Monday, August 27, 2007

Goodbye Museo Iloilo?

A little over a year after the Petron Oil Spill tragedy, President Arroyo dissolves the Task Force Solar I Oil Spill (TF SOS) headed by Presidential Adviser Rafael Coscolluela (read it here). It seems that Coscolluela is off to bigger things, having been appointed Administrator of the Sugar Regulatory Commission, and with the IOCF no longer planning to release additional funds to compensate victims in Guimaras, the President has seen no more need for TF SOS.


Museo Iloilo, which has been standing on its present site at the Capitol complex since 1971, is in danger of being demolished if plans to construct a convention center pushes thru (read more here). This idea for a convention center is not feasible for the following reasons:

1.) it will be competing against privately-owned hotels, resorts and convention centers which are presently catering to our convention visitors. We have more than enough convention facilities at the moment to fulfill the needs of our visitors. Government should support, not compete, with private business.

2.) the convention market is not big enough. It's not as if doctors and dentists are all rushing to book their conventions in Iloilo that some cannot be accommodated anymore. As it is, competition among our hotels and resorts for convention bookings is already cutthroat. The last thing they need is for government to compete with them.

3.) government has no business being in business. One sure way to make a business enterprise fail is to ask government to run it. Just look at NAWASA back then: it cannot even make money from selling water. If you cannot make money selling a most basic and vital commodity such as water, then you have no business being in business.

I recall that the provincial government of Cebu built a similar convention center for the ASEAN Summit and it is hardly being used today. While I support efforts to promote Iloilo as a convention destination, this idea of putting up a government-run convention center should be nipped in the bud moreso if the plan calls for the demolition of Museo Iloilo. The people don't need it and don't want it.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Where Have All The Bad Boys Gone?

I read the articles written by Malu Fernandez poking fun at OFWs and I have to say it was not amusing. The article's tone was mean, not funny. It was just highbrow snobbery, pure and simple. If she intended it to be a comedic take or satirical piece (which she earlier claimed) on how baduy or crass our OFWs are, then her article missed its mark by a mile. It was like she was trying to imitate Dona Buding but instead coming off like one of those one-dimensional, matapobre characters in the movies usually portrayed by Rosemarie Gil or Armida Sigiuon-Reyna. If Malu Fernandez wants to take the mantle of Dely Atay-Atayan as the new Dona Delilah, I suggest she think again because people don't find her funny at all. Now, instead of becoming the next Dona Buding, she has become the Face of Philippine Snobbery (or the "Mahaderang Matapobre" as some bloggers call her).

Now that she has resigned (and may very well have to move abroad because of her new-found celebrity or notoriety), it would be good for Miss Fernandez to do some soul searching and polish her manners, not to mention her writing skills. Writing satire and comedy requires a high level of skill - I think Malu Fernandez found this the hard way - and not everyone has the talent for it. But believe me, Malu Fernandez will be back after a couple of years when things have cooled off. People in this country have very short memories. No one "loses his reputation" in this country - people just let it hang for a while to dry. Her notoriety may even prove beneficial to her journalistic career and I wouldn't be surprised to see later on that Malu Fernandez will be able to parlay her notoriety for some financially lucrative talk show. Just look now at Ruffa Gutierrez: from the ashes of "Take it, Take it" she rose to marry a Turkish millionaire and is once again a bankable actress with several product endorsements and a primetime TV show in ABS-CBN.

It seems to me that bad girls nowadays dominate the news, not only here in the Philippines but even abroad. From the head-shaving Britney Spears to the drunk-driving Lindsay Lohan to the sex-tape antics of Paris Hilton, girls behaving badly are attracting all sorts of media attention. Just months ago, American TV networks devoted more airtime to Paris Hilton getting released from jail than say, a famine in Africa or the war in Iraq. If you reward attention-seeking behavior with media attention, I believe that TV networks are just reinforcing these celebrities' bizarre conduct. Case in point: after Paris Hilton, it is now Lindsay Lohan's turn to get caught drunken-driving. I mean with the millions they earn, why don't they just hire a driver?

It seems that the bad boys are nowhere to be found. The so-called "Bad Boy of Philippine Movies" Robin Padilla is now a reformed ex-convict and a devout Muslim to boot. He still has his swagger and still talks that "kanto boy" talk of his but viewers can see that he is just a mere shadow of his Bad Boy self. Erap Estrada, the other Bad Boy of Philippine Movies Plus Politics is now in jail facing corruption charges. Even his son, Senator Jinggoy "Fresh Prince of San Juan" Estrada, used to be haughty during their time in Malacanang but is now a pleasant enough fellow (or so I am told). Everyone's favorite whipping boy, First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, is recuperating from his bypass operation and is currently out of the news (which I think is good news for his media handlers). There is also no news about Joc Joc Bolante (is he still jail in Chicago or is he already out on bail?) and Virgilio "Garci" Garcillano (who I believe is leading a quiet life in the boondocks of Bukidnon).

Of course, this is not to say that there are really NO more bad boys around. It just may be that the bad girls are getting more media attention than the bad boys. Is it because news stories about boys behaving badly don't sell anymore?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Iloilo Images: Sicogon Island From Afar

With its pure white sand and crystal clear waters, the tadpole-shaped Sicogon Island was once a world-class tourist destination until money problems forced the resort owner to close down. There have been talk of developing the island into a new Boracay, but it seems that Sicogon may lose out to Carabao Island (which, aside from its beautiful white sand beaches, is only about 30 minutes boat ride away from Boracay).

One major drawback is that it is very costly just to get to Sicogon. There are no regular ferry trips to the island (unlike in Boracay where the ferry fare costs only P25) so one has to occupy a banca for the whole day to take you to and fro the island. With banca rent ranging from P1,000 to P1,500, it is indeed quite expensive especially if you are travelling alone or in a small group.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Oil Spills Are Cheap In This Country : The Petron Oil Spill A Year After

It has almost been a year since the Petron Oil Spill and, as in many things in this country, Filipinos have yet to see any closure to the tragedy or any justice delivered to the perpetrators. But what is more tragic I think is that the people of Guimaras are right now being labeled as "opportunistic" ("balasubas" I think is the word Tagalogs use). This is so because, according to International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) agency screening the claims, the number of claimants have already exceeded the local population. IOPC cited for example that in the municipality of Sibunag, which only has a population of 17,802, the number of claimants already came up to 21,152 while in Nueva Valencia, which has a population of 36,813, the number of claims amounted to 37,764. Buenavista, the island province's largest town, has a population of 44,853 but there were 45,451 persons claiming compensation. The IOPC had already paid a total of 11,227 claims amounting to P118 million to the first batch of claimants. A second batch of individuals, numbering about 125,000, have filed for compensation but the IOPC are considering only 134 of these as possibly valid. (For more details, please read "Only 0.1% of oil spill claims to be released" - The Daily Guardian and "Doubtful Claims" - Panay News)

I don't know about you but it is common knowledge that the last census in this country was done in May 2000 (where the country's population was placed at 76.5 million). The National Statistics Office (NSO) is currently holding another census and I wouldn't be surprised to see that the population of not only Nueva Valencia, Sibunag, Buenavista but the entire island of Guimaras would have increased considering the country's 2.3% average population growth rate and the recent influx of new settlers in Guimaras due to the province's burgeoning tourism industry. So IOPC officials' claim that the number of claimants have exceeded the local population might be erroneous.

This is not to say that all the 125,000 claims in the second batch are valid. I am sure that with the immense poverty in Guimaras, some people there are indeed looking to make a fast buck. But IOPC should also not outrightly dismiss all but 134 of the 125,000 or so applications as fake because of what they perceive as a "discrepancy" in the number of claimants vis-a-vis the local population.

To date, IOPC has released only about US$2.5 million (P118 million) to around 11,000 oil spill victims, which is really nothing if compared to the profits being made by oil firms. Petron for example recently reported a second quarter net profit of P1.75 billion. Aside from the inconvenience of dealing with pesky media or "opportunistic" natives, do you really think Petron executives will learn their lesson from this tragedy? Judging from the ways things are moving, they will come out of this incident thinking that oil spills are cheap in this country.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The New Hacendero

I had a very interesting conversation with an old college buddy during my short visit to Bacolod City recently. My friend used to be based in Makati but he decided to go back to Negros a little over a year ago to try his hand at sugarcane farming. I guess he got tired of the traffic, pollution and the crowds of Manila. Over lunch at Bacolod Chicken House restaurant, we talked about how he is adjusting to his new life as a modern-day "hacendero" (or "sugar planter" or just plain "planter" as he prefers to call himself now). Incidentally, there's a rumor circulating that Bacolod Chicken House will soon close down its branch along Lacson Street (which has been there for as long as I can remember) because Mang Inasal offered to pay higher rent. Well, we cannot fault Mang Inasal for being aggressive but I just wish they would leave BCH alone because it has been there for decades. Bacolod Chicken House pioneered chicken inasal, much like what Ma Mon Luk is to mami and siopao, and has become an institution in Bacolod. I am sure many Ilonggos will truly be sad to see it close down.

Well going back to my topic. As a child growing up in Negros, I have always been fascinated with the children of hacenderos some of whom I went to school with at Don Bosco Technical Institute-Victorias. I remember viewing them as glamorous figures (not only were they better-dressed but were generally taller, fairer and good-looking than many in my school). Some were a bit quirky while others I found downright eccentric, but it only seemed at least to me to add to their mystique as non-conformists and singular individuals. I always envied watching them after school being fetched by their drivers and riding their fancy cars and I always imagined that they would go home to their centuries-old manors located amidst hectares and hectares of canefields. Of course, as I grew older, this idealized vision of their class would change and my recent lunch with my planter-friend modified my views further.

My friend revealed that although he grew up in an "hacendero" household, he knew next to nothing about sugarcane farming. All that he remembers of his intermittent visits to their hacienda back when he was still small were the games with the children of their farmworkers. His parents never taught him and it is only now that he is learning the ropes of the sugarcane business. But since he comes from a well-known hacendero family, people naturally assume he knows what he is doing.

When my friend told me months ago that he was going back to Negros to plant sugarcane, I assumed that he was asked by his parents to manage the family hacienda. That's why I was quite surprised to learn that he was not managing their hacienda (another family member is managing it) but was in fact leasing sugarcane fields (campo) owned by land reform beneficiaries in an arrangement called arendo in the local vernacular. The big haciendas of Negros are now gone, cut up into smaller pieces by agrarian reform. Former hacienda tenants (sacadas) now own the land, ranging from one to three hectares in size. But with no capital to buy sugarcane shoots and fertilizers, these land reform beneficiaries usually revert back to subsistence farming. Some tried their hand in sugarcane farming, but my friend claims that one to three hectares of sugarcane field is not really financially viable in the long run. Today, the former sacadas of Negros now own the land and may have enough to eat, but find themselves without enough money to send their kids to school and buy basic necessities like toothpaste, soap and the like.

What my friend usually does is talk to the heads of family one by one and convince them to lease out their land to him (his task becomes easier he says if the beneficiaries have formed themselves into a cooperative). Current rental rates ranges from P10,000 to P15,000 per hectare per year, depending on the land's location and arability. Aside from rent, my friend also offers them a regular salary to work their land. Herein lies the attractiveness of the arendo system: the agrarian beneficiaries both derive income from renting out their land to the capitalista-hacendero while at the same time receiving a regular monthly salary. They do not have to worry about the rising prices of sugarcane shoots, fertilizers, gasoline, machinery, etc. and if the price of sugar suddenly plummets, it is not they but the capitalista that takes the hit.

According to my friend, a sugar planter can expect an annual net profit of P6,000 to P10,000 per hectare depending on the quality of your sugarcane. So if you are tilling 20 hectares, your net profit is P120,000 to P200,000 per annum which is really not that big considering the hours and effort you put into it. One can easily earn that kind of money nowadays working for a private company or even a government entity. But its the lifestyle my friend says, the opportunity to work outdoors, the constant offroad 4X4 trips and the wide-open spaces that makes the job exciting for him. Although dealing with the sugarworkers can be a pain in the ass sometimes, he claims to derive fulfillment in knowing that he is somehow providing employment to the least employable - the uneducated sacada.

After speaking with my friend, it is only now that I understand the nature of the hacendero. The hacendero is first and foremost an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur is someone who is quick to spot an opportunity to make a buck. Although he may no longer own the land, the modern-day hacendero has found ways to continue working and deriving income from an industry which many describe as a sunset industry. Because he no longer owns the land, today's hacendero must have the bargaining skills of a diplomat, the motivational skills of a politician, and possess a fine nose for weather (which is becoming more and more erratic every year) to become successful in today's world. Agriculture is the only business I know which has everything going against it. If the weather is okay and the harvest good all around, the prices naturally go down due to oversupply. If the weather is bad and a typhoon destroys all your crops, that is when prices go up. Considering the odds stacked against you, one I think not only has to have a positive or optimistic attitude but a gambler's mentality to thrive in agriculture. And this I think explains why the hacenderos of Negros have acquired a reputation for being big gamblers and risk-takers.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

"Iloilo: The Next Big Thing" Infomercial

Check out this neat infomercial I found on YouTube promoting Iloilo as the next convention destination in the Philippines. The video was made by Mayad Studios and I can say that it was tastefully done. I especially liked their tagline towards the end of the video which went like this: "At its own pace.... at its own time..... a culture in its own right .... it must be ILOILO!"