31 July 2007

Naga's Executive-Legislative Agenda

YESTERDAY morning, Mayor Robredo presented his Executive-Legislative Agenda (ELA) for his last term in office, which ends in 2010, before a crowd of around 500 at the Naga City Youth Center. The full text is available here; the Powerpoint slides follow after the jump.

It was smaller than those we had at Plaza Quezon when he gave his State of the City Report (SOCR) last February, but the exchanges towards in the open forum was more meaningful.

A banker asked how much is the entire plan package worth, and whether the city's financials is sound enough to support it. (Answer: the city is preparing an estimate of the funding requirements, and will secure external financing for those it cannot fund internally. The city's financial condition is sound -- in fact, it can be accessed from the city website -- as local revenues represent roughly half of its annual budget.)

Metro Naga chamber president Emiterio "Boy" Aman inquired about the city's tourism plan, especially in the context of the industry's resurgence in Bicol. (Answer: we are coming up with that document, part of the City Development Plan being prepared by the planning department, but it is built around Naga's role as staging area and the development of the limited natural tourism assets we have.)

Joe Quising of the Universidad de Sta. Isabel raised the issue of sustainability: what happens when Mayor Robredo is no longer around? (Answer: the managerial aspect of sustainability will be addressed by new investments in HRD, focusing on academically prepared middle managers; the political aspect will depend on the people themseves. But the incumbent administration will always offer itself as a choice to ensure continuity.)

A lady raised the issue of streetchildren which are growing in number at the city center, and suggested giving them jobs and other social services. (Answer: 9 out of 10 of these streetchildren come from outside Naga, and the city social welfare department's response is to always return them to their place of origin. Providing them jobs and housing will only encourage more to do the same.)

On the whole, this three-year program illustrates executive power to set the development agenda, something Manolo pointed out here. It also demonstrates the logic of having an ELA as key implementation instrument in the rationalized and streamlined local planning machinery in the country.

It may not be as sweeping as that recent lesson in Philippine geography, but this recent experience shows that this agenda-setting authority can be shaped and tremendously informed by key inputs from various stakeholders of society (especially our sectoral planning workshops last year), as well as the media and the academe's prophetic role of speaking truth to power.

We are already reaping the initial dividends of our partnership with the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning (thanks, Nora!) and the Ateneo de Naga University.


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29 July 2007

Poll: Plaza Quezon or Plaza Arejola?

I HAVE it on good authority that the National Historical Institute (NHI), the government agency responsible for the conservation and preservation of the country's historical legacies, has rejected the proposed name change of Plaza Quezon to Plaza Arejola.

The proposed name change was endorsed by the previous Sangguniang Panlungsod to the NHI after the Committee on Arts and Culture backed the move initiated by the Kabikolan advocacy group.

At the same time, the Sanggunian directed the committee to use all means possible of generating feedback from city residents on the matter.

Background material on the issue, which drew the attention of Inquirer columnist Manolo Quezon, grandson of the late President Quezon, can be found here, here and here.

To help generate feedback, I have added a poll on the issue -- which can be found above, and will run for two weeks -- using Blogger's new Poll's feature. It's doesn't look pretty, but it should be useful.

A caveat, as always: polls like these are unscientific.

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Deathly Hallows vs. Seventh Horcrux

JUST FINISHED reading through J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows over the weekend, allowing me to finally compare it with Melindaleo's The Seventh Horcrux.

It might be tempting to junk any comparison between the two: Cherry Gil's dismissive classic -- "You're nothing but a second rate trying hard copycat!" -- easily comes to mind. But the latter is an amazing work of fan fiction, and many readers who have finished both have found it to be better than the real thing. Just check out their comments here.

Similarities
There are actually many similarities between the two. The first, of course, is that Harry survived, contrary to earlier speculations -- fanned by Rowling herself -- that the teen wizard will die. (Although it must be said that Potter sort of "died," only to resurrect himself ala Aslan the Lion King in that Narnia movie.)

That the two other major protagonists survived as well, with Harry marrying Ginny and Ron Hermione, is also spot on; who ends up with whom is a controversial topic among fans, as many believe Harry should end up with Hermione, especially if Ron dies.

The third is young Potter himself being the seventh and final horcrux, arising from Lily Potter's sacrificial death to save his young son from Voldemort. And except for the snake Nagini being the sixth horcrux, the others are pretty much spot on. (What I am confused about -- maybe I did not read it close enough -- is Melindaleo's sixth, considering she junked the idea of having Nagini for a horcrux.)

Another is Lupin and Tonks getting married and dying towards the end, although I have to say their death is more dramatic in Melindaleo's version. That the prodigal Percy Weasley righted himself back in the end is another, although he survived in Rowling's version.

Differences
There are much more differences, but I want to highlight two:

The major one of course is the Deathly Hallows subplot. Melindaleo's version did not provide for it; her resolution of the Potter conundrum revolved exclusively on the search for the remaining horcruxes.

The other one concerns how Harry killed Voldemort. Of course, in Rowling's version, it was through the Deathly Hallows route which made him the master of death and enabled the resurrection bit that confounded Voldemort and, with Neville killing off Nagini, set him up for the kill. In the fanfic version, which is equally plausible, it was by creating Harry's own horcrux out of the Quidditch snitch as he slayed Voldy with a killing curse.

Where Seventh Horcrux is better
In some ways, Melindaleo's version actually upends Rowling's. These include:

Ginny Weasley. Unlike the Deathly Hallows where she continues to be largely a wallflower, Ginny becomes a key player in this series ender, even overshadowing Hermione in strength of character. Plus, the raging hormones between these teens found more expression in many snogging episodes, which is quite realistic in the given context.

Draco Malfoy. Draco also played a key role in the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort, the culmination of his expanded role in the story starting from a surprise appearance in Grimmauld Place. In the Deathly Hallows, he was a marginal character, his importance diminishing after that failed hit on Dumbledore in the Half-Blood Prince.

Dudley Dursley. Here, Dudley is revealed to be a wizard like his cousin Harry, possessed with the very same magical powers that his parents detested. This is a dramatic twist that would be put to good use later, especially when the Ministry of Magic forges a modus vivendi with Voldemort and proclaims Dudley as the "chosen one." Rowling's revelation that the young Petunia Evans actually applied for Hogwarts pales in comparison.

Dolores Umbridge. The detestable Dolores comes back with a vengeance, this time as the new Minister of Magic, and like the pre-World War II British prime minister Neville Chamberlain naively cuts a deal with the Death Eaters. She also goes out violently when Voldemort ditches the deal and assumes power. This episode is better than the forced registration and inquisition of Mubloods, evoking the pre-Holocaust pogrom, that Umbridge coordinated in the Deathly Hallows.

Where Deathly Hallows is superior
The concept of opportunity cost can also be applied here, as Rowling's apparent inability to develop the abovementioned character is actually the outcome of a conscious decision to focus on the three friends and their relationship with Dumbledore and Snape. Deathly Hallow's superiority actually stems from revelations about and richer characterization of the latter.

Albus Dumbledore. Here we find that the pristine, infallible Hogwarts headmaster actually had a dark past, a character flaw that manifested itself as late as his and Harry's visit to the Gaunt house, where the young Tom Riddle traces his roots, just a year back. This humanizes the picture-perfect wise wizard, and rescues him from a one-dimensional do-gooder father figure to Harry.

Severus Snape. Equally compelling is how Snape turns out to be a good guy, Dumbledore's double agent who succeeded to deceive the Dark Lord himself down to the very end. Snape's enigmatic character, to my mind, is actually one of Rowling's best, if not the best in the entire series. This singular revelation actually proved that the community of Snape believers has actually got everything right all along!

The battle scenes. Especially the final battle of Hogwarts, Rowling's book is more action-packed and cinematic, inspired by the epic productions of the Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Narnia as most reviews pointed out. The exception would be the trio's journey through the British countryside which dragged too long; but on the whole, the overall vista would eat Melindaleo's version alive.

A richer, though more complicated, storyline. Is the Deathly Hallows route a necessity? Melindaleo's version shows it can be dispensed with. But by taking this route, Rowling successfully tied up many loose ends, especially in regard to Harry's forebears and his links with Dumbledore way before he was born.

My verdict
It's Rowling's, but not by a mile. Her work remains superior because of more polished writing skills and more importantly, her mastery of the ins and outs of Harry Potter's world which she singlehandedly created afterall.

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25 July 2007

The real state of Philippine education

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

ONE of the more popular computing terms while I was in college 20 years ago was GIGO, shorthand for "Garbage In, Garbage Out."

Not sure if it is still being used, I googled and found out that this aphorism "has fallen out of use as (computer) programs have become more sophisticated and now usually have checks built in to reject improper input."

This once-popular term came to mind when I reflected some more on President Arroyo's State of the Nation Address (SONA) last Monday, especially the parts that concerned education. In my previous post, I tackled how a policy reversal on teacher hiring instituted by Education Secretary Jesli Lapus negates the president's claim that her administration has been investing on better teachers.

This demonstrates that policies are equally powerful inputs into the learning process, very much like Ms. Arroyo's penchant for the billions of pesos invested on "social safety nets" that include public education. But unlike modern computer programs, there are no such checks in place that would automatically reject garbage policies like what Lapus has instituted.

This presidential predilection for impressive numbers in the SONA however masks the real state of public education in the Philippines. And the feel-good reference to recent outstanding performance by Filipino students in international contests, while uplifting to the spirit and national pride, is actually a devious speechwriting device that dishonestly drumbeats the exception as if it were the norm.

Just what is the real state of Philippine education today, six years into Ms. Arroyo's administration? Well, it has been there in the Department of Education website all along, buried in some outcome statistics, both for access and quality, that the administration would rather not discuss.

Participation. As of School Year 2006-07, the proportion of enrolled Grade I pupils to the total Grade I population has went down to 84%, six percentage points lower that her first full year in office. Stated simply, when the late Raul Roco was still education secretary, 90 of every 100 six and seven year olds who should be in Grade I have actually enrolled; now, it is down to 84.

It is a little better in high school. Six years ago, 57 of every 100 Filipino students who should be in First Year high school are actually enrolled; as of last school year, it inched up to 58 (although it went up to 60 in 2003-04). This means however that high school education remains a dream for 4 out of every 10 Filipino children.

Completion. Four years ago (the earliest data available), only 67 of every 100 pupils that enrolled in Grade I managed to finish Grade VI; as of last school year, it went down to 57. Which means only around 6 of every 10 children entering our elementary schools manage to graduate.

The situation is much worse in high school. Six years ago, 71 of every 100 First Year students were able to secure a high school diploma; as of last school year, it went down to 54.

And here is the rub: remember that only 60% of our children are able to complete elementary and eligible to move on to high school. If we factor this in, the real completion rate all the way from Grade I is this: for every 100 pupils who enter Grade I, only 30 will eventually finish high school. The DepEd used to compute this particularly damning statistic, but it stopped doing so starting in 2005.

To summarize: of every 100 six or seven year olds that are supposed to enter Grade I, only 84 are able to do so; of these 84 only 57 are able to finish Grade VI and move on to First Year; and of these 57, only 30 will be able to graduate with a high school diploma.

Achievement. How about the quality of education? Well, we have not moved beyond being a nation of fifty percenters at the elementary, with a marked slippage at the high school level.

Six years ago, our elementary mean percentage score (MPS) in national tests stood at around 52%; last year, it went up to 55%. In high school, the 53% MPS in 2001 went down to 44% last year. Who do they mean? Simply, that our elementary pupils are only able to correctly answer a little over half (55) in a 100-item test, and our high school students less than half (44).

And how do we stack up internationally? This year, the 2007 Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) is being conducted, and it could have given us an idea where we stand right now. But two years ago, the Philippines suddenly decided to drop out, finding the P10 million or so participation fee in this quadriennial survey expensive. It is a drop in the bucket of the megabucks this input-obsessive administration is spending for infra to make those in Ms. Arroyo's Friendster list happy. But it would have none of unpleasant outcome indicators that hurt.

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24 July 2007

Education and GMA's 7th SONA

I DID not get to see President Arroyo's 7th State of the Nation Address (SONA) yesterday afternoon, as we were at the Madrigal Center amphitheater at the Ateneo de Naga University for the book launch of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance's (CenPEG) Oligarchic Politics.

(If you want an idea of what the book is all about, this review by Bulatlat.com is quite helpful.)

So, I relied on the SONA's transcript which is available at the Inquirer website and looked for areas closest to my heart. The following items on education made me wince:

Second, investments in a stronger and wider social safety net -- murang gamot, abot-kayang pabahay, eskwelang primera klase, mga gurong mas magaling at mas malaki ang kita, mga librong de-kalidad, more scholarships for gifted students, and language instruction to maintain our lead in English proficiency. Dunong at kalusugan ang susi sa kasaganaan...

And for teachers, we have created more than 50,000 teaching positions....(Italics mine)
OK, I will grant that the Arroyo administration is spending more on education, but there is no guarantee that we are getting the bang from the buck. Exhibit "A" would be teacher recruitment and hiring, one of my pet peeves with the Department of Education.

The new policy of the Lapus administration in regard to teacher hiring is a virtual accommodation to politicians, particularly members of the House of Representatives where he came from.

Today, all an applicant needs to do is meet the 50% minimum rating (Sec. 2.3), sending him to the so-called Registry of Qualified Applicants (RQA). Once in the RQA, the rating becomes irrelevant: one who got 90% is just as good as another who squeaked in by getting the minimum 50%.

The decision to hire now rests on the school head, who will recommend to the division superintendent whom to take in, guided primarily by the Localization Law. This is where subjectivity comes in.

This policy reverses the efforts made by the team of former Education Secretary Florencio Abad to improve the quality of hiring. In the previous policy affirmed by Undersecretary Fe Hidalgo -- GMA's favorite -- applicants were classified under four registries: (A) for those who scored 60 and above; (B) for those who scored 50-59; (C) for those who scored 40-49; and (D) for those who scored 39 and below.

Section 6.7 provides:
When all of those in Registry A have been appointed and assigned to their respective stations and there are still positions to be filled, those in Registry B shall be considered before going to Registry C and D, in that order.
Also, in the previous policy, localization is only resorted to as a last resort, caeteris paribus or all things being equal as my economics professor would say. Today, it is being conveniently used to justify placement of inferior but favored applicants.

And why do I know this is the case? Because in our last School Board meeting, I saw some school heads vigorously justifying this retrogressive policy in trying to convince Mayor Robredo to adopt it in regard to locally funded teachers. Fortunately, the mayor put his foot down and torpedoed the idea. Ironically, in that meeting, it was the local government that was insisting that DepEd follow its ranking strictly, when it should be the other way around!

"Mga gurong mas magaling"? Better ask Secretary Lapus if that indeed is the case, madam president.

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23 July 2007

Confirmed

BEFORE the chaotic opening session of the House can even start, the Sangguniang Panlungsod of Naga confirmed me this morning as full-fledged city planning and development coordinator (CPDC) in absentia; it was already a done deal when I peered in after an officemate texted that my presence is being requested at the session hall.

The relevant provision under the Local Government Code of 1991 can be found in Section 254(d):

Unless otherwise provided herein, heads of departments and offices shall be appointed by the city mayor with the concurrence of the majority of all the sangguniang panlungsod members, subject to civil service law, rules and regulations. The sangguniang panlungsod shall act on the appointment within fifteen (15) days from the date of its submission, otherwise the same shall be deemed confirmed.
It was supposed to take place last week, but a snafu in transmitting my papers to every member of the council prompted Councilor Esteban Abonal to ask why confirmation is being discussed in the absence of these documents.

At that point, I suggested that it be deferred: to my mind, the council must be afforded the chance to make an informed decision, on the basis of complete information on all appointees. I closed by saying "I am not in a hurry to be confirmed anyway," and immediately left the session hall.

Unfortunately, that last statement was misinterpreted by some member of the council, who thought I may have been slighted. Nagmoto-moto daa. :-D

But all is water under the bridge now. And no, there were no projects or favors asked of me, unlike the horse-trading Commission on Appointments in Congress. I am sure Philippine local governments have the moral high ground here over their "more exalted" counterparts.:)

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22 July 2007

Now, let's see...

BY THIS time, those who have purchased the last Harry Potter book must have figured out how J.K. Rowling tied up everything in her seven-part series. But those who didn't, like me, had to rely on the internet to find the answer.

Yesterday morning, I spent some time reading through book reviews and synopses that appeared in various newspapers and publications, like the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Salon and the Times of London.

Towards the evening, Wikipedia already had an entry on the Deathly Hallows, supplemented by a section on all characters in the Potter series.

From these alone, one can already get an idea of the final outcome. Based on what they contain, we can now check whether the leaks got it right:

  • Harry will go to Godric's Hollow. Check. Harry and Hermione went there, hoping to find the original Gryffindor's sword.
  • Harry will find a letter from his mother, Lily. In the letter, Lily said many BAD things about Albus Dumbledore. Not sure. Although the part about Dumbledore's dark side is correct.
  • One of the twins will die. The one who lives will lose an ear. Check. Fred dies and George loses an ear.
  • Ronald Weasly will die. He will be killed by Bellatrix Lestrange. Misses by a mile. Ron and Hermione survive, get married and have two kids.
  • Severus Snape will become Hogwarts Headmaster. He is an ally of Harry's. Check. Lily Potter is the reason why.
  • At the end of the series (Epilogue), Neville Longbottom becomes a Herbology teacher, Hermione a healer. Mixed. The part about Neville is spot on, about Hermione not sure.
  • Ron will destroy one of the horcruxes. Check. Using the real Gryffindor's sword, he destroys the Slytherin locket that Harry was carrying.
  • All three will be kidnapped and will be brought to Malfoy Manor. Check.
  • Tonks and Lupin will be wed, will be dead by the end, and will have a son named Teddy. Check.
  • Snape will die. Killed by Nagini on Voldemort's order.
  • Voldemort will die. Killed by his own rebounding Avada Kedavra curse.
  • Mad-eye Moody will die. Check, killed by Voldemort.
  • Dobby the house elf will die. Harry's owl, Hedwig, will die. Check.
  • Harry and the Dursleys will make amends. Mixed. Only Dudley apparently made amends when Harry had them secured at the beginning of the book.
  • The first chapter will be entitled "The Dark Lord Ascending." The last chapter will be "The Flaw in the Plan." No way of knowing.
Except for Ron's death, this leak got most everything right.

But the book's release still doesn't settle this personal question until I get to read it myself. Because from the looks of it, the fanfic version also makes for an equally compelling resolution of the Potter saga.

Nonetheless, for a sucker-for-happy-endings like me, it's a great relief to find out that the good guys eventually won out in the end.

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20 July 2007

Quick notes while awaiting Harry's fate

1. HARRY POTTER. As I write this before going to bed, on the eve of the release of J.K. Rowling's final installment of her Harry Potter series, I know the internet will already be abuzz with what really happens to the English teenage wizard, his friends and allies when I wake up tomorrow.

We will find out whether spoilers, like what Peachy Galias wrote about here, are on spot, or are one of the many misses that flooded cyberspace in the run-up to what unarguably is the most popular book release in my lifetime.

From our Pinoyblogosphere mailing list, I find there other kindred spirits who will also bide their time -- mainly for practical reasons -- before getting hold of their own copy of HP7 (shorthand for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). That's kind of reassuring.:)

While there are indications that Harry will survive the bloodbath in this finale, it is only after reading the book that I will find out the answer to a question I raised here.

2. BRAZIL AIR TRAGEDY. From another mailing list, I was relieved to find out that a colleague during our NPM seminar is OK in the aftermath of Brazil's worst air tragedy. He is from Porto Alegre, where the ill-fated flight originated. I am taking the liberty of sharing part of his email, with some editing:

Fortunately no direct friends or familiars were inside the plane, but some close families of friends were not that lucky. This flight is taken basically by entrepreneurs and executives and we already cry the loss of important personalities. Until tonight (July 19), 8 known executives and 6 entrepreneurs were confirmed dead.

This chaos is a perfect result of public inefficiency: one reason behind the tragedy is the early opening of the track before finishing the repairs made. The worse is that those responsible, the state owned company that controls the airports and the politicians responsible for the country, won’t be punished. The day before the accident, another plane slipped on the same track, crashing (without victims) premeditating this accident.

3. PHILIPPINE PLANNING REFORMS. In response to Urbano's comment, I have uploaded the PDF copy of Director Maceda's Powerpoint on the rationalization of local planning in the Philippines.

It answers some of his questions, and Inkblot's as well on how 4th and 5th class towns can be helped -- specifically, slides 7 and 8 are promising.

4. BICOL LITERATURE. Vic Nierva's latest entry reaffirms my belief that the best of Bicol literature is waiting in the wings, sad tidings and pessimistic prognostications notwithstanding. It did seem I missed a lot in missing the other night's big event at Lolo's Bar.

I particularly love this line:
Susublion ko si sabi ni (Frank) Peñones ki Kristian Cordero na sa panahon na ini “dai na maninigo an metapora kan mga taong lipod sa mga parasurat na Bikolano huli ta igwa nang pag-uswag, pagdakol kan mga parasurat asin pagdugang man kan saindang produksyon.”
Hear, hear!

5. BLOGGING MILESTONE. By the way, I belatedly found out after checking my dashboard that this entry two postings back is already my 365th. It took me two full years, and 16 months of continuous blogging, to get to this point.

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'Simpleng buhay'

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

UPON invitation by DILG Regional Director Blandino Maceda, I made a quick trip to Legazpi last Wednesday to attend a meeting of city and provincial planning officers in the Bicol region in preparation for the rollout and eventual implementation of the JMC.

For those working in the Philippine local government sector, JMC is shorthand for Joint Memorandum Circular No. 1 series of 2007 issued last March 8 that rationalizes planning, investment programming, revenue administration and expenditure management among LGUs – your provinces, cities, municipalities and barangays.

This effort is long overdue. One tidbit of info: before this new policy, Philippine local governments are actually required to produce 22 different plans – from the standard land use and local development plans to sectoral plans for coconut zone development, nutrition, culture and arts, food security, shelter and so on.

This is the product of many agencies working independently of one another, trying to push their own mandates and institutional agenda. It is not too different from the so-called 24 independent republics that comprise the Philippine Senate. Or the fondness of congressmen for “unfunded mandates” -- laws that are nice to hear but costly to implement, as Palawan Rep. Abraham Mitra complained about. But I digress and just reserve the topic for another entry.

Under the new Philippine planning machinery defined under the JMC, these 22 will be reduced to four basic planning documents. These are:

1. The Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP), the policy guide for the regulation of land uses embracing the LGU’s entire territorial jurisdiction. This document, which has a 10 to 15-year timeline, will define local settlements, protected areas, production areas, and infrastructure.

2. The six-year Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP), the multi-sectoral plan to promote the general welfare of the LGU. It will define the sectoral goals, objectives, strategies, programs, projects and legislative measures of the locality.

3. The three-year Executive-Legislative Agenda (ELA), the term-based component of the CDP that coincides with the three-year terms of elected local officials, and

4. The three-year Local Development Investment Plan (LDIP) and its annual iteration, the Annual Investment Plan (AIP). Comprising of prioritized programs, projects and activities (PPAs) programmed for financing, these two documents are the principal instruments that will implement the CDP, the ELA and to some extent, certain aspects of the CLUP, under the new planning system.

Of course, the 15 or so sectors for which separate planning documents used to be prepared will be incorporated in either the CLUP and the CDC, make no mistake about it. But clearly, this new planning regime greatly simplifies the process, and our lives as local staff mandated to coordinate it.

And implementing it is the least of our concerns right now. Why? Because the Naga planning staff has a one-year headstart than most, having carefully studied the June 14, 2005 paper produced by the UP School of Urban and Regional Planning (SURP) that provided the main input in the JMC's crafting. And in our own effort to update local plans, we have adjusted our moves, approaches and strategies accordingly.

The SURP paper (input) and the JMC (output) is a good example of how policy can evolve in the Philippines without Congress getting into the picture. Planning of course is not a sexy (like, say Daya Na aka "Migz" Zubiri's jologs factor), lucrative (like the Commission on Appointments brouhaha) or controversial (like the Human Security Act)
topic that will get you in primetime news or in the frontpages of our papers. But just imagine for a second if it did: I would say the outcome would be different, catastrophic even, like the fate suffered by the Cheap Medicines bill.

In the light of the most unproductive Congress in Philippine history, this should easily justify doing away with the legislature altogether. But then there's the urgent need for oversight, especially with an administration whose capacity for wrongdoing is practically boundless -- which is just about the only argument remaining for its continued existence.

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17 July 2007

Ed de la Torre, balik-blogger

ONE OF the joys of blogging is EB, also known as eyeball: where complete strangers brought together by the ever growing blogosphere suddenly decide to meet up in the flesh.

This morning, I actually went through a reverse variant of EB, and the excitement, though hidden, is no less captivating: it is accidentally discovering an unknown blog of somebody you know.

An email from Edicio "Ed" de la Torre, who headed TESDA during the time of President Estrada and is now a kindred spirit in the Synergeia Foundation, greeted me. Ed is an active participant in our egroup, but I felt there was something odd in the message he sent in reply to Nene Guevara's email. When I took a closer look, it was this line in his email signature:

Weblog: http//edicio. wordpress. com

Curiously unhyperlinked, I immediately cut-and-pasted it into the address box of my Firefox browser, but it did not work; instead of bringing me to his weblog, Firefox took me to Wikipedia's entry on "http." After checking and fixing the URL twice (guess what I had to do?), I finally got it right.

And I liked best the following paragraphs from his second entry:

After I was released from prison in 1986, I would be introduced in conferences with a triple XXX: ex-prisoner, ex-priest, ex-rebel.

I must explain that I was ordained a Catholic priest in 1968. After a short stint of teaching in the seminary, I got deeply involved in the struggle of farmers for land reform, and linked up with students who were getting radicalized. When martial law was imposed in the Philippines in 1972, many of us joined the illegalized left-led resistance. I was arrested and imprisoned twice. Wasn’t very good at fighting in the underground. Didn’t learn about that in the seminary!

I look forward to more thoughtful entries from this balik-blogger.

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16 July 2007

The exception, not the rule

MY PREVIOUS post on the comparative performance of Naga City high schools, both at the public and private sector, drew two interesting comments, especially in regard to the outstanding performance of the science- and arts-oriented programs of the Camarines Sur National High School (SPA and ESEP) as well as the Naga City Science High School as a whole.

Dave, who graduated from the Ateneo de Naga, said: "I knew there was something good with those special programs in public schools. Why can't they be implemented on the entire public school system? Lack of funds?"

Speaking from experience, Donald aka Ducks, who has resumed blogging at a feverish pace, tipped his hat towards these Cam High and City Science students and quipped, "Now, if we could only implement their system with other public schools, it would be a big boost to the entire public school system and should be a welcome development for our public school students."

Mainstreaming these fine programs systemwide might be part of the solution, and funding consequently can become an issue, but it is only part of the problem. If you look closely at the data, these three public school programs are actually so because their students are pre-selected: this is where the "stringent admission policies" I mentioned in that post come in.

My son Ezekiel, for instance, is now a junior in the Cam High ESEP program and he made the cut by topping the admission test they took when they were about to graduate from elementary. They started out as three sections of 40 students each; when they graduate in 2009, there will probably be only one section left.

I understand the Special Program for the Arts (SPA) is also largely governed by the same rules, only that it is arts-oriented; you can only stay in the program if you meet a minimum grade-point average by yearend.

Naga City Science has a similar tough requirement: to be able to be considered for the admission test alone, one must belong to the upper 10% of the elementary graduating class. This is consistent with Mayor Robredo's commitment to create a separate track for those who did well in elementary, especially those coming from poor households.

The long and short of it: these top performers are your exception, not the rule, making them outliers and not the accurate representation of the state of our public schools.

The bigger challenge in improving the system is raising the performance of the average and below-average students. And to my mind, a good indicator of their performance is still Cam High, but those belonging to the regular RBEC curriculum: at 1,337 examinees (roughly 1/3 of the total) which placed only 13th overall.

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15 July 2007

Duang suhestyon manongod sa lenguaheng Bikolnon

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

KAN AKO nag-eeskwela pa sa UNC High School Department mga duang dekada na an nakakaagi, an unikong pagkakataon na pinag-adalan mi an kulturang Bikolnon nasa lindong nin sarong subject sa 4th year na pig-aapod Bicol Culture. An textbook mi kaidto Readings on Bicol Culture na kun dai ako nasasala pigsurat nin sarong pading Jesuita.

Dai ko sierto kun an high school curriculum ngonyan, na pigbago ni depuntong Senador asin Education Secretary Raul S. Roco, igwa pang probisyon para sa siring na subject. Pero pigsambit ko ini bilang reaksyon sa column ninda Victor Dennis Nierva asin Tito Valiente kan nakaaging semana na nagluwas sa Vox Bikol, asin sa reaksyon ni Kristian Cordero na mababasa sa saiyang weblog, asin puede ser lumuwas man sa diaryong Bicol Mail kun saen siya kolumnista.

Nahahadit si Vic sa posibilidad na mapara an satong tataramon, kabtang kan sarong global trend kun haen saro sa labing 6,000 na lenguaheng nasa listahan kan UNESCO an nagagadan kada ikaduang semana. Para saiya, dakula an kontribusyon kan pag-murder sa Bikol kan lokal na media sa trahedyang ini.

Si Tito nagsurat manongod sa saiyang naririsang luway-luway na pagigin popular kan Filipino, na mayormenteng basado sa Tagalog, igdi sa satong rona huli sa duang rason: (1) praktikal, tanganing soboot mas magin pasil an adjustment sa mga lugar kun haen Tagalog an mayormenteng pigtataram, nangorogna sa Metro Manila, asin (2) nasyonalistiko, bilang pagbisto sa satong pagka-Filipino.

Malanit an reaksyon ni Kristian sa iba pang puntong nasambitan ni Tito, asin habo kong magbontog diyan. Pero malinaw asin sa pagtubod ko balidong marhay an saiyang mensahe: an pagrambong asin pagigin mabaskog kan lenguaheng Bikolnon madepende sa paglataw asin orog na pagdakol nin mga parasurat sa satuya mismong tataramon.

Ano an puedeng gibohon tanganing maitolod ini? Igwa akong duang suhestyon:

Enot, magtugdas nin sarong institusyon na iyo an mangengenot sa pag-standardize kan lenguaheng Bikolnon. Kun an Bikol Naga iyo an standard version kan satong lenguahe, puede ining magin pasisikadan nin sarong ordinansang ipapasar kan gobyerno lokal na minatugdas kan siring.

Importante ini huling an pagkakaigwa nin opisyal na standard an mapangyari satong magsabi kun ano an tama asin salang paggamit kan Bikol, kaiba na an spelling kaini. Kun igwa kan siring na standards na aram asin minimidbid kan gabos, puede ko ngonyan masabing grammatically correct an artikulong ini. (Sa ngonyan, dai ko isi. Siring man gayod kaiyan an mga taga-mediang sala an paggamit kan Bikol.) Asin siertong ikakapadagos ni Joe Obias asin Fr. Wilmer Tria an saindang presenteng advocacy sa lindong kan siring na institusyon.

An puedeng magin modelo niato iyo an L'Académie Française o French Academy na pigpundar kan 1635 ni Cardinal Richelieu. An sabi kan Microsoft Encarta:

"Richelieu was very much aware of the cultural dimensions of building the state. He established the Académie Française, an organization of 40 literary scholars responsible for standardizing the French language. The Académie produced the official French dictionary."
Ikadua, itokdo bilang sarong suway na subject an Bicol Grammar, kapadis kadtong Bicol Culture na pig-dalan mi, sa high school. An totoo, igwa nin kakayahan an mga public schools na gibohon ini: ta sono sa Revised Basic Education Curriculum kan DepEd, puede man magdagdag nin mga subject an sarong lokalidad basta dai sana inaan kun ano an yaon na. An kaipuhan sana, pusog na desisyon kan mga nanunungdan na gibohon asin ipasunod ini.

Igwa nin mga polisiyang puede pang idugang sa duang lakdang na nasambit, orog na sa pag-popularize kan satong tataramon. Pero dakula an pagtubod ko na kun magkakaigwa kita nin standardized na lenguaheng Bikol, asin ikakatokdo ini sa satong mga kaakian, dakol pa an mabutwang parasurat na matokar, bako sana kun ano an exotic o kakaiba sa satong kultura, kundi nin mga temang mahalaga sa satong pagbuhay-buhay asin mataros kun dai man makitik sa puso kan ordinaryong Bikolano sa sainda mismong sadiring tataramon.

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13 July 2007

Mango RED's extraordinary imagery

THIS post is not about Beatriz Saw, the Pinoy Big Brother Season 2 winner which Kristian and an Inquirer blog wrote about. It concerns, rather, a blog put up by a Naga and now Manila-based outfit that specializes in wedding photos.

Bea's photo is merely incidental, simply because I think it is by far the best available of her -- courtesy of Randall Dagooc, the person on top of the award-winning Mango RED team.

Being one of the regular contributors to our Planet Naga aggregator, I have been intrigued by the extraordinary wedding imageries conjured by Dagooc and his collaborators -- the only photoblog in our aggregator's stable of bloggers.

So at around lunchtime, I found time to check the weblog itself, and found out they have more in their nifty flash-loaded website here, photos for the 2006 Miss Bicolandia beauty pageant contestants among them. And although she did not win that one, Bea Saw stood out mainly because of her recent PBB2 feat.

I will urge you to do the same because there's more your eyes can feast on, including six fantastic albums set in flash whose pages appear real-like you can practically leaf through them.

Mango RED's philosophy, I think, is captured by this line taken from its brochure:

These are not the images we want to capture but life itself. Our images are an eclectic mix of stolen and posed portraits, which reveal with delicacy the complicity of the bride and the groom, perhaps an alchemy which holds to the evoking of a romantic secret place auspicious to lovers.
Their services, though, don't come cheap. A basic coverage package starts at P55,000.

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12 July 2007

How Naga high schools stack up

AFTER seeing a snapshot of how Philippine localities compare in terms of academic performance, how would local high schools, public and private, match up?

The image to the right captures their relative performance in the National Career Assessment Examination conducted among 4th year high school students last December.

Again, some quick observations:

1. Public schools can hold their own against private sector counterparts. This is especially true at the upper end of the spectrum, where special public high school programs (the science- and arts-oriented curricula of Camarines Sur National High School, as well as the city's own science high school, where admission policies are stringent) bested their private counterparts.

2. The Camarines Sur Polytechnic laboratory high school (formerly BCAT) and Cararayan National High School are the surprising revelation in this exam, owing to their strong performance in the middle range. They have performed better than my alma mater, UNC, as well as the other public high schools, including the regular curriculum of Cam High.

3. The situation is somewhat reversed in the lower end, as public schools like Concepcion Pequena and Tinago did not fare as well as their private counterparts.

I have reservations, though, whether a special program for the differently abled, (read: the Naga SPED), should be assessed together with all the rest. My sense is, they have special needs that deserve special attention.

If at all, the results point out which ones need to exert more efforts to do better, and where government can focus its resources to support them. The respective school administrations should take the initiative here, as exemplified by Tinago High which called a PTA meeting after these results became public.

Your own take on this data will be appreciated, as usual.

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11 July 2007

How Philippine localities stack up in education

WANT to have an idea how the various cities and provinces in the Philippines stack up in terms of academic performance?

The image to the right summarizes the results of the National Career Assessment Examination (NCEA), which the Department of Education administered to graduating high school students in December 2006, both from public and private schools. The results were released last May.

Some quick observations:

1. Urban areas generally fared better than rural areas, as city schools divisions outshone their provincial counterparts. Access to bigger local resources, like the Special Education Fund (SEF) tax money, is probably one of the factors here.

2. Being a city helps, but it doesn't guarantee high performance. For instance, only Makati and Marikina among the NCR cities barged into the top 15, showing that academic performance is not all about the money.

3. Provincial divisions can do well. Exhibit "A" would be the Samar-Leyte provinces: they are not resource rich but they have done very well, taking four of the top 10 and six of the top 15.

4. Our little effort to improve education in Naga City acquited itself well, I think. The city placed ranked 8th among 103 city schools divisions, and 14th among 188 city and provincial schools divisions. By comparison, the next best city schools division in the Bicol came at 40th.

Feel free to share your own conclusions from the data.

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10 July 2007

I think I now know what it's like

A LAST-MINUTE errand by, who else but my grade schoolers, had us motoring to the city center to buy stuff at Master's Square instead of going home straight from work. Night has fallen when we already started our way back home.

And like what Hagbayon described here, the eight-kilometer stretch from Magsaysay to Grandview became an extraordinary sight, and a tough drive onboard my Honda Wave underbone. Swarms of layug-layug -- I'm not sure if how they should properly be called in English: flying ants or termites or something else that a local entomologist would surely know -- bombarded our path and made the journey quite difficult.

This annual ritual between summer and the onset of rainy days is nothing new. For instance, the Bowling Green, Ohio timeline reported the following in August 1899:

Thunder and lightning warn Bowling Green residents of an approaching storm, but the dark clouds produce not rain but insects. Says the Sentinel: "They were everywhere. Myriads of them fell on the streets about the electric lights and the sidewalks were almost slippery from them. . . . They appear to be a cross between a katydid and a cricket. They are smaller than a cricket and have wings large enough to apparently fly any distance."
But back to my travails early this evening. My helmet and Lynn's are not equipped with a visor, but it was dark and we did not have any other option but to plod on. So you can just imagine what used to be a 15-minute drive becoming 20, slowed down by endless streams of flying insects hitting you all over like hail of bullets. The challenge is to make sure they don't hit you in the eye.

Then, there's also the tickling discomfort when the bugs get caught in your helmet and start to move towards the ears, towards your neck and then your nape. It can get so irritating that you are tempted to drive using one hand, and use the other to shoo them away. But the relief is fleeting, as others would get eventually get caught in those crevices and restart the whole cycle over again. At least until the trip is over and you've finally reached home.

And then the naughty thought struck me: after the ordeal, I think I now know what it's like to have dangerous, unprotected sex.

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09 July 2007

Quick notes on a lazy Monday

1. PROOF positive that GMA-7's noontime icon 'Eat Bulaga' has finally lost out to ABS-CBN's 'Wowowee' came to me this morning when I motored my Grade I daughter Pep to school per her request. School is 200 meters away, right across the creek separating Grandview and Green Valley.

"Boom Tarat" has become part of Grandview Elementary's daily morning routine, an exercise that had school children dancing and gyrating their hips to the tune right after flag ceremonies. I cannot remember the institution that is 'Eat Bulaga' exerting such influence, even in its prime.

2. Brokenhearted, my favorite Bikolana writer-blogger, Maryanne Moll, has temporarily stopped writing. I hope she snaps out of it soon.

3. Finally met the issue of hotlinking, and its face in cyberspace is an Indian guy named Mohan aka Neo Garfield. His comment, and my reply.

In trying to figure out the issue, I came across stuff like this, which I can understand.

But in the case of the 'fake' Harry Potter, this thing still eludes me:

  • Why upload something which isn't even yours in the first place?
  • And then cry "hotlinking!" when the hits start coming in?
  • But if the link is to one's website, then everything would be hunky-dory now?!?
At the very least, I gave credit to Melindaleo, who should actually be complaining about it in the first place.:)

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06 July 2007

Why I rarely use Google Earth lately

SINCE I discovered Google Earth about two years back, courtesy of my good friend Rene Sanapo, I have been a big fan, writing a handful of posts here, here, here, here and here.

But since the last one in October 2006, I have rarely used Google Earth for one simple reason: it has yet to come up with a high-resolution image for Naga.

• It has five high-res images for the Bondoc peninsula in Quezon province, where you can find sleepy towns like San Narciso.

• It already has two south of the city, where you can clearly see Ocampo, Baao, Iriga, Nabua and Bato.

• Hell, it even has them for Tabaco and Legazpi cities in Albay, further down south.

But no Naga.

This is very frustrating for someone charged to lead in updating the city's land use plan.

So unless the wise guys at Google come up with what I think is due my city, no Google Earth for me.

And that land use plan will be updated in a most innovative way -- with the help of a mentor in faraway Washington, D.C.; amazing friends and like-minded people from UBC in Vancouver, Canada; and the stakeholders of Naga City. But no thanks to Google Earth.

And my Google Earth-related posts will continue to stay at six, this one included, and occupy the cellar among my categories.

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05 July 2007

A vote for 'Filipinayzd'

JANETTE Toral is running a search for the Top 10 most influential blogs for the current year. This activity, which covers blogs created from August 2006 up to the present, runs until the end of the month, with 10 lucky ones getting $100 each by August 1.

From our little corner of the blogosphere, only one of those qualified stands out: Irvin Sto. Tomas's Filipinayzd.

Just consider the following numbers: Last June 21, his most popular entry that appeared at our Planet Naga aggregator had 2,084 views; in his own weblog, it had 2,055. Now, as I write this exactly two weeks later, it has grown to 7,616 and 5,590, respectively.

The "Recent Comments" box at Planet Naga too, is now livelier, with 9 of every 10 commenting on his posts. The most popular, of course, is his take on the theory of languages that has attracted 84 comments -- mostly by high school students whose lives are being made miserable by their Filipino subject -- and counting. For an aggregator that is not exactly that well known, this is astounding.

What makes him click? Only one word: niching. As the Tagalog-based Filipino language is trying to evolve mightily, a Bikolano-slash-Nagueño rules the blogosphere.

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04 July 2007

Redistricting Camarines Sur optimally

GUIDED by the constitutional requirements for a legislative district -- (1) a contiguous, compact, and adjacent territory, and (2) a population of at least two hundred fifty thousand -- the map to the right is my take on redistricting Camarines Sur which only has four at present.

Actually, based on the 2000 Census, Camarines Sur is already entitled to six legislative districts, on the strength of its 1,551,549 population. Unfortunately, differences in the municipal population breakdown, together with territorial requirement on contiguity, prevents the creation of a sixth district.

But with an annual projected population growth rate of 1.07%, which would put the 2007 provincial population between 1.7 and 1.9 million, optimal redistricting should be within reach when census results are made available by the first half of 2008.

Do you think my proposed configuration will fly? Your comments are welcome. The 2000 population data are available after the jump.

You are encouraged to suggest other possible configurations consistent with the above requirements, as well as other cultural and political realities that I may have missed.

But one unmissable political dimension: will our four incumbent congressmen agree to push this advocacy?

If you are interested in data manipulation, I saved the population data as a Google spreadsheet.

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It’s census time next month

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

FOR THE whole month of August 2007, expect a visit from the National Statistics Office (NSO) in connection with the 2007 Census of Population that it will conduct all over the country.

Last Tuesday, the Naga City Census Coordinating Board met to discuss preparations for this population count, which will cover all residents, both Filipinos and foreigners who have stayed or are expected to stay for at least a year in the Philippines. About 80 NSO enumerators -- your friendly NSO census taker -- will be fielded in Naga for this month-long activity.

It should have taken place in 2005 but did not -- mainly for budgetary reasons and of course the impeachment battles triggered by the infamous Hello Garci tapes. When it was again postponed last year, Camarines Sur NSO provincial officer Eliza Solares told us, they were no longer expecting another census to take place, considering its nearness to 2010. But early this year, the national government had a change of heart.

By law, a national census must be taken every 10 years since 1980, in addition to other special counts mandated by the National Statistical Coordination Board. The last one held was in 2000, covering both population and housing counts.

Why are censuses held? A primer of the NSO says the information they yield will help government in formulating policies and preparing plans and programs concerning population, education, fertility, labor and housing. They will also be useful to business and industry in their decision making, and to academic institutions in their research.

One compelling reason, however, as to why a census suddenly materialized this year is political. This can be inferred from the following portion of a previous NSO primer:

Question: “What are the basic uses of official population statistics?”

Answer: “Aside from its use in plan formulation and program evaluation of the government, population statistics serve as basis for the redistricting and apportionment of congressional seats; allocation of resources and revenues like the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA); and creation of political and administrative units.”

The 1987 Constitution provides for a Lower House comprising of not more than 250 representatives elected by legislative districts. According to Wikipedia, there are only 212 legislative districts at present, leaving a balance of 38.

Additionally, it lays down the requirements and process for creating new districts. Section 5(3) of Article VI provides that “each legislative district shall comprise, as far as practicable, contiguous, compact, and adjacent territory. Each city with a population of at least two hundred fifty thousand, or each province, shall have at least one representative.”

Section 5(4) is where the 2007 Census comes in: “Within three years following the return of every census, the Congress shall make a reapportionment of legislative districts based on the standards provided in this section.”

By my count, Camarines Sur alone stands to gain at least two additional districts if redistricting pushes through. Assuming, of course, the 1987 Constitution survives another assault by forces committed to charter change.

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02 July 2007

Overestimating one's strengths

THE LIVE stories on primetime TV news that broke Koko Pimentel's failure to secure a temporary restraining order (TRO) last Thursday only offered a glimpse of that debacle.

I only started to appreciate its depth and breadth when I read Ricky Carandang's post the day after and this morning's disappointed Inquirer editorial.

Ironically, what may have prodded Koko to make this monumental gamble is his father's nemesis when the latter was still Cagayan de Oro city mayor and a leading opposition figure in the early '80s: the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

After topping the 1938 Bar exams, the 23-year old Marcos successfully argued his case before the Laurel Supreme Court, which acquitted him of the murder of Julio Nalundasan in its decision issued on October 22, 1940. As everyone knows, Marcos went on to become president of the Philippines.

There's a president in most everyone aspiring for a seat in the Senate. For lawyers, the strength of this urge, I think, is directly proportional to the size of their ego multiplied by their performance in the bar. This makes it easy for them to commit the politician's classical blunder: overestimating one's strengths and underestimating his weaknesses.

Now, Koko will probably never be all that his father ever was: mayor, assemblyman and now senator. But at least, he will always have that bar topnotcher thingy.

Graphic nicked from uniffors.com.

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