Wednesday, July 30, 2008


The mind is like a parachute, it works best when it is open.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Why We Have Been Left Behind

Politically conscious Filipinos are wondering what GMA has to say when she delivers her “SONA”, the State Of the Nation Address. Peering from very far away, whatever she has to say does not matter much. We are so far behind. I spent the weekend partly in a place called Kremlin, OK, less than a thousand inhabitants. The First Bank of Kremlin has over $200 million in assets. Town was formerly called Wild Horse until the Russian Ambassador’s daughter, on a railway stopover more than a hundred years ago, commented that the place reminded her of the Kremlin back home.

Kremlin has a Case dealership, you know, like John Deere, manufacturer of farm “implements”. Had some photos taken, next to a tractor that can haul very heavy equipment:

Or a seeder that can easily scatter palay at a rate of 2500 hectares per day.

A Combine, equipped with GPS, fully airconditioned with satellite radio that with the appropriate “head” can till, plant and harvest for an entire province.

My next door neighbor, who farmed until he was 82 years old single-handedly managed 5 sections (or 1294 hectares) of land. This is how productive American farmers are, compared to their counterparts in the Philippines who manage an average of 2 hectares of land with the assistance of a water buffalo. The tractor shown above has a sticker price of $250,000 while the Combine lists at $340,000. Our government officials almost succeeded in skimming off $340 million with one broadband deal. This pathetically illustrates why we are so far behind in productivity.
So the next time some apologist starts justifying how this politician passed this bill requiring teachers to pass a certain kind of test or mandating the singing of the national anthem before the screening of the first feature film in a movie theater or to demand candidates to submit to non-random drug testing, think again, because it will take many quantum leaps for us to even catch a view of the competition pulling away at the edge of the horizon.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"The Timidity of Hope"

The Inquirer editorial today took exception with the pronouncements of a young politician who got 18 million votes in the last election. Excerpts from “The Timidity of Hope”:

“With 2010—and beyond—dancing before their eyes, politicians have taken to courting the youth. No one has been better at it than Sen. Francis Escudero, who has in many ways presented himself as the incarnation of what Barack Obama has called “the audacity of hope.” But it must be asked if its Philippine version isn’t the exact opposite, for we are troubled by the mixed messages Escudero has been sending out.

Referring to the present dispensation and his political plans, Escudero has said, “We have already suffered and sacrificed for seven years, what is two years?” This is a cunning statement, at once reinforcing his opposition credentials while paving the way to give the present suspects a free pass should they relinquish power.

He laid the predicate for this some weeks back when he said: “GMA [President Arroyo] is not running in 2010, and it would be unfair to the people if presidential candidates should still use her as an issue. Any candidate who runs on an anti-GMA platform is insulting the intelligence of the people. The people will vote for a presidential candidate because of what he or she intends to do if victorious, not because he or she is against GMA.”

This is taking the high road to enable the highwaymen to escape. It ignores the demand of the studentry in recent months both for accountability and for democratic processes to function. It is being said, however, in such a seductive way as to disguise not just political pragmatism, but opportunism. Escudero has been making these statements in the context of administration coalition overtures to his party, the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), and talk of administration support for an NPC presidential and vice-presidential slate on which Escudero might possibly star.

So young—and so out of touch?”

But what do we expect to come out of a system that emphasizes superficial qualities and celebrates people who achieve their goals through sheer ambition and self-interest? Our country has come to a crossroads, those who can, flee, while those who can lord it over the unfortunate masses engage in an elaborate charade that belies a democratic form of governance.

Nothing can be further from reality. We are not talking about Republicans and Democrats here. It is every selfish interest against everyone’s else. Ideals and principles have long been cast aside. We have masters who tell us everything we want to hear.

Examine the credentials of all these poseurs. You rise when you compromise. Can we anticipate real and lasting change from a stable of non-performers? Just look at the desperate mess we find ourselves, mainly out of the faith and trust we have historically assigned to all these promising politicians. We must learn to properly evaluate results and effects.

10,000 miles away, I think of all the time and treasure spent in futile deliberation and discussion by all these powerful and potent players in ornate chambers and session halls amid a sea of squalor and poverty and yes, hopelessness.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Blog Rounds: Unsung Heroes

In our country, “Hero” is an honorific title bestowed upon persons who sacrifice greatly for the common good and yet are routinely screwed by an order controlled by a small group of entrenched parasites who live off the labors of these heroes. This is how it’s been all these years, first by our benevolent colonizers and then sadly by our own fellow Filipinos.

Soldiers, members of some religious orders, farmers and lately overseas workers have been given this all-purpose label. These privileged people are free to give their lives for the sake of the common weal for as long as they don’t disrupt the parasitic lifestyle of the freeloaders.

There are hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who have been toiling all these years under very trying circumstances who have never received a smidgen of the recognition and gratitude they thoroughly deserve. These are our teachers, particularly those who taught us in grade school and in high school. They have always been poorly paid, relative to the education and preparation they have attained. They have always been convenient to blame for our many societal ills. They have always been easy to mobilize whenever elections come around. They have always made up for the enormous deficiencies brought about by poor governance. I don’t know how these people do it, every day facing impossibly long odds teaching malnourished students in cramped, stuffy ramshackle classrooms using outdated and inaccurate textbooks.

In cinema, a sure way of rousing the audience is to portray a beleaguered band of people desperately fighting a lost cause. Think 300 Spartans, Custer, Light Brigade, Bataan….there is something romantic in lost causes. Unfortunately for our teachers in the Philippines, life does not imitate art. Yet.

It is up to us to work for higher salaries for all these teachers who have dedicated their lives towards giving many of us a chance to make our contribution to our communities. It is for us to ensure that their retirement benefits are not squandered by political appointees with self-serving agendas. It is for you and me to become teachers ourselves and help guide the youth through our example.

In the end, Heroes need no songs and paeans. The knowledge of having influenced students and inspiring them to work and live for ideals bigger than themselves is more than adequate reward.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Line Was Crossed

My medical practice consists in large measure of immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala. Hardworking men and women who have left their families to perform jobs that are deemed undesirable by most people here. They contribute to the productivity of the US and a large chunk of their earnings are automatically directed towards funds (Medicare and Social Security) that they will never be able to benefit from.

We need to act less like the law-obsessed Pharisees and recognize the humanity that unites all of us.

An editorial from the New York Times:

The Shame of Postville, Iowa

Anyone who has doubts that this country is abusing and terrorizing undocumented immigrant workers should read an essay by Erik Camayd-Freixas, a professor and Spanish-language court interpreter who witnessed the aftermath of a huge immigration workplace raid at a meatpacking plant in Iowa.

The essay chillingly describes what Dr. Camayd-Freixas saw and heard as he translated for some of the nearly 400 undocumented workers who were seized by federal agents at the Agriprocessors kosher plant in Postville in May.

Under the old way of doing things, the workers, nearly all Guatemalans, would have been simply and swiftly deported. But in a twist of Dickensian cruelty, more than 260 were charged as serious criminals for using false Social Security numbers or residency papers, and most were sentenced to five months in prison.

What is worse, Dr. Camayd-Freixas wrote, is that the system was clearly rigged for the wholesale imposition of mass guilt. He said the court-appointed lawyers had little time in the raids’ hectic aftermath to meet with the workers, many of whom ended up waiving their rights and seemed not to understand the complicated charges against them.

Dr. Camayd-Freixas’s essay describes “the saddest procession I have ever witnessed, which the public would never see” — because cameras were forbidden.

“Driven single-file in groups of 10, shackled at the wrists, waist and ankles, chains dragging as they shuffled through, the slaughterhouse workers were brought in for arraignment, sat and listened through headsets to the interpreted initial appearance, before marching out again to be bused to different county jails, only to make room for the next row of 10.“

He wrote that they had waived their rights in hopes of being quickly deported, “since they had families to support back home.” He said that they did not understand the charges they faced, adding, “and, frankly, neither could I.”

No one is denying that the workers were on the wrong side of the law. But there is a profound difference between stealing people’s identities to rob them of money and property, and using false papers to merely get a job. It is a distinction that the Bush administration, goaded by immigration extremists, has willfully ignored. Deporting unauthorized workers is one thing; sending desperate breadwinners to prison, and their families deeper into poverty, is another.

Court interpreters are normally impartial participants and keep their opinions to themselves. But Dr. Camayd-Freixas, a professor of Spanish at Florida International University, said he was so offended by the cruelty of the prosecutions that he felt compelled to break his silence. “A line was crossed at Postville,” he wrote.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Still Here

This must be the longest period that I haven't written an entry in this blog. It's because I've been back to tending our medical clinic since the end of last month. My wife and I are introducing our new physician to the community and we've been showing him the ropes. Right now, we are four doctors working in the clinic and we've kept busy.

America keeps you productive. We help keep other people productive by taking care of their respiratory infections, allergies, sprains, and headaches. We prevent complications arising from hypertension , diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, cigarette smoking. We see to it that their kids stay healthy so they can put in a full day at work. We try to keep them slim and trim.

Healthcare is an obviously integral component in any society that wishes to remain competitive. Healthy children learn much faster than their malnourished and unvaccinated cohorts. In the Philippines, where there is barely any healthcare I can only shudder at the staggering number of hours lost from unhealthy workers and their dependents.

When I check out the news at home and all I read about are the political ambitions of our entrenched dynastic scions amid the permanently high oil prices, the weakening peso and the looming food shortages, I wonder what role industrious, productive and overseas citizens have in all this. Must we simply remain reliable remitters sustaining a corrupt and shameful order where we have no place and no voice?

The easier option is to keep things the way they are. We stay out, comfortable and secure and regularly assuage our continued commitment to our families. But even this behavior has become a major part of the reason why our country is becoming less self-sufficient. Dependability is a virtue until it breeds weak dependents.