Wednesday, December 1, 2010

On its 77th year, DOLE wears reform hat

I can imagine Blas F. Ople, my mentor, smiling a faint smile in his grave.

If he were alive today, he would have been proud to see the Department of Labor and Employment, his longest and most significant love, turn 77 years old.

Yes, the DOLE, the government department, not the pineapple, is already 77 years old this coming December 8. And what an auspicious year to celebrate a DOLE milestone! A woman is at its helm.

Seven is a good number, so deputy executive director John Cañete of the National Conciliation and Mediation Board, told us at the kick-off rites for the department’s one-month celebration of its birth date yesterday.

John, who co-hosted the program with Liway Ilo of the Human Resource Development Service, noted the biblical significance of number seven, citing the miracle of Jesus when He fed 4,000 people by multiplying seven loaves of bread and small fishes. Known as the “Miracle of Seven Loaves and Fishes”, this miracle is reported in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew. There was another miracle, reported in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, known as the “Miracle of the Five Loaves and Two Fishes” in which Jesus fed a multitude of 5,000 with only five loaves and two fishes.

I didn’t ask John which miracle was he referring to, but whatever, the significance is not lost: seven plus seven in my idiotic arithmetic is seventy-seven. There you are. But I digress.

Anyway, Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz, the Secretary of Labor and Employment, was at the audience during the kick-off rites. She presided over it by turning on the lights of a seven-foot Christmas tree (another number seven!) that heralded Christmas at the DOLE. She used the pulpit of the Secretary by reminding her co-officials and co-public servants of the true meaning of the DOLE and its celebration: very honest, very efficient, and very prompt and courteous public service.

Actually, one adverb would have been enough, but Secretary Linda can get away with her emphatic use of “very”. She is the Secretary. I know of another government official who gets away with using double adverbs in one breath: Mar Roxas, whose propensity to use “very, very” to accompany an adjective in his speeches and other peroration just to emphasize his point delivers the message.

As Secretary Linda did yesterday. Actually, as she does everyday since six months ago.

When she came to be Secretary of Labor and Employment last July, I was about to leave for a regional assignment, but she apparently changed her mind and decided I would be more useful at the sixth floor of the DOLE in Intramuros than in the five-province region of MIMAROPA, in Calapan City particularly, where the DOLE regional office No. 4-B chose to plant its roots.

In retrospect, I think it was a wise decision, and for me, beneficial, because I got to work for and with the DOLE’s keenest mind when it comes to reform.

Six months of pushing, evolving, and shaping up numerous reforms for the DOLE have been Secretary Linda’s singular passion. No, gospel.

Six months of persuading, explaining, cajoling, and nudging officials, employees, and social partners—labor, capital, and other stakeholders—to embrace what she believed are the reforms necessary for the DOLE to move beyond—and get out of—its 19th century orientation and mindset have been her daily fare. To her as Secretary, these reforms are a requisite for survival. Par for the course.

And she worked on these with laser-like focus: not missing a beat, not winking, not losing her grip, and certainly not veering away from a vision as she dealt almost 24/7 with constituencies whose interests, motives, and persuasions are as varied as their number.

“Nicon, we patiently wait till these reforms take root, and then we could move on. We don't have any hidden personal interest here other than doing what we need to do for the people,” she often tells me when at times I seem distraught at seeing that not all the people she engages are moving lockstep with her.

On a grander and broader scale, the reforms of Secretary Baldoz are overarching, just like the 22-point labor and employment agenda of President Aquino, which serve as her guidepost.

But they are specific and fits DOLE as if a tailor had sewn them.

The message house, for example, that outlines the reforms she herself crafted and which remains as our bible in communicating our work to our publics, consists of a little over than 10,000 words. I am not sure if all of the DOLE’s 9,000 employees have read this 25-page document in its entirety, but try it (go to the DOLE website, please!) and you will see the beauty of a dream in full flower.

There is one thing definite about the reforms: They were not fished out of just anywhere like magic. Or out of whim or caprice. They were a product of debates, of consultations, of long hours of engagement and dialogues, of questions and answers, and of sharing of experiences, anecdotes, tales, and antecedent historical narratives.

This is fact, and I can bet my gin money that anyone of the multitude of people that Secretary Baldoz consulted in crafting the reforms will own up a portion of them when they see them. That's public ownership in full, regal display.

Today, as I survey the landscape that Secretary Baldoz’s reforms have sought to transform and re-configure, I see a confident, sure-footed DOLE. I see a DOLE ready to engage workers and employers. Ah, I see a DOLE bristling with energy to get out and be recognized as a friend of labor and management, not a perennial nemesis of one of the two or both.

The world has changed. It is flat, to paraphrase Thomas Friedman, and DOLE’s reforms are flattening the world of labor and employment in a kinder, gentler way, to empower anyone to engage it and benefit from the engagement.

I see a DOLE with its bureaucratic inertia wearing thin, not so much because Baldoz has peeled away layers and layers of atrophied skin, but simply because it has embraced reform as a way forward, not as a mantra; because it wears reform as a hat to shelter it from the searing heat of public demand for “very honest, very efficient, very prompt and courteous public service”.

That’s the hat the DOLE wears now, courtesy of Secretary Linda, as it celebrates 77 years of existence.

Happy birthday, DOLE!

Monday, November 29, 2010

In the heart, a keep for Koronadal

A massive acacia tree stands by the cottage at the Hotel del Rio Resort in Barrio Dos where I stayed for two nights the other weekend.

The cottage, a low-ceilinged concrete structure, is wrapped up in local materials. The ceiling is of sawali, the walls are plastered with bamboo slats, and the furniture, including the bed, are of bamboo and rattan which are still in abundance in Koronadal.

The cottage itself rises by the banks of a small, man-made lake that derives its source from and empties itself into a river that runs parallel to a road leading to a short cut to Tupi town, as Charmaine “Chum” Sansona, the gracious labor communications officer of DOLE Region 12, told me.

Scattered by the banks of the lake are cottages and huts. There is a jetty, too, where small boats were moored, waiting for visitors who may find paddling across the lake calming and therapeutic.

There is no Loch Ness monster here, only birds singing in wild abandon and butterflies and dragonflies doing their chore of hopping from leaf to leaf, flower to flower. The area is a haven of quiet. In the two mornings I was here, the sun bathed the lake with its fierce, bright rays, mesmerizing the water so that it sparkled like glass.

Koronadal, South Cotabato’s political capital is a city of unbelievable serenity. It is a melting pot but is so unlike its neighbor, Maguindanao, which eternally simmers in fierce political tension. Here in this valley city, the people accord primordial value to the word ‘respect’ in word and deed, so socially and economically the city is moving assuredly forward.

Maguindanao, meanwhile, is distinguishing itself as lair of tribal terror. This crept up in the mind because I was in Koronadal two days before the first year anniversary of the blot in the country’s image known as the Maguindanao Massacre. In this murder most foul, 38 of my media co-workers died useless and unnecessary deaths.

I was in Koronadal for a very particular reason: to facilitate the workshop of some 25 employees of the DOLE in writing for public communication. The workshop, which has been postponed twice already due to scheduling problems, is part of my commitment to sharpen the DOLE’s public communications capability when I rejoined the department early this year. Communicating the DOLE is part of the chores Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz gave me when she assumed office in July.

The commitment has already brought me to Cebu, Zamboanga del Sur, Pangasinan, and Cavite. I have already trained over 200 DOLE employees in media relations, news and feature writing, and, would you believe, correct punctuation. The workshop in Koronadal is the latest and one of the best thus far, I believe, in terms of the trainees’ participation: they paid serious attention to the workshop.

In the past as always, I was in a lookout for fresh writing talent at the Koronadal episode of this workshop. My aim was to identify men and women of the DOLE who have the sense for news—and can write as well—to beef up the public communications capability of the regions.

I admit the motive for this, shall we say, is, in a sense, selfish. I maintain that if the DOLE regional offices are so well-versed in communicating their programs and services to the people they serve, then the role of the Labor Communications Office, the DOLE’s public information arm, would be lighter or rendered irrelevant. I don’t mind this, really, for I am a believer in devolution, regionalization, and decentralization. As it is, the proximity of the LCO to the DOLE’s bureaucratic power center makes it a major in the department’s information stakes game.

Koronadal is some 70 km away from General Santos City. The Pan-Philippine highway, which bisects the towns of Polomolok and Tupi, is well-paved and smooth (vehicular traffic is non-existent) and one of the most scenic spots in Mindanao.

Polomolok and Tupi host the plantations and canneries of multi-national Dole, best known for its pineapples, bananas, and asparagus, as well as some Mindanao factories of giant San Miguel Corporation and the Lorenzos’ Lapanday Corporation. In the interior, going north, are the mining town of Tampakan and in the east, the corn town of Banga. Towering over these towns are mountain ranges that drain off its forest refuse to the valley below.

Thousands of hectares of agricultural land in these towns, enriched by a year-round fair, natural clime and abundant waters from the mountains, particularly Mt. Matutom, make South Cotabato one of the most fertile and productive lands in the country.

Change Koronadal has greatly embraced, I mentally noted when I arrived. I was in Koronadal last in the late 80s when, as an employee of the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation, I used to make whirlwind stops in the town during inspection and audit activities, so much so that I did not recognize the city anymore than I remember the memories associated with it.

I was fortunate regional director Gloria Tango was on hand to meet and greet me at Koronadal’s doorsteps. She quickly filled me in on the DOLE’s operation in the region.

Not only did RD Glo made my Koronadal stay pleasant. She honored me with her full presence at the duration of the workshop, which also saw the active participation of her assistant regional director, Jong Gonzales.

What also made my Koronadal visit memorable were the stories. On the first night, I visited with good friend Ruby Carrasco and her husband Bobby at the Allah Valley Hospital where their son was confined because of high fever. Ruby was formerly the DOLE’s regional information officer, but she had to give up the post when she was promoted. Her husband, with whom I did a brief interview for an article I submitted to the ILO, animated me with his experiences as a labor inspector. His insights went into the article and I am very thankful.

On the last night of my stay, I had dinner at my verandah overlooking the lake with Jong, Chum, Mechele Olog, and Romy Pascasio over grilled panga ng tuna, kinilaw na tuna, and fish sinigang. We had two bottles of wine—an Australian red and a Portuguese white—as counterpoint to the several bottles of San Miguel Super Dry that Jong, the other participants, and I consumed and the volume of throaty songs we belted out the previous night at the resort’s karaoke joint. As a former information officer before he rose to become assistant regional director, Jong knew when a good drink can inspire the karaoke machine.

I left Koronadal the following morning with a mental note to come back as soon as it is possible.

There is, I found out, a keep in the heart enough to accommodate more stories and memories on a Mindanao city so peaceful and charming that one wonders why Koronadal has not exported this peace and charm, like its bananas and pineapples, to the outside world, say, like its neighbor, Maguindanao.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A spectacular beating against a familiar drubbing

The contrasts are too stark to miss.

On a sunny Sunday of November, different fates, both within human control and, therefore, within the commerce of human intervention, visited a country called the Philippines.

In Grapevine, Texas, the US state which my favorite country trio Dixie Chicks once said they were ashamed former President George Bush is from, Manny Pacquiao outdid himself anew by dealing the Mexican Antonio Margarito a beating, so severe that the self-styled “tornado” had his right eye stitched first, then operated on for it to be able to see, well, the eye of the storm—Pacquiao—from Sarangani.

In Guangzhou, China, the Asian powerhouse where the 16th Asian Games are being held, Team Philippines suffered a familiar drubbing in almost all the sports it has entered.

The drubbing was so thorough, so lopsided and, therefore, so miserable that now I wonder whether the money, public or private, spent on the Filipino sportsmen who went there should have been better poured into building classrooms, buying books, or, if really we are to be in sports, in installing electric chairs for our sports officials who are solely to be blamed for the debacle.

I will say something first about the latter and say nothing at all about the former, for Pacquiao and his conquests are already well-written about, while our failures in international amateur sports tournaments, like the Olympics, the Asiad, and the ASEAN Games are, well, because these are failures, mentioned rarely, and when they are, only in hushed tones as if these are a dreaded disease.

So we failed in tennis, swimming, shooting, billiards, judo, and cycling. We salvaged a couple of bronzes in dance sport by gracefully swinging in cha-cha and paso doble. We won our first hurdle in basketball by narrowly beating Kuwait. In chess, our wood pushers are in still in the hunt, but the tournament is far from over.

Our hope is in boxing, Manny’s domain, but he is not in Guangzhou. He is in Lake Tahoe for his celebratory after-fight-night concert. Your Honor will sing in real life after singing all his way to the bank to the tune of US$20 million, and still counting.

Yes, boxing. The Philippine pugilists in the Asiad are bankrolled by telecoms giant Smart which reportedly had poured P300 million in the sweet science, as well as in basketball, cycling, wrestling, and taekwondo.

“We’ll be happy if we could bring home at least one gold.” This is according to Ricky Vargas, president of the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines.

What’s wrong with this statement? Indeed, what’s wrong with our mal-performance in the Asiad?

It’s us, Virginia, it’s us that’s wrong. We are being clobbered in the amateur sports tournaments because our sports officials are amateurish. They are incompetents. They are selfish and a greedy lot. And they don’t know any more of the sports they are into than Peter Drucker knew managing athletes. The worst is that they quarrel a lot.

I am not into sports, I admit, but I read. And I notice. I notice that almost after every international sports tournament where our athletes come home defeated and dejected, the very first thing—and this is with regularity—our sports officials do is to blame the government, the system, the officiating, the weather, the late training, the athletes, and then their fellow officials, but NEVER themselves. Did you also notice that?

This blame game is a prelude to their mini-turf wars they mount when they start carving up our sports associations into personal fiefdoms. Our sports officials like to rule, never to be ruled. Their interest is not the athletes’ interest, but the interest that banks pay on their fat accounts.

Our sports officials are very good at this, quarrelling. They never hesitate to quarrel in public. Name me a sports whose governing association had not been beset by quarrel, jealousy, and personal animosity and I’ll tell you why we always get waylaid by opponents who are more united, well-managed, well-trained, well-fed.

Grandmaster Joey Antonio is a classic victim of this quarrelling. He almost didn’t make it to Guangzhou because Philippine Chess Federation officials have been feuding. The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas is another sports association wracked by intramurals. In fact, because of bickering, the International Olympic Committee has suspended the country’s amateur basketball body so much so that the Philippine basketball team in the Asiad is playing under the IOC banner.

Government intervention in amateur sports is also a culprit. The Philippines has a very unique governing set-up in sports that allows the government to interfere in sports affairs even if it has no business—and no competence—to do so. Government officials may be well-versed in running the bureaucracy but they are ill-suited for even a medal made of tin in, say, bowling.

There is a sports regulating body, the National Sports Commission, whose work, it would seem, other than withholding financial assistance to Philippine sports is to ensure that politicians are nominated and are elected officials of the private sports associations.

Prospero Pichay in chess; Monico Puentebella in baseball, Eric Buhain in swimming, Peping Cojuangco in basketball, and Cristy Ramos-Jalasco in tennis are some of the personages known for their bloodlines in politics rather than excellence in sports. Not even amateur boxing is spared from politics. Not too long ago, PATAFA, the governing body in track and field, was wracked by troubles because some of its officials wanted to kill each other. The list is endless.

And so, are we surprised that we—Team Philippines—are getting licked by far superior competition in Guangzhou?

Nah. But wait till the 16th Asiad is over. I’ll bet my gin money that our sports officials will be at it again: quarrelling and thirsting for the hinds and blood of everyone except themselves.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Meet Zorro

Outside my window, on the left of my writing table, is a road that leads to a dead end—a creek that, I have discovered, half-encircles the subdivision.

This creek leads all the way to the boundary of Tanauan City; the boundary spanned by 10-meter concrete bridge that connects the only road that provides access from Darasa, one of Tanauan’s biggest barangays, to Brgy. Sta. Maria, Sto. Tomas’s largest in terms of population, including dogs.

Blocking my view to this road that leads to the creek is my dog house, a two-door steel iron cage that Zorro and Mizuki call home. They guard the house, or the house guards them, depending on what mood my two daughters’ pets find themselves in at any given time.

Zorro is a black Labrador; Mizuki, a golden brown Japanese chow-chow. Zorro is seven years old; Mizuki, four. Both are still virgins.

Zorro, Lilac’s animal companion, had an interesting life story. I acquired him after Bilala, a native dog with no particular breed but definitely not an askal, died from poisoning. Of what and by whom, no one knew, but the house help, Tita Bel, suspected he was done in by one of the night guards.

The story goes that one day Bilala woke up but did not get up. He refused to eat or drink despite Lilac’s cajoling, even singing for him a tune or two from one of my compositions about dogs.

The house help said that in the afternoon, Bilala just closed his eyes and stopped breathing. Unlike ordinary mortals, he was buried without a proper funeral. With the help of a neighbor, Tita Bel dug him a shallow grave in an adjacent lot. It was unmarked—no cross to symbolize his religion, no marble slab to write an epitaph. I think Bilala in life was an atheist, or an animist.

Bilala’s passing was not unlamented. Lilac unabashedly shed tears when he was lowered to his grave. When finally the last shovel of earth was thrown to the fresh mound of his resting place, my youngest daughter was said to have cried: “Bilala, bakit ikaw pa? Sino na ang magiging kalaro ko?” (Bilala, why you? Who will now be my playmate?)

One cannot miss the poignancy of this scene, although to adults it would have been funny, or ridiculous.

And indeed, it was.

Lara, my eldest, who always comes handy with appropriate repartee for the events she observed—such as Lilac’s deep bereavement over her dog’s untimely demise—later patted her sister on the shoulder and said: “Tahan na, Lilac, may kabayo pa naman tayo. Kaibiganin mo muna ang plantsahan ni Tita Bel.” (Stop crying, Lilac. Don’t worry, we still have a horse. You can befriend Tital Bel’s ironing board.)

Bilala’s poisoning was not headline-grabbing news. I did not report the murder to the police, for in rural Sto. Tomas the police is busy attending to crimes committed by humans against humanity, so it is illogical to have the poisoning of an animal investigated. It remained unsolved to this day, adding to the rising crime statistics that the authorities just shrug off or sweep under the rug.

To assuage Lilac’s pain over her dog’s death, her mother promised to buy her another canine. Zorro was an innocent pup when he first arrived and Lilac instantly fell in love with him, quickly forgetting that only a week before, she was contemplating digging up Bilala’s grave to find out if indeed he was dead. Unlike adults, children easily remember and easily forget. I have read it somewhere that this is the reason why there are more child angels than adult demons.

As a grown-up, however, Zorro has become playful and nasty. I can’t count how many rubber slippers and shoes he has gutted. Once, he tore up an umbrella left unattended at the porch and tried to eat a basketball. I have not brought him to a tutor to teach him good manners because it was so expensive so he learned to do what some humans do when they are drunk: take a leak inside the house. This, of course, meant added expense because Tita Bel would always remind the missus to buy detergent, air freshener, and shampoo for cleaning up Zorro’s mess.

He has also imbibed this habit of chasing other dogs. When Mizuki arrived, this became frequent. He was so jealous of other dogs sniffing at Mizuki’s female sexuality that he would bare his fangs at the slightest hint of intrusion. Once, he caught up with an askal and beat the poor dog so badly it limped away wailing and bleeding. I think the dog died and Zorro is now an official dog murderer.

So I put Zorro under a tight leash which I think he abhorred. I was told that Labradors love to be free and to roam in wide open spaces, but since I can’t afford him a ranch with what I earn from writing, he had to make do with our morning walks and the regular trips to the vet.

These walks made him muscular and heavy like Manny Pacquiao and also made him attractive to female dogs roaming the subdivision to peddle dog love. But Zorro would have none of these liberally promiscuous dogs. I think he has a pledge to remain celibate.

Mizuki, as I said, is also a virgin but this is another story deserving of another day.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Blow your nose, not your horn

Floro and I are sitting at the lobby of Torre Lorenzo, just outside Starbucks, on the corner of Taft Avenue and Vito Cruz St., sipping heavy black espressos after a quick lunch at Mang Inasal across the street.

I was reading the New York Times, while Floro, true to form when his mind is idle, was ogling at a girl on another table who is absorbed with her Blackberry. It was last Saturday, the morning after a deluge of rain washed the dirt off Manila’s chaotic streets and also rendered them non-passable.

Many would remember that first Friday of November 2010 for the monstrous traffic that lasted well after midnight; turned most the city into a vast parking lot; and bloated some kidneys because commuters weren’t able to take a leak inside their immobile vehicles.

Ah, the traffic. I am sure many that night missed dates and appointments because of it. I myself came late to a hot dinner—courtesy of the wife who bought it in celebration of her mother’s birthday. When I got to the dinner, the soup has turned cold as the Aquino presidency’s treatment of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the ex-Malacanang tenant. The traffic was the culprit.

If Friday night was fright night because of the traffic, Saturday morning was easy and bright. Floro agreed it was a good time to drown our lungs in coffee and cigarette smoke and that Starbucks was a fashionable place to do it. I was delighted.

It was also a great day to kill a few drivers. From where we sat, I could see many of them—taxi drivers, bus drivers, car owners, and padyak drivers snaking their way through Taft Avenue like they’re racing for the toilet because of upset stomachs. But this isn’t the reason for my murderous rage. The reason I want to poison them with their vehicles’ exhaust fumes was because they were honking their horns too loud that I thought I had my eardrums busted that morning.

“They don’t do that in Bangkok,” I remarked to Floro without taking my eyes off from what I was reading.

“What, Sir?” he replied, not also taking his eyes off his coffee.

“These drivers blowing their horns too loud and non-stop,” I said, my blood curdling.

Floro now noticed it. “The ceiling is too low here that’s why a mild blow of the horn echoes so loud,” he said, seeming to justify the noise.

“What? I can’t hear you,” I said because another loud honking punctured the air. He just smiled.

Well, most Filipino drivers are like that. They want to own the road. They think the government owes them respect because they know how to drive. They are always in a hurry to overtake. They don’t stay in one lane. They are impatient to get to their destination. And to get ahead, they honk their horns, either to warn the drivers of the vehicles ahead of them to give way, or to threaten them that they will bump their rears if they don’t. They can’t get their hands off their horns. They don’t know the word discipline. Or politeness.

This is why I disagree with what the notoriously famous presidential speech writer, Mai Mislang, tweeted that Vietnam streets are places easier to die because she, I think, doesn’t have enough experience being a public commuter.

Manila’s streets are murderous, made more so by illiterate drivers who do not have any idea that noise pollution kills as much as cigarette smoke.

Well, at least cigarette smoke is quiet, that’s why I prefer its slow motion rampage than the temperament of drivers high on diesel or gasoline exhaustion and—sorry to say this—on their contempt for commuters and fellow drivers.

In other countries, drivers obey traffic laws. In the Philippines, drivers obey their tribal instincts. Blowing horns even at a minutest excuse is tribal instinct. The Filipino driver’s demonic inclination to blow his horn is symptomatic of his mental affinity to dogs. A dog smells a fresh bone a mile away and it raises a howl and race through like bullet. A Filipino driver, particularly that of a bus or a jeepney, sees a shadow of a passenger lurking a few meters ahead and he hurls his vehicle regardless of a red signal or another vehicle in front.

Many a pedestrian have met their Maker early because of vehicular accidents caused by uncaring drivers. Still many have lost limbs because an insane driver had beaten a red light or carelessly overtook another vehicle without signal for a warning. Worse, in this country, drivers who are involved in accidents are not jailed. If it was a jeepney they were driving when the accident happened, they are promoted to become bus, or truck, drivers. I think such drivers should be tied to a post of the LRT and bumped on purpose.

Why are there so many insane drivers in the Philippines? Ask the Land Transportation Office, whose corrupt officials and employees I think father our drivers. Shouldn’t we diminish our driver population by castrating their fathers?

Floro agreed with me when I verbalized this thought. To drive home his point, he said he has a better idea. That morning, he suggested that I shoot a couple of jeepney and bus drivers on the corner of Taft Avenue. I looked again at those drivers. Most were red-eyed because I think they were stalled in traffic the night before. They are all blowing their horns simultaneously for a reason I only found out when I stood up and finished my coffee: the traffic light on the corner was busted.

It was fortunate I didn’t have a rifle that day.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Cops on motorbikes should walk

“Patrol cops riding in tandem on motorbikes would soon be seen around Metro Manila as police authorities shift their attention to securing the capital during the Christmas season.”

Dona Pazzibugan of the Philippine Daily Inquirer brought us this news yesterday and I almost fell off my seat upon reading it.

You might ask: “Why? Is there something wrong with cops on motorbikes being seen again on the streets of Nick Joaquin’s favorite city?”

Yes, because “being seen again” as applied to the police conjures up an image that they, who should in the first place always be seen, will re-appear, show up anew, physically materialize, or at the very least, breathe again.

You mean the police have disappeared? Vanished? Went into hiding? Or exited from this earth?

Oh, my. So, we should welcome their coming back?

Of course, we should. Having the police patrolling the city makes you feel safe. No? Opinion is divided. There are some who would rejoice at the sight of a police officer nearby. There are some who would cringe in fear upon seeing one, particularly if the cop wears sunglasses and it is night.

I belong to the latter. I feel like I would pee when I see a policeman. Don’t ask me why. Just run for your life. The guy might have sore eyes. Worst, he could be a criminal element masquerading as an officer of the law.

This is not to say that all police officers are rotten or bad. There are many men in police uniform who are officers and gentlemen; who serve the people with courage and without fear or favor. But just like in any forest, there are snakes. And it just so happened that the Philippine National Police is a large forest with plenty of reptilian population, if we go by what we read in the papers and if we are to believe the experience of some who had horrendous encounters with men in police uniform.

I’ll say this straight: The reputation of policemen in the Philippines is not something to be envied. Some of them are “kotong” cops. Some serve as protectors of jueteng lords and politicians who are sometimes indistinguishable from each other. Some are illegal drug users, if not dealers and couriers. Some are pimps. Some are illegal loggers. A few others are hostage takers, and so on ad nauseam.

Now, if these are the kind of cops that will ride motorcycles and patrol our streets, heaven save us.

“Philippine National Police director general Raul Bacalzo has re-activated the motorized anti-street crime operatives (MASCO) as soon as possible to thwart criminals from taking advantage of the people’s extra cash during the holiday season,” Dona Pazzibugan wrote.

I apologize and please excuse me for being harsh on the police, but I doubt Gen. Bacalzo very much.

You see, the sound alone of the name of the team that the good general is fielding now that the Christmas season is fast approaching doesn’t inspire much confidence. It sounds like “PA-MASKO” and the reason, according to the news, why the MASCO is being re-activated is very clear from the above: to safeguard the people’s extra-cash.

Wouldn’t it be that they will go out on motorbikes to sing Christmas carols? Hindi kaya sila mama-MASCO lang? I hope not.

Yes, there is something wrong with what the PNP plans because the PNP has very few motorcycles and a limited supply of fuel. So, I think the plan will more likely be just that: a plan. And even if it pushes through, it will not last because of the reasons cited above.

The better plan, Gen. Bacalzo, is to require members of the PNP to just walk and not ride motorbikes.

Yes, let them walk the streets of Manila, two-by-twos, buddy-system, like the koban in Japan.

I agree that police visibility is a deterrent to crime. But police visibility can’t be had if cops are thundering through our streets on motorbikes—here in a second and then gone again—to nowhere.

Getting our cops walking, instead of riding, will serve us—and the PNP—better. People, pedestrians particularly, will have assurance that when a criminal element strikes and there is a police officer walking nearby, the chance of the criminal getting apprehended will be great.

Walking will also exercise the muscles of our cops. Done daily, it will burn the fats off the police’s bulging beer bellies. It will spare them from heart attacks and strokes and they will live longer.

Who knows, if only Police Sr. Inspector Rolando Mendoza walked—and did not hail a tourist bus—from Intramuros to Rizal Park, he might have not entertained the idea of taking hostage the bus passengers. So, you see walking is better than riding.

I hope Gen. Bacalzo will re-consider his plan. Don’t let ‘em cops ride, G’nral. Let ‘em walk. Let ‘em sweat under the sun’s heat.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Fly now, plane arrives later

Labor and Employment secretary Rosalinda D. Baldoz’s decision to affirm with modifications the original decision of the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo-era DOLE on the case of the Philippine Airlines Employees Association, known as PALEA, contesting the outsourcing by PAL management of certain ground functions and services was met by, as expected, an obdurate union leadership.

Upon receipt of the decision, Gerry Rivera, the union president, came out in the media with his guns blazing, denouncing the decision as ‘Halloween’, complementing his description of the original decision as ‘Midnight’.

Both adjectives mean, figuratively, ‘deathly scary’. Of course, literally, as he said, it means the ‘death of job security at PAL’.

Listen to the unionist: “The decision would conjure 3,000 zombie positions which will have cheaper wages, less benefits, no security of tenure, and no protection by a union.”

The end of the world?

Wait a minute. Has he read the decision or was he referring to another? Or, was he so blinded that when he read the decision his vision was clouded by tears of hatred for the DOLE?

I have, and I believe the decision was, unlike Rivera’s rant, sober and correct. Only three issues were resolved by Secretary Baldoz when she considere

First, whether PAL may validly contract out the functions and positions d PALEA’s motion for reconsideration of the original decision. that are presently performed and occupied by regular rank-and-file employees and union members under the parties’ collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

Second, whether PAL may validly terminate the services of the employees under the CBA, the Labor Code, and Department Order No. 18-02.

And third, whether the termination of services of the employees constitutes an unfair labor practice of the PAL.

The CBA, the law, and Department Order No. 18-02, collectively supported by jurisprudence say “Yes” to the first two issues and “No” to the last. Baldoz, knowing her law and her morals, followed them, as she should.

The world of labor has changed, Rivera should be told. The world of business has metamorphosed, he must be reminded. Our unions in the Philippines must recognize these for them to remain relevant. They must adapt to new business realities and to modern bargaining strategies to preserve jobs and, thus, obtain the benefits due them.

The fact is outsourcing is a valid and legal business strategy in this Knowledge century. It is also a fact that businesses, by virtue of their prerogatives, may trim fat, reduce cost, enter into alliances, contract out non-core functions, and terminate employees if only to survive.

Even governments nowadays resort to the above-enumerated strategies. Who says governments can’t go bankrupt? It can, financially and morally. The Philippine government, if any one will bother to ask, has just been from a fresh rationalization program, resulting to the early retirement and separation from the service of thousands of bureaucrats, many of them with non-essential functions.

But such acts of management should be tempered with social responsibility. It doesn’t mean that just because a company is losing, it can already ride roughshod over the rights of workers to just and humane treatment, like the payment of appropriate benefits.

Baldoz saw to it that this will happen. She modified the benefits to ensure that the to-be-terminated workers will get the just reward of their having been ‘regular’ employees, and more. The ‘regular’ is in direct marks because in this era of globalization, regular employment is no longer the norm. Sad, but true.

Security of tenure?

Security of tenure nowadays is equated with workers having an array of knowledge and skills that they can sell to the market—a market which happened to be so choosy, competitive, and exacting. It is not a market for the worker with moribund skills, the insecure, and the inflexible. It is not a market that looks at what you know, but a market that looks at how much you will learn more while working. It is a market that frowns on the narrow-minded and smiles on those with a world-view of innovative ideas.

Such is the market that PAL is in. The airline industry is so competitive that PAL’s failure in the past to abandon its comfort zone and to innovate—secure as it was in the wrong thought that it is indispensable in the scheme of things in this country—left it at the mercy of its more service-oriented, innovative competitors.

You want proof? Well, when Cebu Pacific, the budget airline, came out with its ‘dancing flight stewardesses’, the flight attendants’ union at PAL cried foul and said it was demeaning to women. Wake up, people. It was a marketing strat, did you know that?

So, PAL is losing money. The documents supporting the DOLE decision showed that it is profusely bleeding financially. Very few now ride PAL primarily because its level of services delivery has declined from so-so to mediocre. Its planes arrive late. Its workers are grumbling, instead of working and thinking. Cebu Pacific is beating it black and blue. PAL, if it would not be allowed to do what it needs to do to survive will not last a full year. It will run aground.

Why? There are many reasons, but one I can hazard as guess is because its owner badly treats his employees. He is generally believed to be so “kuripot”. No wonder, the unions in his companies are always up in arms.

Now, give me a company whose owner treats his workers with contempt and I will show you what industrial restlessness means.

Many say: “Why not allow Philippine Airlines to sink?” Indeed, why not.

But alas, this case is imbued with national interest. If PAL closes shop, not only 2,600 workers will lose their jobs. All 7,500 of them, including Rivera, will walk on our streets, zombie-like and jobless.

And for this, the Philippines could lose face. Can you imagine the business repercussion if the government does not allow Asia’s first airline to exercise a valid prerogative because one of its unions happens to be allergic to, say, contracting out its catering services?

If PAL is only a bus company, then we can allow its buses to rot and find jobs for its drivers and conductors and mechanics somewhere else. Unfortunately, it is not. It is an airline carrying our national tri-color; a company that employs thousands and whose importance in the life of our country is strategic because it connects us to the world.

This lends PAL its national value, but it doesn’t mean it should not be disciplined. Its responsibility is not only to keep flying but, more so, to sustain and keep decent the lives of the people who make its planes fly, regardless of how late.

This is why the DOLE decision in this case was balanced. It weighed the importance of PAL as a company and the equally valuable asset of its people who run the airline.

Friday, October 22, 2010

In the Philippines, an ex-President’s namesake runs for a barangay post

I don’t know in other countries, but in the Philippines there is no law that prohibits a former President of the Republic—and my, a convicted felon, albeit, pardoned, at that—from running anew for public office.
There also isn’t any law that penalizes insult to the sensibilities of the unsuspecting, pliant masses—that’s the majority in us—who are also, by the way, short in memory that’s why they keep electing and trusting with power even the most idiotic politicians. And the crooks, the cheats, the drug dealers, the corrupt, the thieves, the quack, ad nauseam.

We can’t even punish those who, riding in the popularity or notoriety of some politicians, expropriate for themselves the popular or notorious names of these personalities just to get elected. If we can, then perhaps I would have been the first to advocate stoning these animals to death as punishment, which was allowed in biblical times. This suggestion was inspired by the news yesterday that a certain Jose Serra, a candidate for barangay captain, was stoned by irate members of the Workers’ Party. Don’t blame me; blame the news.

This is why the well-meaning among us could only shake our heads in disbelief when news came out that Joseph Estrada is running for barangay council member in Digos City in the October 25 barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections.

Goodness gracious! What else does ‘Asiong Salonga’ needs to prove? Or perhaps, the proper question is, “What else does he would like to disprove?”

When former Trade and Industry secretary, the millionaire Jose Concepcion, lost in the 1987 senatorial election because his campaign slogan, “Isip Agila”, did not fly, I thought that was the end of his brief carousing with politics. But no. Subsequently, he ran for barangay captain in the rich enclave of Barangay Forbes and won. Mysteriously, nothing spectacular was heard of him as barangay captain and the rest of political Philippines, well, rested from his incessant exhortation for them to realize their dreams to become millionaires by transforming themselves into “People’s Economic Councils”, his pet economic strategy.

What if Joseph Estrada wins?

That will be good for our democracy. That will telegraph to the world the message that Filipinos are serious about their democratic values; that we adhere to the universal tenet of freedom of choice. That will inspire—some would say—countries like China to institute political reform ahead of economic re-engineering which, by the way, China had done in reverse and look where it had brought the Middle Kingdom: to the enviable position of being now the world’s number one economic powerhouse.

And et tu Philippines?

Well, the ultra-nationalists tell us not to mind our economic sustenance. It will come as long as we allow one-man-one-vote as the norm of our political life. Regular elections, these behind-the-times theorists say, will propel us to economic prosperity.

Joseph Estrada, the barangay kagawad candidate, must be thinking so. You may wonder about his motivation, but that’s not hard to divine. He wants power although his means of acquiring it insults me no end.

But what can I do? In this country where people are afflicted with the illness of imitation and the penchant for christening baby boys and girls with the names of Hollywood stars and other famous people, we are helpless and headed for another headline-grabbing gossip.

Thus, the candidacy of this upcoming Digos City politician with the name of the man from San Juan is a classic.

Joseph Estrada, the Digos City native, may retort that he, too, is helpless (he can claim innocence when his parents named him after the San Juan City overlord). In this case, it’s the voters who will decide his fate, a proposition that certainly will sit well with the apostles of American democracy Philippine-style.

Whatever, this does not appease me. I don’t want any Tom, Dick, and Harry using my name in vain, particularly putting it on the ballot.

The reason is simple. If that Tom, Dick, and Harry wins despite of my name or on account of it, and commits a crime, then I’ll be damned. My children would not like their father’s name tied up to a heinous deed.

In the meantime, I am happy that no politician, famous or trying to be one, has thought of expropriating “Nicon”. Thanks to my mother and my father who christened me with a name that turns off voters.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Unlit cigarettes and lighted streets

I hate unlighted streets; streets that are pothole-ridden; untidy boulevards with dog and cat litter; stretch of concrete that bear no directional signs; streets that have no sidewalks because the allotted spaces for such have been expropriated by the uncivilized and unruly; and streets inhabited by hawkers, whose commerce ranges from peddling flesh to stale street food.
I hate more streets populated by criminal drivers who stay only a second and then without warning—not even a signal light for minimum courtesy—suddenly switch lanes and after the near-death experience of the aggrieved and over-taken fellow driver take pride in the criminal behavior. Such scum of the road should be guillotined, or worse, poisoned to death.

It is unlawful to strangle drivers without breeding? Tell that to the meek, not to me.

I am on a warpath. I want to spit betel nut saliva in the eyes of the uneducated hazards of the road.

If I were the chief of the Philippine National Police, I will set a daily quota for every police in uniform to haul at least two criminal drivers to Muntinlupa, on pain of being stripped his uniform if he fails to meet the requirement.

But because I am not a law enforcer (I am an undisciplined writer), I can only bite my tongue with my remaining molar in disgust over the scheme of things in our beloved country. In our streets, I should say.

The window to a country’s civilization—and civility—is its streets and their condition.

The street is the most visible monument to a cultured people. You don’t believe me? Go to Divisoria, or Tondo, and take a photo of a stretch of pavement. Then, hurry to Makati or The Fort and do the same. Now, go home and compare the photos. Write your observations in essay form. Title it, “My Street Adventure”. Be detailed. Tell me what you see and relate your childhood days to it. Decide for yourself if you are happy. If you are not, blame it to the streets that you photographed. If you are, good luck. We are not compatible, at least in our taste for streets.

Sometime ago, I wrote an essay for The Manila Times about the walkways of Tanauan City. In that piece, I described the sidewalks of Apolinario Mabini’s old town as conducive to thinking and contemplation because they are wide. I appreciated the fact that boulevards lined up and shaded by giant trees are a view to behold. I love wide sidewalks, particularly those with no disorderly and dilapidated structures that obstruct the view, say, a lamp post that has no lamp. Did you ever wonder why lamp posts without lamps abound in many parts of Manila’s city streets?

I love clean streets, even if they are narrow. At the subdivision where I live, the streets are just right but they are clean, at least the ones that intersect my house, because I make it a point to sweep them spotless on weekends when office work temporarily takes a day off.

The legend that Singapore is a ‘fine’ city emanates from the fact that in that First World metropolis one will be fined, and heavily at that, if you ever spit or throw gum, candy wrapper, or cigarette butt into the streets. Cleanliness is a virtue I long to see in Philippine streets which, by the way, double up as garbage bin, parking lot, and wet market. This causes our streets to choke in traffic.

Streets riddled with moon-like craters are abhorrent. When she was a year or two, my youngest daughter, Lilac, used to cry so loudly when, while travelling, the taxi or bus we are riding bounces up and down upon hitting a pothole. Lara remembers clearly Lilac’s hatred of ‘lubak’ that she often teases her little sister of this childhood episode. It has become a source of laughter in the family.

Stories have been told about people being robbed, molested, mugged, or worse, abducted and killed in dark alleys and unlighted streets. So, unlighted streets are a bane to one’s health and one’s mortal existence.

They are also signs that our cities—we—are Third World. Unlighted streets mean we don’t have money to pay for crude oil, crude oil being the fuel that runs our power turbines that produce electricity.

Dark streets are also lonely. That’s where lovers whisper and moan—while sharing and salivating in wet dreams. Unrequited, despondent, lonely hearts looking for ‘love for sale’ thrive in pitch-dark streets.

On occasions when I cannot avoid walking along a dark alley or an unlighted street, I usually have in handy my ubiquitous lighter and an unlit cigarette between my thumb and forefinger, just in case . . . . I also don’t stride casually along. I walk briskly, with eyes darting from side to side watching for a sign of a mugger. If one materializes, my planned stratagem is to feed him my cigarette and light it quickly and run for dear life.

Experiences also abound of newly-arrived provincial people getting lost in the city because of a sign-less street, or a street that leads to nowhere. I, being so forgetful of directions, dread to venture out into such streets. It should be no problem if our cities have street maps, like those in other countries, but alas, we Filipinos are not map readers so here’s one piece of advice: if you are lost in Manila, or Cebu, or Davao, don’t go to the police to ask for directions. Chances are, they also don’t know. Go to the tarot reader or look for a Madam Auring and ask her to predict where you are going.

Monday, October 18, 2010

For Juan, I wish you goodbye

Home, 9:00 P.M.--I have—before I could even finish this paragraph—puffed two sticks of Winston Lights.

On a rainy Monday night when you knew that howling winds were wasting houses and trees and crops in far-away Northern Luzon; when you thought people should be warmly tucked in their beds but were not because of a recurring nightmare that Juan will worsen into yet another Ondoy; and when your lights are on while everyone else on a typhoon’s path are fumbling in the dark because their electricity had been cut off, you can’t just sleep.

I can’t sleep. Sleeping would have been an injustice, a discourtesy to your fellow human beings who have to brave a night of apprehension that nature’s wrath could suddenly turn on them and rend their lives asunder just as Ondoy did to countless thousands in 2009.

And because I am incapable of injustice, I can’t sleep the sleep of the just. I commiserate with those who are suffering from Juan’s wrath by staying awake—and thinking.

And also writing.

So, what does one write on a rainy Monday night?

Well, there is the typhoon to write about. But there’s no new thing about it except that Juan is the strongest typhoon to pay us a visit in four years.

There is also the news that the Philippine Atmospheric and Geophysical and Services Administration, or very well known as PAGASA, is more prepared today to confront Juan than in July when we, the ‘boss’ of the current administration, faced not only the wrath of Typhoon Basyang but also the anger of President Benigno S. Aquino III because of the alleged ‘incompetence’ of PAGASA’s chief, Dr. Prisco Nilo, to correctly predict Basyang’s coming.

The President’s anger led to the sacking of Dr. Nilo, but his removal didn’t deter Typhoon Juan from coming. It only made him more determined to make his presence felt. Look at the Yahoo photos of the damage Juan has wrought.

It would also be interesting to write about how early preparation could mitigate the damage of natural calamities.

In July, Basyang caused over 1,000 Filipinos to meet their Maker early. Juan, as I write this, caused only four deaths.

How sad. You see, death, by any number and whatever its causes, diminishes me.

But how also comforting.

Since Friday, government authorities were already making preparations to ensure that Juan’s visit would be ‘smooth’, I mean, cause least damage. They issued bulletins: warned people to stack on food, water, candles, and battery (in the provinces, kerosene as fuel for ‘oil’ lamps). The police, the military, and the fire department readied their emergency disaster equipment, such as rubber dinghies, axes, ropes, paddles, life jackets, emergency lights, etc. Health authorities braced their doctors, nurses, and other health workers for emergency medical situations.

And Dinky Soliman’s Department of Social Welfare and Development, or DSWD, I heard, opened its warehouses of food stuffs, ready to be distributed, in case of food shortages. This is very unlike the situation in September 2009, when donated food and other items were reported to have rotten because the DSWD locked its warehouses shut and refused to distribute these to victims of Ondoy for reasons we don’t know why.

That’s how prepared we are today for Juan’s coming.

Of course, the only thing we are not prepared for is ourselves. How we will behave in the face of a calamity is unpredictable, as we were when confronted by life-threatening situations, like when a crazed police officer took a bus full of tourists in August and the police, in response, peppered the bus with bullets to practice their shooting skills.

That was a bigger, albeit, man-made calamity, we were caught flat-footed with.

I think I have made a point.

I’ll sleep the typhoon away and hopefully, wake up to the news that Juan has left.

Goodbye Juan. Don’t come back, please.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A migraine called the Bureau of Immigration

First, it flunked the test of obedience. Now, the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation (BID) is guilty of in-your-face defiance.

By disobeying the express order of the President Benigno S. Aquino III not to use his image or photo in any way that smacks of political grandstanding and unfettered patronizing, the BID, whose charter dating back to 1935 is as antiquated as the mindset of some of the officials that run the agency, is showing its true color: it causes migraine to Malacanang.

It can recalled that immediately after President Aquino came to office, he warned all government offices against using his photo from being displayed in billboards and posters that ‘announce’ his ascendancy as President, or that tend to show his pre-eminence as the First Gentlemen of this hapless, undisciplined and unruly country called the Philippines.

It was a simple, but bold, governance masterstroke. Like the prohibition of the use of ‘wang-wang’, it was a sudden departure from the political-bullying culture of the era of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, whose photo with that perennial smirk—including those of her officials’—had adorned billboards, posters, handbills, calendars, forms, souvenir fans, pins, buttons, and shirts posters for nine years that I am just recovering from our polluted landscape.

The BID defied that order. It printed millions of departure and arrival cards with the photo of P-Noy.

When the President heard about it, he fumed and castigated the BID. We don’t know how he did it, but we know the BID later issued a press release saying it has stopped using the forms with the President’s image.

This is not true. Last week, the flight attendants of Thai Airways were still using the BID arrival cards in question: call that lying and disobedience.

Then last week, news came out about the so-called ‘Dra. Belo cards’.

The BID apparently had not learned its lesson, or was so hard-headed, that it printed millions of departure and arrival cards with the image of a doctor whose sole claim to fame is to have trimmed the waistlines, firmed up the flat noses and sagging breasts, and removed flab of fats of the moneyed famous and infamous, including celluloid stars.

Tasteless. That is, the choice of ‘endorser’ of the BID.

I said this not because I prefer the image of my labrador, Zorro, to be on the arrival and departure cards, but because if the reports are correct, the mangling by the BID of the use of the abbreviation ‘Dr.’ as “Dra.’ is inexcusable.

In correct English usage, there is no abbreviation as ‘Dra.’! The title, ‘doctor’, refers both to a male and female physician and its abbreviation is simply ‘Dr.’, with a period or full stop (.) in American usage, and without a period or full stop, if you go by British usage. Here, I’ll stop my lecture on punctuation . . .

. . . and continue excoriating the BID for its more serious offense—its defiance.

The BID claimed it was not responsible for the printing of the cards with the ‘Dra. Belo’ image. It reasoned it was its contractor, e.Xtend Inc., which was at fault.

Fine. Charles Stephen Sy of e.Extend apparently told GMANews.TV that there was no need to get the approval of the BID in printing the advertisement of the Belo Medical Group on the arrival and departure cards and that there was nothing ‘immoral’ with the cards. No one, really, said it was, as far as I recall.

"e.Xtend has the right to place any sponsors and advertisements as long as they are not contrary to the public morals or standards or compromise the image of the Bureau of Immigration," Sy was quoted to have said.

Well, Mr. Sy, I’ll tell you this: what you did already compromised the BID with the President. What you did had already put the BID in the list of government agencies that disobeys the P-Noy, and we, P-Noy’s ‘boss’, are watching.

Now, from the ‘boss’: Mr. President, sack Ronald Ledesma, the BID’s officer-in-charge, for causing you—and us—another unwanted migraine. We don’t deserve it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Communicating labour rights

Bangkok—How do you communicate to ‘a world gone flat’, as Thomas Friedman said, the right of a woman—working at a Bangladesh garments factory—to have maternity leave?

What should the Philippine government say, or do, to ensure that its increasing number of urban informal workers who have, at the height of the global financial crisis, transformed their homes into small business shops providing specific types of services, such as styling hair or Internet access, have a right to adequate social protection?

The People’s Republic of China, which as of this writing has over 280 million rural migrants looking for work in China’s urban corridors, have the right to find decent work and should not be prejudiced and discriminated against. How should that message be delivered?

Or what should be done to some countries that yearly trek to Geneva to attend the ritual of the International Labour Conference, but after exiting the global stage gathering of labour ministers go home and turn a blind eye to the oppression of migrant workers providing the sinews of their respective economies?

These, and many others, are the fundamental questions that the International Labour Organization (ILO) sought to answer as it convened on Monday 23 journalists, including myself, from 13 countries for a five-day training at the ILO’s regional office for Asia and the Pacific here in Bangkok.

Communicating Labour Rights, a training course for media professionals, is the first such training to be held here in Asia.

Organized by the ILO’s International Training Centre in Turin, Italy, the training aims to equip journalists, reporters, editors, publishers, PR professionals, and press officers working in all types of media with knowledge about ILO and the work of its supervisory bodies, as well as international labor standards and how these are applied.

The course also aims to equip participants with skills which they could use in writing a wide range of stories that could inform national and regional debates on social and economic development. Part of the skills the course aims to teach is how to extract and use appropriate ILO data and information, such as international labor standards, that the participants could use in their coverage of labor and social affairs.

On the first day, judging from the participants’ enthusiasm to ask questions, as journalists are wont to, I readily surmised the training course would serve a very useful purpose.

I said this because the questions and observations indicate a glaring divide between the ILO—a UN body steeped in the tradition of polite debates, contemplative and meticulous study, and diplomacy—and the participants whose preponderance of daily life is dictated by a newsroom culture that requires constant struggle and immediacy.

To me, to bridge this divide is welcome, but it is a tall order.

And it showed when Jamela Alindogan, producer of Al Jazeera Television’s Manila bureau frankly said her network does not consider it news a gathering of executives in suites and ties who merely talk.

To this, Sophy Fisher, ILO’s regional information officer, calmly replied that the challenge for journalists is to discover what in the gathering was said, or decided, and reporting this because this could shape and influence public opinion or a national policy. In a larger sense, both were right.

It showed when Aoun Abbas, a reporter from Pakistan’s The News on Sunday, said that the ILO report saying hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis would lose jobs because of the recent devastating floods in that country never even made it to the front pages of Pakistani newspapers.

“Journalists and media professionals play a leading role in shaping the public debate about social and economic development,” said the ILO in its introduction to the course.

It explained: “The conditions under which we work—and the standards that govern them—concern all levels and all kinds of societies . . . Work related issues include immediate practical questions—wages, safety and health, discrimination, gender, social safety nets, child and forced labour—and broader issues, such as building competitiveness and productivity, creating employment-friendly laws and policies, labour migration, linking education and employment, and the right to organize and express opinions.”

In Asia and the rest of the world, ILO’s ‘practical questions’ are fundamental issues. Going local, in the Philippines, these are certainly essential. And therefore, Ms. Fisher’s challenge, which is ILO’s, is universal: how should we, as journalists, communicate these to our peoples?

How should we—in the light of our perspectives narrowed down by our own reporting environments and, as the ILO rightly pointed out, “pressurized by limited time and resources”—report and analyze these “complex issues in a way that draws audiences back, again and again”?

In the face of many of today’s world bodies, such as the ILO, refusing to play the “police officer” of the day, I am afraid only journalists could answer the question, merely because they are the most impatient and the “angrier” group of people who would like to see that these issues—these “rights”—are immediately enjoyed by all.

This is not to say that journalists don’t need help. They do, and the ILO, with its rich experience, its tripartite structure, and its hard-earned respect and enviable reputation as the global arbiter of labour and employment standards and issues, is very well situated and qualified to point the way.

And this course is the kind of engagement that could jumpstart the process of communication, of bridging the divide. Neither should now abdicate each other’s roles in the engagement, for much is at stake.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Reporting corruption

Bangkok—On Monday, The Nation, one of Thailand’s English daily newspapers, bannered a story about corruption, a familiar theme in the Philippines the obliteration of which the 100-days old government of President Benigno S. Aquino III is trying very hard to do.

The Nation says that the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva needs the help of the Thai populace to tackle the rising incidence of graft and corruption in the land of muay thai and the elephant. It said the social media, like Facebook, and a video clip contest, should create ‘waves of actions’ to lick the menace.

“The public need(s) to be guided on how they should act against it (corruption),” the newspaper quoted Utis Kaothien as having said at a roundtable discussion on graft and corruption last week.

Mr. Utis is senior adviser to Thailand’s National Anti-Corruption Commission. The panelists in the roundtable discussion, the newspaper reported, agreed that they should not wait for the government to act and that the private sector and the public must take a lead in fighting graft. They said reporting corruption is necessary.

The news comes ahead of next month’s International Anti-Corruption Conference, when delegates from all over the world gather in this charming capital to update one another on the progress of global battle against corruption.

President Aquino, this writer posits, should send an army of graft-busters to the conference, so that his war cry during the campaign—which carried him to Malacanang—will be revived and rejuvenated. Except in some pockets of the government like in the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Aquino’s battle is flagging.

I agree that reporting corruption, whether those done in private or public places, is a deterrent against the evil, but only a deterrent I say, not a cure.

Senator Franklin Drilon may, through the public hearings on the budget, report daily the corruption in many offices such as those in the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) whose former chief, now Rep. Augusto Syjuco, had allegedly used government money for unlawful purposes, but if Syjuco is not jailed, then the report may remain just that—a report.

He may bewail to high heavens the alleged corruption of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s lapdog, ex-secretary of Agriculture Bernie Fondevilla, who allegedly disbursed billions in agriculture funds ahead of the May 2010 elections, but if Fondevilla is not hauled off to jail, Drilon’s reportage of graft will remain just that—a temporary fodder to an excitable media.

For graft and corruption to be licked, the perpetrators need to be obliterated—punished. It’s as simple as that.

President Aquino’s strong-willed stand of pro-choice on the reproductive health issue should extend to the issue of graft and corruption. He should wield a bat and club the corrupt senseless.

Many Filipinos are crying for the blood of those who have pillaged the Republic and emptied the country’s coffers dry. You need proof? Read the feedback in the President’s website.

For example, in the National Labor Relations Commission, the quasi-judicial agency that arbitrates labor cases, there are about this office plenty of harsh words which the people are saying and which, fortunately, DOLE Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz and NLRC Chairman Gerardo Nograles are paying close attention to.

It’s a comfort that many NLRC commissioners are backing up Baldoz’s and Nograles’s call for reforms, like the creation of a National Efficiency and Integrity Board to, well, report and monitor shenanigans in the agency.

The NEIB, to be composed of labor, management, and government representatives, is envisioned not only to report and monitor, but also prevent and punish, graft and corruption at the NLRC.

The parallelisms in Thailand and the Philippines on the issue of graft and corruption are not coincidence. Both countries suffer heavily from corruption. Both realize that graft and corruption is a drag to good governance and economic rebirth.

Therefore, any concrete public action that will lead to the elimination, or even just to the reduction, of graft and corruption, is welcome.

Reporting it is a first step, but that first step should end up with the corrupt contracting pneumonia inside the cold walls and clutching at the cold bars of a prison. When that happens, many more people may be emboldened to come forward and denounce the termites eating up on our social frayed social fabric.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


The recently concluded Philippine International Book Fair, an annual holiday for the family during which we transform ourselves—Eireen, Lara, Lilac, and I—into pilgrims yielded, again, for me an extraordinary harvest.

Lara, the eldest, has been addicted to books since I brought her to her first book fair 14 years ago, at the Megamall, when the land on which the SMX exhibition hall stands by the shores of Manila Bay was still rugged and swampy. She was a baby then, sleeping mostly all the time in her ‘stroller crib’ while I rummaged through stacks of books, jostling for space with other fair visitors.

I recall that at the end of that first visit, the books I had bought competed for space in Lara’s small crib. Times were easier then, so I could afford to splurge on books. She practically inhaled the smell of book paper and ink as we trudged along towards the taxi stand.

I think she liked that first visit. I brought her again the next year, and the next after that so that by the time she would go to school, she already knew how to read.

In later years, when she had already learned how to read and write, Lara would often fish out from her memory those annual pilgrimages to the book fair, saying she remembers this and that author other kids her age only read about in magazines and see on television.

She has a vivid recollection of the late Rene Villanueva, who autographed several copies of children’s books she had bought. She was delighted when I introduced her to my idol Rio Alma, a.k.a. Virgilio Almario, the national artist and a friend, the poet and writer Vim Nadera. She had met many other writers at the fair that I think she would ask me one of these days if I had read all the books they have written.

The same was true with Lilac. She learned how to read by joining her sister at the book fair.

In her own right, Lilac the youngest can also boast of her own book fair experiences. She, too, began with picture books; graduated to children’s literary tales; and now, I see her reading multiple volumes at a time and can sit still for hours not noticing anything, including me, when she is absorbed by what she is reading.

Every year, the family looks forward to September not because it’s the gateway to Christmas but because it is the month when the book fair happens. It is also the month when we allow ourselves a little luxury by staying in modest hotels near where the book fair is held so that we will not waste precious time traveling back and forth to our home in Batangas—and allow us more time to read what we bought.

Two days of eating fast food and enjoying the quiet of a hotel room by reading are to us both a relief and a release. A relief because we turn off our phones so no one can reach us and a relief because we get the chance to get lost in the world of books.

This September of 2010 is no exception. For two days, from September 18-19, we were at the book fair at the SMX, going there before the fair opens and leaving only when our feet could no longer endure the walking from one book booth to another. This year, we stayed at the Bayview Hotel in front of the US Embassy because some bar examinee had beaten us to the draw in reserving our favorite room at the Orchid Garden on Vito Cruz Street.

This year’s book fair was again spectacular, but I noticed fewer visitors than last year’s. I also noticed that one book seller, Eireen’s favorite, did not participate.

This, of course, did not diminish our enthusiasm for the written word, for at the end of the first day, Lara and Lilac had almost over-spent for their acquisitions.

You see, the two had already imbibed the habit of saving part of their school allowance for this annual date with the book sellers. Months before every book fair, they already prepare their respective lists of probable books to buy by consulting Mr. Google. The items on their list depend on how much money they have saved. If they splurge and go beyond their lists, then the mother goes to the rescue and that’s the time I say the budget be damned!

This year, my acquisitions were modest compared to my daughters’. I gifted myself with the large 11th edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary to complement my old Webster’s Universal Dictionary and Thesaurus, Chamber’s Pocket Dictionary, and a slimmer version of Scribner’s.

I also picked up F. Sionil Jose’s compilation of essays he had written for various newspapers, the red-covered paper back, Why We are Hungry and another compilation of newspaper pieces by the irreverent poet Alfred A. Yuson, The Word on Paradise.

When 2008 Nobel Prize winner J.M.G. Le Clezio, the French novelist, published his debut novel in 1963, the year I was born, the Paris Express headlined that the 23-year old sensation had rocked Paris’ literary circles. That debut novel was The Interrogation and I bought a copy, intrigued as I was what it could be all about. I will soon find out.

Another ‘harvest’ was the 50th anniversary edition of Chinhua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Achebe is Nigerian, one of the finest writers the African continent has produced. Nadine Gordimer, herself an African (she is from South Africa) and whose books will now stand side by side with Achebe’s in my modest home library, had heaped accolades upon Achebe by saying he “is gloriously gifted with the magic of an ebullient, generous, great talent”. I intend to devour Things Fall Apart after I have been introduced years ago to Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah.

Ninotchka Rosca’s State of War made it to my list this year after I had bypassed it in book fairs past. I don’t know why, but many say Rosca is controversial. Is she the Philippines’s Erica Jung? I am tempted to ask.

Iranun and Balangingi: Globalization, Maritime Reading and the Birth of Ethnicity by James Francis Warren and Philippine Kinship and Society, a collection of anthropological works edited by Yasushi Kikuchi are old titles but they made it to my book cart this year.

As is my habit, I did not go for new titles. I wait for new books to “fade” a little before I decide to buy them. The reason is obvious: they are very expensive and a salary man like me, with two children going to school, could not afford them. Next year, maybe, when the economy—ballyhooed by the stock exchange to be growing—is kinder to the pocket I will consider adding more to my bargain acquisitions.

See you at the next book fair. Meanwhile, get red with envy at my reading fare.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


Nagtatahor, or ‘respecting’ in the English language and gumagalang in Tagalog, is how I write the complimentary end of my letters in Asi, my original native language. It is the present participle of the action verb ‘respect’.

Nagtatahor is the safest word in my lexicon. Its root word is tahor, pronounced taa-hor, with a very light emphasis on ta and a slow close on hor to distinguish it from tahor, the Asi noun for a cock’s spur, which is pronounced with a heavier, faster accent on ta and still a faster clip on hor.

In Asi society—the society which a hundred thousand or so Romblomanons inhabit—nagtatahor is a revered word, for it not only describes the Asi’s state of being, but also indicates his way of life. Without pagtahor, our society will lack the calm order of behavior that defines our culture. Without it, we will be in shambles.

Perhaps, because pagtahor is an ingrained Asi virtue, I had not paid close attention to this important aspect of our culture since I started to write about the Asi, so much so that when John F. Rufon, an Asi studying for his master’s degree in language at the University of Sto. Tomas, cajoled me into saying something about pagtahor, I was jolted.

John wants to know: “What is the genesis of pagtahor and what are some of its forms—in present-day and past?”

To answer this question, I have to delve deep into my memory—experienced and observed—for in childhood as well as in the formative years of my youth, I breathed the air that supplied the life of the Asi’s natural and cultural environment and drank from the fountain of my forebears from which flew the traditions I now nurture.

In short, my knowledge of pagtahor came not from the walls of the academe, and certainly not from some extant records about which the Asi culture has a scant supply.

I shall begin by recalling the experience of being caught in a conversation between two elders.

An Asi child, if his upbringing is correct, should never interpose, object, suggest, or criticize when two Asi adults are talking to each other. He or she should only listen. To say a word is impolite, the height of impertinence. And the Asi has a word for this behavior, this elder-imposed silence: it is called saligbat.

Thus, “Aya gi saligbat sa bisaya it maguyang,” means don’t you ever interpose or say a word when two elders are conversing. To obey this unwritten rule is pagtahor. To disobey it is to court rebuke.

In Asi, the genesis of this behavior is both biological and generational—two of the inherent principles governing the social kinship structure of Asi society. A child should always look up to older people not only because the elders are expected to have accumulated more knowledge and wisdom, but also because of the order of lineal descent.

The Asi, like many other Filipinos, recognize the hierarchy in the family, with the father and mother belonging to the superior lines of authority, followed by the eldest son or daughter and so on. But this is not only so. The Asi family is patriarchal. It is the father who reigns supreme at home and outside of it when it comes to making family decisions.

This structure of authority is demonstrated by words inherent in the Asi language, starting with titles or honorifics.

The honorific for father in Asi varies. The father is called tatay and the mother is called nanay; an elder brother is manong while an elder sister is manang; and the youngest child is puto. There is no Tagalog word for the next ‘younger brother or sister’, but in Asi, the equivalent is manghor.

The original Asi term, puto, has an equivalent in Tagalog: bunso.

Tatay and nanay may be Tagalog, but their pronunciation in Asi and the contextual uses render them uniquely Asi. Tatay, for example, when used as a form of reference, is pronounced slowly, but when used vocatively as a form of address, such as in “Tatay, ging aayaba ka,” (Father, you are being called.), the pronunciation is fast, with emphasis on the last syllable tah—TAY.

The word maguyang is another example. Maguyang has two meanings in Asi. If the pronunciation is slow, the word means an old person; if the pronunciation is fast, with emphasis on maguh—YANG, the word means the eldest (brother or sister).

The same pronunciation variable is true with the honorifics tatang and nanang. In some places in the Asi community the terms means father and mother, but there are also Asi who refer to their grandfathers and grandmothers as tatang and nanang. Olo and ola are contracted forms of lolo and lola and also refer to grandparents.

The extended Asi family has engendered words of address that indicate pagtahor, most expropriated from the Tagalog language: tiyo (uncle) and tiyohon (the uncle as relation); tiya, tiyahon; pinsan, pinsanon; manugang, panugangan, umagar (son- and daughter-in-law); kinumangkon (niece and nephew); bayaw (brother-in-law); hipag (sister-in-law); bianan (mother- and father-in-law); ninong (godfather); ninang (godmother); pare and kumadre (partners in godparenting); and balaye (honorific address to each other by parents of husbands and wives).

Many of these forms of address did not exist in pre-Spanish Asi society. These were introduced along with Christianity and which the Asi have adapted and grown accustomed to. But some, like manugang, panugangan, and umagar, which means the same, are original Asi terms.

Manugang and panugangan, for example, were derivatives of the Asi word rugang, which means to add. Thus, an Asi may derisively dismiss a son- or daughter-in-law who might have affronted someone with the expression, “Asi, rugang yang ka ara! (Why, you are just an addition to the family!).

And then, there is the other son- or daughter-in-law equivalent: umagar. Umagar is a derivative of the word hagar (to ask), which is what a prospective husband figuratively does when he asks for the permission of the parents of a prospective wife to marry her.

There is one word that denotes relation and which is apparently the sum total of pagtahor within the Asi family. The term is hali, a very useful word which means brother, sister, or relative.

Manggihali (relatives), maghali (brother or sister), maghalihan (group or groups of relatives) are pagtahor terms which are invoked in the socio-economic life of the Asi.

An equivalent phrase, mag-kautoy it pusor, literally ‘joined in the umbilical cord’, also indicate social relations. Other variations that are used to indicate reverence to kin is magkarugo (of the same blood).

I mention these words because in the Asi kinship system, these are major considerations in the display of public and private behavior and determines not only the level of politeness, but also the nature of dealing that an Asi has with his fellow Asi and with those outside his immediate communal circle.

Respect is an important element of Asi behavior. An Asi may show or exhibit anger but still use Asi pagtahor terms and other terms of respect or endearment. He may be offended or may suffer from a verbal or behavioral affront, but still remain deferential and respectful by remaining nagtatahor.

The Asi, ever conscious of his kinship relations and his ‘place’ in the kinship system, see to it that pagtahor is not only an abstract.

For example, even without saying a pagtahor address, an Asi is expected to run to the succor of a hali in distress; avenge a tiyo who has been wronged; mediate in or pacify a maghalihan quarrel; celebrate with a pinsan in his victory; care for a sick olo; or not answer back the reprimand of an umagar.

In any of these instances, his action or behavior—verbal or non-verbal—will be considered a form of pagtahor.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Still thieving

One would think that because Governor Natalio F. Beltran III has been consigned to the backwaters of Tondo after Governor-elect Lolong Firmalo had decisively routed him in the election of May 10, 2010, he and his cohorts in the provincial capitol would stop pronto their blatant day-time raids on the provincial treasury.
What do you know? Beltran and company continue their thievery, if the Commission on Audit is to be believed.

Kapalmuks talaga. Alam kasi na hanggang tanghali na lang ng Hunyo 30 ang kaniyang pamamayagpag kaya ayun, sinasamantala ang kaniyang walang patumanggang paglustay ng salapi ng bayan.

Wala ka nang aabutan pa sa kapitolyo, Dr. Lolong. Nilimas na ng mga buwitre ang kaban ng bayan.

While everyone in Romblon is sleeping, content in the thought that Firmalo will soon clean up Beltran’s mess, big-time thievery is taking place, again if the Commission on Audit is to be believed.

While everyone in Romblon is basking on the happy afterglow of the opposition’s victory in the election, our governor was wasting public money on—of all things—school bags.

On May 14, 2010, or only four days after the election, Concepcion M. Caldit, state auditor and Team I audit team leader at the Region IV Audit Group II, wrote a letter to Gov. Beltran informing him that a P4.196 million purchase of school bags done by the provincial government was done without basis and, therefore, illegal.

The letter called the attention of three provincial officials, namely, Ranilo F. Fruelda of the provincial accounting office; Oscar Vicente L. Ylagan, Jr. of the provincial planning and development office; and Noel M. Magracia of the provincial budget office. The three apparently had roles in the purchase.

I will quote from Ms. Caldit’s letter for the benefit of our readers, to wit:

“In view of the late receipt of CY 2010 Annual Development Plan which we only received last 5 May 2010, we are returning again the herein Disbursement Voucher No. 100-10031516 together with its supporting documents, in favor of Etcetera.Com School and Office Supply for the payment of school bags. Please consider the following deficiencies:

“The procurement of school bags of at least P4,196,000.00 was without appropriation in violation of Section 4(1) of Presidential Decree No. 1445, otherwise known as the Government Auditing Code of the Philippines, thus the Province has no legal basis to purchase the same.”

Ms. Caldit went on to admonish Beltran and company by saying that “financial transactions and operations of any government agency shall be governed by the principle, “No money shall be paid out of any public treasury or depository except in pursuance of an appropriation law or other specific statutory authority.”

She said that the provincial government’s obligation request, No. R-GF 200-01-10-0298, to cover the required appropriation for the procurement of school bags revealed that P3,500,000 was lodged under the item “educational, cultural and sports development program” while P700,000 was lodged under the item “community assistance to barangays and schools”.

Tingnan natin kung papaanong pinalusot ni Beltran ang ganitong mga pagwaldas.

Ayon kay Ms. Caldit, sa kaniyang pag-rebisa sa programa at bill of materials para sa pagbili ng naturang school bags, nakita niya na ang P3,500,000 ay para sa “pagdalo sa mga seminar, pagsasanay, Quiz Bee, cultural presentation, premyo, tropeo, insentibo, at tulong pinansyal sa mga baragay, mga paaralan, at iba pang ahensya na may kinalaman sa pag-develop ng sports”.

Dagdag pa ni Ms. Caldit, ang P700,000 naman ay ginastos di-umano sa “construction materials” at “equipment” para sa mga barangay at eskuwelahan”.

Anak ka ng kagastusan, Gov. Jojo. Ang galing mong magpaikot. Pero mababaw ka pa rin. Akala mo makakalusot ka sa COA.

Mga katanungan sa taong-bayan ng Romblon.

Nakarating ba sa inyong barangay o eskuwelahan ang mga bagay na binanggit ng COA na pinamili ng lalawigan?

Kayo ba’y dumalo sa seminar, nagsanay, sumali sa Quiz Bee, nagpalabas ng tanawing kultural, nakatanggap ng premyo o tropeo, naabutan ng insentibo at tulong pinansyal, at nakatanggap ng construction materials at equipment galing sa kumpanyang Etcetera.Com School and Office Supply? Kilala ba ninyo ang may-ari ng kumpanyang ito na binayaran ng P4,196,000? May nabalitaan ba kayong bidding ukol sa bagay na ito?

Kung hindi ang inyong kasagutan sa mga katanungang ito, mapalad kayo sapagka’t mamanahin ninyo ang kaharian ng langit, hindi katulad ni Gov. Beltran at ng kaniyang mga apostoles na malamang mademanda sa Ombudsman.

According to the COA—through Ms. Caldit—“procuring school bags charged against the above programs/projects is bereft of legal basis”.

Sa Tagalog, iligal.

Ano kaya ang nasa isip ni Beltran nang gawin niya ito?

Mula noong maupo sa kapitolyo ang damuho, iniisip ko talaga kung ano ang tumatakbo sa isip ng pinakabata, ngunit pinakamatulis, na naging gobernador ng Romblon. Ngunit bigo ako. Hindi ko mahulaan ang likot ng imahinasyon ng batang ito. Sa isip ko, siguro, iniisip niya na bobo ang lahat ng Romblomanon. Marahil, iniisip niya na hindi madidiskubre ang kaniyang pagiging gahaman.

Well, well. There is a saying in English that says, “What goes around comes around.”

Sa Tagalog, “Ang umiikot, nauuntog.” Joke.

But seriously, I felt insulted by Beltran’s boldness. Can you imagine? Buying P4.196 million-worth of school bags is no mean feat. It is completely unnecessary. The timing defies logic and common sense, for in Romblon, school bags are not a priority in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

If only his heart bleeds for the Romblomanon, he would have known that the amount could have bought 2,398 fifty-kilogram sacks of rice, or 119,886 kilos at P32 per kilo, or 839,200 tablets of Biogesic at P5.00 per tablet, or 95,363 kilos of brown sugar at P44 per kilo.

This is not to say we don’t need school bags. We do. But come to think of it, when a member of a Romblomanon household is hungry, or is sick, do you think that member’s hunger would be satiated, or would his health improve, if he or she knew that the governor he or she elected in 2007 bought him or her a school bag, instead of helping him obtain food or medicine?

Go tell Beltran in Tondo your answer to this question while I puke.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Dapitan: An ambitious city

Dapitan is an island.

Four bridges connect it to the mainland of the Zamboanga Peninsula and soon one more is going to be built to make the island more ‘accessible’.

That’s according to Vice Mayor Patri B. Chan who, in the absence of Mayor Dominador G. Jalosjos during our arrival, welcomed us with a brief introduction to Dapitan and to the music of the Shrine Kids Quartet and the Dapitan City Tourism Chorale.

Accessibility should not be a problem though to a Dapitan visitor, as we found out. Coming to and from the island is more than convenient enough. A twenty-minute drive will quickly find one already in Dipolog City, another laid back community that serves as gateway to other Philippine cities. Dipolog is nowadays waking up to the enchanting charm of development.

So is Dapitan, a city all of 82,000 souls living in 50 barangays scattered along 29,000 hectares of plain arable lands, wondrous rock formations, and medium-range hills, lush green on a hot summer with fruit-bearing trees, rubber and coconuts. The calm seas of the Sulu Sea wash its western shores, including its most famous, Dakak, the beach resort seven kilometers south of the city. An expanded modern highway now connects Dakak to the Dapitan city center.

Dapitan’s belonging to modernity gets a boost from its ties to history: its claim to be the Shrine City of the Philippines. Make that “Jose Rizal Shrine City” for no other city in the country has more shrines dedicated or connected to the life and times of the national hero, who lived and spent four short, but precious, years in the island.

St. James, the Apostle, is Dapitan’s patron saint. He is depicted as an image of a horse-mounted warrior raring for a fight. His feast is celebrated from July 15-25 every year, highlighted by the ‘Sinug’, a dance procession, and ‘Kinabayo’, a local pageant in living colors re-enacting the battle between the native chief Covadonga and the Moor, Clavijo. According to local accounts, the latter prevailed in this battle only because of the apparition of St. James who lent Clavijo timely succor.

Notwithstanding this depiction of the subjugation of the local people by the rampaging invaders, Dapitan has become a big story interwoven between its storied past and its yearning and aspiration for a comely and bright future.

This past—or place in history—is already guaranteed by the accident of fate. Thrust into the map as Jose Rizal’s home when the latter was punished of banishment—exile, as the history books say—the island was, and forever will be, associated with that solitary chapter in Rizal’s life and benefited abundantly from his creativity and benevolence.

The first of this association is Sta. Cruz beach in Dapitan Bay where 225 years earlier, or in 1565, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi erected a 20-foot cross to symbolize the propagation of Christianity in this remote part of Mindanao. It is on this beach where the S. S. Cebu, the wooden corvette that sailed from Manila, deposited Rizal and a handful of Spanish civil guards on the island. This landing is honored by a shrine, the first of the must-see shrines of Dapitan.

Overlooking the bay is Ilihan Hill, an old fortress that houses the Spanish settlement at the time. The name of the place is derived from “ili”, which means “fortress” in itself. When Rizal was here, the settlement was led by Ricardo Carnicero, the Spanish commandant who was in charge of the high-value prisoner. Carnicero stayed with Rizal all throughout his banishment.

“Dapitan is a rural city dreaming of big things. We are an ambitious city,” says Vice Mayor Chan. “Our ambition is reflected in our priorities,” she added.

And those priorities include developing Dapitan as a world-class tourist destination, an ambition that is now beginning to take shape as the city emerges from its rural cocoon.

I was in Dapitan last week as part of the contingent of Department of Labor and Employment officials which sat down for a two-day workshop on the department’s balance scorecard performance report which we needed to finalize as the country moves in transition with the inauguration of a new president and a new administration.

We arrived while Dapitan was in a frenzy over the Hudyaka Festival, a one-week thanksgiving celebration (Hudyaka means thanksgiving) of songs, fashion, food, dances, parades and sporting events that announces Dapitan’s arrival in modern times and signals its membership bid to the country’s elite circle of premier tourist destinations.

DOLE Regional director Ponciano ‘Nonoy’ Ligutom hosted this visit—and our workshop—so it was his warm hospitality and the efficiency of his staff that gave us a close view of the Dapitanon’s socio-cultural upbringing. They patiently and gamely guided our education about Dapitan.

“Dapitan is an emerging eco-tourism player. It has great potential,” said Dir. Ligutom, pointing to us the colorful and varied Hudyaka Festival activities.

Vice Mayor Chan proudly agrees. She said: “The Hudyaka Festival now ranks fifth among the country’s festivals.”

Articulate and bursting with enthusiasm, Chan bared the local government’s plans for the city in the next three years. On the works is the bid of the city to host the Palarong Pambansa, the annual sporting mecca that draws thousands of athletes from all over the country.

“In December, we will be moving to our new city hall,” she said.

The new city hall is a head-turner. Standing by the banks of the Dapitan River, the domed edifice towers over the surrounding residential houses and a few commercial buildings and serves as sentinel on a busy fisherman’s wharf on its feet. On the day we visited, the wharf teemed with abundant produce from the sea and local sellers and buyers from as far as Pagadian City were haggling for the freshest at the best prices.

And what will the local government do with the old city hall? Vice Mayor Chan did not say, but most likely, it will be transformed into yet another shrine, or even into a museum. The old city hall is patterned after a Casa Real of Spanish design. Its interiors have been changed, but the exterior façade has not been touched which lends the edifice an ambience of antiquity.

One’s visit to Dapitan would be incomplete without a stroll on the Dapitan City Plaza by the yard of the century-old church of St. James and the rectory, two Spanish heritage edifices that have withstood the ravages of time.

The plaza is an old promenade that Rizal himself designed. Itself a shrine, the plaza’s lights are now powered by electricity, but in Rizal’s time, he lined the public square with tree trunks complete with lamps fueled by coconut oil. When we visited, the plaza smelt of solemn ambience. In the air, unseen, must have been Jose Rizal’s ghost taking a visual survey of his creation.

Another shrine worth a visit is the Lourdes Grotto, at the southwest foot of Ilihan Hill. Before the Spaniards dedicated the site as a Christian shrine, the place served as burial grounds of the ancient Dapitanons.

Most famous, most frequently-gawked at is Rizal’s house, a shrine that mimics the original residence of the hero in the island. One can imagine Rizal himself choosing the native, light materials that he used in the construction of his house. The house’s design bespoke of Rizal’s simple, yet utilitarian taste, as well as his attempt to be modern.

It is in this house where Rizal entertained his numerous visitors; and where his family stayed on extended visits. On the front yard is where Rizal even had whispered nightly discussion and debates with Pio Valenzuela when the latter came as Andres Bonifacio’s emissary to bring the news of the impending break-out of the Philippine Revolution in Luzon. On his visit, Valenzuela even tempted Rizal with a seemingly irresistible offer: an escape which the latter turned down to Bonifacio’s dismay.

Dapitan, according to Vice Mayor Chan, has two distinct faces. “There is an Old Dapitan and there is a New Dapitan,” she explained.

The Old Dapitan, she explained, is the Dapitanons’ heritage that they aim to preserve. “It’s our connection to the past which we strengthen and safeguard from the intrusion of modernity represented by the technology revolution—building design, infrastructure, economics, etc. In the Old Dapitan, we don’t allow just anything to be adopted, inserted or built,” she said.

The opposite is true with the New Dapitan. This section of the city is a profusion of modern structures, facilities, and commerce. “Anything in the New Dapitan is permissible, except those that violate our laws and ordinances and those that serve as an affront to decency, honor and culture of the Dapitanons,” says Chan.

The road that leads to this New Dapitan is Sunset Boulevard which provides a spectacular view of the Dapitan sunset. Imagine Rizal sitting in front of this view, beside a heart-shaped rock, while writing his “Mi Retiro” and “El Himno A Talisay”. This rock is now aptly called Mi Retiro Rock, another prominent shrine.

On Sunset Boulevard sits some of Dapitan’s resort hotels, Alexandra by the Sea, Bajamunde Resort Farms Hotel, and Dapitan City Resort Hotel, which Vice Mayor Chan swears are booked fully especially during summer. Seven kilometers south of the city, in Brgy. Taguilon, is the world-famous Dakak Park and Resort Hotel where the sand beaches are powdery white and the waters azure. For all its grandeur and elegance, Dakak is so quite you can hear nature meditating.

Tourism promotion is the function of the City Tourism Office, which also coordinates the local government’s and the private sector’s cultural and tourism efforts and activities. Lending valuable support to the office is a vibrant cultural and artistic community, personified by the Foundation of Artists and Musicians in Zamboanga del Norte, or FAMUZ.

The FAMUZ’s leading light is Alma Calasang, a nurse who has since changed careers to become a performer, voice coach, and choir conductor. As the city’s artistic consultant, Ms. Calasang is mentoring and managing the Shrine Kids Quartet, Shrine City Band, and the Shrine LGU Choir, all of which performed during our visit. Another musical group, the Dapitan City Tourism Choir, performed using the “angklong” a bamboo chime instrument that originated from Indonesia.

“These performing artists are regulars at the Gloria de Dapitan, the city’s entertainment park which is another must to visitors,” Ms. Calasang says.

The shrines, while compelling to any Dapitan visitor’s itinerary, are just one of the more abundant reasons why one should come to the city. Scuba-diving, trail hiking, mountain biking, local dining, and of course, cross cultural exchange, offer visitors alternative experiences that no other vacation destination in Mindanao can equal.

Access to Dapitan is both by land, air and sea. There are ferries and ships daily and weekly to and from Cebu, Dumaguete, Iligan, Zamboanga, and Manila. By air, one can come either through Philippine Airlines or Cebu Pacific via Dipolog Airport. Buses ply regularly along the Zamboanga City-Dapitan, Davao-Cagayan de Oro-Dapitan, and the Ozamis-Pagadian-Dipolog-Dapitan routes.

Once in Dapitan, imbibe the culture, enjoy the hospitality, savor the history, and partake of the ambition of Rizal’s rustic city.