Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Reader-friends of this blog were somewhat concerned with the maudlin tone of the preceding entry. I want to assure one and all that everything is fine. San Juan de la Cruz described the three stages of great human endeavor: great faith, great doubt and finally great effort.

This is what I mean when all I claim is that I am a physician with above-average intelligence who is applying to the Filipino people for a chance to contribute to national development. I surely do not want to misrepresent myself.

A photographer for CNN was assigned to cover southern California's wildfires last year. He wanted pictures of the heroic work the firefighters were doing as they battled the blazes.

When the photographer arrived on the scene, he realized that the smoke was so thick it would seriously impede, or even make impossible, his getting good photographs from the ground level. He requested permission from his boss to rent a plane and take photos from the air.

His request was approved and he used his cell phone to call the local county airport to charter a flight. He was told a single engine plane would be waiting for him at the airport.

Arriving at the airfield, he spotted a plane warming up outside a hanger. He jumped in with his bag, slammed the door shut, and shouted, "Let's go!"

The pilot taxied out, swung the plane into the wind and roared down the runway. Once in the air, the photographer instructed the pilot, "Fly over the valley and make two or three low passes so I can take some pictures of the fires on the hillsides."

"Why?" asked the pilot.

"Because I'm a photographer for CNN," he responded. "And I need to get some close-up shots."

The pilot was strangely silent for a moment, finally he stammered, "So, you're telling me you're not the flight instructor?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Early Morning Awakening

Woke up at 3 am today, totally convinced that I was just going to play golf daily and spend as much time as I could with my growing daughters. At that hour, it was crystal clear to me that the time, money, security concerns, loss of privacy was simply not worth it considering the votes would not be properly counted anyway. At the break of dawn, my apprehensions became somewhat manageable. Makes me admire all these professional pols even more. They seem to flourish in this evil environment. What is humbling about all this is that everybody seems to be praying for guidance and everybody appears to be sincere in wanting to help the poor and the weak.

There must be some study out there that tracks the descent of good intentions. Where in the parabola is the break point? When do heroes capable of great sacrifice become the problem? I will report to you as a neophyte that the decision is not an easy one. Much as I'd like to stipulate that my involvement will consist of a limited period of time, I really do not know. It would be a mark of hubris to be making such declarations.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


The latest vote by both houses of congress to increase the minimum wage is a fine example of political expediency. It was easier to just get over the issue and look good in front of the voting masses and focus on the coming elections. What is lost is the potential drop in productivity that will result in a give-away that is not supported by the economy.

We are so far behind because the investment climate in the Philippines is not friendly. I am not suggesting that we all work for next to nothing, only that we try to emulate the millions of Filipinos working overseas in difficult conditions. In order to compete, we need to sacrifice and high labor costs will certainly not help lure more investors to our shores.

What we need to do is lower energy prices: gasoline, diesel, electricity which will directly lower the price of food and transportation. We need to lower healthcare costs by raising taxes on tobacco. We need to plant more fruit-bearing plants and vegetables by giving outright subsidies towards communities who organize themselves into planting cooperatives.

By reducing cost of living, we will allow citizens to extend buying power. Lower labor costs will also invite more opportunities for increased production.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Practical in Politics

Idealism, intelligence, integrity, fire in the belly, good looks will get you lot of political mileage if the political highway is smooth and cemented. If instead of a highway you have a muddy farm access road pockmarked with deep holes, you will require an entirely different type of vehicle that will be appropriate for such conditions.

Without money there is no media exposure. Without money, access to politicians who control votes is severely curtailed. Without money, there will be no poll watchers to guard your votes. These are the passive drawbacks that will seriously slow down a campaign without big money.

On the other hand, money will buy election officials, powerful political bosses, unscrupulous members of mass media, fear-inducing characters, "poll watchers" (a euphemism for vote-buying). These are just a few of the active advantages that big money can buy.

The eerie phenomenon is everyone seems to know about these realities. These have become accepted realities of life in the Philippines. Whose responsibility is it to institute reform? Can we expect the powerful and comfortable few to change their ways? Have we become so complacent and happy in our own small ways that we just as well accept the lot that has been given to us? This last question is not simply a rhetorical one. Am I being arrogant in thinking that I can change a world that does not mind its current state?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Dynastic Politics

While we have a provision in our constitution that prohibits political dynasties, there is a strong chance that fully a quarter of our 24-member senate may be composed of father-son, brother-sister, brother-brother tandems. Mind you, there are many other permutations possible.

There's nothing being done about this. Just another of those things that we, the disengaged, out-of-the-loop majority have been patiently tolerating from the beginning of our history. But also another reason why a total unknown like me with no money, no connections, no stake in the corrupt, fraud-ridden election apparatus is spoiling for an opportunity to fight.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Public Office

Randy David is a popular columnist for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. He writes, "In our society today, a large number of individuals enter politics not because they have a vocation for it but only because they have an advantage they think they must not waste". He refers to the actors, athletes, television celebrities, scions of political dynasties and old wealth. He writes that one should not run on the basis of electability but rather on whether one has a political vocation. He quotes Max Weber who lists three essential traits: "passion, a feeling of responsibility and a sense of proportion".

Whenever I think of the sacrifices I will have to make in order to discern if I truly have a political vocation I always think of the sacrifices other people have made long before me for the good of the country to assuage my doubts and strengthen my commitment. Others have been imprisoned and tortured, others have lived away from family for many years and others have been killed. We need to continuously measure ourselves next to what these heroes have sacrificed.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Behavioral Changes

Per Olofsson is a Swedish inventor who is marketing a novel innovation, solar-powered airconditioning. A thermochemical reaction between water and salt results in heat exchange. This would be a wonderful improvement for a materially-poor but sun-rich country like the Philippines. The technology is rather expensive but Olofsson's main concern is how to convince populations to exploit sustainable energy sources. "Changing behavior is more difficult than changing technology."

Across the Atlantic, Jim Poss from Massachusetts is an alternative-energy entrepreneur who invented a solar-powered trash compaction system that will make trash pick-ups less often. Apparently, the US spends $45 billion annually to haul garbage away and this converts to 180,000 diesel trucks rolling around the streets every single day.

Two wonderful innovations that will help preserve our environment arising from areas relatively deficient (compared to the Philippines) in sunlight. Why an impoverished nation straddling the equator cannot pursue harnessing solar energy full time presently escapes me. Another reason why I need to be in some position where I can find out the real reasons behind this disconnect.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Everyone agrees that in our stage of the game as a nation, we all need to commit ourselves to revolutionary character building or rebuilding for that matter. We seem to have gotten lost in our comparatively short history. We don't have the Spaniards, Americans, Japanese to blame any longer. We are quietly percolating in desperate straits solely because of our own collective inability to work together as a nation.

Someone or many people will need to spread this message to the Filipino people. We will need to get out of this mess through our hard work and changed lives. It has become almost funny how early on in the election period all these politicians have begun promising plans and divining glorious futures when we know that lasting change will not arise from one more law, one more rule, one more ordinance, one more constitution. Progress will not entail ten more bridges, 1000 miles of roads, 2000 schools and 5000 hospitals. We will need to understand that the changes we seek will probably take generations to achieve. This will take a long time.

I do want to help begin this process. Many times, I have thought about the many sacrifices this commitment needs. William James said that the test of character is not in choosing the path of least resistance but the path of greatest traction. It is because I know life is so short that I want to do so many other things but it is also because of that knowledge that I am determined to try my best to leave this world a better place than how I found it.

Monday, January 15, 2007


I'm back. Haven't posted anything for more than a week because of two important activities. We were informally involved in the medical care of a patient in the intensive care unit and my wife took part in her first golf tournament.

Both activities resulted in favorable outcomes so I am now back in business. The campaign period officially began yesterday and the next few weeks will be interesting because I will be treading upon terra incognita. We will see where this wave will bring me. I just think that going around the country with a message will lead me to meet people. Instead of seeing a hundred patients a day, I may be able to influence public policy that can potentially affect millions of lives.

One of the biggest limitations of a concerned private citizen in the Philippines is the lack of access to government documents. I want to be able to study the country's unvarnished financial books and speak with the many bureaucrats tasked to keep the country going. I need to be able to form conclusions from first-hand, reliable and undoctored data.

A very important component of leadership is problem solving which can only be achieved with careful analysis of true data.

Sunday, January 7, 2007


We commemorate today the journey of the three wise men to where the infant Jesus lay. They brought him gifts of frankincense and myrrh. Through a dream, they were advised not to return to Herod and they went back to their respective homes through separate ways. Epiphany is from the greek word for "manifestation". And it is easy to understand why the wise men could no longer simply return to their previous lives after witnessing a manifestation of such profound magnitude.

The call to change ourselves is an ancient one. Through the secularization of the democratic processes, we have become thoroughly wary of mixing religion with politics. In the US, ever conscious of the separation between church and state, school prayer, celebration of religious holidays, symbols such as the ten commandments have become proscribed.

But do these various religions have proprietary rights over truth, justice, preferential assistance to the poor and weak, dignity of labor?

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Good news, sort of

The government recently announced that it was paying off the rest of its debts to the IMF early. The Philippine peso has not been stronger in many years, inflation is down and the treasury has never been more flushed with foreign currency. But at what cost?

Record remittances from overseas workers approaching $15 billion coupled with hefty cuts in education and infrastructure budgets are responsible for the unprecedented surplus. There is nothing inherently evil in this arrangement but it does reveal the government's priorities.

Take a chance in not investing in building roads and bridges and power lines and telecommunications for a few years. Keep the teachers underpaid and the students undereducated for a spell while we look good to our foreign creditors. Spend billions modernizing the armed forces without clearly determining who our enemies are and why these elements are so violently opposed to the dispensation.

The Asian Development Bank commissioned a report on the prevalence of corruption. As expected, the report detailed that even when it comes to the distribution of aid and assistance, the system appears to be hopelessly corrupted.

This blog is almost one year old and looking back, I have written regularly regarding the perspective of a native son gone back home. The topics are disturbingly similar. There is a theme that we can synthesize from all the troubles outlined. My version of the way out continues to evolve. Today is traditionally the Feast of the Three Kings, the Day of Epiphany. I will tell you about an Epiphany soon.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Back to Basics

There was a big flood that inundated Bacolod before Christmas that totally submerged the one family car we have that we use to bring the kids to school. The "ECU" or the computer that serves as the vehicle's brains was rendered inoperable. While that vehicle is being repaired, we decided to buy a car that hearkens back to the very first car we ever bought in the US, a Hyundai Excel GL 1990 model that we christened "Charlie" after the salesman who sold the car to us in upstate NY. Back then, everyone told us to stay away from Hyundais. We used it for 6 years and drove it to Texas, Georgia, Arkansas and many other places and the car never gave us one bit of trouble.

I find it auspicious to own an itty-bitty 1.1 liter Hyundai Getz, as our first car in the Philippines. After all the gas guzzlers that we drove in the US, it is comforting to go back to a simple environmentally-friendly Hyundai.

Monday, January 1, 2007


First entry for the New Year. Continued to spend much time with family. The vacation will be ending soon. We will shortly have to make decisions which will certainly disrupt our idyllic existence, intrude into our privacy and breach our security.

There is a very promising political party that is aspiring to become a political force. It is completely against the grain of traditional Philippine politics. It emphasizes change that needs to begin within every single one of us. Most of the leaders are elderly people without the usual agenda that is taken for granted among the dynastic powers that have controlled our country from the beginning. I am seriously studying this party's platform.