17 December 2007

Home to heroes

MONDAY I found myself in Libmanan on invitation of its youthful Councilor Alexander James Jaucian, chair of the town's sanggunian education committee.

Jaucian wants to bring Synergeia's Reading program -- ongoing in Iriga City and Libon and hopefully soon in Rapu-Rapu, Albay -- to Camarines Sur's biggest town, and I explained before the sangguniang bayan what the foundation is, what we do, and how communities like Libmanan can improve the quality of education if only its local leaders will commit themselves to it.

The journey, my first ever to the town, was nostalgic in some ways. Many years back, I fell in love with a lass from the place but alas it was not meant to be. Then there's the legendary Handiong, the first king of Ibalon who is said to have built his capital in the Libmanan delta, laying the foundation for the first Bikolano civilization, in partnership with former nemesis and lover, the snake goddess Oryol.

It is also the main theatre of the guerilla warfare documented in the World War II book written by historian Jose Barrameda, Jr. on the Tancong Vaca Guerilla Unit (TVGU), which I wrote about in a column last month. Incidentally, it is also a highlight of an ongoing exhibit on the local guerilla movement -- whose title eludes me -- at the Ateneo de Naga university library. JoeBar would later email me a kind note with the following clarification:

"One, my father joined the resistance movement in Baao, Camarines Sur (for which reason I also dedicated the book to him) but he survived the war. Two, there was another big accomplishment that the TVGU chalked up, so that there were three of them in all. This was the second liberation of Naga in April 1944. The TVGU actually headed the liberation force through Major Juan Q. Miranda who was elected the overall commander the force. Moreover, the liberation was done by Bicolano guerrillas alone. The U.S. Army reached Naga some two weeks after it had been wrested by the sons of Handiong from the Japanese."
In that quick visit, I saw a town that seemed to be as ordinary as any other in Bicol, at least the ones I've been to. The streets are narrow and some stretches of the concrete road leading to the poblacion have seen better days, but who would ever imagine that it would bring forth mythical and real heroes that would define the Bikolano at his very best?

As Edwin Aspra, our office driver, and I negotiated the 35-km trip back home along the national highway, I told him during the war, Libmanan's link to Naga was via the snaking Bicol River and the railways, which played a prominent role in JoeBar's opus. The road we are traversing has yet to see the light of day. Unfortunately, both have been sidelined by the emergence of cars, buses and trucks as the primary medium of transport.

More unfortunate is the fact that Libmanan appears to have fallen for the siren song of the politician's empty promises that have driven them to desperation. That in the last elections they have reposed their trust on a stranger, who happens to be a son of the President, to represent them in Congress is a clear indictment of his predecessors.

Will their fortune change this time? I want to be hopeful, but the odds are stacked against it. For one, President Arroyo has just appointed Albay Gov. Jose Clemente "Joey" Salceda as new chair of the Bicol Regional Development Council, replacing Camarines Sur's Luis Raymund "L-Ray" Villafuerte, Jr., notwithstanding the latter's 38-6 advantage in the August 14, 2007 voting. In fact, in last Friday's (Dec. 14) RDC meeting, many governors -- who all voted for L-Ray -- were shocked to see Joey presiding. That renders the promised international airport in Libmanan to nothing less than a snake oil salesman's pitch.

The restoration of Philippine National Railways (PNR) service, a casualty of Supertyphoon Reming a year ago, would have been a more realistic and logical advocacy. But there are indications funding is not being prioritized in the national budget.

In the national convention of the Personnel Officer Association of the Philippines (POAP) I attended a week back, a PNR representative expressed his fears about it, and asked me if the Naga city government will support an effort to secure more funds for the PNR. I said restoring PNR services is always in the best interest of any Bikolano, and we will therefore do our part, but people like Dato Arroyo and Ower Andal are better positioned to make it happen.

I hope Libmanan once again rediscovers its inner strength and pride, and remembers its lineage as home to Bikol heroes. Because at the end of the day, nobody else will help it reclaim its glory but its own.

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25 November 2007

Accountability, American football and forecasting

AS A Green Bay Packers fan, I frequent the Yahoo! Sports website a lot. In its NFL section, one finds a six-person panel of experts who predict outcomes of all games for the entire season.

Actually, the panel comprises of more than six because the sixth man represents the Yahoo! user, or more accurately, football enthusiasts all over the world who have an account with Yahoo! and have signed up for its Pro-Football Pick'em service.

And guess what? As of last Thursday's final game (Friday morning in the Philippines, as everyone here is anxiously waiting for 'Mina') between the Colts and the Falcons, the average football enthusiast is actually doing quite well compared to the five other *experts* that include Cris Carter, a former Minnesota Vikings star.

In fact, they have the same record as Carter (104-59 correct-incorrect picks), which is better than two of the other *experts* in the employ of Yahoo!

I have to mention this because this waiting game for 'Mina' has become one big football game -- where you have a veritable panel of international experts and enthusiasts on storm tracking (the JTWC of the U.S. Navy, the IFA of the University of Hawaii, the TCT of the University of Wisconsin, the TSR of the University College of London: they're all in Mike Padua's website), a Naga-based enthusiast who had been tracking typhoons for 10 years now, and of course, PAGASA, the official state weather agency.

With Bicol now safe from 'Mina', it is clear that PAGASA -- notwithstanding DOST Undersecretary Graciano Yumul's strained explanations -- bungled this one. This morning's Inquirer story asks correctly: What went wrong?

Of course, his boss -- Secretary Estrella Alabastro -- was correct in saying that PAGASA forecasters in fact mentioned two possible scenarios in regard to 'Mina': one running smack into Bicol and exiting via Mindoro (which brought us sleepless nights), and the current one, which spares the region and hits Northern Luzon and Cagayan Valley instead.

The problem is, they chose to play out the former, when all the other experts are saying otherwise. My two previous posts highlight this. Thus, massive preemptive evacuations had to be made in Albay and Camarines Sur, involving hundreds of thousands of residents, prompted by this Inquirer banner: "1 million Bicol folk told to flee".

If there is one thing I agree with Yumul, it is when he said that PAGASA forecasts are "accountable." Some accountability here would definitely help, because as Irvin Sto. Tomas, who has not been posting lately at Filipinayzd, pointed out, "In the end, you can't point the finger at the enthusiast."

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23 November 2007

Now we wait, pray, prepare for the worst

IT APPEARS we will have to wait for Typhoon 'Mina' a little bit longer.

The latest tracking maps available as I write this show that the typhoon has slowed down, and will pass closest to Bicol mainland by around 8 am tomorrow.

But the bad news, according to Typhoon2000.com, is: Mina will gain more strength, with gustiness up to 260 kph when it passes north of Naga. That is dangerously close to that of Reming.

What path it will eventually take is still up in the air: the contrasting forecasts between PAGASA and the international meteorological entities that Typhoon2000 depend on, in fact persist.

From the top map above, the state agency is projecting Mina's eyewall to go through Albay Gulf -- with Rapu-Rapu and Legazpi City directly on its path -- towards Mindoro. On the other hand, Mike Padua's 11am storm track maintains a path that will barely graze Bicol mainland in the general direction of Baler, Aurora. That's a differential of about 250 kms!

This prompted Porfirio Rubirosa, a regular passerby of this weblog, to quip: "Apparently, different meteorological stations/weather report outfits have their own versions of tracking a typhoon. What does it tell us? That weather forecasting/typhoon tracking isn't really an exact science, it's all tentative."

When all of these is over, it will be interesting to see which one called it more accurately.

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22 November 2007

A battle of forecasts

WHAT'S wrong with these graphics?

Well, they are contrasting forecasts as to the path that Typhoon 'Mina' (international name: Mitag) is supposed to take as it passes through the Philippines. Incidentally, they are what City Assessor Mon Albeus showed me this afternoon as we were lining to punch our timecards at the City Hall lobby.

The one on top came from the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), the state weather forecasting agency.

The one below came from Typhoon2000.com, a tropical cyclone tracking website -- the country's first, according to its tagline -- being maintained by Michael David "Mike" Padua, a Naga-based enthusiast who had been tracking storms since I can remember.

With Supertyphoon Reming's terrible force still fresh in our minds, we sighed with a measure of relief after waking up early in the morning to find that Mina's projected path has inched up upwards. Two days ago, the initial projection is that it will largely take the same destructive path that Reming took last November.

The PAGASA forecast -- which came out late in the afternoon -- was a downer and cast a pall of gloom. It has not veered from the projected track two days back. That it was broadcast over the 6:30 pm primetime news by the two leading TV channels surely kicked up our people's worries several notches higher.

Locally, Mike has become the favorite whipping boy of several radio broadcasters with a political agenda who can't reconcile themselves with the fact that in this age of the internet, weather forecasting -- albeit unofficially -- is no longer the exclusive domain of central state agencies like the PAGASA.

Now, which one do we believe? Mon asked me. That, I think, is the uneasy dilemma facing most city residents today as we prepare for Typhoon Mina.

I said I will stick to Mike's projection. Somebody from the City ENRO agreed, saying other meteorological websites linked to by Typhoon2000 carried largely the same path.

Just to show you, I also uploaded here the forecasts of the Honolulu-based Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC), the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), and the University College of London-based Tropical Storm Risk (TSR), in that order.

But then again, the best position should be to prepare for the worst. Which, incidentally, was the message emphasized by Vice Mayor Gabby Bordado when he presided over a meeting of the City Disaster Council just before lunchtime.

Tomorrow morning, Mayor Robredo will preside over an emergency meeting of the city government Management Committee (ManCom) to finetune local preparations before Mina will start lashing Naga beginning Friday midnight.

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20 November 2007

Gutsy Gibbon rocks!

UPDATE (4:00 pm): I have also resolved the VCD issue by installing MPlayer, as suggested by the blog Only Ubuntu Linux.

WELL, WHAT can I say, except that Ubuntu 7.10, also known as Gutsy Gibbon, far exceeded my expectations.

Dom's package (together with a nice blogger's t-shirt - thanks, Dom!) came in at around 9 am yesterday, and I wasted no time to get the upgrade up and running.

By around lunchtime, I was all set -- meaning, my Konica Minolta laserjet is hooked up, and painlessly at that; my wireless internet connection to the access point at the office worked seamlessly; and my VLC media player played most everything I threw its way: DVDs, my Windows Media video files, and even my Welcome to the Black Parade Divx file.

More importantly, I can now see all my files in my Windows hard drives -- something I couldn't do under Dapper Drake and XP. And software upgrades are both painless and seamless, especially if you get the hang of Ubuntu's synaptic packages.

The only drawbacks remain to be the office network winprinter (the Canon LBP-800), its inability to play VCDs (not a major issue in these DVD days, but inexcusable because XP handles it so well), and my internal Conexant modem (which prevents me from logging on at home using Blast dial-up). But what the heck! One cannot have it all.

Which means there is still a place for Windows in my computing life -- at home where it is the only OS that my wife and kids know about. But even that may change, especially if I convert the home desktop into another dual-boot system.

Maray nang dai ka maestoryahan!

But why am I only writing this a full day later? Well, I had to do a clean reinstall to totally remove Dapper Drake from my system, as the first install actually yielded a triple-boot machine. And manually configuring the resulting partitions was a pain in the ass.:)

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16 November 2007

My (difficult) Ubuntu life so far

WHILE awaiting the Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon installer that Dom Cimafranca offered, I deliberately spent most of the week logging into my Dapper Drake system, eschewing the Windows I knew practically all my computing life.

For instance, early today, I composed my Vox Bikol column for the week in OpenOffice Writer, emailed it through my Gmail account via Firefox, and uploaded it to my Blogger site.

I have also resolved my printing problem -- in fact, I let out a loud, triumphant cry when I finally did so -- with my Konica Minolta PagePro 1400W laserjet after tracking down Manuel Schiller's PagePro 12xxW printer printer drivers for Linux, downloading and finally installing it -- but not after overcoming side issues related to the absence of a compiler and make commands in my system.

But I still have problems with the Canon LBP-800 network printer in the office. The appropriate PPD driver -- courtesy of Massimo Del Fedele -- has been installed, which means I will be able to use it as a local printer. But network printing appears to be impossible, as this note from the Open Printing database of the Linux Foundation shows.

The driver issue I mentioned previously involving my Conexant modem remains unresolved to my satisfaction: after finally tracking down the correct driver, the modem has been detected, the process of logging in and out takes place quite seamlessly, but it is mostly an exercise in futility with connection speed capped at 14.4 kbps. Linuxant, the outfit which developed the driver, will only remove the restricted if one coughs up $20 for the license.

But what currently stumps me is my inability to play a simple VCD movie, notwithstanding the updates I made on the VLC Media Player that I downloaded, either as a synaptic package or through the Terminal. The same holds true with the WMV videos I have in my hard drive, which are practically useless in an Ubuntu environment.

Truth to tell, I am being frustrated by twists and turns of my Ubuntu experience thus far in trying to duplicate what I can do, and actually do and enjoy with Windows. Which actually makes me pine for the ease and simplicity of XP, its bugs, worms and viruses notwithstanding.

I am not exactly a techie, and I am not conversant at all with Linux. But having used a lot of DOS line commands and the WordStar word processor before Windows 3.1 came about, I can follow basic instructions on how to go about with Linux line commands in the Ubuntu Terminal.

I can only imagine how a total newbie will manage in the face of these difficulties.

But I have not given up yet: I love my "Dawn of Ubuntu" wallpaper, and I only hope Gutsy will live up to expectations.

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JoeBar does us a great service

IN MY column during the Independence Day week last June, I mentioned the generation and information gaps behind our weak sense of local history. The former stems from the fact that only around 2% of the city population as of 2000 had a clear recollection of World War II. The latter refers to our “skewed, if not lack of total, appreciation of what happened during those fateful years” -- arising from the absence of information magnified by a dumbing down of local history in the DepEd curriculum.

Historian Jose V. Barrameda, Jr., popularly known hereabouts as JoeBar, performed the city and Bikolanos in general a tremendous service with the recent publication, under a grant from the National Historical Institute, of his opus entitled In the crucible of an asymmetrical war in Camarines Sur 1942-1945 – The story of the Tancong Vaca Guerilla Unit. My friend and colleague Joe Perez of the Bicol Mail lent me his copy for two days and it proved to be a gripping well researched read.

Focusing on the exploits of the Tancong Vaca guerillas (named after a watershed in Libmanan and Pasacao, also known as Mt. Bernacci in U.S. maps) against the Japanese invaders, Barrameda -- whose father fought and died during the war -- debunks the conventional belief that Bicol had the least organized resistance movement against the invaders.

To the contrary, what stands out from the entire account is a tough, stubborn, durable and well organized force that refused to lay down their arms like other guerilla units in the aftermath of General Wainwright's surrender on May 6, 1942; survived the best shots unleashed by the Japanese Imperial Forces and their local cohorts; and outlasted them during the four-year period notwithstanding losses it sustained along the way.

Moreover, the guerillas -- led by the triumvirate of Juan Miranda, commanding officer, who would later become a congressman of the 2nd District after the war; Leon Aureus, executive officer, who would later become Naga's first postwar city mayor and Bicol Mail founder; and Elias Madrid, finance officer who actually founded the unit -- can lay claim to two key victories over the Japs.

One is the successful assault on Naga City in partnership with other guerilla units and Agta bowmen in Camarines Sur and Norte in May 1942, two months after the invaders arrived in Bicol. It led to the short-lived recapture of the provincial capital and the release of American prisoners, a feat emblazoned in the book cover itself.

The other is the ambush at Taguilid Pass in Pasacao, which is said to have netted a Japanese general and hero from the just concluded Bataan campaign that ultimately led to Wainwright's surrender.

Along the way, it also sheds light on a key controversy that hounds Nagueños up to this day: the brutal death of then Gov. Mariano Villafuerte and companions, who fled Naga in the aftermath of the May 1942 attack in the company of Japanese forces. Belying Aureus's account, which Barrameda dismissed as propaganda, he attributed the murder of Villafuerte, his wife and son and a Japanese officer to remnants of the Camarines Norte-based Traveling Vinzons Guerillas (TVG) headed by Francisco “Turko” Boayes.

The Boayes partisans were in Vito, Siruma during that fateful day arranging a sanctuary for their compatriots who have also launched a failed attack on Daet, Camarines Norte, which took place simultaneous with the one on Naga. The Notes to the main text, which could have been improved with better chaptering, actually reveal far more details about the tragic incident, which Barrameda categorized as a war crime given its context.

Boayes himself would later figure in many other sordid episodes, including a conflict with Miranda over the latter's bride Constancia Estrada that stretched from the camp of guerilla leader Teofilo Padua in Mt. Isarog -- Miranda was there for a unification talk, only to be wounded after a surprise Japanese attack -- to the coastal towns of Lagonoy and Parubcan (now Presentacion), where he withdrew to recuperate. It culminated with a potentially bloody confrontation between Miranda and Boayes in the shores of Catanduanes that was only averted by the former's quick hands, enabling him and his two other companions to disarm their opponents.

Heroism. Betrayal. Tragedy. Love. Self-sacrifice. JoeBar's Tancong Vaca account has it all -- elements of a movie, or even a TV series, that can surpass Cesar Montano's The Great Raid.

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10 November 2007

A first-timer's travails with Ubuntu

My column for this week's issue of Vox Bikol.

ABOUT a month ago, my aging notebook PC was waylaid by a worm called Brontok that skipped past the defenses of my otherwise reliable antivirus AVG. To make the story short, I had to move all my data files to a secondary drive, reformat my primary drive where Windows XP is installed to snuff out Brontok, and install a new copy of the operating system.

I wrote an entry about that experience in my weblog, and it attracted a number of comments. Some suggested a superior antivirus software, which I eventually did; Maryanne Moll and Dominique Cimafranca, alumni of the prestigious Silliman writers conference, on the other hand suggested something else -- abandoning the virus-prone Windows for Apple and Ubuntu, respectively.

Now, a Mac -- which I understand is the preferred weapon of choice by artists -- would be fantastic, except that a new laptop is out of the question these days. Much of my salary have already been “obligated” -- to borrow the language of a budget guy like City Administrator Frank Mendoza who doubles as acting budget officer of the Naga City government.

That left me with Ubuntu -- which claims to be “the Linux for humans -- as the other fallback. Which is not exactly a hard choice to make, as I happen to believe in the open-source paradigm.

Taking away the part which had me backing up my files into another hard drive, and clearing enough space to allow a dual-boot system on a my 40-GB hard disk, installing Ubuntu actually was quite seamless and painless. Well, I have to qualify that “painless” part: it was so with my laptop but not the office desktop which I used as guinea pig the first time around last Thursday.
The relatively old desktop, powered by a first-generation AMD Sempron processor, appeared to have hit a blank wall when the installation progress bar hit 84%. So I cancelled the entire thing, and ended messing it up -- and the Windows XP system already in place. So I had to reinstall XP, and Ubuntu after that, and a little patience eventually paid dividends because for one reason or another, it is able to read even the partitions containing the Windows system.

The version I had working right now is the so-called “Dapper Drake,” and its interface and stability certainly gives Windows XP -- and come to think of it, even Apple -- a run for its money. And it had everything the office needs mostly to get its job done: the OpenOffice suite that handles its Microsoft counterpart with aplomb, and more because of its capability to save documents in PDF format; as well as the Firefox browser, which is superior to the Apple Safari for Windows Beta that I have also been trying.

Unfortunately, Ubuntu remains hampered by Windows' tremendous edge in third-party support. For instance, the Konica Minolta laser printer I am using is unsupported. And so is the onboard Conexant-made modem of my laptop. (I will have to shell out $20 to download a fully functional driver file.) Which is why on my first day of using Ubuntu, I am writing this piece in OpenOffice Writer and will save it on my flash drive. But once done, I switch it off and go back to my good old virus-prone Windows XP so that I will be able to log on to the internet and email it to May France, who is already laying out this issue.

I guess this dual-boot scheme will be staying on with me for quite some time.

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07 November 2007

"Dark night" comes to Naga

THE ONLINE version of Vox Bikol is not yet updated, but columnist Fr. Andrew Recepcion has penned a gem entitled "Dark night in the Philippines."

The expression "dark night" is traced to St. Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle which is characterized as "a period of intense purification in which the soul seems to feel abandoned by God." The same is true with the Philippines, he argued. But let me zoom in on the following paragraph:

One of my foreigner friends who have been living here in the Philippines for the past fifteen years sent me a text message a couple of weeks ago about the most organized criminal organizations in the world. The text message enumerated a long list of criminal organizations by country, including the Italian and Chinese mafia, etc. I was about to delete the message but my attention was caught by the last item on the list of the world's criminal organizations -- Philippines: Government! I was amused but I thought that from a foreigner the Philippine government could be perceived as the most organized criminal organization in the Philippines today.
Juxtapose that with the open letter written by the leading lights of the Naga City society to President Arroyo -- which appears on page 8 of today's issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer -- and what do you get?

Clearly, the "dark night" has come to the "Maogmang Lugar" itself, with the PNP regional leadership -- whose officer-in-charge is backed by Rep. Luis R. Villafuerte -- not only doing nothing, but authoring the breakdown of peace and order itself!

Two days ago, the "dark night's" latest manifestation came at high noon. The incident described in the letter's post script is still fresh in our minds -- the robbery of Jollibee Panganiban in broad daylight, which claimed two lives in the process.

That foreigner's text message was probably originally intended as a joke, but this cruel joke is clearly on us.

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31 October 2007

Mayor Jesse Robredo, blogger

SOMETIME last May, I wrote about the plight of 15 policemen being given a raw deal by no less than their superiors at the PNP Regional Command.  If you want an update, take it from no less than Mayor Jesse Robredo, who has joined the blogosphere and whose latest entry should be a required reading for new PNP chief Avelino Razon.

The choice cuts, to my mind:

This is what is happening given the kind of leadership that we now have at PNP - Bicol Region.  This should be a test for the new PNP Chief Avelino Razon, Jr.  Can he insulate the police organization from the unnecessary interference of politicians? I recall asking some senior police officers why the the police leadership  do not stand their ground and protect their fellow officers in uniform. The timid answer was they can not count on their superiors when the going gets tough. The previous unsuccesful attempt to relieve and the recent relief of the fourteen (14) police officers from Naga City demonstrated that the PNP leadership is incapable of putting the interest of its men and the people they are serving, when pressured by influential politicians.

Who is then undermining the efforts to maintain peace and order in Naga City? The buck stops at the door of the PNP leadership in Camp Crame.  In time, the community will realize that the police organization has failed them and rightfully put the blame on where it should be. I hope it will not take a serious incident to happen before the PNP comes to its senses.
This should make my boss probably the only local chief executive-slash-blogger in the Philippines.  Which makes Oddball -- the title of his weblog -- most appropriate.

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Work on SM Naga set to start

IF PLANS push through, excavation work for the planned SM Naga City mall will begin by mid-November, high ranking officials of the company bared in a presentation before the Sangguniang Panlungsod last October 22.

Also in attendance were ranking members of the Metro Naga Chamber of Commerce and Industry, as well as department heads of the city government.

Annie S. Garcia, vice president for operations of the SM Group, said they are aiming for a March 2009 opening. Joining her were Engr. Antolin Paule, senior vice president for engineering; Glen Ang, assistance vice president; Ronald Tumao, vice president of the business development group; and other ranking officials of the construction group.

Paule and Ang previously represented SM in a meeting we arranged last month with the chamber and property owners at the Central Business District 2. At the time, they said they are already in the process of securing the needed permits from national government agencies.

Work, originally planned to commence early next year, was advanced after the company was able to secure the necessary environmental compliance certificate (ECC) for the mall development project, a copy of which they showed to us.

The two-storey mall will rise on a 4.7-hectare property between the existing Filcab terminal and St. Joseph School. It will have a gross floor area of 73,300 sq. meters, 54,400 of which are leasable.

Together with a department store that will occupy almost 12,000 sq. m and a supermarket (6,300 sq. m), the mall will feature four cinemas, a food court and 759 parking slots. It will also accommodate as many as 170 short and long-term tenants.

The project was delayed after the SM Group decided to put up a full-scale mall, instead of the original hypermart-type development.

By the way, the company is already hiring key management position for SM Naga City, which you can access here.

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30 October 2007

Daily lesson planning, Part 2

My column for last week's issue of Vox Bikol.

LAST WEEK, I ran a survey on the question "Do Filipino teachers really need to write daily lesson plans?" Though unscientific by its nature, I feel the opinion shared by my readers are worth sharing.

Mi, a student-teacher, said in defense of lesson planning:

"I've always been rebellious with regard to lesson planning and following these plans, but one thing I learned -- they are helpful. If you make a lesson plan, you'll have more confidence in delivering your lesson, you know what you want to happen.

"This would be most true to student-teachers and new teachers, as more seasoned ones should have their plans by heart already."
Schumey, a fellow blogger and Michael Schumacher fan, took the opposite view: "Lesson plans are detrimental to the whole teaching-learning process. One has to consider the pace and capacity to comprehend of your students. This is the reason why our students fail miserably during evaluation tests. We need quality not quantity."

Porfirio Rubirosa, on the other hand, agreed with the Wikipedia item I quoted last week: "Lesson plans should be for rookie teachers only who are still groping in the dark, and needs constant reminders. But for veteran teachers, they should already know it by heart (the subject matter), and maski na pagbalilabaliktarin ini, they still have the mastery over it."

From the 14 who voted in the poll, 42% (6) said there is a need for daily lesson plans, 21% (3) said they're not needed, while 28% (4) said there is a better way.

On the surface, it appears that daily lesson plans do have a place in the learning process. Mi, I think, captured its essence: "The point is the lesson plan is a guide for you as a teacher in such a way that you know what exactly are you going to teach, what are the important points to bring up, and what you intend to accomplish."

But viewed differently, the seven votes cast by those who don't think so and those who believed there is a better way, taken together, outnumber the six who unequivocally voted for the daily lesson plans.

Who does it imply? One, daily lesson planning remains a contentious issue. Two, there is a need to treat seasoned, experienced teachers differently. There is sense in cutting them some slack and trusting on their experience to get the job done.

Thirdly, there is a strong sentiment for continuous improvement, of finding a better way in monitoring and evaluating teacher performance. Come to think of it, lesson plans are merely tools to facilitate the teaching-learning process. To rigidly require them of teachers is to fatally mistake an output for an outcome.

I believe the paramount outcome of the learning process must be measured on the student: Has he truly learned what he is supposed to learn inside the classroom? Or in teacherspeak, did he gain the minimum learning competencies at the end of the school year?

This is where Schumey's point precisely comes in: the need for evaluation tests to determine whether the public school system is indeed giving our young Juan de la Cruzes the quality education they deserve. This, I think, is how our teachers and the DepEd should be measured at the end of the day, not whether their daily lesson plans were
faithfully prepared.

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27 October 2007

Tragic

THE scoundrel pardons the lemon.

They both need it, today and beyond 2010.

We don't.

Can't this country come up with someone better?

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24 October 2007

DepEd justifies the CEP

FROM our TEDPloop e-group, moderator Nap Imperial of the NEDA central office -- the one in Pasig, not along the Pasig:) -- shared the following DepEd justification for the controversial Cyber Education Project (CEP) in an email last night.

I am sharing it with you in toto, and please feel free to share your comments. DepEd after all "welcomes more dialogue to further improve on the project design and implementation."

Distance education is gradually being introduced for younger learners. Institutions around the world are realizing that through correct systems, distance education can produce substantial benefits for elementary and secondary school students. This has been the cue that DepEd has taken from other countries and even local initiatives.

The diagram above explains the theoretical model that Cyber Ed observes. The triad (teacher-facilitator-student) ensures that learning will take place even for young learners. The presence of standard content, customized reinforcements and active learning work together to maximize the learning experience in the classroom. Some political entities may mislead the public by oversimplifying the concept of Cyber Ed, and saying that it will not be effective. However, this theoretical model clearly shows that both the on-site facilitator and the students will have ample support for the teaching-learning process and the satellite teacher will have representative feedback on the lessons that are being discussed.

Incidentally, the debate on whether ICT in education is effective or not is irrelevant. It will just lead policy makers to an endless cycle of citing references and academic journals, the winner being decided by the sheer volume of evidence that can be presented. However, the truth is, while basic resources should be given priority, and other supplementary interventions should not be forgotten, integrating ICT in education is really part of the solution to the woes of the public basic education sector. No one can deny this. And a country like the Philippines cannot afford to be further left behind in using ICT in improving the educational system.

The clamor for greater diversity, community control and respect for the efforts of the many is not mutually-exclusive to the goals of Cyber Ed. In fact, Cyber Ed will be a major tool in promoting diversity in classroom teaching by providing the necessary support to teachers to make them more confident in handling more interesting and engaging lessons. Cyber Ed will promote greater community control by eliminating information asymmetry and inviting more local participation through improved performance, transparency and accountability. Cyber Ed will ultimately improve respect for the efforts of many local successes in education by ensuring nationwide collaborative learning among teachers and other stakeholders which will lead to instantaneous sharing of best practices and dissemination of brilliant ideas and school-based projects.

Lastly, it is very tempting to counter numerical arguments with other numerical perspectives. Let us assume that 400,000 teachers (300,000 elementary and 100,000 secondary) need retraining for 1 subject. Let us assume further that the number of training days necessary to provide the full competencies for 1 grade/year level is 40 (1 day of training for 1 week’s worth of lessons). Lastly, let us assume for the moment that honorarium for trainers and all transportation costs will not be included in the analysis. Using the COA guidelines of PhP1,200 per participant per day, training 400,000 teachers for 40 days for 1 subject area in 1 grade/year level will require a cost of Php19.2B (1,200 x 40 x 400,000). Now, comparing this to the Php26.5B price tag for 5 years puts things in proper perspective.

Then let us relax some assumptions and admit the real needs of DepEd. First, more than 500,000 teaching and non-teaching staff have to be trained. Second, they have to be trained on more than 1 subject area (especially for elementary teachers, who are the majority). Third, the transportation and other incidental costs to the training vary and depend on where the training will be held. However, there is no doubt that when viewed in the perspective of half a million personnel, the required additional cost will be very substantial. Fourth, even if DepEd has this money, this magnitude of training will take a substantial number of years to achieve (assuming 10 teams of trainers who will train 50 people, it will take them 1000 batches of training worth 40 days or 110 years including weekends and holidays to train all DepEd personnel). Now, rather than grappling with the idea that this seems impossible, why not accept that technology in general and Cyber Ed in particular can make a substantial dent in this daunting task?

DepEd understands that Cyber Ed has inadvertently stepped on the toes of some partners and entities with agenda that may or may not jive with the thrust of the Department. This might be the source of the perceived arrogance, insult, waste, insensitivity and poison. DepEd recognizes the fact that most of the resistance is well-meaning and it welcomes more dialogue to further improve on the project design and implementation. However, we implore critics to acknowledge a brilliant opportunity for change when it hits them right on the face. Instead of uncoordinated grandstanding at the expense of the project, why don’t we all pool our talents together and come up with the most appropriate solution to the country’s education crisis? In the same manner that Cyber Ed aims to harmonize all fragmented ICT initiatives in the sector, it is about time that all the bright boys and girls unite to bring our individual talents to focus on the same issues and solve them in a coordinated manner. The time is now. The opportunity is presenting itself. Don’t shy away from something that could potentially be great.
What do you think?

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22 October 2007

Daily lesson planning, anyone?

My column for last week's issue of Vox Bikol.

OCTOBER is the month when public school students go into a week-long break ending the first semester of the school year. The break also allows their teachers to attend training arranged by their respective division or district offices.

I was reminded of this after my wife, who teaches geometry at Camarines Sur National High School, was extra-busy last week -- as Math club president, she had to oversee their departmental in-service training and aside from that prepare something to share to fellow math teachers.

There was something in one of our conversations last week that grabbed my attention, and I took mental note of it. It had something to do with a sharing by a fellow teacher on the new Cyber Education Project (CEP)-compliant lesson plan format, for which a week-long training was recently arranged by the DepEd.

From a simple format that requires only five sections, the new lesson plan now has 13, ostensibly in preparation for CEP’s eventual implementation. The sharing drew sharp reactions from the audience: instead of simplifying matters, lesson planning has just become more complicated if this P26.4 billion project really pushes through!

This reminded me of the Rapu-Rapu Education summit we facilitated last August 25 under the auspices of the Synergeia Foundation. If there is a search for the most unpopular task ordinary Filipino teachers must grapple with, preparing lesson plans day in and day out will be the hands-down winner.

In that Rapu-Rapu event, the dynamics between the teachers and their supervisors again came to the fore, mirroring all other events I have previously attended where the issue came up: is there really a need for these daily lesson plans in the task of educating the Filipino child?

On one hand, supervisors argue lesson planning is part of the job description, as teachers are given only six loads daily, with the two others allocated precisely for that task. Further, they are essential tools for the monitoring function of supervisors.

Teachers, on the other hand, argue they will be most thankful to DepEd if ready-made lessons can be provided them, or other alternative schemes are implemented, and these two hours be devoted instead to efforts to improve their delivery of the lessons.

Well, being a non-teacher, I scoured the net and ended up with an item on “lesson plan” from Wikipedia, part of which says

“In today's constructivist teaching style, the individual lesson plan is often inappropriate. Specific objectives and timelines may be included in the unit plan, but lesson plans are more fluid as they cater to student needs and learning styles. As students are asked to engage in problem or inquiry learning, rigid lesson planning with title, behavioral objectives, and specific outcomes within certain time constraints often no longer fit within modern effective pedagogy. Today, formal lesson plans are often required only of student teachers, who must be demonstrably familiar with the components of a lesson, or teachers new to the field, who have not yet internalized the flow of a lesson.”
Now, you tell me: Is there really a need for these daily lesson plans in the task of educating the Filipino child?

For five days, I am running a poll on the above question until Sunday. Feel free to join or better still post a comment, especially if you happen to believe that there is a better way.

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15 October 2007

It’s a generational thing

My column for last week's issue of Vox Bikol.

DURING weekends, it has become a family tradition to motor to my hometown in Sagrada, Pili for our weekly worship and a visit at the old folks.

For about three months, the trips became an ordeal as the electronics of our 10-year old car that survived Reming’s wrath, though bruised and battered by flying purlins that twisted in the winds, suddenly conked out. But everything is back to normal now, our weekly pilgrimage even made better by the rediscovered versatility of the car CD player.

You see, that three-year old CD player can play MP3 tracks. If you can’t grasp the difference, think about this: while traditional CDs can only have 20 singles -- my Ultraelectromagneticjam for instance had 17 -- a blank CD can have around 140 MP3s on them. That’s more or less seven music albums in one serving.

Since I started burning MP3 songs and playing them the past three weeks, with all my seven kids on board, with their mom and grandma to boot, I noticed that if there is one other thing that binds our family together, it is our common love for music.

Last Sunday, for instance, we sang our heart out to the booming beat of Spongecola’s Bitiw and the mesmerizing Tuliro. The former is one of the reasons why I believe the original version of Pedro Penduko (starring Matt Evans) is much better than that forgettable urban sequel that featured the so-called Engkantaos against the evil Calagua.

Our tastes are rather eclectic. My eldest daughter Sophie, for instance, shares my passion for Santana’s Smooth, for which she now scores 100 in our aging Magic Sing, something she previously did for Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On, John Denver’s Annie’s Song and Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive. (She keeps a notebook where the codes of these “signature songs” are readily available.)

But they are also generational: she couldn’t relate to Maria! Maria!, another cut from Santana’s Grammy Award-winning Supernatural album. And while I also sing myself hoarse to My Chemical Romance’s Welcome to the Black Parade in unison with them -- an MTV in Divx format is conveniently tucked among some movies in my now Brontok-free laptop -- I find myself crooning by my lonesome to Matt Monro’s haunting version of If You Go Away (at least the parts in English) that includes most passages from the French original.

The immortal love songs that sustained me through melancholic lovelorn episodes of my youth, they call ancient. Her grandchildren will probably call them fossils, my wife quipped heartily.

These trips are both educational -- they recently discovered, for instance, the greatness of the Eraserheads, the band their father grew up in college with -- and edifying. In these days of quiet desperation, when all seemed lost and hopeless, the power of music is a soothing salve to a weary heart.

We'll carry on / We'll carry on / And though you're dead and gone believe me / Your memory will carry on / We'll carry on / And though you're broken and defeated / Your weary widow marches on / Do or die / You’ll never make me / Because the world will never take my heart / Come and try; you’ll never break me / We want it all, we want to play this part / Do or die / You'll never make me / Because the world will never take my heart / Go and try; you'll never break me. / We want it all, we want to play this part./ We'll carry on!

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07 October 2007

An outsider looking in

My column for this week's issue of Vox Bikol.

WHEN Kristian Cordero approached me to do a review of Fr. Andrew Recepcion’s “God’s Global Household -- A Theology of Mission in the Context of Globalization,” I hesitated initially, considering that I belong to a different faith: I am a Jehovah’s Witness.

Kristian, however, said the author wouldn’t mind having a non-Catholic do it; after all, we are neighbors at the Vox Bikol opinion page. (Come to think of it, the book launch is practically a get-together of the paper’s staff.) Having said that, let me proceed to my main task this afternoon.

One, as can be expected of most published dissertations, the book is not an easy read. In this age of infotainment -- which is how some senators characterized, for instance, the recent hearings on the ZTE broadband deal -- the generation who grew up with Harry Potter will find it “heavy” stuff.

Nonetheless, if you are that Harry Potter fan who found great relief in the fact that -- after Book Seven -- the young wizard and his friends survived Voldemort and his minions, and good ultimately triumphed over evil, there is a strong likelihood that you must already be in college and will be asked to research into the phenomenon called “globalization.”

Well, have no fear: the first third of Recepcion’s book neatly summarizes the various aspects of the debates on globalization, something that Wikipedia does not offer. In 50 or so pages, he will tour you around the critical issues attending the debate, including Huntington’s now famous clash of civilizations thesis; the theories that attempt to explain it; as well as the paradigms that help clarify our present understanding of the phenomenon.

The bottomline, if I’m not mistaken, is represented by that ancient Indian fable about the six blind men of Hindustan -- better understanding can only be made possible by looking at an issue from multiple dimensions. Or better still, the synergistic concept that the whole is greater than sum total of its parts, especially when informed by knowledge from the Divine.

Of course, the book will certainly be a most useful guide for most mainline Christian churches insofar as modern missionary work is concerned. But it is precisely with the rest of the book that I am ambivalent about, mainly because of the reason I pointed out at the outset.

On the one hand, I find it remarkable that the Catholic Church has rediscovered “missionary theology” only in recent times, when smaller denominations in the margins have been doing so, driven by the mandate to “preach the good news of the kingdom in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations.” (Mat 24:14)

On the other, the theology of mission it proposes -- built around the doctrine of the Trinity -- is quite alien to us inhabiting the fringes, unitarians as we are whose beliefs are more akin with those advanced by Arius of Alexandria. In a big way, therefore, if the objective is to promote dialog across various global divides, this approach is rather exclusive.

Nonetheless, notwithstanding the absence of a long tradition of catholic scholarly work -- to which Recepcion’s opus properly belongs -- we outsiders looking in find great comfort in the following passage from Mark’s account of the Gospel:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"

"The most important one," Jesus answered, "is this: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:28-31)
Come to think of it, living out these commandments can bring about at least two probable outcomes: (1) at the very least, the same global household envisioned by Recepcion in an increasingly globalized world, and (2) beyond that, for us who believe differently -- if rewarded by the risk we took on taking the road less traveled, to borrow from Frost -- the scriptural promise of everlasting life in an earthly paradise.

Remarks during the God’s Global Household book launch held at the Madrigal Center Amphitheater, Ateneo de Naga University, on October 6, 2007.

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01 October 2007

Pogs and an object lesson on power

My column for this week's issue of Vox Bikol.

LAST Saturday, I had to motor to the city center to attend two meetings, one with the University of Nueva Caceres General Alumni Association (UNCGAA) headed by Engr. Elmer Francisco, and a personal mission -- to buy my kids additional pogs.

My task would have been infinitely easier if Hong’s -- that popular store along Calle Caceres where chinese-made goods can be had for sometimes obscenely low prices that will probably make Alex Lacson (of the Twelve Little Things fame) unhappy -- still carried pogs with a diameter of more or less two inches. Unfortunately, when I inquired, what they had are the ones twice bigger.

So I ended up scouring practically the entire CBD, and that on a limping rheumatic right foot. From Hong’s, I went to Novo, another similar store beside Aristocrat Hotel, went through Divisoria Mall beneath the Bichara Complex, and then Master Square: but all for naught. At Master, I chanced on Erning Elcamel and family buying school supplies; “sa mga bangketa, igwa kayan,” Mrs. Elcamel said when I told them of my quest.

So, off I went to the Naga City Public Market, at one time the single biggest of its kind in Southeast Asia before the advent of the malls. I checked practically all sidewalk stalls from one end up to where Calle Caceres pierces through the market to join Jaime Hernandez Avenue, again to no avail. And practically all of them carried yoyos made in China, of all shapes and sizes and all colors and designs. But no pogs. Until one lady volunteered: “Probaran mo sir duman sa 2nd floor, sa may hagdan. Yaon duman an mga wholesaler.”

To cut the story short, my journey on foot looking for pogs one lazy weekend that started at Hong’s, bringing me through most of CBD in the process, ended at the public market, up the stairs along Prieto Street that I already passed by.

In an ideal market condition, I would have been spared all the hassles if information about the wholesaler had been made available right at the outset. But life in reality is never ideal: information asymmetry exists and sellers are not always rewarded handsomely as economic theory says.

In another place and time, that wholesaler would have sold me a sheet containing 88 pieces of pogs at P50 -- twice than what I got them at Hong’s -- and I still would have bought them lest I want to face again brooding, sulking kids who have been promised many times over. But then again, as yoyos have displaced pogs as the toys of the season, he was only too happy to give it to me at P20.

Now, compare that with how the Arroyo regime has gone about conducting its business on the now infamous NBN and CEP deals and you will see the irony of it all -- under an economist, who is supposed to know how markets work better than most, they were conducted in secrecy and the absence of competition. Which should be making her economics professors weep and peers gnashing their teeth. And worse, Bikolanos are part and parcel of the cabal now trying to either deodorize the whole thievery and now prevent the stink from reaching the palace, thwarting truth’s unraveling at every turn and making the state of information more asymmetric than ever before.

That, I think, is an object lesson on how power corrupts -- the change does not happen overnight; rather, it chips away incessantly at moral fortitude of even the best of men like steady waterdrops weathering the hardest of rocks.

On the other hand, that unnamed lady sidewalk vendor, trying to make ends meet in a public market that has seen better days, is infinitely better than all of them in many respects: with no eye towards personal gain, she singlehandedly eliminated information asymmetry in one fell swoop, in the process helping a father vainly searching for pogs and affirming his faith in the both the market and the inherent humanity and goodness of the Nagueño.

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28 September 2007

'Brontok' waylays my pc

SPENT the whole day resurrecting my PC, no thanks to the Brontok computer worm.

Since last night after attending (and proxying for Doc Butch Borja, our city health officer, who's supposed to be one of the ninongs) the wedding of my cousin Jason, I noticed all my USB flash drive folders already replicating executables. Then my always-up-to-date AVG antivirus software was decimated. Checking the web for solutions, I discovered and ran this Brontok remover, but it was all for naught -- batutilan an hinayupak na virus!

When I brought the machine to EDP, we tried other approaches -- booting from a Windows 98 command prompt (could not read my infected hard drive), booting from my UBS flash drive (did not work), and using Bart PE (did not work either).

That left us no other choice but to implement the old fashioned solution: reformatting my hard drive to extinguish Brontok to oblivion. Fortunately, it was partioned so it involved only transferring my data files to my Drive D, reformating C, reinstalling a new OS, reinstalling most of my applications, and upgrading my antivirus to NOD32 Control Center.

As I write this, my PC is now faster and I think I'm back to 75% of its original functionality. And I hope that's the last encounter I will have with Brontok the batutilan.:)

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26 September 2007

Sol Santos on becoming a Nagueño

NOTE: While the 3rd Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on the controversial NBN project is still going on, I am giving due course to lawyer Sol Santos's reflections on the Mayoral Recognition Award he received last September 19, in the company of several others.

Becoming Nagueño: Reflections on receiving a Naga City Mayoral Recognition Award for 2007

SOLIMAN M. SANTOS, JR.
25 September 2007, Quezon City

As luck would have it, I was one of 11 individuals and five groups given Naga City Mayoral Awards for 2007. These were auspiciously conferred on 19 September 2007, the 109th anniversary of Naga’s (or Nueva Caceres’) liberation from the Spaniards. Coincidentally or not, the 2007 Distinguished Mayoral Awardee, one might say the primus inter pares (first among equals) among us, happened to be named Liberato “Levy” S. Aureus for Literature. That anniversary particularly resonates with me because I once used the pen-name “Eli Angeles” as an activist columnist (“Heart and Mind”) for Vox Bikol, a Naga weekly newspaper, during the last two years of the Marcos dictatorship. Elias Angeles (after whom Naga’s main street is named) was a Tagalog corporal who led the local Guardia Civil mutiny that fateful day in 1898. The perspective of history or the passage of considerable time is also relevant here. Allow me some reflections, with a little help from remarks of some friends.

In general, we can say recognition is important, as an affirmation or positive reinforcement of the recipient and his/her/its work, which redounds likewise to the prestige or glory of the grantor and serves as an example or inspiration for others among the general public, in this case the citizens of the city. An award is only as prestigious as its grantor or its recipients. In the case of the Naga City Mayoral Awards, coming as it does from Mayor Jesse “Jess” M. Robredo, who is himself multi-awarded nationally and internationally, this is self-evident. There is something special about a good local award because it connotes the scrutiny then approbation of one’s peers and it beats the syndrome that “one cannot be a prophet in one’s own place.” My good friend from Tabaco, Albay, Francia “France” C. Clavecillas, a veteran community organizer of COPE Foundation who herself pioneered urban poor organizing in Naga, remarked that this Naga Mayoral Award has a “mas makaging an tanog” (more solid, resonating sound) than an international award.

The recipients too should be a reflection of the prestige of an award. For the Naga Mayoral Awards 2007, we had aside from Levy, for the individual awardees (in no particular order): Rev. Msgr. Luis R. Ayo, for Education; Ricardo A. Regmalos, for Public Service; Jean N. Llorin for NGO Work/Peace Advocacy; Nelson Henry R. Mejia, for Sports; Ben B. Secretario, for Academic Excellence; Julie Lucille H. del Valle, for Academic Excellence; Rev. Nelson B. Tria, for Community Service; Atty. Ricardo A. Diaz, for Public Service; Carlomagno B. Manuel, for Medicine/Community Service; and myself, for Peace Advocacy. The group awardees were: San Isidro Development Cooperative, for Cooperatives; VCA Cecilio Printing Press, for Culture/Print Media; Arejola Foundation for Social Responsibility, for Literature; Naga White Volunteer Fire Rescue, for Civic and Community Service; and Universidad de Sta. Isabel, for Community Service. As Mayor Jess himself characterized this batch, there were “none from the business sector.” The accent was on various forms of public, civic and community service. He emphasized the importance of having heart to serve the people, so apt for a city which is “The Heart of Bikol.”

Aside from the honor of being in this good company, I personally like this Batch of 2007. Levy was a former co-worker of mine at the Ministry/ Department of Labor and Employment while I was a working law student at the University of Nueva Caceres, with Ric Diaz as a fellow law student, in the early 1980s. “Mommy” Jean Llorin is a long-time colleague in peace advocacy, particularly with the Hearts of Peace (HOPE) [Mayoral Awardee for Civic Involvement in 1989], who deserves as much credit for the declaration of the Naga Peace Zone in 1988. I can relate too to the Naga City People’s Council (NCPC), for which its several-term Chairman Fr. Nelson Tria was awarded, because of a book on and a rapid field appraisal of the NCPC I had worked in 1998 and then in 2002, though no longer based here (the “heart and mind” kept returning). I can relate even distantly with Msgr. Luis Ayo, who is the uncle of another good friend Judge Antonio Camillus “Junet” A. Ayo, Jr., because of the 1968 Supreme Court (SC) decision Msgr. Ayo won for the Capalonga (Camarines Norte) Parochial School, upholding the right of parents to choose the school for their children, particularly the choice for a Catholic education.

As we said, the passage of considerable time. That SC decision was nearly four decades ago. Ricardo Regmalos was awarded for his four decades of excellent public service as a barangay official. Dr. Carlomagno Manuel was awarded for being the only one from his class at the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Medicine who chose to work in the country after graduation and for pioneering the first private hospital in Catanduanes, both more than four decades ago. The test of time, no less. This can only mean that these awardees kept clean of any derogatory record during several decades, which could have militated against any award. There is a special significance, therefore, about awards after the test of time. They also show that the city does not forget the good which its citizens do, even if it may sometimes take longer than usual to remember. But even for the much younger awardees like the three students Mejia, Secretario and Del Valle, their awards become a challenge maybe not only to keep clean (lest they stain their awards and the city) but also to do even better in the coming years and decades. Indeed, the theme of the 2007 Mayoral Awards was “The Quest for Excellence Never Ends.”

It will never end for Naga because it has a bountiful well-spring of good people, the Nagueños, who are the city’s best natural resource as Mayor Jess puts it, many of whom may still be unrecognized as they do their good work quietly. There are and have been Nagueño giants, like Attys. Ramon R. San Andres, Luis General Jr. and J. Antonio M. Carpio, to name a few whom I have had the privilege of personally knowing, learning from and working with, who are more oragon (great, or translate as you wish) than most of the better-known (because) Manila-based national figures. They are, or should be, truly the orgullo kan Naga (pride of Naga). They, other Nagueños like them, the people, the city and the contributions of Naga, all make one “proud to be a Nagueño” -- as Levy proudly declared in his response to the conferment of his award. Mayor Jess, alluding to the citizenship issue which had been repeatedly raised against him every election time, remarked that there may be doubts about his Filipino citizenship, but there is no doubt about his Nagueño citizenship. In my case, though Manila-born, I have chosen to consider myself a Nagueño, because of my first four years of schooling at the Naga Parochial School and because of living and working here for my best 18 years soon after graduation from UP and getting married to Doods. I guess the Mayoral Award “legitimizes” my claim to Nagueño citizenship. Besides, Naga has long been our domicile (the place one always intends to return to, or keeps returning to), and one can only return to one’s roots.

I wish to give credit to the Awards Committee as well as the Search Committee for my award which recognizes not only “full-hearted advocacy for peace” but also “people empowerment, and the advancement of human rights… and militancy that, among other cause-oriented initiatives…” In this time of anti-terrorism, it is to credit of the courageous leaders of Naga City to recognize something like “advancement of human rights,” “militancy,” and “cause-oriented initiatives.” Alas, there is still a role for this.

The contraposition of “cause-oriented” with “cost-oriented” came to my mind again when Levy commented on how he wished that the Mayoral Award came with a “cash reward,” just like Mayor Jess’ big-time Ramon Magsaysay Award, as if to say “your giving us credit through recognition is good but we need cash.” Levy said in typical levity, but actually at least half-serious, that he would not object if, in the future, the Mayoral Award would come with a cash award that would be made retroactive to 2007. Indeed, it seems unfortunate that genuine public, civic and community service often involves a “vow of poverty” where the best income is the “psychic income.” But the heart is, in real hard life, part of a body and soul that must be kept together. Maybe there is a role here for the business sector.

In ending, allow me a few personal acknowledgements. There are my comrades in various peace, human rights and other cause-oriented groups who were there with me in the work I am being given recognition for, notably Naga for Popular Democracy (NagaPopDem) [later renamed the Red Wine Party of Naga (RWP-Naga)] and HOPE. Elmer S. Casillan, who nominated me, and “Mommy” Jean, who endorsed me, were both with HOPE. Atty. Atty. Henry Gerald P. Ysaac Jr., who also endorsed me, is with NagaPopDem/RWP-Naga. And of course, there is my wife and best friend Doods, herself also a Manila-born Nagueño by choice, who has taught me what recognition is really all about, and that the best kind is the one which one does not chase after because there is no need to. I dedicate my award to Doods and other comrades -- for the love, inspiration, friendship, support, and camaraderie in this Happy Place, An Maogmang Lugar. Maogma man ako. Dios Mabalos saindo gabos -- gabos-gabos, ubos-ubos!

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25 September 2007

Solutions right under our nose

THE SCIENCE Education Institute (SEI) is one of the 19 agencies attached to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), which has been operating on a budget of P2.4 billion last year and P3.5 billion this year. This amounts to less than 1% of the total (0.27% in 2006, and 0.31% this year to be exact).

Compared to DepEd's P126.8-billion (11.2%) or the DOTC's P16.4-billion (1.4%) budget for 2007, to say that the DOST's getting peanuts is putting it too kindly. To add insult to injury, it does not seem to enjoy the confidence of NEDA, the national government's gatekeeper of the ODA. Among others, NEDA evaluates any project for foreign funding through official development assistance (ODA).

Consider this story that appeared in the Inquirer last September 7, portions of which deserve to be highlighted:

The Department of Science and Technology (DoST) had proposed a broadband project but this was rejected by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), which wanted to build the network through a build-operate-transfer (BOT) scheme.

In 2001, (Science Secretary Estrella) Alabastro said they submitted a proposal to NEDA for the construction of a P5.2-billion Philippine Research Education and Government Network (Preginet) that would link up research and education institutes in the country.

But NEDA rejected this proposal, prompting the DoST to fund the project from its own budget.

“At that time, their view was that it has to be done [through the BOT scheme] and that there were many things that they wanted us to submit, which was very difficult for us to do...They just never approved it [DoST proposal] so, since we thought it was very important, we said: ‘Why don’t we do it slowly? Start with whatever small amount,’” she said.

Albastro said they were hoping to get funding from Overseas Development Assistance money but their request was never processed by NEDA.

“So, we went ahead and funded this locally. [We are funding ] this from our own legal budget and as of now, we have about 80 institutions in the network,” she said.
I am mentioning this to point out the following:

(1) Government, using its own resources, has put in place a broadband network without the need for a controversial, secretive $329-million loan from China.

Of course, 80 agencies is a far cry from the 25,844 barangays that the NBN proposes to cover using a Wimax-based network. But if it will scale coverage down, and leverage its P4-billion annual telecommunications budget to encourage private carriers to provide the same kind of service, powered by the same technology -- which is what government is now eyeing to do in the heels of the ZTE debacle -- there's no reason why it can't be done.

(2) Government, at the same time, can also come up with exciting ICT-based modules that are superior to the dull lectures that can be expected of the DepEd national master teachers through the more expensive $460-million Cyber Education Project (CEP) being pushed by Secretary Jesli Lapus.

I have been trying the Modules in Science in Mathematics for Elementary Schools, which consists of two CDs and a teachers manual, together with their one-CD high school counterpart entitled "Learning Resource Materials for Mathematics and Science for Secondary Schools." Both were prepared by the SEI under the leadership of Dr. Ester Ogena, in partnership with the Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI), a sister agency.

Dom Cimafranca previously alerted me to it in my entry on the CEP; several weeks back, I saw a colleague from the Bicol Science Centrum being interviewed about it on TV Patrol Bikol. This morning, I borrowed a set from Nestor Villanea, BSTC officer-in-charge; I'm bringing them home so that my kids can give it a try.

Offhand, I am greatly excited by the elementary modules -- they're more engaging, have plenty of 2-D animations, and uses characters from our lores to boot, like Mariang Makiling, Bernardo Carpio and Lam-Ang. The Macromedia Flash-based animated lessons are colorful, informative and instructive. Review questions are de rigueur towards the end, although improvements can be made on the audio.

The strong influence of the Lords of the Rings and Kingdom Hearts are evident, particularly characters that look a lot like the bow-and-arrow-armed Legolas, the axe-bearing Gimli and the keyblade-swinging Sora. Which are in fact a plus because kids will definitely love them.

Nevertheless, the high school counterpart, although equally informative, are -- too put it mildly -- a big letdown in terms of pizzazz and creativity. The people who put them together do not seem to be as inspired as the team behind the elementary modules. They definitely need a lot of improvement, presentation-wise.

Another downside (which is actually an opportunity, come to think of it, given Naga's edge in 2-D and 3-D animation) is the limited lessons covered. In Science, for instance, there is only between 8 to 12 topics available for every grade level (from 3 to 6); math has more or less the same number for all six grades.

I also believe the lessons for the first three grades will get across better if they were in Bikol; unfortunately, the lessons are mostly in English, with a sprinkling of Tagalog.

The problem with government, especially under this administration, is the lack of coordination among its agencies -- in both cases, the cash-strapped DOST has the demonstrated track record and expertise on the NBN and a promising product relative to the CEP, but it has largely been sidelined. Secondly, there's that bias to loan out humongous amount of tied money from foreign sources which are sure to send Johnny de la Cruz deeper down in debt, when proven, viable alternatives are there right under its nose.

But of course, it's not their personal money to bleed anyway. And there's lesser dough to be made on a low-budget agency like DOST.

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24 September 2007

On that NBN-CEP overlap

IN MY previous entry, in the second-to-the-last paragraph, I wondered

"...why Secretaries Lapus and Mendoza did not try to reconcile their respective programs...and come up with a unified initiative that will focus on distance education as another killer application that will justify the humungous financial requirements of the NBN."
If these two gentlemen did not, it appears from the minutes of the NEDA special Investment Coordinating Committee (ICC) meeting a week before President Arroyo approved the controversial National Broadband Network (NBN) project that their colleagues at least explored the possibility -- 44 of them in fact, according to the GMA news story that went online last Friday evening, before Arroyo suddenly suspended the contract the following day.

Finance Secretary Margarito Teves presided over the meeting held on March 26, 2007 at the BSP Complex. It was attended by six Cabinet secretaries, four undersecretaries, a BSP director, and 33 other executive officials and staff personnel.

They included Assistant Secretary Lorenzo Formoso III, who took the cudgels in explaining their project during the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing last Friday. In fact, Paragraph No. 50 says:
Assistant Secretary Formoso confirmed that there is an overlap between the NBN and CEP projects, specifically with regards to the communication/transmission aspect, that the Department is trying to resolve. He added that the NBN is versatile enough to handle VOIP, e-governance and education applications, as well as election-related reporting.
Which makes the following entry in Manolo's liveblog all the more puzzling:
8:18: Cayetano asks why CyberEd is required at additional cost when there’s NBN. Formoso can’t answer.

M (Probably DOTC Secretary Mendoza): Sec. Lapuz will reply on that. (Italics mine)

Formoso and Cayetano discuss why CyberEd is needed when NBN can carry video also; Cayetano asks why Formoso has spent hours trying to convince the public to support NBN, when he hasn’t tried to explain to Sec. Lapus that he could save 25 billion by using NBN instead of setting up CyberEd.

Read through the minutes and you will find sanity, or a semblance of it, still pervading government decisionmaking process: serious questions still being asked about an initiative (the NBN), and its clear overlap with another previously approved one (the CEP), about the wisdom of entering an industry where services are already being provided by the private sector.

And you will also clearly see what UP economists Fabella and De Dios decried in their paper, which former NEDA director general and now Inquirer Business columnist Cielito Habito also criticized here and here: the undue influence exerted by "tied" Chinese money in our policymaking, on the pretext that "beggars cannot be choosers."

I think there is more to this clear NBN and CEP overlap than meets the eye: this insistence on a separate system for the public schools, and not the alleged negative impact on our children that he rues about here, is what Secretary Lapus should explain.

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21 September 2007

A Frankenstein project

I'VE BEEN reading through the transcript of yesterday's Senate committee hearing on the controversial National Broadband Network (NBN), courtesy of Manolo's liveblog over Inquirer Current, including the resources he pointed to, like PCIJ's transcript of ASec Lorenzo Formoso's powerpoint and Yuga's take on the project itself.

And in the end, I get the feeling that just like the CEP, the NBN started out as a good idea that later metamorphosed into some sort of a Frankenstein project, no thanks to the usual suspects in the Arroyo regime.

Why is this so? Let me offer the following:

1. If I'm not mistaken, it is intended to be a purely government network, connecting the center (Manila) to its subnational branches (regional, provincial and city) all over the archipelago. If this were the original intent, then both the AHI and Arescom proposals will fit the bill, since what remains of these agencies post-devolution in 1991 (with the exception of DepEd) are concentrated at the urban centers of the country.

But then somebody decided to include all municipalities into the picture, and when the smoke cleared, tadaaah, only ZTE fits the bill!

2. It is apparent that VOIP calls within the network is the only compelling service -- the killer application, if you will -- that government agencies will derive from project. In this context, having VOIP capabilities will make sense, eliminating the cost of long-distance NDD calls among central and sub-national offices. But then one must ask: how much of the current P4 billion government expenses for telecommunications go to NDD calls? I have a feeling this has been going down, eaten up by spending on mobile communication (which the NBN does not cover).

3. One selling point for the NBN is the connectivity it will bring to the Community e-Centers, giving far-flung communities "affordable access to a variety of services using ICT, such as Internet, e-mail, fax, computer training, distance learning, online services and other kinds of services/information beneficial to the community." In short, an internet cafe in the most distant barangays of the country.

These are fine, but then again, one must ask: is the national government really serious about providing online services to its constituents in these far-flung areas, which is what the CeCs should equally provide as frontline service?

Just check Malacañang's portal for instance. Under online services, the following are available: Passport Application and Renewal; Driver’s License Application and Renewal; Birth, Marriage, Death Certificates; Taxpayer Identification Number; Tax Payments; and Reporting Complaints.

Try them out and what do you find? A dead link for passports, and only one truly online service (NSO's birth, marriage and death certificates) that allows online payment by debit and credit cards, and door-to-door delivery of the certificates applied for. The rest do not involve financial transactions or are merely informational: clients will still need to visit the nearest government branch, deal with government workers, fill up papers forms, pay the required fees, et cetera et cetera. To think that the Philippines passed its E-Commerce law in 2000 yet!

4. Most, if not all, of the discussions thus far have viewed the NBN from the top -- from the point of view of Malacanang and its departments, from Congress and even the Manila-based media. But how about the bottom, or the grassroots if you will?

If many Filipinos anyway seem to prefer trying their luck in foreign shores, isn't it logical that the basic services relative to getting a job abroad -- like passporting and the POEA and OWWA certifications -- should be prioritized for online delivery?

Or if information about job opportunities is critical, these are made available online -- a localized JobsDB.com search services, particularly for seasonal work, easily comes to mind as a potential killer application. Imagine if this is made available to all towns and cities, or even provinces to start with.

5. Finally, if the DepEd remains as the only national government department with presence at the community level, it boggles the mind why Secretaries Lapus and Mendoza did not try to reconcile their respective programs-- as Senator Alan Peter Cayetano correctly pointed out -- and come up with a unified initiative that will focus on distance education as another killer application that will justify the humungous financial requirements of the NBN.

Which is why I do not trust this administration at all.

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