Saturday, October 28, 2006

Fighting For

When I left the Philippines in 1989, I resolved to return to fight for all those poor schoolchildren who with their parents made great sacrifices each day just so they could attend school. Every time I get discouraged by the seeming indifference of the masses and the deadly cynicism of those in positions of power, all I do is visit a schoolroom and I look at the eager eyes of all those little children and I know that I must do something about the terrible situation we find ourselves in.

All those years abroad however made me conscious about a whole new class of Filipinos who tolerated 18 hour work-days, overt sexual harassment, bitter discrimination, and above all dehumanizing loneliness. All over the world, I became aware of maids making $125 a month and sending $100 back to the families they left behind. Meanwhile, how many families were permanently torn apart with this arrangement?

Economic institutions claim that the Philippine economy is rapidly growing. Granted that next to China, India and even Vietnam our economic growth can be classified as picayune our nation notwithstanding is still growing. What bothers me is that the architects of government assert that all this growth is the result of their planning and wisdom. Nothing can be further from the truth. Whatever demonstrable growth we see is mostly from the combined sacrifices that all these Filipinos overseas make daily.

And yet the moment we return "home", we are met by corrupt customs and immigration officials at the airport. Beady-eyed porters and taxi drivers can't wait to take advantage of us. Our license to drive abroad is not good enough and we have to begin as "student drivers" once again (pending a donation). My license to practice medicine in the US was not good enough either even if I had passed the Philippine medical boards many years ago (again, to skip all the scatological hurdles, money had to change hands). The overseas Filipino is called the "new hero", and rightly so. But no hero is ever appreciated in his own country.

I have a gnawing dread inside that tells me it will take more than billions of dollars in remittances to right this almost totally corrupt society of ours. This is something we cannot redeem with money alone. It will take much more than treasure. This is a dream that demands much more serious commitment.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

This Just In

The Supreme Court just announced that it was not buying into the argument that there was a groundswell of support among the Filipinos for charter change. Hopefully, this will establish once and for all that elections will be held, as scheduled on May 2007.

This development is an important one because if this initiative to alter the constitution had passed then party list representation would have been modified. I am seriously mulling a run to represent the millions of overseas Filipinos who do not have a single representative in the present congress. Party list representation was established to give an opportunity for perennially under-represented sectors of society to participate in the political processes of the country.

Monday, October 23, 2006


Tomorrow is Eid’l Fitr, last day of Ramadan, a public holiday meaning no school, no banks, no work for government employees. Next week, the whole country will once again stop for "All Saints Day". We observe a lot of holidays here. Compared to Americans, we work far less hours per week.

I don't have anything against marking special occasions but once we start staying home for all these important dates, productivity suffers. Investors will find it more difficult to conduct business because there are no government agencies to process permits and documents, the banks are unable to perform transactions, the stock exchange is closed.

If we want to do some catching-up and everyone knows we have a long long way to go, we need to take a collective deep breath and begin foregoing these frequent celebrations.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


These days, all I can do is wait for the Supreme Court to decide on whether the Constitution needs to be changed or not. In the five months that I have been home, I have tried to discern how best I can serve my country, how best I can give back. As usual, politics is rendering this desire to help difficult because if the May 2007 elections are postponed then I will have to rethink everything once again. Meanwhile, all my immediate plans are on hold.

Not being affiliated with any of the established traditional political parties makes this such a long shot already and all this uncertainty only exacerbates the situation for non-traditional newcomers even further.

I never imagined that this struggle was going to be an easy one. There is so much at stake for all the innumerable politicians and their relatives who depend on politics for their livelihoods. They will not cede anything without a fight.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Foreigners

All this gloomy talk about the Philippines losing an entire generation of physicians, nurses, teachers and all the other motivated citizens who needed to leave their native land in order to give their families a better life would be rendered moot if we could only make our country a better place for a fraction of these emigrants to return.

Just think of what even one percent of the10 million Filipinos abroad could contribute if they chose to come back. Remember, these are people who have experienced the loneliness, uncertainty and fear that only living alone in a strange place will bring. This is one life-changing experience that does wonders in strengthening character. It stimulates industry and imagination. It forces one to appreciate what is routinely taken for granted and it makes us see clearer what can be improved on the societies we left behind. Nothing better to fire-up motivation than being a foreigner all alone.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Driver's License

Finally recovered my full-fledged license to drive a motor vehicle in the Philippines. First I was told that my license had expired in 1991 and that there was a 10 year limit. They accepted my Oklahoma license however as long as I paid a "conversion fee". I was then handed a slip of paper that outlined where I needed to go next. Urine drug testing established I wasn't smoking pot or using crank. For a fee, I was awarded a medical certificate signed by a doctor who affirmed having examined my vision and hearing even if I never saw a doctor. There was a convenient 5 minute photo shop that provided me with 6 photos even if I needed only one little picture.

Obviously, all these stops were all part of the game. Remember an earlier post that strongly advocated reducing government as a means of reducing corruption?

Back to the licensing den, I had to wait for 2 hours before I was summoned to the chief's tiny office. On the table lay my brand new license. I was ready to do anything at that point so I was easy prey when I was asked to buy "raffle tickets".

Don't these lowly bureaucrats know that this institutionalized corruption hurts them the most? This is the system that will ensure that they and their families will never escape this cycle that will forever keep them down.

Monday, October 16, 2006


Joined an anti-poverty rally today along with 5000 others. Last time I participated in a similar event was easily 25 years ago. Biggest change was finding myself among the oldest in the mass gathering. More of the same complaints I heard long ago--inequality, poverty, poor governance. Like I said, only difference is I am 25 years older and unless I personally do something to try and help I will have no right to chime in and complain and whine about the seeming permanence and intractability of this struggle.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

A New Beginning

Just as my 17 years in the US passed so rapidly, I look back to my first blog entry ten months ago and I am amazed at the speed of time. I am thankful that I was at least able to get some of my thoughts written. For many years I had kept a journal, until I started taking care of terminally-ill AIDS patients long ago I found that I simply did not have the time to spare to collect my thoughts and write. I regret this now and should have made time.

I am back in Manila and from out of nowhere, I recall Thomas Paine's words: "We have it in our power to begin the world all over again". Suddenly I am optimistic that our nation will finally rise from all the petty yet destructive politics that has consistently held us back.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


The Philippine Banking industry needs a major overhaul. We will never get far with the current set-up that we have. It is a system so stacked against the little investor and provides major benefits to the super wealthy, just like everything else. Now that we don't have much of a middle class, Philippine society is rapidly being transformed to the very wealthy who can afford to stay, the struggling middle class finding ways to leave the country and able to get by only through the intercession of relatives overseas and the desperate poor with no options.

Try opening a savings account here and they will demand from you 3 separate forms of identity--just following the law they say, against money laundering! The process takes half an hour and is not at all a friendly and convenient experience. In the US, they even offer free toasters and dinners to attract your business. Depositing money, repeat, putting money in another bank branch will cost you $2! It must be because the cash is still physically transferred from one branch to another and this entails armored vehicles and security personnel or whatever. Interest rates are dismal and service charges are all over. This system plainly does not encourage people to save. In the US, paper checks are fast becoming anachronisms. By not transacting electronically, the Philippines is not even part of the game.

This is the result of a patronage-based banking system where banking laws are drawn by patronage-seeking lawmakers pretending to understand the arcane banking rules that are necessary to support a growing economy. Another example of why we are in such a mess.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Competitiveness and Economic Freedom

The Philippines ranked 71 in the World Economic Forum's latest ratings. Switzerland and the Scandinavian nations topped the list. Goes to show that generous welfare programs and high taxes do not stifle a country's capacity to compete.

Hong Kong topped the list in the Economic Freedom of the World Index which measures how a country's policies and institutions support property rights, competition and personal choice. The Philippines was somewhere in the bottom half.

From the beginning, I have been railing against our nation's seeming helplessness regarding property rights. Politicians are required to pander towards the multitude of squatters if they expect to get re-elected. Tax collection has never been emphasized due largely to a patronage system that depends once again on the current set of compromised politicians in power. This is the reason why there is hardly any money left for welfare programs.

Many of society's ills are ascribed to a lack of political will. Anybody who wants to continue occupying positions of power is afraid of taking decisive measures. At the end of it all, it is the electorate's fault why we can't seem to get out of this mess. We choose our leaders (sometimes). This is why I think public office must become a purely voluntary responsibility. Politics must cease becoming a source of livelihood. It must stop becoming a way of life for certain families.

Friday, October 6, 2006


My first entry since Monday. We are on our way to the first Oktoberfest hosted by St. Peter's Church. Quite a paradox that I don't have as much time to collect my thoughts and post an entry whenever I am in Oklahoma. I will be flying back to the Philippines on Sunday.

I look forward to my return trips to Oklahoma because the long flight gives me a chance to reflect and to think and to read. I get to contrast the different ways that business is conducted in a successful country compared to a country that is controlled by politicians who make a living from governing.

I will zealously maintain my skills as a gastroenterologist lest I become one of those professional politicos who would not know what to do when they are eventually thrown out of office.

Monday, October 2, 2006

Day of Atonement

Today is Yom Kippur. In synagogues everywhere, the tale of Jonah will be recounted. Remember the man from Nineveh who was asked to become a prophet and who tried to escape from this call by taking the first boat out of the city? And how the ship encountered a storm and how after casting lots Jonah was hurled off the craft and the storm was silenced? And how Jonah spent 3 days and 3 nights inside a big fish?

Point is, we all seem to think of personal freedom as a state of total control regarding our destinies. That we can face this world solely on our own terms. There is a paradox here. True freedom should not be confused with spending the rest of your life playing golf, scaling mountains, gaining weight traveling to exotic locations... freedom is understanding the purpose of your existence and discerning your destiny and investing all your energies towards the fulfillment of this destiny.