Thursday, August 31, 2006

Been There, Been That

Got a refresher course in Philippine style elections which essentially remains an exercise in massive vote-buying. Only the price of a vote has gone up and more "documentation" is required (meaning, each paid voter needs to produce a carbon copy of the handwritten ballot!). Politicians no longer attach much influence to the votes coming from the "educated classes". Virtually the entire campaign is focused on the desperate poor which compose the overwhelming majority of the electorate in the Philippines today. Who can blame these hungry masses for trading their vote for a few days worth of food? "Been there, been that," sighed a popular radio announcer of yore.

I am not deterred. I was aware of this reality when I made the decision to return. By now you should begin to appreciate why the most marginalized among us choose to go to the mountains and fight it out with the government because they have seen generation after generation remain powerless and they don't see any hope for their own children.

There must be a peaceful way out of this. We do not have to die for this country in order to change it. We need to live for this nation and we need to rouse the people into committing themselves towards longer-lasting changes that will set us free from this cycle of corruption.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

What our Nation Needs

Back in the Peens, everyone wants to know what I plan to do for the endless problems preventing our country from taking off and getting our national act together. I haven't developed a stump speech yet and I am always at a loss as to where to start. Quite an unfair question but it will always be the first question. Sell your ideas regarding national rebirth in 25 words or less.

A good place to start has been to emphasize the potential strength of 85 million united people working towards national goals. Gross national product depends on the number of pairs of hands engaged in production. Turn the heavy weight of a large population around and convert it to a potent force for change. It will not take many lifetimes if we can only catch that spark that will initiate the change cascade.

More than anything, we need committed citizens to rise from this hopeless morass. Committed citizens totally apart from these entrenched political dynasties that have gotten us nowhere. Committed citizens who realize that defaulting on their civic obligations is an overt response which will condemn our nation to the widespread corruption and apathy that has forever strangled our national dreams.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

I am an American

Or should I say ich bin more American than JFK claimed he was a Berliner. Without diminishing my love for my birth country I cannot erase the fact that half of my "conscious life" (ie whenever I started remembering things) has been spent in the US. My 16 year marriage occurred totally in the US. My four daughters were born in the US. I have paid and continue to pay my dues (mostly taxes but this should include the intolerance and prejudice that I have had to put up with). I have enough knowledge in American Civics and History I can teach an advanced course in College. I can speak fluently an "accentless variety of Oklahoma-English". I have never shied from contributing to the various communities I lived in. I have always been prepared to defend the country of my four daughter's birth.

So just because I wasn't born in the US and I can never renounce my beloved Philippines should not mean I am less of an American. For if being an American means being more generous and tolerant and civic-minded and patriotic then by all means I am proud to be an American. To those who don't agree, you can always exercise the option of trying to bite me.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


No entries these last few days because time flies here in G-town. Today's topic is on ethanol not because I tend to consume greater quantities with my friends here but because the Philippines can save a lot of money by producing ethanol from the abundant amounts of sugar that can be grown in the now dormant fields (many books have been written outlining the disastrous policies that made our country so dependent on US quotas). We should follow Brazil and cease becoming dependent on fossil fuels. Poor nations need to have more initiative as well as imagination in looking for ways to conserve money and natural resources.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


I truly appreciate my patients who tell me to stay in Guymon because they fear for my safety and they don't want me to get disillusioned with the ugliest face that politics can bare and believe me, it is so easy and so simple to become beguiled with this picture while you are in the panhandle of Oklahoma that is so unseasonably verdant.

They tell me to do it for my kids, so they might have the proper vaccinations, top-notch orthodontic care, Ivy-league schooling. They tell me to do it for myself so I can spend as much time with my wife and play all the golf I want at the pride of G-town, the 18 hole municipal golf course.

Partly out of jet lag I have spent the previous two nights thinking and thinking. So many reasons, all of them right but this is when I recall Pico Iyer's "The Lady and the Monk" "... I had often thought that the mind was, quite literally, a devil's advocate, an agent of diabolical sophistry that could argue any point and its opposite with equal conviction; an imp that delighted in self-contradiction and yet, though full of sound and fury, ultimately signified nothing. None of the truest things in life - like love or faith - was arrived at by thinking; indeed, one could almost define the things that mattered as the ones that came as suddenly as thunder"

Monday, August 21, 2006

Back to Guymon

A tad cross-eyed and a little sleepy but I am back at the clinic seeing patients. It's always good to return to the US where there is order. And the cure to the chronic congestion and pollution in high-density Manila will be found in the Oklahoma panhandle, wide-open and pristine. We've had an unusually wet August and it's never been greener in memory.

My wife donned her white smock for the first time in two months and began treating her grateful patients who were so happy to see her. Who says we can only have one home? I feel entirely comfortable here and in the future I will post in the gallery photos of selected Guymon people, among the most decent and friendly anywhere in this world.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Rules of Engagement

If you really want to participate, you need to be on the ground continuously tracking the national pulse. These experiences must be supplemented with a rigorous reading schedule and the depth of one's understanding will only be enhanced with spiritual exercises following the precepts of St. Ignatius.

The end result should lead to a strengthened resolve, a greater appreciation of the widespread suffering and a deeper commitment towards the common good.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Haven't posted anything in a while because I was undercover. My complete anonymity allows me to go around everywhere and observe and talk to people and listen to them. To those who think that the poor in Manila are poor need to go to the Visayas because the poor are even more wretched there (if at all this is even possible). I will visit Mindanao next because I am told to expect even worse conditions!

A fast and effective way to contain corruption in a society where nursing exams are leaked, little league qualifications are doctored, election results are rigged and customs and tax agents are routinely bribed is to slide towards anarchy. Cut governmental supervision. Abolish laws and minimize licensing. Standardize tax collection, integrate the armed forces into an effective constabulary that will protect and not take advantage of the people. Competition must be encouraged and political dynasties dismantled.

We need to be obsessed with the future. We are being eaten alive.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Rule of Law

Listened to Justice Anthony Kennedy expound on the concept of "Rule of Law". He stated 3 requirements. One was the active participation of the citizenry towards the creation of just laws attuned to human rights, another was the enforcement of these laws without fear of retribution but it was the third component that got me thinking. Kennedy said that a government and its agencies needed to be reminded that they were not above the law. He felt that it was this concept that could explain all the corruption and graft and dishonesty in nations with less-developed legal systems because government and its agents have this notion that it is them who have the power to grant licenses and permits and enforce laws when these agencies exist primarily to process these claims to those who are entitled to them.

If you expect to go far in Philippine bureaucracy you need to adopt this pose of utter humility and ignorance because many in this entrenched class will only pounce on you harder if you so much as demand for what is rightfully yours. These people think that but for their compassion and grace you are not allowed anything. A fellow physician told me about what Oprah said: Never accept a No from someone who never had the right to say Yes in the first place.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Industrial Revolution

Never mind that we may be 200 years behind but it is time to avail of modern tools. Carpenters don't have electric drills and saws and it requires so much more time and energy to perform tasks that any weekend worker in the US will finish in a fraction of the time it takes our professional carpenters to complete. Numerous laborers can be seen digging and toiling the entire day what a lone heavy equipment operator can accomplish in a few hours. Our farmers continue to rely on carabaos and wooden farm implements which explains why the ratio is still one farmer to a couple of hectares where in the US, one farmer with a combine can easily handle 500 hectares.

The argument has always been what our laborers will do with all the extra time and energy. This is a demeaning argument. Every human must be allowed to complete their tasks in the most efficient manner. This is the reason why we need to "recreate" whatever extra time we have in order that we do not lose sight of why we need to work in the first place.

We will never get our National act together until we recognize that other people's time is as valuable as ours.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Feast Day of Saint Lawrence

Saint Lawrence was a deacon in Rome. The persecutors of the Church demanded that he hand over the Church’s treasures. In order to obtain a real treasure in heaven, he suffered torments, the account of which you can only listen to with horror: he was laid on a grill over a fire. However, he triumphed over all the physical suffering by means of extraordinary strength, which he drew from his charity and his faith.

This made the persecutors angry… Lawrence said: “Send some chariots with me with which I can bring you the Church’s treasures.” They gave him chariots. He filled them with poor people and sent them back saying: “Here are the Church’s treasures.” (from The Daily Gospel)

The practice of appointing deacons started when the original apostles were overwhelmed with the tremendous amount of work. Even at that time, it was a revolutionary idea to see any value in the poor. Poverty remains a relative idea. While material poverty in the US is a far cry from the poverty 2000 years ago, material poverty in the Philippines continues to approach levels from a long time ago. Regardless, we will always have the poor and serving them is an opportunity to edify our lives.

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Don't Count on Memory

Many of our public servants today become disillusioned because they expect their constituents to remember their good deeds and past services. You don't go into this business seeking this form of reward because voters participate in elections mainly because of what's in it for them. Reminds me of the incredible story about an elephant's memory:

A young man was on holiday in Kenya after graduating from college. While he was walking through the bush, he came across a young bull elephant standing with one leg raised in the air.

The elephant seemed distressed so the man approached it very carefully. He got down on one knee and inspected the elephant's foot. There was a large thorn deeply embedded in the bottom of the foot.

As carefully and as gently as he could he worked the thorn out with his hunting knife, after which the elephant gingerly put down its foot. The elephant turned to face the man and with a rather stern look on its face, stared at him. For a good ten minutes the man stood frozen -- thinking of nothing else but being trampled.

Eventually the elephant trumpeted loudly, turned and walked away.

The man never forgot that elephant or the events of that day. Twenty years later the man was walking through the zoo with his teenaged son. As they approached the elephant enclosure, one of the creatures turned and walked over to where they are standing at the rail. The large bull elephant stared at him and lifted it's front foot off the ground, then put it down. The elephant did that several times, all the while staring at the man. The man couldn't help wondering if this was the same elephant.

After a while it trumpeted loudly; then it continued to stare at him.

The man summoned up his courage, climbed over the railing and made his way into the enclosure. He walked right up to the elephant and stared back in wonder.

Suddenly the elephant trumpeted again, wrapped its trunk round one of the man's legs and swung him wildly back and forth along the railing, killing him.

Probably wasn't the same elephant.

Monday, August 7, 2006


With all the talk about brain drain and the mass migration of Filipino doctors I wonder why I am being given the run-around in my quest to renew my license to practice medicine in the Philippines. Now I am being asked to prove that I am not a dual citizen. I don't mean to sound arrogant here considering my most previous post was about that subject but this is one moment when I'm asking for a small break. I did pass the physician licensure exam 17 years ago and all I did was train abroad so why place an extra obstacle now that I am ready to practice medicine in my own country? Who is making these unreasonable rules?

This is one important difference with the US system. Licensure is purely based on merit and capacity. It has nothing to do with citizenship which in this global world is a concept that is fast becoming obsolete. Nations must strive to attract the most competent and citizenship has absolutely nothing to do with this.

Sunday, August 6, 2006

Arrogance of Power

When Representative Rolex Suplico was in the Ginza district of Tokyo recently, he purchased two Rolex watches at a 30 percent discount for his daughter and his son; the discounted cost of the two watches was $6000. “For the price of one, it was as if I was buying two,” Suplico happily told Congress reporters.

His happiness was short-lived because his credit card was declined on the suspicion that it was stolen. Congressman Suplico was indignant and had to ask a fellow congressman to spot him the amount.

“I was humiliated being told I was a criminal using a stolen card,” he said not realizing or pretending not to know that this happens frequently in order to protect consumers. Back in his hometown he grew even more livid when he found out that the matter was not being considered a big deal. “A bank vice president or higher officer should have talked to me,” he said. Reminds me of how a Philippine Senator urged our Department of Foreign Affairs to file a diplomatic protest to the US because he was made to take his shoes off at the airport.

When did these "public servants" start behaving as though they were way above the throng? I guess it must become policy to ask these "servants" to step down whenever they begin acting in this manner because it is a clear reflection of how far these officials have strayed from their stated missions.

Saturday, August 5, 2006

Daily Zen

You want to be a mountain-dweller,
No need to trek to India to find one.
I’ve a thousand peaks
To pick from right here on the lake.
Fragrant grasses and white clouds
Hold me here.
What holds you there,

- Chiao Jan (730-799)

Friday, August 4, 2006

Why Doctors are leaving the Philippines

The principal reason for the medical exodus is not higher pay. It is to provide for their children a quality education. We have such a poor public school system in the Philippines that in order to produce competitive graduates, we rely on the private-parochial web of schools. My first 12 years were spent at the Ateneo de Manila, a Jesuit school. I was shocked to find out that the annual tuition for Prep (which is before first grade) at the Ateneo was $1600. This amount does not cover books, supplies, transportation, lunch money, uniforms and other sundry expenses.

The average annual income of a physician runs roughly in the range of $10,000. Major expenses include housing and motor vehicles (which cost more than twice their US counterparts). There isn't going to be much left especially if you have more than 2 children.

I have heard it many times that physicians can bear all these hardships and continue to sacrifice personal comfort and security for as long as their children are not hindered from realizing their potential and it is because of this that they are deserting this nation in droves.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Hazards of Window Cleaning

The first Filipino deaths since the war broke out last month in Lebanon were reported yesterday.

Although confirming the deaths, the reports of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the labor department differed as to circumstances surrounding their deaths. The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) reported that one domestic helper was killed while trying to escape from her employer to join the evacuation, while another fell while reportedly cleaning the window of an apartment.

But the DFA said the two Filipinas died when they jumped from buildings to flee employers who apparently refused to let them go.

Since when did two fatal accidents involving window-cleaning occur over a span of three days? This underscores the hazardous nature of working as a domestic in a foreign land especially in the Middle East and to think that most of these domestics work from dawn to dusk and share living quarters with pet dogs and turtles and are paid $150 a month! The government needs to provide more protection for its citizens and not simply wait for their hard-earned remittances to prop-up an economy that principally serves the wealthy.