31 October 2006

The toughest question on education (2)

WHICHEVER way, I hope the accountability question will also include providing a reliable way of measuring improvement in student achievement, which I raised in this previous post.

I am part of an e-group that includes high-ranking officials from the DepEd, NEDA as well as our leading academic institutions in the country. I pretty much raised the same concern more than a month ago. The only response came from a UNICEF representative who said

You may argue that BEIS [Basic Education Information System] or the NAT [National Achievement Test] results have a lot of "noise" which makes them questionable and not credible. But I wonder which data base is totally free of any such "noise." Even the data supposedly gathered by the graduate students themselves may not be totally free of such problems. But I think this is where people in the academe and those in the reseach field can work more closely with DepED so that there is pressure to improve the integrity of data. Rather than treating the DepED data base with a 10-foot pole, and questioning its accuracy, we could make ourselves main users and use the whole research excercise to help uncover the kinks in the system, if any, and validate and help strengthen such data base.
In reply, I said I can only agree, proposing that we should find ways of (a) estimating the size of that "noise"; (b) sifting out the "noise" from the valid and reliable data; and (c) ensuring that the "noise" is kept to the minimum in subsequent NATs.

Because unless we are able to take out or minimize the "noise," we will be saddled with bad data which will lead to bad decisions. And this Time article will certainly be a recurring déjà vu.

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The toughest question on education (1)

COCA-COLA Foundation president and executive director Ma. Cecilia Alcantara's piece in yesterday's Inquirer is indicative of the extra attention being given by the private sector on the state of public education in the Philippines. For once this is a refreshing change, and DepEd Secretary Jesli Lapus's businesslike approach in running the department seems to have inspired renewed confidence.

The new buzzword, Alcantara said, "is the '
57-75' framework, which aims to raise the national achievement average from its present failing level to a passing mark—from 57 percent to 75 percent within the next five years." Aniceto Sobrepeña of the Metrobank Foundation said as much in this article a month ago.

In achieving this goal, former Education Secretary Butch Abad--who continues his work on education governance from the private sector side--is on the ball by asking what I also believe is the toughest question in this growing national effort:

Who becomes accountable for attaining the 75 passing grade? The students? The teachers? The principals? The superintendents? The regional directors? The secretary of education?
Mayor Robredo provided much of the answer when he described the two principles of our school board project: (1) education is a shared community responsibility, which (2) goes together with shared accountability. "That's all of us!" Alcantara exclaimed. "Not just some of us, but every one of us brave and caring enough to want to make a real difference."

Dean Bocobo of course disagrees and sees the centralized, P150B-a-year public system run by DepEd as the main problem, and passionately argues for its privatization in a series of posts that started with this.

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'Pusong mamon,' a prayer and the slighted grandma

LAST Sunday, my mother-in-law Corazon cut short her intended two-week vacation in Tobog, Oas, Albay after receiving an SOS from her favorite granddaughter Pep.

Just a week back, Lola Oas--as she is called endearingly by our kids, to distinguish her from Yayang, the other lola from Sagrada, Pili--abruptly packed all her belongings and other sentimental stuff, taking several bags to fill in. It was a scene straight from an Anita Linda/Gloria Romero movie: daughter and mom have a 'serious conversation', hurtful words are let loose, mom feels slighted and suddenly wants out.

The turning point came last Saturday as I drove my kids from their monthly youth event at our Kingdom Hall in Banasi. Sofie and Pep spent the rest of the afternoon at Yayang's because Nokie fell asleep. It was already dark when we went back to Pacol.

On the way, they took turns in singing
"Panalangin" ("Prayer"), a revival hit originally sung by the Apo Hiking Society. Then out of the blue, Pep asked me when is her Lola Oas coming back. When Sofie replied she'll be away for another week more, Pep started crying inconsolably. She only stopped when I promised that we will call her Lola and tell her to come home.

Pep's crying resumed when my wife wouldn't make the call. So I texted Tobog, Oas:
"Si Pep sigeng ngawngaw. Haen na daa Lola nya." The reply came in very swiftly: I'll go if you fetch me tomorrow.

So last Sunday off we went to fetch the slighted Lola. On the way back, Pep--my straight-shooting '
pusong mamon' of a daughter, who once teased me why I keep on running away--sang her version of "Panalangin" to her beloved grandma, her eyes filled with joy. Yesterday morning, she obliged me with this repeat performance, and my first stab at YouTube. It's not Pinoy Dream Academy-grade, not worth Jim Paredes's while, but definitely worth keeping, and showing to her Lola whenever she is slighted again.:)

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30 October 2006

In the eye of the storm, literally

MY VILLAGEMATE and former city hall colleague Senen Ebio prompted me with this most interesting map here. It's a consolidated history of the typhoon paths over the last 50 years in the Asia-Pacific region, courtesy of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Now I realize why the Philippines has bore the brunt of nature's worst disasters: together with Taiwan and Japan, it practically shields mainland Asia like some sort of a French Maginot Line for the most part--with the exception of some that manage to cut their way through.

And why Mindanao is relatively safe and its people largely unaware of these tempests--like when its delegates during a national DepEd contest in 2004 here cheered when howling winds of Typhoon Yoyong severed the rooftop of the Naga City Sports Complex and sent it flying near their billeting center at the Camarines Sur National High School.

I believe though that recent climactic shifts have occurred, probably due to the El Niño/La Niña phenomenon, as Bicol is no longer brutally punished by these annual visitations as in the past. In fact, I remember the typhoons of my youth twisting with ease the Napocor (now Transco) transmission towers connecting Tiwi to the Luzon grid--something Milenyo for all its damage wrought failed to do.

It will be most interesting to test my thesis with visual typhoon maps aggregated by year, or even every 5 years. I hope OCHA can also make these available online.

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naga.gov does it again!

JESSIE Natividad, aka Master Jessie, had the scoop here, based on results released by the National Computer Center last Friday. But it's now official: Naga has been elevated into the eLGU Web Hall of Fame after winning the city category of the Best Local Government Website search for the last three years.

This follows on the heels of another hall-of-fame feat in the Most Business-Friendly City search by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) and its anti-poverty effort through localization of the millennium development goals (MDGs) from the UN.

Other winners include Bulacan (provincial); Lugait, Misamis Oriental (municipal); and Infanta, Quezon (special award for best LGU website developed using the NCC Content Management System or CMS).

Abe Olandres, if I recall it right, blogged about being invited to join the search's board of judges. I just don't know if he eventually did. But I recall that post distinctly, as some commenters noted that our Planet Naga blog aggregator was running some web ads. My question then remains unanswered: Is it a good or bad thing?

Awarding, by the way, is set during the 9th Philippine Web Awards on December 7, 2006 at the RCBC Plaza in Makati City. I will try my best to be there.:)

Image nicked from the E-LGU website.

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28 October 2006

Blogging milestones at the 100th post

WHEN I was about to write the previous post early this morning before finally going home to my still fixed line and internet-less house in Pacol, I noticed it was already my 99th. So I took a mental note of writing my 100th about where my blogging experience has brought me thus far.

1. This morning, I came from a guesting stint at the city government radio program "An Naga Ngonian" hosted by Lito del Rosario. Its timeslot is from 10:30-11:30am during Saturdays over RMN-DWNX. The station's public affairs programs are webcast through the city website. (I'm not sure though if it includes "An Naga Ngonian" as we locals don't have to use the internet to listen to it.) Lito invited me over to discuss the Bikol poverty series I wrote, which started with this post. It also enabled me to plug this blog, of course.:)

2. I will have to keep that other blog and find time to really master cascading stylesheets (CSS). I'm not sure about this one, but one thing I find myself in common with guys like Dom Cimafranca is that (1) we are both particular with the way our blog looks like, and (2) we want a great deal of control over design on top of content. I've been a Windows user since I can remember but I've always admired the Apple philosophy even if I don't have one of its gadgets: superior products owing to seamless integration between hardware and software.

3. It's definitely heartwarming to find out that some people do find the time to visit, and from time to time comment on my posts. Of course you know who you are, but ever since I installed Sitemeter a little over a month ago, it gave me an idea where from, including both familiar (Cambridgeshire, in the UK, for instance) and unexpected places faraway (like Slovakia).

But most unexpected is the "Unknown Country," set in yellow in the graph, where 5% of you come from. The Sitemeter FAQ was not of any help. And it seems I am not alone, as you will find out by googling "Sitemeter Unknown Country." Would anybody in the house care to explain?

4. Finally, when I installed Technorati two months back, this blog started at a little over 300,000. When I checked it yesterday as I did my post while killing time in Parañaque, I found out it finally crashed the 100,000 threshhold. And it coincided with the time the country's premier bloggers, especially MLQ3, began linking to my posts. Of course before that, there was that dinner with Newsstand's John Nery when work brought him to Naga.

Affirmations like these are important every now and then. So I think I'll still blog some more:)

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Swerti mo pa rin, bay!

SOME FIVE minutes late at the check-in counter of Philippine Airlines in Davao last night, I was staring at the guy manning the business class line, where I was motioned to go. The economy counters were busy, obviously with other equally late passengers. Unfortunately, they came in ahead of me.

"The only seats remaining are business class," he said. "But you will have to add up P2,699."

"The next available flight is tomorrow morning," he told the lady who just came in behind me.

Cold sweat was forming on my forehead. Of course, I can charge it to my credit card, but I am not sure if the DILG and UNICEF--which sponsored my trip--will still be willing to reimburse the amount.

A 10-second hesitation on my part apparently did the trick. In the adjoining economy line, the two other passengers who came in ahead--both with confirmed economy class booking but unwilling to be separated--opted for a business class upgrade. Which freed the last economy seat available in the Airbus 320-200 series aircraft that of course went to me: Passenger No. 254. Which meant I will still make it to Naga as scheduled afterall. Which is where I am furiously typing this post.:)

"
Swerti mo pa rin, bay!" the PAL guy muttered as his machine spit out my precious golden yellow Fiesta Class boarding pass.

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27 October 2006

Growing Raul's seeds of hope

KILLING TIME for my Davao flight at 10:30am, I dropped by at our youngest brother's cubbyhole somewhere in Kabihasnan, Parañaque City. Along the way, Congressman Nereus "Neric" Acosta's short address yesterday kept on creeping from the back of my mind.

Delivered in measured, conversational tone, the message uplifts the forlorn spirit, rekindles hope and challenges the listener to seize Sen. Raul Roco's legacy to help build a better country, especially in the heels of the 8-7 Supreme Court decision that practically dealt a deathblow to the GI masquerading as PI.

The event is remarkable, he said, owing to the presence of two Ramon Magsaysay awardees who both hail from the Bicol region: Eggie Apostol (Sorsogon) and Mayor Robredo (Naga), the 2000 awardee for government service.

The country has a lot to learn from, and indeed looks on Naga as a beacon of hope, especially in genuine democratic governance. He specifically mentioned the Raul Roco Library at city hall, and hoped all communities in the Philippines will have the same repository of accumulated knowledge accessible to every citizen.

What struck me most was the use of mathematical metaphors: the country should move on from transactional politics that have yielded the least common denominator (obviously referring to GMA) to a principled one led by its
greatest common product. Something didn't add up, I thought, so I summoned whatever remains of my math, and still unsure as I write this, the über-useful Wikipedia. Neric must be referring to the greatest common factor, also known as the highest common divisor.

That minor slip however did not detract at all from the force of his message. I can only hope the nation will listen: especially his congressional district in Bukidnon where the infamous Virgilio Garcillano--yes, he of the "Hello, Garci" infamy--is bruited to be angling to take over in the all but guaranteed May 2007 elections.

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26 October 2006

A giant among men and women

MY DIGITAL camera failed me, and the only marginally decent picture is to the left. (Time to replace the Energizer Blue batteries that came for free with a glossy magazine I bought at the Birmingham International Airport last July.)

It shows, from left, former Camarines Sur Congressman Cho Roco; Bukidnon's Nereus "Neric" Acosta, who gave a truly moving speech; Sonia Roco; Eggie Apostol; Mayor Jess Robredo, who is mostly covered by Vice Mayor Gabriel Bordado, Jr.

This is the first time I saw Ms. Apostol in person. But what she lacks in height, Eggie more than makes up with the legendary spunk, a cutting wit, and an integrity that simply shines from within. In a totally off-the-cuff address before the mostly grown-up audience--forced by circumstance as students took advantage of the DepEd sem break--she asked telling questions:

  • Are your local papers objective? Who owns them?
  • Do you think local media practitioners subscribe to the Journalist's Code of Ethics?
  • And the one that brought the house down: Where is Louie Villafuerte*?
That last question sounded hilarious at the surface, and drew mirthful laughter all around, but it cut the deepest wound: mirroring the fractured and polarized Philippine society, can our local politicians still work together on something, anything, for the common good?

Eggie the quintessential journalist still asks the tough questions in search for the Truth. And for a moment it raised some flicker of hope in the optimistic dreamer in me. Now I know why she is a giant among Filipino men and women bar none.

*For the unitiated, Villafuerte is the incumbent congressman of the 2nd district of Camarines Sur, president of Kampi (GMA's own party), a die-hard administration stalwart, and political rival of those allied with the late Senator Roco.

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The 2nd Raul Roco Day

TODAY is the late Senator Raul S. Roco's birthday. For the second time, Naga celebrates the Raul S. Roco Day, in honor of its favorite son.

The Naga City Government website carries a story on the celebration, built around the theme "Great Leader, Keen Reader."

People have milled into the second floor of the city library, which the city government renamed Raul S. Roco Library in honor of the late senator. The members of the Roco clan came in full force, headed by the grand matriarch Rosario Sagarbarria Roco, Raul's mother; his widow Sonia (who is poised for a Senate run); and former Camarines Sur Rep. Sulpicio "Cho" Roco. So are the remaining members of the late senator's high school class at the Ateneo de Naga.

Bukidnon Rep. Nereus Acosta, a Liberal partymate of City Mayor Jesse Robredo, is also on hand, adding weight to the occasion.

The traditional media outfits (print, radio and TV) are amply represented, so is the new media.:)

This afternoon's event will be highlighted by the launching of the Raul S. Roco Youth Achievement Award, with Eugenia "Eggie" Duran Apostol, the 2006 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication, as guest of honor.

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Yet another proof of Wikipedia's coming of age

DOMINIQUE Cimafranca wrote about it, but here's another exhibit that Wikipedia, that web-based encyclopedia preferred by the internet-savvy, has indeed come of age: Associate Justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez's concurring opinion in the Sigaw ng Bayan case.

Read the opening paragraph. Relish how she deftly turns on its head Sigaw's favorite phrase -- the voice of the people is the voice of God -- by tracing its historical context. And then click her very first citation, which you can also find here.:)

As Senator Joker Arroyo gushes: What guts, what balls! And internet-savvy, too, if I may add.

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25 October 2006

That will be the day

WHEN all is said and done in regard to the GI masquerading as PI, what I will relish most is see the day that Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban adverted to in the following Biblical quote from his separate concurring opinion:

During the past weeks, media outfits have been ablaze with reports and innuendoes about alleged carrots offered and sticks drawn by those interested in the outcome of this case. There being no judicial proof of these allegations, I shall not comment on them for the nonce, except to quote the Good Book, which says, “There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light.”

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A death that diminishes

DR. ALLAN Morano Ruizo and I go some way back, from the time we first met when he was still working as the all-around, one-man brainstrust of the Conrado de Guzman Enterprises. I was his counterpart in Francis Soler's fledgling aviation and airforwarding business, and our paths would cross many times as both businesses hold office at the Grand Imperial Plaza hotel owned by the De Guzmans.

Back then, we dreamt of joining forces with like-minded young professionals and put up a consultancy outfit -- with profit in mind of course, but driven nonetheless by the need to serve Bikolandia.

When I returned to government service to handle Naga's school board project, and later go into my fellowship, Allan went back to the confines of the Ateneo de Naga University, to his first love, to do what he does best: teach. In the
Small and Medium Enterprise Development Institute (SMEDI) outfit of the university, which the Consuelo "Chito" Madrigal Foundation supports, he found fulfillment in helping mold Bicol's young social entrepreneurs.

Yesterday, I was shocked to learn that Allan has passed away. He was nursing an illness, yes, but I thought it was manageable. The last time we met was a few weeks ago, when he introduced me to his boss, Dr. Edwin Bernal, College of Commerce dean; it was about a project that will bring a class of Canadian graduate students to Naga City and to Ateneo. The project was taking shape before our eyes, and it is with deepest personal regrets that he did not live long enough to see it through.

I was shocked to learn that Allan has passed away. His brother, Ric, is a neighbor at Grandview and teammate in our intercolor basketball team. But I will not be surprised if up to the very end, he was still doing what he does best: and all in the service of our beloved Bikolandia.

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24 October 2006

A simple constitutional amendment

THE LAST post gave me another wild thought:

What if instead of trying to ram the GI (government initiative) masquerading as PI (people's initiative) down our throats, we submit this simple amendment to Section 2 of Article 7 the 1987 Constitution as a rider in the 2007 elections:

No person may be elected President unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, a registered voter, able to read and write, NOT MORE THAN (instead of AT LEAST) forty years of age on the day of the election, and a resident of the Philippines for at least ten years immediately preceding such election.
Numerically, it makes sense. In the 2000 population and housing census, more than 3 of every 4 Filipinos are below 40 years old. So that in one fell swoop, it will bridge the gulf between the leadership and the public, fix the generational short-end of the stick, and restore the youthful dynamism that characterized the Philippine Revolution a century ago.

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Getting the short end of generational shift

AS USUAL, Manolo came up with an interesting gem in an entry that has generated 122 comments thus far. This snippet especially caught my attention:

The generation born in the 60s should have been coming into its own a decade ago; and the martial law baby generation coming into power now, but the leaders today are the leaders who should have been leading twenty years ago, which is another reason there’s such a wide gulf between the leadership and the public.
Now, rewind a century back to the time we were fighting for independence: when the likes of Rizal, Bonifacio, Mabini, Jacinto, and the Luna brothers roamed this land and carried the struggle for liberty in Madrid and Barcelona. Focus on their age, for instance. Thanks to this site, and to the revolutionary Google Spreadsheet (which easily handled birthdates in the 1800s, which Microsoft Excel miserably failed to do), I was able to generate the table below, using the Cry of Pugadlawin and the Declaration of Philippine Independence as the beginning and endpoints of that revolution.

I've read about how young these revolutionaries were somewhere; but I did not realize that they were
this young when they tried to free the archipelago from the clutches of the Spanish colonial empire. Jacinto, for instance, was only 21 when the uprising began -- no different from the aspiring digital 3D animator from our subdivision who is currently matriculated at the Ateneo de Naga University!

Compare that to the aging dinosaurs we have today, and one can only weep. Turns out we're not only scraping the barrel when it comes to really good school heads, as I wrote about recently; we're also plumbing the depths when it comes to the national leadership, or the sheer lack of it.

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20 October 2006

Marking milestones

MY STAY here, as Coko Cafe promised, has really been invigorating. More so because the past two days have been quite really good, in a quiet private way.

1. Yesterday, I received a fax message from the Human Development Network (HDN) inviting me to become a member. (Of course I will.) The HDN is

a non-stock, non-profit organization whose mission is to propagate and mainstream the concept of sustainable human development through research and advocacy. The members are development practitioners from national government agencies, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, academe and research institutions. In terms of discipline and background, the group is composed of social scientists (economists, sociologists, political scientists, etc.) and specialists in public administration, education and social work.
Maybe it is time to add "local government units" to the list.:)

2. Last night, I also had a quiet dinner with John Nery of the Inquirer and Newsstand fame. Yes folks, the name behind a most wonderful and intelligent blog suddenly acquired a face, and we had some fun exchanging notes, tracing journeys and trading stories over dinner of sizzling sisig and shrimp fooyoung at Cafe Frederico.

3. Bicol Mail came out today with a banner story based on my Bikol poverty series, and editor Joe Perez's column expounded on what I thought were the emerging storylines behind the NSCB data for Bicol provincies, cities and capital towns.

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A pleasant discovery at the Ateneo

I AM WRITING this while sipping a cup of hot lemonade to ease my still coarse, and sometimes hoarse, throat at Coko Cafe at the Ateneo de Naga University. Beside me, my son Budi is feasting on his spaghetti and mango juice: perks for tagging along as his sisters are taking their dancing lessons upstairs.

We are at the ground floor of the Madrigal Center for Social Entrepreneurship (MCSE), built by the Consuelo "Chito" Madrigal Foundation for the university. Coko Cafe is one of MCSE's facilities, "perfect for meetings over a cup of delicious coffee, for delightful breakfasts, invigorating snacks, power lunches and cozy dinners, for busy people longing for a relaxing ambience." A few tables away, Ateneo de Naga president Joel Tabora, S.J. is engaged in deep conversation with a young man, in all probability an Ateneo student seeking his guidance.

According to its brochure, the MCSE "aims to create, through innovative approaches, a vibrant community of entrepreneurs who will advance social transformation." Its poverty alleviation programs for Bikol includes microfinance, housing, social entrepreneurship, and graduate and undergraduate scholarships for entrepreneurships. They are certainly most apt for Luzon's poorest region, as my recent series that started with this entry documents.

The brochure has this quote from David Bornstein, author of The Price of a Dream: The Story of the Grameen Bank, which chronicles the worldwide growth of that "microcredit " anti-poverty strategy and whose founder, Muhammad Yunus, just recently won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize:

What Business Entrepreneurs are to the economy, Social Entrepreneurs are to social change. They are driven, creative individuals who question the status quo, exploit new opportunities, refuse to give up, and remake the world for the better.
The other day, I pleasantly discovered Coko Cafe's free wi-fi services through Julma Narvadez, one of MCSE's young managers. Julma, one of Ateneo and the city's best students during her time, is the daughter of the late Jose Narvadez who brought me under his wings as Vox Bikol publisher straight out of college decades ago. Now, the dance workshop upstairs is a brainchild of hers, taking my two daughters under its wing.:)

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19 October 2006

Wanted: really good school heads (2)

TO HELP me find answers to the question raised in the previous post, I found these bits of info from the Department of Budget website.

The first is a summary of how permanent positions in the national government
plantilla are distributed by salary grade for 2005. The information is fascinating as it gives one the exact monthly basic salary the President gets (grade 33, P57,750 per month) down the line to the lowest state worker (grade 1, P5,082 per month). It is also quite familiar as the pay of the entry level teacher (grade 10, P9,939 per month) is also what the Naga City School Board pays for most of our 91 locally funded teachers.

The second is the
DBM index of classes by salary grade, which essentially tells you which types of employees across the bureaucracy get the same basic salary. For instance, an Elementary School Principal I has the same basic pay as that of Secondary School Principal I and a Master Teacher III. All are grade 18, with a starting monthly take of P15,841.

These information essentially validate what our recently retired former Superintendent Nenita Ramos blames as the reason behind the current crop of underperforming school heads: salary differences between the master teachers (who are usually competent and would rather concentrate on teaching) and principals (who are usually average--if not lower--but more ambitious) are so insignificant that the former tend to stay on as teachers, instead of aspiring to become school heads. Consequently, this creates a two-track career path that allows the latter to rise to the top of the school's totem pole: to their level of incompetence as Laurence Peter famously described it, and to our public schools' sorrow and disadvantage.

This squares with what Clementina Acenedo of the World Bank proposed as one of several measures to improve teacher quality. In a paper entitled "Teacher supply and demand in the Philippines"--which incidentally supports an expanded mandate for the Local School Boards (our main advocacy)--
Acenedo suggested

(I)ncentive schemes to produce desired behaviors in teachers. Start teacher salary in the Philippines is relative high in comparison to comparable countries in the region. However, the pay structure does not discriminate among teachers according to what they know and do. Future structural changes in teachers pay must raise the top end of the scale in order to widen the scale and create incentives. Widening the pay structure within grade levels will allow differentiation among teachers by competencies and performance.

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Wanted: really good school heads (1)

NEXT WEEK, students in the Philippine public school system will take a week off to allow for the holding of in-service training for teachers both at the elementary and secondary level. The official school calendar for 2006-07, compulsory among public schools, can be found here.

Mariano
de Guzman, my favorite high school principal and a few years' senior, spent most of yesterday afternoon at the office while waiting, upon instruction by their chief of party, for the cash advance that will fund the Naga delegation's participation in the ongoing Student Technologists and Entrepreneurs of the Philippines (STEP) regional meet in Tabaco City.

It also gave us the chance to discuss my beef with the kind of training that the
Naga Division wants to implement, judging from the design it submitted yesterday, five days before training starts. This morning, I fired a memo addressed to Mayor Robredo outlining my concerns about the events lined up that will just be "more of the same." I am still hopeful something good will come out of it.

Mr. De Guzman can be as emphatic and passionate as I am in making his points, and in defending his organization. There are many times we do not agree, but these are always on matters of principle, and not on personal biases. Unfortunately, he is turning out to be more of the exception rather than the rule.

All these led me to think: why do our public schools seem to be scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to good school heads?

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Help for Jack

TODAY, let me yield this space to Urbano dela Cruz, who opened his last post with the following:

I pause from my (lately infrequent) postings about urban issues to ask for your help for Jack Simbulan. Jack is the five year-old son one of my dear friends and former colleagues in the Ayala Group. He was recently diagnosed with Fanconi Anemia and will require a bone marrow transplant to get a fighting chance against the disease.

Babette and Juni, Jack's parents, have sent out appeals for assistance (medical or financial). The operation alone will cost USD 200,000 not to mention the travel costs of bringing Jack to a competent hospital/center of expertise.
The Simbulans' letter can be found here.

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18 October 2006

Quick notes on the Makati putsch

THREE QUICK notes on the unfolding "train wreck in slow motion," as Manolo vividly calls it:

1. Rep. Teodoro Locsin, Jr. said Makati's rich coffers is one of Malacañang's motivation to carry out this brazen act. Buried in this Inquirer article is the following quote:

“There are crooks in Malacañang targeting Makati because they want to steal the P6 billion to P8 billion of its annual income. Once they have taken over, they can capture the money and pocket it.”
Last year's annual audit report for Makati, available here, actually provides the details. The upper limit of P8 billion, I think, factors in the city government's enormous (by Philippine local government standard) cash hoard of P3 billion by end of 2005. The lower limit (P6 billion) is the more accurate measure of its resource base; it includes P1.1 billion in Special Education Fund (SEF) tax collection, which the eight-man Local School Board appropriates annually. (Sec. 235, Local Government Code of 1991)

That makes Makati, together with Quezon City, the only members of the LSB Billionaire's Club in the Philippines.

2. Maybe it is because of the above resource base, and because the process calls for it, that Mayor Jejomar Binay has turned to the Court of Appeals for succor. I can only wish him good luck. Our experience with the appellate court, in the light of the recent eviction case involving the Naga City Hall complex, has not been exactly reassuring. My previous posts here, here, here and here explain why.

3. While googling for figures on Makati's income, I found out from this site that Mayor Binay is actually a finalist for the 2006 World Mayor award, one of the 12 from Asia (together with Angeles City's Carmelo Lazatin) and 50 worldwide. If last year's procedure still holds, internet voting for the second round ends this month.

Which gives me a wild thought: Why don't we vote for Binay to become the 2006 World Mayor if only to dramatize our disgust over this recent development?

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Versatile future teacher

SAVE FOR a wrap-up midmorning meeting with Tere Pacis, a visiting Intel Philippines executive, I spent most of yesterday at home, no thanks to a virulent case of cold.

But the episode had its upside: more time with the kids, including my eldest daughter Sofia, a Grade III pupil at Grandview Elementary, which is a stone-throw away from our house. For whatever reason, she and her elder brother Jack Ryan (aka Budi) did not have class yesterday.

At such an early age, Sofie already wants to be a teacher just like her mom. At home, Pep is her pupil by default. Outside, other younger playmates become her students when they playact at the adjacent multipurpose center. Last summer, she egged me for a lesson plan and portable blackboard when I called from the National Bookstore at Glorietta. Yesterday, she produced their report cards, prepared her lesson in manila paper, and showed me her makeshift office downstairs.

Among the siblings, Sofie is known to be papa's favorite. Which is not really true as I
do love and treat them equally. But on the other hand, my actuations might have betrayed reality nonetheless: she is the first daughter in a family that did not have one since I was born 38 years ago. And as most eldest daughters are, she dutifully looked after me the other night when I came home most ill--bringing me my dinner, putting and replacing the hot compress on my forehead, and such other little things--as she did with her mother when I was not around last week.

Of a boyish comportment, with curly black hairlocks, a face that is from my mother's and a dusky skin that is my wife's, Sofie is not naturally gifted in academics as her Kuya EK is; but this, she more than compensates with extraordinary diligence.

This virtue, I feel, will serve her very well. On the way to LCC Mall last Saturday, we passed by the newly opened David's Salon at Avenue Square. Pep asked what the balloons were for so I explained why. When we finally reached the Toyland section, Sofie opted for a set of miniature medical kit to add up to their toys. When I asked her why, she said: So that in the morning I will be a teacher, in the afternoon a doctor, and in the evening a beautician in David's Salon.

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16 October 2006

A different 'color coding'

IN THE question-and-answer portion that followed my talk on our School Board project, someone from Leyte asked me whether we practise "color coding" in hiring teachers funded out of the Special Education Fund (SEF). (Sec. 235, Local Government Code of 1991)

The event was a UNICEF-funded training on promoting child-friendly governance for DILG municipal operations officers in the Visayas, which was held at the West Gorordo Hotel in Cebu City.

Unsure of what "color coding"meant, because in Naga trimobiles are color coded according to the zones within which they are authorized to operate, I asked the guy precisely what he meant.

He said
"color coding" refers to the classification of teacher applicants as to whether they are pro-administration ("Lakas NUCD" was the term he used), opposition ("KBL") or non-aligned. I said the practice is not unheard of in the past, the mayor also being a politician. But when we realized we are not attracting the best teachers available in the city, one of the changes we introduced was to strictly hew to the ranking of teachers, using criteria coming from existing DepEd memos. And engaging in the same practice does not give us the moral ascendancy to ask DepEd to do the same.

For surely, it cost us some political points among the disaffected, but they are more than compensated by the assurance that our teachers are being hired on the basis of merit, not patronage.

This new addition to my DepEd lexicon reminded of of
"wrongking," a derisive term used in Northern Luzon, which refers to the same practice; and "puting kabayo," which is how political patrons are referred to locally.

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The father who 'ran away'

THE INHERENT difficulty of having to visit faraway places because work calls for it resurfaced last week.

I was in Tuao, Cagayan with my principal for two events (the other one was in Diffun, Quirino on our way back to Manila) arranged by Synergeia Foundation. During a break, I called up the house to check if everything was all right, and Pep (aka Hilary), the straight-shooting, most sociable of our four daughters grabbed the phone from her Ate Sofia.

"Ika, dinulagan mo na naman ako," she chided me.

Pep, a five-year old preschooler, usually wakes up late, and I did not have a chance to say my goodbyes as I had to be at the airport early. I always do whenever I take the long busride in the evenings.

So when my travel was extended by a day when I had to do a sidetrip to Cebu, my difficulty was compounded. I hope I made up for the lost time when I brought Pep, Sofie and little Nokie to Sampaguita Department Store for their tights (both are taking dancing lessons at the Ateneo
Madrigal Center twice every week) and the toys section of LCC Mall last Saturday.

And of course, there's the thought that our almost missionary work in trying to improve the public school system makes this sacrifice worth every bit of it.

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15 October 2006

A full-length Ibalon anime: Proposed storyline

IN A moment of inspiration on my way to Cebu last Friday, the following idea came to mind and I decided to write it down before it fades from memory:

If Ateneo de Naga University has the cutting edge technology and capability in digital animation, why don't we produce a full-length animation movie worthy of being shown in local theaters and in select film fests abroad?

Here's my proposed storyline inspired by a previous post: For some reason, a timewarp takes place--probably through a wormhole that bridges the present with prehistoric Bikolandia (or Ibalon). This will allow the heroes and monsters (Baltog, Bantong and Handiong vs. Rabot, Oriol etc.) of ancient Bikol to come over and play out their epic battles in the ricefields of Libmanan, the skylines of Naga and Iriga up to Legazpi, as well as the denuded forests of Mts. Isarog and Asog in Iriga.

Towards the end, the winning heroes (including Handiong, who I understand from the epic, managed to convert Oriol from the dark side) will return to Ibalon just in time for the closing of the wormhole. But they will bring with them not only trophies of vanquished monsters, but also lessons on how man (in our present universe) has run roughshod over the natural environment in his quest for development. These lessons will allow them to change the course of history in their own universe, and create an alternate history--where the Ibalong civilization dominates the Philippine archipelago, so that Lapu-lapu would be a Bikolano vassal when he finally gets to meet and vanquish Ferdinand Magellan.

The movie's battlescenes should be fantastic: they will involve the destruction of our current landmarks, including the city centers of Naga and Iriga as they stand today, in the course of the fight, evoking how Tokyo was razed down in the Godzilla series.

This storyline can be improved, and it can be done in the process of fleshing out the script. And why not invite Eddie Garcia, Jericho Rosales, Robin Padilla and Bembol Roco to lend their voice to the protagonists, and Bikolana stars like Nora Aunor and Boots Anson Roa to their female counterparts? This will add immense star value to the production. Finally, subtitles in English, Japanese, Korean and Chinese will prepare it for the international market.

Now, if I only have the money, I will make it happen, and in a single stroke put Naga in the map of 3D animation moviemaking. But maybe there are VCs in the house....

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14 October 2006

With a first-time flyer from Cebu

WHILE checking on Newsbreak after Manolo's link to a hotel-building boom in Cebu, a story on Cebu Pacific Air's resurgence as a low-cost carrier grabbed my attention. Especially the last part of this paragraph that made me laugh:

(Local airlines) rode the crest of a wave with never-before-seen growth in the local airline industry. For example, in the first 15 days of September alone, some 306,600 passengers flew between local destinations. That’s a remarkable 43.8-percent increase in air traffic from just 213,000 in the same period last year. Airline executives attribute this to passengers flying more frequently and to passengers who have never flown before. (Italics mine)
On my return flight from Cebu, I am 100% sure a first-time flyer was with us. And he is surely one of the barangay officials who attended the 8th National Convention of the Liga ng mga Barangay at the Waterfront Hotel in Lahug, Cebu City. The ones with me at the predeparture area were a loud bunch, especially when they talked about how the P1,000 allowance given them at the end of the conference appeased the grumbling towards their national leadership.

And why did I laugh? Because that barangay captain, a few rows in front of me, shrieked loudly and very distinctly when our PAL aircraft abruptly began its descent into the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

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11 October 2006

Off to Cagayan Valley

WORK WILL bring me to Cagayan Valley (Region II) via Tuguegarao over the next two days, so my posts will depend on whether I can access a computer with internet connection.

In preparation, I checked the region on
Google Earth, spurred partly by Urbano's latest post about better high-resolution imagery already available for Metro Manila. Immediately, the dominant geographic feature that seized me, because it is strangely familiar, is the mighty Rio Grande de Cagayan or simply Cagayan River. According to Wikipedia, it is the biggest and longest river system in the country.

Strangely familiar because mainland Bicol is also dominated by the Bicol River (which I traced in orange line using Adobe Photoshop to make it more visible) and its tributaries (including our very own Naga River), which drains the fertile river basin quite visible from the map. In fact, the name Bicol stems from "biko," which means "crooked" in the native tongue -- most apt for this meandering system that is fed by Lakes Bato and Baao, snakes through Bula and Minalabac, and then Naga, Milaor, and San Fernando, before dumping its waters into the Pacific via the Libmanan-Cabusao area.

This is the setting for the exploits of Baltog, Bantong and Handiong, the trinity of ancient Bikolano heroes in the prehistoric Ibalon, the de facto title of our own incomplete regional epic written by Kadugnung. Abdon Balde, Jr., who penned this most interesting article at Oragon Republic, outlines what it will take to add the missing pieces.

Thanks to Google Earth, we can now visualize what remains of it, before Bicol River -- as with many other river systems in the country -- was sidelined by modernity. In the map, it is represented by the slim black line: the Pan Philippine Highway which is now the main artery connecting the present urban settlements that we know of today.

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Next steps: Bicol poverty series (6)

THIS NSCB study represents a watershed in the continuing effort to improve governance in the public sphere. As noted in its Introduction, there has been “an increasing demand from policymakers and planners for a more disaggregated set of poverty statistics so that aid programs could be more effectively targeted to the areas most in need.”

In addition to more effective targeting, there is the equally important and logical consequence of precisely designing and implementing these aid programs: the need for accountability over outcomes. As economist Solita C. Monsod wrote in his column entitled “The poorest of the poor” which appeared the June 22, 2006 issue of Business World:

The city/municipal level poverty estimates can be used as benchmark figures for the monitoring of income poverty at the local level. And while the data may be considered outdated, it must be remembered that many of these small areas are under the sway of families who have monopolized political power for decades and even generations – the hard information provided even at 10-year intervals will certainly help the people in deciding the ultimate fate of these political leaders. (Italics supplied)
In this regard, there is a need for the following:

1. Generation of a local human development index among Bicol LGUs. The current literature on development, influenced by
Amartya Sen’s seminal work, shows that poverty is multidimensional. The HDI and its variants very much address this need for multidimensionality as it factors in three basic dimensions of development: (a) a long and healthy life, (b) knowledge, and (c) a decent standard of living.

But while the NSCB study only measures income poverty, it already addresses the third dimension, for quite some time a major gap in the effort to generate a localized HDI.

2. A Bicol region human development report should be produced complementing the regular Philippine Human Development Report (PHDR). It must be presented in one meeting of the Regional Development Council called specifically for the purpose. And printed and digital copies should be made widely accessible, particularly in the media and in the internet, to generate and sustain interest, in the process reinforcing its usefulness as a mechanism for exacting public accountability.

3. HDI and other human development indicators should be promoted as an outcome-oriented public accountability measure. It should motivate local stakeholders, particularly civil society organizations (CSOs) in Bicol, to take a closer look at how our local governments are spending their resources, and link them to clear and specific outcomes (which HDI and its variants capture). As it stands, the income per capita is performance-neutral; while it tells us how much on the average an LGU can spend for every citizen, it does not tell us how the money was spent, and more importantly the results of its spending. As shown above, the
annual audit reports of the COA will be a good place to start.

4. Finally, these outcome indicators should be elevated as a primary issue, both in political discourse and the electoral process itself. This way, the whole development process in our democratic system can be joined as ordinary citizens will already have a solid basis for measuring the performance of their elected leaders.

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Emerging storylines: Bicol poverty series (5)

NOTE: Today, I will wrap up the six-part series analyzing results of the data on local poverty released recently by the NSCB and their relevance to local governments in Bicol region.

WHAT CAN be inferred from the data presented in the previous posts? Offhand, the following storylines have emerged:

1. It is not just about money; rather, it is more about how financial resources are mobilized and deployed to attain developmental ends. For instance, if it were only about money, Masbate City should have the least number of poor households, but it does not. Among provinces, Catanduanes is spending around 60% more than Camarines Norte, but their poverty incidence is almost equal.

2. Strategy of focus improves provincial government’s capability. If a provincial government decides to focus on helping its constituencies in greater need, which is its raison d’etre anyway, it can increase income per capita by almost 50% (as in the case of Albay).

3. Slower, more balanced pace of urbanization means more equitable distribution of opportunities. This is shown in the case of Catanduanes and Camarines Norte which are doing better both at provincial and municipal levels.

4. Poverty gap is usually wider when provincial governments are at odds with their city counterparts, with rural population at the losing end. The case of Masbate and Camarines Sur illustrates this. For instance, the
2002 COA audit report particularly called the attention of the Camarines Sur provincial government for spending P3.8 million in infrastructure projects in Naga City, which is outside its jurisdiction, during the year. This represents an opportunity cost for the rest of the province – certainly one of the reasons behind their 33 percentage point poverty gap (Camarines Sur’s 51.48% vs. Naga’s 18.91%).

5. Population size matters. Camarines Sur and Albay have over a million population each; they also have the highest absolute number of poor households. By comparison, Camarines Norte and Catanduanes have, at most, half of the former’s population. Not only do they have lower poverty incidence; they also have a significantly lower number of poor households.

6. Good governance matters too. The three Bicol cities (Naga, Sorsogon and Iriga) which have joined the
Public Governance System (PGS) initiative of the Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA) are the three best performing cities in the NCSB study. Clearly, good governance not only matters; it also pays.

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10 October 2006

Real provincial indicators: Bicol poverty series (4)

BY TAKING out the number of poor city households from the provincial totals, Table 4 provides a more accurate picture of the comparative poverty and governance indicators among the Bicol provinces.

The table shows that eliminating double-counting actually shows increased poverty incidence and income per capita levels for the four provinces with cities
(highlighted). More specifically:

1. Real poverty incidence will increase, from a low of 2.47 percentage points (Masbate) to a high of 5.55 (Sorsogon);

2. Camarines Sur’s increase in poverty incidence (4.25 percentage points) is sufficient to push it a rung higher, dislodging Albay from third spot; and

3. Real income per capita proportionately rises, from a low of P65 or by 11% (Masbate) to as much as P225 or 48% (Albay).

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Income per capita: Bicol poverty series (3)

NOTE: Today, I will present the 3rd and 4th installment of a six-part series analyzing results of the data on local poverty released recently by the NSCB and their relevance to local governments in Bicol region.

Incidentally, the Philippines marks today the 15th anniversary of the Local Government Code of 1991.

TABLE 3 introduces the concept of
income per capita – the ratio of the local government income to its total population – thereby bringing in a governance dimension into the picture. Data on local government income are for 2002, the earliest available from the COA website and therefore closest to the base year of the NCSB study.

Immediately, the disparity between the incomes per capita of provinces and cities stands out, with only Catanduanes achieving four-digit figures among the former. On the other hand, Masbate City has the highest income per capita at around P2,410 per resident, six times more than Camarines Sur, which has the lowest at a little over P400. Population again proves to be a key variable; in addition to Camarines Sur, Albay also has the second lowest income per capita at around P470.

This begs an important question:
If cities are actually financially better off than provinces using this measure, is it not logical for provincial governments to focus their resources in equalizing opportunities for and in behalf of its component low-income municipalities? It makes eminent sense for provincial governments to do so. After all, Section 459 of the Local Government Code of 1991 defines the role of the province, to wit:

The province...serves as a dynamic mechanism for developmental processes and effective governance of local government units within its territorial jurisdiction. (Underscoring supplied)
With this in mind, a closer look at the table will reveal the problem of double-counting, arising from the inclusion of city households in the provincial poverty count when these have already been considered in computing city indicators. This issue is addressed in Table 4.

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09 October 2006

Magnitude of poor families: Bicol poverty series (2)

TABLE 2 provides data on the magnitude of poverty in each locality.

From the table, it is evident that population matters. For instance, Camarines Sur and Albay account for 55% of the total number of households in the region; consequently, 1 out of every 2 households below poverty line is found in these two provinces. Almost 1 of every 3 of these live in Camarines Sur, which has the highest number of households in poverty notwithstanding the fact that it only ranks 4th in terms of incidence.

The same can be said of Legazpi City, which has the highest number of households among the seven Bicol cities. It also has the biggest number of poor families, more than double that of Naga – owing to having 4,000 more households and a poverty incidence almost twice as high.

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Poverty, governance and Bicol LGUs, Part 1

NOTE: This is the first installment of a six-part series analyzing results of the data on local poverty released recently by the NSCB and their relevance to local governments in Bicol region.

A LITTLE known, newly circulated study by the National Statistics Coordination Board (NSCB) for the first time allows ordinary residents to see the comparative poverty picture at the provincial, city and municipal levels in the country, including the Bicol region.

Innocuously entitled “Estimation of Local Poverty in the Philippines,” the study answers the need for aggregated poverty information down to the municipal level. It can be downloaded from the NCSB website. Together with available
reports on local government finances which can be accessed from the Commission on Audit (COA) website, the study can now allow students, academics and individual citizens to link poverty with governance issues.

The NCSB study, completed in cooperation with funding assistance from the World Bank, uses data from the 2000 population and housing census (CPH), labor force (LFS) and family income and expenditures (FIES) surveys to estimate three poverty measures – incidence, gap and severity – at the provincial and municipal levels.

Comparative poverty incidence
Table 1 below presents the comparative poverty incidence – defined as the proportion of households with average per capita income below poverty line – among the provinces, cities and capital towns in Bicol.

Immediately, the table shows why Bicol is the 3rd poorest region, better only than SOCCSKSARGEN and ARMM. Of the six provinces, only Camarines Norte ranks out of the top 40 poorest provinces. At 39th, Catanduanes has the best chance of getting out. But the rest are not doing as well, led by Masbate which has the dubious distinction of being in the top 10.

Among cities and capital towns, Naga recorded the lowest poverty incidence at 18.91%, affirming the effectiveness of its pro-poor programs. The next best performers are Daet, Camarines Norte; Virac, Catanduanes; and the cities of Sorsogon and Iriga.

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A more relevant NACITEA

IF PLANS again did not miscarry, the Naga City Teachers and Employees Association (NACITEA) will elect its new board of directors today. Up for grabs are seats to represent the public school teachers (3 for every district = 9), principals (1 for every district = 3) and, if I'm not mistaken, the previous Board leadership.

The Board will elect its set of officers from among its members, from the president down the line.

This year is also NACITEA's 50th, the proper celebration of which should have been done last August I was told. But it did not push through for some reasons beyond me.

Which is why I will encourage whoever will take over the reins of NACITEA to revisit whether its structure is still relevant to meet the needs of its constituency. The most recent numbers I have is of last year:

(The Naga) Division of City Schools supervises 8 public high schools and 28 elementary schools operating in the city as of December 2005. The latter are organized into three districts: North, South and West.

It is headed by a superintendent, backstopped by an assistant, 14 supervisory and 43 administrative staff at the division office. They are joined by 28 school heads, 998 teachers and 73 school-based non-teaching staff in the field for a total of 1,158.
Of the total, 86% are teachers (from the highest ranking master teacher down to the entry-level Teacher I). Thus, while I see no problem with school principals sitting in the board, I have a problem with a non-teacher sitting as president.

NACITEA exists mainly to serve its constituency and almost 9 out of every 10 of these are teachers. School heads, supervisors and non-teaching staff, I will concede, also qualify as NACITEA members according to its governing laws. But the reality is, DepEd's power structure is such that principals and supervisors usually have their way, the numbers notwithstanding. (I also have this funny feeling that NACITEA's constitution and by-laws is typical of teachers associations in the entire country.)

Unfortunately, the interests of supervisors, school heads and non-teaching staff do not square with the interest of ordinary teachers.

It is time NACITEA ensures that its president should
always come from the rank of teachers. That is our best guarantee that the ordinary public school teachers will have a seat on the table, and its voice heard, in the Naga City School Board.

And to ensure that public school heads will enjoy the same privilege, there is sense in further expanding the School Board's non-voting membership to include elementary and high school heads. But let us ensure that NACITEA's voting right in the Board is exercised by a full-fledged teacher.

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07 October 2006

1978 town plan conditions

IN A previous post, I uploaded two maps that capture Naga's 1978 town plan. To provide a fuller context, I was meant to include the following supplementary information, but the approaching Milenyo forced me to put it in the back burner.

But here are, to my mind, salient features of the plan which Onofre D. Corpuz, deputy chair of the Human Settlements Regulatory Commission approved on September 21, 1978 (six full years after President Marcos' chosen date for his martial law declaration):

  • Land use development shall follow a radial circumferential pattern as much as possible.
  • Prime agricultural lands shall be devoted to agriculture as much as possible.
  • Dump sites shall be located as far as possible from built-up areas.
  • Urban developments shall be located away from identified critical zones such as fault zones, flood-prone areas, dams and other man-made hazards.
  • The town plan and zoning ordinance shall be reviewed at least once every five years.
The full town plan conditions in the map are reproduced above, after using some digital enhancement tricks I am only discovering using Microsoft Office Picture Manager. I'll tie these up with results from our sectoral planning workshops in a future entry.

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The Rotary speech that never was

MANY times in life, the chips don't fall our way. For my eldest, a sophomore at Camarines Sur National High School, last Tuesday was one of them.

I was in Legazpi City when my wife texted me the bad news: EK will not be delivering the speech we labored on for days. Her English teacher was profusely apologetic--when she got ill, the acting department head appointed another to replace her as coach. Needless to say, the new coach opted for a 4th year student to represent the school in the Rotary International oratorical contest in Iriga City.

Naturally, we were frustrated, but what can we do except to charge it to experience and hope that things will turn out better the next time around. Meanwhile, here's EK's Rotary speech that never was.

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NSCB releases poverty data for Philippine towns and cities

SEVEN weeks back, Dave Bercasio emailed me a press statement from the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) announcing the release of poverty data for all 117 cities and more than 1,500 municipalities in the Philippines.

This little known study is historic. According to the press statement dated August 11, 2006:

This is the first time that city- and municipal-level poverty statistics have been generated. The estimates are part of the outputs of a special study entitled "Poverty Mapping in the Philippines," which was conducted by the NSCB in its continuing effort to respond to the growing need for poverty statistics at lower levels of disaggregation.
The full study can be downloaded here. The poverty data by town and city starts on page 71.

Why is this important? Because for the first time, it will allow ordinary residents to see the comparative poverty picture at the provincial, city and municipal levels in the country. It can therefore serve as basis for measuring up whether our elected local officials are delivering the expected development outcomes, as they always promise us during elections. And hopefully exact accountability from them when the time comes.

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05 October 2006

Rediscovering WAP out of necessity

IN THOSE dark, humid nights, with power out and Bayantel's landline service down (restoring the latter will probably take some time, but who knows?), I was forced by circumstance to find other ways of accessing the internet.

With nothing else much to do at times except fiddling with my Nokia 3220, necessity compelled me to retry its internet features. Previously, I did not find it very useful: for one, the default settings downloaded by Globe won't work; for another, the much cheaper texting is still
the killer application for the low-tech, low-maintenance person in me.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that (1) the month-old setting sent by Globe already works; (2) and more importantly, I can check my Gmail and Yahoo emails using wireless access protocol (WAP). Y!Mail on WAP is pretty straightforward since Yahoo is a default link on the Globe internet homepage. Gmail is a little trickier; I was only able to find this wapsite when I googled "Gmail" in my celfone and limited the search to mobile websites. It's the Hotmail wapsite that still eludes me. (Anybody knows?)

Ordinarily, spending P126 on WAP usage over the last five days--that's roughly P25 a day--is still kind of pricey for me. But if one has only used up about half of his P800 consumable plan (mostly because Globe's service went awry in Milenyo's aftermath) with five days to go, he will find ways to squeeze as much bang from every buck.

So I WAPped up whenever and wherever necessary to check on my emails: at night before calling it a day; in Legazpi City the other day where the situation is a lot worse and there is no internet access at all, even in the internet cafe at the Pacific Mall; early in the morning when I wake up. And one begins to appreciate these little technological miracles that are within reach, only if we are brave, and bored enough, to find out.:)

Image nicked from www.fortehosting.com

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Normalcy returns, somehow

NORMALCY somehow returned to our home last night with the restoration of electric power--but no thanks to the Casureco II crew who promised to return Tuesday but did not. This, after fixing the main line to Grandview two days ago, thereby bringing service back to most of the housing units there--except us and our neighbors.

Each one of us had to pay P250 to a barangay electrician to have our broken lines fixed.

Anyway, it was bliss to see our three-year old Nokie finally sleep soundly through the night, sparing me and my wife of our post-Milenyo troubles. It took most everyone quite sometime to readjust last night: had not my mother-in-law not turned the TV on, my daughters--Nokie included--would have all but forgotten about the sometimes annoying Kris Aquino and her TV show
Deal or No Deal. Or better still, forget that we had a TV set dominating our small living room. But readjustment came in a zip. In no time, they were already shuttling channels between Captain Barbell and Super Inggo.

By now, as I write this, I assume they should already be bracing to see how
Pasion de Amor will eventually end up (if it is not done yet).

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02 October 2006

Hot, humid post-Milenyo nights!

AS OF this writing, I still don't know if Casureco II has finally restored power to Grandview subdivision, which is around 10 kms away from the city center and nestled on the slopes of Mt. Isarog. It's actually long overdue, and my wife is already having fits, considering that our daughter Patricia Anne is giving her (and me sometimes) sleepless nights.

These post-Milenyo nights are simply uncomfortably hot and humid, especially for a special kid like our little Nokie.

What's more, the adjacent Green Valley urban poor community (with only a creek standing in between us) has been lighted since 5 pm yesterday. An attempt to light Grandview as well went kaput--no thanks to sloppy job by the Casureco II linemen who worked there late yesterday afternoon but missed the dangling wires that used to bring power to my house.

Milenyo, of course, is the main culprit. At the height of its rampage, it sent two severed rooftops flying into the roadside, narrowly missing two parked cars (including mine). But they struck the electric cables connecting our house (and my two neighbors as well), slammed into the wooden fence of another, before finally settling infront of the Primavera's deserted residence.

Which is why I believe Milenyo packed much, much more than the 106-kph winds that Mike Padua's local weather station reported.

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01 October 2006

The vagaries of Philippine agriculture

BURIED in the middle of that same Inquirer story are these key paragraphs:

Planning officer Percival de Villa of the agriculture department said around 70 percent of Bicol farmers, mostly in the second and third districts of Albay, had not yet harvested their rice when Milenyo struck....

“They were already at the reproductive and ripening stage when the typhoon hit the region. They were just three to four weeks away from harvest time,” De Villa said.
Bicol is still largely agricultural. This site for instance shows that eight national irrigation systems in the region benefit 24,304 farmers; the number excludes 473 communal and 2,396 privately owned systems. With 7 of every 10 rice farmers at the losing end, multiply that by 5 or 6 (the average family size), and you can already imagine the impact that typhoon will have on the lives of its people at least until December.

I should know because my parents have been farming all their lives, and they are looking to harvest their ricecrop this week. When I visited them in Pili yesterday, my mother said:
"Arapla su mga paroy 'noy." ("The palay were flattened, son.") They are looking at a loss of 20% minimum because of Milenyo.

The picture above gives you an idea of what my mother is talking about: it is a flattened farmland on my way home to Pacol. Note that the grains are already turning from green to gold. And Naga did not suffer as much.

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Milenyo brings grief to Southern Bikol

TODAY'S issue of the Inquirer banners the story about the terrible damage Milenyo wrought to our region, especially Sorsogon province.

Sorsogon suffered P2.9 billion in estimated damages, more than half of the P4 billion Milenyo caused in the entire region. The typhoon is said to be the strongest to hit the province in 30 years. My heart bleeds especially for Sorsogon City, led by its indefatigable Mayor Sally Ante Lee, which is a fellow member of the PGS Dream Cities circle.

But knowing Mayor Lee, her civil society partners, as well as the local community, they will join hands in rising to the occasion and overcome this temporary setback. And the broad network of Sorsogueños here and abroad--2006 Ramon Magsaysay awardee Eugenia Duran Apostol and billionaire Loida Nicolas Lewis easily come to mind--will surely waste no time to raise the needed resources to bring the province back on its feet.

Everybody is most welcome to join the effort, which should be top in the agenda of the city government when it reconvenes tomorrow.

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