Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Taxi Strand

Every year beginning In December, there's an increase in traffic in Metro Manila as more people are out and about doing their Christmas shopping, attending holiday parties, etc. So along with more private vehicles on the road, there's also a greater demand on public transportation.  But this year it seems especially acute for some reason, especially when it comes to the (un)availability of taxis.

To prevent disorder and confusion, most shopping malls and some mixed use business residential areas such as  Eastwood City provide taxi bays where passengers are required to line up and await their turn for the next cab, Usually, there is a string or at least a couple taxis waiting for them anyway; so it's win-win for taxi drivers and passengers alike.

But over the past week or so, no matter what day of the week or time of the day, I've observed and personally experienced situations where there are these queues but no taxis at hand to accommodate them. One evening last week my wife Lydia and I waited in line in Eastwood for almost two hours. Granted it was raining and during evening rush hour. But the other day during early afternoon and in good weather, there was also a lack of cabs, this time  in Cubao, a popular shopping locale in Quezon City.  I was in a hurry and taking a chance by leaving the taxi bay where I had been waiting for awhile, I finally managed to catch one further up the street. Lydia also had a long wait late morning yesterday at another mall where she had been dropped off by a bus on her return trip from the province. Carrying baggage didn't make the delay any easier.

So if you don't drive and are planning to take a taxi in Metro-Manila between now and Christmas especially for a trip that involves a shopping area,  be sure to allow extra time (at least an hour during rush hour) and consider other forms of public transportation. Alternatively,  see if it's possible to catch a ride with friends or family members.  If you chip in for gas and / or parking,  they may welcome your presence to defray the cost of driving. It may not be convenient to have to rely on another person's schedule this way, but it may well beat the frustration of vainly trying to flag down cabs that don't stop as they are already occupied, or alternately of waiting for hours in taxi bay queues that are...just...not... moving.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tawdry Tales

If there's one form of diversion on which Philippine culture thrives, it's sensationalism, and the more melodramatic the better—especially if it involves well known show business celebrities and political figures.   An example is a recent incident involving the high visibility and troubled Revilla family which boasts of  members in both of these professions.

Bad feelings that had been brewing among the young adult siblings in this huge clan finally boiled over, the eldest, Ramgen, was shot and stabbed to death allegedly at the instigation of his sister, Ramona, and his brother, Ramon Joseph (RJ).  Ramgen's girlfriend was also wounded in the attack.  The motives supposedly were jealousy and conflicts over such matters as the allowance amounts that Ramgen doled out to his younger sibs. (Keep in mind these people are post-adolescent. Yet they still rely on family handouts for support. But such over-age dependency  is common in the Philippines).,

RJ was apprehended, but Ramona fled the country before she could be arrested and will likely never return.  She  headed for Turkey where her husband resides. However, she has also left Turkey as well and is now a fugitive. To add to this telenovela-like tragedy Ramona was already in her father's bad books for marrying against his wishes.

Then there is the drama of the former Philippines president and now congresswoman Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her husband Mike who want to leave the country for treatment of Gloria's medical condition for which she claims to need specialized care that's not available in this country. Yet because of  allegations that both of the Arroyos committed various acts of corruption while Gloria was in office—not to mention the illicit methods by which she supposedly attained  her term as president in 2004— there is concern that they will also pull a "Ramona" and not return to face the music. The Arroyo's legal petition to be allowed to depart has pitted the executive and  the judicial branches of government against each other over who has the right to make the decision.  The Supreme Court had approved their plea, but President Aquino is opposed to their departure. At this writing, the executive has won the latest round by filing charges against Arroyo and placing her under arrest while she is in a local hospital.  The Arroyos aren't going anywhere, at least for a while.

As an aside, Gloria Arroyo may well be  trying to play on the sympathy of the Philippine people even though she was almost universally scorned while president for her corrupt deeds.  But she just might win them over anyway. Former first lady Imelda Marcos did it, and it's just as though Imelda was never the wife and part of the hated martial law administration of the late president Ferdinand Marcos. She has regained her popularity and like Gloria was also elected to Congress. BTW,  before the arrest warrant on Gloria was served,  Mike's attorney,  Ferdinand Topacio,  asserted that he is so certain that if the Arroyos are allowed to leave and then fail to come back home, Topacio will castrate himself. He should be careful about putting both his eggs in one basket.

Finally,  I want to make it clear that this post is strictly for the purpose of acquainting newcomers to the Philippines with local cultural mores.   By my relating such stories, it should not be construed that I regularly follow such gossip-ridden events. Not me. Honest.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Second Thoughts

I have long believed that the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is  part of the Philippines and should not be allowed to secede (see my post  Disaster Averted for Now).  But as time passes, I'm becoming doubtful that it's worth the ever increasing political, social, and financial costs for the country of trying to pacify and hold on to this territory.  Maybe it's time to let the ARMM go it's own way as a separate state after all. It seems that control of this locale by the MILF  (Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a faction of the original Moro National Liberation Front guerrilla movement)  is a fait accompli anyway.

First some background about my 180° shift in opinion. I recently wrote a post "The Two-State Solution: A Risk Worth Taking"   in my other Blog site "Towards a Rational America and Enlightened Judaism" regarding the Israel-Palestinian issue and why I feel that it's better for  Palestinians in the Occupied Territories to have for their own state. In my opinion Israel is paying too high a price by holding these people back and  that it's better for the two sides to deal with each other as equals.  

In this regard there is a somewhat of a parallel between the Palestinians and the Moros in that both groups claim rights to their own land and national sovereignty. And there is some legitimate justification in their demands.  Also, for decades both groups have been violently resisting and refusing  to recognize the respective central governments that rule their regions. And  significantly  in both cases there is no end in sight for these hostilities which just become a vicious cycle of death and destruction for all concerned.

There have been cries for a declaration of  all-out war against MILF for their attacks on the military in Basilan that resulted in the death of 19 soldiers  a few weeks ago.  Yet a full-out military campaign against the MILF was carried out in 2000 by then President Estrada. Ultimately, it achieved nothing. The conflict is back to square one.   

Also I had previously justified retention of the ARMM by the Philippines on the grounds (no pun intended) of the region's abundant natural resources. Yet when considering all the thousands of people on both sides who have died in this rebellion and for the thousands more who will likely be killed in future struggles, no amount of minerals is worth such a toll in human lives. Moreover, in granting independence to the ARMM, perhaps some kind of trade agreement could be negotiated that would ensure continued access by the Philippines to these materials, along with a United Nations peace-keeping force to enforce a security treaty that would protect non-Muslims living in the Region. The UN troops would also guard against  incursions by the MILF and the Philippines Government across each others borders. In addition the Government could offer resettlement into the Philippines to non-Muslims.  The expenses for this relocation would be at least partially borne by the MILF.

One might ask why I as a foreigner am sticking my nose into the complex political affairs of this country. Very simply, the violence throughout Philippines and especially in Mindanao is equally lethal to Filipinos and non-Filipinos who are here. However, I readily acknowledge that I am not a political science or international relations expert.  The dissolution between the Philippines And the ARMM that I'm proposing along with the details to carry it out probably sounds amateurish and naive.

But I contend that far reaching changes have to be made to the present state of affairs in order to bring about a permanent peace  between the two sides. Nothing else has worked so far, and to believe that the status quo can continue to abide indefinitely is just magical thinking.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Running On Empty? Maybe Not

I'm no economist. Yet as an expat American residing in the Philippines,  there are certain facets about the financial system here that I can't help but notice and which seem paradoxical for an "impoverished third world" country.

For example, as a whole, the Philippines has managed to avoid the fallout from the Great Recession and in some ways is faring better than the U.S.  It's true that remittances from OFW's (overseas Filipino workers) have played an invaluable role in the economy of this country.  But equally important is ensuring that this revenue reaches it's intended recipients and in turn that they and others with the means to do so have a safe place to deposit and invest their money. In this regard the  banking system seems  to have remained stable despite occasional scandals  and failures involving individual institutions.  In fact, considering all the fraud that takes place in both the public and private spheres here, it's amazing that the financial services network hasn't long since imploded.  Instead, like "Old Man River", it just keeps rolling along.   Likewise the Philippines Stock Exchange appears to be holding its own—no crashes and on the whole, no wild swings in stock prices.

Unlike its counterpart in the States, real estate here seems to still be a fairly safe bet, even though foreigners face certain ownership restrictions in this area. For the most part, there have been no precipitous declines in property values.  If anything, buying a home is still a sound investment and is an aspiration within the reach of many middle-class Filipino families albeit with help from relatives.  Part of this stability is due to the fact that home purchases here entail large down payments and short term mortgages.  However, in a country where there is no mandatory title insurance—and in fact land titles and registration are often of dubious authenticity where they exist at all—this stability still flies in the face of common sense.   For a much more eloquent discussion and guidance on real estate in the Philippines, visit "Phil FAQs".

Another area in which many business people in the Philippines have found their niche is franchising.   Opportunities abound that may make this country a major player in this sector in Asia.

Sadly however,  for the overwhelming majority of Filipinos, life is still hard.  The main reason is too many people competing for resources that are too few or are inequitably distributed.  Take public utilities for example.  Electric bills in the Philippines are the highest in Asia, constituting on the average 11% of Filipinos' locally derived income.

Yet for many Americans, especially retirees whose sole means of support are earned benefits such as social security, life is also a struggle. For instance in parts of the U.S.that have cold winters, those on limited means may have to decide whether to spend their money either on food or on fuel for their furnaces, in other words a choice between heating and eating.

In the aforementioned case of energy bills, thanks to the rate of exchange between the U.S. dollar and the Philippine peso (currently about 43 PHP to 1 USD), along with our frugal standard of living, for my wife and me  this expense represents on the average about  01.5% of our monthly U.S..earned benefits.  So for foreigners whose mains source of income is social security and whose life style is not extravagant, to the extent that various economic trends here continue on a steady course, life in the Philippines can be a rewarding and comfortable experience.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Feeding Frenzy

In Philippine culture, eating is not just a means of satisfying a physical requirement. It serves as a psychological fulfillment as well, and one that cuts across all socio-economic classes an genders.  So it was not surprising that the topic and consequences of “emotional eating”—using food as a means of escape from personal  problems—recently came to the fore as related by Sharon Cuneta, a popular local actress and unofficial spokesperson for whom this phenomenon predictably resulted in weight control problems, as it does for so many people. 

And no wonder. Because of its soothing and other pleasant sensory effects, eating is practically a recreational pastime here as well, especially as a group activity with family and friends. And it’s everywhere. For instance, when traveling through towns and the countryside, just glance out the window of your vehicle and you will see table after table of people gathered together in their yards or at roadside eateries enjoying a meal.  I will bet  that food sales, whether they are transacted by street and market stall vendors or in upscale restaurants and everything in between, likely comprise a disproportionate share of the  Philippine economy compared with this type of commerce in other countries.

Filipino food (basically a melding of Malay, Spanish, and Chinese influences)  is delicious and diverse.  And  my wife Lydia is an excellent cook of not just native dishes but various other cuisines as well.  Fortunately, neither of us has a weight problem—yet. Thus  this local custom of consumption suits me just find. I also eat in response to emotional distress, especially certain comfort foods. So  the first time that I heard the phrase "emotional eating", my immediate reaction was "What, is there another kind?". 

However, it should be emphasized that healthful eating is certainly a viable option in the Philippines.  Many fruits and vegetables here such as papaya and malunggay are highly nutritious.  It's just that foods with high cholesterol and fat content such as crispy pata and lechon are also the most tempting and sought after.

Meals themselves for the immediate family usually consist of at least two main dishes. When entertaining guests, three entrees are the usual minimum. As for the latter, sometimes it's hard to know where "Philippine hospitality" ends and ostentatiousness  begins.

So if you plan to settle or even just visit the Philippines, be sure to pack your appetite.   Whatever your tastes, you're almost sure to find a dish that will become your personal favorite.  As they say here "Kain kayong mabuti" (Eat well.)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Customer Disservice

Although businesses in the Philippines are often inefficient and difficult to deal with, one of the last places I expected to find such a problem was in trying to contact a well known local financial institution,   Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation) (RCBC) Savings Bank.

Beginning several days ago, my wife Lydia and I could not get through by phone to the  branch where she conducts checking transactions. When calling, we would reach either a busy signal or no ring.   Finally, considering  that  that perhaps the phone number had been changed (which seems to happen frequently in Metro-Manila),  I attempted to to call the corporate office. But there's such no phone listing in the PLDT yellow pages, and ditto on the  RCBC Savings Bank website. On the latter there is  just a webmail contact form, which I submitted—and got an "invalid page" response.

I then decided to call RCBC headquarters. This is a separate operation from RCBC Savings Bank, but I figured that they must at least be affiliated. I was right; the operator furnished a couple number's for Lydia's branch and for the Savings Bank Office head office, all of which were turned out to be either disconnected, busy, no answer, or no ring.  After several tries on the latter, we finally got through to the branch, only to get confusing information regarding one of Lydia's inquiries.

I normally don't utilize this site to rant against a particular company.  But one, especially a bank,   that makes it extremely difficult to telephone them deserves to be taken to the proverbial woodshed.  If I find serious problems in dealing with other businesses, I will post that information as well.  Whether a foreigner or local, no consumer needs the aggravation of having to transact with companies that don't know how to serve the public that's paying  to keep them in business.  However, in order not to be completely negative I will on the other hand  also give shout-outs to firms that have gone out of their way to furnish exceptionally good service..

I would also like to hear from readers who have likewise encountered either poor or excellent service from businesses, especially on a consistent basis and who would like to share their stories.

Addeneum:. Coincidentally, as I was completing this entry,  one of Lydia's payees just came by to inform her that he had difficulty cashing her check because according to RCBC, her signature looked irregular. The  payee happened to be a banker himself and indicated that RCBC was remiss in not contacting Lydia to come in to the branch and update her signature card.

I rest my case.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

WWRD (What Would Rizal Do?)

When it comes to traffic, the streets of Metro-Manila are fraught with danger, mainly due to undisciplined driving habits that are endemic in the Philippines.  Not only are motorists a hazard to each other, but to pedestrians as well. Crossing the street, even in crosswalks is often a nerve-racking experience. Drivers rarely stop, so the only way to make it across is to wait for a gap in traffic and then run like hell to the other side.

Alternatively, there are pedestrian overpasses along the major thoroughfares, but they are usually spaced far apart and traffic signals even more so.  Hence, many pedestrians (who are just as undisciplined as motorists) instead prefer the risk of crossing the street in areas not designated for that purpose.  Rather than walk to the nearest overpass, they will instead go to the extent of climbing over restraining barriers and fences placed for the very purpose of preventing illegal and hazardous crossings, while they blithely ignore warning signs that pedestrians have been struck and killed in those locations.

Before the overpass on the major street in my locale was constructed, it was so dangerous for pedestrians using the crosswalk near that spot, the MMDA (Metro-Manila Development Authority) finally deployed traffic enforcers, who would stop vehicles in order to enable pedestrians to pass. However, this intervention of course tied up traffic on that thoroughfare.

But this MMDA protected crosswalk suited me just fine. Personally, I don't like the overpasses because I have a phobia about steep stairwells (anything more than three steps), which are the only means of accessing these bridges (there are no escalators).  I don't have a problem climbing the steps  as long as there's a hand rail available.  However, it's the descent that I dread even while clinging (desperately) to the railing.  Yet I recognize that the necessity of these bridges in order to keep vehicular traffic flowing smoothly  (to the extent such a thing is possible in Metro-Manila).  So I just try to set aside my worries about falling by  keeping in mind that the matter at hand is about traffic improvement, not about me.  In other words, it comes down to  subordinating my own narrow interests for the greater good of the community.

In doing so, I'd like to think that this is in keeping with the Enlightenment values of Filipino nationalist and hero, Jose Rizal who was born 150 years ago today and whose birth date  is observed here as a national holiday. It was his ideals that led to the overthrow of Spanish rule of the Philippines. For those, especially foreigners, who would like to know more about the life and philosophy of  this inspirational leader, click here.

Sadly, Rizal's principles are honored more in the breach than in practice. If the people here would only follow his teachings by stepping outside of their small circle of interests and uniting for common cause of their country's welfare,  the Philippines would truly be a great country.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Miscellany

Adam Sandler had "Eight Crazy Nights". But since May 7, I've had  "nine crazy days". To begin with, the phone system in our condominium tower is undergoing a changeover from one trunk line with locals (extensions) connected to the units (sort of a PBX system).  Instead  occupants who want phone service will be responsible for obtaining their own  landlines for their condos independently. The two available service providers are Globe and PLDT. My wife Lydia and I selected the former and have had nothing but grief and mix-ups since then, the latest of which was our lost (by Globe) app. So at present, for the first time in the years that we've resided here, we don't have a landline. Thank technology for cell phones.

When I contacted Globe today, the agent said not to worry, a technician will install our line "sometime this week". He couldn't give a definite date. This vagueness is typical in dealing with businesses in the Philippines, even major public service companies.

Then on May 12, I published a post on my other blog site  "Towards a Rational America and an Enlightened Judaism". Right about that time, Blogger, who hosts my sites, encountered a systems disruption that required their removal of all posts submitted at that time, my submission included of course. Supposedly nearly all the missing posts were restored by May 14. As of today, mine is still missing in action.

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Last week, a professor from the University of The Philippines was killed when the taxi was in which she was riding was struck by a speeding bus. The bus driver fled the scene of the accident on foot.  This is such a common reaction by negligent and reckless public utility drivers involved in accidents that one wonders whether running away is part of their training. And when they're caught their plea for mercy is "I have a family". (Oh really? And your victims don't?)

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Finally, I recently received information about a site called Expat Workforce.  This company  is seeking native-English speaking  expats who are interested in working while living abroad. The positions are outsourced online jobs  (with wages adjusted accordingly) from  mainly American businesses.  EW acts as a go-between for applicant and employer.  This looks like a possible opportunity for expats who would like to supplement their income but who are not desperate for money as the pay would likely be minimal.  Personally, I haven't decided whether or not I will sign up, but the service is an interesting concept. If you'd like more details about Expat Workforce, click here.

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Now as I publish this piece, I only hope that Blogger doesn't experience any further issues that require post deletions.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Identify Yourself

When it comes to identification, if you are a foreigner residing in the Philippines, your passport  and or even your I-card will only get you so far. For many transactions, a local and more widely known form of i.d. is required.  A very common one of course is a Philippine drivers license. But many aliens, myself  and my wife include, don't drive here (as is the case for most Filipinos as well)

An alternative document is the postal identity card.  As the name implies, this document enables the bearer to conduct business at the post office here (also known as Philpost) with a minimum of hassle . But more than that, the postal identity card is accepted throughout the country as valid i.d. for transacting not only  government-related matters but  commercial purposes as well, such as banking and supposedly is even accepted as valid i.d. internationally.

However, whether one is an alien or a Philippines citizen, obtaining  postal identity card involves a great deal of red tape. The following documents are required:
  • A completed application form (original and duplicate)
  • 3 photos (size 2" x 2")
  • barangay clearance
  • cedula (community tax certificate)
  • your passport (or for Philippine citizens a notarized copy of your birth certificate)
  • P350 (for a rush job, it's P550). 
Also, when getting a postal identity card, go to the main post office branch in your town or city as smaller branches may not be equipped for providing this service.

Postal identity cards are valid for three years. Mine expires at the end of this month, so today I trekked to the Quezon City Main Post Office to renew it. There was no else waiting for that service, but nevertheless I was impressed by the efficiency with which the clerk completed the task, especially considering her equipment for filling in the data fields on the card: a typewriter that looks as if it was already old when I was born (Such is the state of the art at many government offices.)

I must say that this experience in dealing with Philpost was quite different from previous encounters. But even if it hadn't been that easy,  at least it's a task  that I will no longer have to think about, especially whether or  not I will be met with a co-operative attitude. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, dealing with officialdom in the Philippines is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Is This Trip Really Necessary?

The three Filipinos who were recently executed in China on drug trafficking charges and their OFW (overseas Filipino worker) counterparts who leave the Philippines to work abroad legitimately have one thing in common. They avail of opportunities (and risks) to make more money in jobs overseas than they could at home in order to benefit their families, especially  their children, even if means taking positions below their socioeconomic stations, such as teachers hiring out as maids and for stretches of time that may last months, even years and in which they are often are subjected to degrading and abusive working conditions, especially  in such countries as Saudi Arabia which has recently stopped accepting Filipino domestic helpers rather than comply with rules from the Philippine government intended to protect them.

Even when the Philippine government rescues and repatriates victimized OFWs, many of them turn around and take new positions in the countries where they were mistreated.  In war-torn Libya  where their very lives are in jeopardy, many Filipinos are staying on due to enticements such as double pay.  The bigger picture fact that if they wind up killed or disabled in such a dangerous environment, it will mean the end of providing for their families doesn't seem to enter their minds.

Importantly, however, the money that OFW's remit home contributes tremendously  to the Philippine economy as a whole, even to the point of propping it up. In 2010, this amount totaled almost $19 billion (which is well over half of a trillion pesos!). In anyone's book that is a chunk of change.

Considering the closeness of most Filipino families, for OFW's to leave their loved ones behind sounds like a  noble sacrifice. However a close examination of this phenomenon shows that the plight that causes them to take this step is really one of their own making and hence usually avoidable.  This is because couples here have children without taking the responsibility  to stop and think about what they are doing.  As a result they wind up with larger families than they can afford.   Behind this lack of family planning is pressure from the Catholic Church to reproduce as many children as possible, along with the fatalistic cultural trait of bahala na, which loosely translated means "God will provide" or "What will be will be".

The problem is that when families crunch the budget numbers, they usually find that God hasn't provided after all (nor has the Church), which means that one—or sometimes even both—of the parents will have to step up to the plate and seek employment overseas to make ends meet.  The frequent negative results of such separation are predictable even when the OFW faithfully remits funds back home:  Infidelity and desertion by one or both partners, discipline problems and resentment issues from the children, and recipients' eventual  over-dependence and misuse of the money provided by the absent family member.

Often those who leave their families behind to work abroad were themselves children of overseas Filipino workers and know full well  the emotional and psychological toll such separations entail. But they nevertheless repeat the pattern. Couldn't they see what was coming before they started having kids or did they deliberately ignore the inevitable consequences of their actions?

As for OFW's contribution to the national economy it is  their absence from the local workforce and their pumping of the previously mentioned trillions of pesos into the country  furnishes a crutch and perpetuates a system that allows the Philippine government to avoid dealing with root causes of poverty such as overpopulation and corruption, and to indefinitely defer taking meaningful steps to reform the Philippine economy into one that provides decent paying jobs locally for all workers so that no one would ever again have to leave the country to earn a living.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A New Adventure (Conclusion)

My wife Lydia  and I just returned from our first trip out of the Philippines since relocating here over five years ago. It turns out that the concerns that I mentioned in my previous post "A New Adventure" were baseless. Our I-cards (along with valid passports of course) got us through Immigration upon both leaving and returning in just a few minutes  It took a bit longer when exiting the country because of the P2,880  per person yearly departure tax transaction  for which we were prepared anyway.  Also it helps that  the tax collection agent  is at the same window as the immigration officer. The process would have taken even less time if we hadn't fallen into the wrong line upon our arrival at NAIA.

On our return trip, the plane was full, and I was concerned that this would result in a huge traffic jam at immigration at NAIA, along with baggage retrieval delays and competition for taxis. As it turns out, it really wasn't bad at all. None of these areas were congested. However, airport taxi fares are quite a bit more expensive (more than double the rate) than their counterparts that ply the streets of  Metro-Manila. 

The vacation itself was a wonderfully unforgettable experience. We went on several tours in both London and Paris. Still, we barely scratched the surfaces of these great cities.  We were also satisfied with the service that we received on our flights via Cathay Pacific to and from our destination. 

I don't understand how anyone can travel abroad and not take home a new perspective on the world. Yet I know of people, Filipino and American tourists alike,  who have visited other countries and  come home completely unaffected by their travels.  For example while overseas, they patronize restaurants that serve only the dishes that they get at home and hang only with their fellow nationals rather than sample the local culture.  With that kind of mentality, why even go abroad in the first place?

It's unlikely that Lydia and I will ever be able to afford to go to Europe again. But it's that very circumstance that will make this vacation  all the more special. And we'll still be able to revisit London and Paris any time we want to—in our memories.

Photos of our trip are posted on Shutterfly.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A New Adventure

Last November my wife Lydia and I celebrated our  40th wedding anniversary; so we decided to treat ourselves to a once in a lifetime trip to Europe. Planning and executing this excursion has been a learning experience and an ordeal in itself.

Once we decided exactly where on the Continent we wanted to visit (London and Paris), out next step was selecting a reliable service that provides group tours to these locations. Based on a friend's suggestion, we opted for a company called Trafalgar Tours.  Since this organization mainly services clients who are traveling  from the US, our next step was to contact (what turns out to be) Trafalgar's only  representative agency in the Philippines: Pan Pacific Travel Corp which is located in Metro-Manila to book our itinerary.

This is where the fun began. When I called in our information to this agency, it turned out that the agent misspelled our last name when transcribing it to the airline, Singapore Airlines; and I wasn't aware of this error until  I reviewed an online detail of the airline reservations. Correcting it required cancellation of the original air reservations and re-booking  the flight (and of course the tour as well) to a later date and a different airline, Cathay Pacific.  This is because Singapore considers a name change (even if it's a correction) as a new passenger booking,  and the original flight was already sold out except for standby,  which we  waited in vain for several days to see if that status could be changed to confirmed.. To complicate the issue, the agent dragged her feet about getting us more suitable arrangements at the original ticket price,  and it took a letter to the vice president of the firm to get that done. We finally settled on a departure date of March 9.

Then I had to remind the travel agent to send me the the Trafalgar documents which she should have done earlier on her own without my prompting and  which upon arrival were incomplete . Pan Pacific is very hard to contact as their phone lines are always busy, so I sent her an email about the missing papers.  I never did get a response.

Our next step was securing exit and re-entry permits from the Bureau of Immigration.  These documents are required for almost all non-citizens who are leaving and returning to the Philippines.  The question was whether we had to go to the BI main office in Intramuros and jump through bureaucratic hoops there to secure these papers. According to agents with whom I spoke at BI headquarters and at the airport, that step is no longer necessary because Lydia and I both hold ACR I-cards.  These supposedly eliminate such hassles that were once required under ACR-ICR document, the forerunner of the I-card. 

So that's where matters stand at this time, one day before our trip, We're packed and  have completed the airline advanced check-in and seat selection.  Now we can only hope that we have dotted all our i's and crossed all our t's to get our journey itself off to a smooth start.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Pity the non-affluent married couple in the Philippines when one or both partners have become estranged  and want to break up. They have no way out of their marriage because divorce in this country is prohibited.

The Philippines, which is  predominantly Roman Catholic is one of the three countries in the world where divorce is not allowed (the other two are Malta and the Vatican).  Yet divorce is allowed in other Catholic majority countries such as Italy and in Latin America. Perhaps the reason that divorce is banned in the Philippines is due to the almost absolute control of the Catholic Church here over family matters combined with the cultural trait of fatalism.  The most that the disaffected partners of ordinary means or below can do is obtain a legal separation.  However, this is not really a solution because under this status the couple may be living apart but they are still not be free  to remarry.

Partly as a result of this impasse, infidelity is common; and in the lower classes, people—usually (but not always)  men—often just abandon their spouses and kids and take up with new partners with whom they then have children, leaving their original families to fend for themselves regardless of the deserters' legal and moral obligations to the latter.

But the rules of matrimonial permanence don't apply to everybody here.  Well-to-do couples can buy their way out of marriage by getting an annulment, which is an expensive and complex process.  The difference between a divorce and annulment revolves around a technicality.  A divorce terminates a union  that legally existed.  An annulment, on the other hand  is a legal fiction that the marriage was never valid in the first place and is therefore void. Click here to see the grounds for this type of marital dissolution.

But there's another aspect to class differences regarding legal access to ending a marital  relationship. Not surprisingly, the wealthy  flaunt their ability to obtain their freedom just as they show off their expensive possessions.  For a rather egregious example of this attitude, click here.   Note that in this interview the supposed reason for the end of this marriage is adultery, which supposedly is not sufficient grounds for an annulment. Yet the implication is that the dissolution will be granted anyway. Money just doesn't talk in the Philippines. It screams.

Yet there are other grounds to end a marriage.  For example if a Filipino citizen marries a foreigner who then obtains a divorce in his /her country of origin, the Filipino can apply to have the divorce recognized in the Philippines. This frees the citizen to remarry, but the steps to obtain this waiver are complicated (as are almost all encounter with the legal system here).

Personally, I believe that a married couple should take their vows seriously and not break up hastily. However, it makes no sense for the State to deny  the human condition and force people to remain together if they don't wish to do so, especially if the requirement exists just for the purpose of  pleasing religious interests.  However, there is a ray of hope for a change in the annulment laws. A member of Congress recently introduced a bill to expand the grounds for dissolution and make it easier for the non-affluent to end their marriages.  This piece of legislation faces an uphill battle, especially in terms of opposition by the Church (of course). Yet if it passes, along with the pending Reproductive Health Act these measures will be a tremendous leap towards bringing equity to the members of the socio-economic classes  to whom fairness and the right to make responsible decisions about their personal and family lives have too long been denied.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Contrasts

When I hear about the snow and cold weather in the U.S.and Europe that is typical for this time of the year, I'm especially glad to be living in the Philippines with its mostly tropical climate. I was raised in Indiana and well recall those frigid Midwestern winters where in my area, the central part of the state, temperatures would drop as low as to -10°F  (-23°C).

I spent most of my adult life in Southern California, and for those who have never been there, despite the hype about the "balmy" year-round weather, winters can be very chilly there too.  Night time temperatures in Los Angeles sometimes dip in to the 30°'sF (about 2° to 4°C) and colder further inland. Some days the temperature doesn't climb out of the low 50°'sF (10° to 12°C), Add to that a raw wind plus a cold rain and you might as well be back in the Midwest.

Yet here in Metro-Manila, when the early morning winter temperature drops into the mid-60°'sF (18°C), the media often plays up how "cold" this feels. Yet that's not totally exaggerated. What makes it feel that way is the amihan, the Siberian wind that blows from in Northeast Asia and which does have an edge to it.

Some parts of the Philippines really do get chilly in the winter. Temperatures in the mountain  resort city of Baguio go as low as the upper 40°'s (around 9.6°).  Other areas  in higher elevated regions such as the province of Benguet  get colder and even experience frost on occasion.  (Imagine using the term "frost" and Philippines in the same sentence!).  In fact, a few days ago, according to a news report in the "Philippine Star", the temperature at Mt. Pulag in that province dropped to the 2°—3°C range!  This is a popular peak with mountain climbers,  but authorities warned trekkers away due to the risk of hypothermia (another unusual word to use in connection with the Philippines) due to these extreme conditions.

Over the past several months The country has had fewer typhoons than usual for this storm season. There has also been less rain in Metro-Manila during the past couple weeks as well compared to previous years at this time.  Such is not the case in other regions of the country where heavy rains, flooding, and landslides have prevailed. According to the "Star" this has resulted in many casualties and heavy crop damage.

Alas,the current comparatively cool days and nights that we're now experiencing in this part of Luzon will soon be just a memory. In a few months "summer" will arrive.  In the Philippines, the period of March through May is the hottest time of the year.  Temperatures in Metro-Manila during those months occasionally reach  100°F (38°C) accompanied by high relative humidity but very little rain.  Last year that season was particularly intense, so naturally consumers cranked up the usage of their fans and air conditioners.  As a result Meralco, the local power company, was not able to keep up with the high electricity demand, so there were numerous and lengthy brownouts. Meralco warns that there may be more of the same this year if there is a repeat performance of 2010's sizzling summer.  On the other hand, this summer strangely enough may be a wet one due to La NiƱa.

So for now, let's enjoy this mild phase that we're experiencing and pity those in the northern climes of the world who are undergoing the impact of winter in the true sense of the word and in a way that  those in the Philippines who have never "been there and done that" can hardly begin to imagine.