31 January 2007

Wire thieves!

UPDATE (7:07am, Feb 2): Last night's episode of TV Patrol Bikol reported on a similar incident in Legazpi City. That's around 100 kms away from us, which means these incidents are not some random acts of thievery.

JUST when I was getting a hang of the restored phone and internet service at home, opportunistic wire thieves struck either late last night or very early this morning at Km 7 near the Pacol-Ateneo junction, sawed off the newly repaired fiber-optic Bayantel cable connecting Grandview, and apparently took off with a bronze wire connector.

Thus, when I tried logging on at around 5am, our 2-day old phone line was dead again. When my son and I passed by the area, the huge black cable was dangling almost at
mid street. A little past lunch, two Bayantel personnel were already doing the required repair work. One of them has climbed up the pole and was patiently reconnecting the 100 or so wires inside the cable.

I have a hunch that bronze connector is already in the hands of some sleazy junk shop operator in the city. The police better arrest the perpetrators and the junk shops in cahoots with them. Otherwise, this incident will certainly not be the last.


30 January 2007

Return to normalcy

I'VE TAKEN down today the Tabang Naga graphic that used to be in the left column, to signal that normalcy has finally returned to our life, particularly in our little community in Pacol.

As my previous post showed, my internet access at home -- courtesy of Bayantel -- is back since yesterday. So no need to motor down to the city when I need to send emails at night, either from my workplace or through an internet cafe. Avenue Square is out of the question: my notebook PC has refused to boot up for more than a week now, and needs to sent to Manila for repair.

But the recent mornings had been very tough, with extraordinarily cold temperature making my motor trips to the city center and back quite miserable. Data from the city profile showed that in 2002, the lowest recorded temperature reached only 20.3° C. But the graph above -- nicked from Mike Padua's website -- shows we already surpassed last January 25 (at 18.7° C) the coldest temperature registered in February 2006.

And we've yet to enter February, which historically has been the coldest month in Naga.



IT'S ONLY after checking my Technorati link yesterday that I found out, belatedly, that I've been tagged, courtesy of Urbano. So, to celebrate the return of dialup internet connection at home, courtesy of Bayantel's crew which worked on Grandview over the past week, I am indulging myself with the following:

1. Names

Like Urbano, his classmate and fellow blogger Juned, Gabby Bordado, Metro PESO chief Florencio Mongoso, and many other people nicknamed Jun, I am my father's junior.

To most friends, colleagues and acquaintances, I go by my nickname Willy. Only my childhood friends back at Sagrada, Pili call me Larry or Larion -- after my late paternal grandfather Hilarion.

Variously, I am also Nonoy to my mom; 'Nyor to my elders in the family; and Pa, Pappy or Ama to my kids. But I'm leaving my wife out of this.:)

2. Date of Birth

Except sharing the birthday of former Finance Secretary and University of Nueva Caceres (UNC) founder Jaime Hernandez, Sr. -- my alma mater celebrates its Founder's Day every July 11 -- I don't usually give it much attention, owing to the fact that Jehovah's Witnesses do not celebrate this occasion.

But to satisfy my curiousity after seeing similar posts on the subject, I had to google the date, leading me to this Wikipedia entry. Some fascinating findings:

(a) John Quincy Adams (as portrayed by the incomparable Anthony Hopkins in Amistad), Yul Brynner (no further introductions needed for movie buffs like me) and Michael Rosenbaum (the
übercool Lex Luthor of Smallville) were also born on the same date as I was. Give it a decade or two, I will most probably be sporting the same bald pate.

(b) July 11 is the World Population Day, according to the UN. Wickedly unfunny, for one who had become a father two times over than the average Pinoy.

3. Education

Nothing much here, except that my schooling was financed partly or wholly by other people's money. (My parents accounted for the daily expenses of sending me and my two brothers to a private school up to college, which was definitely not easy.)

I finished elementary at Anayan-Sagrada Elementary in Pili, Camarines Sur in 1981. Went to UNC for my high school and college degrees (AB Math, where I met Lynn in a Physics class) from 81-89. A Civil Service scholarship sent me to the Bicol University in Legazpi City from 93-95 where I earned a master's in management. A decade later, a fellowship from the Ford Foundation sent me here, where I earned a second master's degree.

4. Work Experience

In my final year in college, I proofread, and later wrote news articles, for Vox Bikol, a Naga-based weekly, earning my spurs under the tutelage of the late Boboy Ordas and publisher Joe Narvadez, editor Joe Obias and now RTC judge Junet Ayo. Save for some unforgettable humongous gaffes, like misspelling "Luciano Maggay" as "Luciano Laggay" -- authored by the naughty Linotypists at the defunct Balalong Printing Press
along Blumentritt -- I thought I did a decent job.

Right after graduation, Frank Mendoza recruited me to join Vanguard, official publication of the Camarines Sur provincial government which was being edited by the irrepressible Doming Alarkon. I stayed there for one and a half year, before joining the Naga city planning staff in 1991, again taking Frank's cue. Thus, if there is a common denominator in the careers of those in the top echelons of City Hall -- from Mayor Robredo down the line -- it is that we worked for former governor and now 2nd district congressman Luis R. Villafuerte at one point in time.

While studying at BU, I also spent time with the regional office of NEDA in Legazpi as part of the mayor's three-man Naga-based Regional Development Council staff (consisting of Francis Soler, myself and our driver Sandy Zantua). Robredo and the elder and younger Villafuertes all became RDC chairs; in fact, L-Ray is the incumbent chairman since 2004. For those interested, the NEDA staff can be an unbiased source for a comparative study of their respective leadership and management styles.

When Francis went private from 1996-2001, I also joined him and it enabled me to see the air cargo and passenger business up close through the Aboitiz, Air Philippines and Asian Spirit brands. At roughly the same time, I did consulting job -- mostly on urban governance -- under technical assistance projects (notably the Governance and Local Democracy or GOLD project) of the USAID, ADB and the World Bank through alphabet soup third-party outfits like the PBSP and ARD. When the business encountered rough sailing after the Asian financial crisis, I rejoined City Hall in 2001, handling the school board project among others.

5. Hobbies and Pastimes

In my youth, I played basketball and was a PBA fan (Toyota and then San Miguel when the former folded up, avidly following the exploits of Allan Caidic, Samboy Lim, Yves Dignadice and Hector Calma through the pages of the now defunct weekly Sports Flash). I ditched the PBA -- actually a second-rate, trying hard copycat -- when I discovered the NBA, got mesmerized by the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird, Lakers-Celtics rivalry, and marveled at the superhuman feats of Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls. When Jordan retired, I lost zest but in the process diversified my interest, although I don't play the games for obvious reasons -- including American football (am a Green Bay-Brett Favre fan), F1 motor racing (I like the recently retired Michael Schumacher), tennis (Boris Becker and Martina Hingis) and golf (Tiger Woods, of course).

I like to read, but not the really heavy stuff. During the recent Christmas break, I gave the Harry Potter books we have another go -- from Sorcerer's Stone up to the Half-Blood Prince -- in anticipation for the final installment in Jo Rowling's series.

So, having played the game, let me tag Kristian Cordero, Maryanne Moll and Frankie Peñones, for reasons I explained here; and Dave Oliva and Irvin Sto. Tomas -- Bikol bloggers all.


26 January 2007

For a merchant-free Plaza Rizal

I DON'T know if people close to Camarines Sur Gov. L-Ray Villafuerte read this blog. But early this morning, as I passed by on the way to Atlantic Bakery to get our usual fill of pandesal after driving my eldest to school, I was pleasantly surprised to see Plaza Rizal finally rid of the "filth" I talked about here.

I'm not sure this situation will last, because there are reports the stalls that had been desecrating Plaza Rizal disappeared because their contract with the provincial capitol lapsed already. Which means they can easily move back if a new contract is signed, pending resolution of a case filed by the city government that is conveniently gathering cobwebs at the Court of Appeals.

But I think there is a message there somewhere, because Governor Villafuerte could have opted to renew the contract if he wanted to -- and in so doing continue to spite Naga and its government in the process.

But I hope it does, not only because it reinforces the reported split between an outraged father and his "prodigal" son, but because Naga deserves a plaza that, by law, is beyond the commerce of man. As I've said before, L-Ray is bound to score a measure of goodwill, not to mention political points even if Nagueños do not vote for provincial officials. By keeping Plaza Rizal free of merchants, he is differentiating himself from his estranged father who is admittedly well-known but certainly not well-loved like, say, the late Raul Roco.


23 January 2007

Screwing the best laid plans

IT'S a cardinal rule in communication not to write anything while you are mad. I've always tried to religiously follow this rule, and it has served me well. But I will make an exception with this one.

In the Naga school board, we have more or less identified the problems facing public schools. A progress report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Bicol, which took much of my time last December, in fact highlighted one of the major problems: the weak holding power of our public schools.

We have no problem with school children entering Grade I. Our problem lies in ensuring they complete Grade VI. As of last year, only 77 out of every 100 reached Grade VI (cohort survival) and 66 eventually completed elementary (completion). And as a result, we are failing in Goal 2 of the MDGs -- which is to ensure universal access to primary education. Of the 30 or so indicators used to measure these MDGs, it is only in cohort survival and completion that Naga did not do well. (I'll blog about its highlights in a future entry.)

Now, we have come up with a program that precisely seeks to address this gap. Called the Quality Universal Elementary Education in Naga (the QUEEN initiative, for short), it has been adopted and allocated funding by the School Board. A multisectoral effort, the board's role here is to help cover the school and miscellaneous fees of financially distressed households.

And this where the problem starts. Invoking a stupid memo-circular that allegedly limits the activities can be funded out of the Special Education Fund (SEF), the city accountant would rather resort to some complicated sleight-of-hand accounting tricks rather than confront the problem head on.

So, the QUEEN project is hanging, the Board's first resolution of the year effectively waylaid, and 30% of our school children will continue to drop out of school on account of poverty -- simply because some short-sighted bureaucrats are choosing to strictly follow the letter of the law instead of letting its spirit guide government and make it more responsive.

Tonight, I'm writing the mayor a more diplomatic memo. But the long and short of it is: the ball is in his hands.


19 January 2007

Of horns national and local

ARBET of AWBHoldings.com neatly summed up the horns of dilemma that voters will face in the coming May elections. I have said my piece why I think the opposition needs to revisit its slate in a two-days-and-running exchange with John Marzan, which I am finding most enjoyable -- the absence of internet connection at home and the bogged down service at work notwithstanding.

In fact, the last comment I made this morning ended with a wish for statesmanship from Erap -- unlikely to be granted -- that will help destroy the "Erap vs. GMA" frame that the administration has foisted on the opposition. And because that will not probably happen, I find myself firmly in agreement with Oliver's arguments in favor of a putative "third force".

But the administration too has its own horns to contend with, deep within its ranks. For instance, the latest issue of Bicol Mail is not yet online, but its printed version already came out this morning. One of its most interesting articles -- although buried in page 3 -- concerns a manifesto being circulated in the province from the administration alliance between Rep. Luis Villafuerte (2nd district), Felix Alfelor, Jr. (3rd district), Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya, Jr. (formerly of 1st district) and the carpetbagging presidential son Diosdado "Dato" Arroyo (who is being positioned to replace Andaya).

The manifesto is disowning Villafuerte's son L-Ray, the incumbent Camarines sur governor whose reelection bid will no longer be supported by the alliance. Why it came about is explained by this previous post. And the banner article in the Mail's Bikol section says: "GMA iyo an maresolver sa conflicto sa politica kan mag-amang Villafuerte." And when the issue gets online, make sure to read Joe Perez's column entitled "Kronos."


18 January 2007

A quick note on the Iloilo capitol assault

AS I WRITE this, I was hoping Oliver Mendoza already had the inside stories on the PNP assault at the Iloilo provincial capitol that was fortunately staved off by a last-minute 60-day temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the Cebu-based Court of Appeals.

Nonetheless, what we saw in Iloilo is the difference between a grimly determined, politically motivated hit using the courts -- which is what the GMA administration tried to pull off, through the Ombudsman -- and a non-political one -- which is what private interests, in cahoots with the RTC and the Court of Appeals tried to pull off in
Naga, which then Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban fortunately and similarly nipped at the last minute.

GMA-TV public affairs website yesterday had a "breaking news" item about the Ombudsman being ready to dismiss another 200 local officials; unfortunately, I can no longer find the link to that story. But it is clear that these recent dismissals/suspensions of local officials are the shape of things to come -- with a grimly determined and clearly politically motivated DILG (starring Ronaldo Puno and Wencelito Andanar) serving as the administration's attack dogs.

The upside is: people don't easily forget arrogant displays of naked power like what just happened yesterday. That should translate to one of 80 votes needed to impeach GMA in the next House of Representatives.


17 January 2007

3rd Philippine Blogging Summit

THROUGH Davao City Councilor Peter Lavina's blog, I found out that the 3rd Philippine Blogging Summit is slated on April 13 and 14 at UP Diliman. More details can be found here. Will try my best to attend, and meet people I only get to read through the internet.

And I also hope at least one of our city councilors, outgoing and incoming, will give blogging a try, as Councilor Lavina has been doing very admirably.

Come to think of it, how the Sangguniang Panlungsod crafts its policy is one of the least wired aspects of governance in Naga. Yes, it's being covered by the media during Mondays, but there's more to local legislation than the regular sessions.

How about it Councilor Miles, or better still Vice Mayor Gabby Bordado -- a damn good writer who writes poetry to keep his sanity? The 21st century is waiting for you guys.:)


16 January 2007

It's all about choice

THAT Newsbreak story, by way of Manolo, about the opposition still unable to come up with a unified slate is not only expected. If the names being floated to comprise the unity ticket indeed have the inside track, then by all means let's have the so-called "Third Force" running for the Senate.

In a democracy, no matter how imperfect, it's all about choice. And something is very wrong if the voter's choice -- because the political gatekeepers want it so -- is limited to JV Ejercito, Gringo Honasan, Tito Sotto, Tessie Aquino Oreta, Alan Peter Cayetano, and Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III.

JV, Alan Peter and Koko? Why should we send another Ejercito, Cayetano and Pimentel to the Senate? Are these political families so blessed that everyone else should play second fiddle? Why not Randy David, Susan Ople and Oscar Orbos, as John Marzan proposes?

Gringo, Tito and Tessie?
Tinimbang na sila ngunit kulang.

The upcoming Senate election, I think, is not only about about GMA; it's also about the kind of candidates offered as alternative to the administration slate. And all those who will make it who does not belong to her camp, unity ticket or otherwise, will gravitate towards the opposition.

The same thing applies to the administration slate. There is no guarantee that the 30-40% who have remained loyal to GMA through thick and thin will vote for her slate lock, stock and barrel.


15 January 2007

Prepaid load shaving at Globe: Reloaded

LAST SATURDAY (Jan 13) however came a worse nightmare: When I checked its balance, the credit remaining in that particular prepaid account has gone down to a few centavos over P6 and more than 180 free messages. Seventeen days earlier (Dec 18), it still had more than P600 plus more than 200 free messages; the text message from Globe is still in the cellphone's Inbox.

Now, my eldest son Ezekiel had been using that prepaid account since I arrived from Vancouver last November 30. He calls me and his mom sparingly, and only when there is need to; I usually do the calling, as my consumable postpaid account allows me to. He definitely is not the
telebabad type. He might have downloaded a tune or two, plus a game to boot, but there is simply no way that these would add up to P600.

So, what do we have here? (1) A case of clear load shaving, insofar as this prepaid experience with Globe is concerned. (2) Which points to a problem in its system, which can be (a) a technical glitch, i.e. the actual Globe service delivery does not match what Citibank offers; or (b) worse, that sleaze is at play, the system is compromised and some people are actually skimming off loads from unsuspecting customers.

Now, imagine if my experience were not an exception but the rule -- one that extends to a small subset of Citibank credit cardholders who had the misfortune of reloading our phones using a faulty service; or worse, a bigger group of prepaid subscribers who had the misfortune of buying the compromised prepaid SIM cards sold nationwide, in case scenario 2(b) proves to be at play.

Either way, what we have here is lousy service that corporate giants have been foisting on its hapless customers. This will go on unchecked unless we complain and seek redress.


Prepaid load shaving at Globe: The lame excuse

IN SO many words, the lady CSR from Globe told me that (1) their engineers have investigated my complaint; and (2) found nothing wrong from their end.

They attributed the load shaving incident to the probability that the automated Citibank Reloading service might have loaded ten successive P100 amounts, bringing about the P1,000 total. Inasmuch as a P100 credit expires in 18 days (probably 8, as the line was fuzzy), then the amount credited my prepaid account did expire naturally. And therefore poor me, for not using it within the prescribed period.

Unaware of what the fine print of Citibank's reloading service is, I conceded that the scenario is probable but is patently unfair. I told her I am not happy with the situation. It was at this point that I requested her to email me her report.

Unfortunately for her, the Globe engineers, and whoever came up with that lame excuse, the last line in the footnote to the Citibank link above contains the following:

Expiration of Load is 60 days.


Prepaid load shaving at Globe: The complaint

LAST FRIDAY (Jan 12), a lady customer service representative from Globe Telecoms finally managed to track me down at around 9am, updated me of a complaint I followed up made through their CSR website a week back, and promised to email me a written report.

As of this writing, I have yet to get that report, which should describe Globe's attempt to explain more than P300 worth of prepaid load that mysteriously disappeared into thin air, which I complained about at their Naga office sometime in December. The following is what I sent through their website last January 5 at around 3pm:

I would like to follow up my complaint regarding load shaving involving my other prepaid number - 0906478XXXX. I have previously reported this to your Naga office, and was requested to specify the period during which the load shaving took place.

For your reference, I loaded that number last Nov 20, 2006 with P1000 credit using my Citibank credit card, under Transaction No. 167156. I was supposed to bring it with me to Canada, but failed to do so and left it at home. Which is why I had to purchase another prepaid SIM at your Sucat office -- 926645XXXX.

When I came back 10 days later, the available balance went down by around P300 in spite of the fact that it was hardly used at all.

I hope something can be done about it.

Four minutes later, I fired the following suggestion:
I think it is in the best interest of your prepaid subscribers, and Globe too insofar as transparency and good corporate governance, that they be given the ability to see call details and other charges being debited to their account.

It can be a paid service just like Smart, which charged P5 per inquiry at the time. (I don't know if they still offer it, but they had it when I was still a subscriber before I switched to Globe 20 months ago.)


12 January 2007

It's that funny, relieving feeling

IT'S A great relief to be able to blog again.

Having finally disposed of some backlog, including that project proposal for the Canada Fund, and some personal obligations to boot, I was quite hesitant, even afraid to, start pushing the keyboard keys again to write the previous post an hour ago.

That funny feeling comes especially when the gaps between posts become an embarassing yawn. It's akin to being wakened from a long, deep slumber. And actually rising up from bed because it's time.

By the way, I'm happy that Rene Sanapo, my friend and mentor on the practice of local governance, and Cebu's gift to
promdis like us, is now blogging.


Too real to be 'drama'?

THE LAKAS vs. Kampi bloodletting has reached local shores, and none other than the blood of the Villafuertes' own allies will be spilled -- and probably including their own eventually -- if the bruited 'political drama' proves to be real.

Second district Rep. Luis R.
Villafuerte, president of Kampi (GMA's political party), locally known here as LRV and lately "Cong Ass" in the aftermath of the failed House coup, is now spewing vitriol against the Provincial Capitol, where his son Luis Raymond aka L-Ray (Lakas) is now holding sway. There are even unconfirmed reports saying that out of pique, he is now willing to finance former Naga city mayor and congressman Sulpicio "Cho" Roco, Jr. -- the late Raul Roco's brother whom he beat in 2004, and will likely face again in a rematch -- to run against L-Ray instead.

It appears L-Ray has developed too much liking for the Capitol -- considering that it is where the P300-million plus Camarines Sur Watersports Complex, his pet project (and favorite playground) is located -- that he has begun to defy his father's wishes.

Scuttlebutt has it that the elder
Villafuerte wants to retake his old post (which L-Ray inherited in 2004 after being term limited), but his son, backed up by wife and Monetary Board member Nelly Favis-Villafuerte, would have none of it. Mrs. Villafuerte, for some reasons we can only second guess, wants her hubby to spend more time in Metro Manila as congressman and as less time as possible in Camarines Sur.

L-Ray, deftly using the Capitol's
largesse and the powers of the governorship, has built up his own political machinery independent of his father's, consisting mostly of former allies who have switched loyalties and are now swearing fealty to the son, and no longer the father. Exhibit "A" would easily be Vice Gov. Salvio Fortuno, who will leave Capitol to run against incumbent Rep. Felix "Nancing" Alfelor, Jr. (LRV's close ally) in the 3rd congressional district of the province.

Previously, L-Ray also fired many of his father's alleged 15-30 "consultants," a move that is said to have triggered the rift and incensed the father to no end.

How this will play out eventually will be known by March 29, last day of filing of candidacies for local posts. Its effect on the widely expected candidacy of presidential son and carpetbagger
Dato Arroyo in the 1st district -- a sellout which LRV has cobbled up, with the willing participation of DBM Secretary and former 1st district representative Rolando Andaya, Jr., so that Dato can presumably run unopposed -- is another interesting development to watch out.

What will quickly convince me though that this 'political drama' is not contrived but really for real is if L-Ray unilaterally cleans up the "filth" on Plaza Rizal that he inherited from his father, and has thus far stayed -- in the process redeeming himself, and earning a measure of goodwill from the people of


05 January 2007

Two fathers exchanging notes

WHILE we were meeting with Mayor Robredo this morning, Frank Mendoza, the primus inter pares in the city management team, being the city administrator and acting budget officer at the same time, managed to exchange some quick notes on fathering with me.

Told that I brought my wife to her OB-Gyne yesterday -- the second straight day she saw her -- because of high blood pressure, Frank asked if I already brought her to
May Erming, an auntie of his wife Weng, and our own extended family, relatives and and friends' parahilot of choice.

I said I did not, and regretted not having insisted on bringing my wife to her. She said Weng had no other choice but to go through the motions. Talk about a veteran forgetting the basics, and being reminded, gently, by the newbie. (Frank, you see, had his first child -- a girl -- about two months ago.) My friend Tacio, Erming's nephew and Weng's cousin, has a funny Bikolano phrase for it:
"Gurang nang komedyante, nasuwi sa entablado." ("A veteran comedian tumbles down on stage.")

If I still recall my mom's instruction right after visiting our Pili home after Lynn gave birth, it involves being fixed (
"sinusulit") by May Erming, a quite lengthy elaborate body massage using some select local herbs, within seven days after childbirth. During which time, she should also religiously drink pamasma, a concoction of anonang, plus some wild vines and roots that I don't know about -- but my wife knows -- that my mother sent us. And it is only after those seven days that she can take a bath.

Now, I have deep respect for this tradition, this local knowledge built up and handed down through generations, because they have served us well. And my gut tells me there is method to it that deserves serious study. Lynn is feeling much better now, but this episode reminded us of some things we often take for granted.