Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Hot button issue these days is immigration. There are 11 million illegal aliens in the US today. I had to go through the arduous process of converting my J-1, "exchange student visa" into a working visa by doctoring in a medically-underserved community. The commitment was for 2 years but we never moved. Turned out to be a big blessing to work and live in a rural community in the Oklahoma panhandle.

I could have become a US citizen many years ago if it were not for the "I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen..." I found the words too difficult to utter. It would have allowed me to pass through customs and immigration in all other countries without much hassle; it would have saved me the trouble of acquiring visas and it would have qualified me to run for public office in the US. Oh but to entirely renounce and abjure the Philippines, for all its troubles and defects, poverty and pollution, diseases and corruption...

Then again, being foreign-born disqualified me from becoming the President of the US.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

V for Vendetta

Just finished watching another great movie from the Wachowsky brothers. Only thing is it broke my cover. "The Count Of Monte Cristo" has long since been one of my favorite novels. My father long ago read to me from "The Plot Outlines of 100 Famous Novels" and that story stuck to me and I read the entire book while in high school and re-read it while I was in Brooklyn. I always treated every day as just another day of preparation for my eventual return. Truth is, I have no relatives active in Philippine politics today. I have about 70 first cousins and nobody is even on a school board. I certainly do not belong to the political elite. Unlike the Count, I am not returning with a personal agenda of vendetta.

Every day has been a day of preparation for my return. I do not want to offer my country an unfinished product. I have tried to learn lessons from most of my experiences as an exile. The Count was away for 20 years. I have been away for 17. This blog cannot even start to contain my ideas about everything that keeps the Philippines in the miserable situation that it is in. I look forward to the day when I can discuss everyday problems with fellow citizens and arrive upon common-sense/scientific solutions to each of these problems.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Question most frequently posed regarding this quixotic return is where my daughters will attend school. Currently, the older two go to a Christian school and the 5 year-old loves to go to the Montessori Academy that my wife and I helped build seven years ago. For now, we are thinking of enrolling them in the same school that my wife attended in Bacolod (a city south of Manila with a population of roughly half a million).

We feel that what was good for us then must be good for our children. We feel that we received an education that adequately prepared us to take advantage of life's many educational opportunities. We felt that we were taught to learn.

The Philippine educational system needs to re-focus on its goals to make it more relevant to the needs of society. Unlike the US where a large part of the budget is devoted to defense, health and social security, the lion's share in the Philippine budget is rightly allocated to paying for the legions of schoolteachers and the maintenance of humble school facilities.

To become competitive, education must focus on the two C's (instead of the three R's)--Communication and Computation. We need to pare away non-essential subjects and determine early on each student's aptitude and establish magnet schools for the basic sciences and arts and music. The importance of physical education needs to be recognized and not overly emphasized. We need to keep students in school from 7:15 am through 4:30 pm. Make them stay in a place with other children their age and let dedicated and caring teachers guide them to read, listen, sing, exchange ideas and compute. This has been the time-tested formula behind the successful systems in China, Japan and Korea.

Learning is a lifelong habit.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Some other thoughts from the strenuous snow shoveling on the first day of spring. I needed to visit my chiropractor-friend yesterday because my back was becoming stiffer and more tender as the afternoon passed. I also started to sneeze and feel achy all over. I went to bed very early last night.

Healthcare in the Philippines is primitive compared to the US model. Hardly any money is budgeted towards the prevention and treatment of diseases but instead of seeing this as an insurmountable problem we need to look closer and determine the amount of resources that we are actually saving. There is a tremendous waste of money in the American model. Philippine healthcare must focus on vaccinations, clean water, proliferation of vegetable gardens and tilapia farms, suppression of cigarette smoking through education and increased taxation, educational campaigns towards the diminution of soda and sucrose-rich-juice-concentrate consumption and the benefits of aerobic exercise. The drug formularies must concentrate on inexpensive penicillin preparations and erythromycin, diuretics and beta blockers, aspirin, ibuprofen, insulin, glipizide, generic Prilosec (omeprazole), anti-tuberculosis regimens and deworming agents. At this point, the government has no business engaging in pharmaceutical research and development. Nor can the government afford to treat citizens with advanced cancers, renal failure and coronary artery disease.

The Philippines is considered a poor nation because a majority of its people live on less than $2 a day. But absent a trillion-dollar-a-year healthcare system, we do not need a whole lot to live decent, productive and edifying lives.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Spent the first day of spring shoveling snow in the clinic parking lot. Guymon needed the moisture badly and in the 2 hours that I spent clearing the 6 inches of snow I thought how lucky the Philippines was in having 80-90 degree weather the whole year round. From an economic perspective, think about the amount of oil and gas that we don't have to convert to heat, think about the many layers of clothing that we do not have to wear, think about the time we can all productively spend outside. One more important reason-advantage why we do not need a tremendous amount of money to keep the citizens contented.

But instead of taking full advantage of a blessing, we have managed to create large problems like squatting which is prevalent in the Philippines. Because of our warm climate, anyone can put together cardboard walls and roofs using indigenous materials and live wherever it is convenient. There is little respect for property rights. Try taking one of those decrepit train rides and you will wonder how many people live next to the narrow tracks. Sanitation is awful and accidents occur frequently and living conditions are atrocious and you would think that the government would clear all these illegal dwellings. Yet because of decades of compromise and opportunism, these squatters have become rich mother-lodes of votes and have become untouchable. Never mind the hazardous and even life-threatening conditions in what are fondly known as "condominium units" underneath bridges just as long as these poor people deliver a solid vote. The steady erosion of property rights results in demoralization among landowners and can you blame a squatter for not caring for the land that is not his own? The common good has been set aside.

The State needs to exert major efforts in relocating these unfortunate people. While the Philippines is not a huge country, there remain large tracts of undeveloped land that may be converted into safe and clean communities that will encourage citizens to become productive.

Leadership requires political will that must enforce existing laws which protect the common good. When there is general failure to demonstrate respect for fundamental rights, leadership loses its mandate to unite the people towards shared goals. The current crop is way too compromised.

Friday, March 17, 2006


Tagalog is the "national language" in the Philippines, spoken by over 80 million people. It remains my principal language and I am strongly tempted every so often to shift to writing in Tagalog if only to better express myself. Not too many in this venue will understand me however.

Thirty years ago, there was a well-meaning albeit misguided attempt to establish Tagalog as the medium of instruction in the Philippines. Instead of facilitating learning, it only made matters worse. Concepts like "atom" and "gravity" became translated into unwieldy 6-syllable German-type compound phrases. Especially in the sciences, there must be very little room for waste.

In order to become competitive in this increasingly shrinking world, the Philippines needs to regain its fluency in English. This was the principal advantage conferred upon us in our fifty years as an American colony. Why and how we lost this advantage is not important. We only have to look at our neighbors and see the great strides being made in China, Korea and Japan to increase fluency in English.

Language is experience. Words and ideas and feelings are slowly added into the national tongue proportional to time and the number of speakers. There is a lot of romance and gentle beauty in Tagalog, not to mention the other major dialects in the Philippines and this is the reason why it is important to preserve our rich literary heritage but we must stay off from Math and science and physics and chemistry

Monday, March 13, 2006

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Again a flashback from my formative years. We would always inscribe each test paper, each page of homework, each essay with the initials at the top of each page, A.M.D.G.--for the greater glory of God.

I am brimming with ideas and I can't wait to talk about the myriad problems that my country has. The Philippines has become a country of young people and at 43 I am certifiably middle-aged. I will not be returning as a dilletante but rather as the distilled product of 12 years at the Jesuit Ateneo de Manila, 9 years at the University of the Philippines for Zoology and Medicine and blended by 17 years of internship, residency and fellowship training as well as private practice in the United States.

Tony Orlando sang "I'm coming home, I've done my time". I hope that I will not regret in my old age that I did not give my dream my best shot. I admire those patients who are at peace with themselves at the end of a life they think they lived to the very best of their capabilities.

Thursday, March 9, 2006

Men For Others

More on my dialogue with myself. I attended a Jesuit school for my elementary and high school years, twelve years in all. They repeatedly reminded us to become men for others. Every student was encouraged to build their lives around this mantra.

Now twenty-five years after graduating from High School, I find the majority of my class defaulting on what was once the central objective of our education. I am of course as guilty as anybody whenever the question of default crops up. I guess we all had to make a living first and provide for our families and keep the children secure and happy, and see the world and taste premium single malt Scotch.

But now I guess I have to make my move and get off this comfortable perch and offer my best efforts to my country. I want to help bad enough that I am willing to forsake everything material that I own and without engaging in anything unethical, illegal or immoral to achieve whatever political ends I will need to help change a nation. The road ahead is long and strewn with rocks but all the problems are of our own making and it is not impossible to solve these problems no matter how hopeless everything seems.

To the point when it becomes repetitious: I will go home and give this worthy cause my very best shot. I want the Filipino people to hear what this nobody, unknown, unheard-of, politically unconnected fellow Filipino has to say.

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Don Quixote

Spent the past weekend in Lubbock, TX with classmates from medical school whom I had not seen in 17 years. Everyone seems to be having a good time and everybody appears to be professionally fulfilled.

Burning question was why my wife and I were going home.

My answer was it was time. To the question what I had to offer, I replied that I was going home as a nobody, which had its advantages. All these years that I had toiled in the US made me totally self-sufficient and financially independent. We were going home on our own terms.

As stated previously, this quest is a long shot, worthy of a Don Quixote. Apart from a deep understanding of human nature and a dispassionate grasp of the many problems that is keeping the Philippines way below the rest of her neighbors, I mean to offer my best efforts. An indispensable quality of leadership is effective problem-solving. Complex problems cannot be solved however in the absence of true and reliable data. Unlike the US, ordinary citizens do not have access to pertinent information back home. Many transactions remain permanently unsolved mysteries. There is very little accountability. Positions of leadership will open many doors and will allow me to come up with enlightened decisions.

What makes me different from all the rest of the politicians is that I have stayed away from all the corruption and compromise in the Philippine political scene. I have studied endlessly all these years. Whatever material wealth that I have accumulated has been the result of hard and dedicated work. Knowing that I have the capacity to send my daughters to the Ivy-league schools of their choice and certain of my desire to continue to lead a simple and modest way of life, I aspire for no more riches.

In short, we have had a West Point-educated General, a wildly popular movie actor, a daughter of a previous President who was partly educated in Georgetown and we are mired as a nation in self-doubt and despair. Whatever lessons and experiences that we have learned are not working. The beginning of the solution will need to come from outside of the Philippines. I hope to set an example to the millions of overseas Filipinos who have gone through similar life-changing experiences in other countries, much better than a college education in many respects. Just think of what all these returning people can give back?