Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Commotion

The highest-ranking General of the Armed Forces referred to it as a “commotion”. Senator Antonio Trillanes, erstwhile Lieutenant Senior Grade of the Philippine Navy walked out of his trial and he was joined by other officers accused of plotting to overthrow the government. They repaired to the nearby Manila Peninsula where they broadcast a statement encouraging the people to rise and depose the government.

Shortly after an armored personnel carrier rammed into the lobby of the posh hotel, Senator Trillanes gave up. The officers as well as many journalists were arrested and detained in a military stockade.

I guess this “commotion” was coming. Many are becoming restive with what is generally perceived as a rapidly deteriorating situation, with all the bribery and rampant corruption and poverty and injustice going around. To someone out of the loop, genuinely pained by the distressing conditions, there are only two pathways: take your chances, no matter how infinitesimally small in rigged elections or go to the mountains and work for the violent overthrow of the dispensation. Both ways, you should get an idea of the overwhelming feeling of powerlessness that pervades. There seems to be so little that we can do to help reform the blighted system.

It should be clear however that the pathway of violence will only aggravate matters. They hold the firepower and they possess the training and the expertise, never mind that we paid for all these weapons and we subsidized their education. The nonviolent movement is anchored upon a very practical consideration: too many innocent people are harmed in the crossfire.

We had proved that peaceful revolutionary change can occur. And I strongly agree, some things need to change soon.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

She Doesn't Get It

From the Inquirer: “Six years after taking over the reins of office, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo candidly admitted on Monday before the urban poor of Tondo in Manila that poverty remained the greatest challenge facing her administration.

“We can’t claim that we have progressed as a nation if we can’t uplift the lives of the poor and the hungry in our society,” President Arroyo said in Filipino.

Amid her plunging approval rating, the President conceded that her vision of First World status for the country would remain an elusive dream if a huge portion of the population continued to be mired in poverty.

“We must stand by our beliefs and faith. It is our long-term goal to belong with the developed nations in 20 years,” said Arroyo, reiterating the ambitious goal she set for the country in her State of the Nation Address in July.

To do this, the President again emphasized the need to have a strong middle-class, world-class infrastructure and stable government institutions.”

She doesn’t get it. She needs to understand that it is no longer in her power to stimulate the middle class into becoming more productive, let alone for them to remain in the country. Her reign has become permanently associated with malaise and hopelessness. Government institutions will continue to be unstable for as long as she is in power. Whatever credibility she had has been lost in the series of scandals that have rocked her administration.

Right now, the urgent need is for the country to get together and conserve energy. Not too many people seem to realize that oil is twice as expensive compared to a year ago. This reality will effectively cripple the economy in a year if we don’t rein in all non-essential fuel consumption. Anyone think she can still call on the Filipinos to get behind her on this?

Rampant smuggling of rice, fertilizer, cement, vehicles, various raw materials will not abate until her cronies are all replaced. Tax collection will continue to languish because there is a general impression that the middle class is being made to bear a disproportionate share while big industries habitually get away with generous deals. Who wants to pay taxes that end up in paper sacks distributed to traditional politicians?

In other words, she needs to understand that she is finished as a leader who can bring our country together. She may have seen the promised land but she won’t be the one to take us there.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Back to Work

I needed to return to the clinic, for the fifth time since late June. I am proud to remain an Overseas Filipino Worker, earning currency that is rapidly diminishing in value. I am working as hard as I have for 16% less compensation compared to 18 months ago. At the airport lounge, I met the People's Champion, on his way to Los Angeles to shoot a commercial for Nike.

The flight to San Francisco was not bad, it was the 8 hour wait for our connection to Dallas that got me weary. From Dallas, we took a "puddle-jumper" to Amarillo where "Dr. Paul" was waiting. What would normally take us 2 hours was extended to 4 hours because of the poor road conditions (it snowed the day after Thanksgiving). Door to door, from Quezon City to Guymon, took 34 hours. This is how our backyard looked after the first dusting.

The long Thanksgiving holiday just ended and today is bound to be a busy one.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Who We Gonna Call?

The gavel-to-gavel coverage provided for the stymied multi-billion peso broadband deal gives us a peek as to how our honorable legislators conduct business. “In aid of legislation”, they preen around like sober jurists and hotdog their legal acumen every chance they get. So much time expended towards a conclusion I will fearlessly forecast: there is widespread corruption at hand in the hallowed halls of our leaders.

There, that didn’t take but a few seconds and no money whatsoever, and as if this realization would provoke cries of Eureka!

We don’t need the World Bank to point this out to us nor do we have to wait for the latest surveys. The corruption that pervades everywhere is sickening. It is crystal clear even to the most detached pedestrian.

We do not need any more of this subterfuge of aiding legislation or any legislation for that matter. It’s not as if we follow our own laws anyway. Did we just not spend a fortune convicting a plunderer and then conveniently allow him to walk away without restitution?

We, the Filipino people have become so accustomed to abuse we hardly feel it any more. This system has succeeded in converting most us into small, selfish units that will not act so long as our most basic needs are met. And basic here refers to a portion of a packet of instant noodles, a classroom that is better described as a holding pen, a little electricity that is overpriced, grossly clear water, plus a couple of tablets of aspirin.

We are afraid of our leaders, from the president to the local kagawad. We are timid and we cower behind our shameful indifference and we don’t want to assert our rights and fight against injustice lest it disrupt our cozy little relationships within this hopelessly entangled corrupt web. This fear of ours is what allows this screwed-up way of life to flourish.

There is an urgent need for a cast change. These guys won’t do it for us, the sooner we realize this, the better off we will all be. These guys won’t do it for us not because they don’t want to but because they are all so part of the trapo system, so well-invested, so comfortable. We need women and men who will not countenance compromising with evil and corruption and cowardice. Women and men who will understand that service requires sacrifice and that they do not have a monopoly on capacity and good intentions. Women and men who will serve for one term and give the many millions out there a chance to render service to their country.

We need to quit looking around. We will have to take our country back ourselves.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Runaway Migration

I attended a summit meeting sponsored by the Department of Health regarding the runaway migration of our Human Health Resources, yes, we health workers are now referred to as HHRs. Quite an interesting meeting, got to listen to officials from the Departments of Labor and Foreign Affairs as well as a number of recruiters and members of the academe.

The numbers who have left are staggering. And our nursing schools have become transformed into factories churning out record figures of graduates to meet the awesome demand. A foreign recruiter summed it up best: this boom will not last indefinitely and the Chinese are fast learning English and we critically need to maintain our competitive edge and dispassionately recognize the fleeting nature of this export product of ours.

Between human health resource and export product, I personally prefer the latter appellation because it allows us to become more objective with our policies. We don’t need to get emotional about the issues because we have to face it, we are totally outclassed compared to other countries in producing vehicles, electronic devices, food, construction materials, energy, war materiel, etc. But we can supply the world with our caring and competent citizens, nothing to be ashamed about.

This is why I did not agree with this foreign recruiter’s suggestion to compel nursing graduates to serve their communities for a period of 2 years before being “deployed” abroad because we need to get all these professionals working and earning as soon as possible and remitting a portion of their earnings.

Our responsibility is to make certain that these remittances are plowed back into upgrading our crumbling health and educational infrastructure instead of ending up in sacks furtively distributed to our traditional politicians. We have a great product and we need to keep it that way.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Let's Hear It from Tom

Many people continue to ask me why I aspire for high political office without having the requisite traditional political experience and dynastic pedigree. I tell those willing to listen that I take my cue from a 33 year old lawyer from Virginia who wrote this line in what turned out to be his country’s certificate of birth: “….that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Nobody paid much attention to that line for a hundred years until Lord Acton of “absolute power corrupting absolutely” fame realized the explosive implications of that loaded sentence. That we, the citizens who always felt powerless and puny and irrelevant have the right to register our objections in the most revolutionary manner possible. When we witness gross injustice, criminal negligence, lethal corruption, wanton greed, we, the people have the right to take back the power we invested in our leaders who have been unfaithful to their oaths.

Jefferson thought it self-evident then. Why can’t we see this? GMA, Erap and every single one of these trapos remain accountable to us. They are certainly not divine, much less indispensable. Years of failure and mismanagement constitute clear proof that we can do better without their expertise and experience.

We need not offer excuses about the gullibility of the masses or the poverty-crazed choices that voters make. It is up to us to actively resist, to fight, to see our tormentors as our equals at best and do battle. Life is too short to be spent hiding behind lame excuses. Let’s listen to Thomas Jefferson.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Where Am I?

These are the times when I feel like I am living in another planet. With oil climbing over $90 a barrel and the peso breaching the PhP 43 to a dollar level, and 200 teachers leaving for Maryland and Philhealth approaching insolvency with innumerable accounts of abuse, our leaders are in overdrive forming alliances of convenience that will ensure the protection of their interests.

GMA is on friendly terms with the Speaker whose son publicly accused her husband of standing to make $70 million on a single deal because they both understand the 1950’s concept of mutually assured destruction. Erap Estrada has begun enumerating likely presidential candidates for 2010 without taking himself or his son out of the equation.

I am incredulous because our politicians scheme non-stop to perpetuate themselves in positions of power where they have been unable to advance the country’s best interests after all these years. Like will someone please enlighten me as to what Erap is planning to do when he makes his inevitable comeback? Or what our brilliant economist GMA has in store for our country when she continues to lead as Prime Minister?

The burgeoning price of oil will wipe out all those years of hard work and sacrifices made by the millions of overseas Filipinos. The strengthening of the peso due to the weakening of the dollar will mean that the remittances sent home will have significantly less value and will cripple our already weak exporting industry. The good times will come crashing to an end very soon and we will find ourselves having completely failed in investing in health and education; instead our leaders squandered the money on election automation, fertilizer purchases, infrastructure projects that were primarily planned to enrich, to corrupt, to perpetuate and not to ultimately benefit the incredible number of destitute and uneducated and sick people in our country.

We need to take a different course. And we need to start sacrificing here in our country today. The dollar is weakening because China and other Asian countries are sacrificing and working double hard to satisfy the spoiled American consumers who are bent on passing a terrible loan burden to their succeeding generations. The price of oil will only continue to rise because India and China and all these other industrious nations are willing to pay whatever price to assure a better standard of living for their citizens.

We have remained unwilling because those who could demand sacrifice from us have themselves been unwilling to confront our common fate, our brief lives made irrelevant by our petty material concerns. We need to consume less electricity, we need to take less trips, we need smaller vehicles, we need to save more money, we need to plant more trees and vegetables, we need to clean our surroundings, we need to stop bribing our public servants, we need to pay our rightful share in taxes, we need to stop using the discount made available to seniors if we know there are others who are much more deserving of this break, we need to pay our servants more, we should stop smoking and drinking excessively.

These are what Erap and his progeny as well as GMA and her various allies of convenience should have asked of us a long time ago. And we would have followed if they had only shown us the way.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Last Day

Today is Foundation Day here in Bacolod. Last of the 10 day holiday streak that began with local elections and continued through All Saints Day. I spent a portion of this time in Manila where we buried a kindly woman who helped me while I lived in Brooklyn. Lived an unremarkable life measured against today’s materialistic standards but my brothers and sisters appreciated her unfailing kindness and generosity. I was able to thank her before she slipped into a coma. Got me thinking, how this person who will be remembered by so few, was able to show me, at least plus a few others that human kindness no matter how small and soft, lives on and we must never be discouraged by the seeming endless task of restoring the world. Reminds me of the story of…..

…. the wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing, who had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work. One day he was walking along the shore. As he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day.

So he began to walk faster to catch up. As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn't dancing, but instead he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean. As he got closer he called out, "Good morning! What are you doing?"The young man paused, looked up and replied, "Throwing starfish in the ocean."

"I guess I should have asked, why are you throwing starfish in the ocean?"

"The sun is up and the tide is going out. And if I don't throw them in they'll die."

"But, young man, don't you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it. You can't possibly make a difference!"

The young man listened politely. Then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean, past the breaking waves and said – "It made a difference for that one."