Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mar-Korina Wedding

Yesterday I attended the wedding of Mar and Korina at the Sto. Domingo Church in Quezon City. It was a mammoth affair (with I believe around 3,000 guests not counting the "usi" people milling outside the church) and easily was the grandest wedding I have attended so far. The atmosphere was very convivial and I was happy to have met many familiar faces whom I've lost touch since I left Mar's staff. Below are some pictures.

Mother and son. Mar Roxas and Inday Judy Araneta Roxas.

The radiant bride Korina Sanchez.

Paolo Zaldarriaga, Mar's teenaged son and best man at his wedding.

Ria Roxas-Ojeda, Mar's beauteous elder sister and her husband, Gus Ojeda.

The principal sponsors, soon-to-be-president Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino and Baby Araneta Fores.
Supreme Court Justice Reynato Puno and former Red Cross chief Rosa Rosal.

Former Senate President Jovito Salonga.
Korina's big boss at ABS-CBN, Gabby Lopez and Mar's aunt, Ruby Roxas.
Mar's uncle Jorge Araneta and multi-awarded TV journalist Che Che Lazaro.

The View From the Back. All in all, the wedding although grand was surprisingly solemn and the choir was first-rate. The most touching part to me was when Mar and Korina read aloud their pledges of love and fidelity to each other.

Happily ever after....

To the newlyweds, my best wishes!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Surfin' San Mateo

This is your government working for you.

(Repost from Stella Arnaldo and Ganns Deen. Thank you Adobe Photoshop for making my day.)

Saturday, October 03, 2009

100-Year Floods Now Occur Yearly

It seems to me that "100-year floods" like the one brought about by Typhoon Ondoy now occur annually. Only a little over a year ago, Iloilo City (and much of Western Visayas) was also devastated by a similar "100-year flood" caused by Typhoon Frank. Similarly, the people were caught by surprise because PAG-ASA did not forecast Frank as an especially strong typhoon. I also recall that during the early 1990s, Victorias City in Negros Occidental was also inundated by fast-running floodwaters that reached up to the roofs of single-storey houses in Canetown Subdivision. So in my lifetime, I have already experienced three (3) such "100-year floods." I am very lucky to have come out unscathed - in all three instances our residence was not hit - but seeing relatives and close friends suffering and losing everything to the flood almost makes it as bad. Watching the daily disaster footages on TV, I am overcome by a sense of deja vu since the images are almost exactly the same as the one in Iloilo a little over a year ago. In fact, because of prior experience, I was giving "tips" to my friends whose homes were hit what to expect (mud, lots of mud) and not to try to start their vehicles right away as the car computer might short-circuit. Now, another much stronger typhoon is threatening to wreak havoc and this time around, people are no longer indifferent and are dreading its anticipated arrival.

It is easy to blame climate change for the periodic flooding (it seems climate change is being blamed for a lot of our problems nowadays). But throughout history, the Philippines has been perennially inundated by floods. The reason I know this is because houses in the country used to be built on stilts. The poor man's bahay kubo and the rich man's bahay na bato were specially designed to withstand floods. And in a tropical country like ours, elevated houses bring an added bonus of keeping the house occupants comfortably cool by allowing air to enter from the floor. In this sense our ancestors were eminently wiser and more forward-looking than us.

I don't exactly know when it started but somehow this traditional house design became out of style with us Filipinos. If I were to guess, I think it all started during the 1960s-1970s with the advent of the bungalow-type house. By the time I was born, everyone already aspired for a bungalow house. Today, even in flood-prone areas like Malabon, Navotas and Pateros people there insist on living in bungalow-type houses even if a house built along the bahay-na-bato lines is more practical. Even in rural areas, I notice that you can seldom see a traditional bahay kubo on stilts today as most of the houses are already built on the ground and made of concrete and other hard materials.

In the aftermath of Typhoon Ondoy, it is perhaps time for Filipinos to rethink and to alter their concept of the "dream home." The Filipino's dream home should not be an American-style bungalow situated inside a gated subdivision with ridiculously pretentious, foreign-sounding names (Savannah, Bali Oasis, Parc Regency, Manhattan Garden, etc. -- I cringe everytime). It should be a house designed along the lines of the bahay na bato with the sala, kitchen, bathrooms and living quarters all on the second floor. The ground level, which should not be cemented to allow ground absorption of rainwater, could be used as a garage and storeroom.

As food for thought, here are two articles discussing the who's to blame and what should be done to address the periodic flooding (read here and here). Kenneth Cardenas in his article argues that Metro Manila should grow UP and not grow OUT:

"" Since urban land prices are ridiculously high for our level of wealth, and since newly freed-up parcels (like Fort Bonifacio, Camp Bago Bantay and North Triangle) are typically privatized to the highest bidder, the tendency is for real estate developers to build condominiums for the low-risk, high-return markets of high income demographics.

There is absolutely no incentive to develop high-rise residences in the urban core for the majority of the population, effectively denying them, through pricing, the right to legitimate settlement in the urban core.

This has two consequences for how Mega Manila grows, how it is built, and how it was affected by tropical storm Ondoy.

The first is the growth of slums in core areas. Social groups that are so poor that they are not served even by socialized housing, but nonetheless depend on the city for employment, have no choice but to live in slums. As the events of the past weekend show, slums are disproportionately vulnerable to natural disasters, as they are often built on marginal land and have high population densities.

Systematically abandoned by the state and shunned by the market, a disproportionate number of poor Filipinos therefore have to live in slums. While we have roughly the same GDP/capita as Indonesia (Ph: 3,510; Id: 3,975) (PPP$, 2006), fully 44% of urban Filipinos live in slums, compared to 23% of urban Indonesians.

The second consequence is sprawl: the city grows out, rather than up. To tap demographics that are priced out of core urban lands, as well as to meet the government’s 20% socialized housing requirement, developers opt to build house-and-lot subdivisions in the urban periphery, where land is still relatively cheap, and where old landlords are eager to dispose of properties about to be subjected to agrarian reform. Thus, within the past two decades, Manila’s metropolitan area (as defined by a population density of at least 1,000 persons per square kilometer) has grown to become a 3,105 sq. km. monstrosity, with much of this growth occurring as encroachment on prime agricultural land in Bulacan, Cavite, and Laguna."

Hence to prevent the further growth of the urban sprawl that is Mega Manila, government needs to rethink its strategy of relocating squatters to the periphery (i.e. San Mateo, Montalban) and just allow them to stay in the city center by building them affordable high-rise condominiums. Likewise, LGUs should impose a moratorium on agricultural land conversion and private developers should instead focus on "vertical," not "horizontal" housing projects. Ultimately, I believe the solution to the flooding and climate change lies in population management. Metro Manila, which has a total land area of 238 square miles, is now home to 20 million people bringing its population density to an astounding 49,000 people per square mile. There are simply too many people living is such a small area. Environmentalists will argue that people should be taught how to reduce their "carbon footprint," the Church will say that people should alter their consumerist ways while some in government will advocate for a balik-probinsiya program for squatters. But so long as we breed like rabbits, all these solutions will just ultimately fail.

Friday, October 02, 2009

A Tough Act to Follow

Recently, certain individuals have initiated a barangay-wide signature campaign to draft Mayor Jerry Trenas to run against Congressman Raul T. Gonzalez Jr. Citing his sterling record as mayor of Iloilo City, these so-called “Trenas admirers” would want him to continue on serving in the House of Representatives. But in raising the stock of Trenas, these individuals wittingly or unwittingly are putting down Gonzalez Junior. This I believe is grossly unfair to our incumbent congressman because comparing the track record of Mayor Jerry Trenas with Congressman Gonzalez is like comparing apples and oranges.

There are certain quarters in Iloilo City who would like to dismiss our congressman as a “non-performing asset.” His detractors in the local media derisively call him a “distinguished member of the Committee on Silence” with some describing him as an “intellectual lightweight” who lacks the necessary “bombastic drive” to excel in politics. Lastly, Congressman Gonzalez is widely perceived to be pretty much his father’s son, his loyal “yes-man,” although I doubt sincerely if this should be taken against him. After all, filial piety is one of the foremost Asian virtues.

After a close examination of their track records, I believe that the most that can be said is this: while Mayor Trenas is an outstanding mayor, it should also be said that Congressman Gonzalez is an outstanding congressman. So the question then is: since both of them are outstanding, who is better-suited to be our congressman?

Congressman Gonzalez is probably the only representative I know in the present 14th Congress who can proudly claim to have authored 2 bills which were already enacted into law. Namely these are the Book Authorship Trust Fund Law and the Real Estate Service Act (RESA). His two other bills, the Customs Broker Act and the Good Conduct Time Allowance for Prisoners, are currently being deliberated in bicam and will mostly likely be approved before Congress adjourns for the 2010 elections. If enacted, this means that Gonzalez Junior will have four (4) laws under his belt. Four laws authored in just one term!

Perhaps in another time and another country, this would be considered a remarkable feat. But not so in the Philippines. Mind you, Congressman Gonzalez did not merely append his signature to automatically make himself co-author (a common “trick” of our legislators to pad their legislative track records) of these abovementioned bills. He researched, drafted, debated and really lobbied hard for these bills to become law. Veteran legislators and Congress insiders would tell you that it is very hard to have a bill passed and it takes political savvy to have it enacted into law. As such, most legislators end their three terms without ever making a law. It is hard because, first, you have to convince a majority of your 230-or-so colleagues in the House to support your bill. Then, after third reading in the Lower House, you still have to lobby with the 24 senators of the Upper House and we all know how hard that is. Not even his father, Secretary Raul Gonzalez Sr. (who served three terms and rose to become Deputy Speaker in Congress) could claim to have accomplished this feat.

So the charge that Gonzalez Junior is a “non-performing asset” and a distinguished member of the “Committee on Silence” is completely false. Also, he is no “intellectual lightweight” because steering a bill into law requires that you have to be intellectually nimble to defend your bill on the floor and you must be “charming” enough to get votes. Sadly, this remarkable legislative track record of Congressman Gonzalez is not getting enough attention in Iloilo for several reasons. First, people are inherently parochial. For example, Congressman Gonzalez’s Redistricting Bill has generated more media attention and has elicited more public discussion in Iloilo City than his RESA bill although, both in scope and impact, the RESA law is by far more far-reaching than the Redistricting Bill (The biggest purchase a typical Filipino will make in his lifetime is buying a house-and-lot, and RESA will regulate and professionalize our real estate industry to prevent prospective homebuyers from being victimized by hao siao brokers and developers). His Book Trust Fund law creates a P100-million fund for Filipino writers who want to write books about local culture, history and science thereby increasing our knowledge about ourselves as a people. But this hardly merited media attention, both locally and nationally. This is because news outfits, in determining their news stories, follow the dictum: “if it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t lead.” News stories about RESA and the Book Trust Fund simply cannot compete with rape and murder stories for our people’s attention. Also, people are more aware of the things Mayor Trenas is doing for them simply because he operates in Iloilo City and people can see firsthand his performance. People in Iloilo are really not aware of what is going on in the House of Representatives simply because it is in far-away Manila. They don’t have access to the committee hearings and debates in Congress. Lastly, another reason why people are failing to take notice of his notable achievements is Congressman Gonzalez himself.

Congressman Gonzalez lacks the talent for “self-promotion.” In simple Ilonggo - “indi siya tikalon.” As most of his friends and barangay leaders observe, Raul Junior does not like to call attention to himself. His manner and the way he speaks is not bombastic. While most politicians spend so much money to generate media mileage, Gonzalez Junior shuns self-generated publicity. He seems to belong to an earlier, more genteel era when politics in the country was still a “gentleman’s game” and bragging about your accomplishments was considered “bad form” (present-day term: “cheap”). Sadly, this golden era of Quezon, Osmena and Roxas is long gone and their brand of politics is all but extinct. Personally, I would like to see more politicians in the mold of Gonzalez Junior because the way I see it, most of our problems today are caused by egoistic and overly-ambitious politicians.

I have no doubt that Mayor Trenas would make a fine congressman. After all, he was a top-notch lawyer prior to entering politics. But as a freshman congressman, Trenas will be entering the House of Representatives with a big disadvantage compared to Raul Junior. Trenas will be joining Congress without the seniority and the political clout of Gonzalez.

“Seniority rules” - that’s the rule in Congress. To illustrate, if Manny Pacquiao for example manages to get himself elected to Congress, he cannot be appointed as chair of the Committee on Sports despite being a world-reknowned boxing champion simply because he is a first-termer. This is because under the rules, only second-termers and third-termers are allowed to chair committees. Raul Junior, as a second-termer presently chairs the Committee on Civil Service and Professional Regulation, an important committee. As a third-termer, he could most likely end up chairing a major committee like the Appropriations, Way and Means, Justice or become a member of the powerful Commission on Appointments. And considering that the other senior Visayan legislators like Art Defensor, Raul del Mar of Cebu, etc. are all leaving Congress to run for other positions, Congressman Gonzalez may even have a crack at becoming Deputy Speaker for Visayas just like his father before him. On the other hand, Trenas as a first-termer would most probably be made just a member of committees. He can attend hearings and maybe participate in the debates but he cannot determine the legislative agenda. Most congressmen spend their first-term just observing and making tentative moves. This is what Congressman Gonzalez mostly did during his first term, which probably gave fuel to the unfair appellation of his being a “Committee on Silence” member.

Likewise, attaining sufficient political clout in Congress does not happen overnight. It takes years of networking and building relationships with colleagues in Congress, decision-makers in the Executive and the Judiciary. Of course, some congressmen on their first-term (like Dato Arroyo for example) have more clout than third term congressmen while some congressmen reach their term limits without attaining any clout at all. It all depends on individual ability. But I believe it is highly unlikely that Trenas will achieve more clout than our incumbent representative because Gonzalez Junior has been at it for the past six years whereas Trenas, should he get elected, will only begin networking with Congress officials in 2010.

Naturally you will ask: what’s all this seniority and political clout mumbo-jumbo have got to do with me? Well, people expect a lot of things from their congressman like job endorsement letters, boat fares, medical assistance, etc. In fact, most people vote not on the basis of a congressman’s legislative track record but on his capacity to “deliver the goods” so to speak. For one, a senior congressman receives more PDAF than a junior congressman. This means that Gonzalez Junior, being a senior legislator, will be receiving more money for roads, more livelihood projects, a larger scholarship fund, larger funding for medical assistance for indigents in Iloilo City than if Trenas was our city’s representative. And since he has more clout, Gonzalez will be in a better position to satisfy the numerous “extra-legislative” demands of his constituents than Trenas. In other words, third-termer Gonzalez Junior will be in a better position to “deliver the goods” to the people of Iloilo City.

Clearly, changing boats in midstream is not wise. As Edu Manzano would say in that SSS ad: “Sayang naman ang benefits!"