Saturday, April 28, 2007

Gotta Keep On Thinkin'

Walter Isaacson wrote a book about Albert Einstein. He said this in an interview: “The whole theme of the last century, and of Einstein’s life, is about people who fled oppression in order to go places to think and express themselves. Einstein runs away from the rote learning and authoritarianism of Germany as a teenager in the 1890s and goes to Italy and Switzerland. And then he flees Hitler to come to America, where he resists both McCarthyism and Stalinism because he believes that the only way to have creativity and imagination is to nurture free thought — rebellious free thought.”

For a political party to remain relevant, we need to continuously think of new ideas. Take for example the untouchability of the debt problem. Most of our political-economic leaders immediately recoil at the mere suggestion of reform as if whatever we have been doing and following for the last 25 years has helped keep our country both productive and competitive. Free thinking must not be stifled just because of the near-unanimity of an “expert community” that is so fearful of the consequences of a pathway diverse from what has been tried and tested and known to fail.

This campaign has taught me that the successful candidates can expertly mouth the same platitudes better than everyone else. Everyone is for God, against poverty, corruption and violence. The voters are simply not nuanced enough to see who among these candidates practice whatsoever they proclaim as manifested by their personal lives and public performance. Voters need to look deeper into whatever ideas these politicians promote and determine if they are able to think critically whenever they are presented with problems.

Survey after survey has shown that the people want to return the same re-electionists and incumbent politicians. Does this mean that people are generally happy with the way things are? I really think we need peaceful revolutionary reform, or am I mistaken? Because unless the people expect metanoia to occur, the coming vote may be summarized in 3 words: Business as Usual.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Martin D Bautista for Senator

For the very first time, this blog is making a political endorsement: Martin Donato Bautista for Senator.

Uncompromised: Martin D Bautista is not a product of the corrupt political process that forms perfectly compromised candidates who are beholden to a wide variety of wealthy and powerful special interest groups. He can walk away from all this political spectacle in his own time and in his own terms but will not do so on account of the many serious problems of his country that he is willing to help solve.

Duty: Martin D Bautista understands that public service is a sacred trust and responsibility, it is not a means of making a living. He promises to serve for only one term of office.

Open Mind: While Martin D Bautista has strong opinions and is passionate about defending them, he is willing to listen and discuss and to continuously study all the critical and relevant issues of the day. He does not view an evolving mind as a sign of weakness.

Vision and Road Map: Martin D Bautista has a clear vision for the future. He has a clear-cut idea regarding which direction the country should take and more important, he has a realistic course of action that will unite the country towards common goals.

Capable: Dr. Martin D Bautista has been preparing for this opportunity to help the country for a long time. 12 years at the Ateneo de Manila, 9 years at the University of the Philippines, 6 years at the State University of New York, 10 years of private medical practice in a rural community, constantly adhering to a rigorous regimen of continued self-learning.

Character: Martin D Bautista is familiar with adversity. He welcomes challenges and stays in the struggle knowing that each day spent committed to his principles and ideals makes him a stronger person. He understands the enormity of the challenge but has a deep abiding faith in God and the Filipino people.

Conscience: Martin D Bautista has courageously followed his conscience throughout his life even when it entailed personal sacrifice.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Hardly Any Takers

Participated in a sparsely-attended debate today. All 3 of us from Kapatiran together with 2 candidates from the opposition joined. The rest did not bother as these are precisely the events that can quickly expose weaknesses in a well-funded candidate’s carefully crafted image. Too bad for the first time voters assembled in the auditorium. They had expected a substantial exchange of ideas and opinions regarding important issues between parties with different philosophies but since we had the place largely to ourselves it actually worked well for the three of us because we were given the opportunity to talk about our various positions with little time pressure.

People, largely have not heard about us. Reality is you need to spend millions on tv, radio and print ads for your message to be made known to the millions of voters out there. This would not be a problem in the US but here in our country, where 40% live on less than a dollar a day, this kind of spending would be immoral. And traditional politicians justify this behavior by claiming that for them to serve as leaders, they need to get elected first. Where these funds originate is plain knowledge to everyone. A giant web of contributor-investors with their own agendas keep the ball rolling. No wonder why we haven’t had considerable change translate into progress all these years.

Quite a few members of the audience asked me about my plans after the elections. I assured them all that I was planning to remain politically active. I also told them I represented the beginning of a wave of Filipinos forced to flee abroad who had had enough. We are going to take our country back.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Julia Campbell

She was a 40 year old writer who felt “an emptiness” and journeyed all the way to an impoverished area in Bicol where she taught English and helped complete strangers for close to 2 years as a Peace Corps volunteer. She represented everything that is good about America. Her senseless killing put an end to it all. A tragic loss for our country.

I love America because for many years I lived among Americans who were capable of doing so much good and who tried their best each day to live their lives for others. I can think of legions of Americans who would fit this bill just as Julia ( ) must have seen all the good we Filipinos are capable of rendering.

I mourn for you, Julia. Eternal rest grant unto Julia, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in Peace.

More Answers

1. Why did you enter the enclave of politics?What prodded you to compete with other candidates who have well-oiled political machinery, famous, and have so much resources?What makes Kapatiran candidates different/distinct from others?How would you describe country's political system?

Our country is going down because our leaders are thinking about the next election all the time. Our leaders regularly fail to plan in advance and invest in the future. Why should ordinary citizens continue to default on our responsibilities to our country to persons more interested in becoming Mayors of big cities and visionless individuals who treat governance as a way of making a living? I estimated that a doctor could see about 70 charity patients a day and at the end of 20 years treat half a million patients. In 20 years this figure would represent .25%. Why should we abandon the formation of public policy to persons who don’t appreciate the enormous responsibility and trust given to them by the people?

“Competing” with other candidates will provide the public with an idea of who we are and what Ang Kapatiran represents? The people will see a big difference and will regret why the well-oiled traditional political machinery prevents better-prepared outsiders from participating.

2. Do you also have the same concern over alleged "rampant cheating" during elections? Do you believe that there's really padding and shaving of votes?So far, how do you evaluate this year's May elections?

Many people have told me it is futile to participate in Philippine elections because whatever votes we receive will not be counted anyway and that it is from poorly-funded candidates like ourselves that our votes are “transferred” to paying candidates. Message received loud and clear but this will not deter me from continuing to work 18 hours a day because this is a struggle for the heart and soul of our country. The stakes are simply too high for us to continue to take all these abuses lying down and in silence.

3. How would you evaluate people's response to Kapatiran? How's your campaign trail?Have you identified so far your bailiwicks? How would you evaluate your political machinery? Is it enough to help you to be enlisted in the Magic 12?Are you not discouraged by the surveys depicting that none of you has a chance to win such seat?

Personally, what keeps me doggedly going despite all the insurmountable odds that you enumerate is the sincere and intense support that we get from complete strangers, kindred souls. It is great comfort to realize that there a lot of us who feel the same way for our country and there is a lot of passion out there for substantial, non-violent change. We are not willing to compromise however by joining the fray and spend indecent amounts of money that could very well go into feeding programs for poor and hungry children. I am not ashamed to admit that I am asking people to pray. We have relied on our human capacities for too long and look where it has led us. To resolve our serious problems will need much more than faith in our human faculties.

4. If you'll be given a chance to lead, what are your advocacy, and programs? What do you think are the needs of this country-socio-political and economic?What do you think is the best antidote to country's problems?

Our country needs leaders who have genuine faith in the Filipino people. The opposite of faith and belief is fear, we urgently need leaders who will not be afraid to seek a different direction. We have assiduously complied with all the conditions set forth by various financial institutions and compared to our neighbors, we have only lagged behind even more. We need to get away from this “utang-import” mentality that is keeping us from fully realizing our potential to produce. This mentality is keeping us from effectively negotiating with other countries regarding trade agreements, lending rates, environmental accords…We need leaders who will deal with the international community as equals. We need leaders with clear visions for our country. We need leaders with road maps on how to achieve these goals. We need credible leaders with the right priorities (education, health and infrastructure) and who continuously think of investing for the future. Courageous leaders who have no problem making tremendously difficult but morally correct decisions.

5. Any appeal, message to Filipino people?

We seem to have lost all semblance of control in our country. The peace and order situation is appalling, human rights abuses are routine, our economy appears to be at the complete mercy of external forces, corruption is rampant, we expect to produce succeeding competitive generations without investing in education and healthcare. It is time to take our country back from the narrow, self-serving interests of entrenched traditional political entrepreneurs. We urgently need to change course. This will require the united effort of all of us, law-abiding, hard-working, God-fearing and silent citizens who compose the overwhelming majority in our country. We have the power to change our nation. The process may be long and difficult but we have to begin immediately.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Answers to Questions

A large portion of my time is spent researching on the relevant issues of the day. I know that most candidates have their staffs to take care of this but I have not yet arrived at that stage. Here are answers I supplied to an organization that is maintaining a website where Senatorial candidates can provide their views:

A. Access to Quality Education
List two specific steps you will initiate or support to ensure greater access to affordable, quality education.
(Please limit your answer to 250 words.)
Repeal the Automatic Appropriations Law and this will allow our negotiators to demand better terms for all our debts. Education is allotted 11% and debt service 28%. By dropping interest payments to 23% you will effectively raise the education budget by 50%. You will be able to double teacher salaries (and subsequently attract the best minds in the country), buy relevant textbooks and construct schools. When these basic requirements have been improved, the curricula can be modified to stress communication and computing skills; emphasis should be likewise placed on inculcating a sense of history and identity among our students that will lead to a greater appreciation of their country.

We need to exploit the internet. Each classroom should have one DSL-connected computer for every 5 students. This will provide unfettered access to the New York Times, Encarta and mathematical websites. These resources provide an enormous wealth of information which may be inexpensively accessed. Computers will also enable distance-learning among adults who missed out on educational opportunities in their youth. Communication between experts at home and overseas will be facilitated and our students will be able to participate in discussions all over the world.

B. Employment Opportunities for Youth
List two major policies and programs you will initiate or support that will generate more quality domestic jobs for the young generation.
(Please limit your answer to 250 words.)

We live in a global economy and the availability of domestic jobs will depend on how competitive our youth will become. This requires purposeful national will to invest in education, healthcare and infrastructure. We need to wean ourselves from the “utang-import” mentality which retards our productive capacity. There needs to be a national movement which will force us to produce most of our needs. Clearly, the prescriptions set forth by some major lending institutions which we have diligently followed for more than 20 years have not been effective in stimulating our economy as effectively as our closest neighbors. We hardly create finished products. Corruption is more rampant in an economy that is loan-based because it is easier to steal something that was not earned through work.

No further trade liberalization will occur pending a thorough review of their effect on national interests. We need to begin negotiating more courageously with the idea that disadvantageous terms translate into higher mortality rates, lower standards of living, worsening poverty and less competitive citizens.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Evening Thoughts

Let me tell you what goes on in my mind late in the evening at the end of a tough campaign day waged in 100 degree (37 Celsius) weather, nutrition complements of Jollibee, fresh running water available only once during the entire 14 hour period with of course no soap…what am I doing here? Far from my wife and daughters, my friends, my books and my gin. How my life has changed!

But this campaign has allowed me to see things that would never have been available at youtube. Those of us who live in Metro Manila should be required to take a field trip to the poor areas of Mindanao and Visayas. Every public official must be made to witness and subsequently experience the deplorable living conditions that result from their leadership.

Things are not going to get better. We are not planning sufficiently for the future. When we allocate from the budget 28% to debt service and 1% to health and 11% towards education we betray our national inferiority complex. How else do you explain giving the highest priority towards satisfying our creditors at the expense of crippling successive generations?

Let me show you why this is a “killer” policy. If we were just to cut interest payments by one percentage point and move this amount (approximately PhP12 billion) to health, we would be doubling our budget for healthcare. To illustrate, every single day, 75 Filipinos die from tuberculosis. If we were to make widely available the 4 anti-TB medications (INH, pyrazinamide, ethambutol and rifampin) at a cost of PhP2 billion, we would potentially cut in half the mortality rate of tuberculosis, 13,000 less deaths each year. Can anyone clinically dispute the cost-effectiveness of such a policy?

I have heard a lot of talk and a lot of promises from all these traditional politicians and nobody ever makes a disclaimer that she or he has been around all these years and is precisely part of the problem. Why should the electorate expect them to undergo a conversion during this brief campaign season? The hour is late.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Cry for What We Lost

Just posted among the links a video made shortly after the EDSA Revolution. Be sure to check it out because it will make you cry. I left the country a few years after those heady times when everything seemed so bright and hopeful. There had to be only good days to come. Boy, was I wrong.

This is what happens when we stray from our ideals. When we compromise on our ethics hoping to achieve ephemeral profit. Even then they sang about unity and freedom and truth and heroism and responsibility towards the poor (recall the image of the emaciated child?). How green was our Valley then.

ANC Forum Redux

Am I a glutton for punishment, or what? ANC called and informed me they had a vacancy in the Senatorial Forum and asked if I was interested to fill-in. Considering that I appeared only 2 weeks ago and found the experience quite anxiety-provoking, to put it in mild terms, I readily volunteered. Media exposure has been hard to come by because of our lack of money. Many radio stations ask for “packaging fees” and some of them even invite you to their shows only to be informed a few minutes before the interview that “permission” has to be sought from the mother station (going rate is about PhP 1000 a minute for poorly funded candidates).

Face to face with the jet-black aperture of a tv camera, live and with a nationwide audience of sofa-quarterbacks will convince you why there are so very few takers in Philippine politics. For a newcomer, it is a terrifying experience, more so when you are pitted against people who do this for a living. I psyche myself with the thought that not a single one of these traditionalists can distinguish a gastroscope from a colonoscope. I am the interloper in this arena.

I wasn’t surprised with the conduct of the forum. Rehearsed answers supplied by researchers, carefully crafted phrases in the vernacular—to a proposition that totally missed the point. We could have gone on and on dreaming and imagining the whole week and creatively hatch plans and programs for health care in this matter but not come up with a way to pay for all these musings. I tried my best to focus on this most important consideration. When will we summon enough national will to decide on what priorities truly matter?

I would have appreciated a little more than the 8.5 minutes they allowed us because how substantive can you be given a subject so broad and critical with that little time? I had to gloss over some of the questions and emphasize certain points because I knew these opportunities were rare for non-traditional candidates like me. So pardon my stutter and forgive me for being repetitive. This is one reason why we should all become involved in these political exercises. We can’t continue to keep on letting these guys get away with it by default.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Stout-Hearted Men

People, apart from donating small amounts of money have also been singing for us. In Cagayan de Oro we were serenaded with "Stout-Hearted Men", a Hammerstein song from the Broadway musical, "The New Moon":

You who have dreams,
If you act, they will come true.
To turn your dream to a fact It's up to you.
If you have the soul and the spirit,
Never fear it, you'll see it through.
Hearts can inspire other hearts with their fire,
For the strong obey when a strong man
Shows them the way.

Give me some men who are stout-hearted men
Who will fight for the right they adore.
Start me with ten, who are stout-hearted men
And I'll soon give you ten thousand more.

Oh! Shoulder to shoulder and bolder and bolder
They grow as they go to the fore!
Then there's nothing in the world can halt or mar a plan,
When stout-hearted men can stick together man to man!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Campaign Update

32 odd days left before election day. Suddenly the Kapatiran 3 are now turning down invitations from tv interviews because of scheduling conflicts. Attended a lunch forum with journalists and was asked, as usual how we felt about our “unwinnable” status. Some people just don’t get it: we are doing this for the country, how, in what way can we lose? At the end of the deal, this “tight” crowd actually passed the hat and presented us with a modest contribution. This phenomenon happens almost always wherever we go, before priests and nuns, students, business professionals…just like a strong breeze to whip-up flagging sails.

I have seen so much suffering and so much corruption these last 8 weeks and I find my resolve not to compromise become even stronger. More than ever, I reject corruption, poverty and violence. I am full of hope going into the homestretch.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

April 7, 1978

April 7, 1978, 29 years ago today was when a highly successful noise barrage roused a fearful nation. Ferdinand Marcos had planned to hold “elections” for his rubber-stamp parliament in order to cloak his dictatorship with a mantle of legitimacy. Only Marcos candidates were allowed to campaign and every restriction was placed to prevent the opposition from being seen or heard. Come to think of it, those were pretty long odds. People were not allowed to peaceful assembly. The press was tightly controlled. It was a miracle that made millions of people go out of their homes at the appointed hour and make as much noise as they could with whatever implements they had. I was 15 years old and that night instilled in me the faith that we Filipinos had it inside us to fight against long odds. This marked the debut of Laban (Lakas ng Bayan) and the names in that slate will remain with me for as long as I live: Ninoy Aquino, Jerry Barican, Alex Boncayao, Feli Cabigao, Juan David, Jaime Ferrer, Neptali Gonzales, Teofisto Guingona, Trinidad Herrera, Priming de Leon, Chito Lucero, Ernesto Maceda, Tony Martinez, Ramon Mitra, Aquilino Pimentel, Charito Planas, Napoleon Rama, Anding Roces, Soc Rodrigo, Ernesto Rondon and Emmanuel Santos.

I remember writing all 21 names by hand on newsprint and asked total strangers to vote for them. The outcome was never in question but what was important was joining a movement that dared to stand up to an all-powerful regime.

8 long years would pass before we would wrest free from Marcos but on April 7, 1978, deafening sound turned to seed.

To the Impatient Ones

I wish to assure every reader of this blog that it is only because I am simply overloaded with work that I am unable to reply promptly to your questions. I will admit that I did not expect this challenge to be as challenging as this. Remember that I am one of the very few hotshot Filipino gastroenterologists who could see a hundred patients a day and still have time to spend with my children, read my beloved books and sip a few couple Bombay Sapphires with Doctor Paul, Doctor Todd and Captain Ed.

This part of my journey has gotten me to experience clinical anxiety for the first time in my life which alone will make me become a better physician because I will be able to better relate with my patients whenever they tell me about their symptoms. I am not complaining though, remember that I asked for this.

To those who demand immediate answers, take it easy. Let me give you well-thought-out answers that fully conform with my conscience. See, I am not about to squander my most precious quality as a political novice and start compromising and pandering this early so as to make everyone feel happy, so I might become the most appealing political commodity because I am not here for the money and the perks and the privileges and the adulation. I could have taken a better pathway than fronting for a Party that brooks no compromise and demands that we all shape up because we are all at fault.

Previously, exasperated Catholic apologists came up with the phrase “if you cannot understand my silence, then you cannot understand my words” and they would always artfully place this quote under the image of the crucified Christ. You haven’t exactly gotten silence from me. I have allowed you to become privy to my evolving views. What you see is what I am. Answerable only to my Creator.

So if you wish to quibble on what my views are regarding diaphragms and debt caps, condoms and charter change you miss the point entirely. I wish to change the bigger picture. When we claim we are pro-life and we uphold human dignity, we cannot ignore the fact that half a million abortions occur each year and we are not doing enough to prevent every single one of these tragedies. When we claim we are pro-poor and stay silent on the crippling of entire generations through substandard education and picayune healthcare programs because we refuse to question public policy on debt payment out of fear that we will suffer even more?????

Are we not now already the most corrupt? Highest infant mortality rate. Lowest life expectancy. Highest maternal mortality. Lowest growth compared to neighbors (which is really how you need to measure growth anyway, like who is the top student in a class and who is getting left behind?). What are we waiting for? Are we hoping for these politicians presently outpromising one another to undergo a collective metanoia? Wake up, that ain’t happening. No prophet necessary to understand this. We are going down. Clearly an inappropriate moment to analyze the vacuous vagaries of vasectomies.

Today is Black Saturday and we need to look forward to the Easter.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Maundy Thursday

First "Holy Week" home in 18 years! The whole country practically shuts down by Maundy Thursday and slowly reawakens by Easter. The thoroughfares are eerily deserted and it is very pleasant to go about the city. We visited 7 churches and recited the 14 Stations of the Cross. The one slight difference was we ate in an Italian restaurant after the "Visita Iglesia"--years ago, only hard core Chinese eating places remained open on Holy Thursday and we had no choice except to eat in Binondo or Santa Cruz.

Along the way, we encountered roving bands of young people walking towards Antipolo, their form of personal penance to make up for past transgressions. Life may be getting harder and we are not investing sufficiently for the future but we are a humble people (sometimes too humble in fact) and we will also find our voice one day.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Why I Am Absolutely Pro-Life

First a definition of terms. In the US, I was firmly pro-choice because I did not want the government to criminalize a woman's right to a tragic choice. For somebody who was privy to the most private matters on a daily basis I not only felt the deep anguish this decision brought, I also felt that I needed to fully respect a woman's right to follow her conscience.

Here in the Philippines, we don't have a Roe v Wade. Abortion is illegal. There is no choice here. Yet 500,000 abortions are performed each year. Women, mostly in their thirties with 5 or more children, who decide to have an abortion know exactly where to go to. Yet no serious effort to stop this tragic problem appears to be within the horizon. We all need to realize that this is not a population problem. It is a problem of how to prevent any more abortions.

I have been a licensed physician for 18 years now. I have only valued life even more. This is why I have become firmly against human failings that degrade the dignity of human life. When we begin to minimize the value of life, we will soon begin to allow human rights abuses to slip by. We will shortly become apathetic to the inhuman poverty that surrounds us. We will begin to tolerate corruption and compromise in its many forms. We will start rationalizing the use of violence.

I am absolutely Pro-Life.

Finding Home

“That’s where the Philippines is -- the sweetest country on earth…. If I never return to the Philippines again, it would be a tragedy beyond description.”

- Martin Bautista, PBS Documentary: Searching for Asian America, Oklahoma Home episode