Thursday, March 29, 2007
Saturday, March 24, 2007
A popular online paper interviewed me and archived the interview via podcast. I received many comments and a number of them were from economist and banking industry friends who were disturbed nay flabbergasted by the mere mention of “debt cap”. I was warned it would convert us to a hermit kingdom much like North Korea and we were going to be treated like a pariah and so many other dire warnings. Told most of them to calm down, everything is negotiable at this stage. Get the pun? Our negotiating position would vastly improve if we confer to our negotiating panel the full and unrestricted support of the Filipino people.
Point is we need to engage in critical thinking here. Capping interest payments is not tantamount to heresy especially if some of the loans were secured to pay off behest loans and odious loans. How will we get out of this tragic mess if we are perpetually timid to making difficult moral choices? Renegotiating or restructuring (much more acceptable terms to the cognoscenti) our debts to our advantage needs to be considered. We aren’t getting too far with this meek and obedient pathway. The consequences will probably be not as harsh as the consequences of being a model beggar nation.
In my newfound political peregrinations, I am invariably asked why I am fighting a lost cause. I always begin by asking them what's lost because I certainly don't see anything lost in my cause. And here's the time they allude to a certain amount of pity that they feel for me, a sweaty and sunburned physician asking for their vote. I still haven't paused long enough to think of a perfect response because I am treating this challenge the way I have conducted myself throughout my life. I am going to pour everything that I have into this very worthy cause. Many people seem to have no idea how many Filipinos graduate from the University of the Philippines College of Medicine, complete a specialty in Internal Medicine and a subspecialty in gastroenterology in the US, become board-certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, build a solid and successful medical practice in the buckle of the Bible Belt...while I will appreciate pity if it comes with a vote, I hope every Filipino understands the gravity of our situation. This is without question a battle for the heart and the soul of our country. The next 6 weeks will tell us whether the 3000 Filipinos who leave for other countries daily will swell to 6000, whether we will condemn entire generations to mediocrity, whether we totally become numb to all these human rights abuses, whether we want to continue being treated like a doormat by the international community, whether we as a nation are prepared to sacrifice, to pay the steep price required to get off this deep rut of corruption, loss of identity, poverty and hopelessness.
I have said it before and I will say it again, we do not have to continue going down this well-traveled road to more failure. We need to take our country back from all these pretentious and pompous politicians because we have seen what they can do and there is no reason on earth why they will change course, why they will veer from their tried and tired formulae that has brought us to where we are--most corrupt in Asia, highest infant mortality rate, lowest life expectancy, 500,000 abortions each year.
I gotta go. There's a high school graduation nearby. When you don't have radio and tv ads and all you have are pocket calendars, you need to hustle for votes on a person-to-person basis.
This has to be one of the longest periods that I have been unable to post an entry. I did expect this campaign to keep me busy but not this busy less than halfway through. I guess it is because I don't have a media rep, a PR specialist, researchers, barkers, secretary, finance expert...heck I even have to drive myself to public markets and free clinics and University symposia. I guess this is my way of testing my deep faith in my fellow Filipinos that they will know what to do on election day. They will realize that we are going nowhere and all these promises being made by all these traditional politicians will only keep our country down.
Right now, I am totally focused on my mission to convince everyone to join me in a national effort that will quickly change our national character. Once and for all, we will have to abandon our national aspiration to become known as a "model beggar" nation. Just think, 52.7% of the 2005 budget went to debt service while a little more than 1% went towards healthcare (in contrast to 21% to healthcare in the US and 8.7% to debt service in 2002). We are a nation that prefers to smell good before the international banking community instead of providing vaccinations and schoolrooms and food to our country's youth. Our priorities are all screwed-up.
I propose that we undertake an audit of all our debts including all those sovereign guarantees, odious loans like the nuclear plant that never produced any energy that we paid $2.6 billion for because of complicity between corrupt government officials and unscrupulous law firms, banks and corporate businesses. We repeal the Automatic Appropriations Act that binds us to pay all our loans no matter the consequences and then cap our debt service payments to 25%. When we go through this pathway, it will have to be understood by all that we won't be able to secure any more loans (although this did not happen with Argentina) which might be a good idea because it will lessen our dependence on perpetually taking out new loans to pay for previous loans. We will be forced to go on a national belt-tightening program that will ask for sacrifices from all sectors of society. We will ask our overseas sisters and brothers to double their remittances for a period of 5 years. For those of us remaining in the country, we collectively stop smoking, drastically reduce airconditioning, walk short distances, take cold showers, import less food.....all in the hope of uniting us towards an enormous goal that will benefit the common good.
This action will do two things: (1) free-up about PhP250 billion a year that we can plow back into education , health and infrastructure. We will be able to immediately double, even triple teacher's salaries and will increase the likelihood of recruiting the best minds to teach the next generation. We will be able to provide safe drinking water and nutritious food to millions of poor people. We will be able to build farm roads, bridges, schoolrooms, rural clinics. We will learn to become self-sufficient. (2) it will also enable a negotiating panel that we will form to discuss matters with the IMF and World Bank (25% of our loans), various other lending institutions to negotiate from a position of strength, essentially a take it or leave it situation.
One very important lesson I learned from my years in the US is that we Filipinos are equal to Americans. Sounds simplistic but I think this national insecurity we harbor is at the root of our inability to get a good deal from the international community. The American people will understand why we were forced to embark upon this perilous course if they see the terrible situation we find ourselves in, that this is basically a matter of survival.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
The prize I've been honored with today is usually given to intellectuals, not to politicians. I am obviously what can be called an intellectual, but at the same time, fate has determined that I find myself -- literally overnight -- in what is called the world of high politics.
With your permission, I would like to take advantage of my unusual experience and try to cast a critical eye of an intellectual on the phenomenon of power as I have been able to observe it so far from the inside, and especially on the nature of the temptation that power represents.
Why is it that people long for political power, and why, when they have achieved it, are they so reluctant to give it up?
In the first place, people are driven into politics by ideas about a
better way to organize society, by faith in certain values or ideals, be they impeccable or dubious, and the irresistible desire to fight for those ideas and turn them into reality.
In the second place, they are probably motivated by the natural longing every human being has for self-affirmation. Is it possible to imagine a more attractive way to affirm your own existence and its importance than that offered by political power? In essence, it gives you a tremendous opportunity to leave your mark, in the broadest sense, on your surroundings, to shape the world around you in your own image, to enjoy the respect that every political office almost automatically bestows upon the one who holds it.
In the third place, many people long for political power and are so reluctant to part with it because of the wide range of perks that are a necessary part of political life -- even under the most democratic of conditions.
These three categories are always, I have observed, intertwined in complicated ways, and at times it is almost impossible to determine which of them predominates. The second and third categories, for instance, are usually subsumed under the first category. I have never met a politician who could admit to the world, or even to himself, that he was running for office only because he wanted to affirm his own importance, or because he wanted to enjoy the perks that come with political power. On the contrary, we all repeat over and over that we care not about power as such but about certain general values. We say it is only our sense of responsibility to the community that compels us to take upon ourselves the burden of public office. At times, only God Himself knows whether that is true, or simply a more palatable way of justifying to the world and ourselves our longing for power, and our need to affirm, through our power and its reach, that we exist in a truly valid and respectable way.
The situation is made more complicated because the need for self-affirmation is not essentially reprehensible. It is intrinsically human, and I can hardly imagine a human being who does not long for recognition, affirmation, and a visible manifestation of his own being.
I am one of those people who consider their term in political office as an expression of responsibility and duty toward the whole community, and even as a sort of sacrifice. But, observing other politicians whom I know very well and who make the same claim, I feel compelled again and again to examine my own motives and ask whether I am not beginning to deceive myself. Might I not be more concerned with satisfying an unacknowledged longing for self-affirmation -- a desire to prove that I mean something and that therefore I exist -- than I am with pure public service? In short, I am beginning to have suspicions about myself. More precisely, my experience so far with politics and politicians compels me to have these suspicions. In fact, every new prize I receive compels me to be a degree more suspicious.
The third category of reasons for desiring political power -- longing for the advantages power brings, or simply getting used to those advantages -- deserves special attention. It is interesting to observe how diabolical the temptations of power are, precisely in this sphere. This is best observed among those of us who have never held power of any kind before. Bravely, we used to condemn the powerful for enjoying advantages that deepened the gulf between them and the rest. Now we ourselves are in power.
We are beginning, inadvertently but dangerously, to resemble in some ways our contemptible precursors. It bothers us, it upsets us, but we are discovering that we simply can't, or don't know how to, put a stop to it.
I will give you several examples.
It would make no sense whatever for a government minister to miss an important cabinet discussion of a law that will influence the country for decades to come simply because he has a toothache and has to wait all afternoon at the dentist's until his turn comes. So -- in the interests of his country -- he arranges to be treated by a special dentist, someone he doesn't have to wait for.
It would certainly not make sense for a politician to miss an important state meeting with a foreign colleague simply because he has been held up by the vagaries of public transport. So -- he has a government car and a chauffeur.
It would certainly not make sense for a president or a prime minister to miss such a meeting simply because his car is caught in a traffic jam, so he has the special right to pass cars that are ahead of him or to go through red lights, and in his case the traffic police tolerate it.
It would certainly make no sense for a politician to waste valuable time sweating over a stove and cooking an official meal for a counterpart from abroad. So he has a personal cook and waiters to do it for him.
It would certainly make no sense for the president's cook to go from butcher shop to butcher shop like a normal homemaker in a postsocialist country in search of meat good enough to offer without shame to an important guest. So special deliveries of supplies are arranged for prominent people and their cooks.
It would certainly make no sense if a president or a premier had to look up numbers in the telephone book himself and then keep trying again and again until he reached the person or until the line became free. Quite logically, then, this is done by an assistant.
To sum up: I go to a special doctor, I don't have to drive a car, and my driver need not lose his temper going through Prague at a snail's pace. I needn't cook or shop for myself, and I needn't even dial my own telephone when I want to talk to someone.
In other words, I find myself in the world of privileges, exceptions, perks; in the world of VIPs who gradually lose track of how much butter or a streetcar ticket costs, how to make a cup of coffee, how to drive a car, and how to place a telephone call. I find myself on the very threshold of the world of the communist fat cats whom I have criticized all my life.
And worst of all, everything has its own unassailable logic. It would be laughable and contemptible for me to miss a meeting that served the interests of my country because I had spent my presidential time in a dentist's waiting room, or lining up for meat, or nervously battling the decrepit Prague telephone system, or engaging in the hopeless task of finding a taxi in Prague when I am obviously not from the West and therefore not in possession of dollars.
But where do logic and objective necessity stop and excuses begin? Where does the interest of the country stop and the love of privileges begin? Do we know, and are we at all capable of recognizing, the moment when we cease to be concerned with the
interests of the country for whose sake we tolerate these priviliges, and start to be concerned with the advantages themselves, which we excuse by appealing to the interests of the country?
Regardless of how pure his intentions may originally have been, it takes a high degree of self-awareness and critical distance for someone in power -- however well-meaning at the start -- to recognize that moment. I myself wage a constant and rather unsuccessful struggle with the advantages I enjoy, and I would not dare say that I can always identify that moment clearly. You get used to things, and gradually, without being aware of it, you may lose your sense of judgement.
Again, being in power makes me permanently suspicious of myself. What is more, I suddenly have a greater understanding of those who are starting to lose their battle with the temptations of power. In attempting to persuade themselves that they are still merely serving their country, they increasingly persuade themselves of nothing more than their own excellence, and begin to take their privileges for granted.
There is something treacherous, delusive, and ambiguous in the temptation of power. On the one hand, political power gives you the wonderful opportunity to confirm, day in and day out, that you really exist, that you have your own undeniable identity, that with every word and deed you a leaving a highly visible mark on the world around you. Yet within that same political power and in everything that logically belongs to it lies a terrible danger: that, while pretending to confirm our existence and our identity, political power will in fact rob us of them.
Someone who forgets how to drive a car, do the shopping, make himself coffee, and place a telephone call is not the same person who had known how to do those things all his life. A person who had never before had to look into the lens of a television camera and now has to submit his every movement to its watchful eye is not the same person he once was.
He becomes a captive of his position, his perks, his office. What apparently confirms his identity and thus his existence in fact subtly takes that identity and existence away from him. He is no longer in control of himself, because he is controlled by something else: by his position and its exigencies, its consequences, its aspects, and its privileges.
There is something deadening about this temptation. Under the mantle of existential self-affirmation, existence is confiscated, alienated, deadened. A person is transformed into a stone bust of himself. The bust may accentuate his undying importance and fame, but at the same time it is no more than a piece of dead stone.
Kierkegaard wrote Sickness unto Death. Allow me to paraphrase your excellent countryman and coin the phrase "power unto death."
What may we conclude from this?
Certainly not that it is improper to devote oneself to politics because politics is, in principle, immoral.
What follows is something else. Politics is an area of human endeavor that places greater stress on moral sensitivity, on the ability to reflect critically on oneself, on genuine responsibility, on taste and tact, on the capacity to empathize with others, on a sense of moderation, on humility. It is a job for modest people, for people who cannot be deceived.
Those who claim that politics is a dirty business are lying to us. Politics is work of a kind that requires especially pure people, because it is especially easy to become morally tainted. So easy, in fact, that a less vigilant spirit may not notice
happening it at all.
Politics, therefore, ought to be carried on by people who are vigilant, sensitive to the ambiguous promise of self-affirmation that comes with it.
I have no idea whether I am such a person. I only know that I ought to be, because I have accepted this office.
Monday, March 19, 2007
After a grueling day of campaigning, energized by the overwhelmingly warm reception accorded to us I spoke before a group of doctors that evening and told them in Tagalog: politics is brutal, I should have become a physician!
So many issues to grapple with and so many ideals to live by but seeing the way most of our countrymen live while out on a sortie forces you to temper certain life-long-held convictions out of respect for the idea that we are all simply trying to make the best of our personal situations.
Curiously, this article on the Patron Saint of Politicians dropped in: St. Thomas More is recognized in our time as one of the great defenders of human dignity and the rights of human conscience. We are all familiar with the famous lines from "A Man for All Seasons" regarding the role of conscience: In his refusal to sign the oath, More says "what matters to me is not whether it's true or not but that I believe it to be true, or rather, not that I believe it to be true, but that I believe it."
St. Thomas More is also rightly regarded as the model Catholic government official when he says earlier in the play, "when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties … they lead their country by a short route to chaos."
And how simply, yet profoundly, he set the standard for all those of the Christian faith who serve in government when he said at the end, "Tell the King, I die the King's loyal servant, but God's first."
Perhaps we might do well to regard Thomas More as a sure guide for politicians, reminding them of his approach to government service. As "A Man for all Seasons" recounts More as saying of his work as chancellor of England, "I wish no man harm, I speak no man harm, I do no man harm and if this be not good enough then … "
We might also regard St. Thomas More as a patron of husbands and fathers. We may recall the way in which More is depicted at the end of his trial in "A Man for All Seasons." He declares to the court which has just condemned him that "It was not for the oath but because I would not consent to the marriage."
Everything we know about St. Thomas More tells us that he cared deeply for his family and that one of the reasons why he sought so desperately to avoid a confrontation with the king was to protect his family. Yet, finally, More was to sacrifice both his life and his family's security for a principle that gave an eternal meaning and an eternal unity to his family; that is, the sacramental nature of marriage.
Unquestionably, in agreeing to the dissolution of the king's marriage there was also an implicit acceding to the possible dissolution of any marriage. This was a point that could not have been lost on the chancellor of England and a lawyer of the brilliance of Thomas More. Thus, one of history's great statesman and men of conscience went to his death for a principled defense of the sacramental unity of marriage.
Having said this we should remember the observation of Clarence Miller, one of several editors of the "Complete Works of St. Thomas More." He enumerates what scholars give as the various "grounds for More's martyrdom: the integrity of the self as witnessed by an oath, the irreducible freedom of the individual conscience in the face of an authoritarian state, papal supremacy as a sign of the supra-national unity of Western Christendom, past and present."
Then Miller writes, "All of these are true as far as they go. But in the last analysis More did not die for any principle, or idea, or tradition, or even doctrine, but for a person, for Christ. As Bolt himself made More say in the play: "Well … finally … it isn't a matter of reason; finally it's a matter of love."
And so, I think it is entirely appropriate to remember St. Thomas More as we explore the richness of the encyclical "Evangelium Vitae" and its call to build a culture of life and a civilization of love. (from a Zenit article by Anderson)
Saturday, March 17, 2007
For the second time, I feature Horacio de la Costa, SJ who delivered this eulogy 50 years ago in St. Patrick's Cathedral.
"Only God, who knows the innermost hearts of men, can say with complete truth what a man is worth. That is why we pray for his infinite mercy over all our dead. Yet, judging human wise, I do not think there are many for whom we can make this prayer as confidently as we can for Ramon Magsaysay.
"We have Christ’s own warrant that what we do for the poor, the weak, the homeless, the oppressed, he shall regard as done to himself. Surely, then, a man who made the welfare of these very people the paramount business of his life, who used the great powers entrusted to him to protect the poor, to defend the weak, to shelter the homeless, to right the wrongs of the oppressed, has little to fear from God’s justice, and from his mercy everything to hope.
"We must take up without delay the tasks which he left unfinished. There are so many obstacles still to be surmounted between ourselves and that free, prosperous, and self-reliant nation to which our fallen leader taught us to aspire.
"We must bring to our own labors for the common good that same sense of urgency which he brought to his; that consuming zeal which gave him almost no respite from his public duties, which so often got him up in the middle of the night to answer a cry for help, to save a life, to see that right was done.
"And there is something else that we must learn from him if we are to build as sturdily as he did: his massive integrity. In the grave crisis in our affairs which first brought Ramon Magsaysay to public notice, it was this quality above all that attracted our people to him, this that decided them to put in his hands the supreme executive power. Cutting across the tangled intricacies of party politics they chose, very simply, a man whom they could trust.
"All our hopes for the future depend, beyond question, on our ability to maintain a government that deserves the confidence of the people and the world. Our plans to improve our economy, to redress the inequality of our social structure, and to contribute our modest share to the peace and happiness of mankind, are premised on public office in our land being held by men who will keep faith with God and with their fellow men.
"We shall make true progress only if every citizen from the highest to the lowest can look upon their government as truly theirs; not the instrument of a party or the private preserve of the powerful. We must seek first, the kingdom of God and his justice; then, and only then, shall all things else be added unto us.
"The sword of death, so pitiless, has yet this virtue in it, that what it destroys it preserves. It hews away from a man what in him was gross, was fallible, was mortal; but by the same stroke it fixes forever, both in itself and in the regard of men, that part of him which is immortal, and being spirit, is most himself.
"Even so has it dealt with our beloved leader, that we may see him as he was essentially, and seeing find the courage to be in our small measure what he was in so large a measure: a man who loved the people, who kept faith with them, who gave all he had to their service, without stint, without compromise, without regret, and unto death."
Thursday, March 15, 2007
The one reality that truly surprises me in my many meetings with many people is the depth of hopelessness that pervades the entire Philippine body politic. Rich and poor, old and tragically, the young have been infected. Many people appear to have given up to the point where they don't care about the future any longer. My friends in the US will be amazed to see me, next to many of my countrymen as some wild-eyed idealist, a too hopeful loon.
When did the slide begin? Was our nation programmed to descend to these hopeless depths? Were we destined to become the most corrupt nation in Asia? I think the descent began when we took for granted the basic respect for human life which begat rampant corruption among our politicians who soon did not care about the weak and the poor and triggered the cascade which trivialized the rule of law.
We need to hear more lonely voices from out of the vast wilderness, we need to quit cursing our sad lot. We need to take our country back.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Whenever you drive around Manila, the most important article to have close to you is not your license, your registration papers or insurance card. Don't ever drive without cash. This will get you out of any fix. We were able to displace Indonesia today as the most corrupt nation in the region. Somehow, I am not as bothered by this disturbing news because I am focusing on my campaign. It's as if I am finally doing something about it. Yesterday, I attended a gripe session with 200 of the urban poor. They fulminated for about 2 hours and I was given 5 minutes to react and I told them what I thought of their plight.
Whose fault is it if we continuously return these traditional politicians every election cycle because of their empty promises and bribe money? Is there any wonder why when we approach them after the elections they tell us in so many words and actions that they don't owe us anything because they had already purchased our votes? How many generations will it take for these vulnerable people to realize that their lives are only getting worse? We cannot expect these traditionals to change a system that enables them to build mansions, cultivate political connections and send their children to schools abroad. A system that will allow their progeny an outsize advantage to continue these dynasties.
Monday, March 12, 2007
Because I am a physician, many ask me about my thoughts regarding health issues. If I don't have much time, I tell them we don't spend near enough the proper amount of money that we need to be investing in healthcare. We allocate about 1% when it should be a minimum of 3% of the total budget. As a result, we don't have enough rural clinics and urgent care facilities which is the principal reason why most of the poor troop to hospital emergency rooms for disorders that could have been attended to in a clinic. The salaries we pay our doctors, nurses, medical technologists are inadequate and we barely offer the most basic medications to the teeming poor.
Comes down once again to money. Raise taxes, cut spending, restructure debt payment arrangements. We don't have too many options left. We need to abandon the mindset of treating "restructuring" as if it were some form of a sacred cow.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
I am asked by a lot of people what I think of the Value Added Tax and I tell them that I think the VAT is a clear illustration of how our country deals with its problems. It takes the easy way out and simply taxes everyone even if we all know that the most affected are the families of the overseas Filipinos who produce the bulk of real production in our country today. The government refuses to admit that it is mortally afraid of these powerful banking institutions from whom it depends for loans to pay all those loans, some of which were transacted under immoral circumstances (like paying billions of dollars for a nuclear plant that was never used and which was the result of complicity between corrupt government officials and businessmen). The government is not addressing the root cause of corruption in the form of tax leaks and tax breaks that favor the wealthy and powerful but how can our leaders implement a corruption- free policy when they don't have any credibility? They freely make promises they don't keep and whenever they are caught doing dishonest deeds, they muddle the issue and stymie, by all the various means they have at their disposal, the pursuit of truth.
Friday, March 9, 2007
The last few days have been very busy and I expect the pace to pick-up even more. I am meeting a lot of people and I am seeing so many new facets in our society. And while there is widespread hopelessness and cynicism I feel that people want to participate again. I feel that they want to resume reading newspapers again. I have heard many a regret about not having voted for a while. Bringing these people back to caring about the future of our country is a solid first step towards taking our country back from the clutches of traditional politics.
Attended today a symposium of college students. My invitation had been an afterthought the night before the event for two candidates from the "Genuine Opposition" had confirmed their attendance. As I expected, the two did not show. I felt for the idealistic organizers of the event who still had no idea that when the stakes are high, it just does not pay to engage in retail politics. But when your mission is for the conversion of a corrupt system these are the meetings that matter and I had a wonderful time engaging people half my age for an hour and a half discussing my dreams and their dreams for our country.
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
We need to do something about the debt problem. More than 40% of the budget goes towards paying the interest on our numerous debts. We currently have a law that automatically appropriates money from whatever money the government makes through the collection of taxes, exports, overseas remittances, etc. Because of the large share that ends up being eaten by interest payments, social services that had already been marginal have been cut back further. There are hardly any appreciable investments being made towards the maintenance and upgrade of infrastructure. Schoolteacher salaries have been stagnant. Government, which should be the prime engine that drives the economy, has acted with embarrassing impotence simply because it does not have the money to stimulate growth.
Remember that part of this debt continues to come from dubious deals that were made 30 years ago including a nuclear power plant that was built but never produced a single kilowatt of energy because in the indecent haste in which the deal was sealed and soon after the large payoff-bribes has been delivered, it was determined that the plant was astride a geographical fault. I remember the figure well: $300,000 a day was being paid by the Filipino people. An amount that could have built so many schoolrooms, that could have provided a glass of milk to millions of schoolchildren. Instead, one of the cronies responsible for the deal bought himself a castle and a title in Austria.
It is immoral to continue to pay interest on these odious loans. Our leaders need to show more courage when they negotiate with financial institutions that knew exactly the corrupt origins of some of these loans
Just like in the US, our representatives also are allotted their very own barrels to use in whatever way that they see fit. Big difference is the utter lack of accountability. Politicians looking forward to an election need to give back a little bit more to their constituents lest they be accused of selfishness. This is the season when vacation-home-building and international junkets are momentarily put on hold. Pork barrel figures prominently among the reasons why politics has become a means to making a livelihood.
But will abolishing the pork barrel solve the problem? Certainly not. It will simply join the long list of widely publicized, painless and short-sighted solutions that don't directly address the problem. Most of the funds come from the significant remittances from our toiling citizens abroad. There is also a new source in the 12% Value Added Tax. When you stop disbursing funds to lawmakers (who really have no business dictating where the next bridge will be built, where the next school will be constructed, where the local health center will be located....) who will the recipient be? Will the money stay with the President? How are we assured that the President will act as a responsible steward for all the excess cash that is literally from the blood of millions of sacrificing Filipinos?
This is why long lasting reform will need to go deeper than mere administrative changes. Our leaders need to do a lot of serious prayerful reflection and find their way back to their original noble goals. We all need to return to the principle of "first things first". Poltics of virtue and politics of duty. The dignity and the development of each person must be the single most important priority of the State.
Monday, March 5, 2007
There have been quite a few editorials decrying the lack of intelligent discourse surrounding the senatorial race. This coming from a group that shuts out entities that have no money budgeted for "media operations". There is truly quite a gulf separating those who spend public money over those who spend hard-earned money. Even radio stations in the provinces now ask "permission" from Manila if they can conduct radio interviews with candidates coming from unheralded parties, permission that usually comes with a price.
Here we are, bursting with ideas yet confined to discussing our hopes and plans for the future with market vendors and waiting trisikad ( a tricycle-rickshaw) pedal pushers. We can't even break into the debates sponsored by wealthy business interests because they all seem to want to hear the same old garbage and promises that have protected the economic elites all these years. Don't they see that such a rotten system will keep us from fully developing as a nation?
Sunday, March 4, 2007
Here in Bacolod, I got to think how things went our way to enable me and my family to return home. Just imagine if I had been diagnosed with cancer, and a few of my classmates have already been stricken with this terrible illness or if one of my 4 daughters had a condition that required treatment in the US or if our clinic did not allow us to become financially independent...so many blessings that I can't ascribe to my hard work and perseverance alone. This is probably a major reason why I have become a little bit more spiritual in my middle age, after seeing many patients suffer diseases nobody on earth deserves and witnessing how injustice has become part of the daily grind of so many people. Human acts do not just count for that much.
My return home is the result of a confluence of blessed circumstances and I should continue to view this opportunity as nothing less than a rare privilege to serve others. It is my responsibility to get this through as far as I can.
Saturday, March 3, 2007
First, some "House Rules". Since this has become a political blog where I have identified myself, I will only reply to people of goodwill with a verifiable email address because while I will engage in sincere discussion any well-meaning person who wants to follow my journey, the demands of the campaign have made it difficult for me to reply to all comments, some of which have malicious origins.
Anyone who faithfully follows this blog will know that my wife and I left a very lucrative practice in Oklahoma because when we were faced with the dismal reality of Filipinos continuing to die from hypertension and diabetes because of an inability to purchase simple medications we felt that to continue to live in Oklahoma where we have friends we love with all our hearts and patients who depended upon us for competent medical care was no longer a moral option compared to the millions of suffering poor who have never experienced human dignity. Monetary contributions and heartfelt suggestions seemed so insufficient. My country needs no less than a revolution, a peaceful one but a revolution nonetheless. Again and again I have repeated that the traditional political formula has only served to make the poor poorer. The sum total of all the expertise and good intentions of all our politicians over the past 60 years have only made the situation worse. We need to try a different way.
From the "traditional" perspective, I have no chance to become a Senator. Without 200 million pesos to buy television and radio ads, to grease the lethally corrupt political machinery and to bribe dishonest election officials I can not become a Senator. This is the reason why from the beginning I have asked for prayers because this part of my journey requires a miracle. In 1986, we united to depose a seemingly all-powerful despot. This happened because of a miracle. We need another miracle to stop the widespread call to abandon ship, to stop the pervasive cynicism that feeds the evil and corrupt political set-up that alienates daily, millions of people who do not seek much, just a little less suffering, a little more justice, a little more truthfulness.
Now is the time for us to live our faith. Now is the time for us to gather courage to defend what we believe in. The time for careful analysis and reflection coupled with inaction is past. I did that for 20 years. What other people will think is not as important as to what I will think of myself if I do not do this today.
TV is a hard and unforgiving master. There is very little time and you need to come up with clear, brief and substantive answers. Behind every reply is the reality that you will always be held accountable for your words. I need to become good at this. Unlike the other candidates, some of whom spent their careers in media, the interview yesterday was only the third in my life. Due to the death of VHS and because we don't have a DVD recorder, I only got to see myself from a replay. I know that other people hire coaches for this sort of thing.
In a political campaign though, television has become indispensable and there is no escaping from it. Lacking the material means to compete head to head with my infinitely better funded opponents, Jess, Adrian and I have had to scramble for these ever so ephemeral but free television appearances. I am going get good at this.
Friday, March 2, 2007
This must be my first Tagalog title ever but since I speak Tagalog almost exclusively while campaigning, expect a gradual increase in phrases and sentences in the vernacular.
I was interviewed on television today together with my running mate Jess Paredes and English Professor Danton Remoto who is also in the Senate race. Unfortunately, Danton is running as an independent because he can't seem to get his Ladlad ("to bare") party "accredited". This may be due to the fact that the party is composed of openly gay persons. We continue to have an intolerable number of bigots in the country. This is a major societal change that we must work hard to achieve.
Jess and I strongly tried to convince Danton to join our party. We think that Danton is a good, well-educated and virtuous man who will only enrich Ang Kapatiran. I hope that he will decide to join us.