Friday, April 29, 2011

Squatters... Will we ever see less of them?

On the tail of news about the violent crowd dispersal at the Laperal Compound in Makati City, home of the country's premier business district, I felt compelled to comment through twitter about the connection between the country's direct popular vote and the flourishing of squatter colonies in Metro Manila.

This incident follows a fire disaster which left a number of people in the compound homeless.  The fire that hit Laperal compound was one of several in a series of fire disasters that hit other large squatter colonies in Metro Manila in the past few months.

The Squatting Situation

Squatting in the Philippines is, for the most part, still defined as the illegal occupation of public and private land.  And yet, there are places in Metro Manila where huge squatter colonies exist and at one time or another, thrive.


These squatter colonies are vulnerable to fire disasters, the outbreak of contagious diseases, and flooding or typhoons -- if they are located in low lying areas, riverbanks or seashores. Squatter colonies are also areas with high incidences of crime drugs, prostitution, homicide, rape, robbery and theft.  The residents of these colonies comprise the larger block of beneficiaries of National and Local government programs in urban areas that provide free or subsidized health care, free public education, free or subsidized food, housing assistance, and other free or subsidized benefits.

For the most part, squatters colonies are regarded as a housing problem for which the national government built up and maintained several government agencies devoted to either building houses or financing the construction of houses for the poor, on the top of which is the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council or HUDCC.

Looking at the HUDCC website, one comes across the page "Housing Databases" and on this webpage, one comes across the Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan on Shelter.  On page 2 of the PDF document one finds a description of the challenges faced by government in providing housing:
B. Key Challenges
To ensure shelter security for the Filipino family and the provision of access to affordable and decent housing especially for the poor, the housing construction sector will continue to be formidable challenges to the Arroyo Administration. The key challenges for housing include the following: 
1 . Meeting the rapidly growing housing need.
Demand for housing continues to grow as the Philippine population continues to grow rapidly. Government resources are, however, limited and most public programs tend to produce complete shelter packages largely unaffordable to the poor. Annual population growth rate is estimated at 2.36 percent while urbanization rate (i.e., the proportion of urban areas to total land area) is 52 percent. For the period 2005-2010, the housing need is projected to be 3.75 million units broken down as follows: 
In terms of geographical location, more than half of the total housing need (56%) is in Southern Tagalog, Metropolitan Manila, and Central Luzon, 21 percent in the Visayas and the remaining 23 percent in Mindanao (Table 4-4).

Above, in Table 4-3, what draws my attention is the need for 3.75 Million housing units.

The descriptions of the housing needs is heavily couched in euphemisms and it is difficult to decipher whether the numbers presented point to people living in squatter colonies or living in extremely low cost rental units who desire to buy their own home.

Further down the document one comes across a table that describes the country's housing relocation needs and having actually gone to the places referred to here, I can say that these probably represent squatter colonies:

This represents a cost of P19 Billion for 108,358 families or P175,630 for relocation and housing per squatter family.

Perhaps, the squatters cited here are different from squatters in general, in the sense that perhaps these represent squatters who live on government properties (railway easements) and along riverbanks.  This accounts for a lower figure (108,358) when compared with Housing backlog for Replacement/Informal Settlers in Table 4-3 (588,853) -- which I would guess represents the number of squatter families nationwide, assuming that 1 family equals 1 housing unit.

Totalitarian solutions to squatting

For the most part, it seems the government has gone beyond treating the squatting problem as a matter of merely evicting people from an area and relocating them.  There is a multitude of programs aimed at not only providing housing but also capability building (education, livelihood training, health services, etcetera).

However, for all the money spent on low cost housing and capability building services, the squatting situation still persists for a number of reasons -- the chief one being poverty.

For decades now, the idea that relocating and providing housing for squatters without enabling them to rise above the poverty that drove them to become squatters in the first place has produced programs that attempt to provide both housing and poverty alleviation.

None of these programs have completely succeeded in either providing housing for all informal settlers or lifting people out of poverty.  Moreover, whatever gains made are quickly overtaken by population growth.

Now, being in somewhat of a crackpot mood this morning, I'm kinda toying around with a number of ideas:

An Internal Passport System

An internal passport is an identity document used in some countries to control the internal movement and residence of its people.

Squatter colonies actually bloat much faster due to in-migration rather than mere population growth.  While provinces and cities can base their development plans on population growth based on births and deaths, their plans and provisions may be overwhelmed with influxes of people who take up residence in their province or city.

An internal passport, as a means of controlling population movement, would make it easier for national and local government to control where people choose to live through a number of ways:

  • People who want to relocate from one area to another would have to apply for a transfer of residence both from the place where they currently reside and the place where they want to move to.  They will be required to either provide proof that they can support themselves in the new area and pay for all taxes in that area or can be sponsored by a family who can support them and pay for their taxes.

  • People will not be allowed to reside in area or receive benefits in an area where they have not secured a permit to reside or have not paid taxes in the area.

  • People without the necessary residence permits cannot vote in local elections.

A National Labor Pool

Able bodied citizens above 18 years of age, who are not employed or engaged in livelihood that allows them to provide for their basic needs will be encouraged to join the National Labor Pool.

As part of the National Labor Pool, they will be made to work on government projects and in economic zones depending on the skills they have.

They will be provided all their basic needs.

They may or may not receive wages, depending on the skills they possess, the demand for their skills, the government project they are working on or the economic zone they are working in.

Those in the labor pool will be given training and further education that will enable them to qualify for higher level jobs and higher pay.

Worker Centers

Worker centers are areas situated near manufacturing centers where members of the National Labor Pool will live while they have work in manufacturing centers.

Sanctioned and State Supported Pregnancies and Child Rearing

Workers in the National Labor Pool may qualify for Sanctioned and State Supported Pregnancies and Child rearing.

Healthy workers with a desired high level of intelligence and other traits will be encouraged to have children who will be provided for by the state with all basic needs, medical care, and education.

Members of the National Labor Pool who do not qualify for Sanctioned and State Supported Pregnancies will be encouraged to have vasectomies or tubal ligation.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Better to discuss rather than debate

When it comes to solving problems that affect a lot of people, it is always best to involve as many people as possible in a discussion and structure that discussion in a manner that will allow everyone to discuss their intended proposals completely until a final consensus is reached on how best to solve the problems.

We also have to realize that every solution proposed will have its difficulties and in involving as many people in the discussion/consensus building, there is a good probability that more people would continue to support the solution despite the difficulties.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

(Updated) Reflecting on Ben Kritz' Perspective on the Culture-System Relationship

"Everything is possible, until you try it."

(Note: I don't think I've read all of Ben Kritz' articles, but just judging from those that I've read, this rather tall and cerebral American gentleman rarely weaves personal details into the topics he writes about.  His sharing of a personal truth to shed light on a discussion of "system change = culture change" is quite appreciated and in a way, helps shed more light on the topic.  It also gives me an opportunity to clarify my evolving position on the matter, which I either failed to clearly state or had been misrepresented in the heat of an ongoing discussion with someone else.)

In Ben's post "A Personal Perspective on the Culture-System Relationship", a reference is made to a sentence in a post I wrote on which dwells on certain aspects of Filipino culture that tend to thwart change and my personal observations on the country's first nationwide automated elections in 2010 -- which I was very much a part of.

The quote he lifted was this:
Culture change doesn't come about immediately, but only through continuous reinforcement of the desired behavior.
The thing is, the context within which the sentence occurs wasn't included and one concern that I have is that my position on "system change = culture change" may not have been fully presented.

In my post (Culture change through constitutional reform or If I start wearing smaller clothes, I'll get thinner.) where this sentence occurs, I was discussing one of many realities of imposing system change as a means of changing culture.

Very briefly, let me state the main points made in the post:

- Most Filipinos do not follow rules and seek ways to go around rules.

- Simple rules like "Bawal Umihi Dito" (do not urinated here) aren't followed.

- A more complex system of rules such as RA9369 or the Amended Automated Election Law was aimed at correcting flaws of the Philippine electoral process that allowed wholesale cheating.  People worked to thwart the implementation of RA 9369.

- The assumption taken for reforming the electoral process was that a fast and accurate voting system would enable Filipinos to better express their collective wisdom in choosing a leader.  That collective wisdom has yet to become evident.

It is after these points that I said:
Okay, so, we changed the system? Where's the change in culture? 
The easiest answer is: Culture change doesn't come about immediately, but only through continuous reinforcement of the desired behavior. (And while we're waiting for culture change to happen, we'll also see those disenfranchised by the change find ways to keep the next election from being automated or find loopholes in the automated election system.) 
The more difficult answer is this: Culture change, if it can actually be done, might be a more complex process that would involve multiple approaches.
Culture is a very complex thing and I would suppose any attempt at changing a culture would involve a very complex solution also.

So, the simple statement "system change = culture change" perhaps needs to reworked and further articulated.

* * * * *

Among the many problems of discussing "system change = culture change" is this: Culture and System are intangible and as terms, they can be assigned any number of meanings in any given conversation.

A discussion on culture I hurriedly slapped together right now because I am not a sociologist and threw our my sociology textbooks 20 years ago.

In Ben's case, he talked about changing his personal culture -- as opposed to group culture or community culture, I suppose.  But reading it through, I think Ben used the term personal culture as a euphemism for a set of behaviors that surround the use of a substance.  And while I have no doubt in my mind that this sort of "personal culture" can be changed, I don't think this is the kind of culture change we're really talking about.

(Although, there is one discussion that I've come across that says that culture change can be attempted on a individual/personal level and that if all or most individuals in a group attempt the same, it could lead to cultural change.  This is possible too.)

Merriam Webster's online dictionary defines culture as:
1 : cultivation, tillage
2 : the act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties especially by education
3 : expert care and training
4 a : enlightenment and excellence of taste acquired by intellectual and aesthetic training
  b : acquaintance with and taste in fine arts, humanities, and broad aspects of science as distinguished from vocational and technical skills 
5 a : the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations 
b : the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life} shared by people in a place or time
c : the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization  
d : the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic
6 : the act or process of cultivating living material (as bacteria or viruses) in prepared nutrient media; also : a product of such cultivation

Perhaps more than anything else, language defines what it means to be human. It forms the core of all culture. When people share a language, they share a condensed, very flexible set of symbols and meanings. That makes communication possible, at least communication beyond grunts and hand signals, and provides the basis for symbolic interaction, along with non-verbal communication and symbols. 
Along with language and non-verbal signals, symbols form the backbone of symbolic interaction. They condense very complex ideas and values into simple material forms so that the very presence of the symbol evokes the signified ideas and values. Not only is this more efficient than verbal or written language but it also skips over possible disagreements and nuances created by talking about these values and ideas using language.

Ideas / Knowledge / Beliefs
Ideas are mental representations (concepts, categories, metaphors) used to organize stimulus; they are the basic units out of which knowledge is constructed and a world emerges. When linked together and organized into larger sets, systems, etc., ideas become knowledge. 
Knowledge systematically summarizes and elaborates how we think the world looks and acts. Knowledge is the storehouse where we accumulate representations, information, facts, assumptions, etc. Once stored, knowledge can support learning and can be passed down from one generation to the next 
Beliefs accept a proposition, statement, description of fact, etc. as "true." Acceptance uses criteria found in knowledge systems provided by an external authorities (science, religion, government, etc.), rather than from personal, direct experience. These criteria allow the separation of "true" from "false" facts. Explanations and predictions (cause and effect logic) rely on beliefs. 
People sharing a culture use a common set of ideas and knowledge to slice and dice stimuli in and separate true from false facts. As a result, they tend to live in the same "world." Knowledge and belief systems can range from abstract and theoretical to concrete and practical. Our society has three general knowledge/belief systems: Science, Religion, and Political ideology  
Values are criteria for evaluating ourselves, others, and the world in general. Values classify things as good/evil, beautiful/ugly, or sacred/ordinary. They tell us ideally how we things should be, what the "ideal world" would look. They provide images of the "good society," the "good life," and the "good person." 
Values possess immense emotional significance and evoke deep, strong emotional feelings. People will fight and die for their values. Often behavior motivated by values looks irrational when viewed from a practical or pragmatic point of view.

As stated above, values and symbols often co-exist in the world. Many symbols condense and physically represent important values (examples: crucifix, American flag, the traditional family). Physical presence of the symbol means physical existence of the value. That explains why symbols carry such emotional baggage and why attacking or improperly using a symbol can evoke such a strong emotional, even violent, response (imagines someone using a crucifix to hammer in a nail or burning an American flag).

Some core values of American culture
Democracy and free enterprise
Racism and group superiority
Equal opportunity
Achievement and success
Material comfort
Activity and work
Practicality and efficiency
People who share a culture share a common language for talking about their inner selves. Accounts are how people use that common language to explain, justify, rationalize, excuse, or legitimize our behavior to themselves and others. If behavior seems unexpected or possible immoral, others want to know the context and reasoning behind the action. If the behavior is ordinary or expected, accounts show people we think like them and act from the same belief systems and moral framework. 
Motives are another type of account. Motives are verbalizations that lay out the "why" of our behavior. Usually we think of motives as hidden springs of action that create behavior, but culturally they are linguistic devices created after behavior happens. People use motive talk to explain the reasoning behind their behavior.
Norms Rules or expectations of appropriate behavior, usually specified by social role and situation
Rituals Highly scripted ceremonies or other sequences of behavior

Unless people have pre-set, existing rules for behavior they have to spend time and energy coming to some kind of agreements about how everyone will act or put up with unpredictable, chaotic, anxiety-inducing, potentially very unproductive situations. Culture provides a common platform for interaction by providing a framework which reduces the range of behavioral alternatives, establishing expectations people use to mutually control each other's behavior, and establishing the criteria needed for social control. 
Types of Norms 
Mores (pronounced "mor-ayz"; shares same Latin root as the word "morality")
Basic moral imperatives. Examples: monogamy, private property, prohibitions against incest, "thou shalt not kill," or protect children. Violating mores evokes severe punishment, often by law enforcement. 
Explicit system of norms enforced by formal social control (police, courts, prisons)

Rules of conventional behavior, everyday customs, and good manners. Examples: wearing socks with dress pants, eating with a fork, not picking your nose, covering your mouth when you sneeze, or wearing a swimsuit on the beach rather than a suit and tie. Violating folkways usually results in weak responses like ridicule, being shunned or ostracize, or gossip. People will think your weird if you violate folkways but they won't arrest you. 
Humans make objects, sometimes for practical reasons and sometimes for artistic ones. The form and function of these objects is an expression of culture and culturally-defined behavior often depends on the presence of specific objects. We call such objects material culture.
Material culture can range from the sacred/sublime to the everyday/ordinary; from the symbolic to the practical.
Okay, assuming that this list of components includes all that comprise culture, we can see that  laws are one of three components identified under the component of behavior.

So, at this point, in most of the discussions I've had with Ben and other members of a group of bloggers, what is more commonly referred to as "culture" is actually a subset component which is "behavior".

Changing the behavior of an individual or even a group of individuals is entirely possible.

(To be updated further...)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Culture change through constitutional reform or If I start wearing smaller clothes, I'll get thinner.

Arguing for change only assures 
you'll get arguments and no change.

The last paragraph in the previous post "Oh God!" generated a comment which I feel compelled to give some space of its own.
"But, then again, I realize, that's just like saying people will change when you change the system of government -- because this assumes a culture where people follow the rules."
Now, the thought behind this is simple:  I know how most of my fellow Filipinos behave and one type of behavior I witness everyday is the inability or unwillingness to follow rules.  This behavior is displayed whether you are talking about simple rules or a complex system of rules like laws.

Exhibit A:

And the more ingenious Filipinos will find either find a loophole or place themselves in a position to create loopholes.

Exhibit B:

In fact, there are people who've actually made a career out of making laws (systems of rules) with loopholes that they can exploit for the benefit of their clients.

It is this understanding of Filipino behavior that I believe will thwart any attempt to manage or cultivate more productive and constructive human behavior.

As an example, let us look at the automation of the 2010 elections.

Automated Elections is part of a "political reform agenda" which I think may have been first talked about during the latter years of the Ramos Administration.

The nationwide automation of the 2010 elections was actually the fruit of a succession of efforts that resulted in the first automated election law, which was later amended by RA 9369 and the amended law eventually paved the way for the 2010 automated elections.

In tandem with the Comelec's biometric Voter ID system, the Automated Election System would have done away with most of the flaws of the manual election system that we had been so accustomed to.

On one hand, the Automated Election System would do away with whole sale cheating (dagdag bawas) and on the other hand, the Biometric System (coupled with major rectification of its voter databases) would prevent flying votes (assuming that the Automated Election system would prevent multiple use of a single ID or that an individual wouldn't be able to use more than one ID).  Such a system would also perhaps prevent or make it very hard for people to just manually shade all the ballots and feed them into the machines.

Such a system would still perhaps leave other means of controlling the vote such as intimidation, coercion, bribery, and out right disruption of the elections.

Along with reforms in the electoral system, other areas for political reform identified:

--- Political party reforms.  This includes proposals to prevent party switching, provide state funds to develop and maintain political parties, and other measures.

--- Re-organization or rationalization of various elective posts.  This includes proposals to create more seats in the Senate (one for every district), the abolition of multiple legislative legislative positions at the local level, and other measures.

Now, going back to the automated elections of 2010.

The particular automated election system looked great in the show room, but its implementation was encumbered with a number of problems -- some crucial and some less critical but had the effect of eroding whatever confidence had been built up.

Even as implementation issues surfaced and were dealt with, there were those who sought to 'game' the system to increase their chances of winning.  One national candidate changed their name, various groups offered various candidates ways of stuffing ballots or keeping the machines from transmitting the right results, etcetera.

Now, the idea behind automated elections was simple: If the election process could be made fast and accurate (resistant to any attempts at wholesale manipulation), then perhaps the election would enable our people to more accurately express who they thought would be the right leader for them.

Vox populi, vox dei. Or so, it has been claimed.


Okay, so, we changed the system? Where's the change in culture?

The easiest answer is: Culture change doesn't come about immediately, but only through continuous reinforcement of the desired behavior. (And while we're waiting for culture change to happen, we'll also see those disenfranchised by the change find ways to keep the next election from being automated or find loopholes in the automated election system.)

The more difficult answer is this: Culture change, if it can actually be done, might be a more complex process that would involve multiple approaches.

The thing is, before you even open your mouth and say that cultural change will happen with a change in the system, you have to actually try doing it first.


(To be continued...)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Oh God!

BenignO, Ben Kritz, and Better Philippines had a party while I was sleeping last night.

The discussion was about Atheism and apparently the discussion gave birth to at least two posts which I find good reads (as they are almost always good reads even if I don't completely understand them or completely agree with them).

BenignO wrote "Has Atheism become nothing more than the latest fashion statement?" and Ben Kritz wrote "Even Atheists Have Gods".  Better Philippines was part of the discussion but, so far, he hasn't come up with a post -- which I am sure will be equally thoughtful and thought provoking.

As Dean Jorge Bocobo might blurt out, I'd be playing the "dark log on an unlit road at night" here -- either because it wouldn't be obvious where I'd be coming from or because my intrusion into the discussion may not at all be welcome.

Here's what BenignO wrote and it's a pretty rich nugget:
So while science challenges us to step up to understand more as it reveals more, religion hides as much of the truth as possible so that we need work less at understanding less meaning. 
Where is God in either world view? If we use the God as defined by organised religion, then I’d answer that question by saying that he does not exist in either — not in science nor in religious faith. That leaves us with a God that we should define ourselves. And that requires a lifetime of hard work.
Here's something from Ben Kritz:
Even the most dogmatic Catholic who never offers a thought not dictated by Church teachings ultimately makes a choice to adhere to that particular set of beliefs. For an atheist to be a true atheist, he must suspend his capacity for the numinous and limit his thoughts to those that are concerned with survival alone. And he can’t do it, because even being able to visualize making that choice – imagining one’s self as something very different than he is now – requires numinous belief. 
Everybody has a god, and while changing to a different one is sometimes necessary, it should be a little more meaningful than just simply adopting a new label. You can do that with a new pair of pants, or by stopping for coffee at Gloria Jean’s instead of Starbucks for a change.

Almost any discussion on Atheism will feature a discussion on the existence of God or Gods or gods. There will be arguments proving that God/Gods/gods do not exist which are pretty good -- some of them are grounded on more esoteric branches of math, physics, and pure logic.  Disproving the existence of God/Gods/gods have already produced innumerable tomes of philosophical literature and my only claim to knowing what these great works say is that I've read a couple of Cliff Notes while I was in college -- and any memory of what I read about these great arguments have been blotted out the beer I drank when I passed the final exams.

So, what do I have to contribute to this discussion?  Nothing really.

In the cosmic scheme of things (meaning considering the vastness of all time and space) and considering the limitations of our capacity to perceive the cosmos, what can any human being really contribute to any discussion about the existence of God/Gods/gods.

Which leads me to what Dr. Manhattan in the graphic novel "Watchmen" said.
I'm disappointed in you, Adrian. I'm very disappointed. Reassembling myself was the first trick I learned. It didn't kill Osterman. Did you really think it would kill me? I have walked across the surface of the sun. I have witnessed events so tiny and so fast, they could hardly be said to have occurred at all. But you, Adrian, you're just a man. The world's smartest man poses no more threat to me than does its smartest termite.
Drawing from this, even the most clever figuring on the existence or non-existence of God/Gods/god wouldn't matter in the cosmic sense.  Our sun could unleash a humongous solar flare and decimate all sentient or near sentient beings on this planet, and then what would become of that clever thought when there is no one there to understand it or think it?

But that is not to say that it would not matter at all, because it would -- just infinitesimally so.

Even as a way of completely altering one's perception of the Universe, Atheism fails to be perfectly implementable  -- just like all other concepts. I only say this because I don't know of anyone, really, who can order his thoughts so precisely so as to be completely devoid of any concept of God/Gods/god and so order his perception to the point where the Universe would be completely different.  Perhaps if I'd find someone who was completely capable of doing this, I wouldn't be able to differentiate him from a very good bullshit artist or someone who is completely off their rocker.

Thing is, I know a lot more maladjusted people who are convinced that their minds are so vast and they can be pretty interesting when they try to prove they're smarter than everybody else.

But, this isn't to say that Atheism is useless or frivolous.

One great value that Atheism can teach is that there can be a locus or position from which we can consider all religions are just various systems that give order to the human universe -- alongside other systems that regulate other aspects of the human universe.  

To me, what my rudimentary understanding of Atheism does is to similar to what Copernicus did when he said that the Earth revolves around the Sun.  Atheism demotes religion as the giver of all values and rules, setting it side-by-side with systems that govern social relationships, economic relationship, political relationships, etcetera.

In fact, perhaps, from an Atheistic standpoint, if religion is no more than a method of controlling a population to serve the purpose of one individuals or a set of individuals, then we can probably invent a religion that would be more effective in creating a better society.  But, then again, I realize, that's just like saying people will change when you change the system of government -- because this assumes a culture where people follow the rules.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Part Two: Thoughts about giving former President Ferdinand Marcos a heroes burial

"EDSA 1986 was the Triumph of Opportunism"

The real story of the EDSA 1986 Uprising could probably be retold differently and using less miraculous references.

Perhaps, one version that could be told would go along the classical lines that one can see played out in teledramas.

Imagine a rich man who founded an immense empire slowly succumbing to a disease.  His family knows about  his imminent death and lays down a plan of succession and a means to retain control over the empire's immense wealth.  However, the bright and ambitious kinsmen of the rich man also lay out their own designs to seize control over the empire and hatch a plot.

Knowing that the people within the empire had long been chaffing under the strong arm rule of the rich man, the kinsmen hatch a plot that would rouse the people to revolt.  They realized that the people, despite their complaints and protests, were all but too easy to placate and pacify.  However, they also realized that while the intellectual seeds of revolt were marginally effective, an emotional trigger would be even more effective but it needed to be one which could be sustained.

At some point, the kinsmen told the rich man and his family that in order to ensure that their succession plan would succeed, they'd have to eliminate those who could oppose it.  The kinsmen identified a long exiled distant relative of the rich man and a ruse was set that would lead to his assassination.  Knowing the bonds between the rich man and the exiled relative, they implemented the plot on the sly.

The plot hatched by the kinsmen was simple enough: Have the distant relative martyred in front of everyone at high noon and the nation would be seized by grief and that grief could be fomented into a deep, seething anger.

And it worked... The people started rallying behind the family of the rich man's martyred relative.

Sensing that the rich man's disease was keeping him from keeping a tight reign and fast losing control of the empire, other kinsmen within the empire quickly positioned themselves to take advantage of whatever change in power that would happen.  They secretly curried favor with those whom they thought would emerge as winners and leaders should the rich man die or get ousted, while keeping within the good graces of the rich man's family.

At some point, in order to prove his ability to continue leading the empire, the rich man was compelled to hold an election.  But despite the results of the election, the people were convinced that the results had been rigged and this set up the basis for the uprising that would unseat the rich man.

It was easy to convince hundreds of thousands to mass together over what everyone now recognized rather oddly as a shared grief.  Because, before the rich man's relative's martyrdom, most people neither knew or cared much about him.  Some even thought it was hypocritical of the rich man's relative to upbraid him for ill-gotten wealth when in fact his own wealth was founded on his clan's highly irregular acquisition of vast tracts of land.

Anyway, when the circumstances were right, the rich man's kins men staged a revolt and people rallied around them.  In a few days, the rich man was forced to flee his empire and seek safety.

Now, at this point, you may ask... What does the story of EDSA 1986 have to do with the Marcos burial?

(To be continued....)

Part One: Thoughts about giving former President Ferdinand Marcos a heroes burial

I was born in 1971 and most of my childhood was spent during the latter years of President Ferdinand Marcos' second decade.

I have to admit that if the Marcos' Administration's propaganda was in anyway effective, I was subjected to much of it as a child.

I went to grade school at JASMS - Philippine Women's University and it was run within the PWU system which was founded by Ms. Helena Benitez, reportedly one of Imelda Marcos' blue ladies.

I sang the Bagong Lipunan song every morning, saw movies that depicted Marcos as a hero, had teachers who taught us that whatever Marcos was doing was good, and we were encouraged, in ways, to aspire to the excellence embodied by our leader.

I can't remember how many times we went to the CCP in a year to watch "kiddie plays" and one that I can remember quite vividly is the play about the mythical "Bernardo Carpio".

According to the play, Bernardo Carpio was the son of royalty and gifted with great strength.  His lineage and right to take the throne was hidden from him, forcing him to live among the peasants and was bound to servitude like the rest.  At some point, he discovers his royal lineage and struggles to free his people.  He is, however, tricked into going into a cave and there he was magically bound between two boulders.  Carpio had a choice to either let go of the two boulders and save himself but cause a cataclysm that would kill thousands of his people, or, remain between the boulders.  

The play ended with the narrator extolling Bernardo Carpio's heroic choice of suffering between the boulders for eternity so that his people may live.  It was also said that should people find him within the mountain and take on the task of keeping the two boulders from ramming into one another, this would free Bernardo Carpio and "the enslavement and oppression of the Filipino race will be replaced with freedom and happiness."

(In later years I would learn that this legend, or at least the classical telling of the legend, was reference to by Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio.)

Anyway, during my grade school years we were also taught that next to the Bombays who lurked behind every street corner, we were told that Communists would grab us and have us toil in the fields if ever we misbehaved.  We were told that Communists were evil and Godless, that if ever they did succeed in taking over the government, everyone would be subjected to toiling in the fields or breaking rocks underneath the hot sun.

Sometimes, at the end of the school day, I'd walk together with my elder sister to the Manila City Hall where my father worked.  It was a long walk along Taft Avenue, but still, a pleasant one on afternoons and there was hardly any threat of getting mugged at all.

The only time we were told that it would be dangerous to walk the length of Taft Avenue to City Hall was when there were rallies.

When Marcos was ousted in 1986, I was already finishing my first year of Highschool and at the start of my Second Year in highschool, we started studies on Social Sciences where -- as you can guess -- we were taught about how wonderful the EDSA revolution was.

Every month there was one kind of big to-do centered around the glories of EDSA 1986.  There were film screenings on the life and speeches of Ninoy Aquino.  There were essay contests on Freedom and there were all sorts of other things that basically said that the Aquino government would set everything right.

By the time I finished high school in 1989 and started my first year in college, almost everything that the Aquino government had promised back then didn't happen.

When I finished college in 1993, things weren't a whole lot better but I was already working in the businesses of a couple of friends and getting paid to do some writing.

In 1995 or 1996, I started working in Malacanang as a writer for the Presidential Broadcast Staff (RTVM) and things by then seemed to be a whole lot better.  It seemed that more money was going around and there were a lot of big businesses starting up.

From 1997 to 1998, things had gotten so good that people at the office were actually getting more than one job -- not because they needed it, but because there was such a huge demand for people in video production.  I got my share of those jobs and that was actually the time when I got my first stint working in Jose De Venecia's Presidential Campaign.

My impression at that time was that interest in the Marcoses and their supposed ill-gotten wealth had died down.

What was quite amusing about that time, between Aquino's assumption as President and Ramos' Election, were the stories that bubbled up about how one Aquino crony ended up getting huge favors from the government.

One story and I don't know if it's true was that one of Imelda Marcos' Blue Ladies who is also a member of the Cojuanco clan had ended up with some of the former first lady's jewelry.  And it is this story, perhaps, more than any other story that for me, characterized the spirit of change that swept the country from 1986 to 1998.

This entitlement to the spoils of the revolution or victory was one of the things that marked every change in the country's leadership.

Like a bunch of pigs fighting over the trough, the only thing that changed were the pigs but everyone was still fighting over the trough.  Political culture didn't evolve beyond pig-hood.

Oh... and it's happening... yet... again.  Same shit, different President.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Better than "triumphing over evil" is "actually doing something good"

I was with Baguio Insider's Lisa Araneta at Alfredo's last night and apart from the very interesting politics in the Cordilleras (that most people seem oblivious to), we talked about the most recent "triumph over evil" and the bigger job of "actually doing good."

Temporarily suspending everything else that can be said about the current administration, I'd like to point out that  the administration seemed quite responsive to the issue raised against Willie Revillame and his show Willing Willie.  The DSWD and the MTRCB stepped up on this issue -- but all the while, I was wondering, what did the KBP do about it? 

I mean, PANA registered its stand on the issue but KBP seemed quiet on this one -- or perhaps, I missed it.

Anyway, having worked in two TV stations and several video production houses that produced TV shows, I know it is easier to stop running a TV show than it is to build one up.

I can mention at least two TV shows that I was involved in as writer/director/producer.  One was "Slipstream" by Race Fans Incorporated which was intended to be a "Tunervision meets Beavis and Butthead" TV show on Philippine Circuit racing and another was "Gene's Cuisine" produced by Des Ching's Gemitry Productions with Chef Gene Gonzales.

And I can tell you, everyone involved in both productions gave everything they could to make the shows as good as they can.  The producers made the pitches to advertisers and brought in the funds, the production crew wrote, shot, and edited the show, the hosts tried their best to deliver an interesting performance each time we shot, and everyone else helped towards making a good show.  But despite all the best efforts, the two shows eventually had to sign off for one reason or another.

A TV show (like a blog) is something that you learn to love like a child and when it comes time to let go, it can be a very emotional thing.  Then again, as far as cutting continued losses are concerned, I think the decision to stop airing a show is an easier one than figuring out where else to get funding or where else to cut costs.

Right now, I think that it has been proven that writing to advertisers and relevant government agencies can stop a show from being aired.

What I am wondering about is whether the same energy can be harnessed to keep really good shows afloat or make really good TV shows on TV gain the audience that it needs to remain afloat.

At this point, I think a discussion with Better Philippines over good Filipino films contains a couple of good points and the chief one that I can remember right now is actually question that he asked me: "Do you even watch enough Filipino Films in order to make a credible comment on the state of the Filipino Film industy?"

I had to admit... I only watch the trailers on TV, but rarely do I go out of my way to spend a hundred or more bucks to watch one.  Did I watch Rosario? Nope.  Did I watch any of the critically acclaimed Filipino films? Nope.

But the patronage of good films is a more direct way of supporting it.  On the other hand, patronizing good television shows follows a more indirect path.

One solution that has been applied to Filipino music is the requirement that all radio stations play at least one  OPM or one song made by a Filipino every hour.  It has its good points and bad points.

One is that it automatically gives exposure to Filipino musical artists and perhaps with enough exposure.  On the other hand, like a dole out, it gives something unearned and it is doubtful that mere exposure will lead to a TV show getting an audience.

I mean, jeez, what if it's like Manoling Morato's "Dial M".  If none of you have heard of that show, that alone can prove my point.

Hmmm...  Moving on...

The thing is the days of TV being a tool for informing and educating the masses seems to be over -- long over.   

Whereas before, one of the points given to coming up with a Tagalog newscast or vernacular newscasts was so that the ordinary citizen would tune in to the news and thereby become more informed -- perhaps, even educated in certain ways.

But at some point, when Marimar together with slew of tele-novelas came about and dislodged TV News (as well as Public Affairs).  News and Public Affairs, which actually was the former king of all networks back then, started airing either before or after primetime.

At some point the networks, revived by the Aquino Administration, had changed its mission from creating an informed citizenry to serving up whatever draws the biggest audience and thereby, the biggest earnings.

Even News and Public Affairs had to be remodeled into a more marketable form.  Hence the aberration of TV News Anchors being depicted ala CSI or some other proto-typical hero in a spy-action movie.  News and Public Affairs was no longer News and Public Affairs... It was News as Entertainment and entertainment, not in the classical sense, but news that titillated and aroused base interests -- sex, violence, greed, etcetera.


Anyway, here's what I am really wondering about.

Can TV networks and perhaps all media organizations actually band together in a common mission to fix the dysfunctions of Filipino culture?

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Mining vs. Agriculture by Orion D.

(This originally appeared as a comment by Orion D. on a video link shared by Arnel Edrinal/Lead Philippines on the Get Real group on Facebook.)

What a lot of people totally don't understand is that AGRICULTURE has actually adversely affected the environment way worse than mining has.

Most of what we call farmland today long long ago used to be LUSH FORESTS which were cleared through Kaingin or intense logging. In the Philippine setting, it was through kaingin.

Agriculture requires thousands of acres to have real economies of scale, while mining usually directly affects JUST A FEW acres of normally unused ROCKY MOUNTAIN areas which normally wouldn't be extremely forested to begin with (they are rocky areas with just a little topsoil).

Moreover, the outputs of responsible mining which invests heavily in environmental safeguards and worker-safety standards/procedures actually provides direct economic benefits to thousands more people PER ACRE than agriculture does. Not only do responsible/well-invested mining operations create relatively well-paying jobs (again, this is not mom-and-pop mining but rather responsible mining we're talking about), they also benefit the nearby communities in terms of the creation of new jobs, new economic opportunities, and the direct investment by responsible mining companies in HOSPITALS/medical facilities, quality schools, roads, and other infrastructure as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility thrust.

If there's mining that should rightfully be denounced, it's the small-scale mom-and-pop mining that DOES NOT INVEST in safety or environmental protection methods and instead does a Jeepney/Bus Boundary style scheme of getting independent miners to rent picks and shovels from the "mom-and-pop" mining company, do their own mining at their own risk, and then at the end of the day, SELL whatever ore or rocks they get back to the company based on weight and mineral content, usually at rock-bottom prices.

These "miners" are not paid wages. They're made to pay for renting equipment and often pay an "entry fee" to get into the mines. Their compensation is whatever money they make from "SELLING" the rocks they extract back to the company.

If they work 15 hours and have no rocks to present, they don't get paid. That's how mom-and-pop small-scale mining works. And obviously, these mom-and-pop small-time operators DO NOT GIVE A sh!te about building schools, hospitals and doing safety audits, conducting safety procedural training, or environmental protection standards AT ALL.

But the BIG PLAYERS who have the money/financial backing and technological know-how to invest in high-tech SAFETY procedures and set up high standards for environmental protection, these are the ones who PAY REAL REGULAR WAGES to their workers, pay for a whole lot of insurance, are subjected to strict international standards of safety and environmental protection, etc, and really go out of their way to make sure that what they do does not hurt nearby communities.

But Gina Lopez is one of those so-called activists who isn't really out to protect the environment... She's out to keep mining firms away so that when they all close down and cause their mine-sites to be abandoned, THE LOPEZ FAMILY can then go in and buy those mine-sites for a song and that's when they'll sing the pro-mining song.

This is surprising at all because that's how the BenPres Lopezes got hold of MERALCO.

They used the CHRONICLE, their very own "family newsletter", to write scathing anti-foreign investor articles and attacked "foreign imperialists", using so-called "Nationalist" rhetoric to hurl dirt at the American-owned General Public Utilities Corporation which owned the old MERALCO.

In 1962, after a series of unfair media attacks, the Americans at GPU decided they had enough of the xenophobic crap that the Ben-Pres Lopezes were hurling at them in the Lopez-owned Chronicle newspaper, so that they immediately packed up and sold MERALCO at a relatively discounted rate because they were in a hurry to liquidate it.

That's how the Ben-Pres Lopezes got hold of MERALCO. They swooped in and bought MERALCO at a discount based on a loan. And that's how they ended up owning MERALCO.

That's exactly what the Ben-Pres Lopezes are using their very own Gina Lopez for: to stir up anger and hatred against mining firms, so that eventually, mining firms leave/pack up, and then the IDLE LAND or the dormant mining companies go down in share-price so that the stingy Ben-Pres Lopezes can SWOOP in to buy it for a small fraction of the original share price.

Sneaky, huh? ;)

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Procter and Gamble suspends advertising on Willing Willy

Just got an e-mail from Sol Liboro, Consumer Relations Manager, Procter & Gamble Distributing Phils.  It announces that P & G has suspended advertising on Willing Willie.
We would like to let you know that P&G always strives to advertise on programs that align with our values as a company and with our purpose to touch and improve life.  We routinely monitor the media in which our brands' messages appear and make advertising decisions that meet our policies and achieve our goals. As what we have mentioned in our first email, we are taking the Willing Willie case seriously and have been working closely with TV5 on the incident that happened in the said show last March 12, 2011.  We would like to inform you that we have suspended advertising on the show beginning April 7, 2011 while the incident is being reviewed and investigated by authorities.

Aquino: Subsidies in uncertain times...

A news item on the Philippine Daily Inquirer is kind of unsettling at this point:
Concerned about the "uncertain" times, President Benigno Aquino III has directed his economic managers to come up with more measures to help people cope with the impact of rising prices of oil, power and other goods.
The thing is, subsidies are good for short run situations -- such as during the aftermath of disasters or any sudden, massive upheaval that causes people to lose their productivity.

It would be good if these subsidies are directed at enabling people to become productive after they've lost productivity or are applied to programs that will increase their productivity.

What would be a bad situation would be one where in subsidies actually amount to dole outs, or a reward for unproductive behavior.

The thing is, releasing subsidies for fuel, power, food, and other products may be the wrong way to go about it if the intention is to help people adapt to an oncoming hump in the country's economic condition.

I may be wrong, but I think subsidies are more for shoring up waning popularity ratings than a stop gap solution being applied while the government applies longer term solutions.

The thing is the country is not going to meet a small bump in the road, it's going to be dealing with a mountain.

I am not expert in geo-politics and this is a subject that I am just beginning to understand.  Like most Filipinos, I have a tendency to think that the world revolves around my navel and sometimes it is hard to believe that it doesn't.

In recent months, I've been tracking the progression of tension in the Middle East and a paragraph in encapsulates the current situation:
In Libya, battles between Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces and the rebels continued. In Bahrain, firms have fired hundreds of mostly Shi'ite Muslim workers who went on strike to support pro-democracy protesters.
Currently, all the news about tension in the Middle East is focusing on the plight of thousands of Filipino contract workers there and the Aquino Administration seems bent on doing all it can to show that it is (or that it can) do something about it.

The possible repatriation of Filipinos fleeing the Middle East is one problem, the influx of jobless Filipinos from overseas is another and probably the more serious consequence.

But having more jobless Filipinos in the country isn't really the biggest problem that the Philippines faces, it's the possibility of the tension spreading to countries like Saudi Arabia -- which is the second largest oil producing country in the world, next to Russia.

Of course, it's easy to see what would happen if the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia becomes unstable.  You can figure that if things get really bad, there'll be less oil coming out of the country and less oil supply will mean higher fuel prices.

A recent article in the Voice of America news website may be indicative of just how serious the situation is:
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Saudi Arabia to meet King Abdullah for talks on the recent spate of political unrest sweeping the Middle East and North Africa. 
Gates arrived in the capital Riyadh Wednesday on his third trip to the area in the past month. Officials say his talks with the Saudi ruler will focus on political change across the region, progress on a $60 billion arms deal and plans to upgrade Saudi Arabia's missile defense system.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morell said the two men would also discuss Iran and its attempt to exploit unrest in the region to its advantage. 
The talks are unlikely to focus on Saudi Arabia's internal situation, which has seen a limited number of demonstrations by the country's Shi'ite population in the eastern oil producing provinces.  
Of course, the US is a powerful country and perhaps it can do something to prevent Saudi Arabia collapsing amidst political unrest (if at all that is a possibility).

Anyway, even if political unrest doesn't result in the destabilization of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the effects are already being felt.

Right now, gasoline prices in the Philippines is back to 55 pesos plus per liter.

But would you believe it? The rising cost of transportation won't be our biggest problem in the coming months.

Food production will be affected and it won't be because of the higher transport costs, really.

Chemical fertilizers, a major input in our country's agriculture, is a by-product of the oil refining process and Saudi Arabia -- at least according to one study published in 2005 -- supplies 18 percent of our country's chemical fertilizer imports.

So, the more costly chemical fertilizers are, the higher the cost of agricultural goods will be -- not just in the Philippines but also in some of the countries which supplies the Philippines with agricultural goods.

So how will things look like in the coming months?  Well, first, we'll definitely have more unemployed Filipinos and then, almost all goods will have a higher cost due to the increase in fuel prices.

Perhaps, instead of subsidies, the government would be better off providing money for economically productive activities.

During the last food crisis during the administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, there was a proposal in the senate to come out with a 'cash for work' program.  What the proposal intended was to employ jobless people in the countryside to rebuild irrigation and thereby solve one of the reasons for the country's flagging agricultural productivity.

The same idea could be applied to areas in which we will have problems with in the coming months:

Bio-diesel production using waste cooking oil.  The government could put up a subsidy for the production of bio-diesel using waste cooking oil.  Operators and Drivers Associations could be given both training and money to produce their own bio-diesel.  The program could be further extended to use organic waste or bio-mass conversion into diesel.

Organic waste to organic fertilizer. Instead of shelling out money, all the government has to do is to require all farms, golf courses, etcetera to use organic fertilizer instead of chemical fertilizers.  We have a problem with the implementation of RA 9003 and 70 percent of all the waste that goes into our dumpsites are organic.  So, in doing this, we not only solve our garbage problems... we also solve the rising cost of food.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Three and a half days in Mankayan, Benguet

My trip to Mankayan, Benguet had been scheduled months in advance and it was something I thought I had prepared for adequately.

After all, what would be difficult about teaching kids about news writing and blogging?  Over the years, I've gotten quite adept in using these skills both for short run and continuing communication projects.  Even if I had to brush up on some fundamentals and look for appropriate discussion frameworks, I knew that I knew all I needed to know in order to teach high school kids how to write a news article and how to start a blog.  I also knew that I had to round out quite a few corners and compress a few lessons in order to make the most out of the 3.5 days I had to teach everything I needed to teach.

What I didn't know was that I'd fall in love with the small village nestled deep in valleys of Benguets verdant, soaring peaks.

I know.. I know...

Some may say that urban bred writers always extol virtues of small town life in ways that makes people in small towns cringe and say, "What the hell is he talking about?"

It's the same thing I feel whenever a foreigner fresh from the flight says that "You have a beautiful country."

But really, Mankayan is beautiful.

Now here's one of the reasons why I say Mankayan is beautiful: I remember talking with Lisa Araneta (proprietor of Alfredo's) about the Baguio of our youth and our longing for those days when the Summer Capital of the country.

In that long conversation over coffee, I think we virtually reconstructed the Baguio of the 70's and 80's.  We remembered the smell and sight of thousands of pines surround the city, the whole experience of it engorged you on the top of Session road.

And nope, Pinesol doesn't smell anything like the Pines of Baguio. (That's false advertising for one air freshener.)

Anyway, it was those memories of the Baguio of my youth that came welling up when I arrived at Mankayan.

Of course, it didn't look anything like Baguio.  But for some reason, Mankayan evoked it so powerfully.

The smell of pine wafting thick in gushes of cold mountain air, the villagers who were always busy with one thing or another, the clean and well-kept houses, the clean streets, and the smiles of children who were trying to figure out what to make of you.

At the Lepanto Mining Site, which was near where I conducted my 3.5 day class, the imagery of the Baguio of my youth seemed super imposed on everything.

In the next few days, I'll be posting lots of pictures from my visit to Mankayan, Benguet.


I would like to thank the teachers and students of the six schools in Mankayan, Benguet that made my experience of their town so vivid and rewarding.

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