Saturday, September 30, 2006

Killer Bs Must Go

Ilongga Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago is urging Metro Manila mayors to file damage suits against the owners of billboards that fell and killed people as Typhoon “Milenyo” battered Metro Manila last Thursday. Moreover, the senator said that under Article 701 of the Civil Code, mayors could order their city engineers to tear down billboards without judicial proceedings. “Under the Civil Code, these giant billboards are a nuisance because they injure and endanger the safety of others, offend the senses, and obstruct the free passage of public streets and highways,” she said (read more here).

Meanwhile, another storm is approaching the country according to Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz, chair of the National Disaster Coordinating Council. Weather bureau officials said the tropical depression, called Neneng, was about 2,000 km east of the Visayas and expected to enter the Philippine area of responsibility on Sunday (read more here). On a more positive note, Health Secretary Francisco Duque claimed that Typhoon Milenyo helped wipe out dengue by sweeping away the breeding grounds of mosquitoes (read here).

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Millenium Storm

Living up to its name, Typhoon Milenyo (international name: Xangsane) wreaked havoc and caused tremendous damage in the country yesterday (read more here). Billed as the strongest typhoon to hit Metro Manila in 11 years, Typhoon Milenyo caused the following:

• Suspension of classes in all levels in Metro Manila today and yesterday

• Suspension of work in all government offices (except those line agencies engaged in disaster rescue/emergency work) today and yesterday

• Killed at least 18 persons

• Blackouts

• Thousands of trees felled

• Billboards and lampposts torn down

• Trucks and cars overturned

• Flooding and landslides

• Thousands stranded

• Flights and sea travel canceled

• Overhead trains systems LRT and MRT stopped

• Trading on stock and currency markets suspended

In Western Visayas, Typhoon Milenyo killed 5 and displaced 31,000 persons. In Antique province, around 100 persons living near the rivers of Sitio Kamunsil, Brgy. San Antonio, Barbaza town were trapped inside their houses due to floods caused by heavy rains (read more here and here). Three people there were killed — a drunken man who fell into a river, a nine-year-old boy and an electrician — said Antique Provincial Legal Officer Eduardo Fortaleza (read here). Fortaleza said rescue workers already evacuated the 100 residents who were trapped in Barbaza yesterday.

In other news, 16 out of the 19 nursing school deans in Western Visayas oppose the President's order for a retake of the June 2006 Nursing Licensure Exam (NLE). According to Ma. Luisa Parreñas, President of the Association of Nursing Deans in Region 6, a retake would mean additional expenses amounting to P40,000 for each nursing student and that it would be unfair for those who did not cheat in the exams. About 42,000 students took the June NLE and around 17,000 passed. In Western Visayas 2,424 students took the exams and 1,256 passed, Lily Ann Baldago, Professional Regulation Commission regional director, said.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Semirara, The Other Oil Spill

Now that national media attention has been focused on the Petron Oil Spill and Malacañang has declared Guimaras as a calamity area, let me now direct attention to the other, "lesser-known" oil spill that happened only last December 18, 2005 off the coast of Semirara island in Antique province. Browsing over old news reports about that tragedy, one gets a sense that Filipinos are not so forward-looking and that we never seem to learn from the mistakes of the past.

In that incident, approximately 364,000 liters of bunker fuel seeped out of a Napocor barge (Power Barge 106) when it ran aground 200 meters off Semirara island. The oil spill affected some 230 hectares of shoreline, sandy and rocky beach, and mangroves in Antique (Read more here). Like in Guimaras, inclement weather was blamed for causing the accident. And as in Guimaras, local residents were provided with rubber gloves and paid to manually clean up the sludge. And as we have come to expect when disasters like these occur, political leaders tried to project some semblance of official action in Semirara - Congress conducted its usual investigations "in aid of legislation" (read this Senate Resolution) and there were calls to improve the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (if ever there was one). I think it is safe to assume that nothing much came out of these purported "reforms" because another disastours oil spill happened a mere 8 months after Semirara.

The Semirara Oil Spill should have been the wake-up call, our clarion call to prevent similar disasters from happening in the future, much like the 1993 car bombing of the New York Twin Tower should have portended and alerted the Americans of the impending terrorist attack in 2001. I hate to think about it but if only our media had devoted more attention to the Semirara tragedy, the Petron Oil Spill in Guimaras would have never have happened. If only our government officials have acted and implemented measures to prevent similar "accidents" from happening, Guimaras would still be the pristine paradise that it was before the oil spill. Moreover, Semirara should have given government agencies like NDCC, Coast Guard and oil companies like Petron invaluable experience and practical knowledge on oil spill mitigation and disaster management techniques. Instead, when the Petron Oil Spill broke out, our government officials were so unprepared and obviously did not know how to deal with it. Our national disaster plans are a total disaster.

As a people, Filipinos do not know how to plan for the worst. We seldom prepare for contingencies: walang Plan B, Plan C, Plan D sa atin. In fact, we always tend to look at the bright side of things - I think sociologists call it the "bahala na" attitude. Filipinos are inherently optimistic and passionately temperamental - a trait we got from our Spanish forebears - which decidedly makes us more Latino than Asian in outlook.

Well, I guess you need to have a little "bahala na" attitude to survive in this blighted, disaster-prone country called the Philippines. This is probably the reason why, despite all the corruption, bad governance and meager economic opportunities in the country, various surveys show that Filipinos are among the happiest persons in the planet.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

P15-million Graciano Lopez-Jaena Shrine to Rise in Iloilo City

Demy Sonza, former Iloilo Vice Governor and current President of the Graciano Lopez-Jaena Foundation (GLJF), announced that a memorial shrine will be erected in honor of the great Ilonggo orator and national hero. Estimated to cost around P15 million, the memorial shrine will be built on a 500-square-meter lot on Fajardo Street, Jaro, Iloilo City where the Lopez-Jaena ancestral house once stood.

In other news, Ilonggo Senator Franklin Drilon expressed alarm over the reported P17-billion unliquidated cash advances of various government offices. Drilon's sidekick, Iloilo Governor Niel Tupas, has threatened to arrest STL bet collectors (or cobradores) caught soliciting bets outside the territorial jurisdiction of Iloilo City. I guess Ilonggos from the interior towns would just have to go to Iloilo City to place their bets in STL. The City Government of Silay, in a press release, said that they have released a female green turtle.

Finally, the Bacolod City Prosecutor's Office has filed reckless imprudence charges against 19-year old Lorenzo Suatengco (who is a incumbent Provincial Board Member representing the youth sector in Negros Occidental) and 17-year old Marvin Ortiz. News reports say that the two were drag-racing their Honda Civic cars along the main streets of Bacolod when they figured in an accident that killed pedestrian Augusto de Leon, a public school teacher.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Boracay For Sale

There's trouble brewing in paradise. For quite some time now, resort owners in Boracay have been up in protest against Presidential Proclamation 1064 which would open up their lands to public bidding. Philippine Star today has a news story on the controversy.

Sometime in May 2006, President Arroyo signed Proclamation 1064 declaring 628 hectares or 60% of the 1,032-hectare island as "alienable and disposable" land. The island's remaining 40% land area was categorized as "forest reserves, protected areas and swamps." Before the said Proclamation was issued, private ownership of lots in Boracay was technically illegal under Proclamation 1801 issued by the late President Ferdinand Marcos on November 10, 1978. Mostly, resort operators in Boracay relied on tax declarations as their proof of ownership, with some paying real estate taxes for their lots for more than 30 years already. Due to the booming tourism industry, real estate prices have been steadily rising in the past years with beachfront lots located along Boracay's world-famous 5-kilometer White Beach now priced at P30,000 per square meter. Last year alone, nearly half a million tourists visited Boracay bringing in P9.182 billion in revenues.

Understandably, long-time resort owners in Boracay are upset. Most have already invested heavily in developing their lots and with the Malacañang order, they will now be asked to bid for the land that they have developed and invested in for years. Leading the opposition to Proclamation 1064 is the Boracay Eminent Persons Group, a group of resort owners and restaurant operations headed by Orlando Sacay. Sacay claims that the land claimants would rather title their lands through judicial recognition rather than public bidding. They also want government to instead wait for the Supreme Court to rule on a lower court order recognized the right of land claimants in Boracay to have their lots titled.

But according to Tourism Region 6 Director Edwin Trompeta, Proclamation 1064 seeks to provide stability and security for investors on the island. He also claims that the re-categorization and titling of lots would also settle land ownership disputes in Boracay and ensure that parts of the island would be preserved and protected.

The way I see it, settling land ownership claims in Boracay thru judicial fiat will be problematic. For one, it will take longer to title out parcels of land individually and it may result in more confusion. I think government must also explain to the stakeholders and the affected resort owners that they will be given just compensation for the improvements they made to the land in case they lose in the auction. I tend to favor Proclamation 1064 because it will bring order to the otherwise convoluted and "magulo" land ownership set up in Boracay. Moreover, if lots are titled in Boracay, residents and resort owners there can already use their property as collateral if they want to borrow money from the bank.

Monday, September 25, 2006

STL Debuts in Iloilo City

Starting today, accredited bet collectors or corridores of ISTLC (Iloilo Small Town Lottery Corporation) will be roaming Iloilo City soliciting bets for Small Town Lottery (STL) - read the news report here. A special police force was also formed to monitor and ensure that the STL will not be used as a "front" for the illegal numbers game "daily double" in the city.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Thing I'd Like to See This May 2007 Elections

While buying a pack of Marlboro Lights in our neighborhood tiangge, I overheard a group of tambays hotly discussing certain polticial candidates and their chances of winning in the May 2007 elections. Their "political permutations" were not only entertainingly funny but were also quite right on. Their "in-depth political analyses" would have given Professor Pepe Miranda (of Pulse Asia) a run for his money. It is then that I realized that elections will definitely push thru. Not only are our friendly neighborhood tambays talking about it, recent developments are also pointing towards that direction what with Joe d V's cha cha choo choo train losing steam and the Sigaw ng Bayan-inspired People's Initiative encountering a blank wall.

Not to be outdone, I am also listing down the things that I would like to see this coming May 2007 elections. Katuwaan lang ni:

1. Susan Roces running against Iggy Arroyo. Miss Roces, Susan Sonora in real life, is a true-blue Negrense who was studying at La Consolacion College-Bacolod City before entering showbusiness. She spent most of her childhood in Negros Occidental and continues to have some relatives in the province.

At present, there is no local politician in the 5th District of Negros Occidental who is strong enough to challenge Congressman Ignacio "Iggy" Arroyo. The said district's former representative, Apolinario "Jun" Lozada (whom Iggy defeated in 2001), is not making his presence felt. Besides, should Lozada decide to square off with Iggy again, local pundits predict that he will be soundly defeated. On the other hand, the widow of screen legend Fernando Poe Jr. will surely give Mr. Arroyo a run for his money (no pun intended). For several years now, the Erap-FPJ opposition group has been outwitted, outsmarted and outclassed by Malacañang's political operatives and their every political gambit defeated time and again. If they are able to ease out Iggy from Congress, then it would be a small but meaningful victory for their group para makatikim naman ng panalo ang grupo nila. And besides, gusto ko rin naman makitang matalo paminsan minsan ang pamilyang Arroyo.

In a Roces-Arroyo fight, I predict that the political Godfather of Negros Occidental, Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco would remain neutral since he has close ties to both. I also know for a fact that Iloilo 4th district Congressman Ferj Biron (who is a self-made millionaire) would be more than happy to see Iggy go and may even throw in some moolah to Susan's campaign kitty. This is so because the sister of Iggy, Marilou Arroyo-Lesaca, will be running against Biron in Iloilo. So the fight would be about even steven - a classic "moviestar popularity vs. money/machinery" grudge fight. The only downer is, I don't know if Miss Roces was able to register in Negros Occidental in time for the one-year minimum residency for candidates.

2. Cong. Ferj Biron running for Governor of Iloilo. A doctor of medicine by profession, Ferjenel "Ferj" Biron is a self-made man who made his millions importing cheap medicines from India and/or Pakistan and selling it here in the Philippines. Coming from a family of modest means in Barotac Nuevo, Ferj put himself through medical school in Iloilo City thru hard work, discipline and natural intellect. During the 1998 elections, he ran for congressman in the 4th district of Iloilo but lost to the incumbent, the late Congressman Narciso "Narcing" Monfort of Dumangas, Iloilo (who is incidentally also a medical doctor like Biron. Monfort's unforgettable campaign tagline was "Narcing na, Doctor pa!"). In the last 2001 elections, Ferj again ran but this time against former Passi Mayor Jesry Palmares, scion of the politically-prominent Palmares clan of Iloilo. This time, he won.

This coming May 2007 elections, Biron will again face a formidable opponent in the person of presidential sister-in-law Marilou Arroyo-Lesaca. Although not a tumandok (old-timer) of Iloilo, Lesaca was convinced to run for Congress upon the prodding of Biron's old nemesis, Jesry Palmares. Last month, Biron's fellow colleagues Iloilo Representatives Art Defensor, Janet Garin and Rolex Suplico approached Lesaca to ask her to run for Governor instead. The three representatives offered to unite and combine their political might in support of her gubernatorial bid if only to prevent "all-out war" between two administration forces in Iloilo (Biron is still a member of the administration Lakas Party in Congress). To their dismay, Lesaca turned down their offer.

As of the moment, there is no administration party stalwart in Iloilo strong enough to seriously challenge the incumbency of Governor Niel Tupas. At various times, the names of Vice Governor Armanda, Garin, Suplico and Lesaca were "floated" as possible challengers to Tupas but all eventually fizzled out. Formerly with the administration coalition, Governor Tupas chose to stick it out with Senator Franklin Drilon after the latter asked President Arroyo to resign in what is now known as the "Hyatt 10 Press Conference." Understandably, Malacañang wants Tupas out of the Iloilo Provincial Capitol.

If I were Biron's political handler, I would advise him to run for Governor instead. Let Lesaca have the 4th district, tutal mas mataas naman ang Governor e. I will also advise him to tell the three Iloilo congressmen: "O sige, ako na lang iiwas kay Lesaca. Tatakbo akong Governor if only to prevent 'all-out war' and defeat Tupas. Pero dapat suportahan ninyo akong tatlo." If Lesaca in her vindictiveness still decides to go after Biron and run for governor, at least I would have raised the financial stakes -- Lesaca now has to raise money to fund an electoral campaign in five legislative districts instead of one! (It is said that if there's something that Ferj has a lot of, it is money.) And Inday Marilou's " pagka-vengatibo " and Toto Ferj's "Christian-like humility" could be played up as a campaign issue in the local media and might just tip the scales in favor of Biron.

3. Alex Lacson running for the 6th District of Negros Occidental. Remember the book "12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do to Help Our Country" which generated quite a buzz awhile back? Well, "12 Things.." was written by Alexander "Alex" Lacson, a young Manila-based lawyer who hails from Kabankalan, Negros Occidental. Idealistic yet soft-spoken, intelligent yet humble, Atty. Lacson to me is the epitome of what a leader should be. Despite his prominent-sounding surname, Alex grew up poor and put himself through school with the help of his many siblings. He first studied at the Philippine Military Academy but finding out that military life was not for him transferred to UP where he eventually finished his law degree (You can read more about him if you buy the book). Congress needs a fellow like him.

4. Rolex Suplico running for Senator. This did not come from me: this is the "buzz" currently circulating in Iloilo's coffeeshops. I suspect this "Rolex-for-Senator rumor" was floated by Suplico's camp in order for them to get a feel of the people's reactions. Be that as it may, I am interested to see how Suplico will fare considering that he is not even remotely within striking distance of the "Magic Circle of 12."

Incidentally, Rolex like Alex is also a former PMA cadet who quit and studied law in UP. Suplico is an "estranged" nephew of Governor Niel Tupas and is married to Teresa Cancio-Suplico whose family owns Goodwill Bookstore.

5. Nong Tawe running for Mayor of Roxas City. Emmanuel Billones or Nong Tawe to those who know him has been a trusted political lieutenant of the Roxas family for generations, and I mean it literally. Nong Tawe had worked for the late Senator Gerry Roxas in the '60s - 70s, the late Congressman Dinggoy Roxas from the mid-80s to early-90s and Senator Mar Roxas from the early-90s to date. His is a type of loyalty quite rare in politics nowadays. I would like to see him become Mayor of Roxas City for I believe that that kind of loyalty should have its rewards, di bala?

6. Toby Monsod appointed Chair/Commissioner of COMELEC. Toby Melissa Monsod is young, driven and very strict. Most importantly, she is IT-savvy having worked as DTI Assistant Secretary for IT and chairperson of ITECC. These I believe are the characteristics that a Commissioner (or Chair) of COMELEC should possess. Moreover, she had previous experience in the Commission having worked as her father's Chief of Staff back when Christian Monsod was still Chair.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Opportunity in Tragedy

Two days ago, the Light Cargo Tanker (LCT) contracted by Petron Corporation and the Philippine Coast Guard to take out the collected oil sludge in Guimaras finally departed Cabalagnan Wharf in Nueva Valencia for Mindanao. Carrying around 500 Metric Tons of bunker fuel sludge and assorted debris, the LCT will deliver the waste material to the Holcim Cement Plant located in Lugait, Misamis Oriental where it will be used as an alternative fuel and raw material for cement production. Another 2,000-ton capacity barge is currently at dock at Nueva Valencia, just waiting to be loaded to its full capacity. The people of Guimaras can now heave a sigh of relief seeing that the highly toxic oil sludge are finally being taken out of their island province. People should also be thankful to Petron Corporation for voluntarily shouldering the cost of transporting and disposing the collected oil sludge. Or should they?

In a blog entry here dated September 7, I wrote that an Australian liquid waste treatment firm was offering to treat FOR FREE the collected oil sludge in Guimaras. I then made inquiries and emailed several Petron officials about the offer. To my dismay, I got no response - not even an acknowledgement. Now I know why Petron Corporation officials did not accept the offer of my Australian contact.

Guess who owns Holcim-Philippines? C’mon take a guess. Sirit?

It is none other than Alsons Cement Corporation, a company owned by the family of Petron Chairman Nick Alcantara. In other words, by giving the contaminated oil to Holcim, the Alcantara-owned cement plant effectively received free fuel from the oil spill. Talk about making money out of a tragedy. As the old Chinese proverb says; "In every problem there is an opportunity." Kung sa Tagalog pa: “Nakatulong ka na, kumita ka pa." Galing galling talaga, di ba?

Alsons, which stands for Alcantara & Sons, is a family corporation which made its fortune in Mindanao engaging in agribusiness, retailing and extractive concerns like cement mining. Today, Alsons is one of the biggest Filipino-owned corporations in the country and Alsons Cement is just one of the many companies owned by the Alcantara Group of Companies. The Alcantara family also owns Alsons Corporation, Conal Corporation, Alsons Insurance Brokers Corporation, Saranggani Agricultural Corporation, Inc., Alsons Aquaculture Co., Inc., Alsons Development & Investment Corp., Alsons Land Corp., and C. Alcantara & Sons, Inc.

Holcim is a global cement brand based in Europe. In the Philippines, Holcim is co-owned by Alsons Cement Corporation and Union Cement Corporation (which also owns Hi Cement Corp., Davao Union Cement Corp. and Bacnotan Cement Corp.). In its web site, Holcim Philippines Inc. claims to be the leading cement manufacturer in the Philippines, employing 1,400 employees in four plants across the archipelago. It operates four cement plants – one in La Union, another in Bulacan, a third in Davao City and the Lugait Plant in Misamis Oriental. These plants account for a total installed clinker production capacity per year of 7.2 million metric tons and annual cement production capacity of 8.7 million metric tons. It is currently applying for tax incentives in the BOI.

The Alcantaras are widely-known for their entrepreneurial savvy, both in Manila and Mindanao business circles. And as a seeming testament to this fact, they were even able to turn the oil splll tragedy into an opportunity. Hanep! Mabuhay ang Pinoy entrepreneur!!


The fiery Senator from Iloilo, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, has been diagnosed to be suffering from anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder. In a letter sent to Senate President Manuel Villar Jr., Santiago requested for an indefinite leave of absence so that she can recuperate in the hospital. Senator Santiago promised to report back to the Senate on Sept. 25.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Now That's How You Pull Off a Coup

Disgruntled military officials in the Philippines should learn from their counterparts in Thailand on how to launch a successful coup 'd etat. For starters, you don't telegraph your intentions thru text messages or thru media days before your putsch. Most people in Thailand had completely no idea that a coup was brewing (they were preoccupied with their elections scheduled in October) and even their Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, was in New York when the coup happened. Second, your troops should only move in if: 1.) there has been a genuine political crisis and 2.) you have the backing of high-ranking generals. Third, you don't need a phalanx of civilian warm-bodies (or "people power'") for your coup to succeed. The coup in Thailand was a purely military operation without a civilian or "people power" component. We will know in succeeding days if it enjoys civilian support. But even now, reports coming out of Thailand say that people there can be seen happily posing with rebel soldiers who are guarding the Royal Thai Palace in Bangkok.

Of course, the Royal Armed Forces have had more experience (and more success) compared to our armed forces when it come to coups: various Thai military officers have succeeded in overthrowing their civilian superiors in 1932, 1948 and 1971. The Philippine Armed Forces, on the other hand, have a dismal record: out of 11 coup attempts (1 under Marcos, 8 under Cory, 2 under GMA) only one succeeded. And it succeeded only because the people "interceded" and not because of their impeccable military planning and preparation.

Wikipedia already has this entry describing the events that transpired only two days ago:

"The 2006 Thailand coup d'état took place on 19 September 2006, when members of the Royal Thai Army staged a coup d' etat against the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The coup, which is Thailand's first in fifteen years, followed a lenghty political crisis involving Thaksin and political opponents, and occurred less than a month before elections were scheduled to be held, on October 15, 2006. The military junta cancelled the upcoming elections, abrogated the Constitution, dissolved Parliament, banned political protests, declared martial law, and blacked out all local and international news broadcasts in Thailand."

Read the blow by blow account of the coup by Wikipedia. Read also this report by Thomas Fuller of the International Herald Tribune.

Long known as the Philippines's "twin sister" because our two nations are so alike in many respects, Thailand has long since overtaken us economically mainly because their leaders were able to control population growth and develop their SMEs (small and medium enterprises). Twenty years ago, Thailand and the Philippines had the same population. Today, Thailand only has 65 million while Filipinos now number 85 million. Thru their "One Tambong, One Product" program, they were able to "grow" their SMEs. Our local DTI is currently trying to duplicate this by having its own "One Town, One Project" (OTOP) program. Also, Thailand has been very successful in attracting foreign tourists - at present, there are 11 million tourists in that country compared to only 3 million visitors to the Philippines. Undoubtedly, Thailand has already overtaken us by several miles and now, the Philippines is in danger of being overtaken by Vietnam!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Politics Heats Up in Western Visayas

With less than 8 months to go til the May 2007 elections, political alignments are slowly firming up in Western Visayas. Ilonggo politicians are starting to "project" and "position" themselves with their respective publics and local news are rife with rumors of who will be running against who for what position. So here are the most exciting political developments in our region to date:

A retired PNP general, Robert "Bebot" Delfin, will be running for the province's lone congressional district, setting the stage for an exciting "battle-royale" with the unsinkable Congressman Exequiel "Boy X" Javier. Delfin will be running under the slate of Governor Salvacion "Sally" Perez-Zaldivar (Liberal Party-Atienza Wing). Governor Perez has also enlisted third-termer Mayor Mary Jean Nicopior to be her Vice Gubernatorial running-mate.

Capiz. Only last week, the Provincial Liga ng mga Barangay passed a Resolution requesting the political kingpin of Capiz, Senator Mar Roxas, to “approve” the candidacy of third-termer Governor Vicente "Vic" Bermejo for the first congressional district. Should Senator Mar "give in" to their request, this will effectively leave the current Representative, Rodriguez "Roging" Dadivas, out in the cold. Capiceños are wondering what will happen to the soft-spoken and self-effacing Roging who, since the last time I checked, still professes eternal loyalty to Mar. But there are unconfirmed reports that he had already aligned himself with the pro-administration Liberal Party-Atienza Wing. Capiceños are quite excited to see whether Roging would dare "disobey" and challenge his political betters in Capiz.

Over at the 2nd District, things are hanky dory for Congressman Fredinil “Fred” Castro. With Joc Joc Bolante far away in jail, Congressman Castro can look forward to an easy win this coming elections.

Over at Roxas City, the incumbent Mayor Tony del Rosario is on his third term and talk has it that he will be running for Governor. Four individuals (who are incidentally trusted lieutenants of Mar) are being groomed to him, namely: old-time Roxas loyalist Tawe Billones, City Administrator Em Losanta, youngish lawyer Blas Viterbo and Suzette del Rosario, the wife of incumbent Mayor Tony del Rosario. Whoever will be chosen among the four will be facing the opposition team of Councilor Alan Celino and Eleazar Almalbis.

Iloilo. So far, there is still no clear administration party candidate who has surfaced to challenge the incumbent Niel Tupas (Liberal Party-Drilon Wing) for the gubernatorial post. Although the names of Vice Governor Armada, third-termer Congressman Rolex Suplico (who is an estranged nephew of Governor Tupas), 1st District Congresswoman Janette Garin and presidential sister-in-law Marilou Arroyo-Lesaca have been "floated" at one time or another, things are uncertain yet. For example, Suplico is said to be planning to make a run for the Senate while Lesaca purportedly said that she wants just to be Congresswoman first and feels that running for Governor is "too sudden" a jump for her considering that she is a newcomer in Iloilo politics.

Over at Iloilo City, the Gonzalez-Treñas leadership will be hosting a party convention on October 1 to decide their slate. During the gathering, the City's barangay captains and ward leaders will choose who their party candidates will be from Congressman down to Councilor. Of course, everyone more or less already knows who will be nominated for Congressman (Raul Gonzalez, Jr.) and Mayor (Jerry Treñas). What actually is “up for grabs” is the position for Vice Mayor (toss up between Councilors Mabilog, Espinosa and former Councilor Pesina) and Councilor seats. Since the incumbent Vice Mayor Guilling dela Llana is already retiring, some say that Secretary Gonzalez and Mayor Treñas wanted to avoid a potential "flashpoint" in their relationship and decided to just leave their barangay leaders to choose whom they want as their next Vice Mayor. Councilor Espinosa you see is Treñas's brother-in-law while Gonzalez is pushing for Attorney Pesina to be the Vice Mayor. As for Councilor Jed Mabilog, he is being considered because he is the current no. 1 councilor and is quite popular with the barangay captains too.

Negros Occidental. The beautious Gretchen Oppen Cojuangco, wife of San Miguel Corp. head Danding Cojuangco, will run for the 4th Congressional District replacing his son Charlie who is on his third and last term. After a lackluster stint in Congress, Charlie Cojuangco is being groomed by Danding for the mayorship of Bago City.

So far, no strong contender has come up to challenge Governor Joseph Marañon's hold on the Provincial Capitol. There where reports that Congressman Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo is planning to run for governor but Iggy has already dismissed the rumor as "intriga" designed to put a wedge between him and the governor.

The fight for the Mayorship of Bacolod City promises to be more exciting, what with three individuals being rumored to have a moist eye for Mayor Leonardia's post. They are, namely; retired PNP Sr. Supt. Ponteras, former Mayor Valdez and DOTC Assistant Secretary Cano Tan.

Guimaras. During the recent visit of President Arroyo, people were surprised to see their former Representative, Emily Relucio-Lopez, accompanying her in overseeing the oil spill relief operations. After losing to Nava for Governor 2 elections ago, the charming socialite made herself scarce in Guimaras and people have not seen her for quite some time up until the oil spill tragedy. Naturally, talk began that Emily Lopez is once again interested in running (either for governor or representative) or "nagpaparamdam.." Appointed by President Arroyo as our Ambassador to Italy, Emily Lopez's appointment is being opposed at the Commission on Appointments by Senator Serge Osmeña.

Dr. JC Rahman Nava is now on his third and last term as Governor and is rumored to be running for the island province's lone congressional district. His nemesis, Congressman Edgar Espinosa, is said to be planning to replace him at the Capitol.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Gordon-Sabio Shoutfest Further Erodes Senate’s Image

Two days ago, I watched over primetime news telecast the verbal shoutfest of Senator Richard Gordon and PCGG Chariman Camilo Sabio. The TV report said that the two were arguing about the interpretation of Executive Order No. 1 - on whether or not a congressional committee can compel PCGG officials to appear before its investigative hearing. I would have wanted very much to hear the legal arguments of the two luminaries (both Gordon and Sabio are top-notch lawyers and were delegates to the 1971 Constitutional Convention). Instead, what I saw was two grown-up men acting like spoiled children.

It used to be that high-ranking government officials were in "awe" of Senators. Ten years ago, it would have been unthinkable for an appointive official to even just raise his voice at a Senator. Visiting "resource persons" were respectful and deferred to the judgement of the Senators and individual Senators won policy debates based not on their political affiliations but on the superiority of their arguments. The Senate then had the likes of Ople, Salonga, Tañada, Romulo, Roco and many others who were well-respected intellectuals, accomplished professionals and eminent orators. Naturally, one feels "small" and intellectually intimidated amidst these great men. I remember when I was still working at the Senate, I looked forward to watching the Plenary debates and listening to the "verbal jousts" of Senators then. It was truly a marvel to hear them debate the issues of the day (and without notes too! strictly extemporaneous and with minimal CSW unlike today). I truly feel privileged to have witnessed them in action and I only wish that the country had C-Span so that more Filipinos could have followed their debates on cable TV.

Today, the Philippine Senate is fighting for its life. It is being attacked on all sides: by Malacañang with its E.O. 464 which disallows Executive officials from attending its investigative hearings; by the House of Representatives who want to have a unicameral legislature; by local government officials (thru ULAP) who claim that the Senate has become obstructive and irrelevant; and surprisingly even by the Supreme Court who recently granted Sabio's petition for habeas corpus. Moreover, the Filipino middle class which used to be the Senate's bastion of support now see the Upper Chamber as a repository of dim-wits and artistas and many are quite disappointed with its current composition. I am afraid that the latest verbal tussle involving Senator Gordon and PCGG Chair Sabio would just further erode the Senate's image and weaken it as an institution.

The Senate's current position reminds me of that scene in the movie "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" wherein King Theoden, surrounded and outnumbered by Saruman's forces, was preparing to make a last stand at the impregnable fortress Helm's Deep. While his loyal valet was putting on his golden armor, King Theoden recited this ominously haunting poem before going out to fight Saruman's legions;

Where now the horse and rider?
Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk,
and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the hairspring,
and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest
and the tall corn growing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain,
like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West
behind the hills into shadow.

Those who saw the movie know what happened next: Gandalf, Prince Eomer and the Riders of Rohan (The Rohirrim) came to his rescue and swept Saruman's forces off the battlefield with their battle horses. Anyway, I cited King Theoden's poem here because I feel that it is the most appropriate verse that captures the "gloom and doom" situation which the Senate currently finds itself in.

Outnumbered, isolated and without allies, I wonder who will come to the Senate's rescue?

Friday, September 15, 2006

E.O. 558 Is For The "Non-Bankable" Poor

Last week, the entire Philippine banking and finance community were caught by surprise over the President’s signing of E.O. 558. The said Order repealed the Estrada-era E.O. 138 which prohibited government non-financial agencies (GNFAs) like DSWD from engaging in microfinancing. Even high ranking officials from the Department of Finance (DOF) and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) were puzzled at the President’s seemingly “irrational” and “rash” order and most of the key leaders in the credit financing sector have already come out to express their concern and alarm even, over the junking of E.O. 138. Some commentators like Billy Esposo even claimed that E.O. 558 will be used for politicking in next year's elections. Judging from their reactions, it now seems clear that Malacañang acted "unilaterally" and did not consult finance and banking officials before issuing the E.O. (or probably someone in Malacañang knew that these people would naturally oppose the move and just decided to go on with it). BSP Governor Amando Tetangco “worded” this widespread cynicism the best when he said: “with E.O. 558, the country would risk losing its hard-won fiscal discipline that has dramatically improved international perception of the Philippines… The government could best preserve and enlarge its gains in microfinance lending by maintaining a policy environment that would encourage private financial institutions to invest in serving the bankable poor.”

The question to Mr. Tetangco then is: “what about the non-bankable poor" (di ba parang oxymoron). Aren't they entitled to loans too? (By the way, I would be very interested to hear from him the difference between the "bankable" and "non-bankable" poor).

I remember that when Arroyo first assumed the Presidency, she cited “SME Development” as one of her key programs to create more jobs and bring about economic growth for Filipinos. In 2003, she launched “SULONG” (which stands for “SME Unified Lending Opportunities for National Growth” – quite a mouthful). SULONG is an amalgamation of 7 government financial institutions or GFIs (DBP, LBP, National Livelihood Support Fund, PhilExim, Quedancor, SSS and Small Business Corporation) which signed a covenant to implement an “integrated approach” to SME lending. And after only three years in operation, current DTI Secretary Peter Favila reports that over P85 billion in loans have already been released to various SMEs nationwide under the SULONG program. Theoretically, since there are about 800,000 SMEs in the country according to NSO data, this means that each SME can borrow about P105,000 under the SULONG program. Note that besides SULONG, there are many other GFIs and private sector groups also engaged in microfinancing. Fueled by Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) loans and local savings, the perception is there is much money to be lent out to SMEs in the Philippines today.

This perception seems to be bolstered by the fact that only a week ago, a friend of mine whose family owns a small rural bank in Dipolog City, Zamboanga del Norte said that their bank is currently “awash with microfinancing cash” (courtesy of PCFC – People’s Credit and Financing Corporation). He also said that their primary problem now is the lack of qualified borrowers; most of the small businesses in their area lack the necessary documents to qualify for a loan. He further notes that SME owners are “opaque” (as opposed to transparent) and it is very hard for his credit investigators to examine their credit standing because they do not usually keep a record of their business transactions.

Businessmen oftentimes lament the fact that Philippine banks are very strict and quite conservative in their lending habits. They say banks will only lend you money if you can prove to them that you don't need them. Banks, especially the big ones, perceive SMEs as "high credit risks" and disdainfully view SME lending as "too much work for too little gain." According to a study made by Fajardo in 1990, the median age of SMEs in the Philippines is 7 years. A study made by the Ministry of Science and Technology of China also made a similar finding: "around 50% of SMEs come to an end in their first three years of business and 50% of the remaining 50% disappear in the next 5 years." In other words, only 25% of start-up SMEs remain after only 8 years in business and very few small businesses survive to be more than 10 years old. Various banking industry studies also show that microfinancing is at least 5 times more costly than say, commercial loans. This is so because you need to hire more people to manage larger volumes of accounts but at "tingi-tingi" amounts. We Ilonggos have a word for it: "pabugas-bugas."

Despite government's efforts to provide credit access to the poor, there are still many who fail to qualify for start-up business loans. For one, most GFIs require collateral and "equity capital" - meaning a borrower should also have counterpart money for his start-up business - to qualify for a loan. But who has capital nowadays? Certainly not the poor itinerant vendor. Also, most Filipinos are "afraid" of going inside a bank: first, you have to look "presentable" (i.e. indi naka-tsinelas, sando) or else the loan officer would think you do not have "capacity to pay," second, loan processing demands paperwork and usually takes at least a month and third, it is more convenient to borrow from the friendly neighborhood "5-6" (ikaw pa ang pinupuntahan para pautangin!).

I think that the underlying reasons/motivations for President Arroyo's repeal of E.O. 138 can be attributed to the fact that GFIs have not been entirely successful in "weaning away" Filipino entrepreneurs from the "5-6." She therefore wants the line agencies (like DSWD) to come in and provide credit to the "non-bankable poor," to borrow Tetangco's term. While it has restored the faith of the international community, the prudential measures being observed by GFIs and MFIs (Micro Financing Institutions) have caused a "bottleneck" in SME financing. Thus, as my friend the rural banker said, they are "awash with microfinancing cash but little qualified borrowers." I surmise that the President (or whoever her E.O. 138 adviser is) felt that not enough funds are reaching the poor or if loans are do released by GFIs/MFIs, the microfinancing funds most often reach not the poor itinerant vendor but the middle-class entrepreneur. Interestingly, just weeks before the President signed E.O. 558 Malacañang and NEDA have issued press statements urging our financial sector to be more "developmental," and "not be lazy" in lending to SMEs. So I guess the President got "impatient" with the "excuses" and prudential guidelines of our GFIs/MFIs and decided to just proceed with taking on the "5-6" on her own.

For not sufficiently explaining and defending the rationale for E.O. 558 in media, Malacañang is losing the policy debate over the issue. I think Palace PR hacks should perform better at explaining the President's new policy directive to our people.

SBMI Recommends Charges vs. SMDC, Petron & Capt. Aguro

The Special Board of Marine Inquiry yesterday concluded its investigation into the Petron Oil Spill and recommended the filing of appropriate charges against Sunshine Maritime Development Corp (SMDC), MT Solar I Captain Aguro and Petron Corporation. SBMI will furnish the Department of Justice a copy of their findings so it can determine the criminal and civil liabilities of Petron, SMDC and the ship captain. The Board also recommended the following measures:

• Rereouting tankers farther from the coastline;
• Establishing a real-time tracking system for ships;
• Making a risk assessment of sea routes and carriers;
• Strategic positioning of tug and salvage equipment;
• Modernizing Coast Guard equipment;
• Institutionalizing oil spill liability;
• Requiring all ships to be double hulled;
• Improving vessel construction;
• A review by Marina of all loadline certifications of tankers;
• Compelling Marina to ensure compliance to its rules and regulations;
• A review by the Professional Regulations Commission (PRC) to of policies for the issuance of licenses to seamen; and
• Holding ship owners primarily liable and responsible for hiring competent seafarers.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Finally, A Light at the End of the NAIA 3 Tunnel

Yesterday, the Philippine government finally paid P3 billion to Piatco, the consortium that built the NAIA 3 airport terminal. The said amount represents the initial payment that would allow our government to expropriate and enable MIAA to finally operate the terminal.

For years, I have been following closely the developments in the NAIA 3-Piatco issue simply because I have a financial stake there. You see, I was one of the "lucky" few who was able to get a concession contract to operate a restaurant inside the new airport terminal several years back. I was all set to open a small restaurant named Comida Ilongga (together with my chef-partner, a fellow Ilonggo) at the shopping mall area of the new airport but unfortunately, the Supreme Court nullified the Piatco BOT contract after finding several illegal and onerous provisions in it. My partner and I have already paid Piatco nine months advance rent and deposit (as stipulated in our concessionaire contract) just days after the Supreme Court declared the NAIA 3 contract null and void. Since then, we have been trying and waiting to get our money back in vain. Hopefully, Piatco will now be able to pay us back our advance rental payments now that the government has made the P3 billion "downpayment" for the terminal.

I have always dreamed of running my own bar and/or restaurant. But after years of agonizing over my "failed" investment at NAIA 3, I have decided to put that plan on hold at the moment. The Comida Ilongga Restaurant would have been my very first foray into business but my experience with Piatco has taught me one valuable lesson: it pays to be cautious when making investment decisions, especially in the Philippines. Now, when I hear foreign investors and local businessmen complain that investment conditions in this country is very unpredictable, I nod my head vigorously in agreement. I totally symphatize and share their sentiment, having been "victimized" myself. Greedy politicians and powerful business groups make our country very unstable and unconducive to business. Thus, it very hard for businessmen to succeed and makes our country unattractive to foreign investors. This I think is the reason why the Philippines's economic growth has consistently lagged behind in comparison to the rest of our Southeast Asian neighbors.

Monday, September 11, 2006

It Has Been a Month...

Today (September 11) marks not only the 5th anniversary of the New York Twin Tower bombing but also the 31th day of another tragedy: the Petron Oil Spill in Guimaras. Both tragedies have far-reaching and some say irreversible impact on the lives of the people living in the area. A full month has gone by and the ill-fated MT Solar I has not yet been salvaged and the oil inside its cargo hold has not yet been sucked out. As consuelo de bobo, the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (IOPCF) has promised that oil spill victims can claim compensation for economic and pollution damages of up to US$315 million.

I can sense that public interest in the oil spill tragedy is waning and it may not be long before media shifts its attention to another crisis. As they say, public attention span is good only for one, two months tops.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Wanted: Reform Oriented Politicians

The Ateneo School of Government has published my review of their book "How to Win an Election: Lessons from the Experts" which they recently launched last August 29. For those interested, the book is now available for sale at the CSP-ASG (Ateneo Loyola Campus) and at the Ateneo School of Government (Rockwell, Makati City). For inquiries, please contact Mr. Bhodz N. Potestades or Ms. Jhett D.C. Aguirre at 4266061, 4266001 loc. 4643 & 4644 and Mr. Randy R. Baraoidan at 8905695 and 8997691 loc. 2402.

As their next step, the Ateneo School of Government is planning to conduct training seminars for aspiring, reform-oriented politicians on how to organize and to manage a succesful electoral campaign. The series of workshops will be held sometime on November-December in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao respectively. The five-day seminar is for free. Interested applicants are required to submit an application letter (explaining their vision, values, qualifications and why should he/she should be chosen for the course). More importantly, he/she must be intending to run for public office in the May 2007 elections.

Lastly, the Ateneo School of Government also has published 12 case studies on the ethical dilemmas encountered by public sector leaders, most especially by our local police officials. The following are some of the more interesting case studies:

1. "Tapusin na natin ito."

2. "Katas ng Jueteng" (The Fruits of Jueteng)

3. "My Men Are Innocent"

4. "Hard Evidence"

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Australian Firm Offers to Take Out Guimaras Oil For Free

Last night, I had dinner with my friend Bob Schubert at Italianni's-Greenbelt Makati. Bob is an Australian national who owns a wastewater treatment plant, RD Environmental Solutions located inside the Cavite Export Processing Zone (CEZA). The two of us decided to meet and catch up after I found out that he was presently in the country (Bob regularly commutes to and fro Sydney and Manila). What started out as a casual dinner eventually turned into a serious discussion on the Petron Oil Spill presently affecting the provinces of Guimaras, Iloilo and Negros Occidental.

I told Bob that presently, Petron has hired locals on a "cash-for-work" basis to do manual cleaning operations in Guimaras. But the problem is, I said, no one seems to know how to dispose of the oil has been taken out from the sea, Today, drums and drums of contaminated oil are just lying at designated "deposit points" in Guimaras. Guimaras Governor JC Rahman Nava has already demanded that Petron take the drums of contaminated oil out of his province but I do not know whether the oil company had already complied with his order (i have yet to read a news article on this in the media).

Bob said that if not transported and treated right away, the contaminated oil would create more problems and do more damage to the environment. If allowed time, oil will seep into the ground and he claims that it is harder to rehabilitate and/or separate oil and soil than oil and water. He observed that our authorities should not have "separated" the oil from the sea without first making arrangements for its rapid transportation and treatment. The way he sees it it's like we are just taking the pollutants out of the sea and transferring it to land, thereby increasing the damage to the environment. Whereas before, the oil spill only wreaked havoc on the marine ecosystem (mangroves and corral reefs) of Western Visayas, now we are also contaminating our terrain (our flora and fauna) by allowing drums of contaminated oil to just lay for extended periods.

As he was making his observations, I was just nodding my head but silently I was seething inside and marveling at the stupidity and incompetence of the people currently engaged in the clean up. And even environmental groups like Greenpeace (who are closely monitoring relief and rehab efforts in Guimaras) have not seen this. I remember that one cardinal rule during accidents is that you are not supposed to move an injured person (or make him stand up) without a medical expert taking a look at him first. This is so because moving him/her might cause more damage to his/her bones and internal organs.

All I can say in response to Bob's observations is: "Well, the Philippines has a National Disaster Coordination Plan (NDCP) which is a disaster!"

In the end, Bob Schubert offered to take out the drums of contaminated oil FOR FREE, provided that the drums should already be gathered in one designated pick up point for easy retrieval. He said that his Cavite plant can easily treat the contaminated oil. So today and tomorrow, I will try to contact the local government officials involved in the Petron Oil Spill clean up operations to present Bob's observations and his generous offer.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

NDCC Issues Gag Order on Petron Oil Spill

National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) Chairman and concurrent Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz Jr. has ordered the regional command of the Philippine Coast Guard to no longer issue statements to the media regarding the oil spill (read this Panay News report). For their part, Malacañang has given assurances that they will exert all efforts to rehabilitate Guimaras. The President today is scheduled to arrive in Guimaras to preside over the NDCC meeting and check on rehabilitation operations there. Guimaras residents appeal for soap, toothpaste. (Photo: The usually forthcoming Philippine Coast Commander Jarder turns "pensive" during a press conference in Iloilo - photo courtesy of The Guardian newspaper) .

The Department of Justice has recommended criminal and civil charges against the captain of the MT Solar I and its owners as well as executives of Petron Corporation. The Iloilo City government headed by Mayor Jerry Treñas is mulling a class suit against Petron and Sunshine Maritime Development Corporation, the owner of MT Solar I. Last week, the oil spill has reached Arevalo and Molo districts which affected the sales of business establishments there.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

My Lolo the Harbor Pilot

Unlike some Ilonggo families who can trace their provincial roots by virtue of an ancestral hacienda or some other old property, my family on my father’s side never owned large tracts of agricultural land or any business establishments in Iloilo. As far as I know, we Mendozas never had a flair for agriculture or a knack for business. When I was a boy, I remember that my father tried to manage a farm that my mother’s family owned in Dumangas, Iloilo but he did not do too well. He also used to operate buses in Negros Occidental but that also did not end well. All my relatives on my father’s side are ordinary-salaried employees and professionals, seamen, nurses, OFWs, teachers, minor government functionaries, etc. Since we are not farmers, we Mendozas to a large extent can be described as “provincial city-folks.” The only real estate property my forebears left behind is an old, dilapidated house along Rizal Street (at the back of the Chinese Temple) at Iloilo City Proper where my father and all his siblings grew up. Although all of my aunts and uncles have now settled in different parts of the province and the country, we Mendozas have always thought of ourselves as "mga taga-Rizal." For this reason, whenever people ask me where in Iloilo City I am from, I usually tell them "I am from Rizal" even though I have never lived there in my entire life.

I suspect that the reason why not a single relative on my father’s side had become a hugely-successful farmer or entrepreneur might be attributed to our genes. Farming and business is simply not in our blood. My paternal grandfather, Raul Mendoza, worked as a harbor pilot in Muelle Loney (Iloilo City’s seaport) before the Second World War, along with five other individuals; Capitan Garriz, Señores Borromeo, Goyena, Martin and Mascunana. I used to think that being a harbor pilot was a lowly job until I learned that harbor pilots today in say, the port of Manila, earn an average of P500,000 a month! This is so because they get a certain percentage of the fees that all ocean-going vessels pay when docking at the pier. I surmise that my grandfather, together with his five partners, must have made a good living out of guiding cargo vessels and ships into the tricky Iloilo River, especially in light of the fact that Muelle Loney during the 1930s was one of the country’s busiest ports and a major hub of the lucrative sugar industry at that time. Even today, old-timers at the Iloilo port still remember my grandfather and some refer to him as “Agurang” which roughly translated means “respected old one.” Aside from my grandfather, another grand-uncle also worked at Muelle Loney: Tito Valdes, was the general manager of the now-defunct Compania Maritima. Incidentally, Tito Valdes, who married my grandfather’s younger sister, was the brother of Quezon crony and Army Chief of Staff General Basilio Valdes. (Muelle Loney circa 1920s)

After the war, Lolo Raul was commissioned by Don Fernando “Nanding” Lopez (who would later become Senator and Vice President of the Philippines) to convert a U.S. Navy PT Boat into a yacht (don’t ask me how the Lopezes were able to acquire a PT Boat from the U.S. Navy). Upon its completion, the Lopezes christened the PT Boat-cum-yacht “Miss Iloilo” and retained my grandfather to be their yacht’s “maintenance man.” Incidentally, I once saw the yacht “Miss Iloilo” in the movie “Eskapo” - in the scene where Christopher de Leon (who was playing Geny Lopez) heard over radio that Marcos already declared martial law while cruising aboard the yacht with his family.

Sometime in November 1947, “Agurang” (my lolo) was asked by Don Nanding Lopez to go to Manila to carry out regular maintenance and check-up operations on “Miss Iloilo.” Upon learning that he was going to Manila, a bosom buddy who owned a private plane offered my Lolo Raul to hitch a ride in his aircraft. His good friend, Captain Jose "Peping" Tinsay, was an “aviator-cum-entrepreneur” who flew his own airplane and engaged in the profitable buy-and-sell business. Captain Peping Tinsay brought bangus, crabs, talaba, and other assorted products from Iloilo to sell to Manila and on his return flights would bring back “scarce” items like canned goods, flour, shoes, etc. to sell in Iloilo City. So on November 22, 1947, the two friends (or two "pilots") left Iloilo airport for the one-hour flight to Manila. Incidentally, Lolo Raul was anxious to return to Iloilo because his wife, my lola Juanita Villanueva-Mendoza, will be celebrating her birthday two days later, on November 24. Unfortunately, the two never reached their destination and their plane crashed in the sea. Their bodies were never recovered.

Since my Lolo Raul died long before I was born, he is a distant and rather abstract figure in my mind. All that I know of him I learned from the sketchy stories and sporadic anecdotes told to me by my father, my aunts, uncles and other relatives and as you can see, I really do not know much about him aside from what I have written here. This is probably the reason why I am particularly interested in Iloilo history – reading history does not only give me a glimpse of the past but more importantly allows me to learn more about my grandfather. It is my hope that someday, another person would surface to shed more light on this most enigmatic of my ancestors, Raul Mendoza. (Photo of Muelle Loney today)

(Photos are courtesy of the University of Wisconsin Library archives and Dongdong Flores)

Monday, September 04, 2006

"The Devil Wears Prada" is Wickedly Funny

I watched “The Devil Wears Prada” over the weekend. Despite the buzz surrounding the film, I never felt the urge to watch it because I expected it to be just another "chick flick," the nuances of which only fashionistas could appreciate. I was convinced to watch the movie only after a little coaxing from the missus. But to my surprise, I enjoyed "The Devil Wears Prada" immensely.

“The Devil Wears Prada” is a movie adaptation of the bestselling book of the same title written by Laura Weisberger. Since Laura Weisberger used to work as an intern at Vogue Magazine, pundits claim that Miranda (Meryll Streep’s character) is really patterned after Anna Wintour, the iconic editor-in-chief of Vogue Magazine and that the novel is actually a roman a clef of Weisberger's work experience there. When the novel first came out in 2003, it generated a stir in the U.S. fashion industry comparable to the buzz created by the anonymously-written "Primary Colors" in American political circles. In other words, the "Devil Wears Prada" is to fashion what "Primary Colors" is to politics.

Anyway, I enjoyed watching the movie not because of the fashion aspect of it but because I emphatized completely with the character of Anne Hathaway ("Andrea"). I was a fresh college graduate too when I started working for Senator Raul Roco and if you watched the movie, I will say in all honesty that the Andrea character was me. Roco was just as demanding and intellectually intimidating as Miranda, and if anyone asks me now how it was working for the late Senator Roco, I would tell him/her to just go watch "The Devil Wears Prada." The movie completely captures the atmosphere, the stress and the pressures, the highs and lows of working for someone who expects nothing less than the best from his staff. Also, I remember that just like Andrea, my Dad also encouraged me to resign seeing my situation ("the pay is bad, the hours you put in...") but I persisted. I became a "true-believer" and spent the better part of my professional carrer working for the man. I kept telling myself that I am learning many things and that after working for a guy as demanding as Roco, I will be prepared for anything. Aside from the invaluable "training," I also sort of "fooled" myself into believing that great things will happen for me and that employers will be impressed to see that I worked for him. Well, I got "trained" all right but I am still just a struggling, low-ranking, ordinary-salaried employee up to now. Of course, things would have been different if he won. But politics in the Philippines is a "winner-take-all" game and after our second (and most disastrous) stab at the Presidency, I find myself "starting all over again" professionaly.

Now that I no longer work for Roco, some people still cannot totally disassociate me from my former boss. It's like I do not have my own identity; people always see me "as the guy who worked for Roco." I remember that I used to be very careful about expressing my opinion on certain politicians and political matters because I was afraid people might construe it as reflective of Roco's opinion too. When faced with a dilemma, I find myself automatically asking what my former boss would do in a similar situation. Aside from that, I also acquired his taste for biographies and historical books, and I even have my barongs tailored at Philip's, his favorite tailoring shop. We in his staff call it "osmosis." Thank God I did not acquire his taste for flowery shirts.

Back to "The Devil Wears Prada," I strongly recommend you watch it. It is funny and highly entertaining and the clothes are not bad too. Although the plot is rather simple, the movie's visually stunning shots of New York and Paris, and the well-calibrated acting by Meryl Streep (I believe she will win the Oscar for this movie) and Anne Hathaway ("The Devil.." will do for her what "Lost in Translation" did for Scarlett Johannson's career) more than make up for it. "The Devil Wears Prada" is definitely a classic, a movie worth watching over and over again.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Politics Mar Guimaras Relief Efforts

Barely two days after arriving in Guimaras, the Japanese survey ship MT Shinsei Maru has located the sunken oil tanker MT Solar I about 640 meters underwater southwest off Guimaras Island. The Japanese salvage experts are now studying how best to address the problem and will come out with their recommendations soon. You have to hand it to the Japanese - they are damn efficient! The same, however, could not be said about Filipinos. Our politicians are fighting over the Guimaras relief fund (read this and this) and are thinking more on how the tragedy can enhance their individual political careers rather than how to really solve the problem. Apparently the province's two leaders, Governor Rahman Nava (Liberal Party-Drilon Wing) and Congressman Edgar Espinosa (Lakas-CMD) are not in good terms (to put it mildly) and both are intensely jockeying for the "privilege" of administering all the local and international relief assistance pouring into their island province. Congressman Espinosa, for instance, has complained that his supporters purposely are not being hired under the "cash-for-work" program in Guimaras.

If a tragedy like this happened in Japan, I am sure the ship captain or some executive would have committed "seppuku" already. Instead, we see the MT Solar I captain on TV sheepishly grinning when asked about his expired license and "lapse of judgement." And while Petron has started hiring locals to manually clean up the oil spill, the corporation has so far admitted culpability only on "moral" but not on "legal" grounds. In other words, what Petron is effectively implying is that they are in Guimaras voluntarily - out of the goodness of their hearts. They want to wait for the courts to decide if they are legally liable. Of course, under our justice system, determining Petron's "legal" culpability could take years. I suspect that in the end, they will probably just pay P50,000 to each family affected by the oil spill in exchange for a "waiver" that they will not sue the oil company (hmm, sounds familiar...).

Yesterday, the oil spill finally reached Iloilo City shores. Residents of Villa Beach, Arevalo District have reported seeing bunker oil (which has become hardened and almost tar-like) and City Hall has quickly dispatched clean-up teams to contain it. There are also reports of the oil sheen being spotted in the city's Molo District and the neighboring town of Oton. One-time Iloilo visitors might be familiar with Villa Beach because it is where all the city's "touristy" restaurants are located: Tatoy's, Breakthrough, Regatta, etc. Both Molo and Oton are famous for their Spanish-era churches. Molo is also the birthplace of, you guessed it, Pancit Molo. Now, restaurant owners in Arevalo District are bracing for the negative effects of the oil spill on their food sales.

Congress recently passed a P2 billion Guimaras Relief Fund under the Supplemental Budget and I am afraid that only P1.8 billion will actually get to the people (after deducting P200 million as the 10% "mandatory allocation" or "SOP" of politicians). I wonder if it would be possible for the Japanese to also supervise the Guimaras relief effort. I mean, we hired them to build the new Iloilo Airport and oversee the construction of the Iloilo Flood Control Project - why not also entrust them with facilitating the rehabilitation of Guimaras? Let's just hand over the money to them and let their experts call the shots. I think the Japanese will not only do a far better and more efficient job but will also do it with less corruption than if it was handled by Filipinos.

Friday, September 01, 2006

MT Solar I Was a Japanese Junk

The the DOJ and the Special Board of Marine Inquiry investigating the Petron Oil Spill found that the owner of MT Solar I, Sunshine Maritime Development Corp., only had P5 million in capital. Thus, they expressed doubt as to whether the company could afford to buy a brand new oil tanker. Most likely, they suspect that the ill-fated MT Solar I was a "Japanese junk" (a suspicion which Senator Jamby Madrigal earlier expressed), meaning that the ship has been "handed down" to the Filipino company because it can no longer meet Japanese Maritime Safety Standards. The Marine Inquiry Board claimed that this might be the reason why the ship sank quickly on August 11 in the middle of a storm. Earlier, the ship captain Norberto Agudo admitted during the hearing that his certificate to operate lapsed in 2002 yet, including those of his four subordinates. See photo of the ill-fated MT Solar I (courtesy of TNT).