Sunday, December 30, 2007

Some products I recommend

Since it's the holiday season, let me indulge my consumerism and recommend some products I find good and worth buying:

1. Tom's of Maine Natural Deodorant Sticks
The deodorant sticks from Tom's of Maine do not contain aluminum and no artificial fragrance. There is really no solid scientific proof, as far as I know, that says aluminum is bad in deodorants, but better to err on the side of caution. Besides, I believe that armpits are supposed to sweat so I only use deodorants not anti-perspirants. Tom's of Maine does the job and you can rub it in without worrying if aluminum will trigger your future Alzheimer's.

Tom's of Maine products available in Shopwise and Rustan's. Never buy it in Healthy Options because it's overpriced there.

2. Kirkland fish oil

Newsweek had an article before which interviewed 5 medical experts on the forefront of research on geriatrics and, if I remember correctly, three of them are personally taking fish oil pills plus a multivitamin daily. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's medical correspondent who has recently written Chasing Life: New Discoveries in the Search for Immortality to Help You Age Less Today, also has started taking fish oil pills after he has interviewed experts on the subject in the course of his writing the book. Here's some information on fish oil fatty acids from the US National Institutes of Health.

There are many fish oil pills available. Some are very expensive. Buy the Kirkland brand. Consumer Reports did a survey of various fish oil pills and ranked it as the best and free from mercury. Kirkland is also the cheapest at around 800 pesos per bottle of 400.

3. Jason natural fragrance-free daily shampoo

Free of parabens, harsh chemicals, dyes, and fragrance, it still does what a shampoo is supposed to do: wash your hair. The nice thing I like about this is that it has no smell so you don't end up a walking advertisement for the shampoo you are using.

4. Bench styling stick
Bench has a winner in this. It's not a gel, not a pomade, not a cream, but it works well and does not leave your hair stiff and shiny. It's also easier to wash.

I think I should stop here before Inquirer Super gives me a ring.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Web prowl

On the seventieth anniversary of the Nanking massacre this month (pictures of Iris Chang's seminal book on the subject shown here in a Japanese bookstore), the Asahi Shimbun calls for Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda to take the opportunity to express regret and hope for reconciliation. From the New York Times, a personal essay on how difficult it was to find a kidney and how altruism is simply not enough to ensure there's a ready supply for organs for people who desperately need them. America's NPR picks the year's best in world music. The Economist writes on rising food prices and the opportunity it presents to the world's poor farmers if governments can steer the right policies. From the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan must prepare for war between the United States and North Korea. Time picks Vladimir Putin as its Man of the year.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Complaint against the Metrobank credit card

Tony Lopez over the holidays was complaining about his Metrobank credit card which he said gets refused too often, and took a swipe at the fact that a foreigner (an Australian, I think) heads its credit card operations. Today, he follows it up by printing a reader's complaint against Metrobank regarding her being billed for annual charges for a card Metrobank offered but which she had refused and returned to the bank.

I have a Metrobank credit card and had at least one experience similar to Tony Lopez's. Even if your Metrobank card is still within its credit limit, it sometimes inexplicably gets refused. It's not a big problem for me, but I can imagine the inconvenience for people who don't bring cash or who are in a hurry.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The looming return of the tycoon

The military and Bangkok's snooty middle classes booted him out of power, sent him to exile, and banned his Thai Rak Thai Party, but Thaksin Shinawatra is now poised to retake the leadership of Thailand as his political supporters, rallying under the banner of the newly-constituted People' Power Party and promising his return, won half of the parliamentary seats contested in the last elections.

No revenge for a politician could have tasted sweeter. Some deposed populist leaders took years and years to plot their return (Newsweek notes here that it took Argentina's hugely popular Juan Peron eighteen years), but Thaksin might just make it back in a little less than two years. Speaking in Hong Kong, Thaksin said he will return sometime between February and April. (His political enemies probably want to mark his return on the Ides of March, better to finish him off.)

Many say Thaksin's return bodes ill for Thailand. His politics polarized the country and draw attention the the gap between the affluent and liberal Thailand, on one hand hand, and the poor, rural Thailand on the other, not unlike what Joseph Estrada did to the Philippines.

Another contrast is that the leader of the opposition is exactly the sort of leader that stereotypically sweeps the middle classes off their feet: Abhisit Vejjajiva has movie-star good looks and a Western education.

The issue that the Thais will face next year is the essential problem of democratic majoritarian rule: What should a conscientious minority middle class properly do when its choice of a leader is resoundingly rejected by the poor majority that has ideas of its own?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

This land is whose land?

Land reform, it seems to me, is one issue only a disinterested youth with no independent income can have a totally objective, non-partisan view. One's bias is automatically dictated by one's position in the society.

If you or your family owns a sizeable property yourself, you'll most probably be decrying the economic efficiency lost by dividing properties and distributing them to farmers who don't even have the capital to develop the land themselves. Conversely, if you don't own land, you'll probably be incredulous of the seeming gall of landlords to selfishly hold on to property through every loophole they can see in the law.

In the case of the Sumilao farmers and their demand for their ancestral land in Bukidnon, it is probably correct to say that when viewed strictly in terms of potential economic contribution, at least in the the short term, the land in question is better off ending in the hands of San Miguel than the farmers who marched cross-country.

Many people are of the above opinion and some columnists have even started questioning the "landless" credentials of the farmers, like Emil Jurado in today's column.

The first time I heard of the march by the farmers, my first thought was that it was futile. After all, had there not been a final Supreme Court Case decided against them? I thought only God or a revolution can give them back the land. But, in fact, there is a solid possibility that they have a valid case that might win them back the land.

Here's the lowdown of the story: To save the land from land reform, the Quisumbings promised to convert it from agricultural to agro-industrial use in five years' time. They, however, failed to deliver on the promise and instead sold it to San Miguel, which plans to set up a piggery on the property.

As Dean Bernas points out here, the farmers have a valid case in saying that because the Quisumbings did not deliver on their promised land conversion of the property to agro-industrial use, the land conversion should be revoked.

Meanwhile, DAR Secretary Pangandaman has asked the farmers to write a position paper, which the farmers, I think, submitted to the secretary a couple of days ago.

With all the incendiary and highly emotional quality of this Sumilao issue, I cannot help but think former President Corazon Aquino could have spared the nation the emotionally draining debate on land reform if she only unilaterally parcelled off the land in 1986 during her revolutionary tenure as president. Instead of discussing weighty issues on how to move the Philippines forward in the highly competetive global economy, here we are in the great age of the global knowledge economy still debating on what to do with land, that primary source of wealth of a bygone era.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A more independent Japan without the LDP?

It seems President Arroyo is not the only one fond of an overly large contingent in a foreign trip; Japanese opposition leader Ochiro Ozawa is accused of the same thing in his trip to China, where he brought with him 45 Minshuto lawmakers--24 from the Upper House and 21 from the Lower House-- while the Japanese Diet is in session.

China apparently is giving Ozawa the red carpet welcome to prepare for the time when the bumbling LDP of Japan is finally thrown out of power. In this sense, the visit by Ozawa is comparable to the historic visit by Taiwan's opposition Kuomintang two years ago: an opposition party warming up to China while the ruling party maintains a more distant stance.

Ozawa is concerned about the declining regard for Japan in the international community, with it being increasingly seen as a mere minor player that curries favor with China and the United States. North Korea has, for instance, proposed to chuck out Japan from the six-party talks. Ozawa is proposing a more independent Japan that maintains an equal distance between China and the United States. Earlier, Ozawa blasted Prime Minister Fukuda for supporting Japan's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean to support U.S.-led anti-terror activities.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Coup d'etat by press con

For the life of me, I can't quite understand how checking in a hotel can unseat a president simply by the magnificence of one's words - unless you're Mahatma Gandhi bringing down the British Empire to its knees or Jesus of Nazareth preaching in Galilee.

A coup d'etat, properly executed, succeeds only by barging into the palace, firing at the obstacles and killing the president. So why did Senator Trillanes did a rehash of his failed Oakwood mutiny? If he knew he had no chance of success this time, then what was his intention? To make it to the headlines once again?

If his intention were to highlight once again the iniquity of President Arroyo's administration, he hardly has to invade Manila Pen to make that point. The people already know too well that the sitting president is not exactly made of outstanding character.

If Senator Trillanes thought there would be hordes of people to welcome their action and usher in another People Power, then his reading of the public pulse was way off the mark. The Filipino People will rally for freedom, never for a military junta.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Security at the Batasan is a joke

I was away for about three weeks, and terribly missed the Philippines. When I got back, I read in the papers about the assassination of a congressman inside the Batasan itself.

Like it or not, politics here in the Philippines is as exciting as any other spectator sports. When you buy a newspaper here in the Philippines, you really get your money's worth unlike, say, in Singapore where all you read about in the front pages is the stock market this, liquidity that, and all that sort of boring stuff.

I saw Congressman Golex say on ANC that the security at the Batasan was probably too lax. I beg to disagree. The security is not lax, it's almost non-existent.

Two months ago we had an exhibit at the North Wing of the Batasan to highlight an illegitimate debt that purchased bad incinerators, and we were riding a jeepney with all our materials. We just went past the Batasan gates and no security guard bothered to stop us or issued a whimper of objection at our brashness. They just let us drove inside the compound. The quality of the security inspections at the La Salle Taft campus exceeds by leaps and bounds the perfunctory review, if any, they subject you to at the Batasan or for that matter in the Senate.

And you know what? Security people at government offices have a double standard. The pricier the vehicle you are in, the laxer the inspection they'll subject you to. So if you would like to assassinate someone, enter the government compound in style and you'll have no problem.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The fast sinking JPEPA

The campaign in the Philippines against the JPEPA is going very very well and based on the pronouncements of the senators in the media, barring future upset, there's a good chance that the JPEPA will be rejected by the Philippine Senate.

The senior government representatives sent to the Senate are not doing well in defending the agreement. Most senators were not happy with the unpreparedness and the seeming unfamiliarity with the JPEPA text of the government panels deployed to defend the agreement.
During the first two hearings, the pro-JPEPA panel performed so dismally that the government had to summon Philippine ambassador to Japan Domingo Siazon to help the pro-JPEPA panel. For the past two hearings Ambassador Siazon has been trying to defend the agreement, but he could only do so much because he is not really familiar with the agreement's provisions as he was not directly involved in the negotiations.

The Philippine government is going desperate by the day; even Japanese Ambassador Makoto Katsura has sought assurance from the Philippine government that it's doing everything it can to convince the senators to approve JPEPA. President Arroyo last week issued an order creating a special task force, which includes cabinet members and other senior government officials, just to defend the agreement.

Some senators who were pro-JPEPA before hearings began are now anti-JPEPA, like Senator Mar Roxas, a former Trade Secretary, and Senator Santiago, chair of the Committee on Foreign Relations. According to Senator Roxas, the JPEPA is in intensive care unit, waiting for the proper time to die. According to Senator Santiago, the government is not giving her enough arguments to enable her to defend the agreement in the Senate floor. In Senator Santiago's own words, she said, she "will go up in flames" if she were to defend the JPEPA in its present form,

In the scoreboard of the senators, all the hearings were won by the Junk JPEPA Coalition and the officials now are desperate to convince the senators and are going for a media campaign to recover their losses in the Senate. They have also gone twisting the truth in the media. One news report written by Alito Malinao of the Philippine News Agency even claimed that our contingent of nurses at the Senate hearing were pro-JPEPA and allegedly had a manifesto of support for the JPEPA when what the nurses were holding all those time was the statement of the Philippine Nurses Association against the JPEPA not a manifesto of support.

The opposition of the nurses is extremely damaging to the JPEPA. One senator said the senators are "flabbergasted " that the supposed nurse beneficiaries of the JPEPA are opposing it.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Racism and the invention of corruption

The outspoken Senator Santiago, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign relations, is not known for taking back her words, but she found herself in a rare embarrassing situation when in an emotional outburst during the Senate investigation on the controversial ZTE broadband deal she blurted out that the "Intsik" invented civilization and are also the inventors of corruption. "China invented civilization in the East, but as well it invented corruption for all of human civilization," the senator said.

She has immediately retracted her statements, but the Chinese embassy and the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. did not let the racial slur go uncommented. Senator Santiago, in her defense, claimed she would never malign the Chinese because, in fact, she is an admirer of their civilization and that her husband is half-Chinese. She said she was also recently diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome.

This is the problem with the anomalous ZTE deal. It is bringing to the fore the hitherto latent anti-Chinese sentiment of Filipinos. Just a few more nudges here and there and we might have full-blown China-bashing, with Chinese-Filipinos browbeaten for being ethnically associated with Mainland Chinese.

The problem, however, with this, as Dean Pangalangan writes here, is that Filipinos are racists at home, but are at the receiving end of racism abroad. Since a huge number of Filipinos are now migrating abroad to look for work, the forces of karma are now operating as they encounter Western prejudice and discrimination firsthand.

Filipinos like to think of themselves as cosmopolitan, relatively sophisticated and living in an open, non-discriminatory society. They are quick to deny that they too are purveyors of discrimination, but yes, they, we, all are. Only that in the Philippines the victims of that discrimination and prejudice are the indigenous peoples, the Muslim in Mindanao, the occasional black tourists and yes the "Intsik beho."

GMA is looking for envi TV host

GMA7 Public Affairs is currently looking for a host for its new program which will seek to promote environmental awareness. Interested applicants should be:

For Male Host:

Good-looking with good body built
At least 5'7 in height
18-30 years old
A nature-lover
An animal lover
An environment advocate
Has wide experience exploring/saving the environment
Smart and opinionated
Has excellent communication skills in both English and Tagalog

For Female Host:

Physically fit
At least 5'2 in height
18-27 years old
A nature-lover
An animal lover
An environment advocate
Has wide experience exploring/saving the environment
Smart and opinionated
Has excellent communication skills in both English and Tagalog

If you think you got what it takes, kindly e-mail a comprehensive resume (and state your environment related experiences) with at least three photos (close-up and whole body) at Qualified applicants will be privately called for an audition. Submission ends on October 5, 2007.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Waiting for people power in Burma

After twenty long years, there's again a people power movement to oust the repressive military junta in Burma.

These are highly emotional times in Burma. Triggered by rising fuel costs, monks for the past days have been marching, calling for an end to military rule, which has isolated the country and depressed the local economy. The leading opposition leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, is still under house arrest, but is now reported to have been moved by the military out of her house and transferred to prison.

The military has also started to attack the monks with tear gas. Many people around the world fear that soon the military will start shooting them, as it did in 1988.

Filipino friends of the Burmese people, led by the Free Burma Coalition, are planning to join the Burmese people in protests. Here are the tentative dates, hope you could join any one of them:

*Friday, September 28 *- solidarity picket in front of Burma Embassy at
10:30 am sponsored by Partido ng Manggagawa (PM)

*Saturday, September 29* - solidarity activity at the Quezon Memorial
Circle - 8888 faces for a free Burma photo campaign booth (to be
confirmed) sponsored by IID and FBC

*Monday, October 1* - solidarity picket in front of Burma Embassy at
10:30 am sponsored by Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP)

*Tuesday or Wednesday, October 2 or 3* - solidarity picket in front of
Burma Embassy at 10:30 am sponsored by Alliance of Progressive Labor
(APL) - final date to be confirmed

*Tuesday or Wednesday, October 2 or 3 *- solidarity picket in front of
Burma Embassy at 10:30 am sponsored by Akbayan Citizen's Action Party
(AKBAYAN) - final date to be confirmed

(some of the pickets may be staged at China Embassy or DFA.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

If voting were held today, JPEPA would be junked

The Daily Manila Shimbun, the Philippine Daily Inquirer,and GMA 7 report on the rather disastrous turn of events for the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) when it defended the JPEPA during the first hearing for the agreement's ratification in the Philippine Senate.

In separate media interviews after the hearing, Senators Enrile,Defensor-Santiago, Roxas said that the government was unable to make a sound defense of the JPEPA. Senator Roxas was "underwhelmed." The Junk JPEPA Coalition was more prepared than the government officials, according to Senator Defensor-Santiago. This was despite the fact that there was a full ensemble of top government officials defending the JPEPA (Secretary Favila, Usec Aquino, Secretary Gary Teves,etc)versus only one from the Magkaisa Junk JPEPA COalition: Atty Golda Benjamin of the alternative legal group IDEALS.Senator Enrile said that the pro-JPEPA panel was resorting to scare tactics to bully the senators to vote for JPEPA, the agreement's merits being incomprehensible to ordinary Filipinos.

Also, the invited Japanese panelist, the VP of the Japanese chamber of commerce, did not help the case of the pro-JPEPA panel, with senators pouncing on his casual remark that the Philippines "does not have a good image" in Japan. Senators Gordon and Enrile asked if JPEPA will improve that image and bring in the investments from Japan.

You can see the report of GMA 7 below:

For the latest Philippine news stories and videos, visit GMANews.TV

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Philippine security and Chinese ZTE Broadband

There are many compelling reasons why the ZTE Broadband project should be scrapped; today's Manila Times editorial outlines most of them. But what is never mentioned is that the project, which will build the Philippine backbone for multi-media interconnectivity among government offices, might endanger Philippine national security by potentially allowing China unfettered access to government information.

China is indeed interested in information. Recently, there were reports that the government and military networks of Germany, Britain, and the United States sustained cyber attacks by Chinese hackers testing information technology defenses. Now, there's this news saying that France sustained similar cyber attacks from China. The attacks targeted the French defense ministry's public Internet site.

What was the purpose of such attacks? Critics say motives for such hacking include stealing of secrets or confidential technology, probing for system weaknesses and placing hidden viruses that could be activated in a conflict.

So far, no official complaint has been made to China for those attacks. The governments concerned are only saying the the attacks can be traced back to China, but not necessarily to the People's Liberation Army.

US State Department officials believe that that every telecommunications company in China is linked to the Ministry of Post and Communications and/or the military. There is, therefore, a distinct possibility that China could be bugging our proposed ZTE broadband network, wiring our government offices directly to Chinese intelligence. The ZTE broadband scandal may not solely be about who got how much bribes. Perhaps the stratospheric bribe offers from ZTE could be explained by the fact that China has political and strategic interests in the completion of the project.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Full circle for Chairman Abalos

If Chairman Abalos does not resign, he may very well be impeached. And it seems he has no intention of resigning because he's digging in and declaring a position of absolute innocence.

Iloilo Vice Governor Rolex Suplico will be filing an impeachment complaint against Chairman Abalos next week and, despite this report that claims the Speaker will not use his clout to promote the impeachment complaint, one can not reasonably expect the Speaker to block Abalos's impeachment with the same energy and stamina he blocked the impeachment complaint against President Arroyo since his own son is an aggrieved party in this deal. When someone is implying your son is a liar, it's hard to be totally neutral. Blood, after all, is thicker than anything.

The knives are out. The people who failed to get Chairman Abalos for the Mega Pacific deal are probably lining up to get him this time. And the stars are starting to align against him: the business groups calling for his resignation, Church members calling for Neri to testify "to save his soul," allegations of sexual marathon with nubile Chinese women, and, in an interview today on the radio, a distressed Abalos complaining that his wife and children are being ostracized by their peers.

All this is bad for the Philippines and also bad for China. First, there was the contaminated White Rabbit. Second, there's the perception China's taking over some of Philippine agricultural land. Now, a Chinese company is corrupting our government, offering scandalously high bribes for a project that has an indefensible rationale.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Sa pintig ng cursor, ideolohiya

From Richard Ernacio of the Tinig yahoogroup:

Inaanyayahan kayo ng LIKHAAN: UP institusyon ng malikhaing pagsulat (UP ICW) na dumalo sa "lecture" ni Dr. ROLAND TOLENTINO na pinamagatang "SA PINTIG NG CURSOR, IDEOLOHIYA)" na gaganapin sa SEPT. 14 (BIYERNES), 2:30 pm sa VARGAS MUSEUM. ITO AY WALANG BAYAD

Si dr. tolentino ay kasalukuyang guro sa UP Film Institute at associate sa fiction ng UP ICW.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

A salve to one's solitude

The sad death of another student desiring of acceptance to a fraternity has reminded me once again how despite all the affectations we may assume, in spite of all the sophistication we from time to time want to convey to the world, we are all, deep inside, just a solitary people needing the warmth of other people's friendship.

How else would you explain the deep aspiration for a seemingly intelligent young man to subject himself to physical torture just to belong to a clique he can call his own?

Aristotle wrote that a man who doesn't need the companionship of other people, who doesn't feel the need to join the polis, is either a god or a beast. Yet, irony of ironies, the ideal good life outlined by Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics, is one that is meditative, a solitary pursuit.

How does one join other people in various human pursuits and still retain the space to privately pursue a meditative life? If you pursue the warmth of human companionship, you, surely at one point, are bound to be disappointed, even brutally hurt and disillusioned. Friends betray each other, lovers part for newfound love, an apprentice trumps his master, a UP pledge sometimes get beaten to death all in the hope of human friendship and fraternity.

Really, what is the value of a human relationship attained thus? It must needs be better to be a hungry wolf that hunts the world in solitude. You may not be Aristotle's solitary god, but a troglodytic beast will survive in the wild best.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

One more time with feeling

Not content with having heard them at the House of Representatives, some in the opposition want to replay the Hello Garci tapes - this time around in the Senate. Senator Miriam Santiago, Senator Joker Arroyo and Senator Richard Gordon are rightly opposing this recidivist move, with Senator Santiago even threatening to bring the issue to the Supreme Court should the Senate majority insist.

You see, we may all loathe the president and relish each time we see her flailed in public, but the Anti-Wiretapping Law or RA 4200 is unambiguous in its language that: Any communication or spoken word, or the existence, contents, substance, purport, effect, or meaning of the same or any part thereof, or any information therein contained obtained or secured by any person in violation of the preceding Sec.s of this Act shall not be admissible in evidence in any judicial, quasi-judicial, legislative or administrative hearing or investigation.

Just because we all want to see President Arroyo ousted does not mean we should be free from all legal impediments to do whatever we wish. That is the mistake we made at Edsa Dos.

2008 International Postage Stamp Design Contest

The Bureau of Post of the Republic of Korea is inviting participants to the 2008 International Postage Stamp Design Contest to increase public interest in postage stamps at home and abroad, as well as to find more creative ideas for stamp design.

The competition is divided into two categories:

• Youth category for those 17 years and below with the theme “The Mailbox of the Future”
• General category (no age restriction) with the theme “A Happy Nation that Nurtures Kids”

Application forms may be downloaded from the web page of Korea Post:

Application period: July 2 to September 21, 2007

For more information, contact +82 2 2195 1255 Fax: +82 2 2195 1299

from the NYC website:

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Chinese as migrant worker in the Philippines

Two weeks ago, I was at the UP University Press Bookstore looking for Nick Joaquin's biography of Senator Angara when, while browsing the shelves, I came across Bai Ren's Lagalag sa Nanyang translated from the Chinese to Filipino by Joaquin Sy.

Lagalag sa Nanyang (Nanyang Piaoliuji) is an autobiographical novel, a Bildungsroman, told by A Song, a boy from a small village in China who left the country in 1932 when he was only ten years old to look for work in the Philippines. He took on the jobs of apprentice in a Chinese dry-goods store in the Visayas, newspaper boy in Binondo, salesman of katol (anti-mosquito coils), and later translator of English news reports for a local Chinese publication in Manila.

Lagalag sa Nanyang chronicles the hardship experienced by A Song as a poor migrant worker in the Philippines, how he had to scrimp in order to eat and send remittance to China, how he deliberately spent each centimo as though it were a whole peso.

The novel has such a huge impact on me because I imagine that my maternal and paternal grandfathers must have had the same experience as A Song's. They came here about the same time A Song left China for the Philippines. At the beginning of the novel when A Song was describing the boat packed with Chinese all bound for the Philippines and all vomiting because of the violent seas, I imagine the boat where the brother of my maternal grandfather perished somewhere near Batanes, almost reaching the Philippines.

A Song fell in love in the Philippines, was brokenhearted here and, at the end of the novel, left the Philippines to join the Chinese resistance against the Japanese in World War II. Lagalag sa Nanyang is such a sad and lonely book it is likely you'll find yourself in tears in several episodes. The last time I felt as heartbroken reading a novel was more than ten years ago with George Eliot's Silas Marner.

I've finished reading Lagalag sa Nanyang today and it has become one of my favorite novels. The novel has such huge love both for the Philippines and China. I wish I could thank Joaquin Sy myself for translating this wonderful book. If you have a Chinese-Filipino friend, do him a favor and give Lagalag sa Nanyang as a gift.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Money to burn

For the past week, I was too busy to blog and was too preoccupied with JPEPA and a new campaign we launched this week about another onerous Philippine loan that financed a failed white elephant project of the Department of Health.The Philippine Star, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Malaya and the BusinessMirror reported on the campaign launching.

The loan is roughly a US$ 2M obligation every year for the Philippines until 2014. The loan was incurred by the government to pay for medical waste incinerators that we are no longer using today because of their unacceptably high emissions plus the incinerator ban declared by the Clean Air Act of 1999.

We will be paying 100 million pesos every year for the defunct incinerators. What is sad about this is that the total 2007 budget of the DOH to address its backlog in infrastructure is just about 400 million pesos. The incinerator loan is one-fourth of that total budget for infrastructure.

And now, of course, we have another white elephant project in the offing: the ZTE broadband project. The ZTE broadband deal is such an atrociously bad deal that Secretary Neri should not have been simply demoted as CHED Chairman; he should have been banished from public service forever instead.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Everyday Islam photo contest

Photographers are invited to send entries to a photography contest that aims to depict Muslim integration in the Philippines, following the legacy of UK’s renowned photographer and Muslim convert Peter Sanders.

Sponsored by the British Embassy in partnership with Newsbreak, the competition has two categories: professional, for those who earn a living from photography or are hobbyists who have participated in photo contests; and amateur, for those who do not earn a living from photography and who may submit photos taken with their mobile phone cameras.

Each entry must consist of one (1) full color, 8” x 10” photograph, accompanied by a caption. The photographer should not put his name or any distinguishing marks on the photograph. A separate paper containing the caption and the name and contact details of the photographer should be submitted with the photograph. Contestants are requested to submit as well the original or raw files of their entries.

A contestant may submit as many entries as he or she desires. Employees of the British Embassy and Newsbreak and their relatives up to the fourth degree of consanguinity are not allowed to participate in the competition.

Entries should be received by Newsbreak before or on August 31, Friday. They may be hand-carried or mailed to Room 1402-A West Tower, Philippine Stock Exchange Centre, Exchange Road, Ortigas Center, Pasig City.

A board of judges composed of professionals chosen by the British Embassy, the British Council, and Newsbreak will pick two winners in each category, or a total of four winners. In the professional category, P25,000 awaits the first prize winner, and P10,000 the second prize winner. In the amateur category, the first and second prize winners will receive P15,000 and P5,000, respectively.

Winners will be announced in the last week of September as the Peter Sanders exhibition tour starts its Mindanao leg. Winning entries will be featured on the British Embassy and Newsbreak websites.

Ownership of the photographs shall remain with the photographers, but the entries shall be made part of the British Embassy’s photobank, which it can use at no extra cost for future projects related to its Engaging with the Islamic World program.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Invitation to a forum on regional literature

Mga Suliranin ng Panitik Mulang Rehiyon

Inaanyayahan ang lahat na dumalo sa Mga Suliranin ng Panitik Mulang Rehiyon, isang talakayan na inihahandog ng Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika, at Anyo (LIRA) sa pakikipagtulungan ng UST Center for Creative Writing and Studies. Gaganapin po ito sa UST Thomas Aquinas Research Center Seminar Room A sa ika-21 ng Hulyo, mula ala-una hanggang alas-singko ng hapon. Ang talakayan pong ito ay dadaluhan ng manunulat na mula sa labas ng Maynila, tulad ni Abdon Balde, Jr. na galing Bikol, at Jose Bragado na isa namang Iloko. Ito po ay walang bayad at bukas sa publiko. Magbibigay po ng sertipiko sa mga makapag-aabiso ng kanilang pagdalo bago ang naturang pangyayari. Mangyari na lamang pong makipag-ugnayan kay Nanoy sa 0918-2442553, di kaya magpadala ng e-mail sa

Everyone is invited to attend Mga Suliranin ng Panitik Mulang Rehiyon ( The Challenges of Literature from the Regions), a forum brought to you by Linangan sa Imagen, Retorika, at Anyo (LIRA) in cooperation with UST Center for Creative Writing and Studies. The forum will be held at the UST Thomas Aquinas Research Center Seminar Room A on July 21, from 1pm-5pm. The speakers who will be attending the forum are writers from outside of Manila, like Abdon Balde, Jr. who hails from Bicol, and Jose Bragado who is an Iloko. The forum is free and open to the public. Certificates will be given to those who will confirm their attendance before the event, those interested may course their requests or inquiries through Nanoy at 0918-2442553 or

Monday, July 16, 2007

Magkaisa Junk JPEPA press con

The Magkaisa Junk JPEPA Coalition, of which I am a part, held today a press con at Miriam College. It was nice of former Vice President Tito Guingona, Rep Risa Hontiveros, Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) President Leah Paquiz and Atty Tanya Lat to have all come. Read about the event at the Magkaisa Junk JPEPA Coalition blog.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Senator Pimentel is okay with repeal of Human Security Act, notwithstanding his voting for it in the Senate

During a Kilusan sa Makabansang Ekonomiya (KME) summit held at Maryhill School of Theology in Quezon City this morning, Sen. Nene Pimentel was justifing his participation in the Senate debate on the Human Security Act (pdf). The original version of the law, he said, was so atrociously bad that had he kept silent, never introduced his many amendments, and simply voted nay, the Human Security Act now would have been a lot more draconian.

All of Sen. Pimentel's amendments seem to be quite reasonable: the maximum of three days of detention without judicial warrant of arrest (rather than the originally proposed three months!); the Executive Secretary (rather than the unsuable president herself)as chair of the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC); suspension of the law three months surrounding any election; designation of a Court of Appeals division to review decisions made by the ATC; the P500,000 per day penalty for unlawful detention; the requirement for probable cause, etc.

Sen. Pimentel, however, categorically said, he would welcome if the Human Security Act is repealed or voided. Anyway, since the crimes in the Human Security Act are already designated as crimes in the Revised Penal Code, there's really no pressing need for it. The military, even sans the law, is also quite capable of forcefully abducting people in the streets.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich:

"Oh, you mustn't pray for that either," said Alyosha, horrified. "Why do you want freedom? In freedom your last grain of faith will be choked with weeds. You should rejoice that you're in prison. Here you have time to think about your soul. As the Apostle Paul wrote: 'Why all these tears?'

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Book Donation at Asian Development Bank (ADB) Library

The ADB Library recently weeded books from its collection and is inviting government/state academic and research libraries to avail of these books, on a first-come, first-served basis. The books are mostly in the subject areas of economics, business, management as well as other areas of social sciences. Books are for pick-up at the ADB Library, located at No.6, ADB Avenue, Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila. If interested, please call Riza Villafana at telephone number 632-4270, Gina San Buenaventura at 632-4272 or Nelia Balagapo, associate librarian, at 632-4914.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Unknown pleasures

The Philippines Star reports today that a man in Plaridel, Bulacan is being hunted down for, take this, raping a chicken -- apparently a prized Texas breeder. The aggrieved owner said that the hen was gasping for breath when he caught the man and the hen in flagrante delicto. The hen was so traumatized by the whole incident it subsequently died-- of multiple lacerations, needless to say.

Some people may be reminded of that teenage flick American Pie, where the lead actor attempted to make love to an apple pie, but the most celebrated description of such unconventional desires can be found in Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint, wherein the teenage Portnoy made love to a liver (beef, I think, for the family was Jewish), which his mother served for dinner later. Read the book, or ( as de rigeur in reading such dirty novel)just the relevant passages, and see how Portnoy agonized over the dinner table that night. For how can you eat something you've just made love to? That's practically cannibalism, definitely not kosher.

Given the slow-as-molasses turning of the wheels of justice in this country, the man from Bulacan who raped the hen may never be meted punishment for his gallinaceous indiscretion. What did Karl Marx say? To each according to his needs -- right. All I know is that somewhere in a coop in Bulacan, a rooster is plotting vengeance.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The cost of joining the yen bloc

Mr Roberto Romulo's op-ed "Time to strengthen RP capacity for trade negotiations," which appeared on the Philippine Star last June 28, hit the nail right on its head when it called for an inter-agency trade negotiating body that would oversee the country's trade negotations and ensure that they are well synchronized with and supportive of domestic policies.

However, Mr. Romulo's endorsement — in the very same article — of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) seems to fly in the face of his own trenchant analysis.

The reasons he set forth in favor of an inter-agency negotiating body—i.e. the need to build national consensus and develop local expertise in articulating the country's trade interests—are, in fact, the very same bones that those who criticize the JPEPA have been picking on.

Mr Romulo wrote that our present ad hoc negotiating teams, composed as they are of co-equal governmental bodies, cannot make objective decisions because of their naturally divergent mandates and constituencies. This is precisely why the toxics waste brouhaha in the JPEPA had to happen. The DENR vigorously opposed the inclusion of wastes, but the DTI, a co-equal body but the lead negotiator, nevertheless went ahead. Even President Arroyo, as former DENR Secretary Mike Defensor acknowledged, was not informed of the waste trade provisions when she signed the JPEPA in Helsinki.

The JPEPA was also negotiated without "a sustainable national consensus," because the details about the agreement were so jealously guarded by the DTI that one civil society group felt compelled to petition the Supreme Court to (quite embarrassingly) ask for a copy.

It is important to remember that a bilateral agreement such as the JPEPA is not a free trade agreement. It lowers the tariff barriers between Japan and the Philippines to the exclusion of all others. While much is made of the forecast that the JPEPA will improve the Philippine GDP by 0.09 %, nothing is said about how the JPEPA will impact on our other equally vital economic relationships with the United States, the ASEAN or Japan's competitor in the region, China.

If we join the yen bloc that Japan is building in the region, how exactly will it impact on, to use the colorful words of John Maynard Keynes, the "separate [trade] blocs and all the friction and loss of friendship they must bring with them?" It is a distinct possibility that rather than creating and expanding trade, JPEPA might just be diverting it toward Japan, to the detriment of our political friendship with other countries.

We must negotiate our bilateral trade agreements with extreme caution and not fool ourselves that by virtue of those agreements alone we are expanding the sphere of freedom in commerce. Mr Romulo's proposal for an inter-agency negotiating body is a big step toward the right direction, but free, fair and expanding trade can only be achieved by an inclusive process that will deliberate on exactly where our national trade--and political--interests lie.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Don't count on numbers

UP Professor Felipe Medalla during a colloquium organized by Foundation for Economic Freedom(FEF), a report of which event you can read here, was talking about how the growth statistics being bandied about by the government may not be real.

Medalla pointed out that that there is a persistent discrepancy between GDP figures on the one hand and figures for consumption, tax collection, investment, government spending and exports (i.e the components of GDP). He further noted that considering the country's historical record, if the official growth rates being churned out by the government were true we would have been experiencing high inflation and interest rates.

According to the disappointingly short write-up by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation of the event, Medalla concluded that the official statistics have become too, er, optimistic.

Optimistic? I think Prof Medalla minced his adjectives here. A forecast may be said to be opimistic alright, but a GDP, although an estimate in some aspects, is not a forecast and therefore the right adjective should have been unreliable, or spurious, or phony. Not optimistic.

Whenever a SONA is made by the president, so many people dispute the wonderland that she paints in her speech. A more substantial refutation of GMA's hallucinatory SONA could probably be had following Medalla's lead.

President Arroyo, through Garci, padded election tallies; she also solved the classroom shortage by a simple re-definition of what constitutes a shortage (and voila ! a classroom for every pupil). I think it would at least be funny to know she is pole-vaulting the country to First World status by the sheer strength of her imagination, which she probably got at (the aptly named) Assumption.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The benefits of drinking alkaline water

According to health and longevity enthusiasts like MIT's Ray Kurzweil and Dr. Terry Grossman (whose incredibly informative book Fantastic Voyage I am reading now), the blood's pH level is very tightly controlled to fall somewhere between 7.35 to 7.45. To maintain this pH level, the body neutralizes acidic drinks like softdrinks with alkaline blood buffers.

The problem is that when we keep on ingesting acidic foods and drinks, we use up our body's limited supply of alkaline buffers and thus they become unavailable to neutralize the other acidic waste products continually produced by our bodies, including organic byproducts of digestion such as acetic acid, lactic acid, carbonic acid, and uric acid. When we don't have enough alkaline buffers to neutralize these acidic waste products, our bodies sustain health damage and become ideal for the development of cancer cells.

Because of this need to preserve the alkalinity in the blood, Kurzweil and Grossman specifically recommend to drink only alkaline water (of pH up to 9.5 and 10).

The above recommendation by Kurzweil and Grossman is the most controversial. Some say that this quack science is one proof that even a most brilliant scientist like Kurzweil could be so thoroughly misled. Water, these critics say, is basically electrically neutral.

Kurzweil and Grossman insist that that while water is indeed neutral, the location of the electrons make a huge difference. The side of the molecule with the hydrogen atoms is slightly positive in electrical charge, whereas the oxygen side is slightly negative. Because of these slight charges, water molecules combine to assume hexagonal or pentagonal shapes and these three-dimensional electrical properties of water are quite powerful in breaking apart strong chemical bonds of other compounds.

So should we all begin drinking alkaline water? Well, I don't know enough chemistry to independently evaluate both sides of the debate. However, when I telephoned one water supplier (Aqua Health) I learned that five gallons of alkaline water (pH 7.5) cost just about the same as the regular distilled water we were regularly ordering(Pesos 40-50).

Kurzweil and Grossman may be grossly wrong, but what if they're right? Therefore, for the same price as our old water supply, I began ordering alkaline water. I figured out I got nothing to lose, and a whole long life to gain.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Web prowl

The Ateneo University Press is holding its annual book sale on June 18-29 at its Bellarmine Hall bookshop. The Asia-Pacific Security Survey 2007 Report by the East-West Center in Honolulu is now available online. J├╝rgen Habermas writes an obituary for American philosopher Richard Rorty here. New Yorker's Seymour Hersh has a story on Fil-Am General Taguba of the Taguba report on American abuses of prisoners. Looks can kill, here's Foreign Policy on some toxic ingredients to watch out for in some cosmetic products. From Newsweek, here's an interview with newly-elected President of East Timor Jose Ramos-Horta plus an essay from Body Shop founder Anita Roddick. For the beginner cinephile, here are 50 DVD's to own (or better, simply borrow and watch). Sir Isaac Newton predicted that the world would end in 2060 and-this he got correctly-the Jews would return to the Holy Land before the world ends. From the New York Times, a story on the incredible sperm cells.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Quisumbing family feud

While many people are enthralled by the Bektas v Bektas TV extravaganza, there is an ongoing family feud that is far more compelling and visceral down in Cebu. Instead of husband and wife at each other's throat (which is annoyingly common nowadays), the Quisumbing family feud features son versus parents.

Here's the story: Norberto Wenceslao Jesus B. Quisumbing III is the son of Norberto B. Quisumbing Jr. and Britta B. Quisumbing. In the 1980's, he assumed the leadership of the then debt-ridden Norkis Group of Companies and successfully engineered the rehabilitation of the family business. He was however disowned by his parents when he underwent a sex change operation and subsequently got married. He was booted out as president and CEO, and his shares of stocks apparently taken away from him (now her).

Mediation has failed, as Business World reports here and Wesy Quisumbing is now pursuing the cases he filed against his parents, which involve 900 million in damages, claims and inheritance.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Their eyes have grown tired watching Erap

Representatives Douglas Cagas of Davao and Exequiel Javier of Antique are excoriating the group Plunderwatch for allegedly turning its back on the conviction of President Estrada. Cagas, the Daily Tribune and the Inquirer report, also makes the insinuation that the convenors of the group led by Carol Araullo already made an alliance with the deposed president.

Based on the media quotes of Araullo, Plunderwatch still believes plunder was committed by Estrada. It is no longer keen on seeing Estrada's conviction, however, because,as the Inquirer reports here, it feels that the Arroyo administration, being a worse offender, has no "moral ascendancy" to convict.

The problem though with Plunderwatch's stance is this: If Estrada is not convicted under the watch of this administration he most probably never will be convicted under any other succeeding administration. It is simply now or never, under this administration with or without moral ascendancy.

The blogger as politician

Apparently, the Kabataan Partylist organization narrowly missed catching a seat in the House of Representatives. The national tally sheet in the COMELEC website says the group managed to corner 1.54 % of the votes, a little shy of the 2 % threshold to gain a partylist seat in the Lower House. This sad news, of course, doused the hope in Philippine blogosphere of sending a congressman in the person of blogger Mong Palatino, Kabataan's first nominee and blogger at Mongster's nest.

The Kabataan setoral organization has, as to be expected, the best spanking website among those who contested the last partylist elections. The website has video, mp3, comment box and the works. If the group didn't make it this year, there is no reason why it shouldn't make it in 2010. After all, even Buhay, the runaway winner in this year's elections, was also a little anemic when it first joined the party-list elections. There's always going to be birth pains.

While Kabataan and Mong Palatino unfortunately didn't make it this year, Dorothy Delarmente of Doralicious won as councilor of the 1st District of Quezon City, the first blogger, as far as I know, to win an election.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Will the JPEPA help our fishery sector?

Jaime Escober of Tambuyog Develeopment Center claims in this Business Mirror op-ed that the JPEPA doesn't make sense in terms of promoting the local fishery interests. According to Escober, even without the JPEPA, the tariff for tuna is already at 3.5% and for frozen shrimp at 0%. Therefore, as far as these two products are concerned the Philippine fishery sector doesn't gain anything substantial out of JPEPA.

What the Philippine negotiators should have pushed is for our sardines, mackerel, anchovies, cuttlefish and seaweed to gain reduced-tariff entry to Japan because these would have greatly benefitted our smalltime fishermen. The JPEPA in its present form, however, expressly excludes these products from commitment of tariff reduction or even of future negotiation.

Another unacceptable thing about the JPEPA, according to Escober, is that it includes whales, dolphins, porpoises and dugongs as tradable goods. Tariff line # 0210.92 in the Japanese schedule of tariffs (pdf) in the agreement specifies that the tariff on these lovable sea creatures are to be eliminated in six equal annual installments from the date of entry into force of the JPEPA. We should probably start booking our trips to Palawan, Bohol and Donsol where we can still see these creatures now before they get sucked up by the Japanese market.

To summarize, JPEPA does no great good to Filipino fishermen and exporters of aquaculture products. For purported benefits of the JPEPA, one should look elsewhere becuase they sure can't be found in the fishery sector.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

No regrets from Senator Recto

Senator Recto was probably being cheeky when he began his valedictory speech with a biblical quotation from the Ecclesiastes about how there's a season for everything and a time for every reason; after all, is he not supposed to to be a senator for ALL seasons?

Alex Magno and Tony Lopez mourn today the defeat of Senator Recto at the polls, with the former branding the senator's critics as philistines. Senator Recto believes that it was the VAT law that did him in, but he's adamant that pushing for it was the right, albeit immensely unpopular, thing to do. He said he takes full responsibility for the law and he feels no regret for his championing it at the Senate.

Nobody likes taxes, especially new ones, but Senator Recto championed the VAT law with such utter disregard for the popular opinion, as if he didn't need to get elected at all and his life's happiness depended on cutting back the national deficit. Senators Angara and Villar also voted yes to the VAT law but somehow the odium didn't stick on them as it did on Recto. Senator Pangilinan, of course, had the good sense to be abroad when the voting took place.

Senator Recto was never a strong candidate, the Vilma Santos connection notwithstanding; during the last 2004 elections, he was also hanging in the balance. You may not like his opinion on taxes and the deficit, but he was a hardworking legislator who took his job seriously, rose intellectually to meet the challenge of his office and overshadowed the other senators more credentialed than he was. My personal feeling is that if the new Senate can accomodate two coup plotters and an environmentalist with an almost imaginary track record, there should have been another season for Senator Recto.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Akbayan's debacle at the polls

There's a great possibility that when the tallying of votes is done, Akbayan will return to the House of Representatives with only one representative --Risa Hontiveros-Baracquel. This is a great diminution of force for Akbayan because they had three representatives in the 13th Congress, and also a big letdown for some people who would have loved to see UP Professor Walden Bello, the party's second nominee, plying the halls of the Lower House.

The national tally sheet as of June 1 shows that Akbayan, at 361,639 votes, has barely surpassed the 2 % threshold to gain a single seat at the House. During the last elections, their votes hovered somewhere in the 800,000. An official postmortem, I think, is yet to be done by Akbayan insiders to explain this unfortunate debacle at the polls. It could be, as one Akbayan member hinted, partially a result of vote shaving, or perhaps a natural consequence of more parties contesting the party-list system and eating at that portion of the electorate that previously went for Akbayan.

Senator Salonga on the JPEPA

Last Thursday, we paid a visit to Senator Salonga at his residence to ask his opinion about the side agreement that was signed by Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Romulo and Japanese Foreign Minister Aso during President Arroyo's visit in Japan. We were concerned that by virtue of the so-called side agreement allies of President Arroyo may be able to railroad the ratification of the treaty during the last session days of the 13th Congress Senate to avoid the opposition senators that will be ushered in by the 14th Congress.

Senator Salonga is inclined to believe that such a side agreement would be insufficient to cure the defects of the treaty with regard to its provisions on the export of Japanese waste to the Philippines. He also said that the internal dynamics of the Senate, notwithstanding the commitment of Senator Miriam Santiago as Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman to see the treaty ratified, preclude a hasty approval of the treaty given the weighty issues leveled against it. The People's Journal has a brief report of our meeting with Senator Salonga.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Dios Le Pido by Juanes

The Colombian singer Juanes has this really special poetic song called A Dios Le Pido (I Ask God), the music video of which you can see at youtube here. It's a prayer anthem, protest statement and a love song rolled into one, best listened to full blast, with lyrics so poignant that one must deign admit all is not lost yet in rock. The music is a mixture of cumbia, reggae and Colombian folk. You can read the Spanish lyrics here, and below is the English translation:

That my eyes open by the light of your face
I ask (this of) God
That my mother will not die and that my father remembers me
I ask God
That you stay at my side and that you never leave me again, my life
I ask God
That my soul does not rest when it is loving you, my heaven
I ask God

For the days that I have left and the nights that have not yet come
I ask God
For the children of my children and the children of your children
I ask God
That my people do not shed so much blood and rise again
I ask God
That my soul does not rest when it comes to loving you, my heaven
I ask God

A second more of life to give you and my whole heart to surrender to you
A second more of life to give you and by your side for ever be
A second more of life
I ask God

That if I die it is of love and if I fall in love it is with you
And that this heart is made of your voice
Every day I ask God
That if I die it is of love and if I fall in love it is with you
And that of your voice this heart can be
I ask God

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Challenging Speaker De Venecia

The challenge Kampi President Luis Villafuerte put up against Speaker De Venecia for the speakership of the House seems to be fizzling out faster than you can say committee chairmanships. Speaker De Venecia, now a septuagenarian, seems to be heading for a fifth term as Speaker.

It is not hard to imagine how the Speaker will once again pull off another term. No other personality comes close to De Venecia as an ideal power fiscalizer: friendly to everybody, never badmouthed anyone, always ready to give due consideration to just about every opinion voiced in the House. His disposition is of the type usually seen only in the most serene yogi. The personality of a perfect consigliere, in short.

Congressman Pablo Garcia of Cebu, the challenger, is also not actively seeking the position despite Villafuerte's brandishing his name around like a Damocles' sword on Speaker De Venecia's neck. As the Inquirer reports today, Garcia was only informed by Villafuerte through phone that he has been duly appointed by Kampi to challenge De Venecia. Akbayan Representative Risa Hontiveros, however, smells something sinister in this half-serious political moro-moro (or lutong macao, choose your own political incorrectness) at the House. Acording to her, Kampi might just be challenging Speaker De Venecia in order to gain the House minority leadership, with the goal of the Arroyo administration controlling both the majority and the minority in the Lower House.

Web prowl

Applications for the 2008-2009 SEASREP grants are now open. Visit the grant page here. Shopping for a safe personal care product? The Skin Deep database of cosmetic products maintained by the Environmental Working Group has been updated. When short people fall in love with a game for tall people, you get imported players trying to look ridiculously shorter. Slate has an article on the Philippines' incredible shrinking basketball players. From Taipei Times, here's what Taiwan means to the United States. The US Defense Department has released its China Military Power Report (pdf) and concludes that China does not yet have "the military capability to accomplish with confidence its political objectives on the island, particularly when confronted with the prospect of U.S. intervention." Many people struggle with their subscription-only Norton Antivirus when they can have the free and equally protective AVG antivirus.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Currently listening to Allegri's Miserere by the Tallis Scholars

In the Does-God-exist-or-not debate, many arguments are presented in favor of God's existence: St. Anselm's ontology, Descartes, Pascal's wager, intelligent design, --and Handels' Messiah. Surely, some say, a work so great can only be divinely inspired. Well, if Handel's Messiah should count as a proof, Allegri's Miserere must be a confirmation.

Allegri's Miserere is an a cappella piece of choral music, a musical setting of Psalm 51, whose first line is Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam (Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness). Composed during the 1630's and sung at the Sistine Chapel every Holy Week, playing it outside the chapel was forbidden and writing it down or performing it was for a time punishable by excommunication. It is said that the young Mozart after attending a Wednesday service feverishly wrote it down from memory. Although the claim is supported by family letters, the actual transcription made by Mozart was never found.

The performance of the Miserere by the Tallis Scholars is I've read one of the best. The other tracks in this album (Mundy and Pallestrina) I don't care much for, but the Miserere is simply superb.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Minding our cholesterol levels

I got my blood tested yesterday for sugar and cholesterol, and although the results say I'm not going to die of a heart attack anytime soon, my blood levels are not that optimal either.

My total cholesterol is at 210.38 mg/dL; desirable level is below 200. My LDL "bad" cholesterol level is at 108.85 mg/dL. According to Mayo Clinic, that's only near optimal and should be below 70 instead.

Now, I'm trying to think hard how I can possibly bring those two figures down without giving up my carnivorous eating habits. If it's any consolation, my HDL "good" cholesterol level is quite impressive at 85.38 mg/dL; an HDL level above 60 mg/dL is already considered optimal and I exceeded that by fifteen solid points! My triglycerides level is also low at 84 mg/dL, which is quite good, and my fasting blood sugar is also at the low end of the acceptable range so my limbs are safe from the ravages of diabetes for now.

It is important to mind our cholesterol levels because they are risk factors to our developing heart disease, which is the number one killer in the Philippines today. You can have your cholesterols and sugar checked easily. You will be instructed to fast (meaning no eating or drinking) for nine to twelve hours before your blood will be extracted for examination. At the Best Diagnostic Clinic at 94 Masikap Extension, Diliman, where I got myself tested, total damage was P530.00. If you decide to have yourself tested, here's the Mayo Clinic guide to interpreting your cholesterol numbers.

I'm on the Mainichi Shimbun!

Our protest at the Japanese embassy last May 3, Japan's Constitution Day, against the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement was featured by several local papers and made it to Japan's Mainichi Shimbun. We were parodying the famous Iwo Jima picture and pointing out that Japan is trying to conquer Southeast Asia and make the region its waste dump. That's me standing on the leftmost. For the bigger picture and story, here's the Eco Waste Coalition blog entry on the protest.

Have you no decency, Monsieur Brawner?

The COMELEC decision disqualifying Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo is nothing more but a desperate and cheap tactic on the part of the Villafuertes, through buddies Brawner and Ferrer at the COMELEC, to snatch city hall from Robredo, who defeated two Villafuertes before and is set to massacre another Vilafuerte, this time a nephew, on May 11.

The strategy up Villafuerte's sleeve is to confuse the Naga voters with an obfuscating disqualification decision and discourage them from voting for a mayor that could ultimately be declared unfit to govern by reason of Chinese ancestry. Once the heat of the election is over, there is almost no doubt that Robredo would once again be declared a Filipino.

For the jaded, this might seem just another case of a local government executive suspended or dismissed, but Robredo is not just your average city mayor. A Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, he is one of the most highly esteemed mayors, and enjoys a reputation like no other local government executive in the country.

Mayor Robredo lamented in one interview that he is often declared to be Chinese whenevever there's an election, but he reverts back to being a Filipino after. He also wondered why Villafuerte did not bother asking for his citizenship when they were running together in the same ticket in the past.

Teresita Ang See is, of course, incensed by such racial McCarthyism. She asks (see the PCIJ blog entry here):

It defies anyone’s imagination. How can a Jesse Robredo, a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee from the Philippines, who was born, bred and educated as a Filipino, elected for five terms and performed spectacularly as a Mayor, finally be disqualified from his Mayorship this last minute because of his Chinese ancestry? Next, are we Filipinos going to be asked to disclaim our national heroes for being of Chinese descent too?

I suspect there's another reason why Villafuerte is questioning Robredo's citizenship--and that is to tap the latent anti-Chinese sentiment in the hearts of some people. Let us admit it: there are still some people who think Filipinos of Chinese descent should just stay in Chinatown. The good thing about Mayor Robredo is that he does not carry a monosyllabic surname (good decision on the part of his father for choosing Robredo as a name) and his facial features aren't really that Chinese.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Where does Pichay get all his money?

Given the extraordinary insouciance Congressman Pichay regards his humungous campaign expenditures, one would think he has a magical tree back in Surigao which sprouts foliar cash.

The group Pera’t Pulitika claims that Pichay had already spent P151.7 million, while Villar had spent P138.2 million, both exceeding the P135 million ceiling. When confronted with the inconvenient fact that despite his being the biggest spender so far he's still out of the magic 12 circle in polls, Pichay pertly answers that all he needs is more time and more cash for ads and he'll surely get there by the time the voting precincts call it a a day.

Now, nothing surprising about Villar being a big spender; he is, after all, one of the country's business tycoons. But Pichay? What with the lowly price pechay is fetching these days in the market, the money surely couldn't have come out of the mere tilling of the land. According to this Newsbreak report, Pichay, whose total assets only amount to some P33 million, has the enviable good fortune of having rich and generous friends like Lucio Co, whose touch, it is said, turns everyhting into pure gold.

We'll see in a month's time if Pichay and his friends' investment pay off. If he wins, the Filipino people would have confirmed their fondness for the vegetable; if he loses, well, you know what they say, a fool is soon parted with his money.

Web prowl

Read the papers presented and other sundry notes from the EIGHTH ANNUAL GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT CONFERENCE on The Rise of Asia and its Implications held in Beijing last January. In this age of discrimination and general snide behaviour, what do you do if you're in an interfacial marriage? From Time, here's some advise when your spouse is hotter than you. Before they became both famous, Zhang Ziyi and Liu Ye (he's the guy from Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, and The Promise)were classmates at the Beijing Theater University and there's a youtube video of them performing in a skit back then. To protect the forests, formal or customary tenure must be enforced to avoid the Tragedy of the commons.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Much ado about nothing

There is much debate once again about the desirability of English versus Filipino as a medium of instruction as a group of scholars questioned before the Supreme Court the implementation of Executive Order 210, which seeks to promote the use of the English language in Philippine schools. The Implementing Rules and Regulations of the said EO will promote the language by:

1. Teaching English as a second language starting with Grade 1;

2. Using English as the medium of instruction of English, Mathematics, and Science and Health subjects starting Grade 3; and

3. Using English as the primary medium of instruction in all public and private schools in the secondary level.

What is so objectionable about the above?

Ever since I can remember, English is being taught as a second language with Grade 1. English is also the medium of instruction for English, Science and Math. We all learned multiplication and not multipilikasyon.

In this respect, President Arroyo's EO is simply codifying what is actually happening in our schools for quite some time now. The EO would therefore be ineffective in promoting the English language for the simple reason that it effectuates no new radical policy change at all in the primary school level. English is also the de facto primary medium of instruction for secondary schools now. The EO would just be validating and giving a more official imprimatur the reality tha has been well established by past practice.

The EO may have made the call center lobby happy, but I honestly don't see how it will improve the English language in this country.

Monday, April 30, 2007

The wretched of the party-list system

If socialites, desiring to promote a better understanding of their lifestyles often calumniated in less perfumed circles, choose to contest the party-list elections together with such groups as Akbayan and Bayan Muna, should they be allowed?

Discounting the fact that there's a precarious line these days separating the socialites from the socialists, the relevant Supreme Court ruling in Bagong Bayani v. COMELEC succinctly states that the socialites cannot. No chance, sorry, the party-list system is only for the underrepresented and marginalized. Also, an hacienda landlord cannot be a representative of a group purportedly representing plantation workers.

The demand of some groups for the COMELEC to disclose the names of the nominees of the parties it approved under the party-list system is therefore only reasonable following the Supreme Court's Bagong Bayani interpretation.

The problem however is that some people, including those in the COMELEC, don't buy the ruling that the party-list system is reserved solely for the marginalized sectors. As Dr. Bernas points out today (although in not so many words exactly), the 1987 Constitution does not reserve the party-list system solely for the marginalized sectors and that the Supreme Court may have erred in the Bagong Bayani case.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Watch Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth for free

On Earth Day, April 22, 2007 (Sunday), SM Cinema, together with DENR, Earth Day Network Philippines, and Magnavision, invites you to watch FREE SCREENINGS of "An Inconvenient Truth" at 1PM, 3PM, and 5PM at the following theaters:

1. SM MALL OF ASIA - 5560104-05
2. SM MEGAMALL - 6331901, 6384270
3. SM NORTH EDSA - 9295452
4. SM MANILA - 5239240/05
5. SM SAN LAZARO - 7862487-88
6. SM CENTERPOINT-STA. MESA - 7161416, 7160647
7. SM FAIRVIEW - 4176811, 9350749
8. SM SOUTHMALL - 8066888, 8066782
9. SM PAMPANGA - 8311000 loc 1610-11, (045) 9637681-85
10. SM CLARK - (045) 6255844-45
11. SM BAGUIO - 8311000 loc 1625-26, (074) 6197838/39/41
12. SM CEBU - 8311000 loc 1637, (032) 2313876
13. SM DAVAO - 8311000 loc 1605-06, (082) 2976998
14. SM BACOLOD - (034) 7081010, 8311000 loc 1650

For more information, visit /

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The politics of public romance

Considering that India is the land which gave as Vatsayana's Kama Sutra, it seems perplexing that Richard Gere's kissing of Shilpa Shetty (and only on the cheeks at that) would create a ruckus of indignation throughout the Indian subcontinent.

Perhaps because of Victorian colonialism or the Mughal influence, Indians turned conservative when it comes to public displays of affection. Just early this year young couples were attacked by the police in Uttar Pradesh for hugging and kissing in a public park. One couple who kissed during their wedding was charged of violating obscenity laws in another case in India.

Kama Sutra aside, it is the current opinion of most people in India,in Asia and in the Philippines that public display of affection (hugging, kissing, even holding hands) is improper. Also for Muslims in the Philippines, a man and a woman unrelated must never touch each other. Even a friendly handshake between a man and a woman some Muslims do not countenance. What's acceptable in the West and in Latin America makes most of us squirm here.

How then should one in love conduct oneself in public? While we have every right to express our affection, we must also balance it with a due regard to the sensibilities of other people. After all, there is no social advantage to public displays of affection. If one must really be amorous, one can always retire to the bedroom or, lacking that, rent a motel room. There the possibilites are infinite and we are limited only by our imagination.

My personal beef about public displays of affection is that while I understand those doing it have probably found their one true love and would probably live happily ever after, but must they rub it in our face? Rather than promoting amatory feeling in the world, public displays of affection only breed contempt, envy and finally disgust on the part of the people who aren't in love and are witnessing the display. PDA is probably okay if we can all be in love at the same time. But then again falling in love all at the same time sounds too much like free love, so we may have another set of problems with that.

One Indian blogger also has this to say about those who force their liberal outlook on this matter:

We must become more liberal in our outlook, I totally agree. But do spare a thought for those who condemn change. Change is never easy. Look at yourself. Did you get over your last girlfriend? Do you like your new job?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The unhappy spectre of Mr. Danton Remoto

When Comelec Chairman Abalos called Danton Remoto's Ang Ladlad a party of phantom voters, was it an underhanded reference to the popular phrase multong bakla or did he mean that Remoto, despite the pink barong, looked unpalatably achromatic?

As I understand it, the main reason for disqualifying Ang Ladlad is that the organization lacked a nationwide organization. Lacking a nationwide organization is quite different from having phantom voters. Bert Gonzales's party-list organization, for example, has a nationwide organization but has phantom voters (as evidenced by its lackluster performance in the previous polls.) Ang Ladlad may lack a nationwide organization but one could hardly argue it has phantom voters. As Danton Remoto piquantly stressed, one need only visit the Greenbelt mall to see that Ang Ladlad's constituency is real and, in fact, thriving.

In any case, the only definitive way to settle the question of Ang Ladlad's spectralness should have been to include it in the ballots and see how it fares.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The wild rush to get wired

Yesterday, the Inquirer had for its editorial the botched plan of the DepEd in Bicol to purchase 600 desktop computers costing 250,000 each. The Inquirer rather sarcastically asked whether the DepEd had first checked whether the students who would be using those computers had classrooms in the first place.

A couple of days ago, Boo Chanco of the Philippine Star also wrote about the recently approved P16.47 billion broadband connectivity project for government offices. He asked whether such a humongous amount of money-a loan from China-is justifiable given our quite limited budget for capital expenditures. It would be more cost-efficient, according to Chanco, to just buy capacity from the private sector one small chunk at a time. Such a huge investment in infrastructure is scary given the rapid nature of technological obsolescence. It might very well be that when this project is finally completed there's a whole new VOIP platform needing newer computer hardware while the people of the Philippines are again left with a loan that needs to be paid.

For high schools and elementary schools, computers and the internet are good supplements to learning but they're, at the end of the day, just supplements. A well-stocked library is infinitely preferable to a computer with internet access. Coupled with a non-technologically savvy public school faculty, there is also the danger that those computers would only be used to surf porn and get dates online. In the wired world of the United States, for instance, this is a big and growing concern, which prompted the online behemoth to institute safety precautions intended for minors using the site.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Currently reading: Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography

This is one of those books you wish somebody somewhere did you a great kindness of recommending during a much earlier point in your life.

Like many great books, Benjamin Franklin's autobiography was written at an ebb in the writer's life, in this case when Franklin lost all hope of ever securing an imperial office from the British king. He set out to write his autobiography for the guidance of his own son and for other people to know the conducing means with which he secured his life's share of felicity.

For those seeking self-amelioration, Franklin recommends thirteen virtues: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity and humility. He relates how he maintained a book and tallied all the virtues he trespassed for each day.

Reading his autobiography, one is also struck by Franklin's immense civic spirit. He created a fire insurance service, establish a subscription library, organized a fellowship of public spirited men who regularly discuss public issues and write commentaries, and, because the Assembly dominated by pacifist Quakers would not do it, he even raised a private army to defend Philadelphia. How did he raise the money to buy the cannons? He set up a lottery.

Franklin was for a time also a vegetarian, but upon seeing a codfish's stomach full of smaller fishes, he thought, 'if you eat one another, I don't see why we mayn't eat you.' He commented: "So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do."

If you have time this holy week, I strongly recommend this book. It will be good for you.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

That mysterious trickledown effect

The country's economic managers say we just have to wait, economic gains don't come easy, but if we are patient the poor will experience the trickledown effect of GMA's well-managed and growing economy. Joey Salceda even said in one interview that it should take about seventeen months (if I remember the figure correctly) for the trickledown effect to be felt.

Before we form a queu and wait for the trickledown effect, it bears asking: Is there really such a thing as a trickledown effect?

As it is always the case in the two-handed discipline called economics (on one hand this, on the other hand that), there is no waterproof consensus, although at first glance it seems commonsensible to assume that economic growth must be good for everybody, including the very poor.

Michael Todaro, in his influential text on Economic Development, says that in the less than idealized state of affairs, there is no trickledown that happens. Some development economists also contend that economic gains from growth trickle up to the middle classes and the very rich. Amartya Sen claims that economic growth does not always generate benefits in terms of numerous nonpecuniary measures of well-being. John Kenneth Galbraith, in contemptuous language, branded the trickledown effect as horse and sparrow economics: feeding horses superior oats so that starving sparrows can forage in their dung.

The above aspersions aside, there is more or less clear evidence that there is indeed such a thing as the trickledown effect, even if nothing is consciously done to make pro-poor growth (see Dollar and Kray, Growth is good for the poor) although where Joey Salceda got his seventeen months I don't know.The problem is that the poor benefit from the trickledown more or less in proportion to what they already have. So even if economic growth is as beneficial to the poor as it is to the rich, the poor would not benefit very much if they don't have anything to begin with.

In short, the trickledown effect will not save the hungry by itself, even if it comes right after the May elections.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Volunteer opportunity

The EcoWaste Coalition is looking for volunteers and interns who can assist in our campaigns and endeavors. The coalition is composed of different groups coming from the non-government organizations, community, youth, religious sector, academe etc., all pushing for zero waste alternatives.

The coalition's campaigns range from different pressing environmental and social issues such as "greening and waste-free" election 2007, junking of the Japan-Philippine Partnership Agreement (JPEPA), closure of dumpsites, landfills and incinerators, plastic use regulation, push for Extended Producers Responsibility (EPR) for product manufacturers, pollution, climate change and full implementation of different environmental laws like Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, Clean Air Act etc.

If you are interested and have some time this vacation, however short, please contact the EcoWaste Coalition at 0927-3209271, (02) 9290376 or email at

Saturday, March 24, 2007

No cake, no bread, no SMS

Critics of the administration, admit impediments: President Arroyo has prudently managed the economy.

The fiscal deficit has been tamed; now all the previous talk about our possibly going the route of Argentina is gone. We have experienced, as the economist Emmanuel de Dios points out, 5 straight years of at least 3% economic growth, a feat never before seen in all our recorded economic history. Also, as Tony Lopez points out here, good money is also being made in the stock market, consumer prices are stable, and the peso stronger.

The opposition says that the problem with the present economy is that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

Now, in a capitalist economy, the rich (unless they're profligate) should naturally get richer if only for the simple reason that they control more of the factors of production. If our rich were to get poorer, now that should be a cause for concern since that would mean the economy is contracting. While we get jealous of the rich from time to time (don't we all?), we can't really blame them for being richer unless we start working on our hammer and sickle. The problem is not that the rich are getting richer, only that the poor are getting poorer.

The question that should be asked is: Are our poor really getting poorer?

Yes, they are, if we are to judge based on the SWS surveys on self-rated poverty and hunger incidence in the country. The Arroyo administration must face the issue squarely rather than whimsically suggesting temperance among the poor. The president must realize that the people who are texting all those trite jokes and mawkish proverbs are simply not the same people who go hungry.

Temperance and frugality are virtues that should be vigorously promoted by the government, but belt-tightening as poverty alleviation policy hardly fits the gung-ho and can-do attitude of President Arroyo when it comes to meeting the challenges of economic development. Surely, she can do better than that.