Sunday, August 31, 2008

Iloilo Doesn't Need a City College

For the last few months, Councilor Jeffrey Ganzon has been quite vocal in pushing for the establishment of a city college in Iloilo City. Councilor Jeffrey is the son of the legendary Senator Rodolfo Ganzon (the "Stormy Petrel of the South") who authored the "Free Education Act" during his time so I understand his desire not only to help the poor but also live up to his illustrious father's name. Councilor Ganzon's proposal has been furiously debated in the City Council and even Mayor Jerry Treñas was drawn into the fray. Thankfully, Councilor Ganzon's idea was shot down by his own colleagues. The reason: lack of funds (read here).

It was good that the Iloilo City government did not have the funds. because if they did, chances are they would have approved Ganzon's proposal. After all, the city college idea is a crowd-pleaser and enjoys the support of the people. The oft-cited reason is the need to provide our less-privileged youth access to free and/or affordable tertiary education. No one ever disagrees with that.

But Iloilo City doesn't really need a city college. There are already so many schools to choose from in the city. Some colleges are even quite good, like the University of the Philippines, University of San Agustin, St. Paul's College and West Visayas State University. Aside from tertiary institutions , there are also a number of TESDA-accredited technical-vocational schools in the city. And even if a student managed to get kicked out in all the schools in Iloilo City, he can always go to Bacolod City which is only about 45 minutes ferry ride away and where a lot of good quality schools can also be found. So access to schools is not really a problem in Iloilo City.

There is actually a much better way to provide access to poor students than by establishing a city college. And that is thru the "voucher system." I suggest Councilor Ganzon and the rest of the Iloilo City Council read Republic Act no. 6728 or the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (GASTPE) Act and consider implementing it in Iloilo City.

The GASTPE voucher system is actually very simple and quite ingenious. The way the system works is like this: government pays private schools to take in economically-disadvantaged students. For example, instead of allocating P15 million for the construction of a city college the City Council decides instead to earmark that money for a GASTPE fund. If they decide to split the money among them as their "pork barrel," each councilor would roughly have P1 million in "scholarship money." The councilor would then choose poor but deserving students from among their constituencies.

The beauty of the voucher system is that it allows a student to choose the college of his or her choice. No one will be forced to go to some lame-ass, government-run city college whom no one has ever heard of. If a scholar of Councilor Baronda for example prefers to take up nursing at St. Paul's College or a constituent of Councilor Espinosa decides he wants to take up marine engineering at UI, they can do so. Councilor Zulueta could even decide to send an especially promising youngster to Ateneo de Manila University. All their scholars have to do is present their tuition voucher slip at the start of every semester to their patron-councilor and City Hall will be the one to pay for their tuition.

The voucher system is also an ingenious way of de-clogging our already crowded public schools. Today, the average classroom size in public schools is 60 while in most private schools it is barely 30 students. Government can allocate millions of pesos annually to construct new classrooms, buy more textbooks and hire new teachers but the simple fact is that we are producing babies faster than we can build schools. Two (2) million people are added to the population every year and our government will never be able to cope with the backlog. The easiest and most efficient way to solve the overcrowding problem is by channeling government funds (which would otherwise be used to contruct new schoolbuildings, more textbooks and more teachers) to the private sector. They are doing a better job at educating our children anyway. I am sure the voucher system will also minimize the corruption which has seemingly been plaguing our government procurement system. With more students now in the private schools, owners will have to build more classrooms and hire more teachers to cope with increased enrollment using the money they got from government. I say let the private schools build the schoolbuildings and procure the textbooks instead of government. At least we can be sure that private school owners will not steal from their own pockets.

Establishing a city college would also be like "reinventing the wheel." Ask any high school graduate to choose between studying in the "Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Iloilo" or the University of San Agustin and chances are he will choose the latter. That's because a USA diploma is more prestigious than a diploma from some crummy city college. A new city college would have to establish its academic bona fides and it takes a lot of money to maintain a certain academic standard. As such, only very rich LGUs like Manila, Makati, Pasig and Quezon City can really afford to maintain a city college. Makati has even managed to make its city college very high standard - most of its graduates are assured of getting a job in Makati after graduation - but that is because it has the financial wherewithal and the full backing of the sitting mayor. Sadly, Iloilo City is not that rich (yet) and it doesn't even have a decent City Hall at the moment . There are far more urgent things that the City Council needs to focus its attention on before its can even start contemplating operating its own college. And even if it had the money, the funds would be put to better use thru a GASTPE-type scholarship program than by creating a city college.

Friday, August 29, 2008

If It Bleeds, It Leads

The spate of high-profile murders in recent weeks has given Iloilo City a bad rap. The city's image as a peaceful and genteel community has been eroded by the grisly slayings of a number of prominent people. First there was the American businessman murdered in Arevalo and then there was the shooting of a certain Eddie Pedrajas. Last Friday, Provincial Fire Marshall Casiano del Castillo was assassinated while walking home by two motorcycle-riding men (again in Arevalo). The latest victim is an aunt of Senator Miriam Santiago, Adelina Palma-Bermejo, whose dead body was found in her Jaro home.

That the victims are prominent citizens may partly explain why the local media have given front-page treatment to the murders. But then the local media have always reported on every rape and killing incident irregardless of the stature of the victim (remember the editorial adage "if it bleeds, it leads"). On the whole, Iloilo City is still a peaceful enough place for grisly crimes to still merit front-page treatment in local papers unlike in other big cities like Manila where killings are an almost daily occurence. People not only talk about it but truly get upset every time there is a murder in Iloilo City. If Doland Castro and Gus Abelgas were in Iloilo their crime reports would lead the local prime newscast each time.

I am truly befuddled by the recent rash of killings and the surge in petty crimes (which usually go unreported in the local media) in the city. The alleged motive for the murder of the American businessman and Inday Miriam's aunt is robbery while the assassination of Fire Marshall del Castillo is attributed to anomalies in the Fire Department. More mysterious is the death of Eddie Pedrajas whom many claim may have something to do with the city's nefarious illegal drugs trade. It is clear that the murders are unconnected and quite random.

The flashflood that hit Iloilo City last June may have something to do with the rash of criminal activity. The flood has brought about great destruction and left many poor people even more destitute. Some may have become desperate enough to commit murder. The murders occurred just when Iloilo City has a newly-installed chief of police so it may also be that criminal elements are just "testing" the mettle of Senior Superintendent Bartolome Tobias. The spate of violence is a great challenge for the incoming chief of police. Since he is new, Senior Superintendent Tobias has to show his competence by solving the high-profile crimes at the earliest possible time and give the people peace of mind. If I were him, I would increase police visibility all over the city to prevent the commission of more petty crimes and assign all my best investigators to solving the crimes. Otherwise I'm afraid the people of Iloilo City might clamor to have him replaced if he doesn't meet their expectations.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ilongga Bags a Silver in Beijing Olympics

In what perhaps is the only good news to come out of the Olympics for the Philippines, a twenty-five year old girl from Iloilo City bagged the silver medal in the women's 52-kilogram sanshou (fighting) event in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The girl's name is Mary Jane Estimar and she hails from Barangay Dulunan, Arevalo, Iloilo City. After graduating from Arevalo High School, she worked at a local beauty parlor. She only started practicing wu shu (also popularly known as kung fu) three years ago.

Another member of the RP wushu delegation named Willy Wang won the gold medal in the taolu (forms) competition two days ago. Sadly wu shu is only a demonstration sport which means that their two medals will not appear in the official Olympic tally. Still, Mary Jane Estimar's victory along with Willy Wang's should be a source of great pride for the Filipinos especially in light of the fact that China is the land were wu shu originated. We definitely showed the world that the Filipino can hold its own and can even beat the Chinese at their own game (read more here, here, here and here).

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Cult Icons of a Generation

In the news: Olympic superman Michael Phelps has ADHD (read here), the war with the MILF claims its highest-ranking victim (read here), and rumors of the Ilaga being reactivated are percolating in North Cotabato (read here). The Ilaga (Ilonggo for rat) was an Ilonggo-led private army that battled the Moro Blackshirts in Cotabato and the Barracudas in Lanao during the 1970s. Read this concise and well-written backgrounder on the Mindanao conflict here.


Wikipedia defines a cult icon as a person who attracts the attention of a small band of aficionados or fans. The "notoriety" of cult icons may be contrasted with that of pop icons in that they generally don't have "mainstream" or mass appeal. But in some cases, a cult icon's following may grow so large that the figure becomes a household name. Some examples of cult icons who became "mainstream" are Bruce Lee, J.D. Salinger and J.R.R. Tolkien. Despite their fame, these people are still considered cult figures because a relatively small group of fans are responsible for their fame.

I am bringing up the topic of cult icons because of a movie I recently watched entitled "Into the Wild." "Into the Wild" is about Chris McCandless, a young idealist who sought to escape the "sick" and materialistic American society by going (yes you've guessed it) into the wild. The movie is directed by Sean Penn and is based on a book of the same title authored by Jon Krakauer.

Chris McCandless came from an upper-middle class background and was a very bright student. He developed a deep love for literature and he could quote Tolstoy and Thoreau at a drop of the hat. His father was a rocket scientist (literally) and made a good living as a consultant for NASA and missile firms. He was an ascetic and refused to be drawn into the American consumerist lifestyle. The movie's opening scenes clearly established this facet of McCandless's personality - Chris has just graduated from college. A straight "A" student, his grades were good enough for admittance to Harvard Law and his parents wanted to show their appreciation by giving their "model" son a new car as a graduation present. "Why would I want a new car?! My old Datsun is just perfect," Chris answered drawing bewildered looks from his parents. His parents were even more surprised to learn that he had saved up $24,000 out of his college allowance.

Instead of going to Harvard Law School, Chris McCandless instead decided to "walk the earth." In other words, he became a vagabond, a drifter. He donated his $24,000 to Oxfam, destroyed all his credit cards, ditched his Datsun and cut off all communication from his family. He hitchhiked his way all throughout America, working at odd jobs so he could eat, and met all sorts of people along the way ala Forrest Gump. In October 1990 he acquired a canoe and began paddling down the Colorado River and kept paddling and paddling until, in January 1991, he reached all the way down to Mexico! He returns to America illegally and by April 1992 has again hitchhiked his way up to Alaska. Equipped only with a rifle, 10 pounds of rice, a camera, some camping gear and a small collection of books, McCandless wandered the Alaskan wilderness until he accidentally came upon an old abandoned bus in a place called Stampede Trail. Confronting extreme weather conditions, he shot game and gathered edible shrubs to survive. He was generally relishing his time in the great outdoors until he ate some poisonous "wild potato" making him sick and too weak to forage for food. Chris McCandless died of starvation on August 18, 1992 at the age 24.

Born in 1968, Chris McCandless belonged to that generation sometimes called Generation X. Generation X are people born between 1961 and 1981 while Generation Y are those persons born between 1981 and 1991. Recent scholars have since lumped together the two and labeled them as the "Me" Generation (probably because of that generation's self-centeredness and sense of entitlement). The Me Generation are the children of the Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1960) while the Baby Boomers are the children of the so-called "Greatest Generation." The Greatest Generation came of age during the Great Depression and their defining moment was the Second World War and they also built America into a great global power. Whenever I think about the "Greatest Generation," I think about Major Dick Winters of the Band of Brothers fame. Ever since that hit HBO mini-series Winters became the icon of his generation. The Baby Boomers, so called because of the boom in the number of child births after the Second World War, came of age during the Vietnam War and their defining moment was Woodstock, and their icons were the hippies. Bob Dylan is one of the cult icons of this generation. These are all mind you, American, not Filipino culture. There is not much literature on cult icons in the Philippines but I know that Pinoy rocker Pepe Smith is considered a cult icon by our Baby Boomers and his song "Ang Himig Natin" is their generation's anthem. Chikoy Pura of The Jerks I believe is another cult icon belonging to the Me Generation.

There seems to be two schools of thought about Chris McCandless. If you ask a Baby Boomer or someone from the Greatest Generation (in other words, old people), they would probably say that McCandless was a complete moron. He had everything going for him to succeed in life - brains, looks and rich parents - and he threw it all away to live like a hobo. He was a fool for going to such a harsh and desolate place ill-equipped and poorly-skilled to survive in the wild. There was a scene in the movie where Chris shot a moose which could have been enough to feed him for months but he didn't know the proper way to skin and treat the meat and it soon became maggoty. He also starved to death because he mistakenly ate a poisonous plant. But if you ask someone from the Me Generation, I think many can emphatize with what he did and some may even admire his courage. There are actually people in America who are saying that Chris McCandless is the cult icon of his generation, a symbol of his generation's youthful restlessness and aimlessness, and there are in fact many people today paying homage to McCandless by retracing his journey across America, his canoe trip along the Colorado River and visiting his Stampede Trail camp in Alaska (read "Into the Wild pilgrimages increase in Alaska").

If you ask me, Chris McCandless was a bit of both - a fool and an icon. I mean, I just wouldn't go off like that into the wild, shunning all material possessions and cutting off communication from all the people I know. But another part of me admires Chris for his guts in living by his convictions. Although he carried his principles to such dramatic extremes (and it ultimately drove him to his untimely death), I somehow find some resonance on why he sought to escape the "sick and materialistic" American society. Each person wants to "get away from it all." The only difference is, whereas many of us want to "get away" only temporarily, Chris McCandless totally broke away for good. And I somehow admire his courage for doing what many of our generation are only dreaming about of doing. The movie is really thought-provoking and has many memorable quotes (here are some quotes from the movie - but you have to watch the movie to really appreciate it). I really recommend you watch "Into the Wild." And if you are going to buy only one book for the year, I suggest the book "Generation Me" by Jean Twenge, PhD.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Federalism Anyone?

First, the news: the remains of Corporal Angelo Abeto, the Philippine Marine who died in an encounter with MILF rebels in Basilan, has been flown to Iloilo City where he will be given a hero's burial (see GMA video here):

For the latest Philippine news stories and videos, visit GMANews.TV

The Abeto family reside in Sitio Calubihan, Mandurriao, Iloilo City (not far from the old Iloilo airport) and Corporal Abeto studied at the University of Iloilo before poverty forced him to enlist in the Philippine Marines. An interesting sidelight is Abeto's sister, Anne Grace, won 2 bronze medals in the Southeast Asian Para Games (read more here). I am fascinated because despite being poor, this has not stopped the Abeto family from contributing something to the country - Cpl. Angelo laid down his life defending the Republic, Anne Grace although blind brought honor and won medals for the country. The government should do its utmost to reward their selfless acts and help uplift their family from poverty. These are the types of people government should help.


I have yet to form an opinion on the proposal to federalize the Philippines but reading Senator Nene Pimentel's press release, I have to admit that I am attracted to the idea. Autonomy has indeed been good for the country and it has resulted to countryside development so why not take it further by granting the provinces total autonomy in running their affairs? (read Pimentel's entire press release here. I also found a soft copy of Joint Resolution No. 10 here).

I am currently studying Joint Resolution No. 10 (thank God for the long weekend) and I am about half way through. Under his 63-page resolution, Senator Pimentel proposes the creation of 11 federal states out of the existing political subdivisions of the country, and one federal administrative region namely; the federal states of Northern Luzon, Central Luzon, Bicol and Southern Tagalog in Luzon; the federal states of Minparom (the island provinces of Mindoro, Palawan, Romblon, Marinduque), Eastern Visayas, Central Visayas and Western Visayas in the Visayas and the federal states Northern Mindanao, Southern Mindanao and Bangsamoro in Mindanao. Metro Manila will be converted into a federal administrative region along the lines of Washington D.C. in the United States, New Delhi in India or Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

There are several provisions in the resolution which I find objectionable. One is the provision proposing to transfer the Senate and the House of Representatives to Tagbilaran, Bohol and the Supreme Court to Cagayan de Oro in Misamis Oriental. The proposal of transferring Congress to Tagbilaran alone could prove to be problematic and could spawn a myriad of problems. For one, there are no direct flights from Iloilo to Tagbilaran (or anywhere for that matter) and I can already picture our legislators and their staff scrambling on ferries or ro-ro just to get to their sessions. Congressmen will have to sell their houses in Fairview and buy new ones in Bohol (but come to think of it, since Malacañang will still be in Manila, the political elite will have to decide to maintain three homes now: one in Manila, one in their bailiwicks and another one in Bohol). The pressure to acquire a house in Bohol will become another excuse for politicians to steal money from government and I pity the Boholanos once the politicians "invade" their province - land prices will surely rise beyond their reach and they will have to contend with numerous protocol-plated vehicles careening around their roads.

The resolution provides for a bicameral Federal Legislature comprised of an Upper and Lower House. Each federal state are allocated six senators, jacking up the total membership of the Senate to seventy five. It also puts a cap on the number of members the House of Representatives could have, which is 350 members broken down into 300 district representatives and 50 party list. I have misgivings on this because I feel this is too many. There will be far too many senators and congressmen (with protocol "7" and "8" car plates) running around the country and abroad (I pity our foreign service officers who usually act as their tour guides during their foreign junkets).

Another provision which I find objectionable is the provision on State Legislatures. Under the resolution, each federal state will have a State Legislature on top of the municipal council, and the city or provincial board and below the National Legislature. My main objection is that delegates to the State Legislature will not be elected via a general election but only chosen by the provincial or city council members from among their ranks. Even the sectoral delegates to the State Legislature will be appointed, not elected, by the State Governor. The Pimentel resolution also stipulates that the State Legislature cannot meet more than twice a month, which I think is not enough for it to deliberate and achieve anything worthwhile. The State Legislature in effect will just be another bureaucratic, "do-nothing" layer which will add to the expenses of the state. Rich federal states like Metro Manila and Central Visayas may be able to afford it but I don't think the proposed Bangsamoro or Minparom states will have the money to fund its operation.

I also think the resolution's proposal to abolish the Judicial and Bar Council is not a good idea. Under the resolution, all appointments to the judiciary will be made by the President from a list of at least three nominees to be submitted by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) upon approval by the Commission on Appointments. I think the current set-up is fine. Under the current set-up, the IBP is just one of the members of the JBC the others being the Supreme Court, a senator, a congressman, the DOJ secretary, and a representative from the academe (usually a law school dean).

Since Iloilo City is currently the regional government center, it is more than likely that it will be made the capital of the proposed "Federal State of Western Visayas." The only problem is the city is already very crowded and if they propose to build a State Legislature I don't know if there will be a site big enough to accommodate it in the city (the only remaining open areas in the city is in the flood-prone Jaro).

But all in all, I still believe in diffusing power away from Imperial Manila. We really need to disperse development in other parts of the country simply because Metro Manila is already busting in the seams. Although past experience shows that autonomy has been good for countryside development, I still have misgivings about totally federalizing our archipelago. Maybe we should just grant the LGUs more autonomy and not give them absolute federal power. I am fearful because federalism tends only to rich provinces richer, poor provinces poorer and at the same time suspicious of the timing. But then talks of Cha Cha always surface everytime elections loom on the horizon and each president has been accused of plotting to extend his or her term. I agree that the best time to amend the Constitution is immediately after elections but the problem is, each newly-elected administration doesn't want anything to do with anything that will cut short its term. Nothing really happens in the end.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Some Management Lessons

Lesson 1:

A man is getting into the shower just as his wife is finishing up her shower, when the doorbell rings.

The wife quickly wraps herself in a towel and runs downstairs.

When she opens the door, there stands Bob , the next-door neighbor.

Before she says a word, Bob says, 'I'll give you $800 to drop that towel.'

After thinking for a moment, the woman drops her towel and stands naked in front of Bob , after a few seconds, Bob hands her $800 and leaves.

The woman wraps back up in the towel and goes back upstairs.

When she gets to the bathroom, her husband asks, 'Who was that?'

'It was Bob the next door neighbor,' she replies.

'Great,' the husband says, 'did he say anything about the $800 he owes me?'

Moral of the story:

If you share critical information pertaining to credit and risk with your shareholders in time, you may be in a position to prevent avoidable exposure.

Lesson 2:

A priest offered a Nun a lift.

She got in and crossed her legs, forcing her gown to reveal a leg.

The priest nearly had an accident.

After controlling the car, he stealthily slid his hand up her leg.

The nun said, 'Father, remember Psalm 129?'

The priest removed his hand. But, changing gears, he let his hand slide up her leg again.
The nun once again said, 'Father, remember Psalm 129?'

The priest apologized 'Sorry sister but the flesh is weak.'

Arriving at the convent, the nun sighed heavily and went on her way.

On his arrival at the church, the priest rushed to look up Psalm 129. It said, 'Go forth and seek, further up, you will find glory.'

Moral of the story:

If you are not well informed in your job, you might miss a great opportunity.

Lesson 3:

A sales rep, an administration clerk, and the manager are walking to lunch when they find an antique oil lamp.

They rub it and a Genie comes out.
The Genie says, 'I'll give each of you just one wish.'
'Me first! Me first!' says the admin clerk 'I want to be in the Bahamas , driving a speedboat, without a care in the world.'
Puff! She's gone.

'Me next! Me next!' says the sales rep. 'I want to be in Hawaii , relaxing on the beach with my personal masseuse, an endless supply of Pina Coladas and the love of my life.'

Puff! He's gone.

'OK, you're up,' the Genie says to the manager.
The manager says, 'I want those two back in the office after lunch'

Moral of the story:

Always let your boss have the first say.

Lesson 4

An eagle was sitting on a tree resting, doing nothing.

A small rabbit saw the eagle and asked him, 'Can I also sit like you and do nothing?'
The eagle answered: 'Sure, why not.'

So, the rabbit sat on the ground below the eagle and rested. All of a sudden, a fox appeared, jumped on the rabbit and ate it.

Moral of the story:

To be sitting and doing nothing, you must be sitting very, very high up.

Lesson 5

A turkey was chatting with a bull.

'I would love to be able to get to the top of that tree' sighed the turkey, 'but I haven't got the energy.'
'Well, why don't you nibble on some of my droppings?' replied the bull. They're packed with nutrients.'

The turkey pecked at a lump of dung, and found it actually gave him enough strength to reach the lowest branch of the tree.

The next day, after eating some more dung, he reached the second branch.

Finally after a fourth night, the turkey was proudly perched at the top of the tree.

He was promptly spotted by a farmer, who shot him out of the tree.

Moral of the story:

Bull Shit might get you to the top, but it won't keep you there..

Lesson 6

A little bird was flying south for the winter. It was so cold the bird froze and fell to the ground into a large field.

While he was lying there, a cow came by and dropped some dung on him.

As the frozen bird lay there in the pile of cow dung, he began to realize how warm he was.

The dung was actually thawing him out!

He lay there all warm and happy, and soon began to sing for joy.
A passing cat heard the bird singing and came to investigate.

Following the sound, the cat discovered the bird under the pile of cow dung, and promptly dug him out and ate him.

Morals of the story:

(1) Not everyone who shits on you is your enemy.

(2) Not everyone who gets you out of shit is your

(3) And when you're in deep shit, it's best to keep
your mouth shut!


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dismal Performance at the Olympics

It has been more than 12 years since a Filipino last won a medal in the Olympics. That honor I believe belongs to an Ilonggo, Mansueto "Onyok" Velasco, who won the silver medal for boxing at the 1996 Olympics held in Atlanta. His twin brother, Roel Velasco, likewise won the bronze medal during the 1992 Olympics. The Velasco brothers hail from Bago City, Negros Occidental. Before them, records show that the last Olympic medal won by the Philippines was at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics by another boxer, Anthony Villanueva. Villanueva's father Jose in turn won a bronze medal during the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics (read more here).

For the 2008 Beijing Olympics the Philippines is sending only 15 athletes supposedly because they are the only ones with a fighting chance to break into the medal round. So far, the performance of our athletes can only be described as dismal. I am especially disappointed in Eric Ang who, by finishing dead last in the trap shooting event, did not even give our journalists a window to write some bs story about how he fought a good fight, how he had "heart" etc. etc . I did not expect him to win the gold medal but I also did not expect him to be dead last. Instead of bringing honor and recognition for our country, he brought us shame - "Filipino finishes dead last in Olympics" - that's what they're writing about us in the Olympics right now. Contrast this to what they've been saying about Ang weeks before the games (read here). Sports pundits have been building up and pinning their hopes on another boxer, Harry Tañamor, to bring home the medal but looks like he's also out of the game. "Tañamor was completely outfought and outsmarted by Mangyo Plange, the Afican light flyweight champion who moved to the round of 16 with a clear-cut 6-3 decision at the Beijing Workers Stadium" - this is what the Inquirer is reporting about him here (read it and weep).

For those who are not disheartened enough or still interested to know about our athletes's performance in Beijing, Wikipedia has a running tally board here.

Monday, August 11, 2008

They Now Serve Batchoy at Jolibee

Last Sunday on the way to the Manila Airport, I stopped by at the Jolibee branch along MIA Road to grab a quick lunch and I was pleasantly surprised to see that they were serving La Paz Batchoy. I thought of ordering their "Jolibee-style" batchoy but as I was already craving for their chicken beforehand I just made a mental note to try it next time. Now I wish I tried it so I could have given my verdict and shared it in this blog. But on the other hand, considering that my taste buds are used to the authentic, "real deal" batchoy at the La Paz Market, Jolibee's concoction might pale in comparison and I may end up disappointed. So I may end up not ordering it each time for fear of being disappointed. I remember testing Lucky Me's batchoy instant noodles and it was atrocious. There is also a Ted's Batchoyan in Ali Mall, Cubao but after several visits their batchoy somehow falls short of my expectations.

Batchoy for Ilonggos is a comfort food, an acquired taste. I have been eating batchoy way back when it was sold for just five pesos a bowl (with "one-to-sawa" caldo or broth) and back in my college days, no semestral break can be complete without a trip to the nearest batchoyan in Iloilo before going back to Manila. To me batchoy is not batchoy without chicharon (pork skin cracklings) and atay (liver). I always eat mine with pan de sal and Mountain Dew, with usually a request to the cook to add a little extra chicharon. I always slurp the broth first, ordering an extra bowl of caldo if I'm really famished, and I would then proceed to eat the noodles, meat and other ingredients. Broth first, laman later - this I am told is how real Ilonggos eat their batchoys. Ilonggos usually judge how good a batchoy is by how tasty the broth, by how good the timpla sang kaldo is. Aside from bulalo (bone marrow), I am told that they put a special kind of bagoong (shrimp paste) in the broth and that's the secret formula for making the soup so rich and tasty. Atay, pork innards, chicharon, bone marrow and bagoong - batchoy is a real bahala ka sa buhay mo, "cardiac delight" - this is the reason why it is so delicious - and one cannot really have this bowl of pure cholesterol everyday unless you aspire for a "near death experience" (or unless you work as a kargador at the La Paz wet market).

The beauty of batchoy is that it is uncomplicated to make and it could be eaten at any time of the day. There is no "proper" time for eating it and for many Ilonggos, batchoy is not merely a soup but an all-in-one meal. For the kargadors of La Paz public market, batchoy is their version of the "power breakfast." For penny-pinching college students in Jaro, it is a good substitute for lunch or dinner. Batchoy is the merienda of choice of many office workers and the batchoyan is a mandatory pit stop for balikbayans and OFWs in Iloilo City. And batchoy is neither only for the poor nor people who are trying to save money. I have seen doctors, lawyers and politicians at batchoyan restaurants. A trip to a batchoyan is also a customary last stop for people on a spending spree - after an all-night drinking binge around town, a steaming hot bowl of batchoy is the best way to cap the night (or early morning as the case may be). Since different kinds of people crave batchoy at different times of the day, batchoyan restaurants in Iloilo are usually open round the clock. As for me, the best time to eat batchoy is during rainy days when the cold weather seemingly gives the warm and tasty broth additional taste.

I am sure the people at Jolibee had put in a lot of time and money studying the feasibility of putting batchoy on their menu. I suspect that their real target market for their batchoy are not really the Ilonggos (who like me might put off ordering it for fear of disappointment) but the people at large. This must mean that the batchoy has gained nationwide acceptance and no longer limited to the Ilonggo palate. Now it can be said that the once-humble batchoy has gone mainstream. It is no longer the humble, "poor man's soup" eaten by the kargadors at the public market but has gained a place in the nation's largest fastfood chain no less. People all over the country (or wherever there is a Jolibee branch, which is pretty much all over the country) can now enjoy it and I am happy that this original Ilonggo concoction has gained such widespread acceptance throughout the country.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Release the MOA

First, some news. HB No. 4256, which seeks to reapportion Iloilo City into two legislative districts, has finally been approved on third and final reading at the House of Representatives. The ball is now in the Senate court (read more here and here). Antique Congressman Exequiel Javier has filed HB No. 4766 creating a Presidential Commission on Panay Rehabilitation which will oversee the disbursement of a P10-billion fund for the reconstruction of areas severely hit by Typhoon Frank. Over in Capiz, journalists are being killed (read here) and local residents are fighting over diwal (here) and their favorite son, Senator Mar Roxas, now has a blog (see here) and a Facebook account (here). Opening ceremonies of the Olympics are scheduled today, August 8, 2008, at precisely 8:08 pm. But while the whole world is focused on the games, our nation's attention is distracted by the current controversy involving the MILF and the proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity. News reports say Christians in North Cotabato (which are mostly ethnic Ilonggos) are starting to arm themselves and girding for war following GRP negotiator Esperon's alleged pronouncement that the Philippine Army will not defend them if their communities are attacked by the MILF.

I visited the provinces of North and South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat in the mid-1990s. I went there fully expecting the area to be populated by Muslims but to my surprise, majority of the locals were Ilonggo-speaking. I distinctly remember going to the Muslim-sounding municipality of Surallah (in South Cotabato) and I was surprised to find out that their mayor was an Ilonggo. I was told that most elected officials in the province were Ilonggo. Touring around the public market of Midsayap in North Cotabato or Tacurong in Sultan Kudarat, one would almost think he was in Passi, Iloilo because the ambient noise is mostly Ilonggo. An Ilonggo would feel rightly at home there.

That 3-day visit made a lasting impression and I learned several lessons such as - don't believe everything you read in the papers. Up until that trip, I always thought that Cotabato was a land of perpetual strife and warfare where people lived in constant fear. But the images I saw was far from what I had been reading in the newspapers. Midsayap was a bustling town and General Santos City (Dadiangas to old timers) was then booming with its tuna, pineapple and canning industry. Sure there was widespread poverty, but that much can be said for most provinces in the country. I also recall that there was a beautiful (and rather ingenious) golf course in Polomolok, South Cotabato inside the Dole-Philippines compound. The provincial road cutting across the two provinces was new and well-paved and I could say better than most provincial roads in the country while the General Santos airport looked very modern, all funded I was told by USAID.

People from Panay started migrating to Mindanao as early as the Commonwealth era and today they dominate business and politics in that island. I've met many Ilonggo settlers who have "made" it in Mindanao. I personally know one who owned a hotel in General Santos, another owned the entire telephone system servicing the area and several others who ran the rural banks in their area. The “man of the hour,” Vice Governor Manny Piñol (another ethnic Ilonggo) did not rise to his position because his father was a prominent politician but rather a “self-made politician” who is now just starting to carve his own dynasty in North Cotabato (a brother is now a congressman and another a mayor). All their success stories have a common vein: 1.) they would not have prospered if they stayed in Panay and 2.) they all worked hard for their wealth. They are fiercely proud of their Ilonggo heritage and most of them still make it a point to visit relatives in Panay so as to maintain their links to the “motherland” (and probably to also show off their wealth too). Unlike in the more established provinces in the Philippines, the provincial elite in Mindanao did not inherit their wealth (save maybe for a few families who have been there since the Commonwealth era) but had to literally carve the land out of the wilderness. This might partly explain why the Christians in Mindanao, personified by Vice Governor Piñol, reacted so emotionally to the idea of the Bangsamoro Juridicial Entity. They worked hard for what they have now and they are afraid (mistakenly perhaps?) that this BJE might weaken their hold on power or diminish their wealth.

While the concept of separation of Church and state has long been established in our country, this concept is alien to Islam. I have not read the official copy of the MOA but news reports say that the GRP-MILF agreement seeks to establish a Moslem state within Philippine territory. This could truly prove problematic and as some Constitutionalists argue might necessitate amending the Constitution. Its implementation might become even more complicated because the areas contemplated to be under the BJE are not contiguous and are scattered among several provinces. I really don’t see Filipinos, even Muslim Filipinos, allowing a Caliphate to be established in Mindanao. To defuse the tension, I think Secretary Esperon et. al. should just release the MOA so that the public will know what it is really all about.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Congressional Inquiry into June 21 Flood Sought

Iloilo City Congressman Raul Gonzalez, Jr. has filed a resolution calling for an investigation into the Iloilo Flood Control Project and its possible role in aggravating the flood that hit Iloilo last June 21 (read more here and here).

There have been many theories bandied about by so-called experts blaming so and so for causing the flashflood. Almost everyone in Iloilo has a theory or an opinion on what really caused the flood and this "guessing game" has been for some time a favorite topic of coffeeshop habitues in Ilolo. A professor from the Western Institute of Technology has given his two cents worth and PAG-ASA officials have come out with an analysis of Iloilo's terrain claiming that it sits on a flood plain which makes it flood prone (hellooo don't we all know that already!). Environmentalists claim that years of deforestation in outlying areas has stripped Iloilo City of its natural protection and massive urbanization - the conversion of farmlands into subdivisions, malls, etc. and garbage - has also contributed to the flooding (As they say, cement is the flood's best friend). The Catholic Church is blaming the mining firms, although I don't think there is any large-scale mining going on in Iloilo right now.

The above theories are all plausible. Still, it doesn't fully explain the destructiveness of the June 21 flood. While certain parts of Iloilo City are flooded everytime there's a storm, the June 21 flood was highly irregular because of its magnitude and suddenness. People are used to floods but they are not used to floods with a swift, strong current. That is why many people were surprised and unprepared for the June 21 flashflood. It may be true that deforestation, urbanization and overpopulation have all contributed to the flooding of Iloilo City. But something must have triggered or caused the waters to come rushing into the streets and into the homes in just minutes.

I've always maintained that the Iloilo Flood Control Project is an extravagant and uneconomical way to solve the flooding problem. Instead of spending P8 billion on constructing a giant canal (which is what the project basically is), we would be better off spending the sum to replanting our forests, declogging/widening our sewerage system, relocating squatters living along waterways, formulating and implementing a land use plan, and educating our people to care for their environment. Doing all of these will not entail P8 billion. Sadly, foreign donor entities prefer big infrastructure projects than labor-intensive, people-centered ones (I wonder why). The biggest irony is that the Iloilo Flood Control Project when completed will not really stop but only MITIGATE flooding in Iloilo, as the project engineers themselves admitted. We are spending P8 billion on something that will not really solve the problem.

Phase I of the project is nearing completion and proponents of the Iloilo Flood Control Project are already asking for the second half of their P8 billion-plus funding in anticipation of their Phase II construction. Instead of releasing the money, I think it would be better for our decision-makers to hold it off until the congressional inquiry finishes its investigation and comes out with a recommendation whether to complete the said project or not. The congressional inquiry should be able to shed light on the real causes of the flooding problem. By knowing the real causes, government will be able to implement real solutions to the problem.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Mel Carreon Strikes Again

Here is a newspaper article by Florence Hibionada about Mel Carreon which I guarantee will put a smile on every Ilonggo's face ("Mel to Ilonggos: "I am the man behind 'Bangon Iloilo, Aton Ini' battlecry").

If you're interested to know more about Mel Carreon, please read this entry I wrote about him about a year ago ("Run Carreon Run!").

Monday, August 04, 2008

Rizal's Hero?

I just finished reading a fascinating book "Soldiers in the Shadows: Unknown Warriors Who Changed the Course of History" by William Weir, which I bought on sale at the National Bookstore (there's lots of books on sale there now). The book is a composite biography of several obscure adventurers who, as the title not so subtly suggests, have contributed to changing history and the way war is waged today. Mention the names William Walker, Frederick Ward, Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, Orde Wingate, Erskine Childers, Matthew Ridgway, Frederick Funston, Edward Landsdale and it will not elicit any reaction from people today. If Funston and Landsdale may seem vaguely familiar to Filipinos, that's because the former was the American officer who captured General Emilio Aguinaldo thus effectively ending the Philippine-American War while the latter was the CIA operative who, together with President Ramon Magsaysay, defeated the Huk Rebellion in the 1950s.

Some of the military figures in the book are not famous today because they fought on the wrong side, while others simply fought in the wrong war, like the aristocratic General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck who led the German Army successfully bottling up the British in Africa and John Singleton Mosby who enlisted a buck private and ended up commanding an entire regiment of irregulars in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. In an age where hitting your enemy and then running was considered disgraceful and "unsportsmanlike," Vorbeck and Mosby used "hit-and-run" guerilla tactics to devastating effect effectively stopping whole armies in their tracks. There is also Frederick Townsend Ward who was hired by the Chinese emperor to modernize his army and quell the Tai Ping Rebellion during the Opium Wars period. It is interesting to note that Ward, who had his own elite army comprised of mercenaries, preferred to recruit Filipinos ("Manila Men") and his second-in-command was a Filipino, Vicente Macanaya. Orde Wingate was another outstanding commander who created the Israeli army (together with Moshe Dayan) back when there was still no Israel and provided valuable advice to Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia in his successful campaign against the Italian invaders. But of all the "shadow soldiers," my favorite is by far William Walker - the American who became president of Nicaragua.

Born to rich parents in Nashville, Tennessee, Walker was an outstanding student. He graduated summa cum laude in the University of Nashville at age 15 and earned his doctor of medicine degree from the University of Pennsylvania again graduating summa cum laude. He then traveled to Europe where he acquired facility in the German, French and Spanish language. When he wasn't able to cure his mother (who was diagnosed with "neuralgia, melancholia and rheumatism") he abandoned his medical practice to become a lawyer. Finding lawyering boring, he again shifted careers and became a journalist. He was a successful editorialist and had a small following in New Orleans when his wife, a deaf mute (Walker learned sign language too) died. William Walker's world turned upside down and he decided to trade in his life of relative stability and comfort to one of constant danger and adventure. He became a filibuster.

The word "filibuster" today evokes images of a congressional gabfest but in the 19th century the term had a more sinister meaning. Derived from the Spanish word "filibustero" meaning pirate or freebooter, a "filibuster" then meant a person (usually an American, but at times British) who sought to overthrow governments in South and Central America, mostly Spanish colonies at that time. Sam Houston and Aaron Burr are the more famous (not to mention more successful) examples of filibusters.

Walker left New Orleans for San Francisco, California where he met rich Americans willing to fund his "filibustering" expedition. In October 1853, Walker set out with an "army" of 45 men to conquer the largely uninhabited Baja California territory of Mexico which was rumored to be rich in silver and gold deposits. He chased out the miniscule Mexican army stationed there but Walker's "Republic of Lower California" turned out to be short-lived. Years earlier, the American government had offered to purchase the territory for $10 million but was rejected by the Mexican government. Now, with Walker actually occupying their land, Mexican authorities were finally "persuaded" to sell the land to the U.S. government under what is today known as the Gadsen Purchase. Even though Walker's invasion was instrumental in "convincing" the Mexicans to sell, the Americans not only did not reward him but even declared him an outlaw. Upon his return to the States, Walker was arrested and tried for violation of the Neutrality Act but his testimony was so moving that it took the jury 8 and a half minutes to declare him not guilty.

After his California debacle, Walker was next sighted in Nicaragua at the head of 58 men. Before the advent of air travel and the Panama Canal, Nicaragua was important to Americans since it was the fastest way to get from the U.S. East Coast to California. From New York, the traveler (usually hoping to partake of the California gold rush) took a steamship to Greytown and rode a mule or a coach to San Juan del Sur where he would then board a ship for San Francisco. The American capitalist Cornelius Vanderbilt owned the shipping route through Nicaragua with his Accessory Transit Company. Upon arriving in Nicaragua, Walker seized the Transit (thereby earning the animosity of Vanderbilt who promised to destroy him) in the process recruiting more men among the gold seekers. He then conquered the city of Granada with the help of the clergy and the disenfranchised sectors of Nicaraguan society. In the elections that year, Walker ran and won as president of Nicaragua beating the Liberal and Conservative candidates by a wide margin. He then proceeded to institute "reforms" to Nicaraguan society.

Alarmed, other Central American nations banded together to repel the "Yankee invader. " In 1856, the armies of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica totaling 2,000 men plus 13 British warships invaded Nicaragua. Despite having only 600 men, Walker was able to repel the invaders time and again thru shrewd military tactics. The outbreak of cholera also helped in decimating his enemies' ranks. Vanderbilt even sent his own filibuster in the person of Sylvanius Spencer to fight Walker but to no avail. Failing to defeat him militarily, Vanderbilt then lobbied the U.S. government to negotiate Walker's surrender. On May 1, 1857 Walker surrendered to US authorities and boarded a ship home. He landed in New Orleans a hero and a grand parade was feted for him in New York the scale of which was not equaled up until Commodore George Dewey's triumph after the Spanish-American War.

By April 1860 Walker was once again at the head of 270 filibusters bound for Trujillo, Honduras. He stormed the fort at Trujillo, chased the Honduran authorities out and declared Trujillo a free port. Honduran army reinforcements arrived and after fighting for 9 days with only a dozen men left fighting the entire Honduran Army, Walker surrendered to a British ship captain (who were "monitoring" the war from their warships). But instead of handing him over to the American government, the British turned him to Honduran authorities. William Walker was executed by a Honduran firing squad on April 12, 1861.

The story of William Walker has given me some insight on the actions of our own Spanish authorities here in the Philippines. During this time Spain's possessions were under constant threat from American and British adventurists and aside from Walker a number of other filibusters were whipping up trouble throughout the Spanish colonies. This might explain why Spanish authorities in the Philippines were rather paranoid. Records of the Cavite Mutiny of 1872 reveal that the Spanish authorities saw conspiracies everywhere, and this has resulted to the execution of Gomburza and the heavy-handed treatment of suspected rebels. In Philippine history class we are taught that the friars were against educating the Indios and that parents dreaded sending their sons to universities for fear of them becoming filibusteros. Even the parents of our national hero Jose Rizal were adamant in sending him to Europe to further his medical studies for fear that he will turn into a subversive. The friars, as history books would like us to believe, were anti-education and any Filipino with progressive, liberal ideas was branded a filibustero.

While no evidence exists to prove that Rizal knew of Walker (Walker was dead in May 1861 by the time Rizal was born in June 1861), it is plausible that news of his exploits may have filtered through in cosmopolitan Manila. At the very least, Rizal's older brother and surrogate father, Paciano Rizal, would have heard of him and may have passed on the story to his younger brother. The proof to me that Rizal knew of Walker is because his second book was about a filibuster (Simoun) aptly titled "El Filibusterismo." Juxtaposing Walker's life story to Rizal's, one might even be amazed by their similarities. Walker had a slight frame and at 5'4" stood smaller than most Americans while Rizal it is said was sickly and also short in height. Both were born to prosperous families, excelled in school, both went to Europe where they acquired facility for the French, Spanish and German language, both took up medicine but both eventually did not practice their chosen profession, both were talented writers/propagandists and lastly, both died facing a firing squad. And while Walker fought for American economic interests (on the side of imperialists) and Rizal for Philippine nationhood (anti-imperialist), it could be argued that both fought for something larger than themselves.