Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Web prowl

The World bank has started blogging on Private Sector Development. From the New York magazine, here's Bill Clinton's plan for world domination and a profile of James Goodrich, the doctor who operated on the Aguirres, the Filipino craniopagus twins. Jeffrey Sacks asks in the Scientific American: Can Extreme Poverty Be Eliminated? The edited confeence papers from The Future of Globalization conference at Yale are now published online, including presentations from De Soto, Stiglitz and Bhagwati. If you are looking for Chinese, Korean and Japanese videos, music, books and comics but don't know where to look, despair no longer for here's

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Turd world service

Last week, I requested via Singapore's tourism website some materials on the country's tourist attractions. I was planning to see Singapore for two days (as a side tour from Malaysia) and was trying to work out a time-efficient itinerary.

I filled up the online form on the website on a Sunday night. I wasn't really expecting they would take my request seriously; I even had doubts whether the online form would actually reach someone on the other end. On Tuesday night, upon arriving at home, I was dumbfounded to receive a big pouch of Singapore guidebooks, various pamphlets (of excellent glossy quality) on the city-state's parks, walking guides to Chinatown and Little India, a complete guide to cultural events for the whole year of 2005, and a map of Singapore. I've read many things about the ruthless efficiency of the Singaporean government, but I didn't know it was this efficient. Imagine if you were to request the same information from our own Department of Tourism, do you think you'll get the same efficiency? I bet the only reply you'll get is that your e-mail has bounced.

I was thinking about Singaporean efficiency because of what happened yesterday. I called the Bills and Index section of the Philippine Senate to request copies of three bills. The man on the other line told me that, no, they don't e-mail and neither fo they fax copies. If I want them, I should go to the GSIS building myself. I was so shocked that I couldn't speak. Perhaps the other man on the phone sensed my shock because he said, in a consoling tone, that, in any case, the copies are free, I only need to get there personally.

An officemate said she would try to get copies through the committee. The committee was hesitant to send at first because it said it already sent copies to some NGO people. But after some chika and cajoling and beseeching, she was able to secure a promise from the committee that it would at least try to send copies. During that same afternoon the copies did arrive--personally delivered. Not faxed nor e-mailed, but personally delivered.

I really felt sad about this. In order to get copies, must we necessarily invoke special privilege or express a special request, and appeal to the better nature of the staff at the Senate? Why can not the Bills and Index section provide copies as a matter of course to any citizen that may register a request.

What if, for example, someone from Mindanao want those copies, must he go to imperial Manila just to get them? The committee also could have simply e-mailed them. There was no need to personally deliver them at the office. It was one big waste of time for the Senate's courier.

Why can our government not be more like Singapore's in providing efficient service? Singaporeans, in general, are brighter than us, I know, but surely we could do something to become comparable if not equal. Oh, well, I should probably stop making this comparison. It just keeps making me feel wretched. Aargh.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The caretaker government of a thousand days

Earlier this afternoon, I attended a forum at Miriam College on the caretaker government being proposed by some sectors calling for the ouster of President Arroyo. Among the panel of discussants were Liwayway Vinzons-Chato, representing the Unity for Truth and Justice and Carol Araullo of BAYAN. The audience was more or less of the leftist persuasion.

According to Vinzons-Chato, the caretaker council, which will exercise executive and legislative functions, would last, a la Arabian Nights, a thousand days and no more. The people who will sit in the council will be determined based on their performance in the anti-GMA struggle. Araullo said she envisions a multisectoral caretaker council, with 100 members more or less. Vinzons-Chato, however, seems to prefer a leaner caretaker council. The council, according to the coalition's primer, would institute "essential reforms that are the precondition for the holding of free and fair elections, and urgent economic and social reforms." Vinzons-Chato also referred to the council's drafting a temporary proclamation akin to President Aquino's Freedom Constitution during her 1986 transition government. The members of the council would disqualify nor seek a cabinet position in the government that will be ushered by the council through fair and free elections.

Personally, I have serious doubts that a caretaker government will do the trick and save the Filipino people from its dysfunctional politicians, and, in the words of the Unity for Truth coalition, "clean up the mess Gloria will leave behind." The Unity for Truth's proposal for a caretaker government would probably go the way of SANLAKAS's Resign All call during EDSA 2--that is, ignored and marginalized. And the Unity for Truth, of course, is working under the presumption that President Aroyo can indeed be ousted--which is, to be honest about it, not yet a foregone conclusion, making the caretaker council harder to sell to the Filipino public.

And speaking of the sellability of this caretaker council--its proponents, alas, do not have a concrete platform of action. The caretaker council will only be convened after Arroyo has been ousted. When people buy something, they naturally would want to see its specifications. For people to want a revolutionary caretaker council, they must know who will make it up and what are they going to do. To present a nebulous platform of reform is not enough especially for a coalition aiming to transform the politics in the country. This is a very serious strategic problem proponents of the caretaker council should remedy at the soonest possible time. We have had Cory Aquino's revolutionary government before, and pray tell, where did it take us?

Also, are a thousand days enough? Sheherezade might have managed to save her pretty head in that time span, but a thousand days seem to be such a short time to institute essential reforms, especially given the intractability of the country's problems. If it is serious in transforming society, the caretaker council would need a lot more time than a thousand days.

Vinzons-Chato says that the primary goal of the council would be to insititute truly free and fair elections. I honestly don't see how free and fair elections would be able to make dramatic political change. While irregularities are quite numerous in Philippine elections, it is not true that elective positions are habitually stolen or bought. How else are we going to explain our colorful and heated campaign season if election results are indeed made-to-order?

The problem is that people keep on electing officials who steal from them because of our perverse patronage system. I remember one household help who had this rather intense hatred against Mayor Jesse Robredo of Naga City, a local government superstar and Ramon Magsaysay awardee for government service, simply because Villafuerte, Robredo's rival, paid for her sister's hospital fees and burial.

As long as people think of politicians as social insurance, we would have no peace in this country. The more important reform, in my opinion, would be the strengthening of our social insurance institutions so that our people are weaned from their dependency on politicians for their KBL needs. President Arroyo followed Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's "one village one product" concept, but she missed his populist 100-baht universal hospital charge for the people. (Well, she distributed Philhealth cards alright, but that hardly counts.)

It is doubtful that a caretaker government would be effective in pursuing its goals. Its purported future members would, I presume, come from so-called untainted members of the civil society. The problem with civil society members as governing council is that they are inexperienced. They may think they know all the ropes, but so did Aprodicio Lacquian who famously quipped he has seen all politics. Governing is simply not the same thing as advocacy. Exhibit number one: Jimmy Carter--disastrous president, exemplary advocate.

Come to seriously think about it, a caretaker government would be a hard sell for the Unity of Truth coalition. But, I guess, as the Bible says, those who toil will be rewarded.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Opposition, we have a problem

The joke around town is that the opposition has a witness training academy and that the Arroyo administration has a witness prevention program. With witnesses dancing the cha-cha-cha--although unfortunately not in the way FVR had in mind--what are we to think? Bearing witness in this country, law on perjury and libel notwithstanding, is taken so lightly that I would not be surprised if any moment now someone turn up in the Senate and testify to Garcillano's having been abducted by an alien spaceship. Where the hell is that man anyway?

Whether the opposition would admit it or not, it is now President Arroyo who has the upper hand. Back from the abyss of that week when Cory Aquino and the Makati Business Club called for her resignation, President Arroyo's strategy--including her rather exemplary witness prevention program--seems to be doing just fine.

The slow trickle of witnesses being presented in the congressional investigations only tend to contribute in the public perception that the opposition has indeed a witness training academy. It would be better for the opposition to present these other corroborating witnesses during the impeachment trial itself where they would produce the necessary "damning effect" against the president. Right now, the slow parade of witnesses is only immunizing President Arroyo against other future accusations. When and if the impeachment trial comes, the middle-class urbanite public may be so fatigued by the same accusations rehashed for the trial that the outrage prequisite to a People Power demonstration --the opposition's preferred option of unseating President Arroyo-- may simply not materialize at Ortigas.

The impeachment kindling point for President Arroyo, the opposition discovered too late, is much higher that that of Estrada. The middle classes and the conservative forces in Philippine politics started with much prejudice against Estrada that they were only too glad to find a valid reason to wash their hands of him. PR-wise, it is simply much easier to caricature as evil a corpulent mustached actor with a legendary libido than a diminutive lady economist with a cute voice on the phone.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

A good man in politics

Today's Philippine Daily Inquirer has for its front page a rather large picture of Senator Raul Roco gesticulating behind a lectern, with the following words from the late senator prominently superimposed on the picture:

When I was 20, I wanted to change the world; at 30, I wanted to change my country; at 60, I realized I wanted only to change myself.

The news report didn't say specifically during which occasion Senator Roco uttered the words. But what could he have meant with that cryptic statement? Did Sen. Roco grow old to be a selfish man ? Because if you seek the literal meaning of the sentence, that's what it says. Was Sen. Roco's political life a case of narrowing altruism?

I think Sen. Roco must have wanted to to use the verb can rather than the verb want, but settled on the latter because using the former would sound defeatist for a presidentiable. The sentence, as I think Sen. Roco must have truly meant, is:

When I was 20, I thought I could change the world; at 30, I thought I could change my country; at 60, I realized I could only hope to change myself.

The Filipino people should have elected Sen. Roco as president back in 1998 when he was still healthy. Among our politicians in the national stage, it's only Roco--only he--who has managed to emerge as a decent and magnanimous man. It is the saddest commentary on our country's politics that a man who seemed infinitely superior could miserably lose to petty middlings. Think about it: A good man in politics is a failure.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Romeo and Juliet jologsified

Working from the Filipino translation done by the late Rolando Tinio, Tanghalang Pilipino presents R’meo luvs Dew-Lhiett, a jologsified version of the classic play by Shakespeare. The play is set in the slums of Barangay Verona, the characters don ukay-ukay clothes, and the fights are done with balisong and chako. And Dew-Lhiett soliloquizes thus:

Nakita mo sanang pag-blush ko kung di lang madilim Sa dami nang narinig mong sinabi kong sweet nothing. Wish ko lang sana makapagpakipot— Wish ko lang nabawi pa ‘yung love quote, Pero what’s the point, pa-cute pa ba ang emote?

I'm curious how this presentation will integrate the presence of cellphones (it says in the Manila Times report that cellphones will feature in the play). I have always thought that the tragedy (some say the farce) in Romeo and Juliet would have been easily solved had the lovers only been equipped with mobile phones--a couple of text messages and the fatal miscommunication between the two lovers is gone. If you are interested to watch the play--I myself am seriously thinking of hauling myself to Manila--here's the info you need:

R’meo luvs Dew-Lhiett goes on stage on August 5, 6, 19, 20, 26 and 27 at 8 p.m., with matinee shows on August 6, 7, 20, 21, 27 and 28 at the Tanghalang Aurelio V. Tolentino (CCP Little Theater). It goes on a second run on September 9, 10, 16 and 17 at 8 p.m, with matinee shows on September 10, 11, 17 and 18 at the Tanghalang Huseng Batute (CCP Studio Theater). For tickets, call Tanghalang Pilipino at 832-3661, 832-1125 or TicketWorld at 891-9999.

Regular P300
Student P200
Senior Citizen P240