Thursday, November 29, 2007

Isaw and Cheesecake

Last Tuesday I went to Christ the King Church-Greenmeadows to pay my last respects to a college buddy who died in a surfing accident in Zambales. Mark Ordoñez was my PolSci blockmate at the Ateneo de Manila University and he was one of the first friends I made in college. I remember, as a freshman coming from the province, Mark seemed to me like the embodiment of all things Atenean. To my probinsiyano eyes, Mark fitted all my preconceived notions of what your garden variety Atenean ought to be. His family was well-to-do and prominent (he had a grand old name: Mariano Ordonez V), he was good-looking (in a "Danding Cojuangco" sort of way) and he had a "cariño brutal" sense of humor which most girls found cute. Although he did not excel in athletics or academics, Mark had imbibed the Atenean "man for others" credo (which the Jesuits put more premium on more than academic standing or athletic performance).

Since he had studied in the Ateneo from elementary to high school, Mark during our freshman year already knew many people in campus, unlike me who was still insecurely groping my way around. He was very active in ACIL (Ateneo Cathechetical Instruction League) and in organizing "Days With The Lord" retreats in college. I should know: he recruited me to both orgs. ACIL is a college org whose members spent their weekends teaching cathechism to kids in Taytay, Rizal. I was adamant to join ACIL at first because I thought we would be like Mormons peddling religion to whomever gullible enough to listen. But due to Mark's persistent cajoling and because I had nothing better to do during weekends, I decided to join the org. And besides, ACIL chicks I noticed were cute, nice and the "decent" (the "you-can-bring-home-to-mom" types). Eventually, I enjoyed the experience of playing with the kids. I also began looking forward to eating barbecued isaw (chicken entrails), which Mark introduced me to, in Taytay every weekend. I didn't realize it then, but my experience with ACIL opened my eyes to the suffering and widespread poverty in our country and contributed to my decision to pursue a career in government after college.

Isaw was not the only food that Mark introduced me to. I remember that he was also the person who first introduced me to cheesecake. He knew how to bake cheesecake, and he served it to us during one of our group study sessions in their rambling house (more like a compound) in Marikina. Of course, I was too embarrassed to tell that it was my first time to taste cheesecake and show my "probinsiyano-ness" to my classmates but I remember wondering how come there was no cheesecake in my province when I was growing up. And since the Jesuits encouraged the development of "well-rounded" individuals (it is said that an Atenean can talk intelligently about any topic under the sun), I thought that this ability to eat both isaw (a poor man's food) and cheesecake (a rich man's dessert) in my mind's eye is an apt representation of one's "well-roundedness."

I lost touch with Mark after graduation. My last memories of him was when our entire PolSci block went for an outing to his family's beach resort located in Iba, Zambales sometime in March 1994. We were about to graduate then, relieved to have survived and happy to be among the privileged few to possess an Ateneo diploma, and that beach outing in Zambales was easily one of the most memorable in my life. Every now and then, our batch would have pocket reunions but Mark never came. I would just hear snippets about him from our other blockmates - that he is leading a quiet and simple life in Zambales managing their beach resort, that he is getting married, that he recently took up surfing, that he is planning to go into agriculture, etc. The city boy became a probinsiyano by choice.

So imagine my surprise when, after thirteen years of not having any kind of contact with him, Mark suddenly called me up in my cellphone last Friday. Momoy Lopez, another PolSci classmate, was in Zambales at that time and, on a whim, thought of paying Mark a visit. The two of them talked about setting up a reunion and they called me up to ask my help in inviting our other blockmates. Mark initially wanted our block to go to his beach resort in Zambales but I told him that it was hard enough to gather people in Manila much less travel all the way to Zambales so we just decided to schedule our reunion in Manila during the first week of December. I was still in the process of RSVPing people when Momoy called me up last Sunday bearing terrible news: Mark was dead. I cannot believe it. I just talked to the guy Friday and he was dead the next day!

Mark was diabetic. It seems that he went surfing right after Momoy left his beach resort. His blood sugar dropped and he felt dizzy while in the middle of the sea. His surfmates saw him drowning and rushed him to shore and tried to revive him but Mark was already dead by the time they got him to the nearest local hospital. He was 35 years old.

Mark Ordoñez is the second in my college block to pass on, the first being Mon Abarico (another good friend) who died of aneurism two years ago I think. Both were just starting out in life. In Mon's case, he just finished building a house in Parañaque for his wife and two kids and, at the time of his death, was busy buying stuff (garden hoses and such) for his new home. Mark has not even started to live life. He was still single and was planning to get married ("hopefully," he said) this year. Their deaths certainly put life into proper perspective and makes us appreciate the really important things in life - good health, family, friends and what people will say about you when you're gone. Anyone can go anytime.

When a person dies unexpectedly, people have this habit of giving special meanings to that person's last actions with the benefit of hindsight. I usually don't subscribe to such kind of talk but Mark's surprise phone call to me a day before he died was too much of a coincidence. I could not help but see it as his way of "pamama-alam" not only to me but to the rest of our block. It was as if he had a premonition of his death and wanted to see his college friends one last time.

To Mark, thanks for introducing me to isaw and cheesecake, for showing me how to be a man for others, and for teaching me a couple of other things. May you rest in peace man.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Uniquely Ilonggo

A high school batchmate from Don Bosco emailed this "You Know You're a True Blue Ilonggo If ..." list. Funny and true.

1. Your one peso is pisos

2. Your bathroom has at least one lugod (some has one for every family member)

3. Your nanay used to make you drink Mirinda or Royal Tru Orange when you have a fever, which is supposed to make you feel better

4. Sinamak is a staple in your dining table (the best Ilonggo invention if you ask me,was even banned on airplanes long before 911)

5. Your toyo is patis and your patis is toyo

6. You use atsuete for your adobo and pinamalhan (pinaksiw)

7. Your daily meal will likely include laswa, kbl (kadyos, baboy, langka), ginat-an nga tambo with tugabang and okra, ginat-an nga munggo, linutik, apan- apan, etc.

8. November 1 means eating ibus, suman, suman latik, kalamay-hati, bayi-bayi, valenciana or other native delicacies with glutinous rice and coconut milk

9. You call those you love palangga, pangga, langga or ga

10. You call your siblings or cousins inday, nonoy or toto...the househelp may all you the same

11. You call those who are older than you manang or manong

12. You catch the attention of sales attendants by calling them "day"
or "to"

13. Your childhood games include tumba patis, taksi, panagu-ay, balay-balay, ins, tin-tin baka, etc.

14. You used to be (or still are) scared to go out at night lest you meet the aswang, tik-tik, tayhu, kapre, kama-kama, morto, etc.

15. Your grandparents read Yuhum Magazine

16. You call a person, thing, place and event kwan when you forget it (si kwan, ang kwan, sa kwan)

17. You used to sleep in an aboy-aboy made of patadyong when you were a baby (probably applies only to us below the poverty line)

18. You understand that "Particulars Keep Out" sign means outsiders keep out

19. This may look and sound English but only us Ilonggos use it... You use words such as "ahay" (expression of pity, grief, empathy), "yuga" (expression of disbelief, surprise), "ambot ah" (to say you don't know, expression of impatience)

20. You often start your sentence with ti

21. You say goodbye by saying "halong"

22. Your favorite cusswords are linte (if you're slightly pissed off) and yodiputa (if you're pissed off big time)...

23. You answer "gani" to emphasize that you agree on something and say "gid" to emphasize the extent of your emotions, such as "kapoy gid" which means "I'm extremely or very tired."

24. When you buy coke you say, "bakal ko cuks"

25. You pronounce tricycle as "trysikol," triangle as "trayangol."

Guilty? You are indeed a TRUE Ilonggo! He!He!

Here are my own observation:

26. Instead of using your finger, you use your nguso to point to an object or to give directions.

27. You eat batchoy with pandesal instead of puto and you finish all the broth first (and usually ask for additional kaldo) and eat the mami and innards later.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Paging DDS

"Alleged suicide victim may have been raped" -- Now this is the reason why media should not glorify suicides (read my previous entry "Media should not glorify suicides" below).

It now seems that Mariannet, before she committed suicide, was suffering from depression because she was raped. Poverty could have aggravated her depression but I have no doubt that it was the rape which triggered the decision to take her own life. It could be that she thought no man would want her now and that she can never marry anymore. Fearing that her rapist will return again and seeing her diminishing prospects of ever finishing high school, she then decided that life is not worth living anymore.

I truly wish they find and crucify the rapist. Paging DDS..... there's another job for you.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Iloilo City at a Crossroad

Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, who is also President of the influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), is opposing the construction of a new coal-fired power plant in Iloilo City. Estimated to cost around 150 million dollars, the said power plant will generate 100 megawatts and will be completed in 2010. Earlier, environmental groups like Greenpeace have protested the construction of the power plant claiming that coal is dirty and that it will pollute and endanger the health of the people (read more here). They even filed administrative and criminal charges against Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas, Vice Mayor Jed Mabilog and several Councilors for going on an "educational visit" to Taiwan courtesy of the power plant proponent (read here and here).

At present, electricity in Iloilo City is being supplied by the 72-megawatt diesel-fired power plant located in Barangay Ingore, La Paz, Iloilo City. The said plant used to be owned by the Lopezes which later sold it to Mirant. Mirant, which experienced money problems, recently sold the power plant to Global Business Power Corp. and Formosa Heavy Industries Corp. I don't know exactly the reasons why the Lopezes sold their power plant but it seems to me that the power generation business is quite tricky and not as profitable as people would think (at least in Iloilo City). After all, pilferage is rampant and illegal connections quite commonplace and this might have reduced their profits.

According to PECO or Panay Electric Corp., the local power utility supplier, Iloilo City presently consumes more than the 72 megawatts that their power plant supplies. Power consumption at times even peaks at 85 megawatts resulting in periodic brownouts. Increased power consumption is due to the fact that Iloilo City has been developing at an unprecedented rate in the last ten years. Airconditioning is now common in most houses. Malls and call centers not to mention hotels and restaurants have been sprouting like mushrooms all over the city. Aside from the increasing local population, there is also the heavy influx of Koreans (whom I observe love to play computer games).

Even now, several call center firms who want to set up shop in Iloilo City are hesitant to do so because of inadequate power supply. Megaworld Corp., which recently bought the old Manduarriao Airport, wants to develop the 56-hectare property into a mixed residential-commercial complex ala Eastwood Center in Libis, Quezon City. But their plan to build a "city-within-a-city" hinges largely on the construction of the power plant. I am sure many more local businessmen are postponing their plans to expand or set up new establishments because of the current power supply situation.

I believe Iloilo City today is at a crossroads. More than just discussing the health hazards to be posed by the coal power plant, I believe that the issue should be debated on whether Iloilo City should continue its rapid march towards "development" or whether it should stay as is. Do we want to remain as a charming, laid-back provincial city or do we want to become a highly-urbanized city like Mandaue or Lapu-Lapu City? By opposing the power plant, Archbishop Lagdameo seems to be saying that Iloilo City has seen enough development already while Mayor Treñas and other Iloilo City officials are saying that we need to continue the development that our city has been experiencing in the past ten years.

At present, people come to Iloilo City but only temporarily; either to study (it is the region's center of education), to shop for goods (it is the center of retail trade in Western Visayas), to conduct business with government (it is the regional government center) or to attend a convention/see the sights (it has the most number of hotels in the region). If the coal plant pushes thru, it will mean more investments and more investments will mean more jobs. More jobs will mean more people coming to our city attracted by employment opportunities and this means that many of them will settle here PERMANENTLY. Development means that people will enjoy steady incomes but it also has a price: traffic congestion, criminality, squatters, garbage, pollution, etc. - problems which our present city government are already hard put to solve.

Notwithstanding all of that, I still believe that Iloilo City needs that power plant. Managing traffic, criminality, squatters, garbage and pollution is all a matter of good governance. Other cities like Marikina, Naga, Puerto Princesa and Davao (to mention a few) were able to manage development and this has resulted to raising the over-all quality of life of people living in those areas. I don't see why we cannot duplicate their feat here in Iloilo City. I also believe that coal is the most appropriate kind of power for Iloilo City mainly because we have an ample supply discovered in Semirara in nearby Antique province (mining experts claim that the coal deposits in Semirara can fuel a 100MW plant for the next 90 years). Sadly, renewable sources of energy like solar, wind, biogas, etc. is still not commercially feasible. If it were, I would be first to espouse its use. So unless Archbishop Lagdameo and the environmentalists present a feasible alternative to coal, we are left with no choice but to use what is available to us at present.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Media Should Not Glorify Suicides

The tragic story of Mariannet Amper, the 12-year-old girl from Davao City who committed suicide due to poverty, has gained considerable attention and sympathy. As usual, media is blaming government while government is washing its hand saying hers is an isolated case, while Lingayen Archbishop Oscar Cruz says we are all to blame.

It takes a village to raise a child. I agree with Bishop Cruz that we all are to blame for the death of Mariannet Amper. Her parents are to blame for not acquiring more marketable skills that would have raised their take-home pay. They should also be scolded for bringing into this world children that they cannot adequately provide for. Media is equally guilty for influencing our children's consumerist attitude and for the lionizing the death of Mariannet (she is now dubbed patron saint of poverty in today's Inquirer editorial here). Government is to blame for creating the over-all situation of widespread poverty and low incomes.

But on the other hand, no one is entirely to blame for Mariannet's death. Her father was a carpenter and therefore did not belong to the "idle poor." In fact, her father was able to advance P1,000 from his employer and was on his way home so he can presumably tell his children that they could now go back to school. Davao City is one of the best places in the country to live in - the standard of living is low, there is peace and order and they have a good performing mayor there - in fact, it is one of the few places in this country where government truly works. Philippine media has been accused of perpetuating consumerism and hopelessness by constantly depicting a "doom and gloom" picture of our country. But this doesn't push those living below the poverty line to take their own lives en masse. Far from it, many of the poor people I see seem to be always smiling. And judging from the number of their children, I think it's safe to assume that many of them are not suffering from depression (as depression lowers sex drive - read more here).

As a father to a 3-year-old boy, I constantly worry about what the future holds for my son. Although it may seem (judging from my blog topics here) that I spend most of my time thinking about politics in our country, that is not the case. Like most Filipinos, I worry about mundane things most of the time. I worry about paying the bills, my house amortization, my VISA card arrears, the ever-rising cost of gasoline and basic commodities, how to increase my monthly income, etc. Mostly I worry about being able to provide my son a good education which, with the rising cost of tuition and deteriorating quality of instruction, is getting harder and harder to obtain. I worry about teaching him the correct values and work ethic which, amidst the corruption and instability, is getting harder and harder to acquire. I worry for my boy because various studies show that girls are more likely to finish school than boys, are more likely to succeed in their careers and get far in life (read Inquirer's Michael Tan "Wanted: Female" article, PCIJ's "Favored as Boys, Disadvantaged as Men" by Jaileen Jimeno and this Newsweek article "The Trouble With Boys" by Peg Tyre).

How times have changed. I notice that children today have become more and more materialistic. A typical 12-year-old kid today already knows the difference between a LaCoste shirt and a Hang Ten shirt. There are even elementary-age boys who can tell that a Mercedes Benz SLK is more expensive than a Toyota Camry. I also observe that kids today demand instant gratification. Back when I was a teenager, I had to wait literally 'til Christmas for the pair of Nike Air shoes that I so wanted back then. If I wanted a new Tears for Fears CD or latest Batman comics, I had to save my school allowance. I remember that Levi's jeans was the height of fashion then and the I car I longed to drive when I grew up was a Mitsubishi Lancer (box-type). And this was not too long ago mind you - I recently turned 35 last October - but it seems that our values changed overnight. Kids today not only want expensive things like I-Pods, laptops and PSPs but they want it instantly.

In other cultures, suicide is viewed as an acceptable, even noble way of ending one's life. Defeated samurai warriors would slit their bellies rather than live their lives in shame and European nobles would drink poison in order to redeem their honor. Moslem radicals would even blow up themselves in the belief that they would go to heaven. It is only in Catholic countries like the Philippines where suicide is viewed as a mortal sin. Catholic dogma tells us that any person taking his or her own life will go straight to hell. The parish priest also is not supposed to bless and allow the victim's cadaver to be interred in any Catholic cemetery. But instead of condemnation, the suicide of Mariannet has elicited widespread sympathy for her and her family.

In this country, if you were born poor chances are you will also die poor. It may be that Mariannet was a deeply perceptive child and seeing the hopelessness of her situation, refused to live a life of endless suffering and indignity. Suicides are a cry for help and it may be that Mariannet was simply calling attention to her plight. Or it may only that she became despondent for not getting a new shoe. We will never know what went on in young Mariannet's mind.

I think it is wrong for media to lionize Mariannet as the patron saint of poverty and glorify suicide as a noble way out of poverty because it might influence other children to think that it is okay to take your own life. It might induce copycats especially among our teen-aged children. I remember that "sex scandal" videos mushroomed in the country after the Paris Hilton sex video came out. Let's just hope that Mariannet's suicide will not start a trend among our youth.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Overpaid Janitors, Underpaid Executives

A remarkable entry in Manolo Quezon's blog entitled "On Official Allowances" discussing the salaries of our government officials before the Second World War (1939-1940) was truly insightful and informative. My grandparents and other relatives who lived before the war used to tell me that Filipino politicians were not always corrupt and that once upon a time, public servants were looked up to as paragons of virtue in their respective localities. I used to take these tales with a grain of salt: it was probably because in those simpler days Philippine media was not as vigilant or maybe Filipinos were not yet as jaded as today's public. But after reading Manolo Quezon's entry, I am convinced that maybe Filipino politicians were not always as crooked as they are today.

According to Manolo, the annual salary of the President of the Philippines then amounted to P30,000 which, translated into present day terms amounts to roughly P10 million. The Speaker of the National Assembly got P16,000 a year (about P5 million today) while Assemblymen received P5,000 (about P1.5 million a year). Even more interesting are the salaries of low-ranking public servants: a government chauffeur earned P720 which computed to today's rates is roughly P240,000 a year (that's P20,000 a month) while a messenger got P480 or P160,000 a year (that's P13,000 a month). Middle-ranking managers in government like a "Legislative Assistant" or "Administrative Assistant" received P6,000 a year which, translated into present-day terms equals P2 million a year (or P160,000 a month). In other words, Philippine government employees before the War were adequately compensated and it was most likely that since they are well-paid, corruption in government virtually did not exist then. Well, at least not in "epidemic" proportions that it is now. Since they were more than adequately compensated, any public official caught stealing then would have faced universal condemnation by the public.

Today, the Philippines is widely-known to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Graft and corruption is universally accepted by ordinary Filipinos as already part and parcel of governance. When news of the NBN scandal and the Palace payola broke out several weeks ago, “so what else is new?” seemed to be the common reaction of people. Despite the dizzying bribe figures mentioned by whistleblower Joey de Venecia and “mestizo whistleblower” Romulo Neri, most people I know seem to have adopted a lackadaisical attitude towards this latest corruption scandal to hit the Arroyo administration. People also claim they knew all along that pay-offs happen in Malacañang and some just make light of the situation by saying that Malacañang should be renamed "May-lagay-dyan" Palace.

While corruption scandals involving Cabinet secretaries and congressmen merit front-page treatment, I suspect that many more graft and corruption incidents go unreported or undiscovered by media. When you are ranked 131st most corrupt out of 180, this indicates that graft is systemic, endemic even, and not only limited to the upper echelons of government. It already means that almost everyone steals or can be bought. Price tags range from P200 million for Cabinet Secretaries (if you believe Sec. Romulo Neri) to P2 million for Congressmen (if you believe Rep. Crispin Beltran) down to P200 for traffic aides. The big steal big and the small steal small; everyone tries to steal whatever he can. And ordinary Filipinos seem to have already given up hope on their government and have seemed to accept as fact the truism that anyone occupying Malacañang will be corrupt. Those who are now professing to slay the ogre will be ogres themselves once they hold the reins of power. Graft and corruption in the Philippines has grown to hydra -like proportions and no one seems to have a clear idea on how to slay the beast.

To me, the solution to curbing graft and corruption is so obvious and so simple - raise government salaries. Everybody knows that salaries in government are ridiculously low. How low? According to a World Bank-funded study by the Civil Service Commission (CSC), government executives (i.e. regional directors, undersecretaries, bureau heads, etc.) earn only 26% of what an executive in a medium-sized corporation receives while professionals (i.e. lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers, nurses, etc.) get only 60% of what their counterparts in the private sector get. Surprisingly, the study found out that administrative staff (i.e. clerks, receptionists, messengers, janitors, etc.) are getting 20% more than the salary of their counterparts in the private sector. In other words, low-ranking government workers are overpaid while those in the top positions are underpaid. The same CSC study also concludes that the higher you go in government, the more underpaid you become.

No wonder our government officials are corrupt. Give a person power sans the commensurate compensation and you can be sure that he will use that power to "adjust" his take-home pay to more appropriate levels or he will look for "alternative" sources of livelihood. And by "alternative," I don't only mean bribe money. Some government executives teach part-time in the local college, sell insurance or put up a small sari-sari store, etc. just to make ends meet. Some even drive a taxi, like the late Police Supt. Joven Bocalbos (read this Inquirer story "Makati No.2 Cop Shot Dead"). While I find it easy to hate congressmen, Cabinet officials and other already-rich fellows caught stealing from government, I sometimes pity those traffic aides (estimated gross salary: P5,000 a month) caught mulcting some hapless driver or a lowly government clerk (estimated gross salary: P12,000 a month) receiving a P500 bribe from some small-time businessman. Sometimes it is hard to get angry at these people knowing that their salaries are so low that they need to work "extra" just to feed their families. I sometimes wonder what became of Bocalbos's children - who's feeding them?, are they still in school? - and at times think he was a buffoon for driving a taxi when there are many more ways of "earning" money as the No. 2 policeman in the Philippines' richest city.

During the pre-war years, our middle-ranking government executives took home P160,000 a month. Today, a bureau director (which under our heavily politicized system is the highest position a career government professional can hope to aspire to) earns a little over P20,000 a month. The present government wage structure was laid down almost 17 years ago by the Salary Standardization Law (which, if I remember correctly, was authored by then-Senator Ernesto Maceda). The intention of the law to standardize salaries in government was noble but, whether it intended to or not, has resulted in the present anomaly of overpaid janitors and underpaid executives in government. It has also encouraged mediocrity and discouraged talented individuals from staying on in public service. By keeping their salaries low, I believe the SSL has pushed countless government officials to become corrupt.

There are currently several bills in Congress which seek to increase the salaries of our government workers foremost of which is the "Government Classification and Compensation Act." The bill, which was drafted with the help of CSC, aims not only to increase wages but also address the asymmetries in the present government wage structure. First, GCCA will bring the salaries of government executives from 26% to within 68% of market rates (the CSC benchmarked the proposed salary structure to medium-sized companies in the country). Government positions will be divided into 22 ranks, the lowest being Job Grade 1 (JG 1) and the highest Job Grade 22 (JG 22). Low-ranking government positions (JG 1 to JG 5) will have basic monthly salaries ranging from P7,540 up to P14,618. Mid-ranking employees (JG 6 to JG 12) will get salaries ranging from P19,004 up to P46,301 while career executives (JG 13 to JG18) will have salaries ranging from P60,191 up to P115,893 a month. High-ranking government officials i.e. Cabinet Secretaries, congressmen, SC justices, etc. (JG 19 to JG 21) will receive from P99,847 to P125,247 a month while SG 22, which is reserved for the President of the Philippines, will receive a basic remuneration amounting to P140,277 a month (see the Proposed Base Pay schedule here).

The GCA will not only upgrade how government compensates its employees but will also overhaul its rules on promotions and bonuses. Under the proposed law, promotion will now be "performance-based" - for example, GCCA law stipulates that an employee shall get a 7.5% increase only if he/she performs well (with the criteria for performance to be developed by their respective bureaus with the help of CSC). Grant of benefits and other incentives will also be contingent on performance of both the agency and the individual, not only on the person's length of service in government.

Many observers predict that the bill will face rough-sailing in both Houses of Congress. For one, the public is in no mood to grant civil servants a salary increase considering the quality of service they have been getting from their government. Also the Chairman of the Civil Service committee in the Senate, Senator Antonio Trillanes, is presently in jail. Up to now, he has not been allowed to schedule public hearings (even in his jail cell as he requested) on the said bill. And even if, by some miracle, he is able to pass the bill in the Senate, pundits say that President Arroyo is not about to allow her nemesis to gain political capital by allowing him to claim authorship of a bill which has raised salaries of government employees. Of course, the Senate can always replace Trillanes or he can maybe allow his vice chair to hold the hearings. But I don't think Senate President Villar will do that. And I don't think Trillanes will allow that - this important piece of legislation can arguably be his ticket out of jail.

With the bill in political limbo, the only solution I can see is for President Arroyo to push thru with the salary increase via an Executive Order. That way, she gets the political credit all to herself. With the fiscal reforms in place and economic stability, I believe our government can now afford to give our civil servants a much-needed raise. I heard that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) will be implementing a 10% increase starting this year but this will still be miniscule compared to wide-ranging reforms that the GCCA hopes to achieve. For now, government employees can only dream and hope for some miracle to happen (i.e. President GMA allowing Trillanes to conduct hearings).

Raising the salaries of our government workers is an important step towards curbing graft and corruption in our country (Note: I'm using the word "curb" here and am not even talking about eradicating corruption) for I sincerely believe that the typical rank-and-file government employee will not go through the trouble of stealing if compensated properly. As of now, fighting corruption in this country where government officials earn less than a fraction (25% to be exact) of what their counterparts in the private sector get is an impossible task. I am sure the Ombudsman today feels a lot like Eliot Ness during the Prohibition - understaffed, underfunded and fighting a hopeless, pointless battle. Random lifestyle checks may put to jail a few crooks but it will not arrest the rising tide of corruption. It is only when you pay government people enough to live decently can you expect them to do their jobs properly. If salaries in government are high enough, perhaps Filipinos in the future will be pissed off about corrupt government officials and do something about them for a change.