Tuesday, September 26, 2006

All Set

I have been going around the country for close to 4 months now. In many ways, this time has been a continuation of my 17 year exile in the US. Preparation. Preparation. The time is drawing closer towards the implementation phase of my plans. Right now, the country is waiting for the Supreme Court to render a decision on whether or not to change the constitution. Whatever the outcome will certainly influence any future plans.

I remain committed to casting my lot in what appears to be an arid, dynasty-dominated political landscape. After much soul-searching, my biggest conclusion remains: We need to take our country back. We need to start speaking for ourselves lest we allow other old voices to continue speaking for us largely out of our own apathy and persistent willingness to default on our social responsibilities.

We need to wrest ourselves from this pervasive mentality of "election-cycle politics". Notice how many long-term projects are accomplished in our nation. There are no pyramids, giant dams, inter-island bridges and highways, intensive teacher-training courses because most politicians go after projects that are completed before each election cycle. Hardly anyone is interested in long-term investments and plans that will produce dividends long after political lives are spent. As a result we have become transformed into a nation that is strong on fluff.

We insist upon a subsistence-based economy. We are not worried that we are not a sufficiently-productive nation. We are so way behind.

It has never been because of a lack of ideas. It has never been because we lacked committed and dedicated people. It has never been due to indolence. I know, from seeing some of the millions of Filipinos forced to go abroad that whenever we are transplanted elsewhere we become more industrious and independent, more creative and concerned, more law-abiding and disciplined. I know that we have an abundance of creative energy and raw talent that is untapped because we have no effective leaders who will unite and inspire this demoralized and blighted land.

I would never have gone back if I felt that the Philippines was a hopeless case. It is obviously sick. But the people need to know that the Doctor is in the house.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Profile of Greatness

The first profile will not be about Churchill or Gandhi or Roosevelt. It will be about the manager of the cable franchise in Guymon, OK. Someone who didn't go to college, claims never to have finished reading a book and devours the Enquirer and World News for current events.

But if I were to identify the people I admire most, this person whom we fondly refer to as "Doctor Paul" would be on top of the list. Not because he is truly a doctor of good times but because he completely embodies the Greek concept of Kenosis, self-emptying. You cannot find a more selfless person, someone prepared to help at all times, someone who is willing and without reservation to part with his coat on one of those frigid panhandle mornings.

This is a person with pure joie de vivre. He does not have a doctorate on good times for nothing. Yet you can be assured of his very best effort whenever he works.

This person is not at all the spiritual type but he must do a lot of reflection whenever he is on top of those cable towers or whenever he tends his garden because the equanimity that he possesses can only come with a firm and grounded understanding that you will only discover meaning and find happiness when you dedicate your life to serving other people and doing good to everyone.

Truly salt of the earth.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Last Day

Today is the last day that I will be 43. I haven't really celebrated any birthdays for the past 20 years because I was always busy studying, training, working or taking care of young children. Now that I am in the Philippines, I find myself able to pause and reflect about the Middle Ages. All in all, a great time to live.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Martial Law

Tomorrow is the 34th year anniversary of the declaration of martial law in the Philippines. Congress was dissolved, press freedom was curtailed, guns were confiscated, curfew was instituted and political opponents were arrested. There was real fear palpable in the nation at that time. Marcos exercised absolute power.

Too bad such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do good was squandered. Remember Lord Acton's warning regarding absolute power? Or did an adventure rooted in greed and avarice really have a chance to justify its means?

I was not yet 10 years old when martial law was declared. I remember hitting the jackpot at a slot machine a few hours before gambling became illegal. For my generation, that fateful day 34 years ago changed everything. Suddenly, the study of law seemed irrelevant unless one was fully prepared to co-opt with the dictatorship. I still muse every so often what I could have done differently then. It was at that period that I resolved to become a physician and prepare myself to fight another day.

"Time is long," and we continue to find ourselves in our personal daily struggles. So many people have been born since and many of the major characters of that time have died. We have had our little share of progress and yet it seems that most of our problems remain. We have nobody to blame. Seems like the enemy is truly us.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Politicians and Ego

Many politicians have healthy egos. This does not necessarily have to be a bad deal. On the contrary, politicians need to be aware of their talents and gifts as well as their limitations. Only after you have a clear idea of who you are will you be able to work on and fight for something bigger than yourself. This is the reason why preparation is essential in the life of anyone aspiring to enter the political arena. Preparation in becoming acquainted with historical precedent and political lessons as well as becoming financially independent on your own in order to appreciate the daily struggle that most people have to endure. And to avoid being overawed by other politicians with more stature, great wealth as well as the ever-ephemeral trappings of power.

To illustrate this point, the Philippines has a debt service (principal and interest) of $800 billion. Every single day, the nation pays $34 million for this "service". Each Congressman receives a discretionary fund to the tune of $1.5 million, each Senator $4 million, a euphemism for pork barrel. These people are supposed to write laws. They should not have any business in contributing public funds to basketball uniforms, golf tournaments, wedding gifts, baptismal parties. Legislating needs to become a part-time job with minimal remuneration.

The temptation to remain in politics to exclusively nourish this ego is a bad deal. How can one cause become a great one if it isn't even larger than one life?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Public Servants

There are many public servants but the one big difference between teachers, members of the armed forces, firemen, government employees and politicians is that the successful politician has access to a whole lot of money and resources. This is the reason why politicians can change society in a way no other profession can. A politician is entrusted with the sacred responsibility of protecting the common good.

Public Servant-Politicians need to be selfless. They should not aspire to accumulate wealth and power from the stewardship that is entrusted to them. They must always be vigilant and even partial at times in protecting the weak and the helpless. And while there is an art to getting elected, politicians need to be astute enough to understand that there is a science in governing. Nobody has a birthright to political office. Politicians must continue to believe even after getting elected that public service entails enormous personal sacrifice.

The Public needs to make sure that politics does not become the refuge of scoundrels.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Public Service

There are so many politicians here who speak of public service; dedicating their lives as well as entire generations of their families towards the common good. I guess all these dreams begin small. Possibly because of an injustice, an epiphany or simply as a result of fate, a person is thrust into politics and begins to convince other people about the worthiness of a cause, the importance of a fight.

The political equivalent of the holy grail is the defense of the weak and the powerless and the political landscape is littered with platitudes and programs to uplift the poor and protect the weak. I wonder where all this has gotten the Philippines?

There seems to be an inexorable slide to amnesia once immediate political goals are achieved and the principal instinct becomes the perpetuation of power. Whenever I see the grinding poverty and the alienating hardship, I try to understand why the toiling and suffering masses continue to vote the same people, the same families over and over again. Don't they see that public service is essentially a trust that needs to be bestowed upon people with integrity who take this privilege with all seriousness as befits problems that literally spell life or death for many?

There are two sides in a system that is broken and dysfunctional: those who freely compromise their futures and their children's futures and those who prey upon the ignorance and the suffering of these people.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


This, from the New York Times. Very important news for lifelong stutterers like myself.

"As a child who stuttered badly, Gerald Maguire learned the tricks of coping.

When called upon in class, he would sometimes answer in the voice of Elmer Fudd or Donald Duck because he didn’t stutter when imitating someone. He found easier-to-say synonyms for words that stymied him. And he almost never made phone calls because he stumbled over a phrase for which there was no substitute: his own name.

Now Dr. Maguire, a psychiatrist at the University of California, Irvine, wants to cure the ailment that afflicts him and an estimated three million Americans. He is searching for a drug to treat stuttering, organizing clinical trials and even testing treatments on himself.

He could be getting closer. In May, Indevus Pharmaceuticals announced what it called encouraging results from the largest clinical trial ever of a drug for stuttering. Even larger trials are still needed, which could take two or three years. But if they succeed, the drug, pagoclone, could become the first medical treatment approved for stuttering.

That is just part of a transformation of stuttering — in the medical view — from what was once widely considered a nervous or emotional condition to a neurological one that is at least partly genetic. Using brain scans, DNA studies and other modern techniques, scientists — many of whom stutter themselves — are slowly shedding light on a condition that has flustered its victims as far back as Moses, who some scholars believe was a stutterer because he told the Lord that he was “slow of speech and of a slow tongue” and had his brother Aaron speak for him.

“This is a total paradigm shift in the last 10 years,” said Dr. Maguire, who helped design the Indevus trial and was an investigator in it. “When I was in medical school, I learned nothing about stuttering.”

Still, much remains to be learned about the causes of stuttering and how to treat it. It is estimated that about 1 percent of the population worldwide stutters, though that figure may be high. Men who stutter outnumber women by a ratio of about 4 to 1, for reasons not known.

In most cases, stuttering begins between ages 2 and 6, when a child is just learning to speak. But three quarters of such children will stop stuttering within a few years without any intervention, said Ehud Yairi, emeritus professor of speech and hearing science at the University of Illinois, who stutters himself. Other children benefit from speech therapy.

Those who stutter say the condition — marked by repetitions of syllables, long silences and the contortion of the face as a person seems to try to force the words out — can exact a terrible emotional toll. Many talk of jobs or promotions not received, of relationships broken or not pursued. Some structure their entire lives to avoid having to speak unnecessarily or to avoid being teased.

“Stuttering is one of the last diseases it’s still O.K. to make fun of,” said Ernie Canadeo, an advertising executive from Oyster Bay, N.Y., who stutters.

Alan Rabinowitz, a noted wildlife conservationist, has told of how when called upon by a teacher in elementary school, he once avoided answering by stabbing his hand with a pencil so he would be taken to the hospital.

Still, many people overcome — if not totally cure — their stuttering, either through therapy or just the passage of time. Winston Churchill stuttered. So did Marilyn Monroe. Others who have coped with the problem include the author John Updike, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the actor James Earl Jones, the newsman John Stossel, the singer Carly Simon and the sportscaster Bill Walton. Throughout history, various theories have been advanced for stuttering, including sexual fixations, emotional disorders, nervousness, and persistence into adult life of infantile nursing activities, according to the book “Knotted Tongues: Stuttering in History and the Quest for a Cure” by Benson Bobrick (Simon & Schuster, 1995).

One of the more popular theories from a few decades ago was that parents caused stuttering by reacting negatively to the repetitions that normally occur when children first learn to talk.

But a consensus is growing that stuttering is a neurological condition, though its exact nature is not clear. Emotional stress can make stuttering worse, however."

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Dalai Lama

Let's talk about a person who is at peace with himself. Someone who has lived with very evil people and someone whose every move is tracked. I aspire for this type of security amid all the worldly distractions. To become perfectly comfortable with what you have and to give thanksgiving for all the undeserved blessings that we enjoy.

Only a person with these qualities can come up with this quote: 'If you are a Christian, and are interested in Buddhism, study it not to become Buddhist but to be a better Christian.'

Friday, September 8, 2006


I feel as if I am in the land of the Lotus-eaters. Remember Odysseus, on his way home after ten years of fighting at the Trojan War, sends a scouting party of three men to investigate this island. And how these three men lost all their desire to complete their homeward journey as soon as they began eating the Lotus plants. Odysseus needed to drag these men back to the ship.

Bacolod is such a charming island. My daughters are happy to be with their grandmother who shamelessly spoils them. My wife is back to the place where she grew up. I am so content with the routine we have established.

On my way home never referred to a specific place. It was always meant as a continuation of a journey. Though at present I am beguiled with all this languid living, I know that I will have to drag myself in time to get on with my journey.

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Fr Reuter and the Philippines

Fr. Reuter is a 90-year-old Jesuit priest who has spent most of his life in the Philippines. He did not need to renounce his US citizenship because he was made an honorary Filipino by an act of Congress. Lately, Fr. Reuter has been under fire for defending 4 US marines accused of raping a Filipina. This has aroused quite an outcry. I personally think the good Fr. Reuter is entitled to his opinion and because after all he is a priest it is his job to minister to the accused.

Seth Mydans wrote in the NY Times: "Beneath its self-doubts and feelings of inferiority, this is a nation that loves America as few others do, and Father Reuter has returned that love. 'It’s the people,' he said. 'The people are the most lovable in the world, very generous. They are suffering but they are very prayerful. They manage to smile no matter how hard things get.'"

This morning, after playing 18 holes of golf (where the recommended fee for caddies is $6) we chanced upon a group of "ball-boys" (lower still in the hierarchy) sharing a communal meal of rice and dried fish. Without hesitation, upon seeing us, they all together invited me and my wife to join them.

And this is what I hope my patients will understand. There is so much work that needs to be done here. Heroes have proclaimed that this country is worth dying for. I think it would be equally patriotic to say that this country is worth living for.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Got Milk?

Filipino children are receiving substandard education. We will be reaping an underprepared, non-competitive generation if we don't do anything drastic now.

Major problem has always been money. Even if Education gets the second biggest share of the budget (after debt service which pays off the obscene interest rates incurred on our national credit card bill) there is great difficulty in recruiting caring and competent teachers because an entire horde of school principals and teachers had long ago left for other countries to work as domestic helpers. Our classrooms are crowded and hot, absolutely not conducive for learning and these rooms need to be vacated hastily as they need to be used by succeeding classes late into the evening.

A teacher faces a classroom filled with bright but hungry children. The rate of absenteeism is high because malnourished kids are immunosuppressed. I propose diverting a portion of the education budget towards government-subsidized dairies. Say what? Making milk nationally available will prevent a lot of acquired infectious diseases, make children more alert and will significantly improve our performance in competitive sports. The learning curve is directly proportional to national nutrition and health.

Monday, September 4, 2006


My home in the southern Philippines, where my wife grew up and went to school and where our daughters are currently attending classes at St. Scholastica's Academy. Much smaller and less congested than Manila but with half a million people, would still qualify as a major city even in the US. Remember, we spent 10 years in a town with 12,000 people.

This is a town that was at its zenith the richest place in the country pound for pound, the result of the sugar quotas that drew hundreds of millions of dollars into the area. Unfortunately, all this money did was to produce the greatest disparity in wealth as well. The planters began buying Rolls Royces and villas in the Mediterranean; their children were spoiled and provided with unlimited expense accounts, sent to expensive but lax and ultimately third-rate colleges in the US... As with all good things, when the quotas disappeared and when all the corruption was uncovered, what was left was this mass of people that had migrated into this island when work had been plentiful.

Earlier, I spoke of poverty in Luzon. The poor people up north are in better shape compared to the poor people down here. What frightens me is that I am told that poor people in Mindanao are in even worse straits. I will find out for myself when I visit the region in the coming weeks.

Back to Bacolod, life couldn't be more idyllic. We rise early at 5:30 am, attend daily Mass, bring the daughters to school and then play 18 holes of golf. This city has managed to retain the friendliness and the feel of a small town while having available most of the amenities found in a city its size. Beautiful place.