Tuesday, December 17, 2013

December In The Philippines: "Winter" In Name Only

I recently read that a record low temperature of -135ºF  (-93ºC) had been recorded in Antarctica. I don't think this type of weather is likely to occur here in Southeast Asia anytime soon. But when I read about the winter weather in the other parts of the world, including places that are experiencing snow and colder than usual  conditions such as in the Middle East,  not to mention the cold weather in many portions of the the U.S at this is the time of the year, I'm especially glad to be residing in the Philippines. Here in Metro-Manila, December night time minimum low temperatures average is in the low 70º's F (low 20º's C).  Daytime temps reach into  the low to upper 80ºs-low 90º'sF (low 30º'sC). There are only occasional rainstorms, and so far this year, no typhoons have struck MM). The humidity in this quarter is also lower than other times of the year. So all in all,  it's quite comfortable now

But not all of the country experiences tropical weather in December. A popular resort and summer capital, Baguio City, which is in a higher elevation has cooler weather. The typical temperature ranges are maximums in the low 60º's F (20º's C) and minimums in the 50º's F (teens C). Summers there are  pleasant with daytime temps in the upper 70º's and night tmes in the low 60º's. 

The "real feel" in scattered locales even at sea level in the Philippines can also get chilly. My wife says that during December, she uses a blanket at night when she visits her home town of Gumaca, in Quezon province. This coolness might be the result of  breezes coming in from Lamon Bay next to which that locale is situated.

In the area of the Philippines that was struck by Typhoon Haiyan, such as Tacloban City, temps are similar to those in Metro-Manila. So at least after the storm passed, the weather was such that victims were able to cope better than refugees in other countries for whom inclement weather can compound their distress. As mentioned above, for example the Middle East has had cold, wet  weather  that which has only aggravated the misery of the Syrian exiles who are living in refugee camps under already desperate conditions. In Israel, Jerusalem was also blanketed with snow and at this writing some portions of that city have been  without electric power for 3 days. In contrast, partly due to more moderate climate conditions, the typhoon survivors in the Philippines may now be able to start rebuilding their lives. Imagine how difficult even thinking about moving on would be if they were still being battered by an ongoing  hostile weather environment.

In short,  the overall climate in the Philippines tends to be fairly constant year round  without major shifts from region to region. And inasmuch as there are no extreme changes from season to season throughout the country, December here is more or less just another month.  

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Some Thoughts on Typhoon Haiyan

Unlike the earthquake last month that preceded Typhoon Haiyan (local name "Yolanda") , there was ample warning by several days regarding the path and intensity of the approaching storm. So I wonder why more supplies and emergency personnel including the military weren't pre-positioned in or near the locale where it was expected to--and in fact did--make landfall. This obviously would have saved time and lives  instead of having to wait for aid to be transported later into the affected areas under impossible and impassable conditions which prevailed after the typhoon struck. It's true that in the case of Tacloban City, the unexpected storm surge that accompanied the typhoon may have wreaked more havoc than anything else in this disaster. Yet, again, given the advanced data regarding the unprecedented  strength of  Haiyan, "forewarned" should have resulted in a better "forearmed".

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the national cultural  trait of family narcissism is a detriment to Philippine society. This is especially the case in situations such as the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan where the excuse for looting not motivated by understandable desperation from starvation and / or thirst is "I have a family". The fact that  victims of such a crime may also have families doesn't register with the perpetrator who is oblivious to anyone outside his circle of interest.

In a twist on this obsession here with family, especially nuclear members,   Michael Tan of the  "Philippine Daily Inquirer" gave an account of one of his staffed members who dropped everything to go one of the most storm-devastated towns to try to find her mother. Travel would be very difficult, and what little money that she was able to bring for her mother,and her own personal expenses might be stolen by desperate refugees, so she herself might wind up a casualty.  Further, she and others like her who are searching for family members might just get in the way of rescue operations being conducted for the community at large.   The employee ignored Tan's advice to wait a few days until conditions were more settled and thus her chances of learning her mom's fate would be improved.  As of Nov. 15, Tan has not heard further from her.


As a Jewish humanist  and permanent resident of the Philippines. I was interested to see the extent to which these sources would step up to the plate in assisting the victims of Haiyan. The answer was not long in coming. Several such groups are coming through. Among them are  Jewish Federations of North America, Union for Reform Judaism and American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The Jewish Association of the Philippines is also pitching in with donations and a project for repacking relief goods.  The State of Israel has furnished 100 tons of supplies and senior medical personal, and has set up a set up a field hospital in TaclobanHumanist Charities and The American Humanist Association are coordinating relief efforts through PATAS (Philippine Atheist and Agnostic Society). PATAS itself is seeking various donations from local contributors for this project.

Nov.19 Update: Humanist Charities has raised $25,611 in just one day in behalf of  PATAS for aid to the typhoon victims. 


Finally, as I mentioned above, government preparations for Haiyan were inadequate. But worse was the delay and bottlenecks before rescue efforts and supplies began reaching  the decimated areas after the storm  and which are now finally getting through to their destinations. President Aquino has taken  a lot of criticism for this debacle, and taking command responsibility into account, that was bound to happen. Moreover, effective leadership is essential at a time like this, and according to "Analysis: Hero to zero? Philippine president feels typhoon backlash", Aquino may well indeed have dropped the ball.
Yet in all fairness, based on the history of disaster responses both during and before Aquino's administration as well as  onespecially onPhilippine culture the botched response to the Haiyan was almost a foregone conclusion. Almost every time  there's a calamity in this country, there's a hue and cry about how casualties and damage could have been prevented, who's at fault,  and declarations by officials that such lack of preparedness and inadequate response must never happen again. But the fact is that due to a combination of such factors as  institutional inefficiency and corruption at almost every government level and locale, as well popular fatalism, it can't help but happen again and again. So will this time be any different? Will Filipinos finally demand improvements in disaster preparedness and response as intensely as they have, say,  to the pork barrel scandal?  Or will they eventually let the issue slide just as they have in the past?  If this happens, then next time there's a failed government response to a natural catastropheand given the Philippines geographic and geological particulars, there's bound to be a next timethe people will have no one to blame but themselves.   

Friday, October 25, 2013

How Politicians Often Compound the Problems from Natural Disasters

Misuse of government power even during the best of  times is unacceptable. But in the aftermath of  a natural disaster such as last week's earthquake in Bohol province, Cebu,  malfeasance and exploitation by politicians of  such a tragedy for personal gain or glory is  unconscionable. Yet that's what apparently happened on Oct. 22 in the town of Maribojoc.

According to the "Philippine Star" it seems that the Red Cross was halted by the mayor, Leoncio Evasco while  the RC was in the process of distributing  relief goods to quake victims. Evasco demanded that the organization instead turn over the items to him to give to the people, the purpose of which was so that he could be the one to take credit for delivering the aid. But as per the "Star", there are good reason for having relief organizations  give the goods to the people directly: One is accountability. Recipients must sign for the supplies that they receive. Another is impartiality. There is no favoritism by the workers in distributing the aid to the people. However, if the local politicians were to act as middlemen in passing out the aid, they might well indulge in favoritism and give most of the goods to their families and supporters. . Maybe that's the reason that when the Red Cross volunteers refused to comply with the Mayor Evasco's orders, they were told to leave the area

This kind of grandstanding by politicians in the Philippines  is called  epal and is  commonly  practiced by elected officials in order to score points with their constituents. However, another more sinister practice than epal is hoarding of relief goods by politicos. officials. Hopefully, this was  not Evasco's real intention. As I see it,  diverting supplies this way is really a form of looting and should be treated accordingly, perhaps as plunder which in the Philippines is a capital crime.

And corruption before a disaster that results an increase of damage and causalities  when the calamity strikes is just as criminal. Case in point: non-compliance with and non-enforcement of building codes in Metro-Manila. As serious as the earthquake was in Bohol, if a magnitude 7.2 temblor (not including aftershocks) were to hit the National Capital Region, it is predicted that over 50,000  people would be killed due to collapsing structures, falling debris, and fires. Now, I'm not an engineer, but based on the obviously  poor quality of building and infrastructure construction that even a nearsighted lay person like me can see, I believe that the number of fatalities would  likely be much higher, as would  the currently projected number of  114,000 injured.

The only consolation in this otherwise tragic scenario is that maybe at least some of the crooked building inspectors and venal politicians who allowed the city to deteriorate into its present high-risk condition  and who would thus be responsible for the high number of casualties,  would also be among the victims.  And given  that the condition of area would be one of extreme if not total wreckage, it's not likely that any surviving opportunistic politicians could "epal" themselves out of that.

Oct. 28, 2013 Update:
"The Philippine Daily" one of the premier broadsheets in the Philippines has changed its position regrading Mayor Evasco's actions. In an editorial published today, the paper states that he may well have acted responsibly and in good faith by requiring the Red Cross to coordinate relief efforts with his office after all. Yet the fact remains that he may well be the exception that proves the rule, as too many (most?) local politicians unduly interfere in aid distribution for the purpose of  enhancing their image.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Let's (Not) Get Physical

The issue of participation by foreigners in local politics has recently received attention in the media.  publicity.  According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, such involvement by non-Filipinos is illegal, at least when it comes to elections for public office. Yet, as the Inquirer has noted, the Bureau of Immigration has applied this ban to include all political demonstrations as well.and went so far as arresting and deporting two aliens for joining  a protest criticizing President Aquino's State of the Nation address. 

Is should be noted that the Philippines is a constitutional democracy, and freedom of speech is a protected right. According to the" Inquirer" this right should extend to foreigners in the Philippines to the same degree as it does to Filipino citizens, as long as the former are not fomenting violence or civil unrest.

But even if the law were clarified to permit non-Filipinos to participate in  overt nonviolent displays of political and social activism, in my mind there is another matter to be considered: delicadeza i.e. a sense of propriety. As a non-citizen (although a permanent resident) in the Philippines, I still consider myself a "guest" in this country. And as such, is it proper for me to get into my host's  face by physically inserting myself in, say, by joining in an anti-governement march, even if I have a stake in the issue that's being contested?

And yet, as a foreigner the posts that I write in this blog are often critical of Philippine customs, culture, and society.  Isn't that just as rude and confrontational as physically participating in  a rally?  I think that there may be some differences. For one thing, in blogging, I'm not part of a gathering  that may be peaceful in its intent but somehow is goaded into violence. Further, my protests are passive.  Those who want to read my posts  must come to my site and read my work. Importantly, if they disagree with what I've written, they can  enter comments, including corrections to any errors I might have made. Unlike in a  demonstration, there's no chance my words will be disruptive or will inconvenience anyone.  On the other hand, you can't as easily argue with someone waving a placard and shouting slogans and / or who may be blocking traffic.

Another thing is that foreign demonstrators, especially tourists and other short-timers here, may be going off half-cocked because they've not bothered  to fully inform themselves about the matter that they're protesting.  Also, if the demonstration turns into a clash with law enforcement they may get injured or arrested..  In the event of the latter, they may think that their embassy will come to their rescue and bail them out (this is especially the case with Americans). That's not going to happen. Aliens who are taken into custody are subject to the laws and legal system of the Philippines just like anyone else here.

Ultimately, of course, it's up to the individual non-citizen here to determine the kind of involvement in which  (s)he will engage regarding local issues about which (s)he feels deeply. And perhaps the law should be amended to remove any ambiguities that stand in the way of foreigners involving themselves in marches and rallies, although as I've emphasized, personally such activity is not my cup of tea. However, until such time, I would urge such would-be protesters to ask themselves how they feel about foreigners demonstrating in their own countries (think illegals in the U.S. who take to the streets  waving flags of their country of origin and  making demands for rights to which they aren't even entitled in the first place), then decide on your course of action.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


As hazardous as driving is in the Philippines,  walking, especially in Metro-Manila  is also often a risky venture. So here are some important pointers to keep in mind while getting around on foot. 

Crosswalks are merely stripes in the road as far as most drivers are concerned, so do not assume that they will automatically yield the right of way. When crossing, wait until the approaching vehicles come to a stop before proceeding, lane by lane.

Sidewalks are often non-existent, even along busy streets.  And where they do exist, they tend to be  poorly constructed. They  are often broken, cracked, or have small, almost unnoticeable but hazardous bumps of concrete. I've tripped and fallen a couple of times over these protrusions.  So watching where you're going should include looking down as well as ahead.  In many places, walkways are blocked by lampposts, utility poles, traffic signs, street vendor stalls, and parked vehicles, just to name a few obstacles.  So if you need to step into the street to get around them and are walking in the same direction that the traffic is flowing, check behind you for vehicles before stepping off the curb.

If you are walking alone on a sidewalk wide enough for only two people and two oncoming pedestrians walking abreast approach you, the person directly in front of you won't drop back by behind his/her companion until (s)he is a few inches away from youliterally in your face. This is evidently due to the personal narcissism that pervades Philippine culture such that people here  often are oblivious to the existence of the "other" i.e., anyone who is not in their personal circle of interest.

I recall a humorous bumper sticker from my California days: "If you don't like  the way I drive, get off the sidewalk".   In the Philippines, that's no joke. If you're walking on the sidewalk along a busy thoroughfare, be aware that  motorcyclists sometimes use walkways as a shortcut to avoid heavy traffic. Be especially alert as they may come up behind you without warning. 

Don't be surprised to see jaywalkers climbing over median barriers when crossing the streets.  They are indifferent to the risk of life and limb and don't want to bother walking to the nearest pedestrian overpass or crosswalk instead, even though there may be  signs warning that pedestrians have been struck and killed trying to cross at that spot.

In short, when you're out and about as a pedestrian, hazards abound.  So stay alert.  Stay focused. Stay alive.   

Friday, August 2, 2013

Bus Stopped

Much has been discussed lately in the local media about the horrendous traffic conditions in Metro-Manila, especially along the main thoroughfares such as Edsa and Taft where there are often gridlock conditions.  Over the years, various plans and solutions have been offered and / or attempted, such as  coding by which vehicles are allowed on the roads only on certain days of the week according to the number on their license plate. But car owners who can afford to do so circumvent this rule by purchasing a second car with plate numbers that have alternate restriction days.

One of the latest "solutions" for easing traffic is banning the numerous buses traveling between Metro-Manila and the provinces  by relegating them to depots at the city, specifically at Alabang (Muntinlupa), Parañaque, and Trinoma (Quezon City) for southwest, southeast, and north bound buses respectively.  Presently, the terminals are located throughout Metro-Manila, and every day hundreds of these buses pick up and drop off passengers at numerous points along city streets en route out of and into town.

Unlike other previous attempts to resolve the traffic mess, this one impacts my wife Lydia and me directly, especially her as she frequently travels to and from her home province. Currently, the bus service that she uses for those trips is a fifteen-minute taxi ride from our home. Soon she will instead have to travel to Alabang, which is about an hour away when traffic is light. And she will be forced to pay a considerably higher taxi fare to get there (about 5x the amount she's now paying), assuming that she can get a cab that will take her to that destination because many drivers refuse to transport that far.  And of course, there are thousands of other passengers likewise affected, many others of whom carry heavy baggage and / or will have to travel on city buses to the outlying depots. 

I don't mean to sound complaining. I suppose that we all need to do our part to help improve the traffic situation. But there are others ways to address the matter such as cracking down and on and removing the hundreds of  "colorum" (unauthorized) pubic utility (city) buses plying the streets every day instead. If traffic is reduced at the expense of franchised provincial buses, as Lydia points out the former will likely use the freed-up space to increase their incidents of speeding and racing  each other for passengers.

In other words, the traffic problem here will never really be solved until the main cause is eradicated: Lack of discipline among the majority of both private and public vehicle driversand in Philippine society as a whole. If the authorities would enforce and if motorists and pedestrians would obey the existing regulations, there wouldn't be a need for this bus station relocation plan in the first place.So until people here learn to behave behind the wheel and on foot—or are forced to do so on pain of stiff fines, all the attempts by the MMDA (Metro Manila Development Authority) to improve the flow of vehicles will wind up as mere band-aid solutions. 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Connecting The Dots

The rainy season is here, and much has been written about how a couple of relatively mild thunderstorms over the past few weeks resulted in flooding and subsequent traffic tie ups in Metro-Manila.

Solving this perennial problem requires finding the cause. But there are so many interrelated factors, it's impossible to say that any one of them by itself is source. For example, careless disposal of garbage by thousands of squatters into the creeks and esteros (estuaries)  adjacent to their residences is a big headache. And these homes which are mainly shanties are themselves so numerous and built so close to the edge of the waterways (some even in them on stilts), they impede the natural flow of the water and often wind up destroyed by resulting floods. Efforts to resettle these people to safer and more habitable locations have not been successful because  either many of them, for various reasons return to the flood prone sites, or other "informal settlers" (the politically correct phrase) move in and take their places there.

Underlying this and other predicaments in this country is the overarching problem of overpopulation  which is linked as both a cause and effect of poverty, resulting socioeconomic inequality, lack of upward mobility opportunities, and crime. These problems are also tied in with widespread lack of resources for the  public education system which is in turn burdened by overcrowded classrooms and students who can't concentrate or drop out due to hunger or leave school to help support their families. As a result thousands in the rural areas who legitimately can't find jobs,  as well as those who just don't want to remain farmers, relocate to the cities especially to Metro-Manila. In these urban settings, the  best they can usually hope for is menial employment such as joining the ranks of street and sidewalk vendors who are already so numerous in some parts of Metro-Manila that pedestrians can't even pass. Obviously it's almost impossible to make a decent living this way, so these people just become part of the faceless urban poor. 

These are just a few of the population-related issues that stand in the way of progress for the Philippines.  Encouragingly, Congress recently passed the Reproductive Health Act to facilitate access to contraceptives by the poor.  This was no mean feat in light of decades of opposition from the well-entrenched Catholic Church, in particular the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.  However, implementation of this legislation has been challenged by groups fronting for the CBCP  (which would likely just as soon keep the populace pregnant and barefoot) and at present is hung up in the Supreme Court for final adjudication.  One can only hope that the decision  will be in favor of implementation.

Assuming that will happen contrary to the RH bill's detractors, it's highly unlikely that  the government would embark on a compulsory population control program. For one thing, given the local culture, such a policy would be unenforceable anyway.  But one reason that the RH bill finally passed is that a large majority of Filipinos (especially and significantly  8 out 10 teenagers) supported it along with the opportunity to practice family planning.  So left to their own (artificial birth control) devices and hopefully  with a growing awareness of the link between having large families and hardship, those who are entering their reproductive years  will voluntarily have fewer children than their forebears.

A reduction in population won't solve all the country's problems such as personal and family narcissism which stand in the way of national unity. But fewer people competing for finite natural and man-made resources will increase the chances of a better life for all.  

Sunday, June 2, 2013

An Affordable Health Care Plan for Expats

As I have discussed in previous posts, an important step to living comfortably in the Philippines is obtaining a good health insurance policy . There are various private sources that offer coverage such as Blue Cross of the Philippines. But  these policies can be quite expensive and come  with various exclusions such as limiting coverage for  elderly policyholders to inpatient treatment leaving those seniors requiring outpatient services out in the cold.    

Enter the  government sponsored health insurance plan, Philhealth (Philippine Health Insurance Corporation). I heard of this service a few years ago but assumed that it was only available for Philippine citizens. However, I recently learned that foreign permanent residents can also enroll. Importantly, while many (most?) Philhealth members are employees working in the public and private sector and are covered under their employers,  coverage such as for self employed or non-working individuals is also available.

Premiums for private individuals are quite reasonable: PH450 per quarter, and unlike with most private insurers, there is no coverage discrimination against seniors. However, there is a waiting period of three consecutive  quarters before new members can become fully eligible for full Philhealth benefits and only if the premiums are paid on time during that interval. 

After signing up with Philhealth, it takes about a month for an applicant to receive his or her Personal Identification Number. At that point the enrollee must then go to a Philhealth branch to authenticate the membership and to make the first premium payment.(These offices are conveniently located throughout Metro-Manila and the rest of the country as well.) After that, the premiums also can be remitted at other various payment centers. 

For further information, click here, or call (02)441-7444.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Don't Let This Happen To You

Like thousands of other American senior citizens living abroad, I receive a monthly social security check which is deposited directly into my bank account in the U.S.. In order to pay my living expenses in the Philippines, there are a couple of ways to conveniently access those funds and simultaneously convert them to pesos without physically going to a local currency exchange office. One is with an an ATM card from the above referenced bank. This can be used at almost any local ATM,  which BTW dispenses funds in the local currency.  But this is an expensive proposition as my bank charges both a $2.50  out of network and a 3% currency conversion fee. So if I use my card to get, say, $500.00  (approx. PHP 20,175), I wind up paying $17.50 for this service.

An alternative way of receiving money from the U.S. is via an online money transfer service, such as Xoom.com, which will deliver money from bank accounts in almost any country  to the Philippines, right to your door or directly into your local bank account, in either dollars or in Philippine pesos. This is the transfer system that I've been using for a couple years each month, and it's not only efficient, but relatively inexpensive as well. The fee is only $4.99  to transfer amounts up to  $2,999, and at a fair rate of exchange and with no additional currency conversion fees.

This arrangement worked out for me without a hitch until last month.  Before then, I had managed to build a relationship with this company such that I would order a money transfer from my U.S. bank to my local institution  and the transaction would be completed within a few hours. 

But this speedy access of funds came to a screeching halt due a careless clerical oversight on my part. It seems that I had I neglected to place the money in the bank account from which Xoom collects their payment. By the time I discovered the error, it was too late. Xoom had paid me and had then unsuccessfully tried to collect the funds from my bank.  Of course I immediately corrected the matter, but the damage had been done.  Hence,  when I used Xoom this month  to transfer funds, they took several days instead of a couple hours to complete my order because they wanted to ensure that the funds in my U.S. bank account were there.

I don't know how long it will take to re-establish my standing with Xoom to the point that I will once again enjoy the privilege of priority service, but the lesson is clear. It takes just one mistake to upset a good relationship, business or otherwise.  And when it involves a major portion of your regularly scheduled income, it can have serious consequences. When your bank or money transfer service is located on the other side of the world,  you can't just walk into the office and straighten things out with the manager. 

So by my relaying this incident embarrassing as it is, if my mistake prompts other expats to stay alert with their financial transactions, then that's all that matters. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Fatal Fatalism

On March 15, Kristel Tejada, a 16-year old University of the Philippines freshman, committed suicide because she was despondent that she couldn't pay her tuition on time and as a result was faced with having to sit out the semester. The University, a public institution, has taken a lot of heat for its purported inflexibility in not working with the girl and her family. However, the school was in the midst of changing its policy towards its economically disadvantaged students, and if the Kristel had waited a few more days, under the new guidelines, she would have gotten a break.

But who's really to blame for this tragedy? Was it really the school's fault? Or instead as one newspaper columnist submitted, was Kristel herself personally responsible for making the decision to end her life? I think the latter opinion is too harsh. Kristel was still an adolescent which is a time of life when problems often seem magnified out of proportion and when emotional maturity and rational thinking are not yet fully developed. This is especially the case in the Philippines where according to my wife Lydia, a psychologist, emotional maturity is impeded even further due to overly intense family interdependency. (And BTW the combined number of years of study for pupils in Philippine public and many private elementary and high schools is only 10 years rather than 12 as in many other countries. So sixteen is the typical age for starting college).

In my opinion it was the parents who were at fault, not for pushing Kristel academically (in her case that wasn't necessary anyway as she was a brilliant scholar who loved her studies) but rather for placing the financial future of the family, which included several siblings, on her shoulders, a burden which she evidently took very seriously. In Philippine culture it's common for poor families which usually include several children to try scrape up college tuition for one of the kids, usually the eldest, and charge her or him  with the task of completing school, landing a good job, and then not just "paying forward" the school costs of the other siblings, but also  becoming the main source of the family's income. If the parents lack  the funds to cover the full tuition expenses of even one child, well "bahala na"just leave the matter in God's hands. Somehow things will work out.

But as Kristel's death shows, such arrangements are fraught with risk. Evidently, she believed that she had failed her family and just couldn't handle (what she perceived as) the shame for letting them down. To quote her father."The UP deprived my daughter of her only hope to help us". This says it all. Why did Kristel have feel that way? Was it her fault the family had too many mouths to feed in the first place? Who should be supporting whom? She should never have been made to feel for an instant that her sole purpose in life was improving her family's living standard.

Then yesterday, I read about a young man, also from a large, poor family who was putting himself through college by working at night, but he was killed in a mugging on his way home from his job. As with Kristel, his parents had pinned their hopes for a better life not just for their son but for the whole family on his eventual completion of his studies and a starting a successful career.

In short, for his and Kristel's parents, it seems that these children were considered  a ticket out of poverty, little more than means to an end. But will people see it that way?  More likely they will blame everything but the parents' participation in a  way of life of irresponsibly  bringing more children into the world than they can afford  and then expecting their kids to pick up the slack for their own short-sightedness,  a toxic tradition which in the end needlessly cost these two young people their lives.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Seniors Centered

In the Philippines, citizens who are at least 60 years of age are considered seniors and are legally entitled to certain benefits. To avail of these privileges, they may apply for senior citizen cards which upon presentation in certain establishments such as restaurants, theaters, supermarkets, public transportation, pharmacies, and medical facilities allows them a discountusually 20%off regular prices for goods and services.  In addition, there are often lanes in these venues set aside to accommodate the elderly.  

Unfortunately, the key word in these cards is "citizen".  So these cards are not available to foreigners, even to permanent residents.  But that doesn't mean that older non-citizens are out in the cold as far as being granted age-related perks.For example, when I went to a medical center to have some lab work done, I was 34th in line.  But the clerk manning the number dispenser machine observed that I was obviously over 60 and sent me to the senior citizen window for priority service to which as it turns out older foreigners are also entitled. My number in that line was 14, so I thought I had caught a break. But it didn't turn out that way. Even though there were fewer people in the senior lane, some of them required time consuming geriatric assistance. By the time my turn came, the regular patient service area which had several service windows vs. just one for seniors was already serving number 40!  

Now when it comes to senior discounts, here's where things get really interesting. Non-citizens may sometimes get this adjustment just by asking for it and furnishing acceptable proof of age, such as a postal i.d or an I-card. I have experienced this good fortune a couple times, and in a venue where it was especially useful: hospitals. Just ask for the discount when you present your bill at the payment window.  There's nothing to lose by requesting it.  The worst that can happen is that the cashier will say no.

When I was younger and still living in the U.S., I resented what I perceived as an arrogant sense of entitlement by American seniors as a whole to special treatment from merchants and others in the private sector  just because of their age.  Often their demands were not even the result of a reduced income.  In fact I know that many of these complaining older people were comfortable.  Now that I'm elderly I still don't share that attitude that I'm owed special privileges for having lived a certain number of years, which as I see it is not a personal accomplishment but rather the result of a combination of factors many of which are beyond one's own control.

Now if it's the policy of  certain business establishments or public agencies here in the Philippines to offer a senior discount or other accommodation to foreigners, of course I'll accept it.  As I mentioned above, I might even ask for it. But if no adjustment is available, well, so be it.

I once  read about an older citizen who raised a stink at being denied free senior parking privileges by a certain mall chain in Quezon City as required by law. On one hand, I understand that he was only asserting his legal right. But on the other hand, I don't see why such an ordinance was passed in the first place.  Anyone who has a car in the Philippines can't be that hard up.  Only a small percentage of Filipinos can afford to buy vehicles, and in keeping with the local culture of dependency many of them even have personal drivers!  Furthermore, the aforementioned senior  likely come to the mall to spend money, and I don't see how the  P45  that the mall refused to waive was going to make or break him.

Similarly, when I was living in the States, I read about an older woman in California who said that she had only a small income and was upset that the restaurant chain where she ate breakfast every day didn't offer senior discounts.  Yet how impoverished could she have been and yet still afford to eat out every day?!  This story stuck with me because at the time my wife and I didn't have the means to do that even though we were working.  What less so now on our small retirement incomes? 

In short it behooves us older folks to use common sense and adjust our sites accordingly in managing our finances. But at the same time we need to get over it if we don't happen to get special treatment as seniors if the venues that we happen to be patronizingespecially for non-essentialsare not required to provide it, no matter where we live.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Sky Cable and Customer Service—Still Unclear on the Concept?

I recently came across an interesting article  in the "Philippine Daily Inquirer: "At Dell, key exec pulls off harmony in diversity."  What particularly caught my attention was a statement by the executive under discussion, Richard Teo. who is President of  Dell International Services Philippines,that "Filipinos are always eager to please their customers".

I documented in a previous post "Indifferent Strokes from Business Folks" why this contention is a stretch. I can't speak for or about Dell, as I don't own any of their products, but in the Philippines, it's a cultural norm for  merchants in general and especially customer service reps to tell you what you want to hear. Yet too often they don't deliver. Case in point is once again  Sky Destiny Cable, my cable TV and Internet provider   This time the problem is frequent Internet service outages, the latest of which was on Feb.5 and one of several hours duration.

There were also several such instances in January, so I first called Sky on Jan. 22 and asked for a prorated adjustment on my monthly statement for the days in that billing cycle in which there was lengthy downtime. The CS representative with whom I spoke agreed to issue a credit immediately, but when I subsequently received my statement dated Jan. 26, there was no such adjustment posted. This is what I mean about by businesses telling customers what they want to hear.

So I called Sky again on Feb. 5 and happened to reach the same agent with whom I originally spoke on Jan 22. She claimed that the adjustment was indeed approved and issued on that date but was at a loss to explain why it didn't show on my bill, but assured me that it would appear on my February statement. (I will be very surprised if that happens). Also on Feb 5, there was another protracted Internet service interruption, and I asked her for a credit for that outage as well. she said to call Sky back on Feb. 6 to get that adjustment. I did so and reached a different customer service representative who agreed to issue a deduction for this most recent outage. I happened to mention my experience about the problem with the missing January 22 credit to my bill. He confirmed that it had been approved, but on Feb. 3, not Jan. 22 after all(!)

Finally,as another example of Sky's misinformation campaign, in January, the company issued a notice of expanded payment options for Destiny Cable effective February, including online remittance availability through BDO, where I bank. This was welcome news as heretofore my only means of remittance to Destiny was over the counter at various facilities, which I consider to be an archaic nuisance and a waste of time inasmuch as I'm able to pay my other bills via the click of a mouse. But on Feb. 6 when I reviewed the BDO list of companies payable online Sky Destiny was still not included   When I relayed this issue to the agent with whom I spoke that day, he said that online payment service for Destiny  is accessible via BDO, notwithstanding my efforts to explain that unless a company is actually listed in the bank's website for this service, remittances can't be made that way. His insistence to the contrary reminded me of a line attributed to Groucho Marx,"Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?" Obviously, this company doesn't have its act together. With such disorganization, how do they stay in business?

Oh, and back to Dell. Mr Teo, I live across the street from the Dell Service Center in Eastwood City. As I mentioned above, I'm not familiar with Dell customer service quality and whether or not your call center staff give the customers what they want, but I hope that their performance on the job is better than their behavior on their their breaks outside the 1800 Building where they engage in boisterousness and littering into early morning hours. As a courtesy to your residential neighbors, we would appreciate your training your night shift
people into giving Dell's residential neighbors what we want: respect for others so that we can have late night peace and quiet along with cleaner surroundings. A little consideration goes a long way.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Tips on Filing a Barangay Clearance

In order to meet the requirements for certain government issued certifications such as a Postal I.D. and the Bureau of Immigration Annual Report (the mandatory yearly registration by foreigners with the BI), one necessary document to have is a barangay clearance showing proof of residence. The barangay BTW is the most basic and local unit in the Philippine governmental structure.  Its functions which also include some public works and safety are directed from the barangay hall, which is located in and operates at the community level. So there is likely such an office near you.

To receive a barangay clearance, you need to have lived at your current address for at least six months and must present the following documents and remittance at the  hall:

-A letter of residence address verification. If you live in a condominium, for example, you can obtain this letter from your building administration office. For other types of dwelling arrangements such as house rentals, contact the barangay hall for instructions.

-A cedulua (head tax) receipt, the fee for which is P55. You can pay this assessment at the barangay hall before  or while filing your clearance.  Sometimes this service is available in non-government sites like shopping malls.

-A photocopy of your passport photo / I.D. information page.

-A photocopy of your Bureau of Immigration I-Card (front and back). It's also advisable to bring the card itself with you in  the event that the clerk isn't satisfied with the clarity of the photocopy. 

-P65 for the processing fee per individual. So of course it would be P130 if your spouse is also filing at the same   time, as was the case for  my wife and me.   

As with most government offices, the best time to conduct your business at the barangay hall is immediately after the doors open to the public, usually 8am. If you submit your request at that time, the clearance may be ready the same day. The barangay hall performs numerous other services for the public and lines form very quickly. So if you snooze, you lose.

Maybe it's because the barangay hall is a neighborhood oriented office that, at least in my experience, the staff has been very helpful especially towards seniors. I hope that getting your clearance goes as smoothly for you as ours did for us.