27 November 2006

Nightmare in wintry Vancouver

OUR WORST nightmare has just happened.

Instead of being on our way to Naga via Manila, just in time before an approaching typhoon is projected to pass through Bicol Region, we are still stuck here in Vancouver -- no thanks to a record-breaking snow storm in British Columbia and bad breaks from a callous, uncaring airline.

Gabby believes this has just broken the all-time high "police academy" standard starring City Administrator Frank Mendoza -- in an episode that happened sometime ago somewhere in Calauag, Quezon co-starring his favorite city hall driver, Tox Ballaran.:)


PAL: A callous, uncaring airline

NOW I know why Philippine Airlines is not highly regarded among international flag carriers, in spite of its being Asia's first.

Early this morning, Pacific time, we had to harangue and vigirously argue with its ground staff -- outsourced through an outfit called Globeground agents -- to get the usual accommodation that comes with a cancelled flight. Here's the timeline:

10:40pm - published departure time out of Vancouver. When we checked in at around 9 yesterday, we learned that boarding time had been moved back to 2am.

Around 1:30am - the Arrivals and Departures information board showed that the flight had been cancelled. But no announcement was made on the PA system to the unsuspecting passengers.

2am - Globeground staff appeared and told those living in the Greater Vancouver area to go home and come back at around 2:30pm the following day. The rest were asked to wait for further announcement.

3am - Passengers from distant places -- including a party of 20 that came earlier from Edmonton via an Air Canada flight -- were already getting restless. The Globeground staff were stalling, appearing and disappearing every now and then.

3:30-4:00am - Passengers started haranguing the ground staff. Offers for free meal vouchers were initially made. A number settled for them. But our group said we are not hungry; all we need is a place to sleep. They then offered to reimburse the cost we will incur in finding hotel rooms elsewhere, claiming all hotels near the airport are full. When a quick-thinking lady from the Edmonton party managed to get in touch and arrange preliminary booking with Hilton Vancouver (which is just 10 minutes away from the airport), the ground staff said they'll take over and pay for the room.

4:30am - We began waiting for the Hilton Hotel shuttle to arrive. It came in at around 5:15am.

5:45am - Checkin was further delayed when the fax from PAL confirming the arrangement came in late.

And all throughout the ordeal, no organic representative of the airline presented himself to us, using instead the mostly chinese Globeground staff as buffer, who conveniently cannot make the decisions that would have made life a lot, lot better for the harried PAL passengers.


Winter comes early in Vancouver (2)

"I'VE NEVER seen anything like this in the last eight years," our host Dr. Leonora "Nora" Angeles told us as we went to the Taiwanese Noodle House for lunch after going to church service. "Snow only comes around in January, and not this heavy. You should be lucky to have seen anything like this."

According to the Vancouver Sun website, this freak weather situation is expected to dump more than 13 inches of snow by tomorrow. The following is what worries me:
Vancouver International Airport has reported several flight cancellations and delays. Officials are urging anyone who has a flight leaving Vancouver to first check the Air Canada or Vancouver airport websites before leaving.
I hope our lucky streak continues. The PAL Airbus that is supposed to leave for Las Vegas has been sitting there at the Vancouver International Airport, delayed for at least two hours. Together with another 1.5-hour delay while airborne, that's close to four hours already. According to the PAL website, it is estimated to leave at 6:30pm, which is still an hour away as I write this. Which means that at the very least, we're looking at a 2:40am departure from Vancouver -- assuming there are no more delays from the Las Vegas sector.

A delay of more than six hours will mean missing our connecting Cebu Pacific flight to Legazpi. But the worst-case scenario is for the flight to be cancelled. But I don't want to think about it.


26 November 2006

Winter comes early in Vancouver

WINTER came early to Vancouver as snow started falling at around 2pm today while we were at Lake Capilano, one of the three reservoirs that supply drinking water to the city. As we went home at around 6, snow has piled up all over the place.

Incidentally, this lake was hit hardest by mud and sediments brought about by a heavy storm that hit British Columbia 10 days ago, bringing turbidity to unprecedented levels. As a result, a boil-water advisory remains in effect until Monday. Since we arrived, bottled water has been our best friend.

A tour guide who happened to be in the area was telling his visitors that water supply from the lake -- which account for 40% of the total -- is still being held back by Greater Vancouver regional authorities.

After that Capilano sojourn, we proceeded to the Cypress Mountain Ski Resort in North Vancouver where Vice Mayor Gabby Bordado held a fistful of snow for the first time.:)


25 November 2006

Notes on the Vancouver School Board

WE PAID a visit to the Vancouver School Board (VSB) yesterday, and secured some basic -- and truly interesting -- info like the following:
The Vancouver school district is a large, urban and multicultural school district providing programs to 56,000 students in Kindergarten to Grade 12, over 3,000 adults in adult education programs and over 40,000 in continuing education.
By comparison, the Naga public school system (elementary and high school, plus the city government's Educare system and DepEd-run preschools) only serves some 40,000 students; and less than 1,000 out-of-school youth and adults under alternative learning system (or ALS; formerly, it used to be called non-formal education or NFE).

Technical-vocational courses through the former Bicol College of Arts and Trades (now the Naga campus of the Camarines Sur Polytechnic College) and similar institutes come to mind as our local equivalent of the VSB
Continuing Education program. But I doubt if their combined enrolment can reach even half of what Vancouver has.

I also doubt if our formal, ALS and technical-vocational institutions are talking to each other in a meaningful way at the national, regional and local levels. The beauty and strength of the VSB structure lies in the integration of all education services under a single organization that can be held accountable by the community it is serving. At the national level, I don't think this is feasible as it will give rise to a humungous bureaucracy bigger than the DepEd. But at the city level, I think it can be done.


24 November 2006

UBC gig went very well

YESTERDAY was our big day. Vice Mayor Gabby Bordado and I made the pitch to Dr. Leonora "Nora" Angeles's students at the University of British Columbia -- plus others who attended our lecture, about half of them in fact -- to visit Naga in summer next year for a proposed one-month studio course on participatory governance.

Nora is an associate professor at the UBC School for Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) and Center for Research in Women's Studies and Gender Relations. She is putting together the Naga City Planning Studio Course that will bring UBC graduate students to the city. A grant from the university paid for my travel to Vancouver. To underscore the city government's commitment to the project, Mayor Robredo sent Vice Mayor Gabby along; together, we explained why going to Naga will be more than worth their while.

It is going to be a two-way learning process, Nora explained to prospective student visitors. We are also eyeing to pair them with counterparts from Ateneo de Naga to enrich the process. My presentation emphasized why Naga is an exciting place to be, insofar as participative governance is concerned. At the same time, Gabby explained that the city government will greatly benefit from the multidisciplinary expertise that the students will bring -- in such areas as urban agriculture, community economic development, gender issues and urban design where local staff are relatively weak -- so much so that it is subdizing half of their accommodation cost.

With a minimum of 5, Nora said the studio course will push through, with 15 as the upper limit. "But what if I am the 16th?" one student asked. "Will I be able to go?" "Then I'll welcome you with open arms," she said.

Five, fifteen or sixteen will not matter to us from Naga: what is important is for this groundbreaking project to happen. We've done our part, and we're keeping our fingers crossed.


Choco Naga goes to Canada

VICE MAYOR Gabby Bordado was one proud papa yesterday. Reason: his eldest daughter Marian's Choco Naga was warmly received by our host, the Forster-Angeles family in Vancouver.

The main selling point of these proudly Naga-made product are the luscious roasted
pili nuts generously embedded in every choco bar.

And it enabled Marian to earn her degree, as member of the pioneering batch, from the new entrepreneurship program of the
Ateneo de Naga University, an offering backed by the Madrigal Center for Social Entrepreneurship.

Nobody graduates from the course without putting up his own business. And that, I think, makes all the difference.


21 November 2006

Off to Vancouver (2)

AS THINGS stand, I'm now looking forward to enjoy this trip. The "police academy" episodes keep on piling up:

  • the saga of Vice Mayor Gabby Bordado's Canadian visa continued. Within reach yesterday, a disaster then stared me in the face as I went to the embassy to pick it up, only to correct itself at the end of the morning;
  • a successful last-minute episode at the Department of Tourism involving our travel tax;
  • only to be stymied by a 4-hour delay of our flight, which was moved to 9pm tonight instead of the published 5pm departure.
But the huge payback would be putting into motion the definitive retelling of the Naga City Hall's legendary "police academy" tradition, written by key protagonists themselves.:)


20 November 2006

Off to Vancouver

JUST GOT off the phone with Cheech, Nene Guevara's tireless alter ego at Synergeia Foundation. Her contact at the Canadian Embassy said Vice Mayor Gabby Bordado's visa application had been approved, and will be ready for pickup tomorrow.

That was a huge relief for us, paving the way for our week-long visit to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where we are slated to discuss details of a proposed course that will bring UBC graduate students to Naga City. We will also visit the Vancouver School Board, and using contacts that Reuel Oliver of the city investment board will furnish us, touch base with a Canadian institute that specializes in computer animation.

If things proceed as planned, it will surely be another "police academy" milestone: the last-minute DILG travel authority, one of the last seats for our return flight that is just a hairline above budget, and then the visa approval which, 24 hours ago, seemed to be beyond reach.

Fedex-Airfreight 2100 will have a lot of explaining to do. To send documents to the Canadian embassy, one pays a premium rate of P320. But the additional document we sent last November 15 reached the embassy two days later. And we had no inkling about the unfolding fiasco, until Cheech came to the rescue. Talk about lousy service of the highest order! And customers do not have a choice. Maybe it's high time the Canadian Embassy reviews its relationship with this courier company. Going by our most recent experience, its clients deserve something better.


18 November 2006

So this is what you get for blogging:)

A SPOT on Manolo Quezon's senatorial "dream team," that is -- assuming winnability is not a factor.

Suddenly I felt my ears growing as big as Joe DV's.


14 November 2006

My special kid Nokie

WHEN I brought her to our annual retreat in Silang, Cavite sometime in 2004, Nene Guevara said Nokie -- then only a little over one year old -- looks just like her father. As Patricia Anne (Nokie's real name) is growing up, I think Nene is right: Nokie is indeed turning out to be a chip off the old block, or an old bloke, if you will.

The other night as I was to motor to the central bus terminal at the city center for an overnight trip to Manila, Nokie was crying a river and wouldn't let go. Clad in her favorite red Japanese kimono, her arms are flailing in vigorous gesticulations, mostly pointing outside the house. She wants to go with me, but can only hand motion about it. At three, she has yet to find her full gift of speech.

That makes her our own special child, and the object of her father's deep affections. Which Nokie returns in full measure. Dropping my backpacks, I embraced her one more time and explained that Papa had to go away for a job -- but will soon be back in no time, with the promise to let her tag along once more as her older sisters take their dance lesson at the Ateneo.

The promise calmed her down, reduced the cries to sobs and she then eventually bade me goodbye. It eased a lot the difficulty of leaving. But I now have a promise to keep, and Nokie is not one who easily forgets.

Fulfilling promises will certainly not only bring a wide smile on her face; it will also have a soothing cathartic effect on a father who needs to go away from time to time. But nothing will replace the immense joy that would come when Nokie finally speaks, and tells her father how much she loves him.


Striking a healthy balance (2)

FOR ONE whose task is to coordinate an effort that requires the involvement of institutions and of people representing them, frustrations are par for the course. They come from many sources, impelled by competing institutional and personal agenda that complicate what otherwise should be a predictable ordering of things.

What riled me most is the all-too-easy tendency to backslide, to return to the old ways that haven't worked. Again, there are various reasons behind this:

  • One is demonstrated by the "state of denial" that many in the DepEd still find themselves in, as in the case of the Cotabato division superintendent in the event I am attending since yesterday; the plethora of data notwithstanding, she still does not believe that our public school system is in trouble.
  • Another is more deep-seated and personal, especially as one goes up the ladder: this is how our supervisors did it to us back then, now it's our turn.
  • Then there is the culture that continues to box DepEd, especially its people on the ground. Yesterday, I was talking to Jess Mateo of the DepEd central office and he is bullish about the BESRA (of which I am also hopeful about). But he had to agree with me that even BESRA recognizes this endemic culture as a problem: no matter how empowering the ideas of central leaders and functionaries are, these are mostly lost in the translation when cascaded down, and their division and district personal remain unwilling to get out of the box that has become their comfort zone for so long.
But I remain hopeful, and this sense of hope has been energized over the past few days. In our last School Board meeting on November 9, the discussion was no-holds-barred, yielding an agreement to find the middle ground insofar as lesson planning and teacher supervision are concerned. In the event I am attending here in Kawit, Cavite, the USAID-funded EQuALLS2 project has, in principle, adopted Synergeia's expanded Local School Board (LSB) approach as a central strategy for mobilizing community support for education. This, to me, is an affirmation of the highest order.

And I was pleasantly surprised to find out that what we did four years ago -- to develop prototype lesson plans that will unload teachers of this daily burdensome activity -- is another central strategy that is being implemented in many areas in Mindanao.

All these imply the need for a healthy balance: of course I will continue to find more ways -- and outlets -- to creatively let my steam off; because in so doing, the old dog that I am will surely learn new tricks. But it is equally essential to continue holding the fort, the frustrations that are par for the course notwithstanding. Patience is key, because as is often said, the only way to eat up an elephant is to do it bit by bit.


10 November 2006

Striking a healthy balance (1)

OVER THE past couple of months, I purposely devoted a substantial amount of energy on things I haven't done before:

  • Set up a blog to test the new Blogger in Beta. Along the way, I tried to do self-help cascading style sheets (CSS). Enabled me to reformat my blog, using the design that came out of the exercise.
  • Tried my hand at Adobe Photoshop. Learned some tricks in manipulating images, starting with the photo IDs of my two daughters and my own passport-size ID picture. Successfully altered the backdrop in the originals I took (and realized some savings by bringing this straight for printing at the E-Mall Photoline outlet).
  • Took, and is taking, a stab at writing my first novel, driven by the NaNoWriMo, although I'm way, way behind schedule. But I remain hopeful, thanks to Chris Baty's Week 2 email which showed him only a couple of thousand words clear of me, so I'm in good company.
The whole purpose is to let my steam off.

The beauty of creative and technical exercises like these is the immense joy that comes with creating something out of practically nothing. And in the creative process in this impersonal, private world, there is a certain sense of order and predictability: input > throughput > output; a + b = c; you build, they come.

You cannot expect the same thing from the real world. And frustration builds up when the expect output c does not come to be.


08 November 2006

A Mastercard moment of a different sort

ONE OF the hidden perks of standing in for one's principal is the opportunity to experience what I call a Mastercard moment -- because it is so priceless -- in rubbing elbows with royalty of a different sort.

This afternoon is one such day: I just met Aruna Roy, the 2000 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Community Leadership and International Understanding. She is one of India's representatives to the international Dialogue of Civil Society Engagement in Public Accountability, which closed a few moments ago at the Edsa Shangri-La Hotel in Mandaluyong City.

Ms. Roy gave the partipants' impression on the two-day event being jointly sponsored by the Eastern Regional Organization for Public Administration (EROPA), the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) and the International Budget Project (IBP).

What struck me was her message of hope: the quest for social justice, especially
social audit which is the event's real topic, is a very taxing and formidable undertaking. But the opportunity to learn from positively uplifting experiences all over the world energizes the weary soul and affirms that something good eventually comes out of it.


06 November 2006

DepEd reviews 2001 Filipino alphabet revision

IRVIN Sto. Tomas has blogged about it, which I found by way of our Planet Naga aggregator.

Education Secretary Jesli Lapus, through DepEd Order No. 42, series of 2006 issued last October 9, has suspended implementation of the 2001 revision of the Filipino alphabet and spelling guide.

Lapus issued the order in response to negative feedback from teachers, parents, students and other users of said revised guide. The Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF), recently reinforced by former DepEd acting secretary Fe Hidalgo, is currently reviewing the controversial 2001 revision, which can be found in its entirety in Joe Padre's weblog.

Although Irvin obviously does not like it, I believe this development is a welcome first step in restoring sanity to the confusion and disorientation it left in its wake.


A better NACITEA?

THIS morning, I had the chance to sit in a meeting between Mayor Robredo and the newly elected officials of the Naga City Teachers and Employees Association (NACITEA). It gave me a reason to be hopeful that ordinary teachers will finally have a voice in the School Board.

You see, Nydia Sol, the new
NACITEA president, comes from the ranks of teachers in the city. So are her two colleagues (whose names unfortunately eluded me) who accompanied her in this morning's courtesy call. A number of things were discussed in that meeting, of which I am not at liberty to disclose. Not just yet since Ms. Sol and company will only assume office next month -- in time for NACITEA's golden anniversary.

But much is clear, as Mayor
Robredo said: That we need to do more for the public school teachers need not be debated anymore; it's already a question of how.

But boy, am I glad with the outcome of the recent
NACITEA election, which is tabled as "other matters" in the School Board agenda on Thursday, November 9. It did not require an amendment of its by-laws, as I proposed here. And yet against all odds, the rank-and-file of Naga public school teachers have spoken clearly (only one candidate from the Division Office-endorsed ticket managed to squeeze through): they need a voice of their own. And I hope Ms. Sol and company will give them that, and live up to their expectations.



THAT'S the number of words comprising Chapter 1 of my NaNoWriMo opus.

Inspired by Dom, I've also set up a new blog to house it. Comments are most welcome to my contribution to what I hope will become an open-source initiative.:)

By the way, I'm glad John has resumed posting.


04 November 2006

Fundraising time

THAT ELECTIONS next year is all but a certainty, with the PI option out of the way, is attested by the flurry of infra projects being implemented all over the place.

Take my hometown, for example, which I visited last week. Instead of repairing, or at least completing the long overdue
reblocking of the pockmarked Fuentebella Highway connecting Partido to the main line, filling materials suddenly littered the roadside in Sagrada and up to God knows where.

When the long-standing problem is the deteriorated concrete road, long
sawn off in preparation for reblocking under previous DPWH efforts, they dump filling materials for the shoulder! And at the height of the typhoon season yet, with 11 more set to follow after Milenyo.

Band-aid efforts like these, however, are most convenient: the amount are probably small enough to skirt public bidding requirements. When the rains come, these will be washed away. Project details are known only to a select few, with the DPWH website wholly useless if one tries to find out background info. And materials used are probably within the purview of activities that can be funded out the CARP money.

My former editor, Joe
Obias, is correct: "In every public works project is a crime." But unlike the PI, there is no Supreme Court that will prevent perpetrators from ramming these down our throats.


03 November 2006

I'm off:)

A HUGELY painful seemingly arthritic right foot notwithstanding, I devoted last night, and the afternoon before that, to fixing loose ends, checking some facts and on the whole organizing thoughts for my first novella in line with the ongoing NaNoWriMo.

It was pure desk work: with printed references on hand, all of it from
Fer's Oragon Republic, but with no word committed to the hard drive of my PC, except for the lousy title and a tale playing on my mind. From time to time, I would sound off my wife and my eldest on what I've come up so far. She was genuinely interested, but more so my Ezekiel -- currently busy with finishing off Kingdom Hearts 2 in between playing Yugioh cards with Jack Ryan aka Budi.

After finishing the invitation and attachments for our November 8 school board meeting, and some other office stuff this morning, I tried committing the tale to words for the first time. It took me around 15 minutes, probably more than that, to finish my first 500. I wanted to go on, but I had to fetch Sofia and bring her to the
Ateneo for her dancing lessons this afternoon.

But it felt good, really good. There is no guarantee I'll see Dom Cimafranca at the finish line: 99% of the work is still undone. But at least I am now off.:)


02 November 2006

It's on!

THE NaNoWriMo is more than a day old in local shores. And all I have is a lousy title. A genre--speculative fiction--I have very little knowledge and experience about. And an equally lousy battle plan: just muddle along.

Villageidiotsavant will surely be rolling over in laughter with what I just got into.:)