Monday, January 28, 2008

Hillary Clinton for President

My wife finally became a US citizen a few months ago because it was important for her to participate in the 2008 elections. We had dutifully paid our taxes, employed 15 people, followed the law all those years but because we did not want to renounce our Filipino citizenship, a prerequisite to naturalization, we were disqualified from voting and running for public office.

All our children were born in the US and we are disturbed by the growing divisiveness in US society that is fuelling the power of the Republican right wing and securing their disproportionate voice in the formation of the national agenda.

Many Americans believe that the continuing occupation of Iraq is a favor to the Iraqi people. Many like to believe that it is worth the close to 4000 American lives to depose a tyrant like Saddam as long as they stop asking why the US allowed a dictator like the recently deceased Suharto to kill many many times more people to get away and die in peace.

Many Americans believe that the majority of illegal immigrants are freeloading off the system and taking away more than they are putting in. Many like to believe that jobs they consider beneath their station and dignity are better left unfilled; that these immigrants pay into plans like Medicare and social security even if they will never get anything from their contributions.

Many Americans believe that the US is a major contributor of aid to poorer countries. Many like to believe that the US is feeding the world for free and distributing free medications when in reality, the biggest beneficiaries are countries like Israel, Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan and these nations are forced to buy arms and ammunition with the “assistance” they receive. The US lags far behind Europe and Japan in terms of aid as a percentage of GDP.

Many Americans believe that the pursuit and attainment of happiness is their birthright. Many like to believe that irrespective of what situation you are emerging from, the playing field is level. You work hard and you bask in the rewards of your prodigious exertions. Never mind the weak, the defenseless, the poor and those simply shit out of luck. Less taxes, 0% down payment, max out the credit cards, take a third home equity loan--who is going to contract cancer anyway? Who is going to have an MI? The kids will turn out stronger individuals if they acquire and pay for their own educational loans. Life is too short and we need to gorge on whatever it has to offer.

If I could vote, I would vote for Hillary Clinton. My wife and I drove to Little Rock in 1990 when her husband was governor. We attended the inauguration of Bill Clinton in DC in 1993. I was so impressed with Hillary Clinton when she visited Brooklyn in 1994 when she was trying to pass revolutionary health care reform. That was when I realized that if you want to change a nation, you go by the political route. This is a woman who is extremely gifted and who is viscerally hated by many for reasons that are totally unfounded. Just stop for a moment and try to think of a single reason why she should deserve this hatred. And then ask why you would not hold other politicians to this same standard.

In 2004, shortly after reading “Dreams from My Father”, I remember telling my wife that it was time for us to return to the Philippines. It was a powerfully inspiring book from a State Senator from Illinois who had lost a congressional race. I am all for transformational change that my America badly needs but I know in my heart, as a minority, that the US electorate is not yet ready for a black man to become President. Many people will tell you they will vote for Obama but alone in the voting booth, a lifetime of conditioning will keep them from casting the right vote. John McCain would have made a good President in 2000 but his all-out support for the war in Iraq has sadly quashed his heroic qualities. We have had enough of these Republicans for now.

The wonderful aspect to all this is the excitement being generated by Obama’s candidacy. It will wake up the young people in the US and make them become more socially conscious. With the support of the Democratic heavyweights going to Obama, the primaries will cease becoming a coronation pageant. Hillary Clinton will have to work hard for the nomination but this is one reason why I have faith that my America will rouse from all this ennui resulting from the sub prime mortgage fiasco, the recession, the debilitating war, the intolerance: when America begins believing again in its fundamental character of faith, fair play and respect for the common good.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Love and Yeats

My youngest sister who is 14 years younger than I am got married last week. There is no better way to capture romance than poetry and nobody could write about love better than Yeats. “Brown Penny” was made famous by the recitation of Christopher Plummer in the film “Must Love Dogs”.

I whispered, 'I am too young,'
And then, 'I am old enough';
Wherefore I threw a penny
To find out if I might love.
'Go and love, go and love, young man,
If the lady be young and fair.'
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
I am looped in the loops of her hair.

O love is the crooked thing,
There is nobody wise enough
To find out all that is in it,
For he would be thinking of love
Till the stars had run away
And the shadows eaten the moon.
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
One cannot begin it too soon.

We grow old and I think I’ve featured “When You are Old and Gray” in an earlier post, but here’s another favorite, “The Song of Wandering Aengus”. You want poetry of the highest quality?

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

My family, very much caught in this OFW phenomenon was at last complete for the first time in 18 years.

Monday, January 21, 2008

St. Crispen's Day Speech

My friend and classmate in Albany, NY emailed our high school egroup asking for assistance. Seems that it is a big tradition in his son’s school to hold declamation contests. Last year, his son Xavier recited the soliloquy from Julius Caesar beginning with “O Pardon me Thou Bleeding Piece of Earth”.

I suggested Henry V’s stirring speech in the Battle of Agincourt to rouse his outnumbered, dysentery-racked troops fighting in France facing annihilation (even if after 600 years it was established that Shakespeare made full use of his poetic license to exaggerate the odds a bit).

This speech is a favorite of mine because it is so romantic in proposing the idea that even a grand design, like retaking an entire country need not require the cooperation of the majority. All it takes is a tight committed group of people fighting for the honor of defending their nation.

O that we now had here But one ten thousand of those men in England That do no work to-day!

What's he that wishes so? My cousin Westmoreland?
No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark'd to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God's peace!
I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have.
O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day.
Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter, Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

General Homma

About the time Magellan washed up our shores, Daidoji Yuzan wrote: “one who is samurai must, before all things, keep constantly in mind, by day and by night…..that he has to die”. Masaharu Homma was born in 1888, 11 years after the leader of the unsuccessful Satsuma Rebellion, Saigo Takamori, among the last of the samurai committed seppuku. Homma wanted to become a writer but was drawn by the “pitch of patriotism” brought about by the beginning of the Russo-Japanese War. He enrolled at the Military Academy and graduated at the top of his class.

He was sent as a military attaché to Britain, at that time an ally, and learned English. He was able to travel extensively around Europe. As a major, he lived for three years in India which he described as “the most fascinating country in the world”.

Despite his vast differences with the increasingly militaristic ideology pervading in Japan, Homma rose to become a general, assigned to various commands in China. In November of 1941 he was given a few weeks to prepare for the invasion of the Philippines. Homma wrote “War against the USA would be a disaster, I knew, but I could not show any feeling in it, as … I would have been called a traitor”.

He was the commanding general who handed the Americans their largest surrender since Appomattox and dealt our favorite General Douglas MacArthur, the Hero of the Philippines with the worst defeat in his illustrious career. Ironically, Homma was retired in 1943 because he was deemed too lenient with the Filipinos and not aggressive enough in warfare. He spent the remainder of the war in Japan until he was extradited to Manila in 1945 by the victorious American forces. There was an International Tribunal in place in Tokyo but MacArthur insisted he was running the whole show.

The trial lasted three months. It took place in what is now the American Embassy. While vigorously denying that he had knowledge of the atrocities that were committed during the Bataan Death March, the outcome of the trial was never in doubt. Homma was executed by musketry in Los Banos on April 3, 1946.

Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy who had served as Philippine High Commissioner wrote a critical dissent that was also prophetic: “this nation’s very honor is at stake. Either we conduct such a trial as this in the spirit and atmosphere of our Constitution or we abandon all pretense to justice, let the ages slip away and descend to the level of revengeful blood purges. Apparently the die has been cast in favor of the latter course. Tomorrow the precedent here established can be turned against others… . No one can foresee the end of this failure of objective thinking and adherence to our high hopes of a new world… . A nation must not perish because, in the natural frenzy of the aftermath of war, it abandoned its central theme of the dignity of the human personality and due process of law.”

Homma spent a little over a year in the Philippines. He observed: “Filipinos needed more vocational education, more social efficiency, more sense of duty and obligation.” Homma could not understand why Filipinos were so loyal to their American masters from an altogether different continent and culture. He should have considered the fact that until that time, whatever “Filipino culture” consisted of shared experiences less than 100 years old. The Japanese had had it going for 5000 years already. Obviously, we have much to learn from Japanese culture. Jose Rizal broached the idea of founding an educational institution in Japan for the express purpose of training Filipino youth.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Zen and the Manufacture of Toyota Vehicles

Zen stands for “good” in Japanese. Kaizen means “change for the better”. It has been the system employed by Toyota Motors as a method of continuously improving production by encouraging all stakeholders of the company to experiment with subtle adjustments in order to minimize waste, defined as any activity that adds cost without increasing value. Methods which have been proven to enhance productivity are subsequently standardized.

Kaizen was institutionalized early on at Toyota and is responsible for the culture of disparate stakeholders getting together to continuously generate small improvements towards the unattainable goal of perfection. It helps explain how a large group of people can engage in seemingly monotonous labor for long periods and still achieve progressive growth.

Kaizen is not simply results-oriented. It continuously examines the various processes that produces results. In evaluating these processes it employs a constructive, non-blaming technique (blaming does not add value and is wasteful) and emphasizes systemic thinking, looking at the big picture in order to avoid problems down the line.

We must be able to study different models that are effective in enhancing productivity. This definition of insanity is attributed to Einstein: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Our country urgently needs to change for the better.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Pananagutan and Fr. Hontiveros

I’m trying to remember when I first heard that haunting song. It had been taught to us earlier especially since I was in a Jesuit grade school but I think the very first time I was struck by the lyrics as well as by the melody was when I was in a church attending a prayer rally for Ninoy Aquino who was on a hunger strike. Lorenzo Tanada, Soc Rodrigo, Jose Diokno, and other heavyweights were in attendance.

The English translation of the title of the song is “Brother to Brother”, directly translated from Tagalog it is “Responsibility”. The composer of the song is Eduardo Hontiveros, SJ who died yesterday. His song stays with us.

Despite never having any formal training in music Fr. Hontiveros was able to compose quite a number of memorable songs that stir our sacred chords. But my favorite remains “Pananagutan”: We don’t live or die for ourselves. We are responsible for one another. Whenever we love and serve others, we proclaim the saving power of God.

Walang sinuman ang nabubuhay
Para sa sarili lamang
Walang sinuman ang namamatay
Para sa sarili lamang

Tayong lahat ay may pananagutan sa isa't-isa
Tayong lahat ay tinipon ng Diyos na kapiling N'ya
Sa ating pagmamahalan At paglilingkod kanino man
Tayo ay nagdadala ng balita ng kaligtasan

Sabay-sabay ngang mag-aawitan
Ang mga bansa
Tayo'y tinuring ng Panginoon
Bilang mga anak

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Support Gov. Ed Panlilio

Ed Panlilio is a catholic priest in the Diocese of Pampanga. When Kapampangans realized in the last election that their choices for who was going to be governor of the province was unacceptably slim, many people urged parish priest Fr Panlilio to run. He was very very reluctant, his Bishop would not hear of it and so he prayed and prayed. Meanwhile, nobody wanted to take on the two traditional politicians whose war chests were bursting full. Most common excuse heard was: politics is not for me, I can help my country in some other way (another way of saying, let’s leave politics to our trusted, dependable politicians who will always do the right thing for the people).

Incredibly, Fr. Panlilio won by a slim margin. Of course his rival immediately filed a protest and paid for a recount which is currently unfolding. Scuttlebutt since October has it that the good father is certain to lose in the recount. And to cover all bases, all but 2 of the Mayors of the province are opposing Gov. Panlilio. Most of them are being uncooperative and are intentionally slowing things down, to demonstrate to everyone that a Governor who doesn’t play by the rules shouldn’t expect any help. Stories have appeared in the newspapers detailing plans to recall the Governor.

It’s just too bad because Fr. Panlilio was first thrust into the spotlight when Mount Pinatubo erupted. The province was plunged into total disaster and was literally buried under millions of tons of lahar (which is a compound of pyroclastic material and water). Panlilio was at the forefront of the giant rescue mission. Misfortune was converted into a blessing when it was discovered that the same lahar, cooled-down, made for first-rate construction material. This was the beginning of the fortune that could be made off the “quarrying” of lahar.

When he became Governor, Panlilio was able to collect from all the revenue of the quarrying a sum of money in one month that his traditional predecessor took 12 months to accumulate. See what happens when an upright person is minding the store. The problem is, honest business practices are anathema to the traditional political manner of doing business. Hence, Governor Ed Panlilio is seen as a threat.

We are all looking for ways to help our country. The struggle at hand will require sacrifice and it will not always be pleasant. How shall freedom be defended? MacLeish asked, and then replied: By arms when it is attacked by arms; by truth when it is attacked by lies; by democratic faith when it is attacked by authoritarian dogma. Always, and in the final act, by dedication and faith.

Together with other citizens appalled at the multiple improvised political traps that the enemies of Gov Panlilio are furiously setting, we made an appointment to see Among Ed and we expressed to him our full support and gave our cell phone numbers just in case he might need us. He is about as gentle as a human can get. He has vitiligo, which is a chronic skin condition that causes loss of pigmentation resulting in depigmented patches all over the body. Unfortunately, Fr Panlilio’s face is riddled with these patches.

You don’t have to go to the Pampanga Capitol. I don’t know what you can do to lend your support to the embattled Ed Panlilio. You will have to figure that one out yourself.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Gawad Kalinga

Most Filipinos continue to hope in their hearts for genuine conversion that will lift the overwhelming majority from dehumanizing poverty. Most Filipinos are willing to work and sacrifice for revolutionary reform even if it means sowing the seeds of change today for results that will be realized past our lifetime.

Gawad Kalinga is 7 years old. It is a movement that strives mightily to provide decent housing for squatters. Forget for a moment that 70% of Filipinos are landless and despite the phenomenal good press that GK has been receiving, the people behind GK will be the first to admit that the surface of the massive problem is hardly being scratched. I want you to momentarily forget these realities because I want you to be convinced that it is very possible for our country to be transformed within a short period of time. It can happen and it can happen quickly.

The movement began in a squatter colony (curiously named Bagong Silang or newborn) of a million people. Crime, hunger, disease and hopelessness reigned. A few well-meaning people thought that if you slightly improved the horrible living conditions of these unfortunate persons by painting their shacks and planting some shrubs, you would be restoring a portion of their humanity and cause them to live less like animals whose overriding instinct is to survive and more like productive individuals concerned about the future.

The experiment worked because the hypothesis, which was not exactly original or cutting-edge science was simple and sound. Treat your fellow person like you would treat your neighbor, with dignity and respect and they begin behaving like humans once again.

I saw how children who live in the notorious “Smoky Mountain”, dumpsite to the waste products of 5 million people, were able to participate in a fairly complex dance routine that was choreographed by artists from the Cultural Center of the Philippines. I heard children from the rough neighborhood of Tatalon sing a native version of “Birdland”, a cappella. Listen to these kids, watch them dance and you will know that it is possible.

If you are searching for a way to help our country, check out Gawad Kalinga

Friday, January 11, 2008

Bohemian Rhapsody

Galileo Galilei (b. 1564) is my favorite scientist. A genius who worked hard all his life seeking truth. He is to scientists as Thomas More is to lawyers: the King’s good servant, but God’s first. Unfortunately his life was made supremely miserable by the most well-meaning persons including the Jesuit saint Robert Bellarmine.

Galileo was sent to a monastery for his early education. He was attracted to the monastic way of life and became a novice. His father wanted him to become a medical doctor however and pulled him out and enrolled him at the University of Pisa.

He never finished his medical studies because he spent most of his time studying mathematics. He taught mathematics for 21 years first in Pisa and then in Padua. His famous quote on mathematics appeared in one of his books: “Philosophy is written in this grand book, the universe, which stands continually open to our gaze. But the book cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and read the characters in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these one is wandering in a dark labyrinth.”

He remained devout and devoted to his work, his 2 daughters became nuns.

In 1609 he invented the telescope and within a two month period of observing the evening skies, he arguably made more scientific discoveries than anyone before or since. He firmly belonged to the Copernican camp but was purposely quiet on the matter not wanting to stir controversy.

In 1616 Cardinal Bellarmine was ordered to meet with the other cardinals of the Inquisition to decide upon Copernican theory. Theological experts were summoned and the theories of Copernicus were formally condemned. Bellarmine personally informed Galileo of this decision and was explicitly forbidden to support the studies of Copernicus. Galileo was largely unmoved because his friend and supporter Maffeo Barberini subsequently became Pope Urban VIII.

Partly to aid in the defense of a student Galileo published in 1632 the quaint and esoteric Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Systems of the World - Ptolemaic and Copernican. Much like what was in vogue at that time, it reports upon the dialogue between Salviati, who argues for the Copernican system, and Simplicio who is an Aristotelian philosopher. Shortly after publication, the Inquisition banned its sale and ordered Galileo to be tried.
Because Copernican theory had been heretofore declared false, Galileo didn’t stand a chance and was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Galileo died a heretic and even though he stated in his will that he wished to be buried at the family crypt inside a Basilica his relatives rightfully expected retribution from the Church and it would take close to a hundred years for this wish to be fulfilled, and even at that time, amidst great opposition.

In 1992, 350 years after Galileo's death, Pope John Paul II admitted that errors had been made by the theological advisors in the trial of Galileo. He brought closure on the case without admitting that the Church was wrong to convict Galileo at that time on a charge of heresy because of his belief that the Earth rotates round the sun.

My admiration for Galileo has only grown with my years of practice as a physician. I am confronted, daily with the problems of patients who seek my counsel because they are looking for other opinions. I have been guided, all these years by what Galileo had written long ago: “I do not think it is necessary to believe that the same God who has given us our reason and our intelligence wishes us to abandon the use of our reason or intelligence in living our lives”.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Our Damaged Culture

Twenty years ago, I found myself in a heated discussion with my seatmate aboard a USAir flight. He was an American veteran of World War II who had spent a year in the Philippines and we were talking about the Atlantic Monthly article of James Fallows that had appeared a few months earlier. The veteran began by professing his deep love for the Philippines and profound respect for the Filipino people but confided to me that he agreed with the conclusion of Fallows: our culture was damaged.

Remember that we had just overthrown Marcos at that time and we were all full of hope and nationalism was running high. Our time had arrived and we were going to prove to the world we could be as productive as the rest of our neighbors. I blamed everybody and ascribed our national failure to historical precedents and worldwide economic upheavals. Everything and everybody but our very own selves and our culture.

Twenty years later, I revisited the article and discovered an entirely different reading. Fallows had been divining from a crystal ball. Only his conclusion was off. Consider these paragraphs: “The countries that surround the Philippines have become the world's most famous showcases for the impact of culture on economic development. Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore--all are short on natural resources, but all (as their officials never stop telling you) have clawed their way up through hard study and hard work. Unfortunately for its people, the Philippines illustrates the contrary: that culture can make a naturally rich country poor.”

“It seems to me that the prospects for the Philippines are about as dismal as those for, say, South Korea are bright. In each case the basic explanation seems to be culture: in the one case a culture that brings out the productive best in the Koreans (or the Japanese, or now even the Thais), and in the other a culture that pulls many Filipinos toward their most self-destructive, self-defeating worst.”

The article even quoted Benigno Aquino Jr as he began his political career to illustrate the intractability of the problems: "Here is a land in which a few are spectacularly rich while the masses remain abjectly poor. . . . Here is a land consecrated to democracy but run by an entrenched plutocracy. Here, too, are a people whose ambitions run high, but whose fulfillment is low and mainly restricted to the self-perpetuating elite.”

I was faintly aware of the demoralizing effect this article had on many Filipinos because during this entire period I lived and worked in the US. I was busy testing my own mettle and determining whether I could compete in a country that attracted the most competitive people. Returning to the Philippines made me painfully aware of Fallows’ prescience. He was mostly right and we continued to be left behind even by countries that had seemed so unlikely to progress 20 years ago.

What made the article devastating then was the utter gloom in his concluding paragraph: “It may be too pessimistic to think of culture as a kind of large-scale genetics, channeling whole societies toward progress or stagnation. A hundred years ago not even the crusading Emperor Meiji would have dreamed that "Japanese culture' would come to mean "efficiency.' America is full of people who have changed their "culture' by moving away from the old country or the home town or the farm. But a culture-breaking change of scene is not an answer for the people still in the Philippines--there are 55 million of them, where would they go?--and it's hard to know what else, within our lifetimes, the answer might be.”

James Fallows could not fathom at that time that it was indeed possible to move 10 million Filipinos to other countries where they would be left on their own and be forced to confront the stark reality of becoming productive or else fail and flounder. The answer was there all along, a mass re-education for 10 million Filipinos that would definitively prove that we had it within ourselves to change our destiny.

Now I just smile whenever pundits analyze the origins of our national illness. How our postwar leaders should not have allowed parity with other powerful economies; how a federal system will eliminate the inequality in wealth distribution; how “genuine” land reform will eradicate homelessness; how pervasive corruption sucks up funds meant for health and education and infrastructure and discourages foreign investments; how sending convicted ex Presidents to prison will instill justice.

Not in our stars, in ourselves. The answers are literally out there, everywhere, in almost every nation on earth where fellow Filipinos strive daily to reclaim what we rightfully deserve: security, health, education, a way of life that does not debase but rather upholds our humanity.