Monday, July 31, 2006

History Lessons

We have become a cowed people. Everybody seems to be afraid to challenge the present set-up because of a deep insecurity to anything new. I don't really blame them. We have been lured into so many promising traps before and we have become afraid. The people who are taking advantage of us know this very well. They play upon our insecurities. They want to keep things the way they are. But for all their vaunted experience and education, where do we find ourselves in?

We need to study history. Only through studying the past will we avoid making the same mistakes again and again. To rebuild our country will require many sacrifices from all of us. But this will be one great opportunity to make our so-called overpopulation of 85 million work for us in a grand way if we rebuild our country together and we start sharing common goals to help the neediest and the weakest. We are far from hopeless. No use asking why all our other Asian neighbors appear to have left us behind because 85 million united pairs of hands will make short shrift of the daunting problems that lie ahead.

Whenever that moment comes is when we will finally become a nation.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

A Bishop Speaks

“A country can have growth without development and that is exactly what is happening in the Philippines,” said Bishop Antonio Tobias.

Tobias noted that much of the so-called development was due to “more beer, cigarettes, casinos, lotto, ‘jueteng,’ drugs, smuggling, golf clubs, high-rise condos, real estate, tourist resorts, memorial parks and columbaria, logging and extracting more minerals -- depleting our natural resources at a rate faster than nature can regenerate.”

What I can't understand is everyone seems to have a clear idea of the many problems that plague the Philippines and you will never find yourself at a loss for solutions because so many are floating around but the entire population appears to be in a trance, mumbling that no alternative to the current dispensation exists anyway and let's all just keep the status quo....

A ceasefire was declared by Israel only when children got killed in Lebanon. We have become so accustomed to children dying in the Philippines that we continue to go about our own, separate and merry ways.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Domestic Helpers

I will admit that one of the attractions of living in the Philippines is the presence of many "helpers", a euphemism for cooks, washerwomen, maids, drivers and nannies. In a feudal society, this arrangement works because in a majority of cases these employees together with their dependents are cared for from cradle to grave. They are provided with food and shelter and clothing and their children are educated so that typically within a generation these dependents become self-sufficient.

There will always be instances of abuse however. Some helpers fall prey to sexual predators, others are roughed-up for minor infractions while some are subjected to a constant stream of verbal abuse. There are also cases of low pay or no pay at all and some cruel employers withhold salaries to prevent disgruntled employees from leaving the household.

As I stated earlier, this system is supposed to work especially in a country with severe underemployment problems. People assisting other people into becoming even more productive will translate into net productive gains for the country. However we must always be conscious of potential abuse to these less-fortunate.

Friday, July 28, 2006


The conflict in the Middle East that forced more than 30,000 Filipinos to leave Lebanon exposed yet another limitation regarding our government's seeming lack of concern with the overseas Filipino workers. There exists an agency appropriately named the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration that is responsible for maintaining a fund built with contributions from the same overseas workers to the tune of 7.6-billion pesos. When the critical need to use this fund arose, all the government could do was disburse 150 million pesos, a pittance considering the large number of people who needed to be evacuated quickly.

This only stresses the point that overseas workers need to be represented in our government. The untold millions of Filipinos struggling abroad to keep the Philippine economy afloat do not have a single representative in our legislature that has provisions for "minority" representation. This needs to change soon as well.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Graft and Corruption

MASSIVE graft has cost the government a total P1.2 trillion (US$48 billion) in the last five years, according to Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

Describing the huge toll that corruption wreaks on the country’s coffers, the Ombudsman said, “Can you imagine how many infrastructure projects could have been pursued? How many jobs could have been generated? How much equipment used in peace and order could have been bought, had this amount been used instead to improve our collective lives?”

Try asking how many children die each day as a direct result of this pernicious problem. Filipinos need to see that it is not just a matter of tolerating bad roads and terrible traffic and seeing more cops in the streets. People, particularly the weak and the most helpless are dying. The alarms need to be turned on full blast and we all need to awaken post haste because I don't think we can expect any assistance from anybody. One point is clear: dramatic change is necessary, the present path will lead us only deeper into trouble.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

History Lessons

Still reeling from the 32 hour trip back to the Philippines. I try to find a good side to these arduous journeys and one good thing is the total concentration you can devote to reading a book. To give you an idea how long the trip is, I was able to finish reading 2 books. One was "Wealth and Democracy" and the other was a biography on Theodore Roosevelt.

The first book on wealth was an interesting read because it tracked the growing wealth of the US and exposed the problems that existed even during Jefferson's time specifically corruption and politician-opportunists who overlook the principal reason of public service over their selfish, self-enriching schemes.

The tome on TR closely examines his life and extols his heroic and visionary qualities without glossing over his many human foibles. I try to read as many books on American history as I can because it is wise to follow the ascent of a relatively young democracy that continues to strive to make life better for its citizens. It will do so much to defuse racial tensions and minimize petty bickering in the United States if more instruction were devoted to the teaching of how America became such a blessed nation. Richard Stengel wrote: "Being an American is not based on a common ancestry, a common religion, even a common culture--it's based on accepting an uncommon set of ideas. And if we don't understand those ideas, we don't value them; and if we don't value them, we don't protect them."

Jefferson said: "A nation cannot be ignorant and free".

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

We are a strong people

Background: there are more than 30,000 Filipinos living in Lebanon working as domestic helpers, nurses, doctors and missionaries. Everyone is trying to get out of Beirut and so what does our government do to the "heroes" of the nation? Check this headline from a leading newspaper.

Philippines plea: Please allow Filipinos to hitch ride

WHAT THE GOVERNMENT lacked in ships and aircraft, it tried to make up in letters to foreign countries pleading with them to let Filipinos hitch a ride in their evacuation vessels out of war-battered Lebanon.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) sent a barrage of notes verbales to various embassies -- the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Italy -- that were rushing to pull out their citizens from bombed-out Beirut.

“The problem is, we don’t have ships where our nationals can board, unlike the US and French,” DFA spokesperson Gilberto Asuque said. “We have very limited resources.”

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


To laugh often and much

To win the respect of intelligent people

And the affection of children,

To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of fake friends,

To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better

Whether by a healthy child, a garden patch….to know even one life has breathed easier

Because you have lived.

This is to have succeeded!

Monday, July 17, 2006


Today was a full day at the clinic. I realize I have lasted so long at this pace because I enjoy seeing patients and I have never considered it a job. Getting paid to do something you love doing is comparable to Tiger Woods (although I make a tiny tiny fraction of what he makes). Imagine being paid millions of dollars to play in a golf course early in the morning?

My wife and I never stopped giving thanks for whatever we had built in Guymon. Luck, hard work, doing good must have contributed to what we had although we became even more aware of the fact that it wasn't because of whatever we did that we became blessed. And ultimately, this became the principal reason why we had to see how we could help even more people.

Man has always searched for meaning. In the middle ages, theology was considered the Queen of the sciences. Seeing our patients live their lives we found out that it was those people who unselfishly rendered service notwithstanding their lifetime earnings who were happiest and most fulfilled at the end of their lives. These were the ones who went willingly. We wanted to think that we learned something from all this and it was that we wanted to focus on what mattered in the end. I don't think it's ever too late, and sure we have our little regrets but it is in not doing anything about it that will doom us to a loss of faith.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Guymon, Oklahoma Part II

am writing this entry from Guymon. The clinic was going to need coverage and so I flew in. Our world has truly shrunk and we need to think global if we are to continue to progress. I was alerted to a web page maintained by the local radio station. There were some comments directed at me that accused me of essentially abandoning our practice and transferring all our assets back to the Philippines! There was a racial innuendo in one of the posts. Now I want you all to know that I am a big boy and having lived in the US for 17 years has made me accustomed to these occasional uncharitable and baseless claims.

My wife and I have spent more than a combined 20 years in Guymon serving the sick particularly those belonging to minority groups. A lot of our patients identify with us and it does not hurt that we speak Spanish as well. We have been the first and only subspecialists in internal medicine to practice in this town. We have never received any income guarantee, salary, office space, other emoluments from the local hospital. For 10 years, I would be at the clinic at 6:45 am and leave it 12 hours later. I have worked every Saturday and my home telephone number has always been listed in the phone book.

When we thought that our children would benefit from a Christian education, we helped establish a Montessori. For 9 years, I was actively involved with an institution for the mentally disabled. I was in the parish council of the local catholic church for many years. The clinic employs a full time staff of 16. The medical clinic that we built in 2000 and the pharmacy that we added in 2005 remain one of the best looking buildings in town. We have invested in our community, paid our taxes and contributed to it in as many ways that we could. I wonder why these accomplishments still allow others to feel that we aren't "American" enough.

Why I did not become a US citizen with all it's benefits was the subject of a previous post but even this point was interpreted as a disloyal and ungrateful act.

I was even put to task and accused of abandoning our practice by foisting 2 physicians to help cover our patients. There was no mention of the fact that one is a board-certified US medical graduate internist and the other recently completed residency training in family practice. We are not about to squander the practice we painstakingly built all these 10 years.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Philippine General Hospital

Past midnight, I visited the old hospital where I had trained 20 years earlier. Like many things, nothing much had changed, the hospital had only grown older. The floors that had been spanking new 20 years ago were clean albeit worn. That familiar sweet sick smell of sweat and urine and disease continued to hover throughout the general ward and "bantays" (watchers) still ambu-bagged patients for want of a ventilator. I must assume that patients still die from "bantay-failure", when these watchers invariably stopped squeezing the bag from utter exhaustion.

The hospital, which was organized largely through the efforts of Dean Worcester (who arrived with one of those commissions more than a hundred years ago) teemed with patients and relatives. Only the most ill were admitted to this institution and I noticed that all the nurses were young, a reflection of the massive emigration of multiple generations of nurses. This place very well represents the country. Built from scratch with a little money and good intentions. Started out with a lot of promise and continues to care for an unmanageable number of the needy. The people in the hospital try to make the best of their decrepit surroundings and unless they see other hospitals elsewhere in the world think that their current conditions are the most that they can hope for.

Production. Production. Production. We must strive to make ourselves productive. Our leaders need to guide and inspire us to become productive. We need to understand that we can only benefit from whatever we produce. No production means no benefits. Civilizations begin from a single spark. The Philippines is ripe for a rebirth. We need to figure out how to put the pieces together.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

New Wine

This is a follow-up to yesterday's post. As it had a religious slant so will I offer an appropriate allusion. You cannot pour new wine into an old wineskin because such a vessel will be unable to preserve the good wine. Just as the Philippines is tightly wrapped in old and harmful garb is why we are unable to set ourselves free. There is no room for the new.

Whatever has been done is clearly not working. Those who proclaim their expertise and experience have nothing to show. The prophet Amos wrote thousands of years ago: "Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land! I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentations."

The situation is grim. When a nation's principal export becomes it's people then you know there is something deeply wrong. And here lies my main grievance against all these entrenched powers. Is this the best that our people can become with all your combined talents and good intentions? Totally unacceptable.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Bishops

The headline from the Philippine Daily Inquirer reads: "CBCP Shuns Impeachment". The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines stated that the impeachment process would be an "unproductive political exercise". I do not disagree with this assessment but I just think that the Bishops need to come up with bold and new solutions to the super old problems that are particularly killing children and the elderly (through lack of vaccinations, clean water, unsanitary surroundings that breed hordes of mosquitoes that transmit viral illnesses, expensive medications for hypertension and diabetes which make it impossible for the average citizen to comply with a drug regimen....).

If you think about it, the Church has been the only political constant since Legaspi followed Magellan to the Philippines 450 years ago. Governors-general have changed, colonizers have come and gone, Presidents have been deposed and yet we have a clear line of succession from the very first Bishop assigned to Manila.

The current conference counts 124 members and I'd like to think that all of these Bishops mean well and are true servants to their flocks but if there was ever a moment for visionary thinking and revolutionary solutions, this would be the moment.

Sunday, July 9, 2006

Theodore Roosevelt

I have always been an admirer of Theodore Roosevelt. A man of great passions. TR altered the course of Philippine history by actively setting-up Commodore George Dewey to destroy the Spanish Armada in 1898 and he was instrumental in the subsequent deployment for the first time of American troops offshore to the Philippines.

TR reminds us not to default on our political responsibilities by staying in the sidelines. If you have anything good to contribute then by all means step inside the arena. I don't want to continue to listen to all those chronic complainers and whiners who refuse to leave their comfort zones because if they are not willing to face these politicians whom they perceive as clowns then it would be best if they simply kept quiet. We deserve our leaders. TR said:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat

Message from Central Luzon

My first post through a dial-up connection. Hope this makes it through. I am continuing my plunge into the rough and tumble world of Philippine politics with daily forays inside the heartland. There is no better way to educate oneself.

Most of the real economic gains during the last 10 years have originated from the millions of Filipino workers overseas. Yet while the Socialists, the women, the farmers, labor have "sectoral representatives" in Congress, there is not a single representative from among the ranks of the overseas Filipino workers, hailed as the "new heroes" by our very own government.

This needs to change soon. We need competent representation that will not only provide benefits for the millions of displaced Filipinos but we also need to have representation that will help determine how these billions of dollars in contributions are accounted for.

Friday, July 7, 2006

Call to Action

I attended today a meeting of dedicated volunteers who are working towards educating people about their voting responsibilities. They began with a well-crafted presentation regarding the age-old problems besetting the Philippines and they proposed to put an end to most of these problems through the education of the electorate.

Very noble goals pursued by well-meaning and sincere people. I truly hope they will succeed. The biggest obstacle will be the generalized cynicism that envelopes this nation. The cynicism and corresponding apathy is so deep it is palpable. The tropical humidity that is close to 100% does not compare to the prevailing degree of cynicism.

I wish that all it will take to resolve these ancient problems will be careful and thoughtful analysis but I know better. Everyone knows about the corruption and the pollution and the poverty and the diseases and the unacceptable disparity in wealth. But it will take more than an all out war against the progressive elements in the countryside and it will take far more than finding new onerous tax revenues for the government and it will take more than paying the criminal interest rates on the many loans that were secured in behalf of the Filipino people that ended up being used in the innumerable election campaigns and it will certainly need more than changing the constitution once again.

A personal revolution is required from each one of us. That being too ideal and impractical, a personal revolution

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Field Report

I have been all over the country this past week and for some reason, I could not access blogstream from the southern part of the Philippines.

I am back in Manila and I am here to report that I have not seen much progress during my 20-odd-year absence. There are way too many people and much more hopelessness.

This is a battle that cannot be prosecuted from the air alone. Ground forces are required. No longer can I feel that I am doing my part by sending money and drug samples and used equipment home or by occasionally participating in a week-long "free charity clinic" because the problems are immense and the roadblocks are daunting.

My wife and I live very simple lives and for as long as we know that we are not depriving our daughters from our basic obligations towards them (food, shelter, education, security) we realized that in order to lead meaningful lives we need to serve and to give back in the most committed way that we can.

We are no longer youthful idealists. We have been dutifully paying our dues these last 20 years, preparing for this return and making certain that the needs of our children are met. We are fully aware that the problems that appall us into action have been the same old problems that Filipinos have been writing about and sacrificing and dying for since the late 18th Century. The problems have been restated again and again and the solutions are well known. What is needed is a generation of leaders willing to endure personal sacrifice. A generation that will awaken and unite 85 million Filipinos into committing themselves towards lasting goals that will particularly raise the little children from the despair and the disease and hopelessness they find themselves in today.