Duterte at 365 days: fixer-President

Jose C. Sison in his Philippine Star article Unity in uncertainty writes,

the lingering questions that remain unanswered in the minds of our countrymen especially in the affected areas, are: why no preemptive action was taken to prevent the siege? Why the members of terror groups were able to carry out their plan and infiltrate the city with seeming ease? Why Marawi City? Are there many sympathizers of the group there as would enable them to stage a rebellion or uprising that led to the declaration of martial law in Mindanao? Is there really a rebellion happening in Marawi City now?

Maybe if these questions are satisfactorily answered, our people will be more united in supporting the moves of this administration and in praying that the fighting in Marawi City will soon come to an end.

The answer doesn’t have to always come from Malacanan or those the people elect, rather it should first and foremost come from the governed as a result of doing their part as good citizens. If the masses of Filipinos only make an effort to read more and often, invest in a home library, or visit and support their local libraries instead of always holding unnecessary fiestas (every month or so!) and boozing themselves to death, we should’ve all known by now that

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is likely to create branches in the Philippines and Indonesia this year.

Although the Indonesian military pre-empted ISIS plans to declare a satellite state of the so-called caliphate in eastern Indonesia, ISIS is determined to declare at least one province in Asia in 2016.

The creation of training camps will lure not only South-east Asians but also other nationalities – from Australians to Chinese Uighurs – who cannot easily reach Syria. The nationalities trained in the new ISIS province, and seeking to carry out the ISIS vision, are likely to be a threat to their home countries.

Just this month, ISIS announced the unification of four battalions in the Philippines and the allegiance of their leaders to Baghdadi.

Ansarul Khilafah Philippines is the group that pledged allegiance to ISIS in August 2014. After it did so, it released a video threatening to deploy suicide bombers in the Philippines and make the country a “graveyard” for American soldiers. On two occasions, attempts by the group to transport weapons to Mujahidin Indonesia Timur were disrupted by the Philippine National Police working with their Indonesian counterparts.

Based in South Cotabato province, Sarangani province and General Santos City, Ansarul Khilafah Philippines is led by Abu Sharifah, who is also fluent in Tagalog.

The Philippines has been an important arena for domestic, regional and global terrorist groups for 20 years.

The ISIS-initiated merger of the fighting formations and unification of the leaders will present an unprecedented challenge to Manila. As the “soldiers of the caliphate” in the Philippines, they will mount operations that will increasingly mirror those of the ISIS core in Syria and Iraq. There is no better time for the Philippine government to act. If the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, President Benigno Aquino, procrastinates, ISIS ideology will spread, gravely damaging the peace process. The four ISIS “battalions” will grow in strength, size and influence and present an enduring challenge to his successors.

ISIS in Philippines a threat to region, Rohan Gunaratna, January 12, 2016, Straits Times

Same with the other threats to human security- illegal drug use, criminality, insurgency, and corruption. These did not suddenly happen during the current President’s time or watch. In a way then we could call him the fixer-President. But imagine the burden (of past inactions) on the shoulders of this 72-year old, foremost, that to his life from red ants scampering to get out of their mounds that are under attack. History is replete with stories about belated recognition of sincere and genuine leaders.

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“Disasters are interesting…”

flooding in agusan del sur

Disasters are interesting because they tell us something about human behavior. The disaster calls upon the community to respond and exploring these community responses provides information about how a community functions, treat outsiders, and rises to new challenges.

Community responses also inform us about cultures, the habitual ways of doing things, and the meaning ascribed to these patterns of action, about what is normal and abnormal behavior in a given community and of how this can be stretched to its outer limits by the circumstances. 

Diane Bretherton, Community resilience in natural disasters


Note: The statement in the image translates: “This flooding happens every year, here, in Agusan del Sur. We’re used to it.”

On the latest developments in the PDAF scam

After what seemed like a lifetime, it was finally time for the opening statements of Catherine London’s trial… It wasn’t that there hadn’t been pretrial motions—there had. Catherine’s attorneys had filed almost every one possible. They’d requested a change in venue, to no avail. They’d filed challenge after challenge to the evidence and the witnesses. There was a plethora of expert witnesses who were expected to testify for the prosecution. Catherine’s attorneys had challenged every one of them. At one point they’d even attempted to have the charges dismissed. Since the grand jury had convened and found probable cause, the likelihood of a dismissal was low; nevertheless, they gave it a shot. It seemed like her attorneys were following a handbook on how to delay trial proceedings and checking each box as they went.

Catherine was led into the courtroom. Quickly assessing her, Brent saw that she’d lost weight in prison and allowed her hair to go gray. The end result was that she appeared older and frailer. She definitely appeared older than her true fifty-three years… From his eye, Catherine appeared to be more a frail grandmother, than a serial murderer. He hoped it wouldn’t work.

As the Simmonses and Vandersols listened, the US Attorney… spin a well-fabricated web for the jury. If Brent hadn’t known it to be true, he would have questioned its veracity. For small-town America, it was a thriller!

Unfortunately, the story wasn’t a novel, and it wasn’t fiction. Innocent lives had been lost and others destroyed…

Brent prayed that it was a hit out of the park. After everyone who’d suffered, he wanted the frail woman at the front table to die a lonely death in a lonely cell. It wasn’t a nice wish, but it was the one he harbored.

– Chap. 18, Behind His Eyes-Convicted: The Missing Years, companion book to Consequences series by Aleatha Romig

Battle of Bessang Pass: 69th anniversary

Today marks the 69th anniversary of the monumental win by Filipino guerillas over Japanese soldiers at Bessang Pass, Cervantes, Ilocos Sur. I got to visit the Monument around 13 years ago only because we were in Vigan at the time. Otherwise, we went by the usual route via Mankayan from Halsema Highway. From Vigan, Tagudin was the last town that’s on flat terrain before we hit the zigzaggy road toward Cervantes. We were then working with the Cervantes local government, assisting with a socio-economic survey which they’d use as basis for development planning. If it weren’t for this work, I don’t think I’d have marked Cervantes as among places “to visit” in my personal itinerary. The town is quite isolated. Depending on where you’re ultimately headed the town is bordered by three Provinces – Mankayan (Benguet), Tagudin (llocos Sur) and Tadian (Mt. Province). One can actually hike to Mankayan and Tadian. Only locals could know the other hidden ways on that landscape, an advantage in a way and I guess one of the reasons Filipino guerillas won the battle. Geography does matter.

The road wasn’t completely cemented then. Very narrow – barely holding two vehicles at once across and the few times that we met a vehicle our driver had to edge perilously close to the side. Inside the van, we didn’t dare move because there weren’t railings or such structures then and the fall could be thousands of feet down. This was about all the horror we met up there. Otherwise, I was struck with the majestic sight of the mountain jungle, high waterfalls, and obscure silence. Breathtaking unadulterated nature. With a bloody history too.

The Monument is a little way off the road. We posed for photos. No digicams yet that time. We read the inscription and thought about the strong sense of duty, bravery, and native skill shown by the “common tao”. Many of these guerillas were local farmers known only within their villages (fast forward to today, it’s heartbreaking that as a group they are among the most marginalized in Philippine society.). Who was it who said that the decisive and resounding battles are hard fought in private places or places unknown to many? The Monument being out of the way of many Filipino’s roadmap, only locals who traverse that way – and they’re not plenty – or the few but growing in number who goes out of the usual tourist places are able to pay homage on site. When one’s there one could almost hear the fog or the mountain air singing about the state of these men, even in death: Lonely are the brave.

It’s significant that the Battle’s anniversary this year falls a day before Father’s Day. The Filipino fathers who fought in that Battle with everything they’ve got so that their families and ultimately their country will be free are specially remembered.

Some Demand Side Issues in the Philippine Energy Crisis

My idea of ‘crisis’ is the sun and stars falling out of the sky or earth spinning out of orbit. The rest, it’s all traceable to human decisions and actions and therefore within human control. But in trying to resolve the crisis, we can get stuck with the problem because we’re solving it by drawing up new permutations of the old way. New wine in old bottles will render the new as blah. Utilities, like parking, is primarily seen at least in this country as a problem of supply. To the extent that electricity hasn’t reached all areas, the inefficient management of local supply, renewable energy largely unexplored in areas where it is feasible, and prices unregulated hence unfair to consumers who don’t use much (compared to management of utilities in developed countries) it is a supply issue. But in as far as brown-outs are frequently occurring (“energy crisis”) in serviced areas, I think the big slice of the problem comes from the demand side.

Take public or government buildings, to start. How many have been (re)designed and (re)fitted after the launch of EPIRA and government-sponsored energy conserving materials? How many government offices use energy conserving equipment? There are throughout the country many underutilized public buildings, in terms of both space and manpower, but are “fully operating” – hence full usage of electricity – eight hours a day five days a week. Further, design is such that air-conditioning is needed throughout the workday.

The use of air-conditioning like poverty is part of a vicious cycle, to keep out environmental problems like poor air quality and noise pollution. (The consequence of this is, workers are so lengthily sheltered from the pollution that it doesn’t bother and infuriate them anymore. By the time they step out of buildings, the sun is down and rush hour is expected.) In other words, the more polluted the air the more air-conditioners are “needed” (which in turn heats up the outside air necessitating for more air-conditioners) which along with other related issues ultimately leads to a crisis of energy. What to do to keep down the use of these artificial air machines? Well start by cleaning the air.

Technology, that is, mobile devices (laptops, PDAs, phones, etc.) and software (teleconferencing, internet-based collaborative platforms, etc.) are at the core meant to ease up today’s work (instead of as merely for display and personal use) and contribute to savings in utilities and conservation of energy, so I don’t understand how come most offices (including private non-manufacturing firms) are underutilizing the potential in these modern tools. It’s a gross waste of resources (energy, for one) reporting to the workplace every work day and consuming massively in utilities along with other workers in the building yet producing only a quarter of your work planned for the day. What makes it not possible to work out with the boss and HR a flexible work schedule? The reason this is not applied at least at levels below senior positions is that management has not that mind-set yet otherwise it should’ve instigated the arrangement. Work is still thought of as distance multiplied by time; work wouldn’t be work if workers didn’t travel and report to their office base eight hours a day five days a week. Trust is also an issue, particularly on the part of management (how sure are we that workers working at home are not actually out in the movie house? In this, I’m for the 80-20 principle: allow them to “play” 20% of the time in order for them to produce 80% of the important work. If management believes workers have all the time before 8 AM and after 5 PM daily to recreate, it’s vampires they’re referring to.). For HR, flexible work plans implies that it would have to make a study (working patterns of individual workers, demand and supply of human resources (which begs the difficult question of do we really need this number of workers?), and the like which many HRs despite these being central to their role don’t do) to be able to plan with workers win-win work schedules. Organizations would also need to take in at least initially industrial engineers to work out the best workplace design given workers’ tasks and relations to one another that would ultimately redound to savings in and conservation of utilities (not to mention savings in all aspects for the organizations). Similarly, civil engineering and architecture have long studied how the natural elements can be “bent” with human tools and knowledge, but which are underutilized and sometimes snubbed here. Today’s changing environment (e.g. near depletion of resources and climate change) necessitates a science-based approach to how we do things – building material and design and design and geography of the workplace.

To illustrate, the library obviously would need lots of light but because of energy conservation natural light is harnessed with the bad UV rays filtered out (by the low eaves). Solar energy is harvested for heat as well as light. Normally the response to something as “beautiful” as this is, but we’re in the Third World that’s impossible here and for a library? But this is the sort of attitude – defeatist and stinginess for the wrong reason – that keeps us as Third World.

Appaloosa Library

And we haven’t looked into residences’ consumption pattern and behaviour yet.

What this is driving at is, much of the current supply of electricity is being used and wasted at a rate similar to yesterday when energy sources were relatively “abundant.” Technology has enabled the world to “defy” scarcity through innovation in processes and products. For one, it has rendered irrelevant the equation, work = distance x time. Modern tools have made it possible now to produce much work in the shortest time and even when physically immobile. Now, ‘distance’ has taken to mean the “distance” one’s mind can “travel” in order to produce ‘work.’ This is the knowledge and skill of the times (hence the so-called Knowledge Worker). Yet it seems while technology has gone ‘mobile’ we remain largely “immobile” in so far as adherence to traditional methods (which don’t help) is concerned.

Sustainable development in the Philippine Development Plan 2011-2016

This year, 2012, marks the culmination, if that is the right word, of the Agenda 21 and signatory countries’ reporting at Rio+20 Conference in June. In the country, Agenda 21 is localized into Philippine Agenda 21, and meant to be integrated in the national development plans.

The Philippine Development Plan 2011-2016 outlines the national development imperatives, these being inclusive growth and poverty reduction. Inclusive growth is defined within the parameters of: massive investment in physical infrastructure; transparent and responsive government; human development; employment generation for both wage- and self-employed. These shall be monitored in terms of, “growth in output and employment through higher investment that in turn should lead to poverty incidence being cut by half.”

Reading through the plan parameters, I thought about the PA21 and how inclusive growth is aligned with sustainable development considering that inclusive growth in the PDP 2011-2016 means “first of all, growth that is rapid enough to matter, given the country’s large population, geographical differences, and social complexity” while sustainable development “involves both a transition and a paradigm shift to ecosystems-based actions.”

In the PDP, the state of the country’s environment and natural resources shows, “major urban centers are polluted,” “solid waste remains to be a major source of pollutant,” “water is becoming scarcer,” “quality of farmlands is deteriorating and forested lands are shrinking,” “the country’s unique biodiversity is under severe pressure,” “coastal and marine resources are under threat,” “mineral resource development is delivering mixed results,” and “extreme vulnerability to environmental hazards and climate-related risks.” These reflect an unsustainable “development” over the years. And we haven’t even started on the road to rapid development “that matter” yet!

The PDP 2011-2016 is supposedly guided by the PA 21, but I don’t see real integration and address. Strategic goals relative to sustainable development are along, improved conservation, protection and rehabilitation of natural resources; improved environmental quality for a cleaner and healthier environment; enhanced resilience of natural systems and improved adaptive capacities of human communities to cope with environmental hazards including climate related risks. The desired “transition and paradigm shift” is not evident, in that sustainable development goals were not designed along desired results of inclusive (economic) growth.

For instance, how would the country’s goal toward rapid economic development not get in the way of further destruction and degradation of natural resources and systems? How would the country achieve global competitiveness yet be a low emitter of carbon? How would the country’s remaining farmland attain its full capacity in production on low carbon and other greenhouse gases? How would the country’s use of energy, forecasted and expected to grow along with rapid economic growth, contained within ‘smart’ limits? How would the country’s increasing population growth managed along the principle of (the land’s) carrying capacity? How would increasing consumerism, inevitable by-product of market economies, not produce massive increase in waste? What is the role of the country’s culture – good Filipino values, attitudes and practices – and minorities – children, women and indigenous people – in sustainable development? These are the core concerns of sustainable development yet the plan is silent on these. In fact these are the lessons to be gained from the journey made by developed countries now in the attainment of their industrialized status. Of inclusive growth, the discourse of sustainable development would say ‘inclusive’ planning would have to use the lens of the natural world and put natural resources, not just humans, at the center of economic growth.

If the current PDP was really influenced by principles in sustainable development, it would be an altogether different plan. In any case, there ought to be a review of the strategies after the first implementation year. A plan after all is not cast in stone.

Here we go again, another river bank community

I remember Cagayan de Oro as where many years ago I attended a discernment program to discern (whatever this means) whether I’m material for the convent. My journey was almost end-to-end, from Baguio to Manila and then by sea with stop over in Iloilo where the Order has a mission center. The place is Manresa Retreat Center, atop a hill (the Order has centers on hilltops, expected from its history beginning at Mt. Carmel) that has an astounding view of CDO valley (how could one not “meet” God at that vantage point?). After that, I returned to the city twice the latest in 2009 and each time it is Manresa I remember although I had not visited it again in my return.

Like most I couldn’t have known that the typhoon would bring that barrage of rain and water and to that city and just before Christmas. I was in Tagaytay doing short work for an organization when the warning was issued. My roommate, employed with the host organization, recently transferred to the DRR programme, and who attended a meeting at the OCD that day gave me the latest news. We remembered the fury of past typhoons visiting in December and hoped this typhoon would spare people on its path. We worried that it might change course and journey to say Baguio instead which meant I’d be either on the road accompanying it back home or spend Christmas away from home. But thank heavens that was not the case. A day after returning home, the bleak news was out. The first thing I remembered was the flash flood in Manila brought on by typhoon Ketsana/Ondoy, which I witnessed. I decided to spend the weekend in Manila then but the next day regretted the decision at the sight of the rising water on our street (I realized I could’ve met an untimely death, drowned or something all because of a decision!). I would never underestimate the power of flash floods after that.

It happened again and apparently there is a need to identify who is to be blamed. Families who put up residence on the water’s path? DENR for being blind to illegal massive logging? The LGU for sitting down on DRR? Well each was responsible but at the core of the problem is economics. With scant economic resources, families favor river banks because of the river’s free services such as water supply, flowing receptacle of household waste, and food source. Supposing these families are in subdivisions, they’d be evicted in no time for failure to pay the mortgage, garbage collection fee, water and electricity bills, and starve on the side as there’d be none left for food purchase. Being on the path of flood is a risk they are willing to live with rather than starve. Any human with sense will choose to survive even if it means doing so against all odds. Therefore developing and implementing a solid economic development plan and strategy is the best thing the government could do to reduce disaster risks. Regular dole outs of milk, pencils, and slippers are left-over trappings of feudalism. Filipinos are a hard working people and their dignity are worth more than what could be had from permanent charity.

And it happened on Christmas season, again. For those of us who try to discern the message behind significant events, the timing, in a way, opens up attention to the plight of those families. Now we know that in CDO there was a river bank community that government, knowing the danger, has not tried to relocate and provided with relocation assistance. (Government in view of the community’s poverty does not just tell it to relocate without some form of assistance. Such assistance is in fact part of DRR. The 4Ps are not the people’s taxes, it is an international loan hence government could not reason out that taxes have gone to fund 100% of the 4Ps. And why is this country doing 4Ps for god’s sake? Charity does not solve poverty.) It’s an irony that the government, the private sector invoking CSR, NGOs, and others concerned reached out to this community only after the disastrous event. Otherwise they would not do so. Must there be a dramatic scene first before we are moved to act?

Newspaper articles cited Pagasa as one to blame. On the other hand, Pagasa stations around the country are bereft of the equipment and technology to do precise weather forecast and microclimate monitoring and research. The scientific community has for a long time lacked funding from the government (feudalism does not exactly walk hand in hand with scientific thinking). If I’m the decision-maker, my top three institutions for funding in the next five years are: education (basic and vocational), the scientific community, infrastructure development in the countryside. Fourth would be national security. It is scientific inventions that propel nations toward solid economic progress: Sony in Japan, Samsung in South Korea, discoveries and patents of Western countries. Scientific and technology inventions are the stuff of progress and this government is throwing away this country’s future in ignoring its scientists and inventors.

A typhoon and a flood we see but there is more to it than what meets the eye. The rampage of the floodwaters are like the intermittent rush of pain brought on by sickness, the sickness of this government and this country. In addressing the pain one has to know the sickness and in order to treat the sickness one needs to know its historical development in the afflicted.