when he ordered the practice stopped. It was also Roco who outlawed compulsory "donations" (i.e. Boy Scouts, Red Cross, etc.) during school openings which understandably pissed a lot of principals because they lost their slush fund. The reforms that Roco instituted in DepEd restored the faith of our people in an institution racked by corruption and inefficiency so much so that in one SWS survey, DepEd enjoyed the highest approval rating in its entire history. Aside from that, DepEd had one of the highest enrolment rates during his term because parents no longer had to pay "donations" every school opening. If these are the real reasons why Alidon and Tinio do not like politicians, then by all means let's appoint politicians!

I wonder why Alidon was silent all throughout the term of Secretary Ricardo Gloria (who was not a politician) when corruption was so rampant in DepEd? Since he claims to be an anti-graft advocate, I wonder why I haven't heard Alidon expose corruption perpetuated by DepEd rank-and-file employees which I'm sure, as Union president, he must be aware of. I am also wondering why Alidon always makes noises everytime a new DepEd secretary is appointed, only to become silent after the new head conducts a "dialogue" with his group. What's going on Alidon?

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Real Reason Why Wages in this Country are Low

The Regional Tri-Partite Wage Board has approved a P17-P20 increase for West Visayan laborers. I predict that militant labor unions, which petitioned for a P75 increase, will view this as an "insult" and will probably protest the measly increase. But local businessmen and sugar planters have claimed that P10-P12 is the most that they can afford without laying off workers so I guess the P17-P20 figure was their agreed compromise amount. Presently, the daily minimum wage in Western Visayas ranges from P160 (for agricultural workers) to P205 (for non-agricultural /industrial-commercial workers) or around P5,000 a month.

Historically, our highly politicized labor unions have been largely successful in agitating government to raise the minimum wage rate, so much so that the Philippines today has one of the highest minimum wage rates in Asia. But the question is, why is the Filipino worker still among the lowest-paid in the region despite the fact that we have one of the highest minimum wage rates in Asia?

The real reason why workers’ salaries in the Philippines are low is because most business enterprises here are small. According to data from the Department of Trade and Industry, 99.6% of Philippine businesses are classified as Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and they employ the biggest number of Filipinos today. Under DTI’s definition, Small Enterprises are businesses with assets between P3 million to P15 million and Medium is defined as businesses with assets amounting to P15 million up to P100 million. Aside from the SMEs, there are also the Micro Enterprises which are classified as businesses with assets of P3 million or less. Large corporations, which have assets of P100 million and above, comprise only 0.4% of total businesses registered in the country.

In other words, almost all businesses in the Philippines are, quite literally, “mom-and-pop” operations because they are family-owned, family-run and family-staffed ventures usually employing three to thirty persons. SMEs are the ones most affected every time government raises the minimum wage. This is so because the profit margins of these SMEs are small and most can even barely afford to pay their workers industry-level rates. The biggest irony is that it is the Large enterprises which pay and treat their employees well, in contrast to how activist unions and Leftist groups usually depict them. "Ibagsak ang capitalista!" is an oft-repeated catchphrase during their rallies. But the truth is, multinational corporations pay their regular employees above-market rates aside from providing adequate medical care, health insurance and other benefits.

Nowadays, the only way an ordinary Filipino can earn, say P50,000 a month, is by being employed as an executive in a multinational firm or by setting up his own SME or by becoming an OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker). But since they comprise only 0.4% of industry, employment opportunities in the corporate sector is very limited and one has to have excellent academic and professional credentials to get in. The path many Filipinos take nowadays is by migrating abroad to work as domestics or under-employed professionals. While their dollar remittances are good for the Philippine economy in the short term, many sociologists predict that massive migration will be harmful to our society in the long term. Even today, we have begun to see the negative effects of the OFW phenomenon in terms of societal dislocations, failed marriages and family members drifting apart.

The way I see it, the only real solution to the problem of low wages in the country is by making our Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) into Large. We cannot totally rely on foreign investors to generate employment because, as we have seen, they cannot really provide jobs to all Filipinos. Nor can we completely rely on our OFWs because, as we are seeing now with the proliferation of shopping malls, their dollar remittances will only turn our country into a “consumerist economy” wherein consumer spending rather than industrial production or manufacturing determine economic growth. Our SMEs must learn to tap the international market in order to grow. Filipino entrepreneurs must be able to harness their creativity, increase their productivity and constantly upgrade their technical know-how in order to compete in the world market. Tapping the foreign dollar market is the only way for our SMEs to increase their profit margins and eventually evolve into big business entities. Only then can ordinary Filipino workers expect to receive salaries which are at par with the rest of the world.

How to make SMEs graduate into large corporations is really up to individual entrepreneurs and our government agencies.


Please read this Philippine Daily Inquirer feature article on small businesses which made it to the big leagues.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Diwal Makes a Comeback

Diwal is a juicy, sweet-tasting bivalve mollusk found only in the waters of Capiz province. Also known as “angel wings” because of its white-colored, wing-like shell, diwal used to be a staple in Ilonggo households and a favorite exotic cuisine in local restaurants. When I was younger, diwal was pretty much common and one can find it in almost all wet markets in Panay. Back then, Ilonggos considered diwal not as a rare gastronomic delight reserved only for special occasions (like lechon or lengua estofada for example) but more as an everyday “sud-an” or dish.

For years, diwal was a lucrative source of livelihood for Capiceños until its numbers dwindled due to over-harvesting and the destruction of its marine habitat by illegal fishing methods. Since diwal can only be cultured in the brackish waters of Capiz, ever-increasing demand for the sweet-tasting mollusk soon outstripped supply. Eventually, diwal “vanished” from local markets sometime in the early 1990s. And even if it is available in local restaurants (like Tatoy's and Breakthrough for example), the diwals they serve were mostly small and “emaciated,” a far cry from the luscious and juicy diwal of old.

Since diwal was gone for almost a decade, an entire generation of Filipinos grew up without ever having tasted this uniquely Ilonggo delicacy. While most Ilonggos in their 30s, 40s and above would surely have fond memories of eating diwal in family gatherings and beach outings, young Ilonggos born in the 1990s have no memory of ever having tasted it.

Thanks to Roxas City Mayor Tony del Rosario, diwal is making a comeback after ten years of absence in local markets. Several years ago, Mayor Tonydel started his “Diwal Rehabilitation Project” where he imposed a moratorium on diwal harvesting and established diwal sanctuaries all throughout his city’s territorial waters. Mayor del Rosario’s “diwal project” was adjudged as the “Best Public Sector Project” by the Regional Development Council 6. This year, the much sought-after diwal took centerstage during the annual Capiz Seafood Festival held last weekend in Roxas City. Due to the political will of Roxas City’s leaders and the cooperation of its residents, the diwal is slowly coming back and are available once again in most seafood restaurants and wet markets in the region.

Last year, I tasted my first diwal after ten long years. I was then celebrating my 32nd birthday and for my dinner party, I thought of serving diwal to my guests. So I ordered 2 kilos of diwal from a cousin who regularly goes to Roxas City on business. I then had the diwal thoroughly washed and boiled in hot water for just a few minutes because I like my diwal to be malasado (or not overcooked). Sprinkled with a little fried garlic and a light touch of butter, the humble mollusk is transformed into “Steamed Diwal with Garlic and Butter.” Needless to say, all of my dinner guests loved it and left begging for more.

Diwal is more delicious than talaba, tahong or sisi. Unlike talaba which becomes “gooey” and flat soon after it is pried from its shell, diwal retains its sweet taste and chewy texture long after it is cooked. Nowadays, I only eat talaba at Tib’s Rock Restaurant in Mandurriao which I think has the best-tasting baked talaba in the Philippines, bar none.

I am truly glad that the “angel wing” is back and that the present young generation can finally savor this heavenly oyster. The only downer is that since current demand for diwal is so huge, it has become too pricey for ordinary people to afford. You also have to go to the market very early because it usually sold out in a few hours. Also, diwal is available only at certain times of the year and its quality is dependent on the weather. But with that aside, I cannot wait to sink my teeth again into diwal steamed malasado garnished with garlic and butter.


Since we are talking about Capiz, let me share the true inside story about the arrest of the once future Congressman of Capiz, Joc Joc Bolante in Los Angeles recently. Joc Joc Bolante was arrested because U.S. Customs officials found fertilizer in his bags. Since fertilizer is classified as an explosive substance, American airport officials immediately detained him.

Bolante is also sore because American airport officials called him a "scam bag."

Joc! Joc! Joc!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Blogger Swaps Paper Clip for House- and-Lot

Here is one piece of amazing news: A Canadian blogger named Kyle MacDonald has gained worldwide attention after achieving his goal of "trading up" one red paper clip for a house-and-lot. 14 "trades" later and in only just one year of blogging, MacDonald received a brand new home from the Mayor of Kipling Saskatchewan, Canada. His new house is located at 503 Main Street of said town and Kyle will be hosting a housewarming party to celebrate his "achievement." Everyone is invited. Visit MacDonald's blog to read his remarkable story here.

The internet is truly a wonderful place. Aside from sharing your views and influencing peoples' opinions, one of the things that attracted me to blogging is the promise of financial income. I started blogging just this May 2006 and so far, my blogsite has "earned" $26 from its Google Ads. I have to admit that I am thrilled everytime my "income" rises and I cannot wait to reach the $100 mark. Presently, it is my dream to make my blog earn enough dollars so that I would not have to work (at least not full-time) anymore.

I have heard stories of Filipinos earning thousands of dollars a month just by blogging. I used to take those stories with a grain of salt ("parang urban myth lang"), but when I saw the "one-red-paper-clip" story I was convinced: some people do make a good living out of their blogs.

I should probably try to "trade up" my black stapler for a Rolex .... Any takers?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

"Mega Regions" Extravaganza

President Arroyo will be meeting with LGU officials from the Visayas area (Regions 6, 7 and 8) to pitch her "Mega-Regions" idea. According to Malacañang officials, P373.78 billion in various development projects have been earmarked for the entire Visayan region. Out of this "Mega-Regions" extravaganza, Western Visayas will receive one-third (P97.72 billion) in the form of big-ticket infrastructure projects like seaports, airports, power plants, etc. Iloilo will be getting around P10.4 billion; P4.2 billion for the Iloilo Flood Control Project and P6.2 billion for the New Iloilo Airport Project. In fact, construction of the two "big ticket" projects have been going on for quite a while now.

With infrastructure projects of this magnitude, trust our politicians to meddle and unscrupulous characters to make money out of it. The Iloilo Airport project, for example, has been marred with allegations of corruption with the name of Iloilo Governor Niel Tupas being dragged into it. The Iloilo Flood Control Project has encountered delays in its implementation. But Ilonggos in general seem to have adopted a lackadaisical attitude towards the delays and the alleged corruption surrounding the two projects. The general attitude seems to be that of tolerance (“ano abi ma-expectar mo?”) and anticipation (“tani matapos na”).

DOTC officials here have promised that tourist arrivals in Iloilo will increase once the new airport is completed. Likewise, project proponents have pledged an end to the perennial flooding in Iloilo once the Iloilo Flood Control Project is completed. All in all, Ilonggos expect that their over-all quality of life will improve once the two projects are finished. But the question is, will it really?

Take for example the New Iloilo Airport Project. I originally thought that the new airport will be an international airport like in Manila or Mactan complete with immigration desks, international airline offices and international flights. But someone explained to me that the new airport will not be an international airport but an “airport of international standards.” In other words, it will still be a domestic airport; meaning Korean or Australian tourists destined for Iloilo will still pass thru Manila or Mactan. Incidentally, another domestic airport of “international standards” is also being constructed in Silay City, Negros Occidental.

I rather like the old airport. It is rustic and charming and near. It may get crowded during peak seasons and the bathroom is run-down but otherwise, the old Iloilo Domestic Airport is still okay. I do not buy what local pundits and government officials are saying that a new airport will boost tourist arrivals in the province. Having a bigger and prettier airport will not convince foreigners to go visit Iloilo. What will really draw them are the sights, sounds and smells of Iloilo. What will keep them coming back is the trademark Ilonggo warmth, charm and hospitality. Just take a look at the General Santos Airport: it is huge and spanking but it did not really bring about a spike in tourist arrivals to South Cotabato. My question is: do we really need a new airport at this point when we could not even provide our grade school students with enough textbooks and chairs? Were the people consulted? Who decided that Ilonggos needed a new airport?

Another example of "wasteful" allocation of scarce government resources is the Iloilo Flood Control Project (IFCP). According to its briefing materials, the Phase I component of IFCP (improvement of Aganan River, Tigum River and Jaro Floodway) only guarantees no flooding for 10-15 years while the Phase II component (rehabilitation of Iloilo River, Jaro River Mouth and Upper Ingore Creek) guarantees to stop flooding for 20-25 years. In other words, the IFC Project does not promise to stop the flooding permanently but only guarantees no floods for 30-40 years. This means that after 30-40 years, Iloilo will again experience flooding and our grandchildren will again have to find money to fund a similar project.

From a policy perspective, spending P4.2 billion to stop flooding in one province for a period of 35 years is okay, if we are the United States of America! But can a Third World country like the Philippines really afford to allocate its meager resources to mitigate flooding when it cannot even afford to provide basic services adequately to its citizens? Roughly estimated, Filipino taxpayers will be spending 120 million pesos a year to prevent flooding in selected portions of Iloilo City. Surely, there must be some other, more cost-effective way to solve the flooding problem in Iloilo.

The real cause of flooding in Iloilo is man-made. The unrestricted conversion of farm lands into subdivisions and the clogging of natural waterways with human garbage are the main reasons why floods have periodically inundate Iloilo. The solution is so simple and yet so difficult to implement. The ultimate solution is simply for people not to throw their garbage in the river, creeks, canals and other natural waterways. Subdivision developers must also strictly adhere to construction standards and regulations. An even if we spent P500 million to de-clog our waterways of garbage, it is still a pittance compared to the P4.2 billion we are spending for IFCP.

As usual, the challenge is how to change the mindsets of the people.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

P469M Lost Due to Land Reform

Here's one interesting bit of news: Over a period of 8 years, the province of Negros Occidental has accrued a total of P469 million in collectible land taxes due to the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). The reason given for this revenue loss is the inability of most CARP beneficiaries to pay their land taxes. Read the SunStar Bacolod article by Erwin Ambo S. Delilan here and the Visayan Daily Star report here).

The above-cited reports seem to prove that agrarian reform has done more harm than good in Negros Occidental. By cutting up sucarcane haciendas into small parcels, you take away economies of scale, decrease farm productivity and foster inefficiency. After giving farmers land, our government pretty much left them to their own devices. Without capital and know-how, these beneficiaries soon had to indenture their land in order to feed their children.

I am sure there are a few success stories out there, but show me one succesful land reform beneficiary and I will show you a hundred who failed. Twenty years after the passage of the CARP Law, small planters of Negros and elsewhere are not better off as before. And the sad fact is, we can no longer reverse the current situation wherein CARP beneficiaries do not earn enough income from their land to pay taxes. Government just doesn't have the money to fund all these small farmers. And the people (or corporations) who do have the funds and managerial and technical ability to make agriculture more profitable are being demonized by leftist groups and some local media.

As they say - land reform is the perfect solution to a problem fifty years ago. Giving land to the landless may have worked during the time of Magsaysay but with globalization and international competition, Filipino farmers need not only "sipag at tiyaga" but also scientific knowledge and adequate capital to succeed in today's world. I guess we just have to add agrarian reform in the already long list of failed government programs in the Philippines. "Charge it to experience" as they say.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Iloilo Golf Centennial Celebration

Founded in 1907, the Iloilo Golf and Country Club in Sta. Barbara, Iloilo is the oldest golf course in the Philippines and probably in Asia. To celebrate its 100th year, IGCC this early has already announced its schedule of activities for 2007. Click here to visit its website and the schedule of golfing activities.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Photos of Iloilo during the American Commonwealth Period (1899-1945)

Here are some old photos of Iloilo during the American Commonwealth era which I downloaded from this site.

An Ilonggo and his cock

Ilonggos are avid cockfighters, even today.

Muelle Loney port, the center of the lucrative sugar import trade. Locally-made ships called Cascos (or Batels) were used to transport muscovado sugar from neighboring sugar-producing provinces of Antique, Negros and Capiz to Iloilo City.

Calle Iznart, Iloilo City (circa 1916). Iznart Street is a major commercial center in Iloilo.

Oton Church (circa 1918) located in the neighboring municipality of Oton, Iloilo.

Sinamay weavers in Iloilo. Weaving was a thriving cottage industry in the province until cheap imported linen from Liverpool flooded local markets, effectively killing the indigenous Sinamay industry.

The old municipal hall of Arevalo, the first capital of Iloilo province. Arevalo was the site of the first Spanish settlement in Panay. The capital was later transferred to Iloilo City when Moro pirates sacked Arevalo.

A typical village in Iloilo (circa 1918).

Filipino insurgents in prison (Philippine-American War 1899-1907)

Slain Filipino revolutionaries of the Philippine-American War.

More dead rebels.

Old Mandurriao road, Mandurriao, Iloilo City (circa 1920).

Old Molo road. Molo district was known as the "Parian of Iloilo" because all Chinese immigrants (Sangleys) were then quartered there.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Sicilians Among Filipinos

There is an unforgettable scene in Mario Puzo’s classic novel “The Godfather” where Don Vito Corleone asked his consigliere Tom Hagen the question: "Is he a Sicilian?" Don Vito was referring to Virgil "The Turk" Sollozzo who wanted to partner with the Corleone Crime Family in distributing narcotics in America and he was asking his newly-appointed counsellor for his opinion of the man.

"Is he a Sicilian?" It was a seemingly simple and straightforward question but it made Hagen pause for a few minutes. The Don obviously was not asking if Sollozo, literally, was a Sicilian. Corleone was interested to know if Sollozo had "balls" and "guts." In Mafia lingo, being a "Sicilian" meant having the strength of character to lose all you have on a point of "honor." It means having the courage to stand up for a personal affront and to stick through a fight to its end. In other words, Don Corleone wanted to know whether "the Sollozzo fellah had the guts to take on a Don if he felt slighted."

Tom Hagen answered, "Yes."

Readers may be familiar with what happened next. Don Vito Corleone said no to Sollozzo, Sollozzo felt insulted and, with the help of the other New York Five Families, instigated a "coup" against the Corleone Crime Family. When Sollozzo's assassination attempt of Don Vito failed, Michael Corleone knew that he would have to kill The Turk because, as a "Sicilian," Sollozzo will just keep on trying until he succeeds in murdering his father.

I am bringing up this scene from “The Godfather” here because I find some parallelism in it to what’s presently happening in our country today. To those who are puzzled with former Ambassador Ike Señeres’ seemingly “bizarre” behavior, I offer this explanation: he thinks he is a “Sicilian” and he is challenging his co-plotters to be “Sicilians” too.

I see the current maneuverings as a struggle between contending Crime Families out to attain political power for personal aggrandizement. The Corleone Family (Arroyo Administration) is constantly threatened by many Virgil Sollozzos (Gen. Danilo Lim, Col. Ariel Querubin, Magdalo soldiers, Joma Sison and his CPP/NPA), “Sicilians” who have the brains to plan and strength character to carry out their plots to topple the present government. As true “Sicilians,” these groups will not stop until they succeed, as the recent Magdalo plot to bomb Batasan proves. But more dangerous to the Corleone Family are the New York Five Families (the anonymous politicians and businessmen who fund coup plots and direct things behind the scenes).

Filipinos do not care whichever group will prevail in the end because they see the contending groups as contending Mafia gangs. Most would not allow themselves to be “used” by either group again because, as one jaded EDSA veteran said, “pauuwiin lang naman kami matapos nila makuha ang poder.” Many would rather concentrate on working and earning a salary for their families. “Sila sila lang naman ang nagpapatayan. So long as it does not affect us, it doesn’t concern us” – is a most common sentiment today.

There is a scene in “The Godfather III” where Michael Corleone asked his nephew (played by Andy Garcia) to give up his love for his daughter in exchange for his admission to the Mafia. Michael said, "That is the price you pay for the life you choose." Magdalo officers have given up promising military careers and college-educated activists squandered lucrative private-sector jobs for their principles.

My question is - Why is it that it is always the young who suffer and die? During a coup ‘d etat, it is the privates, lieutenants and captains who bear the brunt of the fighting, not the generals and admirals. During protest rallies, it is always the college students who get hurt and beaten up by police, not the Communist Party Politburo members. Why is it that only rank-and-file and middle-level government employees get jailed for corruption, not agency heads? And yet, when a plot succeeds, it is the old people who get to enjoy the "perks" of victory?

Friday, July 07, 2006

The "Teflon King" of Iloilo

A recent Agence France-Presse report entitled "Singaporean blogger suspended after government criticism" once again brought worldwide attention to Singapore's autocratic policies towards its local press. Apparently, a popular Singaporean blogger codenamed "Mr. Brown" was stripped of his column at the TODAY newspaper for writing a satirical article about the rising cost of living in Singapore. His offending entry believe it or not was entitled "Singaporeans are fed, up with progress!" Earlier, in April 2006, Singapore imposed restrictions on political discussions in blogs and websites.

I thought of citing the above news story to illustrate the widely contrasting conditions in Singapore and the Philippines. Singapore and the Philippines seem to represent two extremes. On one hand, you have Singapore which has one of the highest per capita income in Asia but has a "gagged" media and on the other hand, you have the Philippines which has been long known as the "Sick Man of Asia" but has one of the "freest" press in the world. While Singapore time and again has been criticized for its curtailment of press freedom, the Philippines has earned a reputation as one of the most dangerous places for journalists in the world, next only to Iraq (if I'm not mistaken).

According to the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP), a total of 81 journalists were murdered since 1986. The group has since advocated for the arming of mediamen so that they could supposedly fight back assassination attempts and reprisals against them. Since a large percentage of the murdered journalists come from the ranks of provincial media, many observers attribute this to the “different” way journalism is practiced outside Metro Manila.

Take for example here in Iloilo. In Iloilo, the most famous and perhaps the most "successful" journalist is Daniel “Danny” Fajardo. Danny Fajardo is the long-time publisher and now Chairman of the Board of Panay News, the leading daily newspaper in the region. A veteran journalist, Danny Fajardo was hailed by Manila Times columnist Dan Mariano as the “Hero of Hometown Journalism” and several national media associations consider him as a respected media practitioner.

Danny Fajardo likes to brag about the numerous libel suits filed against him. He claims to have faced a total of 146 libel suits. And he loves to boast to whoever is listening that he was found innocent in all but two of his 146 cases. He often shows off his numerous libel suits as if it was a badge of honor or a mark of how good a journalist he is. Incredibly, out of his two convictions, Fajardo was able to wangle a Presidential pardon for both cases! In local circles, Danny Fajardo has acquired the monicker “Teflon King” because no case can be made to stick against him and that he seemed "untouchable." All local politicians were afraid of him. That is, until Secretary Raul Gonzalez came along.

Most of his libel suits arose from the things he wrote in his “Lapsus Calami” column in Panay News. “Lapsus Calami” is an opinion column written without a byline that specializes in innuendos (huring-huring), scandals, “kucho-kucho” (rumors) and the latest political developments in Western Visayas. As Ilonggos love to read about chismis, "Lapsus" is probably one of the most closely-followed opinion columns in Iloilo today and is the main draw of Panay News. Fajadro has used his Panay News column as a bully pulpit, viciously attacking public officials and local businessmen who have incurred his ire.

Lately, Fajardo’s pardon has been revoked and he may finally see the inside of a jail cell. Kung sa Ilonggo pa, malapit na siya makahikap sang matugnaw nga rehas. He has attacked incessantly his nemesis, DOJ Secretary Raul Gonzalez, Sr. whom he suspects was the one who instigated the revocation of his pardon. He has also trained his sights on Secretary Gonzalez’s two sons, Congressman Raul Jr. and Book Board Chair Dennis Gonzalez. Fajardo has repeatedly called the two various names like “hermaphrodites,” “morons” and “imbeciles” in his column. (Read samples here, here, and here.) Despite his libelous attacks, the Gonzalezes have refrained from suing him in court largely because Fajardo might use it to gain public sympathy and come off as a “martyr.” Danny Fajardo’s long-standing and well-publicized fight with Secretary Gonzalez has been the subject of much discussion in Iloilo and local denizens are anxious to see who will be the last man standing.

Philippine media has become very powerful because it influences public opinion and could manipulate people’s perceptions. Hence, they can make or break a politician’s career (although Iloilo City seems to be an exception because adverse media coverage has never seemed to affect the Gonzalezes’ here). And as the case of Danny Fajardo clearly demonstrates, journalists who print libelous remarks do not get punished (his two arrest warrants have yet to be served) and that it has become so easy to destroy peoples' reputations in Iloilo.

While press people in Singapore live in constant fear of being censored, the Philippine press is not only unafraid but has traditionally adopted an adversarial attitude towards government officials. So much so that a friend who is a very keen observer of Philippine politics once quipped: “Kung ang parokyano hadlok sa pulis, ang mga pulis hadlok sa pulitiko kag ang pulitiko naman ya hadlok sa media." He adds further; “Kung ang pulitiko ga-pangotong sa parokyano, ang media naman ya ga-pangotong sa pulitiko.”

Most of our local journalists here in Iloilo are decent, hard-working and well-meaning individuals. Despite the meager income, many still persist in practicing their profession solely for the love of journalism. It is the few, rotten ones who give local journalism a bad reputation. While I am for press freedom and condemn in the strongest terms the killings of journalists in the country, I can also see why people somehow have become apathetic to media killings in the country. While I want to support NUJP's campaign against media killings, I hesitate to join their public protests because I don’t want to be identified as fighting for the rights of rogue journalists like Danny Fajardo. So long as the people see that abusive media practitioners are not punished, they will continue to be apathetic to media killings in the Philippines. Philippine media, therefore, must be able to discipline its ranks for it to win the public’s trust and confidence.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Sex Scandal Craze Hits Bacolod

While people in other Philippine cities are debating whether to teach sex education to their children or not, Bacolod City is currently grappling with a far more serious problem of children engaging and videotaping their sexual encounters. Carla Gomez of the Visayan Daily Star has written about the "Sex Scandal" craze presently gripping Bacolod City. And mind you, the videos proliferating in Bacolod do not just involve two high school sweethearts having sex. One parent who found a sex video in her daughter's cellular phone was scandalized to see 8 to 9 high school girls (aged 14 to 16 years old) performing sexual acts together.

This is not the first time Bacolod City was wracked by sex scandal videos. At any given month, there are "new" amateur sex videos being "released" through text messaging and as any "Pinay Sex Scandal" voyeur would attest, a lot of the sex videos circulating in the Philippines today come from Bacolod City.

City government and local church officials are hard put to explain why some of their children engage in scandalous and exhibitionist sexual behaviour. Moralists blame media and the internet for giving our youth the wrong messages. They cite for instance the case of American heiress Paris Hilton who was able to parlay her sex video notoriety into a lucrative showbiz career. Without any thespic talent or notable achievement whatsoever, Paris Hilton has become a much sought-after star in Hollywood. Observers say she symbolizes a new breed of celebrity: someone who is famous simply for being famous. Some impressionable teenagers might have made their own "sex scandal" videos as a way to achieve fame and notoriety in their circles.

All of us have our own stories of the stupid and goofy things we did in high school. But videotaping intimate sexual encounters goes way beyond mere "kapilyuhan" (naughtiness) and seems to point to the distorted morals of today's youth. I myself cannot figure out what goes on in the minds of young people who put their sexcapades on videotape.

Mexico Election Stand-Off

Mexico held its presidential elections last Sunday, July 2. TIME Magazine reports that with 96% of the votes cast already counted, presidential candidate Felipe Calderon (isn't he one of the minor heroes of the Philippine Revolution?) leads Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador by a slim margin of 400,000 votes (which represents 1% of the total Mexican voting population). This early, both candidates have already proclaimed victory. Pundits predict that the slim margin between the two contenders could lead to a protracted legal battle and a long period of uncertainty for Mexico. Some Mexicans are already expecting widespread political unrest once a winner is declared. (Read the entire TIME Magazine report here. Interestingly, the old TIME Article "Voting With Their Feet" about Mexico could also refer to the Philippines.)

If this all sounds familiar, it may be because the Philippines has faced a similar scenario in the last 2004 elections. You may have heard the coffeeshop gossip and the various arguments propounded by supporters of President Arroyo justifying her need to cheat in the last elections. I myself have heard the argument which goes something like this: "GMA really won over FPJ in the last elections but only by a slim margin. She needed to cheat and show the people she overwhelmingly won to solidify her mandate and to prevent a protracted 'crisis of leadership'." Or words to that effect..

With the brewing "crisis of leadership" soon to hit Mexico, trust the Malacañang spin-masters to use this to their own advantage. Any time soon, expect Palace operators to go around town selling and pointing this out to people -- "See what's happening in Mexico? We also would have experienced a 'crisis in leadership' if GMA did not 'exert' all efforts to win. Do you also want that to happen here? Let us all move on." Or something to that effect...

Whether GMA won (or lost) by 10,000, 100,000 or 1 million votes we probably will never know. But the fact is, she is using the specter of a 'leadership vacuum' (which she claims would be devastating to the economy) as a means to garner support from the people.

Presidential elections in this country have always been marred by allegations of cheating. In the 1986 Snap Elections, Marcos cheated Cory Aquino, and the walk-out of Comelec computer personnel at Greenhills was then seen by the people as proof of the massive cheating that went on. In the 1992 elections, Ramos also was accused of cheating and Miriam Santiago's allegations hounded him until the end of his term. In 2001, operators of Joe de Venecia supposedly tried to cheat Erap but soon gave up when they saw the huge lead Erap had over de Venecia.

Filipinos have always suspected that candidates cheat during elections. Sadly, people nowadays seem to accept cheating and dagdag-bawas as part of the "hazards" of the trade. For example the late Raul Roco, who was seen by many as the most intelligent and qualified of the 2004 presidential candidates, lost his campaign mainly because Filipinos saw their votes "wasted" on him because he was seen as not having the machinery and money to prevent his being cheated. As Ping Lacson aptly said, "anyone who cannot protect his votes has no business being president." Sad but true.

So I guess the real question facing Filipinos nowadays is this: How do we change people's attitudes towards choosing their leaders?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Is Jamby the New Loren?

Neophyte Senator Jamby "Hot Legs" Madrigal is currently in hot water for issuing a joint communique with Communist leader Joma Sison calling for the resumption of the Peace Talks. Jamby reminds me of former Senator Loren Legarda who also flirted with the Left during her heyday. Legarda even "facilitated" the release of Major Noel Buan (now a Lt. Colonel and Medal of Honor Awardee) who was captured by the NPA in Mindoro a few years back. So is Jamby now the new poster girl of the Communists replacing Legarda who seems more preoccupied with her election protest nowadays?

Isn't she aware that being associated with Joma is a political kiss-of-death? I remember during the 2004 elections, some businessmen and military officers did not support Loren because of her perceived "closeness" to the Left. Likewise, Speaker Joe d V wanted to be known as a "Peace Broker" but also lost his bid for the presidency. Even a political science sophomore knows that voters distrust politicians who they perceive are sympathetic to the Left.

I wonder who is handling Jamby's PR nowadays? Wala na yatang planong manalo itong si Jamby sa susunod na election. There are far better ways of getting media mileage than by raising your legs in front of the cameras, crying in the Senate Plenary Hall and executing that cheap publicity stunt in Utrecht. Because of her antics, people now view her as a joke and don't take her seriously. She will definitely need more than just a catchy "Jajajajamby" jingle to win the next elections. My advice to Jamby is - relax, you don't have to make people laugh everyday.

So the "TOTAL ALL-OUT WAR" is on! In recent weeks, the AFP and local insurgents have stepped up their operations and sporadic violence has erupted in Western Visayas.

Sometime last week, Wilfredo Cornea, a leader of Task Force Mapalad was assassinated in Sagay, Negros Occidental. Nenita Cornea, the wife of the slain peasant-leader, accused a certain Amador Villa alias "Badong" as the one who shot her husband. According to news reports, Badong is a member of the RPA-ABB operating in the province (read more here). In Iloilo province, rebels tortured and killed a certain Nestor Forcrey, a buy-and-sell businessman from Miag-ao town. A certain "Ka Bona" of the NPA-Napoleon Tumagtang Command claimed responsibility for the killing, accusing the slain man as a military spy. Earlier, NPA rebels killed Jomar Magalang, a barangay tanod in Sibalom, Antique on suspicions that he was also spying for military intelligence (read more here).

Understandably, the killings have not merited national media attention because the victims were unknown personalities or probably because the killings were not grisly enough. I hate to think that a lot more of these "incidents" are happening without being reported even in the provincial media. It is also apparent that while Leftist congressmen are strongly denying that the 400 or so party-list activists already killed were NPA regulars, military authorities on the other hand are likewise insisting that the citizens killed by the NPA were not their intelligence assets. So are all these victims therefore just innocent civilians? Are they all just "collateral damage?"

Total War or All-Out War may be an inappropriate term to describe the next counter-insurgency war. As I have written previously in this blog, the next "war" will take place right in our midst (in the cities, town centers and thickly-populated areas) and not in the mountains, remote barangays or the countryside as in the past. This is so because majority of the NPAs are no longer based in the boondocks but are now in the periphery of town centers living as ordinary farmers, factory workers and fisherfolk. And the battles will not be long-drawn, battalion-sized encounters but sporadic, low-intensity and small-unit actions. This is so because the NPA has been so reduced in strength that it could hardly summon enough men to mount battalion-sized engagements. So the next war is limited and small, not Total and All-Out.

On a more positive note, organizers of the First National Conference on Tricycle Transportation Development held recently in Iloilo City unveiled the Hawk Electric Motorcycle dubbed the "Motorcycle of the Future." Imported from Thailand, the battery-powered motorclycle is manufactured by Takohama Motors and is being sold for P45,000. Since it is electricity-powered, the motorcycle does not emit environmentally-harmful fumes. With gasoline prices rising at an average of 50 cents a week, people are looking for more cheaper alternatives to gasoline. In fact, more and more people in the provinces are using motorcycles rather than vehicles as their primary mode of transportation. (Read more here.)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A Dose of Their Own Medicine

Although both my parents are from Iloilo, I grew up inside the Victorias Milling Company (Vicmico) compound in Victorias, Negros Occidental because my parents worked there. Vicmico is the largest sugar refinery in Asia and its compound in Negros Occidental is a classic example of an economic “enclave.” Inside the Vicmico compound are schools (Don Bosco for boys, St. Mary Mazzarello for girls), American-style homes for its executives and a pleasant housing project for its rank-and-file employees (Canetown Subdivision), churches (i.e. Church of the Angry Christ), a world-class golf course, a medical clinic and a grocery store ran by the employees’ cooperative. People there lead simple, work-oriented and family-centered lifestyles. Vicmico is one of the few places in the country I know where all the adults are employed and all children attend school. People also didn’t worry if they get sick because of the company’s “womb-to-tomb” policy. For aside from the clinic in Victorias, Vicmico also operated a small hospital exclusively for its employees in Manapla, a town about 30 minutes away from Victorias.

My idyllic, sheltered childhood in Vicmico was shattered by two events that occurred in the mid-1980s. One was when pictures of the malnourished “Batang Negros” came out in international magazines. Up until that time I thought all adults had jobs and that all children like me went to school. Of course, I was aware that life for the sacadas in Negros was hard but I did not think that they were so poor to the point that their children already looked like the starving children of Ethiopia. It was the first time I remember feeling lucky about my lot in life and wanting to do something for my less-privileged countrymen.

The other eye-opener for me was when the NPA rebels raided the town of Manapla killing several policemen and innocent bystanders. As Manapla was only 30 minutes away from our town, I remember feeling very scared and resolving to die fighting should the NPAs continue on with their rampage in Vicmico. I still remember the incident clearly because it was the first time my father allowed me to carry his .22 caliber Beretta pistol so that I can supposedly use it to defend my two little sisters when the NPA attacked. I was around 12 years old at that time but I felt I became a man that night.

I learned later that the local NPA provincial commander tried to extort money from company executives by threatening to burn down sugarcane fields and railcars used to transport sugarcane from the haciendas to the Vicmico sugar refinery. As the largest sugar refinery in Asia, the local insurgents thought they could shake down a few million pesos in exchange for “industrial peace.” The management decided not to give in to the NPA’s “request” for a monthly “revolutionary tax.” The Manapla Raid was therefore a scare tactic to make company executives give in to their demands.

Instead, Vicmico executives decided to employ a company-size “private army” comprised of ex-Scout Rangers and former Philippine Army personnel to defend company property. The new “company security personnel” were quartered at a camp near the golf course and provisioned with the latest automatic weapons, vehicles and battle gear. Soon, our peaceful community looked more like a military camp as the fierce-looking mercenaries regularly patrolled our compound. We all felt like we were under siege and as an impressionable teen-aged boy I idolized the recently-arrived soldiers-of-fortune who are protecting Vicmico from the NPA. It may also be that the conditions then glorified “men-in-fatigues:” it was the time when Top Gun, Platoon, Apocalypse Now and Hamburger Hill were betamax hits and Gringo Honasan’s RAMBoys were then the “crush ng bayan” all throughout the Philippines.

Eventually, the NPA insurgency in Negros Occidental was defeated through a large-scale AFP operation now known as the “CHICKS Offensive” which was led by the controversial Brigadier General Raymundo Jarque (controversial because Jarque defected to the NPA years back but has since returned to the fold). CHICKS by the way is the acronym for Candoni, Hinoba-an, Ilog, Castellana, Kabankalan, Sipalay; municipalities located in the southern portion of Negros Occidental province where the military campaign took place.

Anyway, I am sharing my childhood memories to put into context the current debate on the “All-Out War” policy directive of President Arroyo. Recently, Malacañang announced that P1 billion will be allocated to stamp out the CPP/NPA in 2 years and that they will sue businessmen/corporations caught paying “taxes” to the Communist rebels. As to be expected, the “All-Out War” was condemned by Joma and his local Communist supporters and likewise by some Filipino businessmen caught in the middle. Leftist party-list groups have since accused Arroyo of masterminding the systematic extermination of their activists and peasant-leaders and have singled out General Jovito Palparan as the brains behind the ever-increasing bodycount of dead activists in the country. The Left have also raised concerns that the “All-Out War” will result in “collateral damage” and innocent civilians killed.

If the accusations propounded by the Left are true and they have the evidence to prove it in court, by all means they should sue the concerned military officials in court. They should also concentrate on unmasking the perpetrators and build a solid case against them instead of coming up with lame and unconvincing arguments in the media to win public sympathy. I also suggest that the leaders of the Left take care of the families of their murdered supporters.

People must be made to understand that the next counter-insurgency war will take place right in their midst (in the cities, town centers and thickly-populated areas) and not in the mountains, remote barangays or the countryside as in the past. This is so because majority of the NPA are no longer based in the boondocks but are now in the periphery of town centers living as ordinary farmers, factory workers and fisherfolk. And the battles will not be long-drawn, battalion-sized engagements but sporadic, low-intensity and small-unit actions. This is so because the NPA has been so reduced in strength that it could hardly summon enough men to mount a battalion-sized formation.

Whoever thought of the idea of forming “death squads” to go after the Communists one-by-one must have watched the Steven Spielberg movie “Munich” (where a small group of assassins was hired by Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir to exact revenge on the plotters of the Munich Olympic Massacre) and concluded that the Israeli method could be applied effectively here. And the strategy seems to be working – Leftist leaders seem at a loss on how to effectively “address” this new “initiative” by still-unidentified groups.

The “silent extermination campaign” of selected communist cadres is the Filipino version of a “surgical strike.” Killing off Leftist leaders individually is a cheaper and most cost-effective way of neutralizing enemies of the state. Cheap because you only need to fund a small band of well-trained, highly-motivated operatives to track down and eliminate the rebels. Cost-effective because it does not entail large-scale troop deployments and conventional warfare-type of operations. Assassinating communists one by one is also an efficient way of minimizing “collateral damage.” Batallion-sized operations often result in hundreds of innocent civilians getting caught in the crossfire. During the CHICKS Offensive for example, thousands of Negrenses were uprooted from their homes and many died of diseases in the temporary refugee camps set up by the AFP. These are the conditions that are being exploited by the Communists to recruit more members to their cause.

The NPA rebels and the mainstream Left have long used to their own advantage the “democratic cover” of the very institution it seeks to abolish. I remember reading a newspaper columnist once explaining that technically, only government troops and police officers can be charged with human rights violations and not the NPA. It is so, he argued, because our military and police officials have sworn an oath to uphold the law and respect human rights while the NPAs operate outside the ambit of law and therefore cannot be made to answer for something they did not swear to. So, while the NPA is free to use all means (including landmines) to defeat the military, the military is hampered and constrained to observe certain rules of warfare and procedures in pursuing its anti-insurgency campaign.

As a neutral observer, I find it quite amusing to see the CPP/NPA receiving a dose of its own medicine. The guerillas are being defeated in their own game of guerilla warfare. The CPP/NPA committed a big tactical error in withdrawing from the Peace Talks and their ground commanders are all running for cover. I wonder what will happen now to Joma’s long-term strategy of “waiting out” democracy? With the way things are going, his Communist movement might not survive long enough to see that day.

Going back to my two life-changing childhood experiences in Negros, I learned early on that bearing arms against the government is not the solution to solving our country’s problems. While I questioned and condemned the existence of a government that allowed its children to starve, I saw that there are far more effective ways of solving our problems than armed rebellion. Eventually, the problem of the malnourished children was solved not by the NPA but by community spirit, “pagkakaisa” and “damayan.” In the aftermath of the global media exposure of the “Batang Negros,” international and local aid poured in and the children were saved. Local hacienderos were shamed into treating and paying their workers better. Even Filipino folk singer Freddie Aguilar chipped in by raising awareness to the plight of the malnourished children thru his song “Sagipin Natin ang mga Bata sa Negros.” The “Batang Negros” episode clearly demonstrated that if we all worked together, we will be able to solve our problems. It is a shame, however, how Filipinos tend to wait until the problem becomes acute and unmanageable before he can be moved into action.