31 August 2007

Will history again repeat itself?

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

AT THE height of the abaca trade in the late 1800s until around the turn of the 20th century – which is about 100 years ago – Albay was the richest province in the entire Philippines, Ateneo professor Danny Gerona, Bicol's foremost historian, said in a recent lecture.

But as Norman Owen's seminal work on the subject showed, it was by and large prosperity without progress as the industry built around that key commodity enriched the traders but not the local communities that hosted the vast abaca plantations feeding it.

By the 1920s, when the Americans started promoting the establishment of abaca plantations outside Bicol and in Latin America for security reasons (abaca being a Philippine monopoly at the time), Albay's fall from its preeminent position as an economic powerhouse began. When synthetic fibers supplanted abaca-made cordage by the mid-50's, the industry's almost total collapse became inevitable.

Today, with the comeback of large-scale mining as a priority investment area in the country, Albay gets another stab at economic prosperity. This was evident from last Saturday's visit to Rapu-Rapu, the new mining capital of the province.

The port of Legazpi is now more vibrant: a cargo ship is anchored, waiting to be filled up by the precious metals mined and processed in Rapu-Rapu; a seafront property development is in full swing, said to be a hotel being put up by a local investor; the port area is now well lighted, attracting evening promenaders, and clearly looks better, helped by a high wall that fenced off adjacent informal settlements. A fastcraft now services the route daily, cutting the usual 2-3 hour boatride from Legazpi to the main island to around 1 hour 45 minutes.

On our way back to Legazpi, Emma Bolaños, the town councilor who chairs the education committee of the sangguniang bayan, wondered why majority of Rapu-Rapu's 30,000 inhabitants remain poor notwithstanding its rich mineral resources.

For instance, the town has the second highest malnutrition rate in the province, better only than that of Oas. In recent national achievement tests administered by the DepEd, its school children scored less than 30%, lower than the provincial average of about 50%.

During our workshop, the participants affirmed one of their modest dreams: to ensure that at least 10% of the population will graduate from college. Fixing the physical plant of the town's community college is probably a good place to start, to ensure access to higher education for most residents whose only other alternative are the Legazpi universities and colleges.

But a lot more needs to be done with basic education, from elementary up to high school. Statistics show that only around 7 out every 10 get to enter Grade 1. And mirroring the national situation, only around 5 of them eventually graduate from elementary.

So for most of that Saturday, our Naga-based team from the Synergeia Southern Luzon helped about 150 stakeholders, a good number coming from schools comprising Rapu-Rapu's two school districts, plan together in addressing these concerns in an education summit. In all, they identified nine strategies to make it happen.

These, however, are no quick-fix magic-wand solutions. Of greater urgency is ensuring that ongoing mining activities in the island will redound to the benefit of Rapu-Rapu residents, especially now that the national and provincial governments have welcomed Lafayette's investment with open arms, notwithstanding its documented lapses that led to mine tailing spills in October 2005.

This will require civil society organizations closely watching over government's resolve to ensure that 'responsible mining' indeed takes place, guided by the International Council on Mining and Metals' (ICMM) 10 principles of sustainable development. For instance, the call for revenue transparency – a clear accounting of government revenues from natural resources, especially how they are spent to benefit local communities – is most timely, especially now that Lafayette has paid P180 million in direct and indirect taxes for the first half of the year.

Otherwise, we will see history simply repeating itself in the province of Albay.

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29 August 2007

First stab at mobile blogging

"MY FIRST attempt at mobile blogging: an invite to the launch of Bigg's Catering Clubhouse this Saturday at Jardin Real de Naga."
The above text was what I emailed to go.blogger.com to set up my Blogger account's mobile blogging capability. In a zip, Blogger immediately replied, providing me a six-character alphanumeric code I used in claiming my mobile blogging license.

The picture, blurry I may add, shows Bigg's, Inc. unique invite to their big event this Saturday evening, taken using my LG cameraphone. Folded, it is a cardboard version of an analog radio set that my late grandmother used to have in their Sagrada home where I grew up. Pasted in front is a note saying: "Open this box for a blast from the past!"

When opened, the invite looks like the one above, with the following text: "Bigg's Catering presents 'The Spirit of '67' -- A Rock 'n Roll Dinner Concert at the Clubhouse. Hosted by Jaime Fabregas." If I recall it right, the multi-talented Fabregas grew up at barangay Abella and went to the school at the Ateneo de Naga.

While deliberating on the shortlist of this year's Mayoral Awards last night, Ms. Amelita Zaens of the DIBA Foundation brought up this upcoming Bigg's event. Joe Perez, Bicol Mail editor, said he looks forward to it, with rock 'n roll the staple of their parochial days.

And I look forward to more occasional mobile blogging, particularly where there is no internet access and with my laptop mostly left at the office these days, Globe's 3G service is the only real alternative left.

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Quick mad updates

1. BIKOL WIKI. Irvin proudly announces that our Bikol Wikipedia project that he initiated has been conditionally approved. There is much more to be done though. His post has the skinny of what lies ahead and what more needs to be done to secure final approval.

2. MAD CROWD. I'm now part of the Mad Crowd Media, which aspires to become "the largest network of high-quality online independent publishers in the Philippines." When Benito Vergara invited me, I asked: "What's a provinciano going to do in that (high-powered) list?" But the rest is history: the Maddy badge is now part of my right sidebar.

Why Mad Crowd? I really don't know. But what can you expect if you have the Twisted One, no less, as director of publishers.:D

3. FEEDBURNER RELOADED. Early this morning, I got this email from Estrella Cabuco, part of which says:

Today I came across your blog A Nagueño in the Blogosphere and would like to subscribe to it. Let's say I thirst for Naga news, having been away for a long, long time. Perhaps I haven't navigated through all of your blog, but there isn't a sign in, is there? Barring that, I can always put the website in my Favorites and go there every so often.
The "Subscribe" widget at the lower corner of my left sidebar is for you, ma'am. Just plug in your email add, click the "Subscribe" button and you're on your way to becoming my first subscriber by email -- assuming of course this FeedBurner service works as advertised.

4. KABULIG MEET-UP. Last Monday, upon invitation by Marissa "Issa" Casillan, I also got to meet with the officers of Kabulig-Bikol, the association of Bikolano writers in this part of the region.

A good number of them -- Kristian, Aldy and Hagbayon -- are bloggers like myself. One (Judith Balares-Salamat) graduated from the same elementary school (Anayan-Sagrada in Pili) I came from. Its president, Estelito Jacob, teaches at UNC, my alma mater in Naga. Honesto Pesimo (its secretary?) teaches at Concepcion Pequeña National High School, one of our public secondary schools in the city. Carlo Arejola chairs the Arejola Foundation, the moving force behind the Premio Arejola which has become the Bikol equivalent of the Palanca.

It was a short meeting that deserves a separate entry, not the least because I felt like home.

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28 August 2007

The promise of Libon

IF YOU saw Cars, the seventh animated film produced by the Disney-Pixar combine, then you will probably remember Radiator Springs, the former boomtown in the movie that faded into oblivion when Interstate 40 opened to traffic.

It is where our cocky hero -- and my daughter Nokie's all-time favorite -- Lightning McQueen suddenly found himself in after being separated from his transport truck on the way to the tie-breaker race in Los Angeles.

Bicol has its own version of Radiator Springs, a town called Libon in Albay province, which is in fact home to the oldest Spanish settlement in the region. It used to be called Santiago de Libong, if I recall my Bicol history right.

But when the straight bypass road from Matacon to Polangui town proper rose with the opening of the Maharlika Highway many decades back, traffic -- particularly passenger buses and vans -- that used to pass Libon disappeared, substantially affecting the town's vitality.

Yet the proud people of Libon are quietly confident they will rise again. Under the leadership of newly reelected Mayor Agnes "Bem" Dycoco, they are betting that improved education outcomes will enable the town to recover lost ground.

Last Friday, our six-man Synergeia Southern Luzon team headed by Mayor Robredo went to Libon to help manage their first-ever education summit. I came home with many positive impressions about the town and the quality of its governance:

- They have a tradition of participation that will serve the project well. Mayor Bem's department heads facilitated the workshops admirably, notwithstanding the 15-minute briefing early in the morning that the schedule allowed us.

- The municipal government has a functional Community-Based Monitoring System (CBMS), one of the only two in Albay, that the mayor juxtaposed against the DepEd data in his presentation. (We don't have one in Naga yet.) There were marked differences in the data, and Mayor Bem challenged the participants to use them in establishing the real situation at the community level.

- The town also works with seven uniquely named "leagues," which refer to a cluster of geographically contiguous villages; this arrangement facilitates management of its 48 component barangays. These leagues include Palayan (where the rice fields are), Poblacion (the town center), Coastal (those facing Burias Pass), Lakeside (along Lake Bato), Big Six(the six biggest barangays?), Six Hills (the hilly portions of the town), and Interior 8 (obviously the landlocked interior villages).

Mind you, practically all of them were represented, both at the school, barangay and PTA levels, except for one or two that failed to attend. Their presence enabled the town to come up with specific interventions unique to their own league, whose problems can be different from others.

- Mayor Dycoco's presentation of the town's state of education was the most comprehensive I've seen thus far. More than that, it started quite differently, invoking the town's illustrious sons and daughters -- including the likes of former Finance Secretary Dominador Aytona and Justice Irene Cortes. (It is also available via Slideshare below.)

It perfectly set the stage for challenging, thought-provoking questions toward the end, such as:

  • "Libon's prominent intellectual personalities, can we replicate them in the next generation?
  • "Do our public school children, especially those schooled in rural barangays ever have the chance to become intellectuals of our town?
  • "Can our next leaders, businessmen, professionals who will shape Libon’s community in the future come from them, or will these be privilege of the few?"
It so moved Albay Schools Division Superintendent Epifanio Buela, who remarked, "You will make a very good Department of Education secretary!" No wonder, Mayor Dycoco was elected by her peers as new president of the Albay municipal mayor's league.

(Interestingly, that is a common observation of all Synergeia local chief execs who have begun involving themselves in education governance issues beyond the traditional scholarships and provision of physical facilities: they begin talking like DepEd superintendents.)

My confidence that Libon will fulfill its promise came most unexpectedly when towards the end, as the various stakeholders were asked to reflect on their outputs, the Libon district supervisor -- whose name eludes me -- asked all school principals in attendance to stand up, raise their right hands, and commit themselves ("panunumpa" was the word she used) to seeing the plan through.

This reaffirmed my belief in the Synergeia model. Two days back, Cecile Calleja of the Lafayette-owned Rapu-Rapu Minerals, Inc. -- our corporate partner for the same project in the Albay mining boomtown -- asked me point-blank: "What is really your value-added?"

I said: I will have to disabuse your mind that we have a magic wand that will cure all ills in the public school system in communities that decide to work with us. But our value-added lies in working with local governments who, in leading their communities in identifying the problems and finding the solution to their problems, can make education governance reforms work.

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25 August 2007

Frolicking dolphins of Rapu-Rapu

UPDATE (26 Aug): Prompted by Gurugeek's comment at our Planet Naga aggregator, I did some tweaking on the raw footage and re-uploaded it on Youtube. It's now working though a little blurry.

COURTESY of my city planning colleague Tali Pabines's digital camera, I am sharing with you via Youtube a magical moment involving frolicking dolphins between Rapu-Rapu, Albay and Legazpi City at around 5 pm today.



There were about of dozen of these that, for a good 10 minutes or so, provided a spectacular sight one hour after we departed from the town. The farthest one, in fact, had a mid-sized dolphin fully jumping into the air before disappearing again into the seawaters.

How and why we got there I will answer in my next posts. Happy viewing and a blessed weekend for the meantime.

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23 August 2007

Hiccup happens...

THERE are times when totally unrelated events conspire to put one in silent crisis mode -- when one must pause while everybody else goes on with life. The last seven days were one of those times.

It started when I stumbled on this post by Manolo, which generated more than 400 comments, including a number of Bikolanos both here and abroad. Among others, the debate centered on Nick Joaquin's piece entitled "A Heritage of Smallness." If you haven't done so, it's a good read, and a thought-provoking one.

And to balance things off, be sure to read through the debate between benign0 -- who apparently has made putting down Filipinos his vocation -- on the one hand, and people like Abe Margallo, Manuel Buencamino, cvj, The Cat, Shaman of Malilipot, and Devilsadvc8 on the other. The 400+ comments will strain your eyes, but they will be worth the effort.

Then one day, my wife's former co-teacher at Sabang High School -- where she taught for about five years before joining Cam High in 2003 or so -- dropped by. In the course of their conversation, she mentioned that two of their colleagues will soon be leaving for abroad, one bringing her entire family, to teach. Her aunt, a tenured librarian in a leading university, is also following suit.

It reminded me of the city government's past two EDP heads who are now both in Singapore, and my wife's co-teachers -- one coached science quiz prize-winning students at Cam High, the other a fellow math teacher who earlier moved from Naga City Science to teach at the Regional Science High School in Ligao -- who recently visited them two years after migrating to the US.

Suddenly, the phenomenon of thousands of Pinoys voting with their feet and leaving the country has acquired a face, very familiar ones at that.

Then, I was reminded of the general membership meeting of the Metro Naga Chamber of Commerce and Industry I attended about two weeks back. One of their guest is Magno Conag III, a young instructor at the Ateneo de Naga University, who spoke about a quandary facing their cutting-edge 3-D animation course: without local employment opportunities, the school is ending up as mere producer of valuable human resources that end up moving elsewhere, in Manila or abroad, because the opportunities are simply there and not here.

Conag attended the meet to invite local businessmen to an event they are organizing at the Ateneo de Naga on August 31, from 4-6 pm, to find ways of addressing the problem.

Together, these happenings make one ask: Is staying on still worth it? By choosing to work at the level of a small city like Naga, far from where the action is, are we and can we still make a difference?

These questions persisted for most of the week, up until last Monday's holiday break when my wife and daughters joined visiting kins from Oas, Albay for a fishing excursion in Binanuaanan, Pili. My two sons and I, busy with our own preoccupations, failed to join them. But all throughout, I totally tuned out from blogging, contenting myself with lurking around blogs I follow and surfing the net to read the news.

Last Tuesday, while preparing for work and our kids for school, I noticed that our Grandview community remained the same. Yes, some people and families I used to see have moved on, but most have remained. The vitality of the community -- the fusion of a low-cost housing project whose takers are better-off economically and a bigger group of urban poor
settlers -- has remained essentially the same. Our community school -- where three of my kids go to -- remains full of vibrant young voices reciting in unison when asked to by their teachers.

Then yesterday, the Ateneo de Naga Social Science Research Center presented a baseline survey commissioned by the Bicol Urban Poor Colloquium and PHILSSA, a World Bank-funded project. The results were mixed, especially in regard to the poverty picture: on the one hand, the income-based measures were mostly aligned with the 2000 NSCB local poverty study (around 20% are below poverty line); on the other, majority of city residents (around 60%) considered themselves poor using the self-rated methodology popularized by the SWS.

But one statistic, I think, stood out: 2 of every 3 respondents are still optimistic about the future, expecting the quality of their life to improve within the next three years.

To cut this story short, I was encouraged to blog again, starting with my Vox Bikol column for the week. And for sure, I am attending that Ateneo digital animation meet-up on the 31st. Hiccups do happen, but life -- and the opportunity to think and dream big even if they come in tingi sizes -- goes on.

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It's also about accountability

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

THE ISSUE OF accountability, I think, is one of key important ingredients missing in the renewed debate on the state of education in the country.

This three-part series of the Inquirer here, here and here laid down all the numbers, capped by today's editorial that takes to task the DepEd bureaucracy for not getting the basics right. In the same breath, it called for a return to the basics, addressing the usual shortages in classrooms and teachers among them.

Sen. Edgardo Angara and the Inquirer editorial however failed to explore a crucial question: 15 years after the Angara-chaired EdCom released its findings, why can't the bureaucracy get its basics right? Or to borrow Angara's language, what prevents us from extracting "more efficiency and more productivity from both our education budget and our education department"?

Accountability, or the lack of it, I will submit is one of the answer.

Come to think of it, to whom is DepEd really accountable for its continuing failure to deliver the minimum education outcomes? The easy answer, of course, is the Filipino people. But HOW? Let us examine the options:

One probable answer is through the president: after all, the DepEd belongs to the Executive department which she or he heads. But has there been a case where an education secretary was fired for failing to deliver the required access and quality outcomes?

How about the Legislature? After all, they authorize the annual budget, including DepEd's, and the power of oversight necessarily goes along with it. But have there been instances where a sitting Education secretary was ever called to account for failing to deliver the same outcomes? Truth of the matter is, our legislators can't -- simply because they know they are equally guilty of scrimping on the education budget.

How about the Filipino people themselves? In theory, our electoral process allows them to directly exact accountability from an incumbent administration, especially a sitting president. But six years is too long a wait and to waste. Further, Philippine presidents cannot be reelected under our current system of government. And finally, the last presidential candidate to run on a solid education platform was the late Sen. Raul Roco and he failed in both attempts.

Clearly, it is very difficult to exact accountability on education outcomes at the national level alone. How much more if we do the same down the line -- from the bureau directors at the DepEd central office in Pasig, to the various regional directors all throughout the 17 or so administrative regions in the country, to the 187 provincial and city division superintendents, to the various district supervisors under them, and finally from each and every one of 40,000 or so school heads at the grassroots level?

Under a centrally managed system which is what we currently have, that is next to impossible. Why? Because the bureaucracy is so structured that they are only accountable to their superiors up the totem pole. The idea of a school head or a superintendent for that matter being accountable to the direct community they serve does not exist within the DepEd bureaucracy.

For instance, has there been a case where a school head was reassigned for failing to ensure that their students would get the 75% minimum proficiency level in national, regional or division tests? Or a superintendent being made to explain why his or her division failed to do the same?

The answer, of course, is no, there's none. Because the centralized structure and the insular attitudes within the department do not allow it or provide the incentive for doing so.

In this light, I believe it is about time that we bring the issue of accountability into the radar screen, and explore mechanisms of how local communities can be involved more meaningfully in exacting it from the various levels of the DepEd bureaucracy.

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16 August 2007

Ang paradigm shift at ang mga erehe ng KWF

Ang kolum ko para sa isyu ng Vox Bikol ngayong linggo.

LABIS ang kasiyahan ko matapos basahin ang keynote address ni Ricardo Ma. Nolasco, chairman ng Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) sa 2007 Nakem conference na isinagawa sa Mariano Marcos State University noong Mayo 23, 2007. It made my day, ika nga.

Una, dahil kinilala rin sa wakas ng pamahalaang nasyunal ang pagiging multilinggwal at multikultural ng mga Pilipino. Sa talumpati ni Dr. Nolasco -- ang pinakamalinaw na policy statement ng gobyerno, sa aking palagay, ukol sa paglinang ng ating mga wika -- binigyang diin na hindi kahinaan, kundi lakas, ng bansa ang mahigit nitong 170ng wika. Pangsampu tayo sa buong daigdig na may pinakamaraming wika, aniya.

Ang ikalawang dahilan ay maaaring ma-misinterpret ng iba nating kababayan, gaya ng walang kwentang away sa pagitan ng ilang tinatawag na A-list Pinoy bloggers, na umani ng maanghang na reaksyon ni Gibbs Cadiz; sana naman ay hindi. Pero natutuwa akong nangyayari ang pagbabagong ito sa pananaw ng Komisyon sa pangunguna ng isang Bikolano, na tulad ni Gibbs ay tubong-Sorsogon.

At pangatlo, salig sa pagkilala ng ating pagka multilinggwal at multikultural, ang bagong bisyon at misyon ng KWF ay nagbibigay-sigla sa mga kagaya ko na nais ding payabungin at pagyamanin ang sarili naming wika -- ang Bikol na ayon kay Irvin Sto. Tomas "ay may 2.5 milyong neytiv ispiker (1990 sensus) ... at sinasalita sa malaking bahagi ng Camarines Sur at Albay, bahagi ng Camarines Norte, Catanduanes at Sorsogon at Burias Island ng Masbate."

Isa sa mga natutunan ko nang bumalik ako sa paaralan noong 2004 ay ang konsepto ng "paradigm shift." Inimbento ni Thomas Kuhn, isang Amerikanong intelektwal, ang ideyang ito upang ipaliwanag ang mga mga pagbabagong nagaganap ("scientific revolutions") sa larangan ng siyensya.

Halimbawa, nuong unang panahon, naniniwala ang mga tao na ang daigdig ang sentro ng uniberso; kilala ito bilang ang geocentric model ni Ptolemy. Kahit ang Simbahang Katoliko ay nanghawakan dito hanggang sa Middle Ages, anupat napilitan ang sikat na astronomong si Galileo na talikuran ang kanyang unang paninindigan na umiikot ang daigdig sa araw, kasuwato ng heliocentric model ni Copernicus.

Subalit naglaon, napatunayang mali si Ptolemy at tama si Copernicus, anupat si Pope John Paul II mismo ay nagsabi noong 1992 na tama pala si Galileo at nagkamali ang simbahan, although in good faith. Isang paradigm shift ang binuong modelo ni Copernicus, at malawakang binago nito ang pananaw ng tao ukol sa uniberso.

Maituturing din na isang paradigm shift ang bagong bisyon at misyon ng KWF sa pangunguna ni Nolasco. Sa mga puristang makikitid ang utak, isang erehe lang ang makapagsasabing, "Gusto naming isipin na lipas na ang panahon na ang mga gawain ng komisyon -- sa katotohanan o sa karaniwang pagkakaalam -- ay eksklusibong nakatuon sa wikang pambansa, sa kapabayaan ng mahigit na 170ng wika ng ating bansa at nang walang makatotohanang pagsasaalang-alang sa isa pang opisyal na wika ng bansa, ang Ingles, o sa mas eksaktong pormulasyon, ang Philippine English."

Pero ayon sa Pranses na si Victor Hugo, "There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come." Naniniwala akong tama at napapanahon ang landas na tinatahak ng mga erehe sa KWF. Ito rin ang landas na tinatahak ng mga Bikolanong manunulat, kabilang na ang tumutula, umaawit, nagkukwento, nagsasadula at nakikipagtalakayan sa wikang Bikol, na naniniwalang tapos na ang panahon ng mga tawong lipod sa literaturang Bikolnon.

An sabi ngani kaiyan ni Frank Peñones: "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.'" Sa saiyang rebyu kan libro ni Peñones, si Kristian Cordero nagsumpay: "An koleksyon na ini sarong dakulang dugang sa nagtatambo tang literatura na haloy bago nakabutas sa imahe kan mga tawong lipod na ngonyan luhay-luhay nang namamansayan, namamatian kadungan kan naglalawig na terasa kan literaturang Bikol."

Bilang tugon sa layunin ng Komisyon, pinagtibay kahapon sa planning workshop ng pamahalaang panlungsod ng Naga ang pagbuo ng isang lokal na institute bago matapos ang taon; ito ang mangunguna sa pag-stardardize ng Bicol-Naga, sa tulong ng isang modernong Bicol-English dictionary.

Hindi ba mas mainam na makita ang bawat Pilipino na mahusay sa tatlong wikang kailangan para sa matatag na kinabukasan ng bansa -- ang wikang kinamulatan, ang wikang Filipino at ang Ingles -- upang ang Buwan ng Wika bawat Agosto ay maging pagdiriwang ng kanyang kakayahang harapin ang matinding hamon ng bukas?

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14 August 2007

Poll: L-Ray or Joey?

THE results of last week's poll was clear: it's Mercury Drug by a mile, preferred by a 13-3 margin. What is interesting is that another 3 opted for neither drug store: it would be well and good if it is because there is no Mercury nor New South Star in their place; but if they are local residents, it spells trouble for NSSD.

When voting closed yesterday, I was hard-pressed for a new topic. The resurgent war in the South -- whether the government should declare an all-out war against the terrorists, continue to give peace talks with Muslim separatists a chance, or both -- came to mind but I eventually decided against the idea. Probably because it's too complex, and confusing.

But this morning's RDC meeting gave me a perfect alternative. It's an issue closer to home, the protagonists are pretty much well known locally, the choices are clear and leave no room for equivocation.

So, our poll for the next five days: Who should President Arroyo appoint as Bicol's next RDC chair: Camarines Sur Gov. L-Ray Villafuerte who is aiming for a repeat? His fellow GMA loyalist Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, who is on his first term? Or one of the two private sector nominees?

Take your pick. Who knows? Somebody in Malacañang might be tuned in.:)

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The Albay-Cam Sur rivalry is back

JUST came from Legazpi City to attend a regular meeting of the Regional Development Council. It was one of the most attended meetings I saw this year, mainly because of the election of two government and private sector nominees for the positions of chair and co-chair.

Reelectionist Camarines Sur Gov. L-Ray Villafuerte had his way, overturning a new set of guidelines that originally seemed harmless, but from hindsight favored his only other rival, Albay Gov. Joey Salceda.

The new guidelines abandoned the usual open nomination in favor of a structured process calling for a nominee for each of the six Bicol provinces being pitted against each other. In case there are only two nominees, both will automatically get the same votes as every qualified voter needs to choose two otherwise his ballot will be spoiled.

When L-Ray, who obviously campaigned hard to secure another RDC term, saw through the ploy, he sought and secured a return to the old rules, eventually trouncing Salceda (who at one point walked out of the meeting, only to return later) by a huge margin--about 5:1, probably more, I think.

But still, their names, together with the two private sector reps (one of whom is Beda Priela of the Metro Naga Chamber of Commerce), will be forwarded to President Arroyo who will make the final choice.

Let's see who among these Gloria boys will Malacañang bless. Or will history repeat itself with Ms. Arroyo choosing neither, opting instead for a private sector rep to chair the RDC,
as Cory did with former Albay Gov. Jose Estevez, Sr.? Abangan!

Clearly though, the Albay-Camarines Sur rivalry is back with a bang.

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13 August 2007

The new CPDO performance pledge

EARLY this morning, our flag rites was highlighted by the signing of new performance pledges by all departments and offices of the city government. To the right is the pledge each one of the us in the planning office signed. Once mounted, it will be placed right outside the office.

It is one thing though to have that in place, it is another to make it work. We therefore encourage clients to measure us and find out if we live up to our commitments insofar as frontline services of the department are concerned.

Before the year ends, two additional developments will add teeth to these tools: One, the proposed accountability ordinance that will impose penalties to departments and their personnel who don't measure up to their commitments.

And two, a similar ordinance being drafted by Nathan Sergio that will streamline the subdivision development permission process in the city and set performance targets, including clear timelines for rendering decisions, for both CPDO and the land use committee.

This is a first that will involve the sangguniang panlungsod and bind its decisionmaking processes to performance targets, like their counterparts from the executive. Yes, it will take away some flexibility on the local legislature's part, but that would be a big push for predictability and another giant leap for good governance.

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10 August 2007

A way forward for the Cyber Ed Project

My column for this week's issue of Vox Bikol. Last in a series.

SO, HOW can we make the Cyber Education Project (CEP) more attuned to Philippine realities on the ground? I already discussed opposing views on the CEP, its upsides and downsides, and the institutional requirements to make it work. Let me outline how we can move it forward.

Its core should focus on high school. The technology is best suited to high school students. At that level, having the country’s top scientists, mathematicians and educators as resource persons will make sense. And by doing so, it will dramatically bring down the cost, probably in the neighborhood of its original P5-billion price tag.

It should go hand in hand with the Dynamic Learning Program (DLP). If the DLP can work in a small peripheral school like the Jagna, Bohol-based Central Visayas Institute of the Bernido couple, it can work in most other rural high school outside the 1st and 2nd-class cities of the country. But the DepEd must reengineer its policies around the DLP.

It should be made optional for the elementary level. As it stands, the CEP is the wrong response to the wrong problem. This has two dimensions:

One, from the DepEd slides on CEP, among its premises is the poor holding power of the public school system -- that only 7 out of every 10 who enters Grade I will finish Grade VI (which I already discussed here).

If access is a problem, the proper response should be to address the factors that prevent parents from maintaining their kids in school, not a enormously costly multimedia project like the P24.6-billion CEP. It requires engaging local communities -- the parents especially -- to own the problem and help minimize dropouts.

And two, if a modern ICT-based distance education project were to work well at the high school level, one needs elementary graduates proficient in basic literacy and numeracy skills. And this requires going back to the basics -- the hands-on in-your-face effort to teach the child how to read, write and do ‘rithmetic. Nothing beats a classroom teacher, and parental involvement at home, in this respect.

But, if a local community -- say, a city like Naga -- were to demand to have the CEP serve its elementary schools, particularly the upper grades, because it can provide counterpart funding and its school heads are committed to make it work, then by all means DepEd should make the project available. This is the demand-driven criterion I was talking about.

It should work closely with barangay councils. The CEP to be thoroughly useful should have an alternative learning option, a strong ALS component to borrow the educator’s language. Hence, it should also provide for community, instead of school-based, delivery system that will capture all those that drop out of formal schooling.

And what better way than to work with the barangays, which are mandated under the 1991 Local Government Code (specifically Section 17.b.1) to provide information and reading centers. Jointly, the DepEd and the barangay council can put up a multipurpose ALS center that will both provide traditional (books, magazines, and newspapers) and modern (electronic reading materials) library services, with ALS modules to boot, powered by the CEP! In doing so, the cost of its upkeep can be shared because ownership over the project is shared.

The CEP, in its present configuration, will waste a huge amount of money because it tries to scale up nationally a modern solution in a haphazard manner. It lacks effective targeting and ignores fundamental realities on the ground, assuming -- wrongly, I submit -- that once built up, utilization will naturally follow.

But conceptually, the idea is sound. And fortunately, its deficiencies can be corrected. The problem is whether the DepEd, infamous for its insularity, will even consider opposing viewpoints and suggestions, especially constructive ones.

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09 August 2007

'Pusong mamon' takes her first periodicals

PEP, MY "pusong mamon" of a daughter, took her first periodical test this morning at Grandview Elementary.

She is one of the millions of new Grade I students that trooped to the public school system when the school year opened last June. I was hoping theirs will be the first batch that would take a standard quarterly exam among all public elementary schools in the city.

That was the plan when we crafted the School Board budget for 2007 last December, justifying a 600% increase in funding for testing -- from a little over P140,000 in 2006 to around a million, including the acquisition of a high-speed top-of-the-line Risograph for faster reproduction. The equipment was procured and turned over; but the citywide quarterly test did not materialize, at least for the first quarter.

So we had to cough up a little contribution for her testing fee -- all public school parents had to in the absence of that standardized test that would allow us to compare which school did better and which ones did not every quarter.

Pep, unlike her older sister Pia who is growing up to be as tough as nail, is one who easily gets cold feet. So her mother, whose patient hands-on in-your-face tutoring last summer has yielded handsome payback as Pep is now able to read -- earlier in fact than Pia -- came home before noontime and brought them some food. But her unexpected presence, and constant reassurance that giving her best is enough for us, was more than enough to perk Pep up.

After securing her baon after lunch, her mother told me on the way home this afternoon, Pep quickly disappeared. When we arrived home just before sunset, she was already playing with friends at the still roofless Grandview multipurpose center. "How did your exams go?"I asked. Her thumbs-up sign I think said it all.

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The institutional requirements of CEP

I ORIGINALLY envisioned to cover this topic only in three parts ending with this one, which is supposed to outline a more realistic iteration of the CEP (Cyber Education Project). Apparently, I wrote too soon and will have to beg your indulgence. Anyways....

IN 2003 or thereabouts, the Naga City School Board invested about P4 million to provide at least 10 computer PCs in each of the 23 elementary schools at the time. It did so in response to the parents' clamor to introduce IT as early as Grade IV, as well as school heads who want access to equipment their high school counterparts already had.

Last year, in one of the Board meetings, when a request for the repair of more than 20 monitors came its way, it was found out that one of the reasons behind the spate of malfunctioning monitors is the PCs' underutilization.

When we asked the local DepEd why, fingers were pointed to the curriculum, which provides only 20 hours of IT instruction per year. There was also the issue about electric bills: school heads are better off with the PCs gathering dust than being saddled with increased payables to Casureco II.

And when we inquired why school heads do not have the incentive to maximize the Board's investment, we found out it is not a performance measure within DepEd; insofar as they are concerned, having graduates who are already well-versed with IT will make no difference to their superiors.

I mentioned this -- that the Field of Dreams philosophy of "build-it-and-they-well-come" does not apply in public education -- because I am afraid the CEP will suffer the same fate as our initiative, unless matched with corresponding changes in its institutional policies, culture and values.

Are its school heads ready? I have no access to the profile of the average school head in the DepEd, but I believe that having moved up the ladder, it is fair to assume that majority of them joined the department before the advent of the PC in the early '90s. Therefore, most of them are not really comfortable with IT, especially an ICT-based distance education in the classroom which is what the CEP essentially is.

If a successful school is usually anchored on a good school head and a supportive community, according to an Ateneo de Manila study, and if efficient use of an IT resource depends on the school head's readiness to embrace it notwithstanding the constraints (as our experience showed), I am afraid the strategy of striking everywhere to cover the archipelago will not work. Some sort of demand-driven criterion will have to be built into site selection.

Are its teachers ready? Three things about the teachers must be mentioned: One, similar to school heads, concerns their readiness to embrace IT. Again, in the absence of an average DepEd teacher's profile, we can only hazard some educated guesses. Like, if the Arroyo administration managed to create 50,000 teaching positions over the last six years, and assume that her post-Marcos predecessors came up with another 50,000, the total is only one-fifth of the 500,000-strong teaching workforce of the DepEd. Consequently, you are talking about 4 of every 5 teachers used to the traditional ways and in all probability not comfortable with ICT technology.

The second concerns the role they will play inside the classroom with CEP. The DepEd will certainly argue that they have long been promoting the teacher-as-facilitator instead of the teacher-as-fountainsource-of-learning model in countless seminars year in and year out.

Unfortunately, that is hardly the case on the ground. I have three kids in a public elementary school: they way they are being taught is still the same way my teachers taught me at Anayan-Sagrada Elementary School three decades ago. Will they be comfortable in a reduced role, fielding questions when the national resource persons are no longer online?

Thirdly, can they competently clarify questions that are bound to arise, considering that the current DepEd hiring policies have lowered the bar insofar as quality is concerned?

Are its policies ready? The CEP will work perfectly if the DepEd adopts the Bernidos' DLP approach: "the heavy emphasis on 'learning by doing,' the radical trust in the youth's capacity to learn, the learning as pseudo-play, and the unparalleled transparency through simultaneous instruction."

But sadly, the current system is anathema to it. Why do I know? My wife, a high school geometry teacher, tried DLP under existing rules: she prepared and reproduced all the required activities, minimized lecture as designed, and allowed her students to learn lessons by doing the activities themselves, including the mistakes they made in the process. And the response was overwhelmingly positive, where reactions like "I enjoyed Math for the first time!" becoming commonplace.

But in the end, she had to abandon it -- not because it was not working, but the rules are stacked against her. Her supervisors are evaluating her performance under the same rules, which require lesson plans day in and day out. They do not like it when she lectures less, and merely lets her students to the activities for the most part. And there are certain requirements, like simultaneous instruction, that are beyond her authority to implement.

Another critical policy support concerns accountability. If CEP is intended to improve the students' learning proficiency, these should be reflected in clear targets for every school, every district, every division and every region within the public school system. These targets should be widely disseminated to allow monitoring and evaluation, so that in the end accountability can be exacted from those who fail to deliver. But is DepEd ready for this long overdue idea?

Are the local communities ready? Finally, local communities, especially local governments, must also own CEP if it were to be sustainable for the long haul. To my mind, local resources will help guarantee its continued operation when ODA funding runs out.

But shared ownership can only be possible if they feel they have a stake in the undertaking, ideally from the very start. The worst thing that can happen is for the CEP to be dropped on their lap like a hot potato starting on the 6th year.

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08 August 2007

Cyber Ed Project: Upsides and downsides

OK, BEFORE I proceed, this Inquirer story this morning, among others, says that the Cyber Education Project (CEP) has not been finalized yet, and the requisite papers are still being pushed through the bureaucracy. Which is good since any discussion of its merits can hopefully make it better.

The upsides
Like this June 4, 2007 editorial of the Inquirer, I too can sympathize with the CEP and Secretary Lapus's bold vision, but for a different reason: the idea, I think, was inspired by this article written by Christopher and Marivic Bernido, the Jagna, Bohol-based PhDs behind the Central Visayas Institute.

About two years ago, I had the pleasure of working with the couple in trying to graft their Dynamic Learning Program (DLP) into the Naga public school system, with mixed results.

In part, the article says:

Suppose schools all over the country have simultaneous science periods, 7:30 a.m. to 9:10 a.m., what we call "science time." This allows students all over the country to listen to a lecture by a national expert teacher on TV via satellite. (For example, imagine having as Biology expert teacher the international awardee, Dr. Josette Biyo, for students all over the country.) Twenty to 30-minute lectures for general science, biology, chemistry and physics can be aired on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, respectively. Questions may be asked of the national expert teacher through phone, text messages, or e-mail. During the periods when students are not listening to the lectures, they will have learning-by-doing activities such as problem-solving exercises, reports on learning stations, concept notes and research, to be filed in their comprehensive portfolio. The same procedure can be done during "math time," 9:30 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.
The other thing has to do with scope: it is of course national, with bias towards schools outside 1st and 2nd class cities which are obviously in need of more help from government. Jess Mateo's slides (especially No. 15) place this at 90% of all public elementary and secondary schools in the country, representing at least 13 of their combined 17 million enrolment.

The downsides
Unfortunately, the 20-or so minute live classes is the only thing the CEP shares with the Bernidos' model. The differences are more stark:

Coverage. The CEP covers both elementary (22,855 or 62% of the total) and secondary (3,763 or 77%) levels; the Bernido scheme covers only secondary. Now, one must ask: wouldn't this technology fit high schools better, considering that elementary is supposed to focus on developing fundamental literacy and numeracy skills?

If I recall my conversation with the Bernidos right, the choice of high school as most suited for DLP has its rhyme and reason: it is driven by the fact that children of high school-age are at the peak of their creative and inquisitive powers.

Focus. One also must question the inclusion of elementary in the context of modern-distance education (MDE, shorthand for ICT-based distance education) of which China is a world leader. The proposed partnership with Tsinghua University is, I believe, in order considering its reputation that even the NASA (the US space agency) recognizes.

Unfortunately, my readings suggest that MDE, even in Tsinghua, is primarily intended for adults -- for their higher education and continuing education needs -- and not primary education. Resources on MDE here, here and here support this point.

Cost. If the inclusion of elementary (which, in my estimate, accounts for 85% of the total cost) is unnecessary, then question must be raised about the P24.6-billion price tag, considering that it originally was a P5.2-billion BOT project a year ago. This was the essence of the Inquirer editorial, which suggested to DepEd and Secretary Lapus: "Let's keep it real. Let's scale back the project, let's reconsider the funding, let's make the entire process transparent."

If the Bernidos in fact will have their way, it should not even be P5 billion but only a tenth of it:
Since we will be working within the existing DepEd and DOST infrastructure and organizational setup, the significant additional expenses will be the actual costs of yearly simulcast and the initial purchase of television sets for schools all over the country. The DOST and private networks may offer better estimates of the cost of televised lectures, videotaping and reproduction. (Lack of computers limits use of videostreaming technology.) For the cost of TV sets, we note the latest DepEd statistics (school year 2003-2004) of an enrollment of 5,025,956 in 4,830 public schools. For around 100 students per viewing cluster (1 TV), an estimate budget of P500 million may be needed. This amount (only about 7 percent of the annual net income of some large private corporations) is within feasibility margins. Additional sources may come from realignment of DepEd and DOST budget for training workshops (instructional materials, travel and accommodation costs for trainers and participants) since the science and math teachers will have on-the-job training throughout the school year in their own schools.
Ah, but of course: private individuals and corporations, unlike state agencies like the DepEd, do not have the luxury of soft budget constraint, which is among the arguments raised in the Fabella and De Dios paper.

What happens on the 6th year? Finally, the DepEd presentation is silent what happens on the 6th year of the CEP, assuming it is fully implemented and Lapus et al are no longer at the helm. Who will now absorb the maintenance and operating cost of the school-based equipment when ODA funding runs out? Who will shoulder the replacement cost for these equipment, considering wear-and-tear for the entire period?

Considering that the CEP is not entirely without merit, as can be seen from the above, my final post will suggest a way forward.

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07 August 2007

Contrasting views on DepEd's Cyber Education Project

THE "no-go" declaration by President Arroyo's legal adviser notwithstanding, the controversy over the $329-million National Broadband Network (NBN) project proposed by the DOTC has clearly overshadowed its more expensive twin, the DepEd's $460-million Cyber Education Project (Cyber Ed).

All along, I thought these two projects will use the same national telecommunications backbone, thereby improving its utilization indicators and other related evaluation benchmarks that would strengthen the government's hand.

It must be said though that the Fabella and De Dios paper does raise far more significant policy questions, especially on the wisdom of government re-involving itself in a liberalized sector where there are already two underutilized privately owned facilities.

The official line
I was therefore horrified to find out that Cyber Ed is an entirely different animal. The DepEd website describes it thus:

The Cyber Ed Project uses satellite technology to provide an efficient and cost-effective solution to the need to deliver educational services to public elementary and secondary schools throughout the country. It links these schools to a nationwide network that provides 12 video channels, wireless wide area networking, local area networking and wireless Internet connectivity.

Under this project, a total of 37,794 schools or 90% of all public schools nationwide will be connected in the next three years. These schools will receive live broadcasts featuring lectures and presentations from master teachers as well as coursewares on demand and other valuable resource materials.
In theory, Secretary Lapus appears to have taken the bull by the horn. "(Increasing the Philippine education system's capacity) can only be done with the use of technology," Lapus said. "And Cyber Ed is the technology that will enable us to deliver high quality education to all learners throughout the country. It is, without a doubt, the best response to the challenges we face in the basic education sector."

ACT's putdown
But contrast this with the position taken by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), calling Cyber Ed simply broadcasting, not computer-based learning. It can be found in the latter part of the Inquirer story on Apostol's "no-go" declaration:
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) asked the government to sober up on its "Cyber Education" program, calling it a white elephant that has nothing to do with cutting-edge technology.

ACT chair Antonio Tinio said the money to fund the project could be better spent on building classrooms, subsidizing the education of children who cannot afford to go to school, hiring more teachers, and producing quality teachers.

"The project is very expensive with little or no proven benefits to the students. It is simply broadcasting a 20-minute lecture to selected schools via satellite. If that is the only thing the Department of Education (DepEd) wants to do, it might as well tape the lectures, place them in compact disks and distribute them to the schools for viewing," Tinio said.
The devil in details
With these contrasting information, what then is Cyber Ed all about? In trying to find some answers myself, I stumbled on this Powerpoint presentation by Jess Mateo, director of the DepEd Educational Development Projects Implementing Task Force (EDPITAF).

My own take on Cyber Ed in my next post.

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06 August 2007

Local milestones the week past

1. AVENUE Square Hotel soft launch. This was 'the' social event that gathered together the upper crust of Naga's society, held at the convention center of Avenue Square last July 28. I got in thanks to a last-minute invite from Donald -- one of the perks of blogging, I suppose.

It had two main highlights: one, of course, was the public presentation of Avenue Square Hotel, positioned for the upscale market, which will open its doors by September, just in time for the Peñafrancia fiesta.

The brochure says guests can choose from a wide array of rooms ranging from Superior, De Luxe, Executive Suites and a Presidential Suite, with rates starting from P3,000 per night. Of course, the hotel is located just at the back of Avenue Square, Naga's lifestyle center along Magsaysay Avenue.

The other highlight is the launch of Allée, dubbed as the city's first lifestyle magazine, which featured University of Nueva Caceres president Dr. Dolores Sison; Atty. Leni Robredo, Naga's first lady; and interior designer and Avenue Square's managing director Gwen Cu on the cover.

The thick crowd that trooped to the event however had its downside; just ask Benny Decena, Elmer Abad, Al Ubaña and Johnny Dematera what it was.

2. Danny Gerona, Ateneo's first-ever full professor. Monday evening (July 30) was Dr. Danilo Madrid Gerona's big night at the Arrupe Convention Hall of the Ateneo, marking his conferment of the rank Professor by Fr. Joel Tabora, university president, in a celebration that overflowed with food and wine.

Irvin Sto. Tomas relates here this is a first, and a source of singular pride for their hometown, Canaman.

'Eminence' was the dominant word that evening, becoming synonymous with Danny especially in the field of local history and culture. It was more than enough to compensate for a most generous offer from the other Catholic university along Taft, who almost took away the city's foremost local historian.

His lecture on the topic The Chinese in Spanish Kabikolan: Cultural Resilience and Entrepreneurial Process was both enlightening and timely, as the Ateneo embarks on a partnership with China, starting with educational and cultural exchange programs, and possible business opportunities for the city and Bicol as a whole.

High-ranking officials of the Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce were among those who listened to Danny's lecture, a vintage performance that reminded me of a similar presentation before our visiting UBC graduate students, one of whom exclaimed, "You're a very good storyteller!"

3. 'Miskol.' Bikolanos again took centerstage in the annual Sawikaan event at UP last August 2-3 that brought together Filipino language scholars, teacher delegates and students. Ateneo's Adrian Remodo took the word of the year top prize with 'miskol,' followed by Kristian Cordero's 'roro.'

Cordero blogged about it, as did Aldy Manrique who thankfully pointed out it is a Philippine Star article (William Esposo should do something about the Star's notoriously unreliable links), with Irvin reacting, including a reference to Composed Gentleman's objection to the word of the year, arguing that 'miskol' is not even a word. Ah, but such is the vitality of a living language: maybe today it is not, but soon it will be.

I only hope the evolving Bikol language will be just as vigorous, even more, to capture modern concepts, ideas and realities alien to Lisboa when he wrote
Vocabulario de la Lengua Bicol in the 19th century.

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Poll: Mercury or New South Star?

SATURDAY evening, I found myself at the New South Star Drug branch at the corner of Juan Miranda and Panganiban, sitting by my scooter and waiting for Lynn buy some pasalubong for the kids at the Lucky 9 convenience store. It's my favorite NSSD branch owing to its promixity to City Hall.

The branch is undergoing a facelift, with the NSSD colors now dominating the front and side signages whereas before, Lucky 9 had half of the front. The reason is obvious: just across the street, a Mercury Drug branch is just about ready to open shop, a veritable dagger strike at the heart of its newest stiff competitor.

For NSSD, whose slow rise to prominence was recently featured in the Inquirer, traces its roots to Naga City, even antedating its bigger rival which, according to Wikipedia, came into existence only towards the end of the Second World War.

What would be more strategic than go for the jugular and bring the fight right where one's rival is based? This explains why we are seeing, and will probably see more of, this tit-for-tat. For instance, an NSSD branch is the anchor tenant of the new commercial building owned by the Cabral family that is rising at the corner of Magsaysay and Peñafrancia. It is obviously in response to the Mercury outlet doing brisk business at Avenue Square.

So, for the week, why don't you indulge me by answering this little survey, which will run for the next seven days: Which drug store do you prefer, Mercury or New South Star? Again, the usual caveat that it is unscientific by its very nature. But it should be fun and enlightening, just like the last one whose final results is still available for view at the bottom of my right sidebar.

This stiff tiff however made me think: if I were NSSD, what would be my next best response? I'll probably do 24-7 door-to-door drug deliveries, similar to what fast foods do, which is what Mercury pioneered in 1948. For a small city whose farthest end is only 30 minutes away, I say this is doable.

What do you think?

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03 August 2007

The DepEd union must be kidding

I AM typing this squint-eyed, no thanks to conjunctivitis that felled me and practically all my kids, but I felt I had to. All of them are well now, and I expect to be back in shape in no time; the problem with age is that one's eyesight begins to falter, and recovery from the seasonal illnesses takes a tad longer.

But I digress. I have always treated the DepEd National employees Union, the source of this Inquirer story, with distrust. This is the same union that wanted the late Raul Roco out when the Arroyo administration was still young, allegedly because of some shenanigans.

But I think it was more about the fat commissions they used to get from money lenders -- euphemism for loan sharks -- in exchange for facilitating the automatic deduction of loan amortizations from the hapless teachers' salaries. Roco did away with the scheme, refused to partake of what central office people used to divide among themselves, including the union officials, in the process earning their eternal enmity.

That is why when that union cozies up with their boss, one must take their pronouncements with a grain of salt. Because what they are saying can in fact be farthest from the truth. Let me offer the following examples:

Exhibit "A": "Secretary Lapus has clearly avoided using the DepEd for the political gain of the Arroyo [administration], especially during the May 2007 synchronized elections,” they said.

I don't know about the rest, but one of the most celebrated cases during the last elections happened right in our backyard. In a previous post, I wrote the following:

DepEd-Naga's acting superintendent Ruby Abundabar was unceremoniously replaced in the middle of the ongoing electoral campaign -- the first in six mayoral tiffs that he figured in.

Senator Mar Roxas, Robredo's Liberal partymate, and Solita Monsod, his fellow trustee at Synergeia Foundation, managed to finally track down Education Secretary Jesli Lapus for an explanation. They both got the same answer: "My hands are tied. Those are my marching orders."
Exbihit "B": "They said Lapus’ “professional management” of the DepEd had led to improvements in the guidelines for the hiring of qualified teachers to fill more than 7,000 vacant teaching positions."

This one is of more recent vintage, and easier to remember because right after GMA's SONA sbout 10 days ago, I wrote two entries. The first one takes Lapus to task for reversing efforts by his immediate predecessors to improve the quality of the hiring process.
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.
I will urge you to read back that piece in full, as well as its follow-up. And you will see why those benefiting from the new policies -- including that company union -- are happy, delirious even, but we actually have no reason to share their joy because, pardon my language, we are the ones being royally screwed.

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02 August 2007

A way out of the margins

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

FOR about five days now, I've been running a survey on the following question: "Are you in favor of changing the name of Plaza Quezon to Plaza Arejola?"

Polls like these are unscientific, with my mostly anonymous readers being the universe of respondents, and actual respondents being equally unknown, except for those who explained their votes, like Bikolano writer Maryanne Moll and Irvin Sto. Tomas, a masteral student specializing on the Filipino language who I believe runs the most popular blog hereabouts.

Nonetheless, the verdict is loud and clear: as I write this with two days to go, only three of the 27 respondents (11%) agreed with the proposition; the rest thumbed it down.

Let me offer two reasons as to why this is so, after conversations with people like neophyte Councilor Nathan Sergio, Inquirer correspondent Johnny Escandor, his Bicol Mail editor Joe Perez and Ben Barrameda: One, Gen. Ludovico Arejola, a native son of Naga who led the resistance movement against the American invaders more than 100 years ago, remains a largely unknown figure in this city; and two, some people know him too well to believe he is not worthy enough to displace the late President Quezon from one of Naga's most important seat of honor.

The first reason is sad, reflecting a weak sense of local history which I discussed in a previous column. While blog-hopping, I chanced on this quote from Luis Bunuel, a Spanish filmmaker considered one of the masters of 20th-century cinema. It appears in Sonny Pulgar's weblog, which I think is most apt to our situation:

"Memory is what makes our lives. Life without memory is no life at all. Our memory is our coherence, our reason, our feeling, even our action. Without it we are nothing."

"As time goes by, we don't give a second thought to all the memories unconsciously accumulate until suddenly one day we can't think of the name of a good friend or relation -- it's simply gone, we've forgotten it. In vain we search furiously to think of a commonplace work -- it's on the tip of our tongues but refuses to go further. Once this happens, this and other lapses, only then do we understand the importance of memory. Our imagination and our dreams are forever intruding our memory. And since we're all out to believe in the reality of our fantasies, we end up transforming our lies into truths."
The second is understandable, but debatable. My conversation with Ben in particular brought to the fore certain unwritten accounts surrounding Naga's liberation from the Spaniards, which seem to diminish the bravery shown by our local heroes. That century-old urban legend probably explains why Felix Plazo was honored with a peripheral street -- that only gained significance lately when the LCC Group put up its mall in the area -- much unlike his colleague Elias Angeles.

But I don't think it detracts from the heroic role they played in securing our freedom from Spain and in trying to protect it from the new foreign invaders who were just as vicious, if not more. And it distracts us from the bigger issue of who should really occupy the highest seats in our local pantheon.

With the Sanggunian recently thumbing it down, on the heels of the National Historical Institute's (NHI) take on the matter, the name-change issue is already moot and academic. But I happen to believe in this marginal position, like Nathan who failed to convince his Sanggunian colleagues to force the issue if only to test the limits of our autonomy, that we should begin to value local heroism by rescuing it from the backseat.

If many influential people have discovered that the hope of our country is in the countrysides, in what Manolo Quezon called the New Philippines, we should believe no less. We should start believing that our own heroes, most probably flawed in the same manner that Rizal and Quezon were imperfect, were capable of the same heroism they showed and of the same greatness, albeit on a smaller context.

There may be sense in the basic unfairness of imposing the opinion of one generation over another. And consequently our original CBD, the city center of our three plazas, may have been taken for all intents and purposes. The new Central Business District might provide the way out, and a General Arejola Coliseum does not sound bad at all.

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01 August 2007

Help argue for a Bikol Wikipedia

IRVIN Sto. Tomas first wrote about it here, and his second post, almost a plea, moved me to do my part.

The objective: convince the Wikipedia Foundation board of trustees to approve the development of a wiki in the Bikol language.

I urge you to do the same, even if, like Tito Valiente, you seem to have been burned by a past effort. I may not have Tito's elegant prose, or Maryanne's, or Kristian's jagged-edge poetry, but that's how his latest column at Vox Bikol strikes me.

If you are interested, Irvin's last entry has the how-to's.

Just for the record, this is how I justified a Bikol wikipedia:

The City Government of Naga has recently prioritized the standardization of the Bicol-Naga language. Toward this end, it will initiate the establishment of a local institution that will lead the effort. (See Mayor Robredo's Executive-Legislative Agenda for 2007-10 which is available here.) This is just one indication of a renewed, much bigger movement involving many other stakeholders to push the language's development, considering its influence over a substantial segment of the Philippine population as described above. A wikipedia on the language will be a powerful contribution to these efforts, considering that it will bring together Bikolano-speaking contributors that may be dispersed all over the globe but are joined together by the internet through this web-based project.
A fair warning: Notwithstanding its very useful toolbar, Wikipedia's approach to composition is not as advanced as Blogger's, which already has a wysiwyg option, or Wordpress.

But be not afraid: When unsure of what you wrote, simply punch the "Show Preview" button. It's not elegant, but it works as a trial-and-error safety net.

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