28 February 2007

Fractured, or really damaged?

MY MORNING last Saturday ended in a big letdown, and it made me reflect as to whether what has been happening is the rule rather than the exception. And it brought back to mind this controversial article by James Fallows.

We were awakened that morning by the usual dance music accompanying the Saturday Group aerobics session, but there was something else distinctive above the din: it was the loud voice of our newly elected homeowners association president hurling invectives against two individuals behind the weekly event. Later, I gathered he was drunk, which explains his aberrant behavior that morning; most of the time, he is a soft-spoken jolly fellow.

The object of his bile were the two winning directors from the opposing party in the homeowners association election early this month; after the elections, they circulated a letter denouncing the Comelec for alleged favoritism (among others), and declared they will not assume their seat in the nine-man board; and that actually came to be as both snubbed the oath-taking of the newly elected officers just the other Saturday. That they pushed through with their weekly aerobics event without clearing it with -- and I think, a move meant to spite -- the newly installed board was apparently the last straw.

Now, Grandview is a relatively small community of around 250 families, and I expected a little bit more than ordinary. Compared to the neighboring Green Valley community of urban poor households resettled by the city government, we are by and large relatively better off, economically and educationally. In our midst, you can find public school teachers and other government employees, several lawyers, a newly appointed judge and many entrepreneurs. A handful can afford to send their children to private schools like the Ateneo and USI. In all streets, you will find cars both old and new parked along one side.

In spite of this, that recent village election mirrored one of the worst attitudes ascribed to Filipino politicians: it is said nobody loses in Philippine elections because there is always a winner on the one hand, and his opponent who claims he was cheated on the other.

After the ruckus died down, one of the parties involved approached me and tried to explain himself. Agreeing that their relationships have been fractured, I suggested holding an assembly -- a sort of a bull session -- that will seek to thresh out the thorny issues among them and hopefully restore normalcy. But I also chided him for taking that stance that effectively rejected the community's decision to put them in the Board as fiscalizers of the winning majority.

Or is my hope misplaced because what we have here, as Fallows said, is not just fractured relations but a damaged culture whose "public life does become the war of every man against every man"?

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27 February 2007

A planning school at the Ateneo?

I AM taking a big risk with this post, as someone who is not officially connected with the Ateneo de Naga University. But I just can't contain my excitement over the latest developments in regard to the Naga City Planning Studio course that will be held at the Ateneo this coming May, involving international students from the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada.

More or less 20 of them will be coming over, as two more Mexican ladies are on stand by should somebody in the original list decide to drop out, Prof. Leonora Angeles of the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) emailed me recently. This is way above the minimum of five that she had in mind when Vice Mayor Gabby Bordado and I spoke in her class last November.

Dr. Malu Barcillano, director of the Ateneo Center for Local Governance, has already secured approval from university president Fr. Joel Tabora to host the learning sessions for the course. Her draft program exceeded Nora's expectations; while most hands-on activities will take place at City Hall, it will feature other Ateneo case studies on participative governance all over Bicol. Our departments stand to benefit from the wealth of local and international experiences and knowledge will be shared with local staff.

What excited me is this part of a previous email:

"I foresee the possibility of conducting research and doing pro bono guest lectures as well at the Ateneo to show my gratitude for their help. I would like to see this course as a catalyst perhaps for Ateneo to have its own Planning School as well."
Whether Naga, through the Ateneo, will have its own planning school one day is not for me to say. But I hope Fr. Tabora will more or less agree with the late Robert F. Kennedy who said: "There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?"

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Attention Nagueño student programmers

FROM Ruben Canlas, Jr. by way of the GMANews Bloggers Network:

Filipino programming students, take heed! Google is once again sponsoring students from all over the world to do some serious programming. The mission? To contribute code to an open source software (OSS) project.

Google calls this event "Summer of Code (SoC) 2007" and is much-awaited in the global open source community. Some of the beneficiaries last year included open source projects like Apache (majority of the web servers on the internet are Apache servers), PHP (a popular web programming language), Moodle (online learning) and Drupal (content management).
Last year, more than 600 students in 93 countries joined this event. Only two of those came from the Philippines. I'm sure we can do better than that:)

Interested? Ruben's entry on the subject has all the details.

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26 February 2007

NPM, a Sanggunian appearance and my essay

EARLY this morning, I addressed the Sangguniang Panlungsod to explain the 2007 Budget of the Naga City School Board, which Councilor and Education Committee chair Mila Raquid-Arroyo asked to be included in the agenda for its weekly regular meeting.

I have attended council meetings in the past, but this one was different: given the floor, I had to field questions coming from the councilors themselves. A question from Kgd. John Bongat created an opening for me to test the feasibility of applying New Public Management (NPM) principles in education reform.

Kagawad Bongat asked whether it is possible for the city to secure more permanent teacher items from the national government so we can generate savings from the 93 locally-funded items allocated in the budget and use it for other priority activities.

Using data from the DepEd, I said Naga is a low-priority division because of its relatively smaller class size precisely made possible by the Board's investments on these local hires. So the best bet for these locally-funded teachers would be to eye the natural vacancies arising from retired or vacated items. It is at this point where I tried to introduce the NPM concept of using performance-based contracts (which is what we are currently doing but on a limited scale) that would pay public school teachers much higher salaries, but will require doing away with security of tenure that characterizes traditional civil service.

Expectedly, everyone resisted the idea. Vice Mayor Gabby Bordado said it is truly "controversial" -- which is how I exactly described it -- but not feasible. This short but memorable episode shows just how formidable a challenge this particularly NPM strategy faces in the Philippines. By national standards, ours is already a progressive Sanggunian; how much more a Philippine Congress that is getting more and more conservative with every passing election since 1988, and a Senate that has lost its sheen as training ground for future Philippine presidents?

By the way, my NPM essay -- an enhanced version of what I submitted to the seminar facilitators last Saturday night, but still a work in progress -- is available here. I will develop some of its themes in future posts, and your feedback, always appreciated, should be able to enhance it.

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EDSA and the week that was

I DID not realize the 1986 People Power uprising in EDSA turned 21 last week until I read Bill Shimizu's poignant post here, which, quite expectedly, made it to Manolo's short entry on the event. Bill's remembrance made me look back to those heady days when I was in college at the University of Nueva Caceres and then soon afterwards, when I still working at the provincial capitol.

What stood out from that recollection was a passionate exchange with a lady from a ground floor office (it was either the Assessor or the Treasury) at the Capitol building in Pili. It was right after Cory Aquino survived the deadliest of the coup attempts that Gringo Honasan would launch; our ears were practically glued to the radio that day, up until American aircrafts did their famous flyby, broke the impasse and saved government.

I'm not sure if that fiftyish lady was a Marcos loyalist, but she was so cynical that the country has turned up the corner after EDSA. I, on the other hand, fresh out of college, in my early twenty's and flushed with youthful idealism, was supremely confident that with freedom regained and its beneficiary government just saved from the rightists, there's simply no other way to go but up. I forgot the specifics of our exchanges now, but boy! they were passionate and fiery. My contention is that a better Philippines, surely much better than what Marcos built during their generation, is waiting in the horizon.

Twenty-one years later, I'm not so sure anymore. That lady is turning out to be right after all. (She has probably retired from government by this time, and I think I still see her around.) The Arroyo administration is still talking about the economy taking off, a message all post-EDSA governments carried but failed to realize. Our neighbors meanwhile have zoomed up and left us in the runway one by one. The communist insurgency is still with us, with the NPA said to be back to their full strength. And as Manolo said in his column today, everything that this administration did last year only served to repudiate the very hallmarks of EDSA '86.

An election is taking place in May, and in theory, it is supposed to herald change but perish the thought. It's the same faces and families fighting for the spoils. Why, even Gringo is running again, and the opposition might just take him back. And in the Inquirer website this morning, there's a picture of Joker Arroyo and Ralph Recto dancing in Baguio; Recto, as Mr. Vilma Santos, I can understand, but Joker? No wonder even the venerable Asuncion David Maramba is reduced to making rationalizations about the path they took.

More than two decades ago, Luis Villafuerte led the "Apat na Aguila" -- together with Edmundo Cea, Ciriaco Alfelor and Rolando Andaya, Sr. -- in sweeping out the Marcos loyalists led by Arnulfo Fuentebella in the Batasan election that presaged EDSA. Villafuerte is the only remaining survivor of the four, but both are still congressmen and even vote similarly when their personal interests converge. At the height of Typhoon Reming's onslaught and with all of Bicol suffering, he and Fuentebella both backed the Con-Ass assault on the Senate, which Villafuerte engineered. Hell, he might even get to become Speaker of the House if he wins again over Cho Roco and JDV loses in Dagupan.

I can go on and on, but I won't because I might just end up puking.

So, I'd rather end this post by touching on every thing else.

In the news last week is the P5-billion rehabilitation fund allocated for Bicol in the 2007 budget, half of what the Bikolanos in the administration -- Budget Secretary Nonoy Andaya, Albay congressman and now Presidential Chief of Staff Joey Salceda and Joker Arroyo -- promised early this year. Half of that goes to Albay, mostly for flood-control projects destroyed by Mayon's lahar flow. What I am afraid of though is the P56 million allotted for other infrastructure; It might end covering up for this P200-million anomaly of an all-weather port that Milenyo and Reming obliterated.

Mary Anne Moll -- one of my favorite young writers -- is temporarily back in Naga to clear some backlogs, and has launched a game that rewards the winner a book by John Updike and a CD containing the electronic texts of various classic works of literature, to be shipped via next-day courier service to any point in the Philippines. It still runs until the month's end so you've got to hurry.

Kristian Cordero is not only coming up with a new book on the heels of his trailblazing best-first-book-award winning Mga Tulang Tulala; Santigwar is now Pangangalagkalag, although is still at the same URL; and has penned a short story about a popular mode of transport hereabouts that should be familiar to most everyone, and a series of fascinating poems including this naughty verse.

Sorsogon's Gibbs Cadiz, who has quickly become the Inquirer's top observer on the Philippine theater circuit, pens this devastating piece explaining why actors are shifting towards politics. His fellow Sorsogueño (or is it Sorsoganon?) Jobart Bartolome meanwhile writes about the improving provincial bus service in Bikol and the intricacies of our languages, which Irvin found interesting.

An internationally renowned mayor visited the country last month, and I only got to know it from this entry by Urbano. Bogota, Columbia mayor Enrique Peñalosa keynoted the League of Cities convention last month at the Manila Hotel. Let me end with this gem, which is what Naga should do, among others, in its effort to enhance livability:

"The affluent person goes to a large house, with a garden, has access to restaurants, to country houses, country clubs, sports clubs and vacations. The poor person and his/her children have a small room, practically only room to sleep, and no alternative for their leisure time if there is no public space. Therefore, in a democracy, the first place that money should go is quality sidewalks, parks and pedestrian streets. I cannot give luxury housing to everyone, but i can give quality sidewalks to everyone."

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25 February 2007

Bad, Joker. Bad

BICOL Mail editor Joe Perez said he was somehow convinced why Joker Arroyo and Ralph Recto joined Team Unity under the present circumstances. When we were comparing notes before office closed the other day, he sounded impressed by Joker's "pag bad ka, lagot ka!" TV spot.

I'm not, by that ad particularly. For those who are dismayed, aghast and angry about Joker's descent into Darth Vaderhood, Arbet, Dean and Conrad have expressed themselves better than I ever can.

Joker's TV spot struck me as a wicked attempt to visually sell the idea that he is still the same fearless, fighting human rights lawyer and anti-corruption crusader who prosecuted Erap Estrada. But the symbolisms gave himself away.

For one, Joker's dragon shadow eerily looks like the creeping dinosaur shadow it was supposed to slay. If it were colored, it would have been more convincing, especially if the creep had a prominent mole.:) Secondly, dragons are not universal symbols of goodness and benevolence. In the Bible, for instance, it symbolizes Satan no less, the oh so cunning Devil himself.

Which leads me to my final point: I think Joker has grown very comfortable with the comforts of power and has fallen under its spell. He is no longer the same Joker I thought I knew, and looked up to.

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23 February 2007

The state of MDGs in Bikol

THE RECENT State of the City Report featured, among others, a study I made on the progress of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Bicol region. To recapitulate,

The MDGs is all about putting people first in development – by reducing extreme poverty by half in 2015, which is just eight years away. They were called as such because MDGs are time-bound and measurable goals and targets for combating the multiple dimensions of poverty and deprivation. They date back to September 2000, when 189 countries, including the Philippines adopted the UN Millennium Declaration and committed themselves to making the right to development a reality for everyone. This right to development is to be measured against a set of 8 goals, 18 targets and 48 indicators, covering the period 1990 to 2015.
And what is the report about? The latter part of Chapter 1 explains:

The report sought to address information gap at local level: the gap in monitoring the progress of MDG localization efforts. Given the national and international emphasis on putting the MDGs as top priority in local development agenda, there has been very little effort, if at all, to see how municipalities, cities and provinces are actually faring in regard to these benchmarks...

It therefore sought to track down performance levels of the six Bicol provinces and three leading cities on the MDGs. In the process, it also identified and tackled issues and concerns regarding the MDG benchmarks at the local and regional levels. By looking at the way data is collected and organized from the ground up, it identifies areas through which a regional monitoring system for these development goals can be strengthened.

So, if you want to find out how the provinces of Albay, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Catanduanes, Masbate and Sorsogon compare with the cities of Iriga, Legazpi and Naga insofar as the MDGs are concerned, this report is for you.

It provides data on their comparative poverty incidence, hunger; elementary participation, cohort survival and completion rates; gender parity; child and infant mortality rates, immunization coverage; maternal mortality ratio; mortality and morbidity in TB and malaria; and access to safe drinking water and sanitary facilities.

Thanks to my newly created account with eSnips, you can access the full report here.

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22 February 2007

QUEEN Project: To leave no child behind

THIS AFTERNOON, the city government formally launched the QUEEN Initiative (shorthand for Quality Universal Elementary Education in Naga) at the city gymnasium. Mayor Jesse Robredo fielded questions about the project from school heads, PTA representatives, barangay officials and other stakeholders.

Is this a one-time thing? Actually, this is the most common question in all school level meetings attended by the mayor so far. The answer is no: the driving force behind the program is the poor holding power of our public schools (only 67 of those who enter Grade I go on to finish Grade VI), and successfully addressing this problem will require time, resources and commitment from the city government, the Division of City Schools and the 37 schools under its wing, the PTAs, the barangay officials and other stakeholders, particularly the individual parents.

This project brief provides more information on the role each sector will play.

How will the city government ensure its sustainability? Vice Mayor Gabby Bordado was on hand, together with Atty. Nelson Legacion, the city legal officer, and Nathan Sergio, the secretary to the mayor (both of whom are bruited to have the inside track in filling in the four slots in the Sanggunian ticket that will be vacated by retiring councilors). All of them committed to institutionalize the QUEEN Initiative through an ordinance, mandating the School Board, among others, to allocate the required funding in its annual budget.

I am very happy that we have reached this far. It also goes to show that the initiative overcame the bureaucratic roadblocks it faced, which I ranted about here.

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Seemed like just yesterday

THIS morning, as we were having breakfast together -- at least most of us, as Peps and the three bubuwits are still fast asleep -- it suddenly dawned upon me that my eldest Ezekiel has suddenly turned into a young man.

All signs that we have failed to notice all through the years are there: a moustache unmistakably developing at the corners of his upper lip; a deepening of his voice; and the unusual attention he gives to personal grooming.

The last one struck me as I entered his room looking for Budi, who is supposed to be occupying the upper bunk of their double decker: the pungent scent of Axe Vice wafted through the air. Ezekiel became the butt of our ribbings; it seemed he wants to turn his nice girl classmates naughty, we said. And Budi -- a Grade V student three years his junior -- was complaining his kuya wouldn't share the Axe Vice with him.

In the end, EK tried turning the table on me. My father, he said, has no need for his favorite new body spray; they came into the world simply on the basis of a powerful natural smell that felled his mother.

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21 February 2007

Internalizing an externality (2)

FROM where I sit, Cabagis's proposal has two upsides: (1) It will regulate this demoralizing practice, limiting it within the 5% cap; and (2) It will give congressmen a convenient excuse not to accommodate constituents beyond the limit. He can always say: "Sorry, but that's the extent the law allows me."

Moreover, it is also realistic in the sense that it bridges the ideal and the real. After all, the fact that it exists even if the current DepEd rules ostensibly call for a meritocracy suggests that it is not working as designed. In this sense, maybe it is one way to go.

But deep inside, I have strong reservations as to whether it will work in the Philippine setting. (1) Knowing the kind of congressmen we have, I am quite sure they will not settle for the 5% limit. You know, the give-them-an-inch-and-they-will-ask-for-a-foot kind of thing. Hell, why even change the rules when they are getting an arm, even more, under the current setup? (2) I'm not sure if voters will buy that excuse at all. Being in the business of making promises, bowing to some cap will make congressmen appear weak and they cannot afford it.

Which reminds me of what Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, Ateneo de Manila president , stressed in his address to the Synergeia mayors in the retreat I attended. One of the lessons, he said, that can be drawn from the book Magaling ang Pinoy! How and Why Public School Students Achieve (which was launched in Marikina that day) is that the fabled Confucian values -- hardwork, single-mindedness towards a purpose, success not being the product of luck -- which are powering China, Korea, Taiwan and Singapore today are also found in the Filipino families featured in that book. So, given the right condition, Filipinos can also acquire these values.

The only difference is that thousands of years ago, a Chinese emperor instituted meritocracy by requiring that all appointees to state posts must pass an imperial exam, thereby making it the norm rather than the exception. In our country, it is the other way around. And while it may be true that meritocracy is not the only answer, we really can never say because we haven't truly tried living by the rules that require it in the first place.

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Internalizing an externality (1)

CABAGIS, one of the few readers of this blog, has an interesting suggestion -- definitely more than two-cents' worth -- regarding the congressional intrusion in the appointment of permanent teachers.

Maybe there's a way of accomodating "some" of the people a Congressman has on her/his list without allowing them to completely hijack the process. We need to recognize and reward talented teachers but meritocracy is not the only answer.

I am sure for example that affirmative action policies in the U.S. have generally improved the lot of those who embraced it. I'm thinking along the same lines here.

Say you allocate Congressmen 5 of the 100 permanent items that become available for their region. You then put the criteria they only endorse teaching staff for areas deemed to be disadvantaged in the region. With a quota and criteria in place, you are taking some pressure off the Congressman for doing favours for her/his constituents.
I hope I still get my economics right, but what we have here is an effort to internalize (by providing for the 5% congressional quota in the DepEd hiring policy) a negative externality (the current practice of congressional intrusion in the recruitment process that harms the majority of teacher applicants).

It seeks to do so by a command-and-control state policy through regulation that limits such intrusion to a maximum of 5 percent.

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Updates on my versatile future teacher

I'M ALREADY resigned to seeing my eldest daughter Sofie becoming a teacher; her mother, who teaches high school maths at Cam High, also thinks the same way, but with pride and nary a feeling of resignation.

There are both positive and negative indications. The upside came last week, when out of the blue, and clearly within earshot, I heard her exclaim: "Perfect ka talaga Peps! Pareho kamo ni Gabe. Pinapaogma mo talaga ako." (You got perfect score Peps! Both you and Gabe. You made me very happy.") Apparently, her younger "pusong mamon" of a sister is not her only pupil from time to time; there's another playmate and both did well in a test she administered. Now, that's one versatile teacher proud of her craft.

The downside came about two weeks back. Working from the loft, I also heard this one straight from the horse's mouth, though not as clearly. But her mother and brothers attested to it: "Dai kamo magparakontra sako ta teacher ako!" ("Don't you go against me because I'm a teacher!") I think she got that from her Grade III class adviser, her favorite no doubt. Now, that sounds like a terror teacher to me, one who will brook no opposition. Or someone who has just ran out of argument.

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20 February 2007

UAP's mission of a higher order

THE WORSENING rift between the professional organizations of architects and engineers in the city is dominating the airwaves here in Naga, sparked by the decision of Architect Hernani Aguilar, the city building official, to execute the Implementing Rules and Regulations of Republic Act No. 9266, also known as the "Architecture Act of 2004."

Aguilar, toeing the United Architects of the Philippines (UAP) line, maintains that the IRR limits the preparation, signing and sealing of all architectural documents to licensed and registered architects. As a result, all building applications inconsistent with this requirement -- read, signed wholly by civil engineers, which used to be the case before Aguilar put his foot down -- would not pass muster.

The local chapter of the Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers (PICE) are expectedly up in arms, even going to the extent of petitioning the city government for Aguilar's relief. The issue is now with the central office of the DPWH, which supervises all building units in the country.

If you want additional reference materials on this controversy, the full text of RA 9266 is available here. The official UAP position can be found on page 8 of this news bulletin. Dr. Angel Lazaro III, chair of the PRC's Board of Civil Engineering, on the other, has argued PICE's position in this presentation quite well. The PICE website, on the other hand, maintains a court injunction on a related, but separate revised IRR on the National Building Code has effectively maintained status quo.

Clearly, this is one issue that the courts must decide soonest. Pending that, a middle ground must be found that will accommodate both parties. But this issue should not deter UAP from performing what I think is its mission of a higher order, especially in the context of our ongoing effort to update Naga's land use plan. Urbano's ongoing series here, here and here explains it powerfully, his long pauses notwithstanding.:)

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NPM and public education in the Philippines

ONE OF the deliverables (due on Feb 24 at the latest) in the ongoing online seminar on New Public Management I am part of is a three-page essay on the public administration in one's country, its main problems and the kind of reforms needed.

After some 150 posts I went through on interesting reform examples from all over the world volunteered by an international group of participants, and the recent Synergeia retreat I attended over the weekend, I already decided what I will write about: it is the title of this post.:)

I don't know if it's serendipity, but it's as if I was fated to write about it.

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19 February 2007

4th plank of the revolt

MANOLO'S column today dwelt on a revolt in the making that, by poetic justice, will redeem the people's initiative provision in the Constitution and achieve three objectives:

  • the scrapping of the pork barrel;
  • the recomputation of the internal revenue allotment for provinces; and
  • the incorporation of the pork barrel into the internal revenue allotment.
A proposed law that will serve as vehicle for realizing the above, according to the article,
would make it the policy of the State to limit the work of Congress to enacting legislation (and, I presume, to its equally essential work of oversight and investigation). It would prohibit representatives and senators from implementing and following-up projects. The law would provide for a line item budget; and it would punish local officials who violate the law.
Given the above, let me propose another specific prohibition for consideration under that proposed law: putting an end to the silent practice allowing congressmen to practically appoint public school teachers to new permanent items that are being funded annually in the national budget. The Congressional Planning and Budget Department's analysis of the 2007 budget shows a provision for 10,000 new teacher items this year.

I don't know if the DepEd abets it in exchange for getting more money from Congress. But this anomaly, where division superintendents defer to a list emanating from powerful congressmen in appointing teachers, came up during the annual Synergeia retreat I attended. The Iloilo mayors were particularly vocal about this demoralizing practice, complaining that unqualified applicants -- backed by the congressman -- usually end up getting the available items, to the consternation of more experienced and better suited ones. This, in spite of a DepEd order governing the recruitment and selection process.

Expect the ranks of disgruntled teacher applicants and local execs incensed by this congressional intrusion to throw their full support to the proposed law if ever it gets included as another important provision.

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But can NTC pull it off?

IN THE Inquirer website today is a news item on the National Telecommunication Commission's (NTC) latest effort to "curb anti-competition practices among local telcos."

Well and good, especially because if realized, the new rules will certainly benefit ordinary consumers at the end of the day.

Pardon me for being skeptical about the NTC's capability to do what it plans to. Last February 6, I emailed and sent them by post my complaint about Globe's vanishing prepaid load. Tomorrow, two weeks will have passed since I did it. But I have yet to get even the basic courtesy of acknowledging receipt of that complaint.

And it purports to bring the Philippines towards ICT leadership in Asia?

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17 February 2007

Education is good politics

TODAY'S event also affirmed what UP professor and Synergeia trustee Solita Monsod told local execs years back: education is good politics.

One reason why
LSBs in the Philippines are largely unutilized is that many mayors, governors and village officials believe public education is primarily the responsibility of the Department of Education (DepEd). Consequently, they would rather put their effort into "safer" programs like scholarships, public school facilities improvement and the likes.

But the stories shared by the
Synergeia mayors, like graduating mayors Jett Roxas of Ajuy (who emphasized the need for self reliance), Lowell Arban of Lemery and Pedro Alarcon of Batad, Iloilo, showed otherwise. All credit their deeper involvement in public education as key to their successful reelection bids. Together with neighboring Negros Occidential, Iloilo has in fact emerged as Synergeia's most successful arena for scaling up reforms, now covering 10 towns who are sharing among themselves their expertise, experiences and resources under the leadership of Concepcion Mayor Raul Banias, the country's most outstanding municipal mayor.

The experience shared by
Talisay City Mayor Eric Saratan (Negros Occidental) also underscored the role of mayors as the the most effective champions of education governance reform at the local level. Thrust into the office by natural succession last year, Mayor Saratan (a general surgeon by profession) decided to join in after hearing two fellow Negrense mayors speak passionately about their respective education reform efforts in two separate occasions. "Why do smaller towns have such a program and our city doesn't?" he asked. Today, he has successfully completed a citywide Education Reform Summit.

The LSB reinvention effort we began in
Naga six years ago has indeed gone great lengths. The emergence of local success stories and localized innovations based on our experience -- like Upi, Barira and Siasi in the ARMM -- affirms its promise. But our journey has a long, long way to go.

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New Synergeia stars take centerstage

ON THE bus last night, I thought it was just an extended day in the office, standing in as usual for my principal. But as today's retreat of the Synergeia mayors at Renaissance Hotel in Makati progressed, it turned out time very well spent.

As Nene Guevara, Synergeia CEO, admitted, they were mulling the possibility of postponing this event, as its usual "superstars" -- the likes of Mayor Robredo, Bulacan Gov. Josie de la Cruz and Undersecretary Lito Coscolluela -- sent notice they will not be able to make it. As it turned out, today's retreat affirmed that a new set of Synergeia stars have been born and took the spotlight, in line with its theme "Sa Totoo Lang -- Ang Kwento ni Gobernador, Mayor at Kapitan."

The soft-spoken Tiwi, Albay Mayor Jaime "Ami" Villanueva was a revelation, doing a splendid job of managing the retreat. But the individual stories of the local execs present warmed the heart.

Mayors Albert Que of Bongao, Tawi Tawi; Alexander Tomawis of Barira, Shariff Kabunsuan; and Abdullah Campong of South Upi, Maguindanao in the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) are all self-made men who did not go into college because of the war; their common resolve is to fix the public school system in their respective communities so that their children need not go through the same path.

Mayor Nurbert Sahali of Panglima Sugala, Tawi Tawi was hesitant of joining the Synergeia education reform effort. "Walang pera dyan," he surmised at the outset, a thinking shared by Siasi, Sulu mayor Wilson Anni who thought going into education will drain a lot of the town's limited financial resources. Sahali also had to overcome the formidable cultural constraint demonizing education in Muslim communities: "Pag nag-aral ka, magiging Kristiano ka." But joining the effort is one decision both have not regretted since.

Multi-awarded Mayor Ramon Piang, an educator before becoming mayor of Upi, Maguindanao (now part of the newly created Shariff Kabunsuan province) who enticed Mayor Campong to go into the education reform effort, summed up what differentiates Synergeia's approach from others: "Lahat tayo kasali dito."

Just three years into the project, Upi's pupils are now involved in improving real property tax collection, urging parents to pay their taxes so that the municipality will be able to improve public school facilities. Its newly computerized RPT system enables the LGU to provide billings in an instant, thereby making the local school board (LSB) more meaningful and functional.

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16 February 2007

The 2007 School Board budget

LAST Wednesday (Feb. 14), the Naga City School Board met for the first time and adopted its budget for 2007 pursuant to Resolution No. 2007-002. Its highlights include the following:

  • TOTAL. The 2007 budget totals P39 million, built on a P33 million collection certified by the City Treasurer and a P6 million operating surplus registered in 2006. It is 36% higher than last year’s spending program.
  • PERSONAL SERVICES. Personal services remain the biggest expense item at 41% of the total. This year, it increased by 48% over the 2006 level to support a 10% salary hike that will be effected in the second half of 2007, and the hiring of five new additional teachers. In all, it will fund a total of 93 teaching and 12 non-teaching staff.
  • For the first time, provision for cost-of-living allowance (COLA) of public school teachers and non-teaching staff was provided for the entire year; in previous budgets, it used to be two quarters, with the rest covered by a supplemental budget depending on fund availability. Also, a Performance Incentive grant equivalent to another quarter was provided for under the Personal Services item.
  • INSTRUCTIONAL MATERIALS. Allocation for instructional materials increased by 135% to support the acquisition of textbook titles that the School Board will adopt after the ongoing review. It will also fund the acquisition of other materials previously identified by the Division of City Schools but were not procured last year.
  • INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY. Allocation for information technology increased by 90% to support two new initiatives on top of the regular acquisition and repair of PC hardware for public schools: (a) the Wireless Naga Initiative, which seeks to realize Naga’s aspiration to become a “digital city” through the public schools; and (b) Computer Aided Instruction for Secondary Schools, which seeks to provide equipment for an instruction room dedicated for computer-aided lessons in each public high school.
  • SPECIAL PROGRAMS AND PROJECTS. Allocation for this expense item increased by 181% to support expanded Divisionwide Testing (which will be conducted quarterly plus a citywide achievement test, and will include cash incentives for outstanding schools); increased funding for Alternative Learning System (up by 80%), institutionalization of the Nutri-Dunong feeding program; and titling of public school properties.

Other details of the new School Board budget can be accessed here.

By the way, the full text of Mayor Robredo's 2007 State of the City Report is already available at the city website.

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15 February 2007

Where are the other Bikol provinces?

IN TONIGHT'S edition of TV Patrol World, National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) Secretary General Romulo Virola took the spotlight with his good governance ranking of Philippine provinces.

This impelled me to immediately log on and check the NSCB website, leading to this page provocatively titled "Governance Statistics: Who Should We Vote For in the May 14 Elections?


The seven tables in Virola's piece contained the top 30 provinces in economic and administrative governance for 2003 and the top 30 most improved provinces in both categories. Combined, these indices yielded the top 30 and most improved provinces in good governance.

Unfortunately, of Bikol's six provinces, only Catanduanes (16th and 24th most improved in economic and good governance, respectively), Masbate (25th most improved in economic governance) and Sorsogon (28th most improved in administrative governance) figured in Virola's lists.

Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur and Albay on the other hand are missing. Which is somewhat strange considering that all are in Luzon mainland -- and therefore more physically accessible -- and the last two are the region's biggest and most moneyed LGUs. This made me check again the data from my poverty series, and surprisingly, Catanduanes (clearly the top regional performer) has the lowest annual income among all six.

Virola's final finding is most depressing:

We...came up with a Voters’ Index that provides indication on the “wisdom” of voters during elections – whether they are voting for the best and the best performing and booting out the worst and the worst performing. Table 7 confirms that, indeed, the Pinoy voters have not matured. The Voters’ Index for the best and best performing provinces is relatively high, meaning that voters reelect candidates whose provinces do well. However, the Voters’ Index for the worst and worst performing provinces is low, meaning that candidates whose provinces do badly in the GGI get reelected just the same.
This coming election, I think, will not be any different.

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Congressman PacMan?

IF MANNY Pacquiao ends up pursuing his putative congressional bid, I imagine Michael Buffer introducing him in his next fight versus Jorge Solis:

"Lets get ready to rumble!"....

"....And across the ring. Fighting out of the red corner. Wearing white with black trimmings.

"Official weight, also 129 pounds.

"His professional record, 43 victories, including 33 knockouts, with three defeats and two draws.

"From General Santos City Philippines, former flyweight chamption of the world, former superflyweight champion of the world, the reigning and defending WBC international superfeatherweight champion, soon to join the crocodiles in Philippine Congress, the Honorable Congressman Manny 'PacMan' Pacquiao!"

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Having fun

ASIDE from the demands of my day job, what is taking some of my time is an online international seminar on New Public Management, courtesy of the Friedrich Neumann Foundation.

Yes, I am having fun, not only because I get to share ideas on what I do, and learn from what others are doing, not only in the Philippines but in other parts of the world. At the same time, I also get to meet people -- like Rafael, Magnolia, Nicole, Cheryl, Helen, Rommel, Paulo and Oliver, to name a few -- who are not happy with the way things are, and are passionate about making the needed changes, big or small.

Our discussion in an online forum has covered a lot of grounds, some of which are close to heart -- like the voucher system in education; privatization in transport, telecommunications and other sectors in the economy; the justice system and many more.

Aside from the forum, participants are required to write down a short introduction and towards the end submit an essay on the public administration in his country, its main problems and the kind of reforms needed. The online part ends on March 9, and a week-long stay in Gummersbach, near Cologne, Germany, awaits the lucky few who will be invited by FNF to continue with the seminar. How's that for an incentive?:)

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14 February 2007

Totally missing the big picture

LAST NIGHT, I saw Kate Delovieres' report on the State of the City address in TV Patrol Bicol. I thought everything went well, until the last part where she raised to concern over (1) its timing, with the May elections fast approaching, and (2) its new venue -- Plaza Quezon -- where previous reports were held at the Sangguniang Panlungsod session hall.

I think mainstream media, exemplified by that report, missed the point here. One, the implied criticism that it is driven by the political season smacks of naiveté. Of course, events like the State of the Nation Address, which inspired the annual State of the City reports by the mayor,
is political. It also ignores the fact that it has become an annual ritual that started in 2002, or even earlier. In fact, previous reports can be accessed from the city website.

The second issue, on the other hand, totally misses the big picture. That it was delivered in the city plaza, and followed afterward by an open forum (which unfortunately did not live up to expectations) is an attempt to exercise direct democracy -- where citizens can hold their leaders to account. It sought to depart from usual practice of reporting to the city council, which is a feature of the representative democracy we currently have. And where the mainstream media can continue setting the agenda as a powerful gatekeeper that mediates between the governors and the governed.

This effort should not only be continued but enhanced. Like making available copies of the state of the city address -- in print and digital format -- well before it is delivered; this way, participants will have the chance to study the report and make more meaningful comments, criciticisms or suggestions. A shorter report -- focusing on the truly major issues -- will take up fewer minutes and allow more time for the open forum. There are others, I'm sure, which will make a "good practice" better.

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Dreaming about fences mended

I HAD a weird dream last night. Mayor Robredo and Gov. LRay Villafuerte were shaking hands.

I don't pay dreams that much attention, but this I decided to write down. I just don't know: maybe its my subconscious at work, driven by an ideal for political leaders rising above their differences and working for the greater good of the province. A vision of statesmanship, of synergy and stuff -- you know, the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

I always pine for the time the late Nonoy Bulaong was our governor; City Hall and Capitol were at peace then. Is it possible to bring it back? After the elections, can unity be part of the local agenda?

The chorus of this popular Kamikazee song -- one of my kids' favorite -- keeps playing on and on in my mind:
"Libre lang mangarap/Walang hanggan na paghiling/Libre lang mangarap/Managinip ka habang gising/ Libre lang mangarap/Managinip ka."

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13 February 2007

One laptop per child in Naga?

THIS news item via Yahoo! again tickled my curiousity. It appears the $150 laptop will be pilot-tested by school children in developing countries this month prior to its mass production starting July. Unfortunately, the Philippines is not one of them.

I remember discussing it with Dean Bocobo in one of his posts which I couldn't track now, because I did email Nicholas Negroponte to inquire how we can have these in Naga. Unfortunately, I did not get an answer -- maybe because it was not his correct email add.:)

But this site of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Foundation is giving me hope, particularly because it has created an opening for for communities where the national government will not buy the laptops for them. Just what Naga needs, I suppose.:)

This early, I think we need to address the criticisms hurled against the project, including the possibility that it will end up being resold by poor families who will benefit. Another is the huge amount involved. For instance, if we approach distribution at the household rather than the individual child, it will reduce Naga's funding requirements from 36,000 (our public elementary and high school population) to around 9,000 families (the lower third of our household population).

A demand-driven cost-sharing arrangement might do the trick: if a family who wants the laptop must fork out half of the amount as counterpart, it will have lesser motivation to sell it later. And it will bring down our cost from P262 to a more realistic P67 million. But that is only half of the problem: the real challenge is how to fully maximize this investment, if ever it comes to fruition; as our recent experience shows, the "build-it-and-they-will-come" approach does not appear to work in ICT.

Reuters image nicked from Yahoo

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State of the city

MAYOR Robredo presented his state of the city report last night at the Plaza Quezon, incorporating highlights of the draft progress report on Bikol's midterm performance on the Millennium Development Goals that I did for NEDA and DAP. The Sangguniang Panlungsod adjourned its session in the morning, resumed it later in the evening, and suspended its rules to allow the mayor to present his report.

The ensuing open forum that we hoped would encourage more meaningful interaction between ordinary citizens and their leaders did not materialize as planned. The two commenters fielded utter nonsense so Vice Mayor Gabby Bordado had to rule them out.

I am posting the Powerpoint presentation that accompanied the mayor's report here. I'm sure this -- and the text of the report -- will be uploaded in the city website later, together with an updated report on Tabang Naga's collections. Your feedback will be highly appreciated.

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10 February 2007

Tagged again

BENITO Vergara, aka Bulletproof Vest, tagged me to "imagine the questions that led to the answer, and then provide your own answer." I found this one as engaging as his interview questions here. So once again, here goes nothing:

1. A Samsung F700, by way of Yuga. More powerful than Steve Jobs' iPhone. Way cooler than the Nokia N73 I was wishing for. Just dunno if I will be able to afford it.

2. A minibus that will comfortably seat me, my wife, our seven kids, my mother-in-law and our household help whenever we visit my parents in Pili.

3. From time to time, snippets from Collins'
Good to Great.

4. If I will get to live forever in Paradise together with my family.

5. An email from the Friedrich Neumann Foundation accepting me into their online seminar on the New Public Management (NPM). I've always thought a four-person School Board staff running a P39-million and counting budgetary support system for the public schools in Naga, including some 100 locally funded teachers and staff, is NPM in practice.

6. A Cold War spy like 007.

7. "Ang pag-ibig natin ay/Walang hanggang paalam."

8. A private dinner and night out with my wife. Doesn't come very often nowadays (except when we celebrated our 15th anniversary recently, but without the night out), with seven kids watching and shadowing your every move.

9. "Lolo mo?" My daughter Sofie's preschool teacher asked that the first time I walked her to school. Another variation which already happened twice with my youngest brother, 11 years my junior: "Tatay mo?"

10. Surviving the scare of my life.

Again, I'm tagging Kristian, Maryanne, Frankie, Dave and Irvin -- Bikol bloggers all.

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Editorialized

UPON reading this Bicol Mail editorial yesterday morning, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was largely based on my previous post on the Typhoon Reming donations. Six months ago, after resuming blogging, I've always thought it was "I write, therefore I am." Now, I think it is a little more than that.:)

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09 February 2007

Erap's statesmanship and an irrelevant "Third Force"

IN A comment to my post here, I said the following:

If only Erap were statesman enough to realize that both he and GMA have been a bane to the nation, he will (a) stop JV from running because one Ejercito is enough in the Senate; (b) ask John, the two Titos (Sotto and Guingona) and Tessie to stop it and give way to young guys like Noynoy, Koko, Alan Peter and Chiz; and (c) accommodate other "Third Force" probables like Sonia Roco, Ralph Recto and Francis Pangilinan -- to take the wind out of its sails.
In a subsequent post, I also said that wish is "unlikely to be granted," thus affirming the necessity for a "third force."

But today's top stories, like this banner headline from the
Inquirer, carry Erap's decision not to field his wife Loi (who can seek another term) or son JV for the coming senatorial election. Helped by natural political permutations that took out Tito Sotto and Tessie Aquino-Oreta from the picture, and except John Osmeña's inclusion -- clearly to accommodate the Osmeñas of Cebu -- in the slate, I practically got what I wished for.

This development has definitely taken the wind out of the "Third Force." It's now one-on-one between the administration and the opposition. And if the latter secures the needed win of at least an 8-4 margin, this shrewd statesmanlike gesture from Erap is the dealbreaker.

But then again, there's the more unpredictable, chaotic and bloody congressional races for the Lower House, which actually is more important as we saw over the last three years.

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06 February 2007

The scare of my life

I HAD the scare of my life when I arrived home yesterday afternoon.

After motoring, and being forced to step on the gas to beat the slight drizzle that greeted me upon reaching the San Felipe-Pacol boundary, I found my mobile phone ringing and tried to catch the call, to no avail. It has registered seven missed calls from two numbers, one by Erning Elcamel and the other from an unknown caller.

I know something was amiss. The phone rang again. It was Erning anew, who quickly told me my child is at the city hospital. I called my wife, who hurriedly changed. My mind was racing on the possibilities: finding out that everything is OK at home, it can only be my eldest.

The phone rang yet again, this time from that unidentified caller: it was Romy Saripe, a driver assigned at the City Hospital. He confirmed what Erning told me, and said my son is OK. But deep inside, I still had doubts -- after seeing too many movies that ended up otherwise -- and because I've never been through this situation before.

Ditching the motorbike, I drove our car as fast as I can, and we reached the City Hospital in a little over 10 minutes. A PUJ was parked infront. Romy was there, so was the jeepney driver. In the corner, Ezekiel was sitting on a bench, holding a bottle of medicine that the driver bought, with mefenamic acid tablets to boot.

Apparently, my son tried to cross the street in front of Cam High, hoping to catch the homebound Pacol Urban jeepney moving in the other lane. But he failed to see the incoming PUJ, which was fortunately moving slowly because it was rush hour. There was a hole in his right pant, a scratch on his leg and a gash on his left arm, but he is otherwise fine. And that, to a scared father, is the most important thing. We do still have a lot to be thankful about.:)

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Taking the next step

TODAY, I have made good on my promise to file a complaint with the National Telecommunications Commission regarding the prepaid load shaving incident involving my account with Globe Telecom, which I wrote about here, here and here.

Aside from emailing the complaint, I also sent it via registered mail just to be sure. A copy, sans the usual information entries I had to fill up, can be found here.

Now that it has been fed into the bureaucratic mill, it will be interesting to find out if the
NTC, which purports to bring the Philippines towards ICT leadership in Asia, will actually look into it and do something about the four issues I raised.

Will it have jurisdiction over the poor
CSR services of Globe and Citibank, which while primarily a bank, is also into online prepaid credit reloading?

Will blogging about it can make any difference at all?

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05 February 2007

Return to VHS

IN BETWEEN revisiting 2006 and writing about it (a priority assignment), I passed much of the weekend viewing VHS tapes being lent for free at the Raul S. Roco Library, a new service made possible under the leadership of acting librarian Rico Vinluan.

With the demise of the VHS format, the collection of Jean-Mac video house was donated to the library, which it lends out in turn to its clients. It gave me the idea to airbrush and clean up the innards of my 10-year old Sony VHS player, which had not been in use since the VCD and the DVD killed the VHS format early in the early 2000s. My player is still working very well, and still does justice to the seven tapes I borrowed thus far.

My kids thoroughly enjoyed the An American Tail: The Mystery of the Night Monster, which came with a decent closed captioning, and Soccer Dog. I contented myself with another viewing of the visually luscious Chocolat that starred Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench and the ever versatile Alfred Molina; and saw for the first time the enchanting Captain Corelli's Mandolin (also close-captioned, featuring a young Penelope Cruz, Christian Bale and Nicolas Cage) and the intriguing The Proposition (Kenneth Branagh, the beauteous Madeleine Stowe and the stoic William Hurt).

Definitely not bad for a weekend spent mostly at home. So if you're a cost-conscious movie buff living in Naga or its suburbs, who still have a working VHS player at home, and can spare some transpo to and from the Roco Library, why don't you give it a try? Multi-awarded Kristian Cordero said the library's collection is always worth his while.

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03 February 2007

Shortchanged and betrayed

THIS letter first appeared yesterday in the single-again Inquirer website (after that quiet divorce with GMA News and Public Affairs, which now has its own here), so I had to link up to it before being buried by the daily flood of information that ritually comes its way.

After visiting the devastated areas like Guinobatan and Padang, Legazpi City and seeing practically nothing, Teresa Ala, a Bicolana who now lives in Alberta, Canada, asks where all the dollar donations went, including the $1 million that Canada sent (around P41 million at the current exchange rate).

I don't blame her for again feeling shortchanged and betrayed. If there are people who profit from the tremendous suffering caused by calamities like Reming and Milenyo, our opportunistic politicians easily top the honor roll. For instance, these two successive columns by Neal Cruz about Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman here and here describe a typical gimmick they pull off every time disaster comes.

So, where have the donations to Bicol victims gone? Iriga Mayor Madel Alfelor-Gazmen asked the same thing when two truckloads intended for her city suddenly disappeared; now she is reaping the political whirlwind.

Expect all of these relief goods to suddenly flood the region come election time, courtesy of some "generous" politicians. They know the answer to Ms. Ala's question all along.

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02 February 2007

July 21

THAT'S when we finally will get to know the fate awaiting Harry Potter and his nemesis Lord Voldemort, not to mention his close friends Ron and Hermione. When Ezekiel found out while preparing for school, he let out a big "Yes!"

The
New York Times article here has all the details, including a $5 cover price spike for the final installment. Instead of $29.99, it will retail at $34.99. (I wonder what's the big deal with this 99-cent thing; why can't they just round off the whole amount?)

Which means I will have to wait a little more time for the market's exuberance to die down before getting my own copy when I get to visit National Bookstore. I have set P1,000 as the price ceiling for my previous hardbound purchases, but I think I will reconsider that for this one.

Give it a day, though, and you will already find out the answer through the internet. Aside from the news wires that are certain to cover this event, The Leaky Cauldron is always a good place to start. As with most, if not all "official" websites, J.K. Rowling's own site is always interesting, but it is too stingy on the details you desire the most.

Graphic nicked from the New York Times.

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