Thursday, August 31, 2006

"The Guy" Magsaysay

It was Manolo Quezon (thru his blog) who alerted me about President Magsaysay's birth anniversary, although later he admitted that he inadvertently "advanced" by one day the former President's birthday. Which is just as well, because it prevented me from committing the same mistake (since I was already planning to write about "The Guy" he he...). So now, on the "real birthday" of President Ramon Magsaysay, I would like to share some of my thoughts on the man whom many consider as the greatest President the Philippines ever had.

One of my most treasured possessions is the book "RAMON MAGSAYSAY: A Political Biography" by Jose Abueva. I consider it one of the best-written and most comprehensive biography I have ever read about a Filipino politician. Aside from capturing the true essence of Magsaysay the man, the book also really "transports" the reader back to the political dynamics of the era. I surmise that the book, which was first published in 1971 (by Solidaridad Publishing House), secured the reputation of Professor Abueva as an important political science scholar and eminent writer. I was able to have my copy (which I bought in La Solidaridad Bookstore in Ermita) authographed by Professor Abueva (see photo below). I must have read it at least three times already and (although the photos don't really show it), the book really looks "used" and well-worn, with many side notes, dog-ears and highlighted passages all over.

Ramon Magsaysay lived through very exciting times: born when the Philippines was still an American colony, he saw everything that the Americans built razed to the ground during the Second World War. Gaining fame as a guerilla leader during the war, Magsaysay parlayed his wartime glory into a political career. His rise in politics was meteoric: a Congressman in 1946, Defense Secretary in 1950, President in 1953 - after only just seven years in politics. Truly, Magsaysay's political career is every politicians's wet dream. He defeated the Huk rebellion (with CIA assistance), inspired countless young middle-class professionals to join public service, and truly earned the love of the masa.

Allow me to share a passage from the book. Here, Magsaysay has just recently occupied Malacañang after defeating Quirino convincingly (with a little help from his CIA friends) and Abueva describes the new President's "refreshing" leadership style which is quite a radical departure from how all previous Philippine presidents governed in Malacañang.

"The President's modus operandi was marked by a refreshing informality, a restless mobility, long work hours, direct action, quick decisions, personalized attention, an irritable temper, emphasis on official honesty and zeal, the use of the military, special friendliness with the press, and a consuming effort - underlined by almost daily word and deed - to channel official and citizen interest and resources to the common people. To those who had known him well earlier, these attributes were reminiscent of his drive as defense secretary to woo back to the law the alienated peasantry of Central Luzon and thus to undercut the Huks at their base. Now, as President he would cultivate anew the people's confidence by openly identifying himself with the personal welfare of the common man. He meant to 'bring the government closer to the people.'"

Just as suddenly as when came into the political scene, Magsaysay abruptly died in a plane crash. During his funeral, former President Sergio Osmeña eulogized: "Ramon Magsaysay burst into public life like a fresh wind after a long suffocating day. He died in the night while his people, once more enjoying security and once more full of hope, peacefully slept. They woke up in the morning to discover with a shock and to grieve with a broken heart over their sudden misfortune."


Another book which I recently acquired (for free, compliments of the Ateneo School of Government) is "How to Win an Election: Lessons from the Experts" authored by the people behind Newsbreak Magazine. I still have to finish reading it but even now I can say that the book may well become the "Bible" of all political operatives, PR practitioners and aspiring politicians in the Philippines. Using the case study format, "How to Win Elections" reads like a "how-to-do-it-yourself" manual that even the politically uninitiated can easily understand. True to its rather straight-forward title, the book boldly attempts to "de-mystify" elections by systematically analyzing the campaigns of successful and not-so successful election candidates. People aspiring for public office will certainly find the book handy in preparing their respective campaigns. My only negative observation about the book is how they treated the "upset" victory of Isabela Governor Grace Padaca over Faustino "Jun" Dy, Jr. The Padaca article leaves one the impression that it is easy for someone with good intentions to defeat a well-entrenched (not to mention well-armed) dynasty. This misconception might prove fatal for idealistic but naive political aspirants who may try later on to tackle dynastic clans in their respective localities. The book glosses over the important fact that one of the reasons why Padaca won is because she was able to "neutralize" the goons of Dy with the help of the NPAs. In fact, contrary to public perception, it was Jun Dy (and his family) who was constantly under threat of being killed/kidnapped by the NPA during the entire campaign period in Isabela. For this reason, he could not go out and campaign as he wished. Also, on election day, the vaunted political machinery of the former Governor was totally "outclassed" by Catholic Church groups in Isabela while Dy's goons were "checked" by armed elements of the Left. Due to the threat of violence from both camps, the 2004 elections in Isabela had one of the lowest voter turn-out in the province's history. In any case, Grace Padaca deserves her title as a "Giant Killer" and should be rightly considered as a political genius. I just don't want people to have the wrong impression that Padaca's "fairy tale" victory over a well-entrenched dynasty was made possible only thru prayers, idealism and good intentions.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Paradise Lost

More on the oil spill - During her visit, President Arroyo pleaged to make Guimaras "a paradise regained." Incidentally, she wants media to label the disaster "Solar Oil Spill" (earlier I suggested it be called the "Petron Oil Spill"). As part of her PR campaign, the President spent the night in a resort there to demonstrate to tourists that not all beach resorts in Guimaras has been hit by the oil spill. Despite media reports indicating that only 7 out of the 24 resorts in the island province was affected, many vacationers cancelled their bookings to Guimaras. DOT 6 Regional Director Edwin Trompeta estimates that around P3.5 million has been lost to cancelled bookings. In the last four years, resorts in Guimaras reported an increasing trend in revenues. In 2005, revenues reached P20.64 million; P8.2 million in 2004; and P6.1 million in 2003.

More than 3 weeks after the tragedy, a Japanese salvage ship finally arrives in Guimaras. Hired by Petron Corporation, the sonar-equipped and remote-operated vessel of the Japanese firm Fukada Salvage and Marine Works will be undertaking underwater inspection and determine the appropriate strategy for safely retrieving the oil remaining in the sunken Solar 1 tanker as well as re-floating the vessel.

The provincial government of Guimaras has threatened to file a P1billion damage suit against Petron Corp. and owners of the MT Solar I if they fail to remove the sunken tanker and compensate the affected residents. Actually, one Guimaras resort owner has already filed a suit against the owners of MT Solar I.

Iloilo Governor Niel Tupas flip flops on Petron Boycott pronouncement.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Abolish the PRC-Board of Nursing

Last week, I got hold of a memo written by a certain Donna Rae Richardson, Director of Government Affairs and Professional Stands of the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) regarding the “questionable” licensing activities of nurses in the Philippines. Dated July 19, 2006, the said CGFNS memo was addressed to the U.S. State Board of Nursing and described the many scandals currently confronting the Philippine licensure system for nurses today. For the uninitiated, passing the exam administered by CGFNS is one of the requirements in qualifying for a nurses' visa in the States. CGFNS is alarmed over the three issues plaguing the country today, namely:

1.) adverse reports concerning the 599 nursing examinees from West Negros College accused of overloading and double duty. CGFNS said that although they received a copy of the PRC resolution dated May 11, 2006 allowing 429 of the said nurses to be registered, receive their IDs and take their oath as nurses, they will nonetheless "keep an eye out" for the WNC graduates.

2.) CGFNS also expressed alarm over the mass resignation of the CHED-Technical Committee on Nursing Education members last June 26, 2006 and the leakage in the 2006 Nursing Licensure Exam (NLE). Overall, CGFNS is concerned about the "commercialization" and declining quality of nursing education in the Philippines.

3.) Last, CGFNS also received reports from the Nursing and Midwifery Council regarding the fraudulent English proficiency scores in IELTS of some Filipino examinees.

The memo made the following conclusion: “CGFNS will follow these issues related to licensing and English proficiency examinations closely. As always CGFNS will review and enhance its own processes so that the state boards of nursing, educational institutions, employers and the Department of Homeland Security can be assured that internationally-educated nurses and other health professionals have met the standards set by CGFNS for the purposes of pre-licensure and/or immigration.”

Last June 7, 2006, I wrote in my Guardian column an article entitled “West Negros Nursing Graduates Blacklisted by CGFNS?” With the CGFNS memo, it seems that my worst fears have been confirmed. And after reports of the nursing exam leakage erupted in the media, investigators have unearthed more information demonstrating the seeming ineptness and corruption in the Board of Nursing of the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) and the deep-seated competition among nursing schools and review centers. For example, investigators discovered that aside from West Negros College, the Philippine College of Health Sciences (PCHS) and a couple other colleges also offered “two-year nursing courses” for “second-coursers.” So the question is: how come only West Negros College nursing graduates were investigated by PRC? It appears now that West Negros College has been singled out for persecution. Incidentally, PCHS is owned by former Philippine Nursing Association (PNA) President George Cordero, who resigned in disgrace after the nursing exam leak controversy erupted in the news. Also, a PCHS nursing graduate by the name of Pamela Ortega has pointed to Cordero as the one who distributed the “set of papers” during their review class in the SM-Manila moviehouse last June 9. According to Ortega, Cordero told them that 100 questions from the “set of papers” would appear in the board exams on June 11 and 12. She also claimed that Cordero bragged to them that he paid P7 million for the “set of papers” and even bought plane tickets to Switzerland for two PRC-Board of Nursing members.

With the CGFNS report, it is clear that the international nursing community is now alerted of the current scandals in the Philippines. The 2006 NLE leakage scandal may very well endanger the careers of all Filipino nursing professionals. "Hindi na nga sila nakakatulong, nakakasama pa" is the common sentiment of legitimate board passers. By allowing it to happen, the PRC-Board of Nursing should definitely be abolished. The PRC has obviously failed its stated mandate of “securing for the nation a reliable, trustworthy and progressive system of developing professionals whose personal integrity and spiritual values are solid and respected, whose competencies are globally competitive, and whose commitment to serve the Filipino nation and the whole community is strong and steadfast.” Since the Philippines supply most of the foreign nurses in America and much of the world, it stands to reason that these international groups would agree to lend technical expertise and financial assistance to ensure the quality of the nursing profession in our country. A new Board of Nursing should be established composed of internationally-certified examiners to be recommended by CGFNS and other foreign nursing agencies. Let us also ask the help of CGFNS to assist us in administering the Nursing Licensure Exams (NLE). This is the only way for our country to redeem itself in the eyes of the international nursing community and regain its once lofty status as the main source of quality health care professionals overseas.

Monday, August 28, 2006

NHI Opposes Renaming of Comision Civil to F. Lopez St. in Iloilo City

Several months ago, the City Council of Iloilo passed a resolution urging Congressman Raul Gonzalez, Jr. to sponsor a bill in the House of Representatives renaming “Comision Civil Street” in Jaro District into “F. Lopez Street,” in honor of the great Ilonggo statesman Fernando “Nanding” Lopez. Dutifully, Congressman Gonzalez passed House Bill No. 5462 renaming “Comision Civil Street” to “F. Lopez Street” and a committee hearing was held at the Batasan Pambansa last week to deliberate the bill. But before I proceed, let me first write a short biographical sketch of the man whom our city leaders would like to honor by naming a street after him.

A member of the rich and influential Lopez family of Iloilo City, Don Nanding Lopez was born on April 13, 1904 to Iloilo Governor Benito Lopez and Doña Presentacion Hofileña. He earned his Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Santo Tomas in 1925 and after passing the bar the following year, he returned to Iloilo City to help manage his family’s myriad business interests there. Together with his brother Eugenio “Enying” Lopez, Don Nanding established Iloilo College (now University of Iloilo), Iloilo-Negros Air Express Company (the first Filipino-owned commercial airline), El Tiempo (Iloilo Times) and ABS CBN Broadcasting Corporation.

But it was not in the field of business that Don Nanding Lopez was destined to make his mark. He distinguished himself more in the realm of Philippine politics than in the world of business. His rise in Philippine politics could only be described as “meteoric.” In 1945, Lopez was appointed by President Sergio Osmeña as mayor of Iloilo City. Two years later (in 1947), he ran for Senator under the Liberal Party and won the election. In 1949, he became the Vice President of Elpidio Quirino and concurrently worked as secretary of agriculture. He was then elected once again as Senator and re-elected in 1959. In 1965, he again won as Vice President under Ferdinand Marcos and was re-elected in 1969. In the field of Philippine politics, Fernando Lopez holds the distinction of being the only Filipino to have occupied the post of Vice President for three terms. But when Martial Law was declared in 1972, the Lopez family fell out of favor. President Marcos abolished the position of Vice President and he stripped the Lopez family, whom he branded as “oligarchs,” of their economic assets. Fernando Lopez died on May 26, 1993, luckily after being vindicated for all the suffering he underwent under Marcos and only after seeing the redemption of the Lopez family assets that were seized from them during the Martial Law period.

So in recognition of his achievements and legacies to the city of Iloilo, the City Council decided to name a street after him. But during the Committee hearing held last week, noted Inquirer columnist and National Historical Institute (NHI) President Ambeth Ocampo objected to the renaming of Comision Civil Street to Fernando Lopez Street on the grounds that NHI has a policy of “preserving street names which have attained a certain degree of historical association and an importance of their own.” Ocampo concluded his position paper by saying that “it is therefore recommended that the memory of the late Vice President Fernando H. Lopez be perpetuated in other equally significant ways by naming new and unnamed streets in his honor.”

Frankly, I tend to agree with Mr. Ambeth Ocampo’s recommendations. While I feel that the late Don Fernando Lopez rightly deserves to have a street named after him, I do not agree with the City Council in their choice of Comision Civil as the street to be renamed. As far as I know, it is only Iloilo City which has a street named Comision Civil: there is no other street anywhere in the country which is named Comision Civil. So why would we want to change a uniquely-named street which, according to NHI, “has already attained a certain degree of historical association” when there are a host of other streets out there in Iloilo City just begging to be named? I feel that the City Council and our Congressman should seriously reconsider their position. They would do well to look for another street; preferably a much longer and grander boulevard that would befit the greatness of Don Fernando Lopez and not just a middling sidestreet at the back of Jaro District.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Is Palparan the Modern-day Col. Valeriano?

The killings of political activists have been going on for several years now and the death toll has been estimated to run into the hundreds. General Jovito Palparan has been accused by Bayan Muna Congressman Satur Ocampo of masterminding the systematic slaughter of left-leaning political activists all over the country. Palparan, of course, denies the accusations and claims that the slain activists were either killed by the NPA or were in fact NPA rebels themselves. Filipinos in general are apathetic and some say already “de-sensitized” by these political killings. And not so many people today know it but the assassinations of leftist activists today have its parallel in the Huk rebel killings perpetuated by the so-called “Nenita Death Squads” of CIA spook Edward Landsdale and PC Colonel Napoleon Valeriano during the 1950s.

Colonel Valeriano and Edward Landsdale both were interesting characters. Valeriano was a distinguished World War II veteran who managed to escape from a Japanese internment camp and hook up with General MacArthur’s forces in Australia while Landsdale was a noted PR/advertising executive in Wall Street before joining the OSS/CIA. He is said to be Graham Greene’s inspiration for his 1955 novel “The Quiet American” and the model for the 1958 novel “Ugly American” by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick. After the Second World War, the two found themselves working together to defeat the Hukbalahap ("Huk") rebellion in the Philippines. Landsdale was then the resident CIA spook in Manila while Valeriano was a promising, young colonel in the Philippine Constabulary. Under the auspices of JUSMAG (Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group), Landsdale created the “Nenita Death Squads” and named Valeriano as his chief "enforcer."

Landsdale practically invented the term “psychological warfare” (psywar) which today has become a necessary component of guerilla and counter-insurgency warfare. And long before the word “salvage” earned its sinister meaning in the Filipino-English lexicon, the Landsdale-Valeriano death squads were already salvaging selected communist cadres in Central Luzon as part of their psywar tactics. And their death squads did not simply kill communist peasants; their murders where imaginatively calculated to sow terror in the hearts of people and demoralize the ranks of Huk rebels. For example, they would play upon the “aswang” myth by snatching a communist rebel at night and draining his body of blood and putting "bite marks" on his neck. The following day, barrio folk would find the body by the roadside and talk would naturally circulate among superstitious people of "aswangs" victimizing people in their town. These “calibrated killings” perpetuated by the Nenita Death Squads were so effective in terrorizing the people and demoralizing the ranks of the communist rebels that then-Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay was able to neutralize the Huk-led insurgency in a short period. This “assassination-for-effect” of selected communist rebels and their symphatizers was the first element of the two-pronged strategy of the Magsaysay-Landsdale-Valeriano triumvate designed to defeat the nationalists/communists in a few years.

“The other prong was image-building. The CIA was determined to ensure that the 1951 elections would not be a repeat of 1949, which had been widely seen as a complete travesty of the democratic process. This led to the importing of an early version of a professional spin-doctor in the person of a New York lawyer and PR man named Gabe Kaplan. Under the cover of such CIA fronts as the Asia Foundation, and aided by a team of young Filipino CIA recruits, Kaplan went around the nation’s Rotary Clubs preaching the absolute necessity for free and fair elections. Like Landsdale, he was a character straight out of a novel: a likely model for one of those Sixties’ Ross Thomas heroes like Clinton Shartelle in The Seersucker Whipsaw who were always being sent off by ‘Langley’ to some steamy country to ‘pull a shitty’ in the presidential election. (Thomas had served in the Philippines during the war and retained a keen interest in the country, as his later novel Out on the Rim showed.) Certainly Kaplan was good at his job, and with the middle-class support he was building up all over the Philippines Landsdale and the CIA set up NAMFREL (National Movement for Free Elections), the organization that was to play sich a vital role in the snap election of 1986 and the ousting of the Marcoses. Colonel Valeriano himself was in command of one of the NAMFREL detachments sent to watch the polling in 1951. The outcome was, as intended, a masterpiece of democratic fair play and was prominently billed as such by the US press. The whole election with its appearance of scrupulousness had the equally calculated effect of winning over people of centrist and middle-class politics who had recently been wavering leftwards in sympathy for the Huks and peasants on the receiving end of Nenita tactics.

By 1953 the CIA-Magsaysay alliance was such that the outcome of the November presidential election was guaranteed. The Magsaysay-for-President Movement had been bolstered by the traditional official US blessing of laudatory artcles in Time, Collier’s Magazine and Reader’s Digest about the one man who could maintain American-style democracy in the Philippines. Raul Manglapus (who went on to become Magsaysay’s foreign secretary and, more than three decades later, Cory Aquino’s too) composed a hugely popular ‘Magsaysay Mambo’ to whose catchy beat voters might dance to the polls. The CIA meanwhile had a fallback position in case Quirino’s Liberals resorted to their 1949 tactics of murder and mayhem. They arranged for military compounds and radio stations throughout the country to be occupied by teams of Landsdale’s Filipinos. In addition, a few days before polling began some US destroyers and a small aircraft carrier casually hove up over the horizon and dropped anchor in Manila Bay as a reminder of what might happen unless things went the way Landsdale had organized. It was pure Ross Thomas. Magsaysay won in a landslide.”
(“America’s Boy: The Marcoses of the Philippines” by James Hamilton-Paterson, pages 176-178)

After his successful anti-insurgency campaign in the Philippines, Landsdale returned to America a hero within U.S. intelligence circles and “psywar” became all the rage in Washington D.C. He was later assigned by CIA headquarters to Vietnam and Cuba, which were also beleaguered by insurgents at that time. Using the successful Philippine counterinsurgency campaign as his template, Landsdale proceeded to form death squads to selectively neutralize insurgent leaders while at the same time propping up the image of their local allies through PR and media projection. It is noteworthy to mention that in all his subsequent postings, Landsdale brought with him his trusted Filipino sidekick, Colonel Napoleon Valeriano. Valeriano became the “Luca Brasi” to Landsdale’s “Vito Corleone” and there was a “division of labor” between the two: Landsdale concentrated more on the “glamorous” job of generating support from political leaders and ensuring favorable media coverage while Valeriano carried out the more “nasty” aspects of the mission. In fact, it was Valeriano who trained the group of émigrés who invaded Cuba in what is now known as the “Bay of Pigs” disaster. Who knows what else Valeriano had done for the CIA during his stint there.

To know more about man and the mind of Colonel Valeriano, please read his speech at the Counter-Guerrilla Seminar held in Fort Bragg last 15 June 1961 where he details how the Philippine Constabulary, aided by the Scout Rangers, defeated the Huk insurgency in Central Luzon.

Noting my love for history books, my late boss Senator Raul Roco (who was a wide reader) once told me that: “If you read history long enough, you will find out that everything that is happening today has happened in the past.” And who was it who said: “a people who do not know their history is doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past?”

Friday, August 25, 2006

"Here, Even Maids Have Maids"

Today I am taking a respite from the Petron Oil Spill to talk about this very perceptive social commentary of the Philippines by a foreigner (and an aristocratic foreigner at that). Sir John Mansfield Addis served as Ambassador to the Philippines from 1963 to 1969. Educated at Britain’s most exclusive schools (Rugby and Eton), Addis was a British patrician who fell in love with the Philippines and developed life-long friendships with several Filipinos during his 3-year stint in the country.

Incidentally (since most Filipino bloggers seem preoccupied with this issue), Ambassador Addis was gay and was a good friend of General Hans Menzi, the founder of Manila Bulletin (who was also gay). In fact, Addis during his tour of duty here preferred to stay in the bohemian district of Ermita rather than in snobbish Forbes Park where most diplomats of his rank usually live.

Here he comments about the padrino mentality and the "tyrannical" tendencies of all Filipinos, rich and poor alike. As a foreigner, Addis was surprised to see the prevalence of maids, “boys,” alalays and yayas at all levels of Philippine society (“Here, even maids have maids”). He also found distasteful how even his polite and well-educated Filipino friends would assume “a different air” when dealing with their house-servants and how their servants would assume a posture of “paid deference” and “ingrained obedience” when dealing with their betters. Ambassador Addis said that some "cataclysmic event" or revolution must happen for Philippine society to truly change. So here are some Addis’s observations as written by James Hamilton-Paterson in the book “America’s Boy: The Marcoses and the Philippines.

“The ‘tyrannical’ behavior he noted is by no means confined to the wealthy elite, however. Nearly everyone in Manila seems to have servants in one form or another. The middle class have servants, and even quite lowly people turn out to have dogsbodies living out at the back somewhere. ‘Here, maids have maids,’ as someone wryly observed, and the padrino mentality extends to the grubbiest urchin boss of a gang of glue-sniffing waifs. The streets of residential subdivisions at seven or eight o’clock at night become a blaring hubbub of car horns as breadwinners return and sit outside, hooting imperiously until some skivvy runs to open the tall, blank metal gates which form the only breach in high cement-block walls topped with barbed wire and broken glass. The idea that any of these white-collar workers might actually get out of his car to walk five yards across the street and ring the bell (or even use his mobile phone) is as ludicrous as the notion that he might consider the peace of the neighborhood. On the contrary, the horn is the naked proclamation of the arriviste, and the more people that hear it the better.

Needless to say, certain people look after their servants exceedingly well, with thoughtfulness and civility, but they tend to be the ‘older’ families. They very often have strong links to a particular province, so the servants will tend to come from the same village or neighboring town, all speaking the same dialect and with constant news of home. Usually the family will ensure that such long-term retainers will have a house to retire to on their provincial estate and that their children will have an education and are decently looked after. This, of course, is what paternalism properly is. Exactly the same system was once common among more enlightened families in Europe, until it was virtually ended by the First World War. The interesting thing is that there still has not been a ‘First World War’ in the Philippines, in the sense of a cataclysmic event that overturns an entire social order. The Second World War was cataclysmic indeed, but it did not radically change overall social relationships. Some now think that, in default of revolution, the class structure will simply erode gradually and patchily under the democratizing influences of urbanization, mobility and increasing financial independence.

The Filipino elite is a fascinating mixture of ‘old’ money and new, and delicate snobberies still exist between the two. The phrase ‘Manila 400’ was taken to refer to the little principalia class of intermarried families who effectively owned and ran the entire country. This dated phrase has been widely misunderstood as literally meaning four hundred families, whereas it is simply an expression of an exclusive social set. It was originally supposed to have referred to the number of people who could fit into Caroline Astor’s ballroom at the end of the century.”

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Letter from DOT Region 6

I received this email from Mr. Edwin Trompeta who is the current Regional Director of the Department on Tourism Region 6, responding to my column in THE GUARDIAN entitled "Oil Spill to Set Back Region's Tourism Industry for Years."

Dear Mr. Mendoza:

I really find your column (The Guardian, August 23, 2006) enlightening especially its positive notes on Guimaras tourism.

It is true that tourism is the first casualty in an incident like the Solar 1 oil spill due mainly to the very sensitive nature of the industry to negative reporting. May I be more positive, however, in saying that the tourism industry in Guimaras is still viable as ever. Please consider the following:

1. Guimaras tourism is not dependent, unlike Boracay or other islands, on its beach resorts alone. Guimaras is popular because of its multi-faceted attractions. It has inland resorts, agri-farm tourism, caves, adventure tourism and other attractions that have not been affected by the oil spill.

2. The so called resorts that have been affected, except for Inampulugan and Nagarao, are mainly day tour destination which can easily recover from the oil spill as these properties do not have extensive investments in facilities.

3. Of the numerous small and large resorts in the island, only around nine (9) small resorts (mostly shed type resorts) have been affected. The more popular areas such as Alubihud, Igang, Ave Maria in Nueva Valencia and Naburot, Tatlong Pulo, etc. in Jordan have not been affected and are not expected to be affected at the current level of the oil spill.

DOT is confident that as soon as matters have been stabilized in the island, the LGU of Guimaras, will be able to recover very fast given a flexible and updated marketing plan which we hope to put in place. DOT is already considering an after oil spill program for Guimaras with the help of our worldwide industry partners.

Thank you.

Very truly yours,

Regional Director

I am glad to learn that "tourism-wise," the oil spill was not as devastating as most people thought (at least according to Director Trompeta). Maybe, while worldwide attention is currently focused on Guimaras, now is the time to show people its natural beauty. Until this tragedy striked, not so many people knew about the island province's white sand beaches, pristine forests and rich marine life (that could rival even Boracay's).

Also, starting today, I will be calling the incident the "Petron Oil Spill" instead of the "Guimaras Oil Spill" as local media outlets have dubbed the tragedy. The people of Guimaras had done nothing to cause the oil spill. By naming the incident "Guimaras Oil Spill," we will be unfairly "stigmatizing" their province and the image of the oil spill will forever stick in the minds of people long after the sludge has been removed. And the oil spill is now not only limited to Guimaras but has already reached some towns in Northern Panay and may soon reach the provinces of Masbate and Leyte. On the other hand, Petron owned the oil and may have some liability in the catastrophe. Let the oil spill "stigmatize" their company.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

House Committee to Investigate Oil Spil

The House environmental committee headed by Congressman Boy Banaag will conduct a hearing 1:30pm today to investigate the Guimaras Oil Spill. Hopefully, our lawmakers will be able to elicit from resource persons some insights on the total cost of cleaning up the oil spill and its effects on the environment, tourism, health and livelihood of the people not only of Guimaras but also of the entire Western Visayas. Media reports yesterday said the oil slick has already reached the shores of Dumangas, Ajuy and Concepcion, all in Iloilo province. And for my part, I am most interested to know what the impact of the oil spill is on the tourism masterplan for the region.

It is rather unfortunate that an environmental disaster of this magnitude would strike just when Guimaras's tourism industry seemed poised to take off. The province was already being touted as the cheaper alternative to Boracay, which has become too crowded and too pricey for ordinary salaried Filipinos to afford. Tourists, both local and foreign, have started flocking to this small island-province to frolic in its white sand beaches, to sightsee its pristine flora and fauna, and to savor its export-quality mangoes. The Guimaras Mango, which remains as the only mango accepted for export to Japan, continues to be a good source of living for the province’s farmers. Also, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during her latest SONA announced that she has earmarked billions of pesos to develop Western Visayas’s tourism industry. The local governments of Iloilo City and Guimaras province have allocated funding for the improvement of Ortiz wharf which serves as the primary point of embarkation of people going to Guimaras. Over-all, things were finally looking up for Guimaras which has long been considered as one of the poorest provinces in Region 6.

The people of Guimaras took great pains to preserve their environment. I remember that several years ago, government planners proposed to contruct a bridge to connect Iloilo City and Jordan (the capital town of Guimaras). But the plan did not push thru because the people of Guimaras opposed it, their reason being that they did not want cars from mainland Panay entering their island for fear that they may carry the weevil virus. The weevil virus has long been the bane of Ilonggo farmers and it has infected most of the agricultural crops in Panay in the past. This is the reason why Guimaras has remained weevil-free and that its mangoes continue to be the only variety allowed for export to Japan. The bridge, if it was constructed, would have brought development to their province but the people of Guimaras chose to sacrifice "development" for the sake of their environment. Now, in one fell swoop, all their years of sacrifice will all come to naught.

Observers predict that the tourism industry masterplan for Western Visayas will be derailed for many years because of the oil spill. With the shocking photos of the oil sludge contaminating the beach, who would now want to go to Guimaras? Some say it would take three years to totally clean up the oil sludge, while others claim that it will take longer for the mangroves, coral reefs and marine ecosystem to fully regenerate. Whether it will take 3 or 30 years, what is clear to local residents is that the damage has been done. What is still not clear at this point is who should pay for cleaning up the environment and who should be punished for wrecking havoc on our region’s tourism industry. I hope that the House Committee on environment would be able to shed some light on this issue.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Guimaras Appeals for Help

Governor Rahman Nava is appealing to all people to help his island-province. A medical doctor before entering poltics, Nava is on his third/last term as Governor and is a Liberal Party member. Most Filipinos might remember him as the bemoustachioed guy crying on TV last week. Please visit this website for more details on how you can help.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Cruz vs. Quezon: A "Clash of Generations"

Last week, amidst the House impeachment hearings and the Guimaras oil spill, Isagani Cruz’s Philippine Daily Inquirer column condemning cross-dressing homosexuals created quite a stir in Manila. Cruz’s column merited a stinging rebuke from fellow Inquirer columnist Manolo Quezon III and widespread condemnation from gay activist groups. Last Sunday, Cruz in his column apologized to Manolo for hurting his feelings but remained unapologetic for all else that he wrote. In turn, Quezon responded with another bitingly-written column today. With neither side wanting to give in, this sordid affair promises to be a long and bitter one. For my part, what caught my attention was not the things Justice Cruz actually wrote but rather Manolo Quezon’s admission that he was gay. I think Quezon’s revelation brought about more commotion in political and media circles than Cruz’s criticism of hysterical homosexuals.

Some people have called Justice Cruz mean-spirited and homophobic. But I totally understand what Cruz only tried to point out, which is: people should observe proper decorum in public. I think in Cruz's day it's called "urbanidad." Urbanidad is a code of behavior, a sort of “good manners and right conduct” for urban-dwellers which our forefathers practiced. In the old days, people considered it a mark of good breeding if one observed 'urbanidad.' Of course, societal mores change: a girl wearing a 'spaghetti' dress to mass would have been branded a harlot and would have been excommunicated during the Spanish period. But wearing skimpy clothes to mass is acceptable today. Of course, it still merits considerable consternation from among older Filipinos. In criticizing cross-dressing gays, I think Cruz was only ruing the demise of traditional Filipino mores and was longing for a return of the “good old days.” Avid readers of his column would agree with my observation that lately, Cruz likes to write about his idyllic childhood. His previous columns are full of personal recollections about growing up in pre-War Manila. I just wish that as an eminent columnist and a former SC Justice, Cruz should have been more circumspect and sensitive in his choice of words. But then, how many columnists practice that nowadays?

Like Cruz, I also believe that all people, whether gay or straight, should be conscious not to violate other peoples’ sensibilities and cause discomfort to others. I believe that homosexuals should be bound by the same rules as heterosexuals when it comes to certain societal norms of acceptable human behavior. Cross-dressing, which I'd like to think is still considered inappropriate and unacceptable behavior in most countries, violates peoples’ sensibilities. I mean, I would find it improper for a gay bank teller to wear make-up and a skirt at the bank just as I would find it funny to see a “straight” person wearing a coat and tie at the beach. Of course, cross-dressing gays and tuxedo-wearing beach excursionists may very well become the fashion in the future but I believe that we should not allow this to be happen just because we are afraid to be accused of bigotry.

In his column's opening line, Isagani Cruz wrote: "HOMOSEXUALS before were mocked and derided, but now they are regarded with new-found respect and, in many cases, even treated as celebrities..." Well, judging from the flack that he is currently getting, Cruz definitely proved his point: gays in the Philippines today are not only treated with respect but they DEMAND to be respected. Moreover, not only are homosexuals respected but they have become powerful purveyors of public opinion. And Isagani Cruz was wrong in saying that this respect for gays is "new-found" because ever since pre-colonial times, homosexuals (the Babaylan) already enjoyed a high place in Philippine society.

Nowadays, it is hip to be gay. I think what really gets Cruz's goat is the fact that "gay culture" is now considered hip in the Philippines the way "black culture" is considered cool in America. White American kids emulate how African-American rappers dress, speak and act while here, it has become fashionable for even "straight" Filipinos to use "gayspeak." Homosexuals totally dominate the local fashion and beauty industry, the culture & the arts scene, and the showbiz industry. Also, consumer firm are trying very hard to capture the "pink" peso and marketing people are figuring out the unique characteristics of the "gay market" nowadays. The reason being that since they are generally "single," homosexuals have larger disposable incomes than married couples. Homosexuals have indeed come a long way since Cruz’s time. For example, I don't think many people realize this, but almost all of our showbiz film directors are gay (Carlo J. Caparas is so far the only "straight" director I know). This is seen by some as the reason why rape scenes are rather standard fare in Philippine movies (a friend of mine has since boycotted watching Filipino movies because she always encounters a rape scene added to it). And since movies have a pervasive influence on our population (especially on our impressionable youth), some quarters fear that the predominantly gay showbiz community have inadvertently fostered their "alternative" sexual orientations and “different” views about relationships and have "conditioned" the minds of the public to accept outlandish gay behavior as perfectly normal.

Although I don’t entirely buy that line, I honestly wish cross-dressers would try to be more “discreet” and not flaunt too much their “gayness” by wearing gaudy clothes and make up. It may sound unbelievable to some but even “conservative” gay people I know likewise feel that cross-dressing homosexuals give homosexuality a bad name. “Screaming faggots” tend to put all gays in a bad light and makes them objects of derision. I think, in this case, Manolo Quezon is misguided in defending the rights of gays to dress and act as they please. And I do not think Cruz is guilty of bigotry, as some angry bloggers accuse him of, for he was only pining for the "lost age" of his Pre-War childhood years and was only wishing that the new generation would not be too hasty in dismissing long-established Filipino mores as "outdated" (makaluma).

The way I see it, the Quezon vs. Cruz fight is a "clash of generations," with Manolo representing the new and Justice Cruz representing the old. Quezon wants Filipinos to embrace change while Cruz on the other hand, pines for a return of the "golden days." It is a fight for the hearts and minds of the Filipino youth and only time will tell who wins in the end.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Oil Spill Threatens Rare Shrimp Species in Guimaras

In Barangay Igang, Nueva Valencia, Guimaras, there is a beautiful island lined with palm tress, white sand and pristine coral reefs known officially in maritime charts as the Tiniguiban Islet. Located near the SEAFDEC Marine Observatory facility, locals prefer to call the island “Pulang Pasayan” on account of the rare species of scarlet-colored shrimp that can be found only there. Locals, especially the older ones, believe the shrimps are “enchanted.” In fact, superstitious Guimaras fisherfolk would usually warn the island’s visitors not to point the shrimps with their fingers or else something bad will happen to them. True or not, this island superstition has made locals scared to eat the shrimps, thereby allowing them to thrive.

It is truly an eerie sight to watch the red shrimps. Since people are generally accustomed to seeing shrimps turn red when they are cooked or steamed, one gets a strange sensation when watching the red shrimps swimming alive for the first time. The feeling is akin to seeing the dead come to life. I myself have seen the red shrimps many times already and I have to admit that I still get “weirded out” each time I see them scurrying along the island’s numerous cracks and crannies whenever I go snorkeling in Pulang Pasayan.

Together with its sweet mangoes, the mysterious red shrimps of Guimaras have since become a must-see attraction for foreign tourists and curious local excursionists in the island province. But future generations might not be able to see these strange scarlet-colored shrimps if our government officials and other concerned entities will not move fast to save them from the oil spill that is fast-approaching their habitat.

I have been going to Pulang Pasayan frequently ever since my uncle purchased the island several years ago. Jose Martinez, my uncle, bought the island from its owners more than five years ago to make it into his own private retirement get-away. When he first arrived, the island was littered with human garbage and its surrounding coral reefs were colored gray, destroyed by cyanide and rampant dynamite fishing. Now, the reefs are alive with color and teeming with marine life and the island is also rid of trash. Pulang Pasayan is now back to its pristine state, thanks in part to my uncle’s hard work, vigilance and financial investment.

A civil engineer by profession and a nature-loving sportsman by vocation, my uncle protected Pulang Pasayan’s reefs from illegal cyanide and dynamite fishers. He even fought and recently won a court case against a local fisherman he caught fishing with cyanide in the area. My uncle has invested his life’s savings on the island, constructing several nipa cottages, a rainwater system (the island has no freshwater source), and most importantly (at least to me), a toilet that flushes. When he is not so busy overseeing construction work, my uncle would spend hours scouring the island and personally pick up bits of candy wrappers, plastic bags and other human garbage. He would also strictly admonish visiting excursionists to bring their trash along with them. He even banned boats from docking on the island’s front beach area because their anchors scrape the seabed and cause damage to the coral reefs.

Now, all his years of hard work and monetary investment will most likely come to naught because of the oil spill. To prevent the oil sludge from contaminating Pulang Pasayan’s coral reefs, my uncle has put up primitive “oil booms” along the island’s seashore. I call it primitive because his “oil booms” are made only of bamboo and old clothes purchased from the local ukay ukay stores. I am not confident that his primitive contraption will prevent the oil sludge from contaminating the island. To date, he has not received any support either from local government officials or environmental groups. He is all on his own in Pulang Pasayan and he direly needs help to prevent the impending oil slick from reaching the island. What my uncle fears most is that the rare shrimps of Pulang Pasayan might be lost forever because of the oil spill.

I am therefore appealing to Guimaras Governor Rahman Nava, the Philippine Coast and other concerned entities to please include Pulang Pasayan in their oil spill mitigation efforts. I am also calling on all Ilonggos to please help save the red shrimps of Pulang Pasayan by donating their old clothes, bedsheets, curtains, etc. In the event that the oil spill reaches his shores, my uncle is also appealing for volunteers to help clean the sludge. Those who want to help save the red shrimps of Guimaras can get in touch with my uncle Jose Martinez at Hotel del Rio located along General Luna Street, Iloilo City where he stays.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Guimaras Oil Spill Photos

According to news reports, the oil spill has so far contaminated 239 kilometers of coastline and mangroves, affected 16 coastal barangays and displaced 2,000 fisherfolk in Guimaras. Guimaras Governor Rahman Nava said that the 1,100-hectare Taclong National Marine Reserve was also heavily damaged. The Special Board of Marine Inquiry will investigate reports that M/T Solar I allegedly was overloaded with oil when it sank during last week's typhoon.

(Photos Courtesy of Francis Allan Angelo, The GUARDIAN Newspaper)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Pinoy Big Brother - Political Edition

I am not a fan of the TV reality show "Pinoy Big Brother." Frankly, I cannot see the entertainment value of watching grown-ups acting like children. I tried watching the pilot show which featured Sam Milby and the other one with Rustom "Paru-Parong Bukid" Padilla and Keanna "I am the Weiner!" Reeves but soon lost interest since they really did not have anything interesting to say and their mundane conversations bordered on idiocy.

But when ABS CBN featured the "Pinoy Big Brother-Teen Edition," I became hooked. For one, it is easier to watch kids who act their age I guess simply because hindi pilit at hindi nakakainis. I also wanted to gain some insights on how the youth see the world, what their problems and aspirations are, how they deal with relationships and how they generally feel about their future. Kim Chiu really deserved to win and I hope that her showbiz "career" will last (Do I sound like Mario Dumawal already?).

Since the Teen Edition has already ended, the guys over at ABS CBN must be wracking their brains in coming up with the next Pinoy Big Brother theme. Well, they need not look further for I have an idea that will surely raise their TV ratings to the roof.

My idea is: why not produce a Pinoy Big Brother that will feature real-life Filipino politicians? The "contestants" will be the following: 1.) a Senator, 2.) a Congressman, 3.) a Governor, 4.) a Mayor, 5.) a Cabinet Secretary, 6.) a Police General and 7.) an Activist/Youth Leader. Following the reality-TV format, a camera crew will follow the seven government officials 24/7 for a year. The grand prize: the Presidency of the Philippines and more importantly, the adulation of our people.

I am sure our people will be very interested to watch the show. And by allowing our people to take a peek into the every-day lives of our leaders, I believe that it will "humanize" and change how people view our much-maligned government officials. Of course, it will be a major challenge for ABS CBN producers to find politicians willing to become "contestants." But I am sure there are lots of politicians out there who will do everything for media mileage, not to mention becoming President of the Philippines. The only big problem I foresee is that no one might qualify for the finals because they would all have committed something illegal in the course of the one-year timeframe for the show.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Myth of the “Omnicompetent Citizen”

For quite some time now, I have been quietly observing the ongoing “debate” between adherents of One Voice and Sigaw ng Bayan. It seems to me that the two groups have reduced the Charter Change debate into only one issue: whether or not the Filipino people should continue having the right to vote for President. One Voice tends to hew closely to the “Vox Populi, Vox Dei” (The voice of the people is the voice of God) view and they oppose a shift to a parliamentary form of government because it will take away the people’s right to vote for president. Sigaw ng Bayan, on the other hand, wants a shift to the parliamentary system that would result in only members of Parliament choosing who gets to head our government. Given the people’s history of electing actors to national office, Sigaw ng Bayan feels that members of Congress are the ones most capable of knowing who is most qualified to rule our country.

The more important question now then is: “Can the people be trusted to vote for the best leader?” Or, put another way, “Are the people competent enough to know who is the best candidate in the ballot?

Legendary journalist Walter Lippman, in his seminal book “Public Opinion,” has already debunked the theory of the “omnicompetent” or the all-knowing citizen. Written sometime in the 1920s, “Public Opinion” has since become required reading for all political scientists, opinion makers and journalists worldwide. In his classic book, Lippman posited that the general public’s view of reality is incomplete, that is, they do not see what is really going on in their government aside from what they see on TV, read in the papers or hear from the rumor mills. He also said that public opinion can be easily manipulated by propaganda and that people’s attitudes are heavily influenced by stereotypes. And since the public is not “omnicompetent” and is in fact easily susceptible to propaganda and stereotypes, Lippman concluded that governments should not wholly trust their citizens to know the “objective truth.” Citizens, he claimed, are not competent to know what is best for them because they are not well-informed enough to make correct decisions on multifaceted issues and intricate policy matters.

Applying Lippman’s theory in the Philippine setting, one tends to agree. Take the case of the Filipinos past choices for President. In the 1992 presidential elections, then-Senate President Jovy Salonga arguably was the most qualified of the candidates. But people did not vote for him because they thought he was old, sickly and was about to die soon (Salonga is still alive today and in fact, still writes articles). If the public was “omnicompetent,” they would have known Salonga would not die. Also, most Ilonggos then voted for Miriam Santiago simply because she is their fellow Ilonggo, one example of how “stereotypes” influence public opinion.

Taking my argument further, if people were all-knowing, they would have clamored for Washington Sycip to be their President (I believe Wash Sycip is the best person alive to manage our economy). Congressman Miniong Teves (who is still one of our hardest-working and competent legislators despite his advanced age) would already be a senator. And Butch Africa (the guy who modernized the National Statistics Office) would be a COMELEC commissioner by now. But it seems to me that our current system does not allow these outstanding individuals to rise to important positions of leadership. And I am referring not only to their inability to get elected. I am also referring to the media's failure to herald their achievements and make them "celebrities" to the public. I also mean the failure of powerful interest groups and political parties to recruit these outstanding individuals to vie and win public office. It is clear then that our "selection process" for our leaders is flawed and limiting.

Of course, there are people who will argue that the solution is not to change the form of government but to educate our people. But I am sure that there are masteral or even law graduates out there who do not know who Wash Sycip is or what Butch Africa has done to turn around NSO from being one of the most inefficient government agencies to one of the best-performing today. This seems to prove Walter Lippman’s point that people are not in the best position to know the “objective truth” because they are limited by incomplete information, stereotypes and propaganda. Based on their track records, these three individuals I mentioned are eminently qualified to run our government, but why is it that only a few Filipinos know that they even exist? And even if these three run for office, I am sure they will lose because aside from being “unpopular,” they lack resources, name-recall, party machinery and mass appeal.

So where does that leave us? I believe that by shifting to a parliamentary form of government, our people will have a bigger chance of choosing the best and the brightest leaders to run our country. Under the parliamentary system, talented individuals with no political pedigree or financial resources would have a better chance in getting elected because it will be the party which will choose their candidates and shoulder their campaign expenses. Once in Parliament, an extraordinarily-gifted but relatively "unknown" individual can shine and earn the respect of his peers, and hopefully merit their votes when they choose the Prime Minister. It will also prevent incompetent individuals who are merely riding on their star quality from capturing high government posts. It will also force our people, who are easily “awed” by a familiar political name, to take a second look at “fresher” political faces and this will hopefully lead to the infusion of “new blood” to our already incestuous political system. I also believe that the provinces will have a better chance to develop if we change our system into a parliamentary-federal form of government. For these reasons, I am in favor to a shift from the presidential to the parliamentary system.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Guimaras Oil Spill Tens Times Worse Than Semirara

Last Friday, an oil tanker carrying 2 million liters of oil sank 20 nautical miles off the coast of northern Guimaras (for more details, read this article). News of the oil spill did not immediately merit widespread attention because of the typhoon that caused widespread destruction in Western Visayas during the weekend. People are now just starting to realize how serious the Guimaras oil spill is to the marine ecosystem of the region. (Photo courtesy of Visayan Daily Star)

The latest oil spill in Guimaras already brings to two the number of oil spills to hit Western Visayas in just two years. Recall that only last December 2005, a NAPOCOR barge spilled 210,000 liters of bunker fuel off the coast of Semirara island in Antique. The Semirara Oil Spill destroyed more than 236 hectares of mangrove and polluted 40 kilometers of marine shoreline in Antique. It also took almost a year to clean up the mess and it seriously affected the livelihood of fisherfolk in the province. There were even fears that the oil slick would reach Boracay but thankfully, it proved to be unfounded.

The Guimaras Oil Spill (2 million liters) makes the Semirara Disaster (200,000 liters) pale by comparison. The latest oil spill is at least ten times worse than the Semirara disaster.

So how much will cleaning up 2 million liters of oil cost? If we are to judge by previous experience, NAPOCOR (which claimed full responsibility for the Semirara oil spill), allocated P90 million to rehabilite the mangroves, hire some 350 local residents for clean up operations and pay some 150 families who were directly affected by the oil spill. So if cleaning up 210,000 liters cost P90 million, it is therefore safe to assume that cleaning up the M/V Solar I oil spill would cost P900 million.

It is rather unfortunate that an environmental disaster of this magnitude would strike just when Guimaras's tourism industry seemed poised to take off. I myself have been doing my share in promoting the province's white sand beaches as a cheaper alternative to Boracay. What really infuriates me is that fact that all the nice white sand beaches in Guimaras are located near the oil spill site. Now, all the efforts in promoting the island province's tourism potential has come to naught because of this tragedy.

Aside from affecting resort owners, the oil spill will also affect the lives of poor fisherfolk in the area who rely entirely on the sea as their source of income and food. Petron definitely, should pay for this crime!

Monday, August 14, 2006

On The Preponderance of the Pinoy Elite

After discussing the tragedy of the Filipino middle class (see my earlier entry), allow me now to examine some of the reasons behind the preponderance of the Filipino elite class in electoral politics. I have always been fascinated on why and how the traditional elite have somehow managed to sustain their grip on political power despite the fact that many of them have already lost their preeminence in Philippine business. The world of business today is very much different from what it was 50 years ago; for example, most of the old elite (i.e. Sorianos, Elizaldes, Madrigals, Cojuangcos, etc.) have already been dislodged by the new (i.e. Gokongweis, Sys and Lucio Tan, etc.). Scanning the list of elected officials today, one finds the same family names occupying high government posts. One can therefore conclude that although they lack entrepreneurial flair, the elite more than makes up for this by displaying remarkable aptitude for politics.

I find the Filipino elite’s “staying power” in politics truly remarkable, especially in light of their “spotty” record in history. Because unlike the elite in other countries who truly contributed to making their countries great, the history of our local elite is marked by their collaboration, putting personal over public interest and failure to make our country great. The British aristocracy for example, has provided exceptional leadership that enabled their country to become one of the largest empires in history. Whether as outstanding ship captains during the Napoleonic Wars, able administrators of their colonies, or as gallant officers during the two World Wars, the sons and daughters of their elite proved they deserved their respected position in English society. Armed with little more than an Eton education, young members of the British aristocracy would go off to colonize distant lands and develop new markets for British products by befriending local elites (i.e Nicholas Loney).

In contrast, the Filipino elite as a class has no “generational achievement” to boast of and in fact, the history of the Pinoy elite is marked by their failure to lift our country to greatness. Of course, many of them fought and led our revolution against Spain and America but they were also, as a class, the first ones to pledge allegiance to our colonizers. During colonial times, most of them acted as the trusted administrators of our colonizers and helped in their subjugation of rebellious Filipinos. After the Philippine won her independence, the elite failed to develop our manufacturing industry and concentrated mostly in real estate development, rent-seeking and extractive industries which had turned the Philippines into the consumerist society it is today. In the field of public governance, they have (and continue to) mismanage our government such that the Philippines is now saddled with P4 trillion in foreign debt. Today, corruption and mediocre governance is the norm in government service.

Taken from this historical perspective, it is fascinating to see how ordinary Filipinos continue to be “mesmerized” by the elite and continue to elect them to public office. Given their “spotty” record in history, one would think that Filipinos would reject “old” families and clamor for “new blood” in politics. Many political pundits say that the preponderance of local elites is attributable to their monopoly of the “guns, goons and gold” (and in addition, “girls” meaning sexy showbiz dancers). But I somehow find it hard to believe that our people can be cowed / controlled by “guns, goons and gold” for so long, especially in this age of mass media, internet and universal education. There must be something more to it than just their ability to terrorize and buy votes.

It is said that political leaders embody the people’s aspirations and that people elect as their leader someone whom they think personifies their aspirations best. Be it good looks, intellect, success in business or profession, or talent, a leader possesses something which people want or aspires to. Of course, seeing the quality of our current crop of leaders leaves this theory in doubt. But the fact is, the masa aspires to become the elite. For example, the masa wants to wear what the rich wear (hence the popularity of fake LaCoste shirts), they want to go where the rich go (everyone wants to go to Boracay), they want all the things that the elite have (a big house, a nice car, an expensive education, etc.). And finding that they cannot achieve those aspirations here, the masa migrate abroad to earn dollars just to be able to imitate the lifestyles and mannerisms of the Filipino elite.

The Filipino’s adulation for all things elite, I think, has a profound effect on how we choose our leaders come election time. For starters, Ilonggo voters have a penchant for measuring a politician’s worth by how thick his wallet is and how “galante” he is to his constituents. Having a familiar, prominent-sounding last name also helps. Also, descendants of prominent politicians have a built-in advantage because of the "goodwill" their ancestors have built for them. Which is I guess par for the course: a good lawyer or doctor would be leaving behind a large number of satisfied customers whom his son or daughter can inherit later on. This, I think, is another plausible explanation for the preponderance of the Filipino elite in Philippine politics.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Lebanese Are the Present-Day Jews

In an earlier blog entry, I wondered out loud how the Lebanese people, despite the fact that their country has never experienced peace for decades, are still relatively properous as to afford Filipina maids (some 30,000 of them according to Philippine news reports). Now I know the answer: most of the Lebanese are also "OFWs" themselves and their dollar remittances fuel the Lebanese economy. According to the Lebanese consul here in the Philippines, most of their citizens have already left Lebanon to escape the periodic strife. A full 14 million Lebanese are scattered all over the world and only 4 million remain in their country. In an ironic quirk of fate, the Lebanese people have become the present-day version of the "Wandering Jew" for they have their very own "diaspora" going on in Lebanon.

The myth of the “Wandering Jew” has its origins in Christian folklore. According to legend, the “Wandering Jew” was a person who was cursed to walk the earth until the Second Coming because he taunted Jesus on His way to the crucifixion. But others see the myth as a metaphorical personification of the Jewish diaspora. The Jewish diaspora or the dispersion of the Jews throughout the world began during the 8th century B.C. when the Assyrians conquered Israel and continued when the Romans sacked Jerusalem. The Jews lost their state, Judea, and they were sold to slavery throughout the Roman empire. They were only able to return to their homeland in the late 1940s after the British “sponsored” the creation of Israel out of Palestinian lands.

In a way, the Filipino is very much like the Lebanese: both peoples are leaving their ravaged homelands en masse for greener pastures abroad. The Lebanese have just been at it for much longer. With 14 million Lebanese living all around the world, it is no wonder that our current Ambassador to Lebanon, Al Francis Bichara, has Lebanese blood. Ambassador Bichara, incidentally, is the brother of celebrity dance instructor Maribeth Bichara. I also read long ago that popular movie actress Dawn Zulueta is of Lebanese extraction. I would like to think that there are plenty of Filipinos out there who are of Lebanese ancestry. My heart also goes out to Ambassador Bichara because aside from ensuring the safe passage of our Pinays in Lebanon, I'm sure he is also concerned about the plight of his former constituents in Albay who are presently threatened by the Mount Mayon eruption. Bichara, you see, is the former Governor of Albay.

People might also find interesting this theory about the real story behind the current Israel-Lebanon conflict which goes something like this: the hostilities was sparked not because Hezbollah militants kidnapped two Israeli soldiers. The war is really about land specifically, that strip of fertile land known as the Shebaa Farms. Shebaa Farms used to be part of Lebanese territory but is now Israeli-occupied territory. Understandably, the militant Hezbollah group wants the land back and is said to have been planning to invade the oasis. Of course, Mossad (the legendary Israeli secret service) got wind of their plan so, using the kidnapping incident as an excuse, launched a pre-emptive strike on the Hezbollah to prevent them from executing their plans.

Given their history of always adopting a "hardline" stance towards Arab "terrorists" (watch the movie "Munich"), it was easy for Israel to sell to Western media their spiel that their main reason for attacking Lebanon was because two of their soldiers were kidnapped. But insiders believe the Israeli military has been itching for a war and they were just looking for an excuse to start one. They have been monitoring the Hezbollah for years and they knew that if they do not destroy it now, the group might become too powerful to crush later on. I simply refuse to believe that Israel would risk the safety of countless of their citizens just for the sake of two soldiers. There are other far better ways of solving the problem, like a surgical commando-type rescue mission for example (which the Israelis are reknowned for by the way, watch "Raid on Entebbe"). I also suspect the real reason behind this war is because someone will be making a buck out of it.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Ilonggo Politicians Quarrel Over Tourism Pie

Last week, Ilonggos were treated to the spectacle of local politicians quarrelling over who gets a slice of the tourism pie in the region. Local media reported that Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas was royally pissed during last week's Regional Development Council (RDC) meeting when he found out that his city was inadvertently excluded from the region's over-all tourism masterplan under the newly-established Panay Development Authority. Directing his ire at RDC Chair and Antique Governor Sally Perez (who is incidentally also his relative by marriage), Treñas supposedly threw a tantrum during the meeting, shoving papers and refusing to be mollified despite verbal assurances to the contrary. Governor Perez attributed the omission of Iloilo City in the tourism masterplan to a typographical error and repeatedly assured Treñas that they will correct it accordingly.

Well, typographical error or not, it really seems glaring that Iloilo City, being the regional capital, would be excluded in the region's development plan. I would also be pissed if I was the mayor of Iloilo City. And if you are wondering why Mayor Treñas is making such a big fuss over this seemingly simple error, let me just say that this simple clerical error would cost Iloilo City billions in foregone infrastructure projects. As I have written in my previous blog entry, Ilonggo politicians are eagerly anticipating billions of pesos of tourism-related infra projects to come pouring in ever since the President announced in her SONA that she is earmarking Region 6 as the country's "Tourism Corridor." And many insiders see the new Panay Development Authority as the clearinghouse for most of the multi-billion peso infrastructure projects that will boost tourism in the area.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Tragedy of the Pinoy Middle-Class

While most media outlets chose to highlight Pulse Asia's findings showing that 3 out of 10 Filipinos would choose to migrate abroad, I would like to discuss their other major finding showing that 82% of Filipinos acknowledge oligarchic hegemony in Philippine politics. In their latest July 2006 survey, Pulse Asia found that 41% of those surveyed say that the Philippines is controlled by a powerful few and ordinary citizens cannot do anything about this situation. They also found that "an equal number of people (41%) is unable to agree or disagree with this view and vacillates regarding the existence of oligarchic rule. Belief that a powerful few runs the country is strongest in Metro Manila (55%) and weakest in the Visayas (35%). Levels of public indecision, on the other hand, are generally constant across the country’s geographic areas and socioeconomic classes. The rest of the nation – a rather small proportion at 17% -- disagree that the country is controlled by a powerful few."

This fact that the Philippines is being ruled by the "well-born" is already old news to most Filipinos, although most may not have a concrete idea why this is so. So allow me, as someone who experienced up close the inner workings and internal dynamics in our political parties, amplify on this "oligarchy rule" phenomenon.

Under the current Philippine political set-up, a person with no "political pedigree" and resources (like me for example) has no chance of getting elected in Congress. Just to run for Congress, one needs to personally raise at least P15 million for his "warchest." And P15 million is just the bare minimum. It still would not ensure a congressional aspirant a convincing electoral victory. Running for public office therefore, remains a rich man's world. It always has been and it looks like it will always be that way.

Descendants of prominent politicians have a built-in advantage because of the "goodwill" their ancestors have built for them and in terms of name-recall. Which is I guess par for the course: a good lawyer or doctor would be leaving a large number of satisfied "customers" whom a son or daughter who decide to take up law or medicine can inherit later on. But Filipinos are different because they are easily awed by a familiar political name. People nowadays do not really examine a politician's credentials or listen to their platforms and policy advocacies. Speeches are dismissed as empty rhetoric and candidates can make a better crowd impression by dancing or singing on stage (Pinoys, being a musical people, put a high premium on a good singing voice). Nor are people impressed by academic credentials and sophistry anymore. Nowadays, in order to generate "goodwill" and make people take you seriously, one has to spend money on projects (medical missions, goodies and dole outs) and/or PR.

So what can a politically ambitious young man without a "political family name," financial resources and network do to become a congressman? The easiest route, if one has the looks, talent and brains, is to become a celebrity: a movie star or a newscaster. One can also join Akbayan or Bayan Muna or any of the party list groups. But not everyone is blessed with good looks, a deep TV/radio voice or a nice singing voice. Also, joining the Akbayan or Bayan Muna is problematic because they pretty much have an established seniority list and besides, one would have at least been jailed by Marcos to become a senior party member.

The usual route taken by persons harboring political ambitions is to join the "mainstream" political parties like LAKAS, NPC, LDP or the Liberal Party and become an active and loyal party member. By campaigning and making oneself "available" during elections, a person can earn "pogi" points with party elders. If the party candidate wins, one can get appointed to a government post that one can use as a "platform" for his own media projection and "fund-raising" activities. Of course, since government positions are limited, not all campaign workers can be granted a post. And it should be pointed out that government appointments are not just handed out to anybody like candy: one has to do something "extraordinary" to get noticed by a politician enough to merit a lucrative government posting. Most of the time, party operatives are largely left to themselves after elections, to be "reactivated" one year before elections. In the interim, party members find work elsewhere as private sector employees, small-time businessmen, or worse as influence-peddlers.

In other countries, a loyal party man can rise through the ranks and eventually get nominated to a party seat in Congress if he plays his cards right. In our country, one has to get elected congressman FIRST before he can become a high-ranking party official and not the other way around. Under the current Philippine party set-up, the chances of someone without pedigree and money getting nominated to Congress is practically nil. I have yet to hear of a loyal, long-serving party man or a simple political officer who was funded and supported by a party to Congress. The only political operatives I know who have managed to get themselves elected were the children of politicians themselves and their election is more because of their family’s resources than their party’s backing.

Of course, many poor but talented individuals get elected as councilors and even as provincial board members. Some exceptionally talented ones even get elected as mayors and governors. But by far, becoming a mayor or governor is very difficult for Filipinos with no money and pedigree and those who do succeed are more the exception than the rule.

Some Charter Change advocates have used this as an argument in changing our form of government from presidential to parliamentary. They argue that under the parliamentary system, ordinary citizens will have a greater chance of rising in the system. Political parties will also have a bigger chance of becoming “professionalized.” Under this system, talented party members who have no political pedigree or financial resources would supposedly have a better chance of landing a government post because it is the party who will choose and shoulder their campaign expenses.

The current political system in the Philippines is not only oligarchic but has also become incestuous, what with the well-born marrying into each other (read the book "The Ties That Bind"). The Filipino middle-class, whom people look up to to provide reform-oriented leadership and "new blood," has become silent and inward-looking. Many choose not to become directly involved in politics, choosing to fund a scholarship foundation here, a feeding program there, and so on. Of course, there are many gifted and qualified middle-class professionals out there who would love to become Congressmen. But the problem is that they neither have the money (or if they do, they would rather spend their hard-earned money on themselves) nor the inclination for the rough-and-tumble of politics. In fact, just the thought of singing and dancing for complete strangers puts them off. The irony of it all is that the political elite never seems to have qualms about "humiliating" themselves in front of the public. As my friend who is a mayor once said, "it is easy for these sosyal, civil-society types to bitch about what is wrong in our country but they themselves do not have the guts to put their names on a ballot."

The sad thing about the Filipino middle-class is that they know very well what is wrong and what should be done to correct the ills of our country but they choose to withdraw in their enclaves or migrate to Sydney, New Jersey or Toronto. This, to me, is the tragedy of the Pinoy middle class (to borrow a line from the movie "Havana").

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Iloilo City Employees to Receive Study Grants

Last Saturday, I got a call from Dennis Gonzalez saying that he was in Iloilo to interview several prospective candidates for their masteral program at the Ateneo School of Government. Dennis, by the way, is the younger brother of Iloilo City Congressman Raul Gonzalez, Jr. and is the current Academic Program Manager of the Ateneo School of Government in Rockwell, Makati. He said that he will be interviewing a group of City Hall officials who have signified interest in taking the masteral course, which included Councilors Parcon and Drilon-Garcia. He added that his brother and Mayor Treñas promised to pool their resources to fund the studies of 25 scholars.

The 25 lucky individuals to be chosen will be taking up the tricky “Masters in Public Management” program of the Ateneo School of Government. According to Gonzalez, the said two-year course is specially designed for people occupying management positions in government. And the best part is, the Iloilo students will not have to go to Ateneo-Rockwell because Ateneo-Rockwell will go to them. Gonzalez said that professors from the Ateneo will be flying in from Manila every Saturday to conduct whole-day lectures in Iloilo City. According to Dennis, this unique distance education curriculum is part of the Ateneo School of Government’s outreach program to improve the people’s access to high-quality education especially of those in the provinces.

This coming Saturday (August 12), a Memorandum of Agreement will be signed by the Iloilo City government and the Ateneo School of Government to conduct this distance learning program. Expected to lead the MOA-signing rites are Dr. Antonio Laviña, the new Dean of the Ateneo School of Government, Congressman Gonzalez, Mayor Treñas and other city officials.

By equipping our city managers with advanced education and the right leadership skills training, it is hoped that the quality of public service in Iloilo will improve. In the end, it is the general public who will benefit.

In the past, Iloilo City officials relied mainly on their homespun wisdom and innate talents to solve our city’s problems. But the rapid urbanization of Iloilo City has brought about problems never before encountered by previous administrations like flooding, traffic, urban blight and overpopulation. While common sense and native intelligence may have worked in solving simple problems in the past, the complex problems Iloilo City is currently encountering require complex solutions. There is, therefore, a need to equip our leaders with the right knowledge and advanced management skills if they are to solve our city’s problems. We also have to professionalize our people in City Hall if we want to see competent governance and improved public service for our people.

We must bear in mind that other Philippine cities are also upgrading their peoples’ skills and professionalizing their organizations. Presently, all cities in the country are in fierce competition for visitors and investors to their respective areas. Our City Hall officials must therefore also have to upgrade their skills and professionalize their organization in order to be competitive with other Philippine urban centers if we want to attract tourists and investors. In order to maintain Iloilo City’s preeminent position as one of the best places in the country to live in, we have to invest our financial resources in the people running our city. As the foremost city in Western Visayas, it would be a huge waste if we are going to let things slide and allow other Philippine cities overtake us in terms of growth and development.

In a sense, the people of Iloilo City are lucky because they have leaders who believe in education. Education is a most potent tool in realizing growth and improving people’s lives. We should thank Mayor Treñas and Congressman Gonzalez for believing in the project and allowing our city employees the opportunity to earn a masteral degree. Without their support, many of those who are planning to take up graduate studies would not be able to do so due to financial constraints. For their part, the beneficiaries of these study grants should realize that it is the taxpayers who will be paying for their tuition. They should therefore pay back the people thru their honest and efficient public service. The people of Iloilo City deserve no less.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Ten Most Powerful Persons in Western Visayas

I have drawn up a list of the ten most influential Ilonggos today. But before I continue, let me first explain the criteria I used for my list. I based my conclusions mainly on the following criteria: first is the person’s ability to influence government policy which includes his/her ability to source government projects, promote advocacies, etc. Second is popularity, which could either mean their ability to inspire awe, their public awareness level, their ability to inspire people and influence public opinion, or for politicians, their ability to consistently win elections. Last but not the least is the individual’s leadership qualities i.e. good governance, competence and intelligence, power to move crowds, etc. So here it is: THE TEN MOST POWERFUL ILONGGOS TODAY.

1. Senator Manuel “Mar” Roxas. By topping the 2004 senatorial race, Mar is now seen as a serious contender for the Presidency (if it still exists in 2010). As the “Great Ilonggo Hope,” local politicians, whether in the opposition or administration, all want to be in his good graces. His decision to align himself with the opposition Drilon wing of the Liberal Party has not really diminished Mar's stature in the eyes of Ilonggos. By showing that he had a "backbone," it may have even helped his political career and might have redeemed him in the eyes of non-believers.

Mar is one of the few political personages in Western Visayas who can truly claim familial ties in both Panay and Negros Occidental, his father being Senator Gerry Roxas from Capiz and his mother Judy Araneta from Bago, Negros Occidental. As the author of the bio-ethanol bill, Negros sugar planters look up to him to sheperd its passage in the Senate to grant the ailing local sugar industry a new lease in life. People see in Roxas the right blend of idealism and political pragmatism, (old) wealth and political pedigree, intelligence and mass appeal. The only question is – are Filipinos ready to elect a bachelor for president?

2. Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo. Archbishop Lagdameo is one of the most important princes of the Philippine Catholic Church today. Elected by his peers to head the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) last November 2005, he has since become a “quotable” media personality and his statements are regularly covered by national media outlets. Outspoken and sometimes controversial, Archbishop Lagdameo has led efforts to oppose the passage of the Population Management bill in Congress. He was also successful in opposing the establishment of coal-fired power plants and mining concessions in Iloilo province. As president of the very influential CBCP, he is always being courted by both administration and opposition politicians alike.

3. Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez. With Senators Roxas and Franklin Drilon no longer part of the administration coalition in the region, Secretary Gonzalez has been designated the political overlord of Panay by Malacañang. Aside from fending off coup plotters and acting as the President’s “lightning rod,” Secretary Gonzalez is also in-charge of settling minor political disputes among political allies, taking care of their needs and providing over-all party leadership in the region. Although he is much-maligned in national and local media, Secretary Gonzalez has never lost an election in Iloilo City, where he served three terms as Congressman. His apologists say that if only Erap had him instead of Serafin Cuevas as Justice Secretary, he would not have been ousted as President.

4. Congressman Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo. As the presidential brother-in-law, many perceive Iggy (rightly or wrongly) as very close to the powers-that-be. Ilonggo politicians all want to be in his good graces in the hope of bagging big infrastructure projects in their areas or having their pending requests “facilitated.” Investigated by the Senate for his participation in the “Jose Pidal” controversy years back, Congressman Iggy Arroyo is now the darling of Ilonggo politicians. Even now, pundits predict that he will easily get reelected since no one in his district has come forward to challenge him in the coming polls.

5. Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas. I included Mayor Treñas in my list of Ten Most Influential Persons not only because he is the mayor of the region’s premier city but because he is currently the President of the City Mayors’ League. As chief of the city mayors, Treñas's voice is listened to by decision makers. As a former pupil of President Arroyo at the Ateneo de Manila University, Mayor Treñas is perceived to be very close and is said to have a direct line to Malacañang. Recently, he was among the few LGU officials mentioned by GMA in her SONA speech. His grip on the mayorship of Iloilo City is very strong and pundits predict that he will easily win over former Mayor Mansueto “Mansing” Malabor in the coming elections. Dynamic, intelligent and results-oriented, Mayor Treñas is truly an up-and-coming Ilonggo politician. Incidentally, his father was once a senator of the Republic. Who knows, maybe lightning can strike twice.

6. Josette Biyo. Ma’am Biyo became an instant media celebrity when she bagged the prestigious “Intel Excellence in Teaching Award” in 2002, besting 4,000 other science teachers worldwide. She is the first Asian to win the said award. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) offered her a lucrative teaching job but she declined, saying that she preferred to go back to Iloilo to continue teaching the poor kids there. The MIT people were so impressed that they named a small planet after her (Planet Biyo which is nine kilometers in diameter and is located at the belt between Mars and Jupiter). Her book “A Trip to Planet Biyo” has become a modest bestseller and Ma’am Josette has also become a much sought-after inspirational speaker in both local and international gatherings. As the newly-appointed Principal of the Iloilo Science High School, Josette Biyo continues to inspire people to hope. I suspect that she is one of the reasons why many middle-class Ilonggos still opt to stay in the country.

7. Businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco. Although he is a transplanted Ilonggo, Danding Cojuangco has become a very influential player in Negros Occidential politics. Originally from Tarlac, Cojuangco married into the landed Oppen family of Southern Negros. Pity the local politician who incurs his ire for come election time, Cojuangco’s bottomless financial resources will come into play to ensure his/her electoral defeat. Danding’s folksy “cowboy” ways and easy humor have endeared him to his farm workers, helped no doubt by his being “galante” (a very Ilonggo trait). As chair of San Miguel Corporation, Mr. Cojuangco is seen as an important player in business circles. His son, Congressman Charlie Cojuangco (who is one his third and last term), is rumored to be being groomed by Danding to run for Mayor either in Bago City or Pontevedra town. But like his father (who seems to be enjoying farming nowadays more than politics), the younger Cojuangco also seems to be disinterested in politics as his dismal attendance record in Congress show.

8. Senator Franklin “Frank” Drilon. If this entry was written two years ago, I would have ranked Senator Drilon among the Top Five Most Powerrful list. But it seems that current events are happening not in Drilon's favor nowadays. Formerly the regional head of the Lakas-LP administration coalition in Western Visayas, Senator Drilon lost his preeminent stature for leading the “Hyatt 10” mass-resignation last year. His "withdrawal of support" seemed all the more devious because only a week before, he appeared on television telling President Arroyo to transfer Malacañang to Iloilo if “Imperial Manila” does not want her. Aside from losing his post as the region's administration party leader, Drilon also lost the Senate Presidency to Villar recently. His leadership of the Liberal Party is also being challenged by Manila Mayor Lito Atienza and the party is now currently split into two groups.

Now on his last term as senator, Drilon seems to have nowhere else to go. His prospects of bagging a Cabinet post is practically nil as of the moment (but who knows, stranger things have happened in Philippine politics). Iloilo’s gossip mills are currently abuzz with rumors that Drilon will be running for the lone district of Iloilo City or the second district of Iloilo province. But according to local news reports, he has not transferred his voter’s registration from Manila to Iloilo. Because of the one-year residency rule for local candidates, he is therefore ineligible to run in Iloilo. Drilon after all might be planning to retire from politics or go back to private law practice.

9. Energy Secretary Perpetuo “Popo” Lotilla. Hailing from the town of Sibolom, Antique, Secretary Lotilla started off as a UP Law professor and a legislative consultant in the Senate. Soft-spoken and self-effacing, it is easy to underestimate Secretary Lotilla. Due to the energy crisis currently being experienced in Panay, Ilonggos are pinning their hopes on their kasimanwa to solve the periodic brown-outs plaguing their area. The inadequate power supply is one of the most serious problems hampering the economic growth of Panay today. Even now, call centers and other BPO locators are already ruing having established operations in Iloilo City because of the brown-outs.

10. Department of Tourism Regional Director Edwin Trompeta. I have included Director Trompeta in this list in anticipation of the important role he will be playing in the region in light of President Arroyo’s SONA pronouncement earmarking Central Philippines as the premier tourist destination of the country. A competent career official, it was during his watch at the DOT-Region 6 that Boracay became a leading tourist destination and a top dollar-earner in the country. Presently, I figure that elected officials and local media people are all trying to get hold of this guy. I would if I was a mayor.