31 May 2007

The ruckus about our languages

YESTERDAY, I spoke twice before a 13-person group of visiting Afghan local officials, who will be here in Naga until tomorrow. Their trip is being coordinated by the Gerry Roxas Foundation, in partnership with the Ateneo de Naga University Center for Local Governance.

From their faces and reactions, our visitors were quite excited about our little urban democracy project. From time to time, they will cut my explanations short while discussing the most suitable of our canned powerpoint slides, and through their very efficient interpreters inquire as to how innovative schemes like the Naga City People's Council actually work.

But the exchanges would have been more effective, satisying and fulfilling if the language barrier did not exist; there was just too much to share and discuss, at half of the little time available. In occasions like this, one can really feel blessed that Filipinos in general are able to speak and write in English.

But for the most part, I agree with the position taken by the plaintiffs who have haled President Arroyo and his subalterns to court in regard to the controversial Executive Order No. 210; among the complainants is Abdon Balde, Jr., one of the more prominent Bikol writers who is currently Manila-based. My take on this issue is borne out of my limited experience.

1. The use of vernacular in the early grades. My eldest daughter Sofie, who will be Grade IV when schools open on Monday, only learned to read -- after failing to do so in two years of preschooling -- when her mother took matter into her own hands.

Before enrolling in Grade I, Lynn patiently taught her how to read the syllables of our Bikol Bible during the summer. When Sofie finally saw through the underlying logic, the transition to the mostly Tagalog-based Filipino language later in the year was quite painless. It was a little difficult with English, but in no time she started reading the English part of the bilingual Lola Basyang tales I bought her from National Bookstore. By the time she reached Grade III, she already reads and writes in all three languages quite well.

My wife largely used the same approach with Pep, our pusong mamon of a daughter, who is entering Grade I this school year. While she is more into singing, dancing and the latest fashion trends, Pep can now read a little of Bikol and Filipino, again using the traditional ba-be-bi-bo-bu approach that served her parents well. This also makes her a better speller, handling monosyllabic English words with ease.

Our experience therefore dovetails with this paragraph from the SC petition:

In 1998, the results of a World Bank/ADB education research demonstrate that the use of the vernacular in the first years of school provides the necessary bridge for a child to learn a second language (in this case Filipino or English), and that children are less likely to drop out of school during the first years of school when instruction is in the language spoken at home.
2. How national policy is implemented on the ground. This is where I will differ with DJB when he said "they (public school teachers) have known all that all along and OF COURSE use whatever language is required to communicate with first grade pupils."

My firsthand experience with the DepEd does not support that assertion. The department has a paradoxical culture that is (1) on one hand rigidly centralized, where all major decisions and/or activities must be backed by an order or a memo, which explains the "department-of-order-and-memo" label that outsiders append to it, and (2) on the other hand very much prone to filtering, where local interpretation of orders downloaded from the top can be so twisted it will produce results different from the center's original intentions.

Applied to DepEd Order No. 36, series of 2006, I was not surprised when I saw Kara David's TV report in the GMA primetime newscast 24 Oras: a public school teacher she interviewed interpreted the new order as a mandate to use English as the medium of instruction starting from Grade I. And I will not fault her: EO 210 is GMA's response to the worsening quality of English proficiency in the country; it is very easy for that teacher to overconnect the dots and produce the unintended consequence in the process.

That thinking, unfortunately and I am afraid, will not serve our first-graders well, including my daughter Pep.


CPA acquires turboprops, eyes Bicol expansion

ONE NEWS item that generated very little attention here, but one which will greatly impact the Bicol tourism market in the next few years is budget carrier Cebu Pacific Airway's move to acquire up to 14 brandnew turboprops from the French aviation company Avions de Transport Regional (ATR).

This Inquirer story lifted from an Agence France-Presse report is rather staid; the official press release at the Cebu Pacific website fills in the gap.

But the significance of the move is explained by Philippine Star business columnist Boo Chanco here. The choice cuts relevant to us:

When Lance Gokongwei announced Cebu Pacific’s acquisition of 14 new ATR turboprop planes with seating of up to 74 passengers, he mentioned the airline’s desire to cover more of the nearly 70 airports in the country. Only 25 of these airports are capable of handling the new Airbus 320s that they are now using for domestic and regional routes...

But Boracay isn’t the only new destination with a small airport that Cebu Pacific is looking at. Lance wants to put up regular flights to Siargao, the so-called surfing capital of the Philippines. He is also looking at a number of destinations in Bicol and the Visayas where it is not economical or technically feasible to use the big Airbuses. What Lance dreams of is nothing short of developing new Boracays all over the country. (Italics mine)
This is a breakthrough that the province and the city should take advantage of; this early, it makes sense for the Camarines Sur provincial and Naga city governments, jointly or independently, to convince Cebu Pacific to prioritize Naga airport in Pili among the destinations for its six firm aircraft orders.

The background info and technical specs on the ATR 72-500 turboprop is available here. Among others, it says this new generation aircraft -- which came into service 10 years ago -- can land and takeoff on a runway as short as 1,079 meters. That would be perfect for Naga Airport's 1,402 meters.

If the Gokongwei-owned carrier decides to enter Naga by early next year when the first of these are delivered, that will surely be a boon to local air travelers; airfares will expectedly go down once the Lucio Tan-owned Air Philippines gets a much needed competition.

And while jet service has become the standard in air travel these days, a brand-new turboprop will just be as good. Why, even KLM still uses the good old Fokker 50s for its city hopper service to key European destinations out of its Amsterdam Schiphol hub; in fact, that's what we used to connect to and from Cologne during our recent NPM seminar.

Actually, come to think of it, what the city and the province need today is not really a new airport (although for the long-term, we should seriously reconsider a longer runway, along the lines of the proposed reorientation project that farmers and vested interests shot down). It is more flight frequency and more competition in the air passenger market. At its peak, the local market can easily support two ATR flights -- one early in the morning and another late in the afternoon. Which means one will be able to fly in and out of Naga, and vice versa, saving visitors hotel bills in the process.

Lufthansa ATR 72-500s awaiting takeoff in Frankfurt, Germany. Photo nicked from Airliners.net


30 May 2007

The tragedy of Bikolandia

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

ONE OF the most fascinating lectures that we managed to arrange for the visiting graduate students from the University of British Columbia was one we never actually expected: it was leading Bikolano historian Danilo Gerona’s talk last Friday (May 18) on the Philippine and Bikol situation.

I saw Danny at Mister Donut in E-Mall the previous afternoon and still without a resource person on the topic, which is supposed to provide the larger context to the governance in Naga, I managed to cajole him to take on the offer. When I introduced him to the 30 or so UBC and Ateneo students at the audiovisual room of the Bicol Science and Technology Centrum the following morning, he was still unclear on what exactly his topic was.

But speaking off the cuff and with fire in his belly, Danny painted a breathtaking historical account of why Bicol has always been the odd-one out in Luzon, destroying a number of myths in the process.

One of these is the mistaken notion of self-sufficiency during the Spanish times, owing to the country’s rich natural resources. It is actually the opposite, Gerona said, explaining that Spain, through the famed Manila-Acapulco galleon trade, has actually subsidized its colonial operations here, to the point that they almost decided to give it up. Only the opportunity of christianizing China and Japan, using Manila as springboard, tilted the balance towards staying put. Today, one can argue that OFW remittances are effectively subsidizing Philippine society’s continuing viability and keeping our economy afloat.

Over a century ago, he added, Bicol is the richest region in the entire country, and Albay its richest province, owing mainly to abaca, which, together with sugar and tobacco, are the Philippine islands’ top three exports. No wonder, the website of the Tigaon municipal government calls the American occupation its golden years when the local principalia -- the Ceas, Molls, Gachitorenas and Fuentebellas -- contested political power, not only in the town but also at the provincial level.

Fast forward to the present, and those years become memories buried in the pages of local history books. And while the rest of Luzon belongs to the upper half of the country’s progressive regions, Bicol has been languishing at the bottom, in the company of war-torn areas in Muslim Mindanao.

Come to think of it, the tragedy of Bicol region lies in the continuing exploitation of its resources to fuel development elsewhere, without minding the need to develop local industries around these raw materials. For instance, not even one of the companies in the DA directory of abaca fiber processors and exporters is based in the region. (To its credit, Negros at least had its “sugar barons” who became a potent economic and political force in the country; all we had are the political dynasties who lorded it over Bikol for the past 100 years.)

First, it was the fabulous gold in the Paracale mines in Camarines Norte which attracted the Spanish conquistador Juan de Salcedo, followed by abaca in Camarines Sur and Albay from 1850 up the 1930s, and the geothermal resources of Tiwi from the 1970s up to the present. A more insidious form of exploitation, which Ateneo de Naga president Fr. Joel Tabora adverted to in his opening remarks, is the continuing brain drain that saps our human capital: unable to provide opportunities to the region’s best and brightest minds today, they end up fueling the growth of economies in Metro Manila and other parts of the world.

The persistence of this enduring tragedy makes me pause: is the cause of Bicol development then a case of what the French call "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose" -- that the more things change, the more they remain the same?


28 May 2007

Knowing ourselves better

EVER SINCE I joined Google Adsense and placed some ads in this weblog, I never fail to notice why of all things, an Indian dating site keeps on appearing quite persistently, to the point it has become annoying.

Nonetheless, since the images are being fed directly by Adsense, and there is nothing I can do about it aside from taking them down, I have learned to live with them. But the why part remains a mystery.

Until I added the new widget Google Newsreel about 10 days ago, plugging in "Naga" and "Bicol" as filters for news search, renaming it "Newswires," and placing it at the lower part of my right sidebar.

For most of last week, only one of the four Naga-related news articles actually concerned my city; the rest concerns a bigger Naga, comprising of close to 2 million inhabitants of a northeastern Indian state known as Nagaland, which sits at the subcontinent's border with Myanmar. Today, all four stories concerned goings on in that state, including their own version of American Idol!

After clicking on the links, and researching some more on the topic, the following information are striking:

  • Nagaland is 90% christian, one of the only three with predominantly christian population and the only one where they account for more than 90% of the total population. Of the total, 75% are Baptists, much more than the US state of Mississippi where only 52% of the people belong to that faith.
  • Their major city, Dimapur, has a population of around 110,000 in 2001. Its name is loosely translated as "the city near the great river."
  • The Nagas are currently engaged in an effort towards self-determination, a struggle that dates back to 1946, a year ahead of the more well-known Kashmiri problem that continues to roil Indian and Pakistani relations; and
  • The Naga people of Nagaland are said to have believed themselves to be descendants of the mythological "Nāgas", but to have lost this belief due to Christian missionary activity.
If you come to think of it, our beginnings, as reflected in the ancient name of our city, probably derive from our links with these river-dwelling peoples -- as the late Ateneo de Naga president Raul Bonoan pointed out -- than the narra tree, which is what conventional wisdom led us to believe.


Digicams for the quick, parallel count

DEAN JORGE Bocobo of Philippine Commentary asks: "Can the big idea behind Namfrel be saved?" This question becomes relevant particularly because for the first time since I can remember, Namfrel always finishes its quick count first. But no, not this election.

In response, I will put forward the idea of using a cameraphone to do the trick and save the Namfrel count, which, under the scheme being proposed by DJB, will no longer be a quickcount but a parallel count for verification.

Actually, before leaving home for office, where I wrote and uploaded this previous post, I took a picture of the 2nd copy of the Election Return, which was posted at the precinct for 48 hours after the elections and my wife retrieved later for submission to the Comelec. You may want to click on the picture and see it for yourselves.

But some personal observations:

1. A 2-megapixel cameraphone will not do the trick. I used my Nokia 6288 for the purpose, and the resulting image is not up to par. Probably cameraphones with a 4-MP and above capability will handle the job better.

2. The information written by the poll clerk (2nd member of the BEI) is not legible. The seven copies of the ERs are carbonized so that information to be plugged into the forms need only to be written once. If the data source were the first copy -- where the poll clerk wrote the data directly -- and not duplicates, the information should be more readable and useful for a parallel count.

3. A digital camera may actually be the better option. Constrained by current levels of wireless technologies , the use of a digital camera instead of cameraphones makes sense. Why? Because 3G and 3.5G may not be in place nationwide, preventing the use of email on-site to transmit the digital images of ERs untouched and without filesize reduction.

Namfrel volunteers, equipped with digital cameras of a minimum specification (which concerned citizens and community organizations can easily make available for the purpose), can take shots of the 1st copy of the ER in addition to their usual watchdog functions, consolidate these at the town center where broadband internet is probably available, and email results for national positions (i.e. senators and party-list) to their central headquarters in Manila.

These precinct-level primary data can then be encoded manually for Namfrel's parallel national count in Manila. On the other hand, parallel quick counts for local positions at Namfrel's municipal/city and provincial levels can be based on images of the remaining ERs.

But how acceptable and valid can these images be? Can they not be hijacked by vested interests whose intention is actually to substitute their own for the real will of the people spoken through the ballot?

Well, in a low-trust society like ours, everything is possible. But I will pay strict attention to when the data was created and transmitted. From our experience, the ER is usually accomplished by around midnight; the digital image should then be created around that time and transmitted no later than 7 am, 24 full hours after the polling precincts opened the day before.

And I guess we have no other choice but to trust someone. On this, we will have to trust Namfrel and their partners: two weeks after the May 14 elections, I think they, as a whole, have done what it takes to repair their badly damaged reputation in 2004 when "Hello, Garci!" ruled the day.


Plaza Quezon to Plaza Arejola?

THE HECTIC morning sessions we arranged for the visiting UBC students the whole of last week proved too taxing I had to take a breather the last few days; this week, most of them will be off to gather data for their research, culminating with a public presentation on June 6 and 7.

But yesterday and the other day, what attracted my attention is the on-going information campaign being undertaken by the Naga City Council for Culture and the Arts in regard of the proposal to change the name of Plaza Quezon to Plaza Arejola, in honor of the Bikol and Naga revolutionary Gen. Ludovico Arejola. In an earlier post, I wrote this

Bikol Reporter bats for changing Plaza Quezon's name to Plaza Arejola, arguing that the name change affirms "that Naga today loves not Quezon less but it loves Arejola more and it resolved to give...honor long due him." Its columnist behind "Ini an Totoo" seconds the motion. Lawyer Luis Ruben General however vehemently disagrees in a letter to the editor that appeared in the Bicol Mail two weeks back, and still unavailable online. General argues the city should leave Plaza Quezon alone, in honor of the former president who helped crystallize the concept of nationhood during his tenure.
Yesterday, local historian and journalist Jose Fernando Obias explained there is a pending measure in the Sangguniang Panlungsod, and before a final decision is made, the Arts and Culture Council was directed to disseminate information on the matter through all media outlets, with the end view of starting a local debate on the matter.

Backing the advocacy are Minalabac folks who also support the idea. Previously, I was surprised why non-Naga residents are actually at the forefront of this effort; when Joe spoke in the city government radio program An Naga Ngonian last Saturday, it turned out General Arejola, who led the defense of Ambos Camarines against the invading Americans, made his last stand at sitio Mata in Minalabac town.

Joe O, who joined me yesterday morning in Joe Grageda's Todo Libre show at DZGE, intimated that some members of the current council, whose term will end on June 30, 2007, are not too keen on the name change. But Kabikolan, an advocacy group of which he is a leading light, is hoping the new council will be more open to the idea.

I am strongly sympathetic to their advocacy. It is about writing and rewriting our own history from our own perspectives, and it will start with elevating freedom fighters like General Arejola in a local pantheon of heroes where they should properly belong.


23 May 2007

Notes on automating our elections

YESTERDAY, I made a number of comments on Dean Jorge Bocobo's fascinating entry on automating of elections. Essentially, Dean's arguments center on the use of cellphones to transmit results from the precinct to a central level, which would allow faster tabulation of results, especially for national contests.

In a way, it differs from Ruben Canlas's proposal which is centered on internet voting, and Jester-in-Exile's very detailed two-part description of a fully automated voting system found here and here. And I find myself agreeing to its underlying logic for practical reasons. Some notes are in order:

1. CELLPHONES. From our experience in managing Naga's i-Governance Program, the use of cellphones as a preferred communications medium was a deliberate choice. Applied to voting, it has the following advantages:

a. Higher penetration rate. Mobiles phones are more ubiquitous compared to internet PCs; last year, we have already reached 45%. The digital divide, I think, the main problem of an internet voting system.

b. Low-power consumption. Cellphones do not really need 24/7 power supply, making it ideal to even rural precincts. A major constraint lies in the coverage areas of our telcos, but then again, satellite phones can pretty much address this gap.

c. Faster transmission. SMS messages, consisting mainly of text, will transmit to a central node faster, compared to graphical data such as images of ERs generated by digital camera or camera phones.

2. LOW-TRUST SOCIETY. As Canlas said, there will be resistance to the deployment of a fully automated system. The reason behind it, according to Fernando Fajardo, lies in our being a low-trust society.

We just cannot imagine that the one in charge of the computers to be used during election will not cheat. Therefore, we spent a lot of time in Congress figuring out the best tamper-proof computer or program to use during elections. The worst part came during the bidding of the election computerization project conducted by this administration before the 2004 election. We know now it was grossly overpriced and suffered from many defects that made the system unworkable and unacceptable.
A middle ground would be to use the existing precinct-based manual appreciation and tallying of votes, as Dean proposes, and use ICT tools to facilitate the transmission of results to Comelec-Manila for national posts, and to both the municipal/city and provincial Comelec offices for local contests.

Yes, it will not do away with the violent incidents -- the Taysan schoolbuilding burning, for instance -- that we saw last May 14. But a faster count will do away with the anxiety and opportunities for fraud that have characterized the period from May 15 up to this writing.

Yes, teachers will continue to be involved, but then again, it has its own plus and minuses. The disadvantage lies in time and again exposing teachers to a task that is not part of their regular duties. But in a low-trust society like ours, who do we trust better than our teachers? According to observations, the precinct count has largely been more honest; it is when results are brought up to higher levels, and lawyers start getting into the act, that the process becomes messy.

We have our 3rd session with the UBC students coming up in 10 minutes, so I'm cutting this short here. But I will explore the use of cameraphones in my next post.


22 May 2007

What the May 14 election results mean

NOW THAT both the Comelec and Namfrel counts have breached the halfway mark, I will venture to put forward the following observations on the election results in the context of Naga and Bikol.

1. THE LOCAL SCENE. These news stories via Manila Standard and Balita confirm the fact that President Arroyo's Team Unity candidates have dominated the local races, in spite of national media attention given to 'Abang' Mabulo (who lost his congressional bid) and Mayor Jesse Robredo (who beat back the Comelec-endorsed citizenship challenge launched by his opponent).

What does it mean to Naga? One, the Robredo administration clearly maintains a solid mandate from city residents; for the most part, it should be enough as the city has largely survived on its own -- even in the face of natural calamities -- without any support from the national government.

But two, it is effectively isolated, ringed by winning congressmen who mostly belong to the pro-administration parties. What I am worried about is the renewed brazenness that the Kampi stalwarts of reelected 2nd District Rep. Luis Villafuerte -- headed by his older son Bong -- in the recent attempts to impose their will.

The fate of the 15 Naga policemen accused by their superiors of alleged drug links -- Bong's handiwork according to his estranged brother LRay, who also won a landslide victory over his father's preferred candidate -- is a shape of things to come.

But I have a strong feeling this display of bravado betrays a feeling that the tide is actually turning, as Billy Esposo points out; what we are seeing are really opportunistic attempts to gain a beachhead in Naga while they still can. Because in 2010, they will no longer be as powerful, they won't have these same chances, and the roles can actually be reversed.

Luis Villafuerte will have been three years older; with the exception of LRay, nobody else from the clan appears ready to assume the mantle, most definitely not Bong and probably not even Jojo.

2. THE NATIONAL SCENE. What Fr. Ed Panlilio pulled off in Pampanga foreshadows a cataclysm that will, after political forces are realigned in the runup to 2010, swamp most administration bets.

The Senate race indicates the ugly national mood. I am not sorry that Joker Arroyo (fighting for one of the last three slots) and Ralph Recto (out of the Magic 12 as I write this) are doing badly.

Had he resisted Ate Glue's wicked charms to underscore his independent maverick persona, Joker would have easily made it to the Top 5. The same would have held for Ralph, whose decision to ditch the opposition actually allowed the overachieving Antonio Trillanes to join GO and make his phenomenal run possible.

Finally, if the current standings hold until the end, Bicol will end up having four senators: Escudero, Honasan, Arroyo and Trillanes. This would improve on the previous record when Roco, Tatad and Honasan served in the Senate from 1995-98.

It will guarantee that Bicol will have a fair shake in national policymaking; but it will not ensure that regional development will be accelerated to lift it up from the bottom of the standings.


21 May 2007

Scenes from a high-drama denouement

IT TOOK a gutsy, decisive decision by Naga City Comelec registrar Maico Julia to finally put a close to the tension-filled election canvass here.

Lito del Rosario, chief of the Public Safety Office, said Attorney Julia bravely stood his ground and decided to proclaim the winning Team Naga slate, amidst the opposing position taken by his two other colleagues at the City Board of Canvassers.

I asked Lito to narrate what transpired after seeing pictures shared to me by photographer Randy Villaflor. Take note in the photo above that Vice Mayor Gabby Bordado (in red shirt) is close to tears as his hands, together with that of Mayor Robredo and Councilor William del Rosario (left), were finally raised by Julia.

Earlier, with the tally finally finished affirming what has long been public knowledge, the opposing counsels for Team Naga and Kampi were asked to present their closing arguments, Lito said. Then, each member of the canvassers' board were then allowed to say their piece.

City prosecutor Romeo Tayo started out by disputing all arguments made by Team Naga counsel P. Gerardo Borja in favor of immediate proclamation. Julia followed suit, and explained why he is in favor of proclaiming the winners and putting finis to the whole proceedings.

DepEd acting superintendent Evangeline Palencia (speaking on the mike, with Tayo by her side) then showed her true colors, finally confirming allegations behind her surprise transfer to the Naga schools division: she sided with Tayo and favored delaying the proclamation until the issue on Robredo's citizenship is resolved by Comelec. That was met by loud booing and jeering from the pro-Robredo crowd that filled the Sanggunian session hall.

It is at this point that Julia, actually outnumbered 2-1, made his decisive, tide-turning move. Invoking Comelec rules that prevent canvassers from entertaining such issues in pre-proclamation cases, he manifested his intent to go ahead with the proclamation, to the delight of the crowd. The last picture captures a beaming Robredo and his relieved supporters celebrating the breakthrough.

According to Lito, truncheon-wielding riot policemen, as Manolo texted me, were actually positioned at the City Hall premises, effectively increasing the initial platoon three days back to three truckloads of Legazpi-based Regional Mobile Group (RMG) personnel. It appeared that the game plan calls for trouble to erupt, for the RMG to step in and halt the canvassing, and set the stage for its transfer to a more Kampi-friendly venue, probably the provincial capitol in neighboring Pili town.

In fact, there were attempts to precisely provoke a confrontation, right outside the Sanggunian hall itself, but the Team Naga partisans kept their composure and did not take the bite.

When Julia crossed his Rubicon, the die was cast and the rest was history. Tayo and Palencia abruptly left afterwards, and were no longer around when Julia raised the winners' hands. (This morning, Jojo Villafuerte was still taking issue with Julia's decision in radio interviews; Palencia on the other hand claims she did not really walk out.) Their departure also signalled the Kampi partisans and the RMG troopers it was time to go home and call it a day.

Yesterday's issue of Manila Bulletin carried this story that, among others, contains Comelec chair Benjamin Abalos's position on pre-proclamation protests. Julia, who had to resist tremendous pressure from relatives and overlords in the Kampi party during the entire five-day proceedings, has been right all along.


20 May 2007

A separate Bikol grid?

WHAT Bikolano politicians failed to do over all these years, Typhoons Milenyo and Reming finally made real.

Lost in the heat of the ongoing election canvassing is this Inquirer story about Napocor's intention to set up dedicated power plants in the Bicol region. This statement by Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla deserves a closer look:

"Napocor is ready to do islanding operations in Bicol. We're working with Chevron in (the Tiwi geothermal plant) to ensure that the facilities there will not be as easily damaged by typhoons as in the past. It's very important for us to work on these things," he said.
Are "islanding operations" the same as having a separate Bicol grid? If it is, has Napocor abandoned the one-grid-one-price policy that the Ramos administration used to stymie earlier efforts to set up an independent Bicol grid separate from the rest of Luzon? I'm not sure; maybe Mamutong can give us the lowdown.

What are the upsides? The story mentioned having a dedicated power source for the area "would make Bicol less prone to transmission-related power outages during the typhoon season."

To that, I will also add improved utilization of the Tiwi geothermal resources. This concern was raised by newly reelected Tiwi Mayor Jaime "Ami" Villanueva during our Synergeia LCE retreat: the EPIRA law has effectively sidelined the Tiwi geothermal outputs, owing to the preference being given to independent power producers (IPPs) with whom the national government and the power retailers have long-term purchase agreements. As a result, Tiwi LGU's revenue from the geothermal facilities it is hosting have significantly gone down.

With the effective separation of Bicol from the Luzon grid, relatively cheap geothermal power from Tiwi and Bac-Man plants will mainly, if not wholly, supply mainland Bicol's needs. Of course, another lingering problem are the unacceptably high system losses by electric cooperatives in the region, which this other Inquirer story highlighted; but that is a separate issue that must be dealt with at the distribution level.

What I am afraid of is their effective monopoly position, which begs the question: Will a deregulated electric power industry made possible by the EPIRA law allow end-users to finally benefit from this indigenous energy resource?


19 May 2007

Turning against their very own

ANOTHER prominent election-related sidelight that has yet to grab national attention concerns the plight of 15 members of Naga's Finest -- the local police force -- who suffered injustice at the hands of their very own superiors, Camarines Sur Provincial Director Romeo Mapalo and OIC Regional Director Agnanayon Tira.

These two Bicol Mail exclusives -- one on the deployment of the RMG personnel at City Hall, and the other on the abrupt pullout of the 15 local policemen from their post last May 12 -- confirm Mayor Robredo's accusation that the PNP has allowed itself to be used by powerful politicians to serve their ends.

It will be recalled that Camarines Sur Gov. LRay Villafuerte has long been calling for Mapalo's relief for his failure to contain jueteng, whose continued operation he attributed to his own kins. Tira was also installed on Rep. Luis Villafuerte's behest, finally replacing former RD Padilla who complained of being caught in the father-and-son conflict.

The latter story details how the policemen were suddenly taken to Legazpi on allegations they are involved in the illicit drug trade. All of them however turned up negative after being subjected to a drug test. But the damage on their reputations has been done; one even suffered hypertension because of the development, and had to be confined at the Naga City Primary Hospital.

This quote highlights Mapalo and Tira's
highhandedness towards their subordinate officers:

Afuera pa kaini si personal na mga kagamitan kabali na an cellphone kan mga polis pig-confiscar ngani sanang dai maka-apod tulos sa saindang familia o abogado nganing maghagad nin tabang. (Additionally, their personal effects, including cellphones of the policemen, were confiscated to prevent them from immediately calling their family or lawyers for help.)
The story also mentions that Mayor Robredo has filed a habeas corpus case on behalf of the local policemen, in view of their continued detention at the PNP Regional Office in Legazpi City.

With the negative drug test results, local radio reports also cited Mapalo's effort to wiggle out of the situation, this time involving the illegal pullout of a detainee at the Naga District Jail in barangay Del Rosario, without the benefit of a court order. Said detainee has now executed an affidavit implicating some of the involved police personnel.

With this development, I am not be surprised why public belief in police neutrality is lower in the rest of Luzon (53%) than the national average (59%). In the aftermath of this sickening development, I am pretty it will even be much lower in this part of the Bicol region.


'Somos' latest failed stab

PCIJ'S Alecks Pabico has the lowdown on how Mayor Robredo's Team Naga was finally proclaimed at around 1 am this morning, after a platoon of PNP Regional Mobile Group members suddenly grew to three truckloads yesterday afternoon.

Towards the right flank of the main City Hall building up to the fence, infront of the Sangguniang Panlungsod session hall where canvassing is taking place, placard-bearing partisans of losing Kampi mayoralty bet Jojo Villafuerte suddenly appeared by noontime yesterday.

When I did a quick round of the grounds, I saw losing Kampi sanggunian bet Emilio Aguinaldo, who has made a career of filing cases against Robredo after joining the Villafuertes, herding their partisans, whose placards contained the same tired issues raised by Jojo during the campaign, which the electorate soundly rejected last May 14 by a 37,000-11,000 vote.

Bicol Mail columnist Joaquin Perez, who has no love lost for Robredo, in fact castigated Jojo's camp for raising the citizenship issue, which only served to galvanize the voters and propel the "ubos kun ubos" administration ticket to its sixth straight win.

The Robredo faithfuls, on the other hand, positioned themselves towards the left flank, away from the fence and nearer to the main building and its left wing entrance. Three karaoke machines helped ease the tension the whole afternoon, with clueless RMG personnel even chuckling whenever a karaoke singer misses a note. Why, Helen, one of our CPDO staff, even reported that some of our UBC guests danced to some of the tunes on the way back to the hotel after wrapping up data gathering for their research!

At around 8:30 last night, I called up Lito del Rosario, chief of the Public Safety Office, to confirm Manolo's text message about the arrival of PNP riot policemen. His reply was quick and terse: "Tension was running high because of the development."

Before I left City Hall at around 6:30 pm, some of those preparing for the night vigil told me it was down to one single election return being contested by both camps, from 16 early in the day. As one of the many who are plainly getting annoyed by stunts being pulled off by the Kampi legal team and their loyalists in the board of canvassers, I though it was in line with expectations that everything is finally coming to a close; that was my exact sentiment when I replied to this anonymous comment asking for updates on the Naga canvass.

I can only surmise that when I called up Lito, the Kampi contingent has started to play out their last card: a petition seeking to postpone Robredo's proclamation until his disqualification case on the issue of his citizenship has been resolved by the poll body.

Fortunately, Comelec city registrar Maico Julia, a young stocky lawyer with a deceivingly gentle demeanor, firmly stood his ground against the Villafuerte loyalists in the canvassers' board. By walking out of the proceedings, Romeo Tayo -- the city prosecutor who sought reelection as city councilor, and lost all other attempts, under the Villafuerte ticket in 1992 and thereafter -- and Evangeline Palencia -- the new acting DepEd superintendent whose transfer to Naga in the middle of the local electoral campaign was engineered with Secretary Lapus's blessing -- finally laid bare their true colors.

I will not be surprised if Attorney Julia makes good on his word to retire from the Comelec in the aftermath of this tortuous journey: some Kampi overlords are certainly gnashing their teeth over their latest failed stab in Naga City.


18 May 2007

Citizen journalism

AS THE precinct count was winding down in the wee hours of May 15, Manolo texted me about John Nery's graveyard shift in the GMA7 Eleksyon2007 coverage, of which the Inquirer was a media partner, their internet business divorce notwithstanding.

"John just plugged your blog on TV," MLQ3 relayed as he sought updates on the Naga and Camarines Sur polls. I said at 1:30 am, counting of the votes have been completed and the results are being plugged into the official Comelec forms. All I can provide, as I previously did with John, are results from my wife's precinct as a sample of the city count. And the TV at Pacol Elementary was, unfortunately, only getting signals from ABS-CBN.

The following morning, I got a clearer idea of what Manolo meant, by way of this entry from the Jester-in-Exile's blog: it talked about the ideal of citizen journalism that most bloggers would and should aspire to, as blogging continues to mature as an alternative communications medium.

Of course, I am overwhelmed by the kind words coming from editors of the country's leading broadsheet, who themselves stand as vanguards -- both in official and personal capacities -- of the Philippine blogosphere. Certainly, the "citizen journalist" tag has a nice ring to it.:)

When I was still in college, the news writing seminars that are par for the course would almost always emphasize the necessity for being unbiased scribes and chroniclers of news worthy events that society should know about.

This fundamental principle continues to serve me well, even if there is an inherent difficulty that arise from my current circumstances. As all of you probably know by now, I am working for the Naga city government in a number of ways, and this definitely creates some conflicts of interest that will, whether I like it or not, color my views.

That, in a nutshell, is a caveat that everyone must take into account with citizen journalism; their take on things and the world around them must always be considered within their given contexts. Because even if the best, most dispassionate practising journalists today can never really be free from bias, that is no excuse for not being transparent about one's predispositions.


A new stab at town and gown partnership

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

NAGA has seen its own fill of foreign visitors, a good number of which went to City Hall to learn about some of its innovative programs. At the outset, having worked closely with the Naga City Visitors Center in attending to these events, I thought the ongoing Naga City Studio Course will pretty much be an extended version of these previous visits.

How wrong I was! Two days into the course, I now have a clearer idea why this six-unit course under the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) master’s degree program on urban planning is probably the best thing that ever happened to the city planning staff and the academic community in Naga.

Dr. Leonora Angeles, a Bulakenya who is now a full-tenured UBC associate professor, has assembled a 20-person multidisciplinary team of graduate students from Canada, the US, England, China and Mexico who joined to course to see Naga’s participatory governance up close.

In this endeavor, we are also working closely with the Ateneo de Naga University, through its Center for Local Governance (CLG) headed by Dr. Malu Barcillano and her girl Friday, Michelle Ciudadano, who put together a handful of Ateneo graduate and college student volunteers who will serve as local guides for their UBC counterparts.

From the city government’s end, we also have this year’s corps of incumbent city youth officials (CYOs) headed by City Youth Mayor Nhel Russelle Monroy, who will guide the visiting students through Naga’s bureaucratic maze in search of data required for team’s action research.

The logic is simple and compelling.

When Vice Mayor Gabby Bordado and I visited Vancouver in November 2006 and spoke about Naga, we already outlined what we believed are the long-term development challenges of the city. During our courtesy call on Mayor Robredo last Wednesday, the team had to chance to validate and refine them.

Yesterday, under Nora’s hands-on supervision, the team was organized according to the six broad challenges that the mayor outlined -- education, transport planning and land use, social housing, investment promotion, urban agriculture and youth development planning. Each group then translated those development challenges into research questions that will guide their investigation over the next three weeks.

Comprising of the UBC graduate students, Ateneo student volunteers, the CYOs and the city’s own planning staff, each thematic group will have to complete their research by end of May, and refine them by the start of June in preparation for public group presentations towards the end of the first week.

All interested stakeholders -- particularly key informants and the local academia -- will be invited to attend the presentations, together with concerned city officials and staff from both the executive and the legislative.

What do we expect from this unique initiative? One, a fresh take on what can Naga further do to improve its current development programs, strategies and practices. Two, an opportunity to bring different cultures together and continue their dialog, at the group or individual levels, beyond the duration of the course. And three, to jumpstart a stronger town and gown partnership in Naga, starting with but not limited to the Ateneo and UBC, to maximize their respective strengths and institutional capabilities.

Because at the end of the day, Naga’s sustainability can be secured by strong local academic institutions that will not only speak truth to power, but will make sure that truth matters: by working with local authorities in constantly looking for creative solutions to society’s long-standing problems.


16 May 2007

Getting on with life

THINGS are back to normal at City Hall, in spite of anxieties that arise when incidents like this happen. Mike Julia, the city comelec registrar, blamed it to overreaction by partisans identified with Rep. Luis R. Villafuerte, who appears headed towards becoming the first post-Edsa '86 congressman of the 2nd district to get reelected.

Apparently, some eager-beaver Kampi watchers noted two persons getting into the Sanggunian Panlungsod session hall last night. Alarms were sounded in their big bosses' directions, and instead of clarifying it with Comelec which is on top of the ongoing canvass, a truckload of PNR regional mobile suddenly materialized at City Hall 1 am today.

When emotions run high, harassments similar to what Melvin Chua of the city hall's Public Safety Office suffered become commonplace. It could have been avoided had they only inquired, and found out that the two persons spotted were DepEd personnel authorized by Comelec to secure the area for the night.

The slow canvassing notwithstanding, the Naga Planning Studio course successfully started today with a tour of city hall offices, including our own, and ended with a courtesy call on Mayor Robredo.

Dr. Nora Angeles, whom I and Vice Mayor Gabby Bordado last saw in wintry Vancouver last November, led the 21-person group of UBC graduate students -- comprising of Canadian, American, British and Chinese nationals -- in asking the mayor what local needs can their multidisciplinary team lend their expertise on. Later today, we are regrouping to reassess how we shall go about with the course, given the mayor's inputs.

At two, department heads will be meeting with Atty. Eleanor Echano, city auditor, to discuss COA's audit observations and recommendations for 2006. It will be followed by another meeting later in the afternoon with Tere Melgar, an Filipina academic who is doing a comparative study of Naga and Porto Alegre, Brazil; done with the Brazil part, she's back to refocus on the Naga phase of her research.

Early next week, a UP professor will be coming over for an interview with the city's i-Governance team. It will be followed by a group of Afghan visitors who will be hosted by the Ateneo de Naga University in their Naga leg.

Indeed, the city is getting on with life after that divisive, but necessary, distraction -- and in spite of the comparatively slow canvass being delayed by unnecessary legal goobledygook mounted by shameless nincompoops who have ran out of better things to do.


A modest proposal

NOW, THE ritual gnashing of teeth over the shameful management of the May 14 elections has begun. Inquirer's Amando Doronila said it best: the manually conducted Philippine elections are our crying shame. But I liked how historian Ambeth Ocampo put everything in context:

The counting and collating of election returns continue as I write this column. We are in the 21st century, the age of e-mail, iPods, laptops, wi-fi, electronic banking, and the most sophisticated multi-tasking phones you can imagine. But our ballots are still filled out and counted manually, the same way it was done in the last century. While computerized elections remain a possibility and will make counting faster, our mindset, unfortunately, remains manual. This is a clear case of how people sometimes cannot or will not cope with advances in technology.
In a previous column, Ocampo also provided additional details from the Tejeros Convention, which he argues to be the country's first brush with 'dagdag-bawas.' Everything therefore is nothing but history repeating itself.

Having gone through all the difficulties associated with the May 14 elections, where we woke up at 3:30 am on May 14 and went home at 4 am the following day, I would like to venture a proposal -- I'm not sure if it is possible at all -- so that the people responsible for this mess will really, really understand this unending tragedy they are foisting on the Filipino people.

In all areas where there had been failure of elections, I propose that (1) the Comelec set a special election day; and (2) President Arroyo and her cabinet, the whole Congress (sitting senators and congressmen, who will be in office until June 30), and the six-man Comelec and their Manila-based directors be made to serve as Boards of Election Inspectors (BEIs) in these areas.

This proposal will enable them to experience first-hand what they have continually been imposing on our public school teachers since I can remember. Having gone through the same 24-hour plus ordeal, the humbling experience can also serve as penance for their continuing failure to do the job. And finally, it should give them every reason to finally push through automating our electoral exercises.

The logic is simple and clear: one can only give what he has. It similar to the sad state of our public schools; most politicians only pay lip service to the need to rescue it from the doldrums because their children are enrolled in private schools.


15 May 2007

Updates from the 1st District

THIS Inquirer story, I think, called it right: Dato Arroyo's bid for the first congressional district of Camarines Sur will not be a walk in the park. With 43% of the votes in, Sabas 'Abang' Mabulo is putting up one hell of a fight, armed with nothing but the so-called "Bicol pride."

Arrayed against Malacañang's unlimited largesse, a military biased towards the presidential son, an adverse local political establishment, and a waffling Church leadership that indirectly sided with Dato, Mabulo still managed to garner 23,599 against Arroyo's 29,378 -- a 45% to 55% ratio -- according to the Namfrel quick count aired by radio station DWNX at around noontime today.

Arroyo won in all but two -- San Fernando, Mabulo's hometown, and Pasacao -- of the 10 towns comprising the district. Click on the image above for a better view of the breakdown by town, which I jotted down and plugged in an Excel spreadsheet.

For one, it shows that "Bicol pride" is very much alive and well; unfortunately, under the current circumstance, it appears insufficient in surmounting the odds clearly stacked in Arroyo's favor.

The backbreaking straw

The proverbial straw that, I think, broke the camel's back came by way of a Vox Bikol banner story that came out last week, days before the election. The headline says it all: "Dato's not being a Bikolano is a non-issue -- Libmanan bishop."

That bishop is Most Rev. Prospero Arellano, D.D., spiritual leader of the Prelature of Libmanan, who offered Caceres Archbishop, Msgr. Leonardo Legaspi who hails from Bulacan but has done do much for Bikol, as proof of his contention.

The same news story quoted Arellano as saying
I am happy that Dato decided to run in the first district. He came to my office and told me about his plans. If someone runs for office, it means he wants to serve the people. That's why for me, the more, the merrier. But the people should choose the one who could really help the first district.
Interestingly, Bicol Mail carried this story entitled "GMA’s staff visits Dato’s parish for project list." It is about a team of Malacañang undersecretaries and from the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) who visited the prelature three weeks ago, conferred with the parish priest of St. James Church in Libmanan town, and asked him what the palace can do to help.

The visit's outcome?
The monsignor said that he had asked one of the priests of the Prelature of Libmanan to package into a proposal the needs of the town that they had already submitted to the Palace staff.
Connect the dots, and you will get the drift.


All over but the canvassing

IT'S ALL over but the canvassing of votes at the city level here, with unofficial results mirroring the Ateneo SSRC and the internal City Hall surveys I posted here earlier.

Pito Cuyo of the city mayor's office shared with me the tally sheet for uncontested and canvassed election returns (ERs) at the barangay level, based on the Liberal Party's copy of the ER.

The two-page summary, which I consolidated into a single document using Photoshop and representing around 90% of the total votes cast, can be accessed here.

Key highlights of the Liberal tally sheet, in comparison with the two surveys:

  • Mayor Robredo (76%) and Vice Mayor Bordado's (71%) winning margins were mostly as predicted by the City Hall survey (74% and 71%, respectively). It also appears half of Leni Robredo's 4% in the Ateneo survey were transferred to her husband.
  • Topnotcher incumbent City Councilor John Bongat (with 77% of the total votes cast) again towed the triumphant Team Naga ticket into another sweep. On the other hand, tailender Ma. Elizabeth Lavadia, who is taking her husband Julian, Jr.'s place in the council, has 55% of the total, 24 percentage points higher than 11th placer Ramon Perez's 21%.
  • Bucking the ASSRC survey result, which had Villafuerte up by 11 percentage points, former Rep. Sulpicio 'Cho' Roco appears to secured the 15% undecideds, posting a slim 12-percentage points edge over incumbent Luis Villafuerte.
  • But it translates only to a 4,673 cushion, which would be insufficient in overturning Villafuerte's expected advantage in the nine towns outside Naga, judging from the 2004 election results.
When I peeked at the ongoing canvassing at the Sangguniang Panlungsod session hall, Kampi lawyers however are still raising all possible legal roadblocks in an attempt to delay the inevitable in what generally was a peaceful election.


Ateneo SSRC got it right

AT LEAST in my wife's precinct, that is.

Lynn's three-person BEI signed, thumbmarked and sealed their election returns and other essential documents at around 1:30 am. An hour later, a convoy of more than 12 vehicles -- including three dump trucks -- aided by more than 25 motorcycles snaked its way back to City Hall.

The ballot boxes from Panicuason and Carolina, the city's uppermost barangays, already made their way to the city center, somebody quipped. That made Pacol Elementary one of the last, if not the last, polling centers to close shop.

But that is understandable: in the 2000 census, Pacol registered the highest population growth rate, fueled by intra-city migration. It has emerged as one of the city's vote-rich villages, behind Concepcion Pequeña.

In the absence of official quickcounts, either by the paralyzed Namfrel or the PPCRV, I can only make an educated guess, based on my wife's precinct. They largely track results of the pre-election survey conducted by the Ateneo SSRC, to wit:

  • Mayor Robredo and Vice Mayor Gabby Bordado have earned another term, beating their rivals by comfortable margin that ranging between 2-1 and 3-1
  • Their 10-person Team Naga slate for the Sangguniang Panlungsod will again sweep the opposition, again on comfortable margins
  • But Rep. Luis Villafuerte appears to have held his own against former Rep. Sulpicio "Cho" Roco. My informants say that on the whole, Cho won Pacol but on a slim margin.
  • Joker Arroyo (with 73% of the total votes cast in the precinct) and Bayan Muna (10%) led the senate and party-list races
  • Turnout was high at 82%, a shade lower than predicted by Comelec.
By around noontime tomorrow, we should have a clearer idea of the various election outcomes at the city, district and provincial levels.


14 May 2007

Philippine elections from foreign eyes

NEWSBREAK'S Marites Vitug writes about the positive changes in these elections here; three visitors I drove to Tabuco Central School this morning, to see this democratic ritual for themselves, confirmed another consistently positive aspect of Philippine elections.

It was already about 8:30 am, the polling places have been open for more than an hour, and Tabuco Central was already full and had a generally festive yet peaceful atmosphere: food vendors are at the gate selling their wares, PPCRV volunteers are manning their places, and people are patiently lining in to wait for their turn. It was the same in Pacol Elementary when I dropped by earlier.

Party reps and watchers are also all over, taking their directions from designated bosses. Meanwhile, the police and members of the local media are keeping an eye on the proceedings. But for most everyone, it was just like any other Philippine election.

But not to Jeff, Claudia and Kat, three graduate students from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada who are here for a three-week planning studio course that the City Government is hosting, in partnership with the Ateneo de Naga University. A total of 22, led by Dr. Nora Angeles, will be on hand when the course will have its soft opening this Wednesday.

Jeff arrived last Saturday; the two young women, plus a third one who stayed behind at the hotel to rest after a long trip to Naga, arrived yesterday past lunch. They read in the papers and heard on TV that Comelec expects an 83% turnout: is that really possible, they asked.

Seeing the crowd and the school so alive with activity, I said it is highly probable; I'm not really sure about my numbers, but I blurted out that the average turnout in a Philippine election ranges between 60-70%.

To them, this is short of amazing, as Jeff told me that in Western democracies, a turnout of more than 50% is already on the high side. I can only say that Filipinos remain passionate about the exercise of their democratic right, where for one day, every citizen whether rich or poor is entitled to one single vote. (Although in reality, moneyed politicians are still able to exercise market power by buying votes to perpetuate themselves in power.)

Their being westerners also invited media attention, who thought they were part of the foreign observers accredited by the Comelec. A DZLW reporter told me most of them went to the 1st Congressional district, to monitor the 'Abang' Mabulo-Dato Arroyo mano-a-mano. The local radio station of RGMA Campus Radio even interviewed them live over the radio via Papa Joe, a reporter covering Tabuco Central. Several minutes later, Joe was already complaining to his anchor -- "dinudugo" was the description I heard -- apparently running out of English.:)

If only we can rechannel this high level of public enthusiasm and engagement to productive pursuits and ends, our national democratic project will probably be able to yield positive dividends for our people. Rene Saguisag is right: this work is never done, especially in these difficult times.


This is going to be a long day

SINCE 1998, when we were still residing in Bagumbayan Norte -- a barangay near the city center -- my wife Lynn has been serving as member of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI), the three-person team managing voting at the precinct level.

As a teacher, it goes with the territory; blame it on the Comelec's bungling, poll automation remains another one of those essential Philippine dreams -- so near and yet so far -- making manual count a necessity. She started out in 1998 as the third member responsible for the tally sheet when votes start to be counted; since 2004, she has been chairing the BEI, and is largely responsible for what happens at the precinct.

Whenever around (three years ago, I was away for schooling), I am the dutiful husband who brings her meals (lunch and dinner) and snacks in between, and other provision that will make life more bearable within the classroom-precinct. While she is away, my mother-in-law and I are left at home to look after the kids.

This is another of those triennial long days. The first time we did it, the whole process in Sabang High School (where she was teaching at the time) ended up at 3 am the following day -- when their BEI finally returned the ballot box, election returns and other completed documents to the City Treasury where they secured it earlier.

This morning, we woke up at past 3 am; I had to wake up as well to drive her to City Hall. She had to be there by 4 am to secure the forms again so that their team will beat the lines usually made long by latecomers. The City Treasurer's Office announced they will open at 2 am, and when we arrived this morning, it was already buzzing with activity.

While they were lining up, I went up the office to check on my email and upload the previous entry that I failed to put up last night when my Blast dial-up internet credit ran out; it took them about 30 minutes to secure everything they needed. Before going to Pacol Elementary School, where our eldest Ezekiel graduated and where her precinct is now located, we dropped by Atlantic Bakery for a bagful of hot pan de sal and at Biggs Diner for her breakfast of goto and black coffee.

Between 6-7 pm, I will go back to Pacol Elementary, about 2 kms from our Grandview community, to bring her dinner again; I figure they should be able to finish everything well past midnight, given two inexperienced greenhorns completing their BEI, which the Alliance of Concerned Teachers complained about here.

But I am confident Lynn will manage, as she always does. This civic duty is part of these necessary distractions; in other more advanced societies where elections are automated, teachers are spared these unnecessary troubles, allowing them to focus on what they do best: teach our young.

That is why I puke when losing politicians complain they are cheated, and accuse teachers of doing them in. I think they are barking up the wrong tree; it's the bumbling gang of Abalos, Luzviminda Tangcangco and their cohorts they should actually be running after, not our hapless public school teachers.


Why Neerav's gmail-mobile rocks

I WOULD have preferred this title: "Why I did not lose an arm and a leg in sending a 1.8-MB email." But it was just too long.

Anyways, Neerav Modi's response came in very quickly, and it was very enlightening.

Just so you and your readers know: You didn't get charged for forwarding a 1.8MB attachment because the file itself did not pass through your phone's network (if it did, you would have been actually charged for 1.8MB twice!). One of the beauties of Gmail compared to other email services -- you don't have to download the attachment and then upload it again when sending/forwarding. It's also one of the reasons that make Gmail and gmail-mobile so fast.

gmail-mobile simply takes advantage of that and many other neat Gmail features.

So, use gmail-mobile and forward all you like. Don't neglect to take advantage of all the other features not found anywhere else, too. ;-) More features and improvements are also in the works like gmail-mobile on PC browsers (oops, did I just say that?). And onwards to the 200,000 user milestone! Only 20 more months to go...
If you are a cellphone-owning Gmail user, and you are not using Neerav's service just yet, I think it's time you do.:)


13 May 2007

The litmus test on 2010

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

BARRING any hitches, Mayor Jesse Robredo’s Team Naga is poised to secure another three-year term, the mayor’s sixth and last, owing to the term limit set by law. The Ateneo Social Science and Research Center’s pre-election survey all but confirms this.

Since his election in 1988, the people of Naga gave Robredo and his management team an opportunity which, to my mind and limited knowledge, is unparalled in contemporary Philippine history. By 2010, that would be a 22-year period to pursue what I call an urban democracy project.

For the past six political contests, his political opponents have thrown all arguments, accusations and allegations possible, including the proverbial kitchen sink. But the Naga electorate largely ignored them and continued to give Robredo a solid mandate.

There is no doubt it is because of a confluence of factors, prominent among them Robredo’s unique combination of charisma, competence, and communication skills that make him a highly effective leader. It enabled his administration to consistently attract quality people, both at the political and career levels, with diverse skills and specializations.

In a competitive atmosphere within City Hall that Robredo promotes and fosters, a can-do mindset coupled with the freedom to innovate has yielded handsome dividends in the form of programs and initiatives that have achieved national and even international renown for the city. I am proud to be part of this unique phenomenon -- as an eyewitness to this 19-year and going urban democracy project that, by design, sought to build strong institutions that would ensure its sustainability regardless of whoever takes the helm of the city government.

In all these, particularly the five electoral contests where Robredo personally figured in as standard bearer, he has loomed large, often simplifying the choice for the electorate. With him sidelined by 2010, both by circumstance and by choice, the project, to my mind, will face its more serious litmus test, far more challenging than the 1998 contest that featured a fresh Cho Roco as his chosen successor.

Are the local institutions that the project put in place over the last two decades -- the participatory mechanisms that gave local civil society and ordinary citizens a greater voice in governing the city; the emphasis on transparency, accountability and all other democratic values associated with good governance; a more professional, service-oriented local bureaucracy -- strong enough to withstand what promises to be a more ferocious assault by traditional politics, which leading pundit Manolo Quezon calls the worst of the old Philippines, when the next episode of this necessary inconvenience takes place three years from now?

Based from this soon-to-be concluded electoral exercise, I have mixed feelings.

On the one hand, I am hopeful that the solid mandate from the Naga electorate, coupled with the constant affirmation from individuals, organized groups and institutions interested in our project, will continue to underscore the fundamental soundness of the city’s chosen development path.

But on the other, I am disappointed with how the confluence of disheartening events and the pervading negativity are negating these gains, chipping furiously at the foundations a more vibrant local democracy. We have seen how the Comelec has sunk to new depths of methodical insanity. We have seen how the Arroyo administration has pushed brazenness and impunity to new limits. And I have seen how people -- by reasons of poverty or plain opportunism -- can be so short-sighted as to trade short-term pleasures for long-term gains.

But it is a litmus test our urban democracy project must necessarily face. Because it is very much like true love, as this Barbra Streisand song goes: "They say if you love someone / Then set them free / If they come back again / Then in the end it was meant to be."


Quick notes after Day 45

1. I FINALLY met the country's premier blogger, Manolo Quezon III, in the flesh yesterday.

He joined Black and White Movement leaders Enteng Romano, Leah Navarro and Dinky Soliman in a quick trip to Naga where they endorsed the candidacies of Sabas 'Abang' Mabulo and Sulpicio 'Cho' Roco, Jr. -- who are in their White List -- as well as extend support to the cause of Mayor Robredo.

Davao Today had the initial story here, courtesy of our Planet Naga blog aggregator.

2. Baycas, in his latest comment, alerted me to the availability of the Comelec 2nd division and en banc decisions that the much villified Brawner ponencia overturned.

If you are interested, they can be accessed from the Inside PCIJ website, via this link to Alecks Pabico's comment.

3. Finally, in a totally unrelated item to the ongoing necessary distraction, Neerav Modi announced yesterday that his Gmail-Mobile WAP-based alternative for accessing Gmail accounts through mobile phones has breached the 100,000 user milestone.

I am a big fan of his service. And precisely because it is WAP-based, I did not really get charged an arm and a leg when I sent that 1.8-MB email to Frank Mendoza, based on my latest statement of account.

Which means I can do this thing more often.:)


12 May 2007

Team Naga poised for a repeat

APPARENTLY blunted by the storm of protest over the harassment case against incumbent Mayor Robredo, his Team Naga is poised for another repeat, judging from an independent survey released yesterday by the Ateneo Social Science Research Center.

The survey, conducted during the period April 25-May 1, 2007 -- well before news of his unseating gained local and national attention -- placed Robredo with a commanding lead of 68% over opponent Jojo Villafuerte's 17%, wife Leni's 3% and Salam Delfin's 0.8%.

In the event Robredo backs out or is disqualified, 80% of those who voted for Mayor Robredo said they will choose Leni, translating to a still formidable 57% edge that would insure Team Naga's victory.

The survey, covering 400 randomly selected households in the city, has a plus-or-minus 4.9% margin of error on a 95% confidence level.

The Sangguniang Panlungsod
The same pattern holds in the vice mayoralty contest, where reelectionist Vice Mayor Gabriel Bordado, Jr. (71%) comfortably led Atty. Juan Luis Carpio (16%). Thirteen percent of the respondents were either undecided, abstained or refused to answer.

In race for seats in the city council, the "Gabos kun Gabos, Ubos kun Ubos" battlecry remains potent as the Team Naga ticket is again projected to sweep all ten slots. Reelectionist John Bongat is the frontrunner, with 80% of the vote, followed by retired judge Esteban Abonal, Jr. (65%), Lourdes Asence (63%), Bernadette Roco (63%), William del Rosario (62%), Salvador del Castillo (53%), Ma. Elizabeth Lavadia (50%), Jose Tuason (49%), Nelson Legacion (48%) and Nathan Sergio (46%).

Ramon Perez, the best performing bet of the Villafuerte-led Kampi ticket, only had 25% of the vote, a 21-percentage point margin for Team Naga.

Congressional contest
What remains to be seen is whether the indignation rally will overturn the ASSRC survey result that favored incumbent Rep. Luis Villafuerte. The former (48%) held an 11-percentage point edge over his opponent, former Rep. Sulpicio Roco, Jr. (37%). Fifteen percent of the respondents were either undecided, abstained or refused to answer.

An internal City Hall survey, covering largely the same period but focusing on C and D respondents, however puts Roco up with a 5-percentage point edge, 49%-44%, over Villafuerte. For all the rest, it practically mirrors results of the ASSRC survey.

A copy of the ASSRC press statement is available here.


11 May 2007

The untold story of Luis and Jesse

BICOL MAIL'S issue for the week came out this morning; expectedly, the May 8 indignation rally was given substantial coverage.

But what greatly aroused my interest is this frontpage article written by editor Joe Perez. In the absence of the Mail's updated online version, I am taking the liberty of publishing it in full.

Luis Villafuerte, Robredo are related by Chinese blood

By Jose B. Perez

IF THERE is one thing common between Camarines Sur Rep. Luis R. Villafuerte and Naga City Mayor Jesse M. Robredo, it is the blood of Confucius that runs in their veins.

In fact, the two came from the same great grandfather from China who upon residing in the Philippines adopted the Filipino name “Robredo”, a name that both of them have to share, whether they like it or not.

The rest of their character, traits and beliefs, political and otherwise, however, are worlds apart.

Their great grandfather Lim Pay Co, with his son Lim Teng by his first wife, arrived in Manila at the turn of the 19th century. As a young boy, Lim Teng was tutored by the Spanish friars. He and his father were later baptized by a Spanish friar surnamed Robredo.

The friar baptized Lim Pay Co and Lim Teng as Serafin and Juan, respectively, and gave them his surname. Since then, they were known as Serafin Robredo and Juan Lim Robredo.

While it was not clear what happened to Lim Teng’s mother, Serafin while settling in the country took a second wife by the name of Josefa de la Trinidad, a widow. Juan Lim Robredo (Lim Teng), meanwhile, married Luisa Chan, a local Chinese girl.

His stepmother, Josefa, bore four children, Soledad, Jose, Juan II and Serafina, who became Juan’s half-brothers and half-sisters. They were all surnamed Robredo with their original Chinese name Lim Payco sometimes attached to their Filipino name. All of them, including Juan Lim Robredo, were educated by the American school system.

Juan Lim Robredo
Juan Lim Robredo became proficient in four languages, Filipino, Spanish, English and Chinese. While his wife tended to their sari-sari store, Juan was employed as a court interpreter because of his language proficiency. On his free time, he also had a photo studio and worker as a photographer. Later, he and half-sister Soledad became teachers at Anglo Chinese School in Naga City, where Soledad met her future husband, Mariano Villafuerte, a co-teacher at the same Chinese school.

At the age of 21, Juan married Luisa Chan and from their union were born six children, Serafin, Adelina, Juanito, Josefina, Jose and Juanita. Both Serafin and Adelina died at very young age due to illness. Josefina died before the start of the world war, or a few years after the death of their father Juan. Juanito, along with their mother Luisa, died during an attack by the Japanese soldiers while hiding in Sipocot, Camarines Sur. It was also at this time that young Jose was wounded by a bullet that pierced his stomach but survived through the help of friends and foot doctors who came to their aid.

Today, only two of Juan Lim Robredo’s six children are alive, Jose Robredo, Sr. and Juanita Robredo Hao Chin.

The Villafuertes
Mariano Villafuerte, a fine orator and speaker was to become a congressman and later as governor of Camarines Sur when the Japanese Imperial Army invaded the Philippine islands. It was a tragic chapter in the history of the country, as it was in the rest of the free world when people died as a result of the war. Then Gov. Mariano Villafuerte and his wife Soledad, with their eldest son Jose, died in the hands of vengeful guerillas as the Americans were advancing to free the Philippines from the fleeing Japanese soldiers.

The couple left behind six young children: Pura, Fe, Mariano, Jr., Carmen, Luis and Lina. Luis was to become a powerful political leader in Bicol while the rest of his brothers and sisters became successful professionals in their own right.

Jesse and Louie
After the war, Jose married Marcelina Manalastas, a young Filipina from Navotas, Rizal. Together, they built their house in Tabuco, a village across the river town of Naga. They soon bore five children: Jocelyn, Jose Jr., Jesse, Jeanne and Josephine.

In 1986, Jesse was picked by his uncle Luis, then an Assemblyman, to run as mayor of Naga City and won. Four years later, they would part ways and become bitter political rivals, with Luis even denying in public that they were blood relatives.

Luis, the province’s top political kingpin, on at least four elections would field his own mayoral bet to challenge Robredo, including his elder sister Pura Luisa, Jesse’s aunt, but as always Jesse would come out as the runaway winner.

Now congressman, Luis Villafuerte only recently had a falling out with his own blood, his son LRay, the province’s incumbent governor who is running for reelection.

LRay is now being challenged by a man handpicked by his own father, a scandalously unexpected quirk of fate that even the shrewdest of politicians could not imagine to happen.

Meanwhile, Luis is not letting off his disdain for Robredo. He accuses Robredo of being a Chinese citizen, an alien who should not be allowed to hold office reserved for Filipinos unlike Jojo, his other nephew, who ironically also comes from the same great grandfather that found the Philippine islands an ideal place for his forebears to multiply and become good Filipinos.


10 May 2007

Manifesto in support of Mayor Robredo

THE Inquirer story on yesterday afternoon's manifesto signing at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), led by former President Cory Aquino, can be found here. An earlier news item appeared in the Eleksyon 2007 section of the same paper.

This Philippine Star article, which made it to the front page, explored the racism angle. In an earlier media forum, Filipino-Chinese civic leader Teresita Ang-See accused the Commission on Elections (Comelec) of being "anti-Chinese" by discriminating against Filipinos of Chinese origin. Inside PCIJ has Ang-See's letter in full. The choicest cut:

"How can a Jesse Robredo, a Ramon Magsaysay awardee from the Philippines, who was born, bred and educated as a Filipino, elected for five terms and performed spectacularly as a mayor, finally be disqualified from his mayorship at the last minute because of his Chinese ancestry?" she asked.
Other pundits, both from the capital and from the regions, added their voice. Manila Bulletin's Deedee Siytangco: "Commissioner Brawner, ano ka ba! Robredo who is also a Benigno Aquino Jr. Fellow for public service is more pusong-Pinoy than some of your Comelec colleagues!"

The highly respected Patricio Diaz
of MindaNews takes the Abalos Comelec to task: "What does the Robredo case show of the Abalos Comelec? The commissioners and the chair cannot disappoint friends. Can they disappoint President Arroyo and personalities close to her and her administration?"

This snippet from today's Inquirer editorial however managed to place the whole exercise in context:
Without any doubt, the administration coalition has truly formidable machinery that reaches every corner of the country. The seven parties forming the administration coalition count as members 77 out of the country’s 81 provincial governors, 194 out of 228 congressmen, 115 of the 120 city mayors, and over 1,200 of some 1,500 town mayors.
Aside of course from Makati's Jejomar Binay, I wonder who the three other oppositionist city mayors are.

Meanwhile, if you are interested in the text of yesterday's manifesto, and those who came forward to voice their support to the embattled Naga mayor, click on the image for a larger view. It will, by the way, come out in tomorrow's issue of the Star.

Chingkel Juan of the Synergeia Foundation graciously emailed me an advance copy.


Salient points of Co vs. HRET

READER Baycas, in a comment, graciously furnished me with a link to the Co vs. HRET decision of the Supreme Court that, after writing this post, I tried to google and yahoo in the internet, to no avail. A hat tip to you.:)

There are two schools of thought in that decision. The minority thinking, which supports the controversial Brawner decision, is found in a dissenting opinion penned by Justice Padilla, the salient point of which says

It cannot be overlooked, in this connection, that the citizenship of private respondent is derived from his father. If his father's Filipino citizenship is void from the beginning, then there is nothing from which private respondent can derive his own claimed Filipino citizenship. For a spring cannot rise higher than its source.
Three other justices -- Narvasa, Paras and Regalado -- joined Padilla in his dissent.

However, the majority decision -- written by Justice Gutierrez and concurred in by five other justices (with Justice Sarmiento adding a separate concurring opinion), in effect yielding a 6-4 vote, with five abstentions -- took a different view. This is what blawger Edwin Lacierda referred to in his post shredding the Brawner decision to bits and pieces. The relevant quote:
The Court cannot go into the collateral procedure of stripping Mr. Ong's father of his citizenship after his death and at this very late date just so we can go after the son.

The petitioners question the citizenship of the father through a collateral approach. This can not be done. In our jurisdiction, an attack on a person's citizenship may only be done through a direct action for its nullity.

To ask the Court to declare the grant of Philippine citizenship to Jose Ong Chuan as null and void would run against the principle of due process. Jose Ong Chuan has already been laid to rest. How can he be given a fair opportunity to defend himself. A dead man cannot speak. To quote the words of the HRET "Ong Chuan's lips have long been muted to perpetuity by his demise and obviously he could not use beyond where his mortal remains now lie to defend himself were this matter to be made a central issue in this case."
Replace "Ong" with "Robredo," "son" with "grandson," and "Jose Ong Chuan" with "Juan Lim Robredo" and you will have an idea where the High Court's thinking lies.