30 June 2007

A superior Yahoo! Mail for mobiles

EARLY this morning, an entirely new interface greeted me when I checked my Yahoo! email account using my mobile phone.

Unable to get a high-res photo, I had to install this wmlbrowser extension for Firefox to reproduce how Y!Mail in beta now handles its email messages.

This means I can now access Y!Mail, and its unlimited storage, using the interface's superior layout. This puts Yahoo! a step ahead in terms of ease of use and accessibility, Neerav's Gmail-Mobile service notwithstanding.

An added bonus is its capability to store my login details, propelling me straight to my Inbox everytime I visit the site. Enabling me to skip the login page -- which can be quite cumbersome, especially with my LG KU250's rather tight keypad -- is a big relief.

This development fits in nicely with my approach to email management: Gmail remains my primary email address, but my Yahoo account, and its superior email interface, will be most convenient for my group emails.

More and more, I now access my emails using my mobile. In fact, my WAP usage for this month
(at P390) is already higher than my voice (at P330 for both local and NDD calls) and SMS. But I wonder when I will be able to do the same with my Hotmail account.

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Vox Bikol and its online quiz

QUICK: What is the English word for "baligang," that dark violet bitter fruit that tastes better when shaken vigorously with salt?

  • plum
  • cherry
  • grape
If you answered "berry," you got it right, as I did when I took this Bikol quiz that forms part of the newly built online home of Vox Bikol. Vox is the weekly newspaper I used to edit and for which I now write a weekly column.

Unfortunately, that was one of the only four I got right out of 10, prompting me this terse message: "Kaipuhan po na mag-adal pa nin bikol." (You need to study Bikol more.)

The site is still work in progress, Julma Narvadez said, thanks to the effort of Fr. Tebelin and the Ina nin Bikol Foundation, Inc. which now publishes the paper. Julma's late father, Joe, used to be the Vox publisher when I was with the paper, until his untimely demise.

But I am very happy with this development, as I have been clamoring for Vox to make its long overdue online presence felt and fill the gap in cyberspace for news, opinion and information about Naga and the Bikol region.

Why don't you give that quiz a try and share your score with me?:)

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29 June 2007

Those Casureco II prepaid meters

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

IN THE raging controversy at the Casureco II over an alleged P300,000 illegal disbursement used in the recent partylist election, one item that captured my interest is the purchase of some 100 prepaid meters by the current management, to the tune of more than P2 million, two years back.

Up to now, they remain unused, allegedly because of a software glitch.

Are we missing the forest for the trees here?

For a mere software glitch, the Casureco II management is letting a substantial capital investment, one that can bring it to stronger financial stability, rot away. This, I think, is an act more criminal than the rest.

Prepaid electricity is nothing new. Actually, it is a fact of life in such countries as Nigeria and South Africa. Tertia Albertyn, a 38-year old mom who won in the 2007 South African Blog Awards for the best writing, describes it for us:

“Pre-paid electricity…is a fairly new thing here, last 10 years or so, the older houses still have the system where you pay for your usage at the end of the month, but all the new houses have pre-paid boxes. The electricity people come and install a pre-paid meter in your house. You then buy virtual tokens for the meter, either by taking your electricity card (like a swipe credit card) to the local grocery store, or 7/11 etc, or via the internet, or via your cell phone. You decide how much you want to purchase. 10 bucks, 100 bucks, 500 bucks, whatever amount. You decide the amount and you will be issued with a 20-digit number (the virtual token) that you then have to enter into your meter. Once you hit enter on your meter (it is a small box, about A5 size, mine is in my garage), the box sends a signal via wireless radio transmission to a receiving beacon, the token is verified, and access to the purchased amount of electricity is returned to the meter. Voila! You have electricity. No mess, no fuss.”
And what are its advantages? The Tide, a Nigerian online publication, explains:
“Ordinarily, there are many reasons why a prepaid meter should be preferred. Apart from the fact that it takes away the burden of having to prepare monthly bills for consumers, the system compels consumers to develop a positive attitude towards payment. It also puts an end to the issues of over billing, wrong disconnection and reconnection fees usually associated with the current system. Prepaid system also enables consumers to imbibe a disciplined attitude towards energy consumption.

“People will no longer be careless leaving their electrical appliances on, even when they are not in use.”
The prestigious Wall Street Journal agrees in a recent article about a program pilot-testing pay-as-you-go (which is how Americans call “prepaid”) service that US utilities are experimenting on to encourage energy conservation. This only goes to show that in terms of innovations and their adoption, Americans are many times laggards than the developing world.

Actually, this concept needs no explaining, as the same principle governs prepaid cellular phone services. And here, Philippine telcos have been internationally recognized for their innovative load-sharing and mobile payment schemes: Smart’s PasaLoad and Globe’s G-Cash. And their prepaid subscribers market cannot be sneezed at: they account for 99% of PLDT’s and 95% of Globe’s mobile subscribers.

A financial manager worth his salt will see the advantages of a prepaid system a kilometer away: just imagine the cash flow benefits it brings, where payments for its service will be made up front, instead of being at the mercy of the traditional billings system. And we haven’t even considered the operational savings it will generate: from the manhours spent in printing the individual statements and distributing these to customers, to disconnecting lines when accounts are not paid by due date.

Given these realities, the people who should do a lot of explaining are the Casureco managers. What is holding them back from fixing that software glitch (assuming that indeed is the cause) and deploying these prepaid meters? Or is this continuing inability to shape up and improve efficiency part of a bigger scheme to set the coop up for eventual failure, paving the way for its sale to private interests?

Graphic nicked from WSJ.com.

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Quick notes under the weather

THE ONSET of the wet season, bringing hot mornings until midday and rains in the afternoon, took a terrible toll on me and most of the kids. Poor me: young as they are, recovery for them came quite quickly while some stuff finally caught up with their old fogey.

Enough said.

1. The saga of Naga's persecuted policemen continues. The Inquirer carried their story yesterday, which is quite ironic once you posits them in this farewell message of Joachim von Amsberg, World Bank's outgoing country manager, before the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP).

This is how the country's true islands of good governance is being rewarded -- being singled out by a regional police leadership identified with Rep. Luis Villafuerte and his son Bong. No wonder jueteng is back with a vengeance.

2. Today is the final session of the 8th Sangguniang Panlungsod. One of the term-limited councilors who will bid the city government goodbye is Atty. Mila Raquid-Arroyo, chair of the Committee on Education, ex-oficio member of the Naga City School Board and a trustee of the Ateneo de Naga University, among others.

Miles will be a big loss to the city, but a big gain for the civil society, from which she came before running for the council in 1998. She will be greatly missed.

3. In reading through this alternative Harry Potter series ender, I was pleasantly introduced to the world of fan fiction, defined by Wikipedia as

a broadly-defined term for fiction about characters or settings written by fans of the original work, rather than by the original creators. Fan fiction usually describes works which are uncommissioned by the owner of the work, and usually (but not always) works which are not professionally published.
But what if the fanfic, like Melindaleo's The Seventh Horcrux, erroneously labeled the fake Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, provides a better ending than the original?

4. How much is Manolo's link worth? As much as 50% of one's regular visitors, based on my recent experience. Over the last few days I did not write a post, yet my Sitemeter stats went up by as much.

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25 June 2007

I like this 'fake' Harry Potter series ender

IF YOU haven't noticed yet, there's now a MyBlogLog widget at the bottom of my sidebar. I just followed Irvin's lead here -- and that included joining the PinoyBlogosphere community, on Bratyfly's invite -- and I'm enjoying the experience.

One of the stuff that comes with a MyBlogLog account is a header called "Hot in My Communities." A fan of the Harry Potter series that is about to finally be unraveled on July 21, the top entry grabbed my attention as I was winding down work at the office. It is a link to an alleged fake version of J.K Rowling's 7th and final installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

To cut the crap, I downloaded it and immediately went to the ending, and read my way backwards, scanning about 100 pages or so.

For a fake Harry Potter, the stuff I read appealed to the sucker-for-happy-endings guy in me. I dunno how J.K. Rowling's official version would look like -- I will still buy my eldest Ezekiel's copy when the price becomes affordable -- but this fake version is, to me, a good enough alternative Harry Potter universe. Especially if the original becomes dark as advertised.

As a final word, let me say this: whoever wrote this 659-page fake deserves some accolade. On first brush, it is a believable 659-page yarn; and writing all 659 pages organized into 34 chapters is no mean feat.

The graphic, as usual, was nicked from the New York Times.

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The furor on the Taal resort spa

THE DIFFERENCE between a local government strongly in favor of a project, compared to one that is not or at best indifferent, is illustrated by the ongoing furor on the proposed resort spa near the crater of Taal volcano in Batangas.

Activist farmers and fishermen are against it, joined by the outgoing governor and vice governor of Batangas province as well as the mayor of Tagaytay City.

“If Taal Volcano was (sic) under my administrative authority, I would have scrapped that project even during its initial phase,” Tagaytay City Mayor Abraham Tolentino was quoted as saying.

Only the municipal government of Talisay, which has jurisdiction over the volcano, is clearly in favor, with the mayor, Florencio Manimtim, entering into a memorandum of agreement with the Korean developer, Jung Ang Interventure Corporation.

That the community around the famous volcano only got to learn about the project last June 14, 2007 when the Environmental Clearance Certificate was issued on November 8, 2006, tells volumes about the secrecy attending the whole project.

The procedures for a securing an ECC in an environmentally critical area (which applies to Taal Lake) are found here, specifically on pages 21 to 23. It provides for a 120-working day processing period (roughly five to six months) starting when the submitted documents have been verified for completeness. This means the application for that Taal spa project was submitted to the DENR Regional Office sometime in June or July last year, or even earlier.

The procedures require at least two public consultations, one before the 120 days and the other during the review of the application. The most relevant questions are: Who attended these two public meetings? Did these really take place, or merely on paper?

Another set of relevant questions worth asking: Did the Sangguniang Bayan pass a legislative measure authorizing Mayor Manimtim to enter into a MOA with their Korean partners? If it did, were there public hearings conducted on the matter? Did those consultations really take place, or are they merely on paper?

Another aspect that should be looked at is the role of the preparers of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) report that is one of the "must" document requirements for an ECC. The procedures require an accountability statement from the consultant hired to conduct the study.

It will be very interesting to find out how the EIS was completed by these consultant-preparers -- a cottage industry spawned by our environmental regulations -- in complete secrecy. Maybe their consultations were held in Korea, and not in Batangas?

Photo by R. W. Decker of the University of Hawaii Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes
.

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22 June 2007

Maria Flordeluna, Happy Slip and Levy Aureus

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

BY THE time this column comes out, the 93-episode run of Maria Flordeluna over ABS-CBN would have been over.

Now, I don’t usually follow the ratings of the two giants in Philippine television, but my gut feel tells me -- judging from my kids’ reaction to the penultimate episode Thursday evening -- Maria Flordeluna easily beat out its competition over at GMA.

My four year-old daughter Nokie in fact raised her arms in triumph, and started jumping up and down, as did her sisters, when Leo Alicante was finally reunited with Jo, Flor, Rene Boy, Wilma and Brigida. If you don’t know these names, you must be living in another planet.

I am happy ABS-CBN produced -- or perhaps more correctly, revived -- this soap opera. It allows my children to see something that was also part and parcel of my own childhood, even if what my generation saw then had a different storyline. In the ‘80s, Flordeluna was all the rage at RPN 9, with the late Julie Vega providing it stiff competition over GMA 7. They came at a time when television sets were mostly black-and-white, propelling Janice de Belen (as Flordeluna) and Herbert Bautista (as Rene Boy) to instant stardom.

But there is one name that I took mental note of as I followed the drama series: that of Marcos Navarro Sacol, who wrote the original script for Maria Flordeluna when it made its first run as a radio drama in the ‘70s.

Googling his name, I found out snippets about Mr. Sacol: it appears that he is a veteran Cebuano drama writer-director who, according to a Sun.Star columnist “wrote such hits as Milyonaryong Mini, Si Goot da Wanderpol, Maria Flordeluna, Hinog sa Punoan and several other radio, stage and television dramas that truly delighted audiences in the Visayas and Mindanao.” His latest work is Gugmang Dakog Mata, a comedy-drama-action teleserye that has been running over the Cebu Catholic Television Network since last year.

I have to mention this to hammer the point that being a promdi like Sacol should not prevent local writers from dreaming big. While it is true that it is difficult to penetrate the big leagues, the Manila-based networks whose powerbrokers essentially set the agenda, emerging internet-based technologies can provide a viable alternative.

The best example remains to be Christine Gambito, aka Happy Slip, a New York-based Filipina comedienne who is a bona fide star on YouTube. Again, in case you are out of the loop, YouTube “is a popular video sharing website where users can upload, view, and share video clips. Videos can be rated, and the average rating and the number of times a video has been watched are both published.” Time magazine selected it as the “invention of the year” for 2006.

"During the summer of 2006, YouTube was one of the fastest-growing websites on the World Wide Web…According to a July 16, 2006 survey, 100 million clips are viewed daily on YouTube, with an additional 65,000 new videos uploaded per 24 hours. The site has almost 20 million visitors each month, according to Nielsen/NetRatings…YouTube's preeminence in the online video market is staggering. According to the website Hitwise.com, YouTube commands up to 64% of the UK online video market."
And Christine? As I write this, her one-woman production outfit is the 11th most subscribed, and her videos 80th most viewed of all time in YouTube. So when she said that through YouTube she has the world for an audience, you better believe it.

How does Levy Aureus get into picture? If there is one thing common between Tio Levy and Happy Slip, it has to be their sense of humor. And Levy Aureus, I think, represents the Bicolano writer’s sharp wit and funny bone that have a place in the alternative world of YouTube. Mayor Robredo discovered this belatedly when he realized why his own book launching paled in comparison with what Aureus recently had: his obra was too serious for comfort.

The promdi Bicolano writer therefore, when he has a good story to tell like Sacol, armed with the humor of Aureus, and willing to push the boundaries of emerging technologies like Gambito, can rise above the confines of his physical environment and conquer this brave new world.

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20 June 2007

One step backward, two steps forward

A QUICK trip to Manila yesterday allowed me to exchange some notes with a member of GMA's cabinet, and our conversation turned to the Lakas-Kampi tussle between incumbent House Speaker Jose de Venecia of Pangasinan (backed by Kampi chair and Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno) and Rep. Pablo Garcia of Cebu, aided by Camarines Sur's Luis Villafuerte, Kampi president.

Can it be possible, I asked, that Villafuerte will be able to capitalize on the winds of change in the House to engineer a monumental upset against JDV? Theoretically, yes; but realistically, no, he said. Not if you have an old fogey like Garcia as your standard bearer.

So, has Villafuerte overreached himself this time? Stephen Sergio, writing for the Bicol Mail, offers an intriguing proposition: Villafuerte's move to field Garcia is actually a one-step-backward-two-step-forward strategy, reminiscent of the brilliant Crispa tactician Virgilio "Baby" Dalupan, that is aimed at nothing less than the House Speakership itself.

But then GMA is nearing the endgame of her presidency. She is virtually a lame duck now, and with the likes of Vice President Noli de Castro, Senators Mar Roxas, Manny Villar, Loren Legarda, Ping Lacson, and yes, our very own Escudero breathing on her neck, GMAs support has to be flexible. If JDV falters, say on cha-cha, GMA will let go of him, discard him like used napkin. He cannot spread sunshine all the time. Into his speakership, some rain must fall, especially when his avid supporters now will find out that the pot of gold at the end of his rainbow coalition is illusory. Even now, there is strong resentment among some Lakas members that JDV is frying them on their own pork fat.

Therein lays the opportunity for LRV.
Sergio argues why Villafuerte's got what it takes when the going gets tough:
....JDVs IOUs are already frayed on the edges, having been used up for 12 years now. Whereas, LRV is, though still a junior congressman by House standards, still only beginning to accumulate his IOUs, for his role (in tandem with another Bicolano Rep. Edcel Lagman) in blocking the impeachment moves of the Opposition during the last Congress. Villafuerte single-handedly fought off an array of Opposition stalwarts such as Reps. Ronnie Zamora, Chiz Escudero, Alan Peter Cayetano and the Remulla brothers. His mastery of parliamentary rules and debating skills got the notice of his colleagues that he eventually became president of the President’s party, Kampi.
With the ever shifting sands of fortune, especially in the House, I think this scenario is probable. And if there's any Filipino politician today who has the amorality and thick hide, the durability, the wile and the guile needed in navigating through these treacherous quicksands, it has to be Villafuerte.

He is the quintessential turncoat: When he fell from the good graces of Marcos whom he served as trade and industry minister, he joined the opposition after Ninoy's assassination. During the final days of Erap Estrada, when most everyone, including trusted allies, were deserting him, LRV suddenly showed up by his side, started defending the beleaguered president and singing him hossanas. But when it was clear that Gloria has assumed control, he left Edgardo Angara and the LDP in no time, joining Lakas and later Kampi.

He has hit rock bottom before -- like losing the presidency of the League of Leagues (the predecessor of today's Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines or ULAP), and with it his stillborn presidential ambition, to Bulacan Gov. Roberto "Obet" Pagdanganan in the early '90s, which Peping Cojuangco and his cohorts engineered. Later, he would lose the Provincial Capitol itself to Nonoy Bulaong in a huge upset in 1992.

For instance, as the League of Provinces coup was happening in Manila, I saw him withdraw to Naga, lick his wounds and hide the hurt in celebrating the Kaogma Festival here, which his estranged son LRay has continued. But time and again, he has managed to bounce back.

So, if his bet on Garcia goes off, it is nothing new; he has been down this path through the political wilderness before. But if Sergio's calculations end up being spot on, it will be Villafuerte's victorious last hurrah.

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'Pagbongsod'

THE RATHER bland charter day rites at the Plaza Quezon (which, according to DWNX this morning, is on its way to being renamed Plaza Arejola after the Sanggunian yesterday adopted outgoing Councilor Julian Lavadia's proposal for the name change) was redeemed by the colorful, star studded book launch of "Sabi ni Levy" that followed at the Raul S. Roco Library by around midday.

The book is a collection of Liberato "Levy" Aureus's column pieces which have been appearing in Bicol Mail since it resumed publication in June 18, 2003, coincidentally Naga City's new birthdate.

And who is Tio Levy? According to the Mail website:

Levy S. Aureus, the Editorial Consultant, is an old Bicol Mail hand, government bureaucrat, 10-year electric coop director and one-time president, humorist and expert in both English and Bicol languages.
For the Aureus clan and the city as a whole, the occasion is significant in many ways:
  • Naga's first postwar city mayor is the famed guerilla leader Leon Sa. Aureus, who also founded Bicol Mail in 1953. (In 1960, the Mail was awarded as “the best edited provincial newspaper of the Philippines” before its closure during Martial Law.)
  • Levy is the late mayor's nephew, whom he took under his wings when he left native Mercedes, Camarines Norte for Naga City.
  • It was printed by Goldprint Publishing, which is owned and managed by Nilo Aureus, Levy's cousin; incidentally, the printing press is the same publishing outfit behind Kristian Cordero's Madrigal-Gonzales Best First Book award-winning Mga Tulang Tulala.
With Benny Decena masterfully emceeing the program, the many speeches and addresses -- from Mayor Robredo and Joe Obias; DWNX station manager Al Ubaña and Vice Mayor Bordado (who reviewed the book); former provincial board member Ernie Verdadero (who shared snippets of Levy's colorful life and times); to Nathan Sergio and Lito del Rosario (who read some choice cuts from the book); and finally, Tio Levy's own thoughts about the book -- became one memorable program of endless ribbings, surugotan, taralayopan and rollicking laughter.

A sample cut:
Kadto an pagmisa kan padi talikod sa tawo asin eyes-to-eyes na nakaatubang sa Diyos. Ngunyan atubang na sa tawo asin talikod na sa Diyos tanganing mahiling kun siisay an dai nagtatao nin limos!
It was Bicol wit at its finest, which is what "Sabi ni Levy" sought to capture in its pages.

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18 June 2007

Another footnote to the language wars

AN AWKWARD moment in the oath-taking that followed the speeches in this morning's 59th charter day celebration came when Sen. Joker Arroyo asked 10th-ranked Councilor-elect Ma. Elizabeth Lavadia to recite the "panunumpa" after him.

My favorite Bikolano senator had difficulty reading through the oath in Filipino, which how Tagalog is now known. (Although the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) knows better, admitting that "Filipino is simply Tagalog in syntax and grammar, with no grammatical element or lexicon coming from Iloko, Sinebwuano, Ilonggo, and other major Philippine languages.")

As a result, the others that followed -- from 9th-ranked Councilor Nelson Legacion up to Mayor Robredo himself -- simply went through the motions, mostly for photo-ops.

If it were in English, in which the Senate conducts its business, or in Bikol Naga, the regional standard in which Joker spoke flawlessly in addressing the crowd that mostly lined along Elias Angeles Street, the faux pas would not have happened.

The reason is generational: Joker's contemporary senior citizens are not as exposed as today's youth to mass media, especially TV which exerts a tremendous influence in developing and popularizing Filipino.

The generational divide was even evident when the senator, who also guested in the book launching of Liberato "Levy" Aureus's Sabi ni Levy, mentioned Bikol Naga's being the "purest" of the Bikol dialects. It actually made me cringe: the regional standard, yes; but the purest form?

It is certainly a debatable point, and one that the other flavors of the Bikol language he mentioned will not take sitting down. Among the literati who attended the event at the Raul S. Roco Library at city hall were leading Bikolano poet Kristian Cordero and Frankie Peñones, a Ford Foundation international fellow who just arrived in town for a much needed break from his studies at the University of San Jose in California.

Like Joker, we hail from Rinconada (the 4th district of Camarines Sur) and consider Bicol Rinconada our mother tongue. Both the multi-awarded Cordero and Peñones, in fact, have blazed the trail in elevating Rinconada literature to a prominent place in the vibrant literary scene. Yet Joker can only speak about the late Luis Dato who, like him, hails from Baao.

But policy, I strongly believe as I argued here, is another culprit. For instance, if policy and conventions allow, or better still encourage, the use of the vernacular in government forms such as the "panunumpa," consistent with the reality that we are a multilingual nation, that awkward, "wow mali!" moment starring my favorite Bikolano senator would not have happened.

In this light, the KWF's decision, under the leadership of the Bikolano Dr. Ricardo Ma. Nolasco, to finally give long overdue attention to the development, preservation and propagation of some 170 regional languages and dialects in the country is a step in the right direction.

The use of the vernacular in government forms or even laws of local importance -- the resolutions and ordinances that our sanggunians churn out regularly, which are for local consumption anyway -- can be a powerful contribution of government to this effort.

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Joker fetes Naga's 59th charter day

TAKING A break from his word war with Sen. Panfilo Lacson over the revival of the senate blue-ribbon investigation of Jose Pidal, reelected Bikolano senator Joker Arroyo flew to Naga today to lead the celebration of the city's 59th charter day at Plaza Quezon this morning.

In his message, he profusely thanked the people of Naga for giving him the highest vote during the recent election, saying he would have lost face in the Senate "as the gentleman from Naga and Camarines Sur" if Nagueños chose somebody else as their top senator.

But more importantly, Joker also saluted Naga for maintaining its oppositionist tradition, saying it is something they should be proud of. "It takes courage to say no, and go against the wishes of the leadership in Manila," he said. (How I wish my favorite senator were as consistent as his fellow citizens.)

Where people in the Visayas and Mindanao have long been clamoring federalism, Naga stands out for its federal mindset and practices, Joker added, operating independently of the central government. He therefore suggested that the city maintain its independence from Camarines Sur as provided for under its charter, Republic Act No. 305.

(Naga is an independent component city by virtue of its charter, one of the five in the country, the others being Cotabato, Dagupan, Ormoc and Santiago; its residents do not vote for provincial officials and in return are not subject to supervision by the provincial government.)

Earlier, local historian and journalist Jose Fernando Obias, in looking back at Naga's 59 years of cityhood, suggested updating its carta de privilegios many of whose provisions are no longer attuned to its needs. For instance, the original charter calls for only a four-person municipal board, which might be applicable to the demands of those times.

Obias also suggested reexamining its relationship with the province, as well as the possibility of Naga becoming a congressional district in its own right, entitled to a representative of its own.

Photo nicked from the Commission on Appointments website.

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16 June 2007

Not hypnotized, and not by the 'Budol-Bedol' Gang

SCHUMEY of Philippine Experience, I think, was the first to describe what's going on at the Commission on Elections (Comelec) as the handiwork of the "Budol-Bedol" Gang. In his entry last June 1, he said

So the Garci legacy continues! This time its Budol-Bedol and his gang of magicians. The COMELEC's mental state is now in question. The lieutenants of Garci have done their share, its up to Abalos to cover their tracks. Not only were the elections in Maguindanao stolen, the people were swindled by the Budol-Bedol Gang.
It's a word play on "budol-budol," which he explains parenthetically: "Budol-budol is a scam wherein a bundle of cash is padded with paper cut in the size of paper money. Only the exposed faces are genuine money and everything in between are just plain paper cuttings."

But there is one element which Schumey, I think, forgot to mention: the element of hypnosis. In most, if not all of the "budol-budol" incidents I've read or heard about, even the ones in Naga City, there is always some sort of mind control exercised by gang members on the hapless victim.

Consider the following example from Bacolod involving a 79-year old lawyer, as reported by Sun.Star:
(Luz Dato) Lacson was even puzzled as to why she was convinced by the suspects to get into their van. She later disclosed to the suspects her bank deposits at a bank in Lacson street.

It was as if she was hypnotized, she said. The suspects convinced her to take from the bank's safety deposit box her US$10,000, P65,000 and P2 million worth of jewelry.
But is the apparent hypnotic mental state that the Comelec now finds itself in the handiwork of the "Budol-Bedol" Gang? I don't think so, because it is not even hypnosis. Garci, Bedol, Abalos and his cohorts at the Comelec are actually complicit puppets in this game, having been captured by somebody else.

Their puppet masters at Malacañang have lost terribly in the last senatorial elections, but are still finding ways to kick out Pimentel and kick Zubiri into the 12th Senate seat.

This is what the hullabaloo on the fraud-tainted Maguindanao vote is all about; the senior citizens over at the Comelec en banc are only appearing to be hypnotized, like helpless preys in a classic "budol-budol," but are actually willing participants in this perfidy.

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15 June 2007

Getting a dose of her own medicine

NOBODY'S perfect, and that includes my daughter Sofia. In spite of her wonderful traits and extraordinary diligence, she has this tendency to embellish stories and in the process put words in some other people's mouth.

But yesterday, my future little teacher got her unintended comeuppance, courtesy of younger sister and my pusong mamon-of-a-daughter Pep.

For two days now, Sofie failed to report to school because of an ear problem. Ever deferential -- to the point of being fearful -- to her teacher, absenting from school is the last thing that would cross her mind. But what we thought was another bad tooth-related pain that would soon pass away persisted; so yesterday, I motored back to Grandview just before lunch to fetch Sofie so that Lynn and I can have her seen by an EENT.

To make the story short, she was given the necessary treatment that somehow eased the pain. But when Pep reported back from school in the afternoon, the relief quickly turned to blazing anger towards her younger sister.

It appears that Pep, instead of telling her ate's teacher about the real score, offered a lame, damaging and ego-busting excuse when asked why Sofie has not been reporting to school: "Tinatamad po ma'm."

According to Budi who saw everything, Sofie went ballistic right after, and was only pacified when Pep got a stern warning from their mother and a quick rap in the butt. This morning, Pep dutifully brought Lynn's letter to Sofie's teacher explaining her absence, with Dr. Delfin Rosales's prescription attached.

While my son was explaining to me last night what happened, I can't help but smile: probably without realizing it, my eldest daughter just got a dose of her own medicine.

Pep and Pia during their Ateneo dance recital.

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14 June 2007

Lacking a sense of local history

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

MUCH has been said about the Filipinos' weak sense of history, a topic that usually becomes a flavor of the month in June. Or more specifically, flavor of the week where June 12 falls as the country celebrates its annual Independence Day.

The spartan celebration of its 109th edition last Tuesday at Naga city hall -- which had Juan Dialino, Camarines Sur 2nd district commander of the Veterans Federation of the Philippines, as guest of honor -- brought to the fore another glaring deficiency: we sorely lack a sense of local history as well.

Dialino's address -- where he took the Arroyo administration to task for neglecting its promises, including the basic social benefits our aging veterans richly deserve in their twilight years -- might sound like an old refrain.

But it is a wound that cuts deeper and more painfully; compared to the long overdue recognition being denied them by the American government, which is a still a foreign entity however one looks at it, this one comes from their very own, the very same country they fought and sacrificed many lives for.

But just as painful, to my mind, was how many in the audience, especially those in the back, failed to accord Dialino the respect he deserves. He may not be as eloquent as Mayor Robredo, Vice Mayor Bordado and Councilor Joe Grageda, who emceed the event. But here was a man who represented those who paid the price of the freedom we enjoy today; the least we could have done is listen to what he has to say. Yet many chose to sit at the back, engage in some small talk, or do some other things just to while the time away.

I had to ask myself why do educated people behave that way. I can think of at least two reasons:

One, the generation gap. Based on the 2000 census, only 2 of every 100 Naga residents were 65 years old and above when that population count was taken (or around 10 years old when Japanese invaders occupied the country and, among others, set up a garrison at what is now Ateneo de Naga University campus). The rest only had a vague recollection of the horrors of that war.

Two, the information gap. Equally, if not more formidable, is our skewed, if not lack of total, appreciation of what happened during those fateful years. A movie buff, the best I can remember are movies like Midway (1976), the Ben Affleck-starrer Pearl Harbor (2001) and Cesar Montano's The Great Raid (2005). Aside from these Hollywood productions that have largely defined what we know about that period in our history, there is not much.

And this information gap is magnified a thousandfold in our classrooms. Check out, for instance, how the DepEd's Makabayan learning competencies for Grade V (History), incidentally the subject of Antonio Go's continuing crusade against textbook errors, conveniently presents the Japanese invasion more as a regime change -- not unlike the transition to martial rule under the Marcos dictatorship, and back to democracy after Edsa '86 -- that merely led to the birth of the Second Philippine Republic, instead of setting it against the context of a global war that pitted the Allied versus the Axis powers.

If this dumbing down is bad enough, the total absence of any information as to what happened in Bikol, especially in Naga, during that time is worse. But what can you expect from a curriculum which totally skirts local history in its History subject, and whose only mention of regional identities is a superficial discussion of their contribution to national unity in Grade IV (Geography)?

These two reasons alone prevent us from having a richer, more textured view of what happened 60 six years ago in this very province, which is not only about heroism of the many "sadit na tao" (little people) who died in the battlefields, but another saga of the continuing political rivalry between the "dakulang tao" (big people) of the Bikol principalia.

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13 June 2007

UBC final planning reports now available

UPDATE (8:32 pm): Thanks to EDP's Arvin Pacardo, we were finally able to upload the 36-MB transportation and planning report.

SAVE FOR education, which should be forthcoming, digital copies of the final planning research reports by our visiting UBC graduate students were forwarded to us yesterday, courtesy of Cathy Pasion.

I have uploaded all five to my eSnips account, making them available for download by all who may be interested. They vary in the number of pages, ranging from 29 (social housing) to 79 (youth development), and file size, from urban agriculture's 804 KB to transportation and land use planning's hefty 36 MB.

The research reports follow after the jump.

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A poor "D" in Philippine travel

UPDATE (9:32 am, 15 Jun): Eugene's comment says my mark was upgraded to C+ under an adjusted grading system.:)

INSPIRED by Abe Olandres's and Irvin Sto. Tomas's experience with the beta version of Lakbayan, I decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, I only got a "D".

But try comparing my map with that of Abe, who got a C-, and one is bound to ask questions about the scoring. I don't know if its my 39 year-old eyes, but my map does seem to cover more parts of the country.

Maybe this is what Eugene Alvin Villar, the guy behind the idea, when he made this caveat: "Lakbayan is currently in beta version. The grading system will still be adjusted, so your result is possibly not the final grade."

But this kink notwithstanding, I think Lakbayan rocks.:)

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12 June 2007

Naga's not-so-secret hideway

YESTERDAY'S holiday break had the family joining the Sagrada, Pili Congregation's outing at the Mainit Hotspring in barangay Panicuason.

My mother and brother Macky brought their owner-type jeep and dropped by Grandview, picked up my kids and mother-in-law and proceeded to the resort; Lynn and I followed half-an-hour later.

The two pictures here show the improvements at the resort, which is owned by the Tan family, who also runs Regent Hotels 1 and 2 and Oyster Plaza, among other local business concerns.

The first time I been to the then secluded place was sometime in 2000, accompanying consultants of the Associates in Rural Development for the USAID-funded Governance and Local Democracy (GOLD) project. There was practically nothing at the time, save two earthen pools of hot spring.

But over the years, development was slowly introduced to the place, starting with concreting key portions of the winding road that made it more accessible (cementing the whole stretch would be wonderful, but a more even gravel road would do just fine for the short term), paving the poolsides and walkways, and putting up cottages in the area.

And there are now four 3 or 4 meter-deep hotspring pools, with temperature ranging between 29 to 34 degrees centigrade. A bridge connects them to the other side of the Inarihan River, where four other variously-sized pools contain really cold waters that I find quite inhospitable but most other people enjoy.

The trip also gave me some more idea on that little novel that really needs a kick on the butt, especially with work demands and family obligations successfully holding me up and constantly keeping me at bay. I still hope something good will come out of it.

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11 June 2007

A new layout

STARTING Saturday evening, my blog started sporting a new face, based on the Douglas Bowman's Rounders 4, but without the rounded corners. It is quite similar to Dom Cimafranca's previous layout, but without the icons and chinese characters.:)

A four-hour lull Saturday afternoon gave me the chance to tinker with the HTML/CSS code of my weblog after driving Lynn to Cam High for the first PTA meeting with 3rd year parents and a lunch interview with Vox Bikol's Pides Orata for its 25th anniversary issue. The PTA meeting was to last until around 5 pm.

Two of the six UBC presentations -- the urban design last June 6 and transport and land use planning the following day, incidentally the most popular among the materials uploaded via Slideshare -- appears to have subconsciously driven this blog makeover, without me realizing it.

I only figured it out after reading Aldy Manrique's comment: "The new layout or template looks good, I suspect decongesting the blog, among other things, has been a primary consideration in your new blog look. I think I will be missing the old layout...."

Irvin, who resides in Canaman, however had a different take; the new look, he said, has a "paralyzing effect" not unlike the circa '80s transport terminal transfer outside CBD 1 which remains a sore point between jeepney operators and drivers plying his hometown and neighboring Magarao.

Getting his drift, I spent some hours last night tightening nuts and bolts and taking out some more clutter, including the "Newswires" newsbar that I have really started to like. Maybe I will bring it back when Naga/Bikol news articles already populate the properly filtered Google News search.

But what about the previous one? Well, my other blog still sports the three-column Jellyfish layout; which means I can easily resurrect it here should I feel the urge or the need to do so.

What I find remarkable is how my old layout aged so quickly and easily, propelling it to sentimental status less than a year after my first productive trial-and-error take on HTML/CSS coding.

Oh well; as they say, change is the only permanent thing in life.

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10 June 2007

Will SURP be willing to help?

MY ENTRY on the UBC Transportation and Land Use Group presentation last Thursday drew the following comment from reader bobaquino:

congrats to the UBC Team. With due respect, the presentation was very general and it appears that it was just culled from various topics on land use planning. If i may, Naga CBD is really congested and it is time to look for more satelite cites without compromising urban sprawl. The good news is the active particapation of the people and the city government. The proposal to have green space is laudable to make the city breathe and be more livable. If the Naga City government wants an alternative to UBC, the UP School of Urban and Regional Planning is willing to help. thanks and gud day.
Moments back, I wrote the following rejoinder:
In fairness to the UBC people, the slides do not do justice to their input and the ensuing exchanges that took place. If there is anything good that came out of it, it is putting forward the agenda for smart urban development, which is going to be a contentious issue.

The UP SURP is most welcome to join us in this debate. If it is willing to hold a studio course in Naga focusing solely on urban design, transportation and land use planning, we will be very thankful.
I hope the SURP will find a way to join us in this effort, institutionally or otherwise -- perhaps in the way Harvard-trained Urbano de la Cruz has weighed in through this entry from his blog.

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08 June 2007

Social housing and education

THE LAST two presentations covered two areas where Naga has outstanding initiatives: the Kaantabay sa Kauswagan program for social housing, and the Reinventing the Local School Board for education.

Again, the discussions that followed were equally heated. While moderating the proceedings, I even got into the fray, especially when valid questions were raised about what I believed all along to be the fundamental strengths of these programs.

Reflecting on it now, I realize we still have a lot of grounds to cover, particularly in explaining to ordinary stakeholders -- who are mostly out of the loop -- at to why one policy is particularly crafted that way.

And very often, due to resource constraints, decisions to be made are usually of the bad-among-worst instead of best-among-good types. Unfortunately, ordinary people, when uninformed, will not readily and easily appreciate the reasons why. As usual, the slides follow after the jump.



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Forward-thinking transportation and land use

IT TOOK me some time to wrestle with my column piece for Vox Bikol this week; call it a writer's block, but I had some difficulty organizing my thoughts, not to mention putting together the data for the agriculture sector.

Anyways, that's all water under the bridge now. On this note, let me share with you the presentation material of the UBC Transportation and Land Use Group, which kicked off yesterday's proceedings. And boy, their recommendation to convert Ojeda IV Street into a greenway, part of a bigger scheme to make CBD 1 pedestrian and biker-friendly was met with mixed reactions, including clearly negative ones.

I think Jeff Deby posed the critical question: "What kind of city center do you want Naga to have?" And Mommy Jean Llorin, the grand old dame of the local civil society, had the ready answer: It is something we locals will have to decide ourselves.

Before I get carried away, the slides as usual follow after the jump.

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Revisiting Naga's agriculture sector

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

THE PUBLIC presentation on six research areas by visiting UBC graduate students clearly demonstrates the value of speaking truth to power. It in fact forced me to go back to available data in the 2000 Comprehensive Land Use Plan of the city government, specifically its section on agriculture.

In 1998, it said, agricultural lands in Naga accounted for 75% of Naga's 84.48-sq kilometer area; the following year, it dropped to 68% of the total, due to the conversion of 616 hectares to non-agricultural use. By 2005, driven by the rate of land conversion since 1982, it was projected to go down to only 55%.

In 2000, it also said, Naga is self-sufficient only in two (beef and carabeef) of its nine major agricultural products; it is short on, and therefore outsources, rice (61%), corn (14%), vegetables (73%), rootcrops (91%), fruits/citrus (43%), poultry (89%) and pork (29%).

In that same year, the 2000 Census revealed that of the city's 26,317 households, only 5,790 (22%) own lands and further, 3,324 or 12.6% own agricultural lands. The national government's land reform program has a minimal impact, benefiting only 527 families (2%) of the total. These figures translate to average agricultural landholding in the city to 1.56 hectares.

Surprisingly, the chapter is silent as to how many of these households are exactly into agriculture. This is one of the huge data gaps on the sector that our current effort to update the CLUP hopes to fill in, with the help of the City Agriculturist's Office and hopefully the Camarines Sur State Agricultural College.

This is also one of the UBC Urban Agriculture Group's recommendations when it urged the city government to undertake comprehensive community assessments; create databases and incorporate GIS (an underutilized city government capability); collaborate with research institutions; adopt participatory technology development; and focus on "urban-specific" technologies.

In the context of the above information, does urban agriculture (UA) make sense in Naga? Off the cuff, I say it does, not because of my romantic notions and attachment to agriculture, but for the following practical reasons:

One, it is the missing link in economically empowering the urban poor. The separate UBC research report on the Kaantabay sa Kauswagan, Naga's social housing program for the urban poor, points to low income and limited livelihood opportunities available to its beneficiaries as the lingering major constraint to fully repaying their homelots.

UA-based livelihood opportunities centered on community gardens that would put to good use unproductive idle lands, particularly in the upland areas and the periphery of Naga's urban core, can address this long-standing need.

Two, the opportunity is self-evident: Naga outsources between 43-91% of its vegetables, rootcrops and fruits/citrus requirements. That is a substantial local demand that improved production by urban and rural poor communities can address.

Three, it will create an opportunity for meaningful engagement with the youth, particularly those who drop out of school (OSYs). Data show that of every 100 pupils that enter Grade I in the city, only 43 will be able to finish high school and 23 will go on to earn a college degree.

Youth-managed community gardens, as suggested by the UBC researchers, is a concrete mechanism for collaborative partnerships with the out-of-school subsector that will help move Naga to the next level, beyond its current focus on participative governance.

The above is simply an effort to make sense of the available city data, informed by the fresh perspectives brought in by our visiting researchers. Your own inputs are most welcome to further enrich it, as the city planning staff tries to come up with clearer, more responsive policy directions and programs that will restore the vitality of Naga's agricultural sector.

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07 June 2007

Growing food, growing partnerships, growing Naga

THE ABOVE is an abbreviated title of the final talk yesterday by the UBC Urban Agriculture Group. By the time the four ladies were deep into their presentation, a distracting palpable chatter can be heard towards the back of the BSTC audiovisual room, which even forced Jeff Deby to stand up and, in a nice way, ask the audience to listen.

I had a feeling though the noise is our subconscious speaking: about our "been-there-done-that" attitude towards agriculture and the low priority we assign to the sector, almost to the point of lip service. There is also the cultural aspect weighing it down, which Nora described so clearly: farming, like teaching, is the last option we give our children; "medyo mahina ang ulo mo anak, mag-agriculture ka na lang."

Then, there is CSSAC, short for Camarines Sur State Agricultural College whose sprawling campus is about 10 kms south of Naga, but whose presence has yet to be felt in the sector. If there is a perfect metaphor for everything that's wrong with the local agriculture sector, I said, it has to be CSSAC. But all these I will reserve for this week's column for Vox Bikol.

Meanwhile, the slides of the Urban Agriculture presentation follow after the jump, courtesy of Slideshare. In about an hour, the final three topics are due for discussion at the BSTC.

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Urban design and placemaking in Naga

NOTWITHSTANDING Presentation Zen's reservations over Slideshare and similar shared slideshows on the web, I am posting the Powerpoint material used by the UBC Investment Promotion group, which Aldy Manrique liked best.

I am one with Aldy in regard to the Naga River; the San Antonio, Texas experience shared by the group, as well as the Business Improvement Area (BIA) approach used by Vancouver, are models we can use in revisiting local efforts to revitalize our very own major waterway.

Joey Co brought up the cultural aspect, a weakness that he said constrains Naga residents from replicating the San Antonio initiative, but I fully agree with Nora here; the river where the annual fluvial procession (now becoming biannual, given the summer Peñafrancia event that is being slowly developed, an effort led by the local archdiocese itself) takes place is a huge positive that can trump any potential opposition.

As usual, it can be downloaded as an Adobe PDF file (or so says Slideshare) owing to filesize limits imposed on uploads. The slides follow after the jump.

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UBC report on youth development

JUDGING from the first three of six presentations by our visiting UBC graduate students that took place at the Bicol Science and Technology Centrum yesterday, the studio course, I must say, has far exceeded our expectations.

My Bikol Express' Aldy Manrique, who also writes a weekly column for the Bikol Reporter, made it, and shared his thoughts here. Several personalities, like Bicol Mail business editor and consumer advocate Joey Co and Recha Claveria-Queen of the Partido Development Administration who heard about our event over the radio, also joined in. So did Gina Bordado, research director of the Camarines Sur State Agricultural College (CSSAC) and Vice Mayor Gabby's better half.

Plus many more whose names I can't remember (poor me, I'm only good at remembering faces, not names) who also made the first salvo most interesting and memorable. My apologies.

The presentations, which viewed Naga from a fresh lens, as Joy Capiral of the Ateneo de Naga University described the effort, was so interesting Gabby (subbing for Mayor Robredo who will be out of town until Friday) had to sit all throughout -- not an easy thing to do, given the expanded demands of his job.

Dr. Leonora Angeles, in his opening remarks, underlined the constraints and limitations of the report, particularly the language barrier and the very short three-week period available for data gathering.

But these, I think, did not detract from the high quality research work done by her students, which not only elaborated on the key challenges facing Naga but offered practical recommendations on how to address them, building on the city's unique strengths and key assets.

The first report, for instance, took an aim at our existing youth initiatives and organizational structures, pointed out their limitations, and using international good practices as reference, suggested how we can make the engagement process more inclusive, sustainable and mutually reinforcing.

For example, it proposed a mentoring scheme that will allow graduates of the City Youth Officials (CYO) program to help incoming CYOs to shorten their learning curve and document their activities so that the wheel need not be reinvented every time a new batch takes over.

The written report is not yet available, but the group's Powerpoint presentation should do for the meantime, using Slideshare which I finally got to use, courtesy of the Filipino Librarian who tipped me about it many months back.

The full file, according to Slideshare, is also downloadable in Adobe PDF format (with file size less than 4 MB); it is actually my only other alternative as the original Powerpoint files all exceeded Slideshare's 30-MB threshhold.

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06 June 2007

Naga's NEED program, Part 2

THE NEED program combines traditional day care services of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) with modern Montessori-type pre-school education. It also has a component for children with disabilities, of which the HELP Learning Center is one.

The 2nd part of this Galing Pook-produced video starts with Dr. Fe de los Reyes, the Center's founder and executive director, explaining the thrusts and services of their institution, how it came about, and how it tries to make a difference in the lives of many Nagueño children.

Starting next week, my special kid Nokie will be one of them and our family will always be by her side. The concluding part of this video, which never fails to move me to tears towards the end, follows after the jump.

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Naga's NEED program, Part 1

THE HELP Learning Center (HELP stands for Holistic Education for individuals with Learning Problems) is one of the anchor institutions of the Naga Early Education and Development (NEED) program.

NEED is one of the city's pioneering education initiatives recognized by the Galing Pook Foundation as one of the Philippines' 20 most outstanding local government programs in 1996. It seeks addresses the need for improved access, equity and quality of education in Naga City, guided by the philosophy of "education for all".

The following video documentary produced by the Foundation under an AusAid grant explains the program better. I took the liberty of splitting it in two parts (to meet YouTube's requirements) and uploading them in the Google-owned video sharing website. Part 1 follows after the jump.

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Nokie is going to school

MY SPECIAL kid Nokie is finally going to a special school.

Last Saturday, we brought her to Dr. Fe de los Reyes, a local pediatrician-neurologist who is one of the moving forces behind the HELP Learning Center. Her head is smaller than usual, Dr. De los Reyes said after measuring its circumference; it might indicate mental retardation, she added.

But I was not as worried as my wife; I know my daughter quite well and her frail frame notwithstanding, Nokie is as bubbly, vibrant and mischievous as her older sisters. In cahoots with her burly younger sister Ophelia, her capacity for mischief is practically boundless -- the trail of toys both large and small they have disassembled at home bears witness to their (mis)deeds; that to me is certainly not the sign of a retard.

After running some more simple tests, including that of hearing, which Nokie I think handled well, Dr. Fe reached the same conclusion as I did years back: my daughter's problem is essentially a speech impairment that currently prevents her from fully developing our gift of language.

What are your plans for Nokie? the doctor asked. We are planning to send her to preschool because she's raring to, we said; her school-age siblings have already started reporting for school, including Pep who's now in Grade I at Grandview Elementary.

Any school you have in mind? she asked. We're thinking of the HELP Learning Center, we answered, eliciting a smile from her. Dr. Fe then wrote a note and told us the school staff will have to subject Nokie to a more detailed evaluation.

Last Monday afternoon, with Lynn busy with their general faculty meeting at Cam High, I and her two brothers brought Nokie to the Center, which is located along Magnolia Street just beside the Educare's flagship School for Early Education and Development (SEED). Teacher Ingrid and another colleague then subjected my little girl to a variety of tests that took more than an hour.

It included stringing through oversized wooden beads using her bare hands; manually tracing straight, curved, zigzag and gear-shaped lines carved out of wood; picking red, yellow and blue paper clips and putting them in the correct plastic container; matching 3D shapes (animal, fruit and personal effects) with their drawn 2D counterparts; matching a given letter of the alphabet from an array of letters laid out before her; and matching a printed 2D number with its 3D counterpart.

It is only in that last one where Nokie -- by this time aching to play with the toys lying abundantly around her -- did not do well, failing to match the objects correctly, choosing instead to trace the contour of every wooden number set in relief over a flat panel. The rest, she again handled with ease.

Yesterday afternoon, it was Lynn's turn to pay the Center a visit, to inquire about the fees and fix Nokie's schedule. On the whole, the cost will hurt our pocket, but I'm sure we will be able to find a way. Teacher Ingrid said the evaluation results will still be discussed with Dr. De los Reyes, but I figure that next week, Nokie will finally show up for her first day in school.

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05 June 2007

You are invited

IF YOU are living in Naga and its suburbs, and have an abiding interest on the following topics, you are invited to join us in the public presentation of research findings and recommendations made by visiting University of British Columbia (UBC) students.

The presentations will be held on two consecutive afternoons, starting tomorrow at the Bicol Science and Technology Centrum (BSTC) audiovisual room. Proceedings will start promptly at 1 pm.

The topics:

June 6

  • Youth Planning Development
  • Investment Promotion
  • Urban Agriculture
June 7
  • Transportation Planning and Land Use
  • Social Housing
  • Education
Among those expected to attend are the outgoing and incoming members of the Sangguniang Panlungsod, the various department heads of the city government, civil society representatives and members of the local academia. Key informants for the research, which ran for the last three weeks, are also expected to participate.

The simultaneous research work responds to the development challenges identified by Mayor Robredo when the group paid him a courtesy call last May 16. Details on how this activity materialized is explained here.

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04 June 2007

How Cebu Pacific's turboprops will look like

A COMMENT by Kilks on my entry that appeared in the Planet Naga blog aggregator tickled my interest; following the lead, I checked the Avions de Transport Regional (ATR) website and found that its press statement on the deal with Cebu Pacific -- which also appeared on the latter's website -- contained two pictures with it.

One depicts how the ATR 72-500 donning Cebu Pacific's all-too familiar livery will look like. Incidentally, the paper version of last week's Bicol Mail carried the same picture in the inside pages.

I can't wait to see them become a fixture of local skies. And listening to Tourism Regional Director Maria Ravanilla's interview over DWNX this morning, there is all the more reason for Cebu Pacific to enter the Naga market.

Citing statistics on domestic and foreign tourist arrivals for January-March 2007, a total of 168,548 tourists visited Bicol, an increase of 37% over last year's 123,364 over the same period. And again, Naga/Camarines Sur again led the other provinces. I failed to take down the provincial breakdowns, but the main draw, of course, is the Camarines Sur Watersports Complex, supported by Naga's tourism-related services, headlined by our Magsaysay Strip, especially the Avenue Square area.

Which all the more underlines the need for greater collaborative work between the provincial and city governments, a thesis I advanced here.

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02 June 2007

Bungling it in the formative first years

My column for this week's issue of Vox Bikol

WHILE attending the seminar on New Public Management in Germany, I had the chance to work with two other participants: Daniel Welwel, a young lawyer from Tanzania, and Jelena Milic, a high-ranking Croatian liberal party member. When we were done arguing and finally arrived at a common group output, both Jelena and I agreed that Daniel should present it in the plenary.

The choice was grounded on the recognition that among us three, Daniel speaks the best English, as if he were a native speaker. During the break, Jelena had to ask: how come Tanzanians are so good in English? We were colonized by the British, Daniel said. I quickly threw him a related question: When do you start teaching English in school? His answer, which definitely surprised me, was: In high school.

I had to bring this up in the context of a pending petition before the Supreme Court asking for a restraining order on Executive Order No. 210 issued by President Arroyo to strengthen English as a second language, mandating among others, that it be used as the medium of instruction starting from Grade III and as the primary medium of instruction in high school. In response, Education Secretary Jesli Lapus promptly issued DepEd Order No. 36 August 2006; it will be implemented fully when schools open on Monday.

I mostly agree with the petition, especially on the ground that education research has established that “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.” Our personal experience in teaching our two older daughters to read proves this point.

But my bone of contention with the petition, and the whole language policy in particular as provided for under the 1987 Constitution and all other issuances arising from it, lies in the excessive emphasis on developing Filipino as a national language at the expense of regional languages like Bikol. All these efforts of forcing the issue by invoking state power, instead of allowing a national language to develop naturally, leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

If we go by the premise that use of the vernacular in the first years of school is the best way to go in developing reading skills that, to my mind, is the critical first step in learning a language, why is there no clear-cut education policy to this effect?

Why is the use of Bikol, for instance, being looked down – even discouraged -- as a medium of instruction, the most logical at that for a young Nagueño child, instead of being fostered?

And if the Constitution views regional languages as auxiliary media of instruction, why is there no policy promoting the development of basic reading materials in the vernacular – like children’s books or even translations of popular fairy tales – that will facilitate the development of these skills?

As with most Jehovah’s Witnesses, I first learned to read in Bikol well before I entered Grade I -- and like my daughters -- using a translation of the Bible in the vernacular. Every week, one of the segments that comprise our Theocratic Ministry School is public reading of 15 or so verses from the Bikol bible. That was more than three decades ago, and it has definitely served us well.

Looking at the instructional materials available today, we have barely moved forward, notwithstanding the researches and plain common sense of it all, if one really comes to think of it. While President Arroyo’s EO got it right in emphasizing the use of English in high school, consistent with the Tanzanian experience and a healthy dose of pragmatism, our education policy has bungled it all along at the formative first years in school.

That’s precisely the problem with one-size-fits-all policymaking that is decided at and imposed from the center. The result is a half-baked citizen who can probably understand at least three languages in his lifetime but lacks good command of any, which requires speaking, reading, writing and most importantly, critical thinking.

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01 June 2007

A wish on 10,000th visit and 320th post

LATER today or early tomorrow, this weblog will welcome its 10,000th visitor, an average of about 50 a day or about 1,250 a month, since I started gathering statistics via Sitemeter on September 23 last year. The actual number though should be lower as there are repeat readers who tune back in to either to check for new stuff or what's been there all along.

It is precisely for this reason that I try to post something new, at least one entry per day -- my average since I resumed writing in June last year. But things can sometimes really get exciting I end up with as many as three in a day: that was the case last month, owing mainly to the election, where I ended up with 46.

These busy days compensate for a few when the urge is simply not there, or something more important has come up I barely have time coming near a PC.

In my free time, I've also been sprucing up this site, tinkering with its HTML and CSS codes through the new Blogger, and adding up new items using its Widget tools. I barely have time documenting these in my other weblog, which had stood still after writing my 30th entry seven months ago.

The newest, of course, is the Google Newsreel whose filters I adjusted after reading Master Jessie's comment here. But even after that adjustment, I still find my Newswires widget sorely constrained content-wise -- it's a case of the classic "tinimbang ka, ngunit kulang!"

What I have in mind is the weekly newsitems from the Bicol Mail website populating Newswires content whenever one clicks "Bicol" or "Naga City." I am stupefied as to why Google computers are unable to capture these truly regional Bicol news articles in its 24/7 global searches, while successfully tracking their Catanduanes Tribune counterparts.

Maybe a customized HTML/JavaScript widget, along the lines of my Comments and Recently sections, courtesy of Beautiful Beta and Hackosphere, will do the trick. Is someone up to the task of granting this wish?:)

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