Monday, December 27, 2010

Having The Last Word

Effective Jan. 1, U.S.Medicare will pay physicians who counsel patients seeking information regarding end of life planning.  This includes patient-generated health care advance directives that instruct doctors whether or not to use extreme measures in a medical crisis to keep him /her alive or when (s)he becomes incapable of making that decision due to senility.

However, Medicare coverage is unavailable to Americans living outside the U.S.  And because of the pervasive influence of the Catholic Church in the Philippines on matters regarding public policy in general and control over personal autonomy, especially in the matter of beginning and end of life decisions,  I had assumed that hospitals here did not offer patients such health care options as advanced directives and DNR (do not resuscitate) orders.  Fortunately, it turns out that I was wrong.

When I checked in to undergo a procedure at The Medical City Hospital, a non-sectarian medical center located in Pasig City, Metro-Manila, I was given a pamphlet that discusses these these and other choices, such as living wills and  SPA's (special power of attorney for health care).  I confirmed that these patient-generated instructions are also honored  in Catholic medical facilities as wells.  

A patient who chooses to issue these orders and who has a family member at hand who will ensure compliance if they are ever needed is of course at an advantage. But even for the those expatriates whose next if kin, if any,  is thousands of miles away and not readily accessible to look after his / her wishes, an advance directive and / or DNR order if properly implemented can prevent needless suffering and depletion of the individual's  and / or family's finances resources.

For more information about these rights and how to ensure access to them, contact your physician or any hospital patient services / customer services department.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Dirty Windows

Recently, an announcement appeared in one of the local newspapers regarding a planned random inspection to be conducted by the Pilipinas (Philippines) Ant-Piracy Team (PAPT).  This agency will be checking businesses in certain areas of Metro-Manila in order to determine if they are illegally using unlicensed systems to run their computers.

How rampant is software piracy in the Philippines? Well, the fact that the above enforcement program is being carried out speaks volumes about the problem.  However, the matter is not as cut and dried as it may seem at first glance.  I know this from personal experience.

A few years ago I took the computer that I had at the time in to a repair facility which appeared to be a legitimate operation.  It was located in a large mall, not in some hole in the wall behind a sari sari store. The problem with my computer turned out to be damaged hardware that would have to be changed. However, the technician advised me that the Microsoft Windows software would also have to be replaced (not to mention formatting my hard drive and thus wiping out my settings, but that's another matter).   I consented to this recommendation, unaware that what I was getting was an unlicensed version of Windows, to  which I would never have knowingly consented.  It wasn't until sometime later when I couldn't perform administrator-related functions and was not receiving automatic system updates on line that I finally realized something was wrong.  But by then it was too late. The repair facility blew off my inquiries, and the payment receipt for the repair service  was vaguely worded and didn't properly list the platform software that was being installed. In short, I had no recourse; I was stuck.

But a consolation about this affair was that it was a leaning experience.  Eventually  the time came to buy a new computer.  After shopping around I purchased one from a well known local computer chain store.  However, the installed Windows operating system that came with it was only a trial version. The permanent one was available separately either as licensed software for sale at the store or as a purchase to be download directly from Microsoft.  I opted for the latter and decided to defer buying it until the temporary subscription expired.

After the computer purchase was completed and as I was leaving, the salesperson took me aside  and offered to personally  install the permanent Windows system at a lower price than that offered by the store or by Microsoft. Immediately, alarm bells went off in my head. I knew exactly what he was up to:  an attempt to sell me an unlicensed edition of  Windows.  He even had the nerve to try to assure me that it would run  just like the real thing.  To his surprise I told him that I knew what was going on and wasn't about to be fooled (again) and walked away.   When it came time, I purchased the approved version and have full administrative options.

So bearing in mind the consequences  of running an unauthorized systems platform, I don't understand why commercial organizations, which have so much more to lose from the consequences of bogus software than someone like me on a home computer, would choose to risk damage to their equipment and a run-in with law enforcement. That's extremely shortsighted and inefficient way to conduct business.

IMO this practice by local business people of taking such short cuts as well as their lack of patience and disdain for long term planning is a major reason that the Philippine economy lags behind that of its neighbors. Nothing short of a seismic cultural shift will change their attitude.  Until then, if agencies like PAPT are disbanded, it won't be for lack of  companies that deserve to be investigated.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving: A "Moveable" Feast

The other day I opened the newspaper and noticed a full page ad from the Philippines' leading department store chain announcing  a Thanksgiving Day sale. Apparently this American holiday day, like Halloween, is another occasion that has recently made its way into the calendar of (unofficial) fiestas in the Philippines, at least in Metro-Manila.  Another indication of this trend is that many restaurants now feature turkey on their menus on Thanksgiving. (It may sound strange to associate turkey with the Philippines, but these birds are also bred here and raised for local consumption)   Tellingly, just  to show how Thanksgiving is creeping  into the culture as a point of reference, a few days ago Filipino of mine made reference to our getting together together after this holiday.                                                            

I enjoy the attention that Thanksgiving is getting locally as it's about the only national holiday in the U.S. to which I personally attach any sentiment. Like many Americans, I associate this day with such events as (now bygone)  family gatherings and memories of  the overall festive feeling, the carefree four-day school breaks of my childhood, often accompanied by snow and an anticipation of the approaching winter season and the latter's festivals.

In my later years before retiring and relocating to the Philippines, when we weren't celebrating Thanksgiving with relatives, my wife Lydia and I would observe this special day off from work by going to a fine dining restaurant and enjoying  a traditional fare with all the trimmings rather than going to the trouble of preparing such a meal just for the two of us. On that holiday it just didn't feel right for us to dine by ourselves at home.

In all honestly, contrary to the original purpose of  Thanksgiving, I can't honestly say that I consider that day to be set aside as an occasion to reflect on whatever good fortune that  that I've found in life (or that has found me).  That is something that I do almost every day anyway.

Instead,  even though Lydia and I are no longer working, we will continue carrying out our Thanksgiving customs for the foreseeable future.  It's too much a part of our tradition to stop now.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Spell Check

Whether one is a native or foreigner in the Philippines there is no escaping the fact that the country is besieged by a high crime rate and that almost no one is totally safe from becoming a victim. Yet not all such criminal acts, especially robbery and other crimes of property necessarily involve physical violence. Instead, some perpetrators  prey on their targets via deceit and fraud.  Some gangs have become notorious via their "signature" modus operandi, and  their specialties may or may not include physical force.

While lone snatchers are common,  criminals often act in teams. One will distract the victim while the other picks his/her pocket or purse.  A more sophisticated operation involves phoning the residence of wealthy targets who the perps know are not at home but (as is common here) have domestic help on the premises. When a maid answers the phone,  the con-artist impersonates the homeowner (or someone claiming to be calling for him), and claims to have been in accident and for the domestic to gather and bring the target's money and even jewelry to a certain site such as a hospital.  The helper will likely be rattled by the call, and out of obedience to her employer, she acts as instructed.  When she arrives at the location, she is met by the criminals who claim to be acting in behalf of the accident victim and who convince the maid to turn over the valuables to them.  Of course they then promptly disappear.

But the most bizarre method that I've heard of by thieves here is the alleged utilization of hypnotism wherein the perps accost their victims and induce them into handing over their valuables including all the money in their bank account.  It sounds like an urban legend; yet even a few of my in-laws claim to have been victimized by the ruse.  And because these tales abound, the media takes such reported incidents seriously. Yet as I see it, just because a phenomenon is reportedly widespread but not scientifically verified, that makes it no more plausible than abduction by space aliens or an image of the Virgin Mary appearing in a mud splatter on a wall.

 In reality theft by hypnotism  may be just a case of the thieves using well honed powers of persuasion on their targets who then feel foolish when they realize that they've been had. So they block  the memory of their own consenting role and convince themselves that they were totally blameless in the event.

What is the profile of the criminal who commits this kind of crime?  According to my wife Lydia who is a professional psychologist, extreme narcissists and other sociopaths are especially adept in exploiting credulous people  through intense eye-contact, facial expressions, flattery, and appeals for sympathy   Further, since Philippine culture is permeated by belief in the supernatural including magic spells, incantations, spirits, shape-shifters, etc. many  people here (the majority?) even those with a formal education are gullible and hence easy prey for being overpowered by con-artists who not only use the foregoing forms of manipulation but  hocus-pocus and high-pressure tactics as well.    Speaking of flattery, uninitiated foreigners are also fair game for local crooks who turn on the charm and manage to weasel their way into the person's good graces.  So to that extent Filipinos aren't the only ones vulnerable to this form of "hypnotism".

The best way to prevent getting suckered in this manner is  to being careful about talking to strangers, which is not an easy caveat to follow in this gregarious society, and most people don't want to be rude to friendly overtures especially if one is in need of assistance. But in public places be especially alert to people who strike up conversations and get personal too quickly especially with compliments or invitations.

In the final analysis, it's up to everyone to stay on their toes and keep his/ her guard up against these slick operators. We can't really count on the undependable and thinly stretched law enforcement system here to do much about them.  Unlike being physically attacked or threatened, if we allow our vanity to cloud our judgment and we get duped as a result, then this is an instance where as victims we have only ourselves to blame.

Monday, October 25, 2010

On Occasion

It doesn't take much to get Filipinos into a festive mindset especially at this time of the year. Christmas of course is a "major, major" celebration here, second only to Good Friday, and holiday ornaments and merchandise have been out on  the shelves for a couple weeks now. BTW I'm going to try be less of a curmudgeon about Christmas.   After all, I rather enjoy the special dishes that are cooked during the season along with the displays of artistic decorations, some of which are really beautiful.  Did I mention the special dishes?

Year by year it seems that Halloween, complete with pumpkin style decorations and trick-or-treat for the kids,  is becoming more popular in the Philippines possibly because of its "spirit world" theme and proximity to All Saints Day.  The latter is observed on Nov. 1 and is is a legacy of the country's Spanish and Chinese heritages. On this holiday, families flock to cemeteries in remembrance of their  deceased family members. But this is not a solemn occasion and is marked by such recreational events at the grave sites as picnicking and card playing.   For a more detailed description of this holiday and of All Souls Day which falls on Nov. 2 , please click here .

Then there was a really bizarre celebration here in Eastwood City the other day.   The local McDonald's which  was closed a few months ago for renovations reopened Saturday morning at  12a.m.  That's  right—midnight.   This was accompanied by a fireworks display and later in the day a marching band.  I suppose the hour was chosen in honor of the mainstay of Mc Do's business in this locale: the 18,000 call center agents who work in Eastwood, many of them on the graveyard shift.  But my wife and I had no inkling that the reopening  would be scheduled at that time.  So when we were awakened by the thundering pyrotechnics    (just across the street), we didn't know what the hell was going on.

Another festival that has crept into culture recently at this time of the year at least at malls and restaurants is Oktoberfest. Beer of course is  popular both in the Philippines and Germany, so naturally  a major player in popularizing this event here is San Miguel Beer which sponsored several gatherings last month for this occasion throughout Metro-Manila.  Eastwood City is also holding week-end Oktoberfest beer and sausage specials this month.  

My wife Lydia and I are stay-at-home types.  Still it's nice to know that if we want to join in any of the night life amidst all these fiestas, there are many venues from which to select just a short walk from our door.  But when it comes to fast food,  I think that I'll skip McDonald's. All the redecorating and fireworks in the world won't change the fact that the food is still the same fare as before.  In other words  those new coats of paint are, as the saying goes here,  just putting a new collar on an old dog.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Never on Wednesday and Other Disaster Preparedness Plans

Sept. 26 marked the one year anniversary of Ondoy, the flood that wreaked havoc throughout Metro-Manila (see my Sept 28, 2009 post "Storm Signals").  There is much that still needs to be done to prevent a recurrence of the damage that would recur if a similar storm to were to strike again. Yet it's heartening to see that steps have already been taken in that direction including a campaign to reduce estuary-clogging  litter.

One of the most problematic forms of such refuse is the ubiquitous non-biodegradable plastic bag.  When improperly discarded it becomes an environmental menace, especially in blocking water drainage.   In order to encourage responsible use of these containers, several mall and supermarket chains  throughout the Philippines have teamed up with the DENR (Department of Environmental and Natural Resources).  They have declared Wednesdays as "Reusable Bag Day" and will charge shoppers a fee for these bags on those days beginning this week.  The purpose is to encourage consumers to be less wasteful by furnishing and reusing their own bags  while shopping. (Just think, what did we do both here and in the U.S. before plastic bags were invented?  Somehow we survived to tell the tale.)

Another favorable sign in the ongoing struggle to clean up Metro-Manila and at the same time reduce the risk of flooding  is the planned crackdown by the MMDA (Metropolitan Manila Development Authority) via renewed implementation of the anti-littering law, which has been on the books since 1996s but has not been enforced since 2003.  I really hope that something good comes of this ordinance,  However, given the cultural barriers against success, such as  indifference by Filipinos toward public sanitation, the practice of bribery by businesses and individuals towards officials and enforcers, and the national trait of ningas cogon  (initial enthusiasm followed by a quick wane of interest), I'm skeptical that this particular project will make much headway over the long haul.  But it's worth a shot.

On a larger scale, the Philippine government has taken such measures as upgrading the national meteorological  service PAGASA (Philippine Atmosphere Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration.  BTW Pag-asa is also the Tagalog term for "hope") to enable that department to issue hourly updates about storm and water level conditions. Previously that information was available only every 6 hours. In addition there has been  disaster preparedness training in various communities and supposedly overall better preparedness if the worst happens.

These are just a few steps in the right direction. Whether they will make a meaningful  impact can't be known of course until a disaster actually strikes. However, much of the damage to Metro-Manila from typhoon Basyang in July for example was the result of an unexpected swerve that the storm took, which the weather service using the old six-hour report schedule was unprepared to announce.  With their newly improved meteorological equipment, is there certainty that the authorities will be warned in a more timely manner next time in order to take proper precautions? And will they react accordingly?  We can't say for sure, but at least there's room for pag-asa.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Official Hostage Taking Story: It Just Keeps Getting Weirder

I have refrained from commenting about Aug. 23 hostage tragedy because so much has been said about it already that I wasn't sure what more I could add.  But as recent developments have come to light, I've decided to put in my two cents.

According to the Sept. 8 edition of the "Philippine Daily Inquirer", a respected local newspaper, witnesses said that the hostage taker, Rolando Mendoza,  arrived by car at 9:30 at the point where, according to the bus driver and a passenger, he commandeered the bus 15 minutes later. However —and here's the bizarre part— the SWAT team was alerted at 9:07 a.m and was deployed at 9:15.  This was of course long before the perpetrator seized the bus or even showed up at spot where he hijacked the vehicle. In other words, as the PDI said, the police were "tipped off" ahead of the event.

The attorney representing the SWAT team claims that this sequence time line  was erroneously reported as the result of an honest mistake and will be corrected, but the police stand by the original time that they were first notified of the event.  If that's the case,  it means at least one other person was in on the crime and for whatever reason dropped the dime on Mendoza.  Yet this wrinkle only surfaced today in the course of a hearing held by the committee investigating the takeover.

Now here's something else that's not clear to me, and I've not yet seen this point mentioned elsewhere:  Had Mendoza already targeted the particular tour bus that he hijacked?  If so, how did he know that the bus was going to be at the place, Fort Santiago, where he seized it?  Inasmuch as this vehicle was a tour bus and not a public utility transport, it didn't follow a schedule. Alternatively, perhaps it's a popular spot for tour buses and Mendoza was aware of that and instead happened to pick this one at random?

Also, when the PDI said Mendoza alighted from his car at the hijack location, it didn't say from which side, the passenger or driver's seat.  If the former, then does this mean that someone drove him to there?  If so, whoever that person was had to know what Mendoza was up to as he was already decked out in fatigues and carrying a rifle.  And if there was another person in the car, a likely suspect is his brother who later made a scene and was taken away by police at the location where the bus finally wound up at the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park.  When Mendoza saw his brother being dragged away, this supposedly set him off into the shooting frenzy that left eight passengers dead plus Mendoza.himself who was shot supposedly by police when they stormed the bus.

What apparently drove Mendoza to carry out the hijacking was hopelessness over his allegedly wrongful employment termination, attendant loss of retirement benefits, and subsequent denial of due process regarding his appeal of the dismissal. Perhaps out of desperation he figured that taking hostages was the only way that he could get the authorities to listen to him.  I certainly can't condone Mendoza's actions.   Yet I do understand how a perceived injustice that has cost a person his livelihood and reputation can cause him to become unhinged and lash out irrationally.

The possibility that Mendoza originally had a companion with him, the time line discrepancy , the unprofessional manner in which the police assaulted the bus to free the hostages, and the conditions under which Mendoza lost his job are just a few of the matters that I hope will be covered in the the panel's report which is due for release later this month.  IMO,  the information that's been made available thus far contains too many  anomalies. May truth not wind up as the ninth victim.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Breakfast Blues

Eastwood City where my wife and I reside continues to be a vibrant blend of condominiums, businesses, shopping and entertainment.  As a long awaited additional tourist attracton to this mixed use community, a  high-rise hotel, the Eastwood Richmonde,  is scheduled to start  its guest operations in September.  The hotel restaurant, The Eastwood Cafe, is already open and starts serving at  6:00 a.m daily.

We were looking forward to this option as there were previously no upscale restaurants in Eastwood that open before lunch.  We are early risers, and we fancied that we might enjoy an excellent hotel breakfast experience similar to what  we enjoyed many years ago when we stayed at what was then the Century Park Sheraton (now the Century Park Hotel) in the Malate District of Metro-Manila.

So last week we decided to treat ourselves and walked over to the Eastwood Cafe shortly after they opened for the day.  We  were the first ones there and figured that being the case, getting decent service would be a slam-dunk.  We placed our order and waited to be served... and waited...and waited. When we finally asked what the holdup was, it turned out that either the kitchen forgot to tell the server that our food was ready, or the server forgot to pick it up.  It doesn't matter who dropped the ball, because when our breakfast finally arrived (minus the coffee that I had asked for!) both meals were cold.  Further,  my order, french toast,  was undercooked. So we sent the whole thing back to be reheated (and in my case, replaced--which it wasn't.)

By the time that everything was finally ready, my wife and I were both out of sorts over the long delay and really couldn't enjoy the food.  And because this was a hotel dining room, of course the bill of fare was higher than it would have been in a comparable stand-alone establishment.   When we complained about our experience to the hostess, she just smiled and said that they would try to do better "next time", without so much as offering the courtesy of, say, comping a portion of the check.  I also completed and turned in the customer survey card that came with the tab, leaving my phone and email address to see if we would get a reply. Not surprisingly, that didn't happen.  Next time? Yeah, right.

From now on, if we want to go out for breakfast,  we may as well go to  the local  Jollibee or McDonald's.   At least at those places we won't have to worry about paying for more than the food or the service is worth.

Oh, BTW, I don't know why there's no longer a Sheraton in Manila, but if the Eastwood Richmonde manages guest lodging the way it does its food service, this hotel may also not have much of a future.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Welcome To The Jungle

Although the Philippines is certainly not lacking for laws to protect employees from abusive working conditions, they are not usually not enforced. According to the announcement "DOLE to inspect, correct firms violating minimum wage, other labor standards",  a government study showed that over half  the businesses inspected by the Philippines Department of Labor and Employment were in violation of national  labor standards.

From my observation the burden of worker exploitation falls most heavily on blue collar and manual laborers (surprise, surprise). These workers often have to put up with job conditions that would befit the pyramid slaves in ancient Egypt.  I have seen such counter-productive and inhumane practices as delivery people carrying loads on their backs instead of being provided with  inexpensive hand trucks.  Tree-trimmers are often forced to climb trees to cut branches instead of being furnished with pruners or even ladders. Instead of being run by electric motors, cables holding scaffolds carrying high rise building window washers are often manually operated by workers on the ground who pull and release the ropes to raise and lower the platform.  Construction workers usually work without hard hats and sturdy shoes (despite being admonished to do so by signs posted at building sites).  Employees  who are exposed to fumes, dust and particulates, use handkerchiefs instead of filtration masks, that is if they use any protection at all.

As is the case with many countries, the excuse that the Philippines is an underdeveloped / third world / developing (take your pick of adjectives) nation falls flat.  While these workers toil in difficult and backward circumstances, their managers often enjoy state of the art offices and conveniences.  Culturally, in many ways the Philippines is still  a feudal society and employers often regard their employees as little more than serfs. The resources are available to improve the lot of the workers, but most employers are too shortsighted to realize that by spending money by  improving working conditions, this will lead to higher production.  There are labor organizations, but with some exceptions such as  PISTON, an aggressive union which represents the jeepney drivers, most of them do a piss-poor job in protecting their members.

But from a larger perspective, mistreatment of workers here is rooted in the dark side of capitalism:  supply and demand of human labor.  Due to overpopulation in the Philippines, especially in Metro-Manila, the job market has a glut of worker, which of course depresses wages for everyone and which leaves would-be employees scrambling for jobs, including positions with substandard working environments. (To be fair, in this regard, the Philippines is not alone.  In any country where this set of conditions prevails, workers almost always get the short end of the stick).

This surplus of workers is aggravated by migrants from the provinces and the countryside who come to Metro-Manila in hopes of  finding better livelihood opportunities than those back home.  Even if they don't find formal employment, most of them stay on, competing with a population already hustling for a living however they can get one.  Given the Philippine culture of family narcissism, many people will do anything, legal or otherwise to put food on the table.  Naturally, desperation and ruthlessness contribute to the high crime rate here.  

As a result of low pay a large number of parents can't properly support their families.  And since laws against child labor and abuse are laxly enforced, many kids drop out of school and go to work, run away, or are abandoned by their families to fend for themselves.  Those who survive street life  grow up educationally and socially handicapped and in turn produce children whom they can't afford to properly take care of.  And so the cycle continues generation after generation in ever increasing numbers. 

Several steps need to be taken to successfully combat worker exploitation.  Here are a few:  Population control including widespread and cheap availability of contraceptives; strict implementation of wage and labor laws. improved public education quality, facilities, and opportunities; free and /or low cost health care for all; decentralization of public and private workplaces in order to improve job availability outside of Metro-Manila to locations throughout the country, along with infrastructure repair and expansion (which itself will provide jobs) to facilitate a reverse migration.

At any rate,  the present state of affairs cannot long endure.  If the workers' plight and other serious problems plaguing the Philippines, as discussed in "Stopping the Ticking Time Bomb", continue to be ignored, this country may soon reach a breaking point from which it can never recover.  And if that happens, it won't be just the lower working class that will find itself in a Darwinian struggle for survival.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Collateral Damage

Typhoon Basyang (aka Conson) ripped through the Philippines and hammered Metro-Manila last week. The storm left the city without electricity for an extended period and in some areas of Luzon for several days.  As a result, perishable foods that lost electric powered refrigeration and/ or freezing within this period became unsafe for consumption.

Food spoilage  is a problem that accompanies any long term brownout. Personally, for the most part my wife and I can get by when the lights go out. However, our main concern under such circumstances is possibly contracting a food-borne illness because our refrigerator isn't running.   In many instances of course it's easy to detect that a particular food product has gone bad just by smell, taste, sight, or touch. With other items it's not that easy.  They may appear to be o.k. but may be harboring dangerous bacteria.  (So I wonder just how many people are felled as a result of ingesting spoiled food in the aftermath of natural disasters.)

Here in Eastwood City, it took almost 24 hours for electricity to be restored. Fortunately, our refrigerator was up to the job even without power such that our frozen foods stayed hard and the refrigerated foods remained reasonably cold.

However, during the power outage I noticed that for some nearby fast-food restaurants without alternate sources of power, it was business as usual. Their interiors weren't lit or air conditioned, and the cash registers weren't working, ( sales were calculated manually); so I assume  their food preparation and refrigeration units also weren't functioning  (Perhaps the food was left over from the day before).  In fact, I observed that one of these businesses, a convenience store, had food out at room temperature (actually in the 80's indoors due to warm weather) all day on the display rack of a non-functioning oven warmer.  That is just the right condition for bacteria to multiply and thrive in.

But all this carelessness isn't surprising. Unsafe food handling practices are common in the Philippines.  There are laws on the books against such negligence, but more often than not, due to corruption and inefficiency, they are unenforced.

However, it's not rocket science to understand that meals served by restaurants under such circumstances can lead to food poisoning. Yet during the blackout customers were still patronizing these establishments. These people appeared to be middle class and therefore presumably educated enough to know that they were flirting with danger.  But such apathy is part of the Philippine culture of  bahala na  which is roughly translated as fatalism.

For those who want to play it safe, IMO it's probably best to stay away from such eateries for at least a few days after a long-term power outrage while they foist off their questionable inventory on an  indifferent public.  On the other hand dining out in the midst of a power outage is probably safer in malls that have backup generators powering their businesses including restaurants along with the latter's' food storage equipment.

As careful as I try to be in these matters, I have not always been able to dodge the bullet.  I have contracted amoebic dysentery twice from contaminated  food or beverages.  However,  it could only occur more frequently if I were to let my guard down.  Risk in dining out or even in food preparation at home can't be totally avoided even under the best of conditions.  But by exercising common sense under obviously hazardous conditions,  it can at least be minimized.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

America, The Philippines, and the Fourth of July

July 4 marks not only American Independence Day but also Philippine-American Friendship Day.  By way of a little history, this date was also originally celebrated as Independence Day in the Philippines to commemorate the official end of American colonization in 1946. The holiday was moved to June 12 in 1964.  For the story behind reason for the change, click here.

But back to the present, in honor of this joint holiday the American Association of the Philippines, an organization with which I only recently became familiar,  presented a festival in Taguig City yesterday. Inasmuch as I usually don't attend such events, I decided to spend a few hours there anyway but didn't stay for the finale.

It was a low-key, family oriented celebration that while it had a distinctly American flavor and was held mainly for the benefit of Americans residing in the Philippines, the festival  nevertheless blended U.S.and Philippine cultures. There was a good turnout, and everyone seemed to be at ease with this mix.

The American ambassador, Harry K. Thomas made an appearance and gave a speech that traced the historical ties between the U.S. and the Philippines.  He mingled with the crowd and pressed the flesh; so  I was able to meet  and exchanged pleasantries with him. Ambassador Thomas seems sincerely interested in his assignment, and I wish him success. However, his immediate predecessor, Kristie Kenney, who was immensely popular with the Philippine people is going to be a tough act to follow.

Two glitches in the festival were a shortage of  tables and chairs to accommodate everyone in attendance, and the "infomercials" presented by the sponsors were too long which delayed the rest of the events agenda.

Still I'm glad that I went and that the AAP holds such festivities which enable us expatriates to collectively enjoy the holiday traditions that in relocating abroad, we might not otherwise have the opportunity to celebrate.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Taxi Hassles and How to Avoid Them

As the result of some of my recent experiences with taxis in Metro-Manila I have decided take this opportunity to review and expand on some advice that I offered in my original post about what everyone who uses this form of transportation here should know.

First, when you flag down a taxi, tell the driver where you're going before boarding. Many drivers are prima donnas and  will refuse to take you if they think the destination is too far or inconvenient for them.

As soon as you're in the cab make sure that the driver activates the meter immediately.  If he doesn't, chances are he's going to ask for an outrageous flat rate instead.   Or did the driver hesitate before accepting you as a passenger? Chances are he was planning to add a surcharge to the fare.   Either of these scenarios can be infuriating.  But don't let your anger cloud your thinking.  If, say, it's raining and / or taxis are far and few between where you're boarding, it may be best to swallow your pride and roll with with paying an additional P50 tacked onto the fare or to negotiate a flat rate after all.  Otherwise, just say no and tell the driver to pull over and let you out, or threaten to report him to the LFTRB (a government transportation regulation agency). Sometimes either of these demands itself will cause him  to back down and play by the rules.  This also applies to reckless drivers.  Again, deciding when and when not to do "rebel"  is strictly a judgment call.  You can also text complaints about errant drivers to 9988. Click here for details about this service.

Also for your personal safety when you board, text the taxi's license number to a personal contact especially if you're traveling at night or are in an unfamiliar locale. 

If possible, avoid taxis that are in poor condition inside or out.  There seems to be a positive correlation between dilapidated vehicles and greedy drivers. 

Know in advance exactly how far your destination is and how to get there.  Then when you tell the driver what route to take, you will show that you can't be fooled and are less likely to get an unexpected tour of the city. You can buy street maps and directories at places such as National Book Store.  I recommend the "Accu map Metro Manila CitiAtlas" or their "Metro Manila Route Map". Whichever guide  that you're most comfortable using, I suggest that you go over it in your spare time to acquaint yourself with the various streets and byways of the area.

Finally, I don't want to give the impression that all taxi drivers here are dishonest.  That's certainly not the case.  For all that I think I know about getting  around or going from point A to point B in Metro-Manila , I've had drivers who have shown me  better and cheaper routes. It's just that the more you know about being a taxi passenger, the less likely you are to be taken for a ride.    

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Green, Green Grass of Home

My wife Lydia and I recently returned from a trip to her home town, Gumaca, Quezon, which is about 210 km south east and a 5 1/2 hour bus ride from our locale in Quezon City. It was good to get away from the concrete jungle of Metro-Manila for a few days.  Another incentive is seeing  Lydia's step-niece who roll outs the red carpet when we visit there.

Gumaca is a bustling municipality with a population of about 65,000; but it's  small enough such that the greenery of the countryside is a just a walk or short tricycle ride away from any point in town. Another scenic area is the promenade along Lamon Bay in the middle of town. One of the best times of the day to enjoy Gumaca is just after dawn while the air is still (relatively) cool.  Many people are already up and about strolling or buying pan de sal and other breakfast goodies. Property owners are outside sweeping their walkways and burning fallen leaves.  The air is redolent with that scent, along with that of  smoked copra (a form of processing coconuts), and of sea air if you happen to be near the bay.

There are a couple hotels in or near Gumaca.  One of which that comes to mind is the the Perennial.  This establishment is in Gumaca proper on Rizal Street, the main artery of town.  Lydia and I have stayed there and found it to be adequate.   The rooms are small but clean, air conditioned, and have their own bathrooms. Room rate as of Sept ., 2009 was P800, but we managed to tawad it down to P500.  Another hotel is the Acacian, about 15 minutes north of Gumaca located along Maharlika Highway (the national road).  I've never been there but from the outside the place looks attractive. I've heard that the interior is also pleasant and that there's a restaurant on the premises. So guests don't have to travel into town just to eat.

Speaking of  food, in Gumaca you will find the the ubiquitous Jollibee and Chow King eateries.  But if you really want a great  meal, check out the Kapit Bahay  Restaurant.  The selection and quality of the food there  which is mainly native and Chinese cuisine are competitive with the better restaurants in Metro-Manila, and a lot cheaper.  Fried (half) chicken for example is P125.

While we were there we visited a coconut plantation  in Barangay Rosalino near the town of  Pitogo, which is about a  20 minute jeepney ride from Gumaca.  Walking through this forest-like area was very relaxing and so quiet that the only sound was that of birds singing.  As such,  it was the highlight of my visit.

Lydia, who has a love for landscaping and a talent to match, spent time on beautification of a property which we own in Gumaca and have up for sale. She is in her element with this kind of work and does it with the passion of an artist, shaping the land and creating a rolling hillside garden. 

The only downside of our visit was the weather, which was miserably hot and humid. But it  certainly was no worse than that in Metro-Manila. Just about the time we left Gumaca in the middle of the week,  the extended heat spell over this part of Luzon finally broke, and the weather has since turned a bit rainy.

I would like to visit Gumaca more often, but due to  health considerations lengthy bus rides are no longer my cup of  tea (Lydia tolerates them better than I do).  In all fairness, I should mention that the trip itself is actually broken up by a change of buses at the Grand Central  Terminal in Lucena City, about 3 hours from Metro-Manila.  Grand Central like its namesake is huge but-- including the the restrooms (which charge P5  for use)--surprisingly clean.  One of the better bus lines to Lucena City is Jac Liner, which offers air conditioned coaches, comfortable seats, and a movie.  The trip from Lucena City  to Gumaca and points south is not as pleasant.  The buses on all the lines heading in that direction are messy and not air conditioned. An alternate means of transportation to travel between M-Manila and Gumaca (and other destinations  of course)  would be to hire a car and driver.  However, that's a rather pricey proposition, about 10 times the price of a bus ticket.

Well, homebody that I am, I'm glad that I made the decision to take a break from my routine and make this journey. Despite the discomforts it was worth the trip.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

On Choosing One's Battles

When it comes to political issues,  as my posts indicate I'm usually rather opinionated.  But in the case of outgoing Philippines President Gloria Arroyo's last-minute naming the Renato Corona as Chief Justice of the  Supreme Court I can see both sides of the argument as to whether or not President-elect Benigno Aquino should recognize this "midnight appointment."

Granted that there is controversy in the Supreme Court's decision in favor of Arroyo's claim that it's her right as president to proceed with this appointment and that it's proper for Corona to accept it  But  based on his own record is there any reason to doubt that Corona will be his own man as he professes and that he will not serve honorably? Based on this criteria, is there any cause to be skeptical that he will not simply be Arroyo's insurance policy to block legal action against her for her misdeeds that she committed while in office--or in order to achieve that office?  If not then perhaps Aquino should be a bigger person than Arroyo (no pun intended) and drop the matter for the sake of  continuity and the good of the country rather than provoke a constitutional crisis.  He will have enough on his hands putting his policies into place without having this issue as a distraction.

Yet it must be acknowledged that Corona is not Arroyo's only appointee to the Supreme Court. That branch is packed with justices whom she placed there. And after all, an overwhelming  majority of them did recently vote to reverse the decision that had initially blocked Arroyo from being allowed to fill any vacant government positions, which according to the Philippine Constitution the President may not do in his/her final days in office.

In America we also know what a biased Supreme Court can do. Recall the 2000 U.S. Presidential elections when the Republican dominated Court ordered Florida to stop the ballot recount that probably would have tipped the election in favor of Al Gore.  What a different  history America would likely have had without George Bush as President, especially considering that his first term for that office may have been bogus.

Then there is the possible scenario as painted by one newspaper columnist:  Suppose the Supreme Court justices rise above their political debt to Arroyo and instead  live up to their mandate of impartiality. In doing so, further suppose that they find the Ampatuan clan guilty as charged for the hideous massacre of 57 journalists and others last November.  In response to this verdict the leaders of that family may take their revenge by spilling their guts and revealing everything about their erstwhile beneficiary, Arroyo, for whom they delivered votes in their locale by hook or by crook in exchange for free reign and full control of their province, and confirm that she in fact was guilty among other crimes of fraudulently securing the office of the presidency in 2004.  In turn this would call into question the not only her legitimacy as President (like Bush?) but of all her appointments including that of Corona.

Yet if Aquino somehow manages to successfully challenge Corona's position as SC Chief Justice, would that in itself  necessarily stop the Ampatuans from singing like canaries if finally convicted?.  And in that case, what about Arroyo's other Supreme Court justice appointments for whom there was no midnight appointment controversy.  Wouldn't they still be tainted by the her guilt?  In fact wouldn't every law that Arroyo signed and every policy that she enacted since "assuming" office be up for the question of legitimacy?

If Aquino sincerely believes that in order to uphold  the honor of his office and of the Philippines as a whole he has no choice but to press for Corona's dismissal, then it's understandable that he must pursue this campaign to the bitter end. Yet, on the other hand, by vigorously protesting Corona's appointment as he has already done, Aquino has made his point. Now maybe it's time for him to strike some kind of compromise and and move on.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Milestone In Phlippine History

Probably the best way to describe this week's  elections in the Philippines and the country's first experience in electronic voting is to quote Charles Dickens: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times".

It was the best of times in that despite glitches with some of the machines, voters for the most part were able to complete and register their ballots. At this writing about 90% of these ballots have been relayed, and counted and a winner of the presidential race declared.  What a difference between this and previous elections under the manual system  when it took days or even weeks to tally the results. Automation also prevented  such forms as cheating that were common in bygone days as stuffed, lost, and stolen ballot boxes. It also reduced the incidence of "flying voters", i.e. those who submit ballots at multiple precincts.    

It was the worst of time in that Comelec (Commission on Elections) when redirecting the precincts into fewer polling centers failed to plan and coordinate for such a large turnout of voters, many of whom waited in long queues under  a wilting tropical sun to cast their ballots.  One candidate--and winner in the  presidential race-- Benigno Aquino III stood in line for four hours to cast his vote.  Congratulations on  his victory and hats off to him for not insisting on special treatment while voting as did most other candidates..

And hats off to the Philippine people for their tenacity and determination to vote, despite  doubts by many skeptics, myself included, against a successful election.  It was really touch and go almost up to the last minute as to whether the machines would function properly.  And then there was the attendant violence in some locales that always accompany elections in the Philippines. That's something that even computerized elections can't prevent.  Nevertheless, the success of this election may be an incentive to institute further reforms in the electoral  process and in the government itself.

For further details and reflections about this historical event, please see these two great articles, "Philippine Election Update:  Results Reported in Record Time, Largely Peaceful, Now What?" and "Philippine Election Results Updated: May 13, 2010".

Thursday, May 6, 2010


The old Chinese curse "May you live in interesting times" is certainly ringing true in the Philippines these days.  As national election day draws near (Monday, May 10) several factors come into play that make this occasion one of the most significant such events in the nation's history.

One is that this election will be the first in this country to use automated vote counting. On the face of it, electronic ballots could reduce if not eliminate the rampant cheating that accompanies elections here, not to mention an improved efficiency and time in tabulating the ballots.  But in order for all that to happen, the voting machines have to work properly. And that isn't happening. In a recent trial run, they malfunctioned.

In addition, the President of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who allegedly cheated her way into office in 2004 may be using the error-prone voting machines as an excuse to postpone elections and hold on to her power, which many people feared she would do. All she needed was a pretext, and she may have found it.  If she does take advantage of this situation, it could result in "no-el" (no election).

At this time there is an ongoing attempt to repair the problem that caused the trial run glitch in the machines (replacement of faulty compact flash memory cards) but it seems questionable that they will be up and properly running in time for Monday as there are 76,000 computers affected. But even if the replacement is completed on time and Comelec (Commission on Elections) proceeds with the balloting that then misfires during the voting-or if other unforeseen problems crop up on election day, that could lead to another scenario: failure of election.  This would also occur if the voters cast their ballots but the devices break down in the process of counting the votes themselves.   

And of course it's way too late to fall back on a manual vote.

In the unlikely the event that the election does come off without a hitch, in my opinion the winner will be Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino,who among the numerous candidates is the apparent  front runner.  Aquino is  the son of the beloved late former President of the Philippines, Corazon"Cory" Aquino and the martyred Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, Jr. who was assassinated during the martial law era of President Ferdinand Marcos, possibly at the latter's behest.

But a clean election even if automated is not a slam dunk if the computers accept the ballots but aren't tamper proof.  Skullduggery and dirty tricks run rampant in political campaigning here.  Rumors and gossip likewise flourish.  One such story that I heard today  is that there is supposedly a plot afoot by Arroyo and her allies including  the head of the Department of National Defense and a former President  to sabotage the election  with the assistance of a computer expert who will hack the voting computer system in favor of Aquino's rival, Manny Villar. One thing about innuendo and rumors in the Philippines like this one is that they are often so outlandish that they could very well be true.

Of course as an alien, I can't vote.  So why should I care about any of this?  Because the implications of a botched  election are considerable for everybody living in this country, citizen or otherwise. The scenarios are almost endless, including civil unrest,  instability and / or the possibility of a military takeover. In turn the accompanying fallout  for the public could range  from minor inconvenience to complete chaos.

There will be foreign observers on hand to monitor the election proceedings, but in the end I don't think that they can second-guess the ingenious tactics that seen and unseen forces may well use to manipulate this event. That degree of awareness  takes a deep understanding of the Philippine culture and mindset that these poll watchers may not possess.

At any rate, right now life goes on. And if somehow, the election goes smoothly, there will be a new leader but probably little social  and political change at least for now.  However, an uneventful election itself  in the Philippines would be a watershed event and maybe even the beginning of a transformation  towards a better society.

But if things don't go well on Monday, then fasten your seat belts.  It's likely  to be a long, bumpy ride.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Endurance Test

I hesitated to bring up this topic because on the face of it, the subject seem rather inconsequential:  riding the jeepney (aka "jeep"), which is a ubiquitous and cheap form of public transportation in the Philippines, especially in the cities, towns and provincial roads. As I mentioned in my original post,  this vehicle might best be described as a cross between a passenger van and as the name implies, a military personnel carrier.  It has been around since shortly after WWII.  Almost everybody uses it at one time or another, and I'm no exception, especially if it's expedient and I don't feel like spending money on taxi fare.

However, my jeep experience the other day was just about the worst that I've ever had.  March through May  is the hottest season of the year in the Philippines , with daily temperatures reaching the upper 90'sF accompanied by a high humidity. This is especially noticeable of course in vehicles that are not air conditioned. Jeeps are partly open on both sides and in the back, but the metal roof of course absorbs sunlight.  So when the vehicle is at a standstill or  crawling in traffic (which is most of the time), the passenger area can become  sweltering.   Add to this the body heat of the passengers themselves who are crammed together side by side and you have the ride from hell.  

But the point that I'm getting at is not so much about my own discomfort. As I mentioned, in my case I at least have the option of taking  taxis instead which for all their own particular warts are usually air-conditioned. But in a way I'm glad that I made that trip. It reminded me about the the plight of  the people who must commute via  jeep every day in all kinds of weather. Demographically, most jeep passengers are adolescent  to middle age and so perhaps more likely able to tolerate it . But in extreme weather such  as we are now experiencing, woe unto the senior citizens or those in poor health who have to endure this form of transportation on a regular basis. Besides the unpleasantness of the ride itself, jeeps are difficult to board and alight from. They are poorly maintained, so diesel exhaust fumes often waft into the passenger area.  In order to attract attention and riders some operators add sound systems and ramp up the volume full blast including a thumping bass that literally vibrates to your innards.

As if traffic isn't already bad enough, jeeps stop anywhere even in the middle of the street to drop off and pick up passengers. The Metro-Manila Development Authority has talked about abolishing these vehicles or at least banning them from major thoroughfares where public buses and rapid transit run anyway.  But talk is as far as the matter gets. As my wife points out, jeeps are too embedded in the culture to be eliminated that easily, if at all (not to mention the political considerations.  Jeep drivers and owners, who number in the thousands, are strongly organized) .

The most that can be hoped for is the gradual replacement of those jeeps that are diesel-powered with models that run on electricity instead as is already happening in some locales such as Makati City. That of course would make a dent in the air pollution here to which the fossil-fuel models are a major contributor. But no matter which type of engine prevails, and for all its aggravations,  the jeepney is going to be a part of the social fabric of  this country for a long time to come.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Medical Advice

Due concern over a recurring physical problem, I had a medical procedure performed yesterday. As mentioned in an earlier post, quality health care in the Philippines is remarkably inexpensive as compared to the same level of care in the U.S. (see my post "The Future of American Medical Care Lies in--Asia?) I had a private room in a first rate hospital, the daily charge for which is about $53 USD. The doctor's fee for performing the the procedure, an endoscopic examination: about S200, anesthesiologist' fee, approx $70.

My only regret about having such an examination is the timing. This is Holy Week, during the latter part of which (beginning today, Thursday local time) almost all businesses and public services are closed. (See my post "The Day The Philippines Stands Still" ). So personal business matters and errands that I would normally move up to an earlier day of the week during this period could not be taken care of as I checked into the hospital on Tuesday and was not released till yesterday. Fortunately, my wife was able to take care of some of my tasks, but inasmuch as the hospital requires the patient to have a companion when checking out, she was also prevented from completing some of these items, not to mention her own agenda.

Furthermore, In general, medical offices and clinics are also shuttered for the rest of the week. So if I won't know the outcome of the examination until next Tuesday, and if I encounter complications as a result of this endoscopy, I will have to wait until Monday to contact my doctor or in a worst case scenario, go to the E.R. Can you imagine how crowded such a facility would be on a four-day week-end in this overcrowded megalopolis?

The moral of the story is that if you're going to have an elective medical procedure here in the Philippines, try to avoid slating it during Holy Week or right before any other major holiday such as Christmas. The resulting aggravation from not having access to follow-up support for several days and the frustration of having to juggle your schedule may be hazardous to your health.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Equal Rights for Filipinas: Almost There?

Like many other countries, the Philippines is currently observing International Women's Month. When it comes to women's rights, the culture of this country is truly a paradox. In some respects Filipinas are ahead of their American counterparts as for example in career opportunities. Women in the Philippines been active for decades in the professions such as medicine, law, broadcast journalism, government service and politics, and in such fields as engineering, and architecture for which American women until recently were considered unsuitable. Yet unlike in the U.S. women here are barred from occupations such as construction and operation of public utility vehicles. On the other hand there are Filipinas working in law enforcement and serving in the military including the PMA (Philippine Military Academy). In the barios and rural areas, women toil alongside the men and experience the same hardships.

The near-egalitarian status of women in the Philippines as compared to most other third-world countries may be the result of the matriarchal influence of the pre-Magellan Malay culture here that 300 years of colonization by the patriarchal Spanish were never able to completely erase. However, where Filipino women are negatively impacted is in their role as child bearers. The maternal mortality rate here is high especially among those in the lower socio-economic ranks: 200 out of every 100,000 women die in childbirth. This is due to a lack of access to quality medical care among the poor and equally importantly a very limited access to birth control measures such as as condoms and birth control pills, due to the opposition by the Catholic Church. (See my post "The CBCP: Pro-Life But Against the Living").

Yet the President of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo could have overcome this obstacle by exercising political will during her six year term which ends this year. For example she refused to support such measures as the Reproductive Health Act, which was recently defeated in the current session of Congress: As a conservative Catholic, she opposes government assistance in providing the people with access to artificial family planning means and education. This just goes to show that a woman in power does not necessarily empower women.

Interestingly, local women's advocacy groups did not criticize Arroyo on this issue during their protest march on International Women's Day concerning injustices against women. Yet they did confront the presidential candidates (all males) regarding their lack of position on women's issues.

Although President Arroyo's term officially expires in May, there is concern that she will try to hang on to her power one way or another. But if in fact she does "go quietly", one can only hope that her successor will vigorously address the matter of overpopulation that is one of the root causes of poverty in this country so that instead of winding up as street urchins as is the fate of so many kids here, the majority of Filipino children may be born into families who can materially and emotionally provide for their needs. In turn this will give the people an opportunity for a brighter future--regardless of gender.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Of Skin-Deep "Beauty" And Shallow Values

As I mentioned in a previous post one of the most irksome aspects of Filipino culture is the fixation on light (read white) skin, especially among women. So it was refreshing that no less than the Mayor of Makati City, Jejomar Binay, recently made a statement criticizing this sign of colonial mentality.

As Mayor Binay pointed out, cosmetics companies profit from this obsession by exploiting the popular notion that brown skin is something to be ashamed of. So they (very successfully) push skin whiteners as the path to beauty, no matter that poor quality brands of these products are often toxic.

I recall a television commercial for a whitener that told viewers that by using the advertised product, they would "look white and stay white." That is just pathetic. Think how much consumers could save instead of throwing away money on these useless products that do nothing more than appeal to a misplaced vanity and consider what these millions of pesos could do instead to improve Philippine society if properly redirected.

The main reason for Filipinos' self-identity issue is that for generations they have allowed themselves to be brainwashed into thinking that Caucasians, especially Americans who ruled this country for 50 years, are superior to their "little brown brothers" as U.S. President William McKinley referred to the people here. As a result of this now internalized racism, rarely if ever for example will you see a Filipino celebrity or even sales people in the country's leading department store chain who are not light-skin.

But skin color should be neither a source of shame or pride. Whatever one's race or ethnicity might be is an accident of birth and is something over which we have no control. So it behooves each of us to accept himself or herself as a unique individual and to not delude ourselves with pointless envy or magical thinking in trying to be who and what we are not.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A "Twofer" Festival

This year, two holidays happen to fall on this date: Valentines Day and Chinese New Year. Here in the Philippines, both are celebrated with almost equal enthusiasm. The former is popular for its romantic significance-- an emotion that runs deep in Filipino culture. The latter is important due to the strong Chinese presence and influence in this country. At this very moment a dragon procession is wending its way down our street.

It's no surprise that thanks to this chance calendar convergence, the malls and restaurants are packed today--even more so than they typically are on Sundays. My wife Lydia and I wanted to partake of the festivities, especially Valentines Day, but we are not fond of crowds. So we celebrated by going out to dinner last night instead at a French restaurant called Enchante in Pasig City. Upscale dining is a luxury in which we don't often indulge, and we were looking forward to a fine dining experience. The food and service were very good and the decor pleasant. However, the fine dining ambiance was diminished by a loud party on the other side of the room. One reason of course that people dine out in groups is to enjoy themselves. Yet such noisy revelry that would be expected in a place such as Chili's or TGI Friday's is out of place in such an establishment of this caliber. It seems that Filipinos often talk about Delicadeza-- a sense of propriety-- but all too rarely observe it, and so people here don't practice subtlety even in sophisticated settings.

Ah well, tonight Lydia and will enjoy our leftovers from last night in the ambiance of our own kitchen. Then from our window we can watch the fireworks display that will likely be provided by the nearby mall. After all is said and done when it comes to enjoying a holiday, there's no place like home.


Friday, February 12, 2010

The CBCP: Pro-Life But Against the Living

As I've mentioned in previous posts, the Philippines has a long road to travel in getting its moral priorities straight. Part or most of the blame for this country's misplaced values lies with the CBCP--the Catholic Bishops Conference of The Philippines, which among other duties acts as a political lobby for the Church. Thanks to the efforts by the CBCP, the Reproductive Health Act as pending legislation is dead meat, at least till after the national elections in May. The RHA would have reversed the government's long-standing position against family planning via artificial birth control methods and would have made these means more available to the public than they are at present.

At this time, the only "family planning" measures that the Church allows and that the national government supports are those that they consider "natural", such as the bizarre "fertility awareness" approach and the rhythm method ("Vatican Roulette"). These are high-risk methods for preventing pregnancy (why else would the Church allow it?). This is especially the case for women with irregular ovulation cycles and who cannot track their "stop" and "go" days, and / or couples who for their personal reasons do not wish to abstain from sex at the "required" times of the month.

Through intimidation of politicians and lying to the voters, the CBCP, which falsely claimed that the RHA is "anti-life" and that all means of artificial birth control are "abortion", has shown itself to be hypocritical and dictatorial. As early as 2008, the CBCP threatened to withhold communion from Catholic legislators who backed this law. Then in January, this august body told Church members (the predominant percentage of the electorate in the Philippines) to "vote their consciences" in the pending elections but to reject politicians who support the RHA. In other words, "vote your conscience as long as it tells you to do what we want".

But it gets even better. When a radio journalist asked an influential bishop why the Church on one hand condemns legislators who support the RHA but on the other does not denounce politicians who oppose birth control but who are corrupt and steal from the people, the clergyman had the audacity to respond that in the greater scheme of things, official corruption is less of a sin than the use of artificial family planning methods(!) In other words, wearing a condom or taking the pill to prevent unwanted children is a greater sin than plunder. Further, the good bishop sees nothing wrong with Church officials socializing with crooked politicians, especially the ones who give money to the Church.) In the Middle Ages, this practice was known as selling indulgences wherein rich patrons could commit immoral acts and then buy their way back into the grace of heaven simply by donating money to the Church. ( Hmm, that would explain a lot about wealthy lawbreakers here).

Just where does the CBCP get off by claiming to be "pro-life" anyway? The Maternal Morality rate of 230 out 100,000 live births in the Philippines is unacceptably high, thanks to the Church's stance regarding family planning. These (mostly poor) women who die in childbirth might still be alive if they had easy access to birth control. In addition, 32 out of 1,000 infants do not live to see their first birthday. There are thousands of street children throughout the country, some as young as four years whose parents cannot or will support them. Yet if there are any Church-supported orphanages to take in these kids at least in the Metro-Manila area, I'm not aware of them.

As for abortion itself, this birth control method of last resort which is illegal in the Philippines is nevertheless not uncommon here. It is often self induced usually by desperate (usually poor) women who would not likely have to go this route if they had knowledge about and access to artificial means of family planning in the first place. Of course, well-to-do women can instead avail of safe and legal abortions simply by going abroad. Ironically, one popular spot where abortifacients are peddled is on the steps of a Catholic Church in the center of Manila..

At the end of the day if a person believes that artificial birth control is wrong and that it's up to an (unproven) supreme being to determine how many a children a couple will have, that in my opinion is a severely misguided outlook. Yes, the argument could be made that one is entitled to his or her own personal beliefs, no matter how baseless. The problem is that opponents of birth control are more likely to to try to force their beliefs on those who want to limit the number of their children or be completely child-free than the other way around. In a seriously overpopulated country like the Philippines, this is more than just an academic debate. The problem of too many people and too few resources is not going to go away by itself. It is a fact on the ground that must be dealt with realistically and soon--like yesterday.

In 1979, China which was also faced with staggering overpopulation implemented a law limiting the number of children to one child per family. It was a draconian measure, but it worked. May the Philippines never have to resort to such steps to bring the population into manageable levels, but if that's what it takes, or at least the suggestion of such means for the people to understand what a population catastrophe that the country is facing, then the concept in some form or another should not be completely dismissed. For example, people could be "incentivized" i.e. rewarded for limiting the size of their families instead of being forced to do so. Otherwise, if the status quo continues and the population here continues to mushroom, the assertion by Filipinos that they love children will prove to be as empty as the bellies of street kids who are reduced to scrounging and begging for food.