17 December 2009

Financing an autonomous Bicolandia

OFFHAND, I salute the Bicol Autonomy Movement for raising the discussion on federalism to another level. The proposed charter for a Bicol Autonomous Region (BAR) finally provides a clear starting point for a meaningful conversation on the issue, which is a sentimental one for Bikolanos.

This is certainly far more important than the ongoing furious inane air war between Dato Arroyo and LRay Villafuerte over the Libmanan-Cabusao Dam Project that has become very irritating and proves only one thing: they both have oodles and oddles of money whose questionable provenance, given their meager salaries as public officials, is what local radio stations should be investigating.

But you can't expect local radio stations, whose management are laughing their way to the bank, to care a whit, can you? The faster the burn rate, the better for them.

Anyway, the establishment of a regional government akin to the one in the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is a concrete step towards this aspiration -- which clearly does not need tinkering with the 1987 Constitution.

But one nagging question that must be answered: can the BAR fly for the long haul? Or stated differently, will it be able to sustain itself?

I have strong reservations that it will.

Article XI (Fiscal Autonomy) consists of nine sections that essentially lay down the mechanics as to how the proposed BAR regional government will fund itself.

Section 1 provides that it will retain 80% of all national revenue taxes imposed, as well as the income derived from utilization of national resources in the BAR.

Section 4 identifies the main sources of revenue for the regional government, including the imposition of its own taxes, national transfers, share in both tax and non-tax revenues collection in the BAR, block grants and other forms of donations, aid or endowments.

Section 5 defines the sharing scheme for the 80% share of national revenue taxes to be retained between the BAR (which will get half of the 80% or a 40% net) and its component local governments (provinces, cities, municipalities and barangays, which will share among themselves the remaining 40%).

In addition, Article XIX (Transitory Provisions) also provide two additional interim funding source: a P25 million initial outlay to support the operations of the interim regional government (Sec. 4), and P10 billion annual outlay for priority infrastructure projects over its first five years of existence (Sec. 13).

But totaling all of the above, as summarized in the accompanying chart, shows that the region will be worse off by at least P5 billion annually under the proposed BAR than under the current setup during those first five years. For one, DBM data here show that in the current 2009 budget, Bicol already gets a total funding allocation of P35 billion, spread throughout the regional offices of national government agencies, the local governments (mainly their IRA share), as well as the pork barrel of its legislators and its share in the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Fund.

Of the total, almost P19 billion are allocated for the regional offices of various line and staff departments of the national government, which in theory is what will be devolved to the proposed regional government; DepEd accounts for almost P11 billion of this, which effectively is the cost for providing basic public education services in the region. The proposed charter failed to fully factor in the cost of these devolved services.

Can the BAR cover this huge funding shortfall by getting half of the 80% of internal revenue taxes that will be retained in Bicol, as Section 1 of Article XI proposes? Hardly. The 2007 report of BIR collections show that Bicol contributes only 0.53% of the country's internal revenue taxes. Using this data, this translates to a share of only P1.5 billion for the BAR regional government.

And because the P10 billion outlay for insfrastructure is a special purpose fund that cannot be used to defray to cost of other essential services defined under Section 2 of Article VI, we are looking at a gaping funding shortfall of at least P17.5 billion annually.

Will the BAR's proposed taxing powers and other revenue sources make up for it? The huge difficulties being faced by the national government's revenue agencies, mainly the BIR and Customs, in plugging this year's deficit -- projected to hit P320 billion -- does not inspire confidence.

It is stuff like these -- financing and institutional arrangements that will help make sure that the proposed Bicol autonomous region will be sustainable over the long run -- that needs to be examined and reexamined, both by proponents and critics of the BAR. As things stand, a federal Philippines will never be able to fly if no equalizing mechanisms will be adopted, in the face of current realities where the National Capital Region accounts for 87% of the internal revenues of the national government. Clearly, one cannot treat unequals equally.

There are other considerations that matter as well (for instance, are provincial governments a redundancy under a system of regional autonomy, or not?), and I will try to cover them later. But certainly, the Bikol Autonomy Movement does need to review the provisions of its draft charter in regard to the sustainable financing for the proposed BAR.


15 December 2009

The proposed charter of Bicol Autonomous Region

BY WAY of fil07's posting at the Skyscrapercity forum -- who I have a feeling is none other than Irvin Sto. Tomas -- I have uploaded via Scribd a copy of the draft charter for the proposed Bicol Autonomous Region.

Mainly the effort of the Bicol Autonomy Movement chaired by Dante Jimenez of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) fame, it had its formal launching last December 8 in Daet, Camarines Norte.

Rene Gumba of the Ateneo de Naga University Institute of Politics, one of moving forces behind the movement, had other related posts here and here.

Jimenez, in an interview with Business Mirror, laid down the basic -- and mainly economic -- argument for the autonomy movement: to lick poverty and increase investments in the region.

What do you think? My initial thoughts in my next entry.
The Charter of Bicol Autonomous Region


12 December 2009

Another interesting weekend reading

GOT an email the other day, and then this morning, another forwarded copy dropped again in my mailbox. I guess it must be interesting enough to circulate in the internet, so I might as well share it with you, by way of Scribd.

To provide some context, Kristian Cordero has Fr. Wilmer Tria's original open letter here -- which the document below responds to -- and City Hall's riposte through Joe Perez in the comments section.

Materials on the Naga City Coliseum are available here.

Happy reading.:)
Open Letter to Fr Wilmer Tria


11 December 2009

The Ateneo forum on Dato's Dam

LAST Monday, Vic Nierva informed me that the forum on the Libmanan-Cabusao Dam Project (LDCP), more popularly known as Dato's Dam, is finally pushing through on December 8.

Because of a prior commitment, I asked Mandy, a colleague at the Naga city planning office, to attend and take notes on the proceedings. I am sharing with you his take on what happened during the forum.

To my mind, the presentation by the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) representative only raised more questions than answers. You can draw your own conclusions after reading the document.
Report on the Libmanan Dam Forum

But the following paragraph, I think, foreshadows what will happen to this controversial project.

Mayor Norberto U. Genova of Cabusao said that already Congressman Dato Arroyo has told him that a massive campaign against him has been launched to discontinue the dam construction, and is now considering the option to withdraw the project.
This response from the incumbent congressman is expected; the LDCP issue has been politicized and has emerged as a major theater in the unfolding war between Dato Arroyo and Gov. LRay Villafuerte. Check out the accusations levelled against Nierva and his fellow Lupinons in the community forum of their anti-Dato Dam blog.

Since late November, local airwaves are being inundated with competing radio spots, voiced over by innocent children, which are often played one after the other. They started out as ingenious ads, but whose increasing frequency has become grating to the ear. (Only the radio stations are laughing their way to the bank.) These are what the PDI's Jonas Soltes complained about during the forum.

A few days ago, the attacks have become personal, making implied allusions to sexual preferences of the political principals.

And the official political campaign season has not even started out yet.


28 November 2009

What gives, Bicol Mail?

WHILE waiting for the rice cooker to do its thing, I checked the Bicol Mail website this morning, hoping to see its latest issue -- which hit the newsstands yesterday -- already online. I got my wish. So folks, here goes another serving of what I hope will be this blog's weekly ritual: Say that again, Bicol Mail?, putting its resident angry old man under the microscope once more. This week's piece?

Pushcart classroom

EFREN PEÑAFLORIDA, who was named CNN Hero of the Year for his “pushcart classroom” in the Philippines, has contended that even a poor man can provide basic education to poor children, share his gift of education more meaningfully in communities where the concern of the local government has been found wanting. This requires an initiative and an unflinching dedication despite difficulties. Such a spirit of sharing does not expect any award in return.
Our editorial writer starts well, and rather innocuously. But the phrase "local government" flashes a warning sign: isn't public education the primary mandate of the Department of Education and by extension the national government? Uh-oh. I'm afraid the bias is showing this early.
The “pushcart classroom” idea is less appealing than the School Board to any of the more enterprising minds in the local government of Naga, known nationwide for being innovative and being first-among-equals. But with the honors Efren Peñaflorida is reaping throughout the country and the world, it will not be surprising if the local government of Naga will join the bandwagon of those who are honoring the pushcart hero. Peñaflorida is a good name to be associated with today as the national elections are just around the corner.
I didn't know he's already dabbling in fortune telling. Let's see if the city government, through the sangguniang panlungsod, will take the bite. Personally, the accolades coming Efren Peñaflorida's way is more than enough; the bigger challenge is learning its lessons and actually applying it.
Already Malacañang, in trying to make up for its shortcomings in education, has announced that the Order of Lakan Dula, one of the Philippine government highest honors awarded to a civilian who “has demonstrated by his life and deeds a dedication to the welfare of society” would be conferred upon Peñaflorida. In a press statement, Lorelei Fajardo, deputy presidential spokesperson, even said the government was willing to extend financial aid and other forms of assistance to help Peñaflorida expand his groundbreaking program on education.
A statement of fact, which needs no disputing.
Fajardo said Peñaflorida’s program was a good example of how the private sector could “augment whatever inadequacies the government may have.” This is a shameful statement coming from a government mandated by the Constitution to insure the education of children. A government that gives excuses for its inadequacies in education or passes the blame to others for its inefficiency or cannot take responsibility for any outcome does not have the right to discharge that mandate or to operate as an agency of that government.
He hits the nail right in its head on this one.
In Albay, Governor Joey Salceda has sounded instructions to the provincial council to pass a resolution conferring the highest provincial award on Efren Peñaflorida, giving him a cash gift of P250,000, and making him an honorary son of Albay. The province of Albay has all the moral right to honor Peñaflorida in as much as the province has always a good word for its teachers, has annual awards for outstanding teachers, and has open arms for teachers rejected by another division for alleged inefficiency due to the poor ratings of their division in the National Assessment Tests.
So far, so good. Which only goes to show that nobody has a monopoly on good ideas. As a footnote though, let me say for the record that the City Government of Naga, the regional partner of Synergeia Foundation, has been helping the towns of Libon and Tiwi pursue their education reform projects. Incidentally, these are two of the five finalists for the first-ever Kadunong Award that seeks to recognize the most outstanding Albay LGUs with education programs. And one of them will go home next month as grand winner of the search. (Disclosure: I took part in the final judging representing the city government and Synergeia.)
Efren Peñaflorida has brought honor and respect for the teaching profession and more, for teachers who have given their whole life in teaching children the proper values without expecting any award in return. He has achieved more than what Manny Pacquiao has. Peñaflorida has been combating ignorance not in 12 rounds of face-bashing in a ring but in the streets, day in and day out, without banking on a hundred-million-dollar kitty for the bout winner.
Now, this is somewhat a stretch. Come to think of it, Peñaflorida's outstanding achievement actually indicts the formal schooling system (i.e. the DepEd) in the country, where certified members of the teaching profession, including those whose names carry an alphabet soup of academic titles after them, lord over.

Distinction should be made between the formal, which employs close to 500,000 public school teachers, and the non-formal (now popularly known as alternative learning system); Peñaflorida belongs to the latter. The failings of the former actually creates the necessary preconditions for the latter, and magnifies Peñaflorida's achievements to heroic levels. When 3 of every 10 Filipino schoolchildren entering Grade I fail to reach Grade VI, you need a strong ALS to catch these dropouts and give them a second chance. But in the same breath, it means that the formal public school system -- and the whole certified teaching profession underpinning it -- is falling short of the standards.

For the sake of accuracy, it should restated as: "Efren Peñaflorida has brought honor and respect to the alternative learning system, whose teachers have given their whole life in teaching children the proper values without expecting any award in return."

Maybe he's just confused. Or is it a case of deliberate confusion? The last two paragraphs will provide the answer.
The Naga City Local Government’s indictment of the inefficiency of former Division of City Schools Superintendent Dr. Evangeline Palencia during her stint in the city begs the issue whether it has the moral right to honor Peñaflorida. The premium importance the City of Naga gives to ratings in assessment tests in school more than to learning values for life shows that the educational system in the city has much to be desired. This inanity cannot be covered by seeking the transfer of Palencia to Ligao City or by giving honors to Peñaflorida.
Clearly, it is still all about Naga, and the editorial writer's obsession and consuming desire to badmouth its local government. I think this unmistaken obsession has forced him to wittingly or unwittingly twist facts, like (1) the confusion between formal and alternative learning systems, (2) and the confusion as to which level of government is responsible for public education.

This unhealthy preoccupation with Naga has in fact put on a dangerous set of blinders on Bicol Mail itself, for an editorial supposedly speaks for the paper as a whole. For a paper that purports to be "Bicolandia's only regional newspaper," all it can see is the city government of Naga, when there are six other provincial governments, six other city governments and 107 municipal governments in the universe of Bicol LGUs.

This dangerous obsession compels one to ask: What gives, Bicol Mail? Certainly, there is more than meets the eye here.
The system implemented by the city with a highly charged School Board has fared poorly. The pushcart classroom of Peñaflorida could be the better system.
Sadly for him, the editorial writer seems to have been so punchdrunk with bitterness towards City Hall that he has yet to snap out of his world of make-believe. Garo iyo ang narugado ni Pacquiao, bakong si Cotto.:)

Hello! The last time I checked, (1) it is still DepEd running the public school system, in Naga and in the entire country; (2) we don't need pushcarts in Naga to provide ALS services, because we have mobile teachers, ALS classes and sub-contracting arrangements with local schools, particularly the Universidad de Sta. Isabel, (although data shows that while ALS coverage has improved from 20 to 36%, three of every five OSYs have yet to avail of its services); and (3) we will only consider mass investment on Peñaflorida's pushcarts if DepEd-Naga and our local institutional partners finally admit they cannot get the job done.


23 November 2009

Say that again?

AFTER that most unexpected editorial slamming Camarines Sur Gov. LRay Villafuerte, my favorite Bicol Mail editorial writer is back, he whose life revolves around City Hall, in particular Mayor Jesse Robredo.

Which gave me an idea: to inject some life into this blog (which is supposedly part of the so-called new media), why don't I dissect the rantings of the venerable Bicol Mail's resident angry old man and expose him for what he is?

So for this week, what a fitting way to start than with -- tadaaah! -- the city public schools.

Cruel and unkind

THE TRANSFER of City Division of Schools Superintendent Evangeline Palencia to the City of Ligao is unkind and cruel to both -- to her and to the City of Ligao.
She was blamed for the poor showing of Naga City public school students in the National Achievement Test. These students from Naga City did not come up to the expectation of the city officials who would refer time and again with pride to the ratings attained by students who had taken the examination last year.
Hello! My favorite editorial writer is clearly shooting from the hip. Naga's elementary schools last exceeded expectations in the 2005 National Achievement Test (NAT), when Dr. Nenita Ramos was still superintendent. Since then, their performance has been deteriorating.
In any which way the city officials explained the transfer -- that it was routine, that it was the decision of the higher-ups in the Department of Education, that the transfer may be done at any time of the year which is reportedly beyond the control and not of the making of the city officials, and that it cannot but be associated with the poor showing of the examinees about which the city officials felt dismayed.
He's making things up again. Let me make it clear: the city government actively sought Dr. Palencia's transfer, as early as November 2008 after news of shenanigans at DepEd-Naga first surfaced, arising mainly from COA's 2007 Audit Report.

That report cited 10 negative findings, including (1) Non-adherence with existing auditing/accounting laws, rules and regulations to prevent irregular, unnecessary and excessive expenditures resulting to wastage of government funds amounting to P1,811,340.72; and (2) Payment of P264,395.00 for job contracts, cash advances, reimbursements for travel expenses and other expenditures of four relatives of the OIC-SDS, in violation of pertinent provisions of Republic Acts No. 6713 (“Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees”) and 3019 (“Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act”).

When that COA report came out, the relationship between City Hall and DepEd-Naga was never the same again.
Last year the performance of the examinees was highly commended because Naga City was ranked among those in the top, very much reflective of the excellence that city officials would like Naga City to be reputed in any endeavor.
Excuse me? Since when did a 7th-place performance (out of 13 divisions in Bicol) become "highly commended"?
This year the examinees were ranked 187th among the 204 divisions in the national and 13th, the last in the heap, in the regional level.
Ahhh! At last! My favorite editorial writer finally got one paragraph right.
If Superintendent Palencia were the one responsible for the poor ratings of the public school students this year, then the City Division of Schools of Ligao City should feel insulted by the appointment of Palencia in the division. Ligao would not like to be the recipient of a loser, to be a dumping ground of an ineffective superintendent to head the division in the training of their children.
Let me tell you: they are. I was there last week.
The acceptance without any reservation of the City Division of Schools of Ligao City for Superintendent Palencia flings down the gauntlet on the unkind imputation directed at her by the City officials of Naga.
It was outgoing Supt. Dads San Antonio (who was promoted to the DepEd Central Office) who joined Mayor Linda Gonzales in showing us around. Enough said.
If Superintendent Palencia were the one responsible for the poor ratings of the public school students in Naga City this year, then how come the buck should stop with Superintendent Palencia. There are officials who have been dipping their hands in the education of public school students in Naga. They should equally be made answerable for the poor ratings of these students.
That is called "command responsibility," and I agree that there are others who should be made answerable as well, particularly the school heads who are not doing their job. An off-year is understandable, but three consecutive years is certainly not acceptable.
No amount of funds released for the public school children in Naga by the Local Government of Naga -- for their school bags which contain the names of City Hall officials, for scholarships that are given by reason of political patronage -- can assure quality education.
True, without a superintendent leading by example and competent school heads doing the same, the city government is only throwing good money after bad. Palencia's tenure is Exhibit "A" and the Bicol Mail is faulting us for exacting accountability.
School children are not equally gifted. Some batches are not as good as others. No matter how insistent teachers are in their classroom instruction, if the students are not intellectually endowed, there is no room for excellent ratings in examinations.
Probably, especially if it is a one-off thing. But four consecutive failing years, the last two with Palencia at the helm?
Considering that these students had the same teachers as the students who had taken the assessment test last year, there is no doubt that they were given an equally strenuous classroom review if only to prepare them for the assessment test.

Laying the blame on Superintendent Palencia when she has no direct hand in the results of the assessment test is truly unfounded to say the least -- cruel and unkind to say the most.
As superintendent, she is primarily responsible for the performance of the DepEd-Naga Division and therefore accountable for its education outcomes, including the NAT results.
The city officials who blamed Superintendent Palencia for the poor ratings of the public school examinees should look at themselves and lay the blame on themselves too. After all, they are in the same boat as the Superintendent. If Superintendent Palencia was blamed for the poor ratings of these students because she was their City Division chief, City officials should equally be blamed since they have command responsibility for the education of these public school children. These officials use to bruit about in their pagsalingnoy that their program called QUEEN is one that assures quality education, and that under their leadership the number of public schools has increased through the years.
We fully subscribe to the principle that "education is a shared responsibility" in spite of the fact that public education is not a devolved function and therefore not within the control and supervision of the local government. (The mayor, for one, cannot hire and fire the superintendent.) Others could have invoked that argument and get away with it. But not us.

As early as December 2007, with Palencia having already warmed her seat at DepEd-Naga, I warned the city's school heads and supervisory staff about the danger signs. Their response was a division planning conference at Regent Hotel that I attended as an observer; one thing that stood out from the individual plans presented, which I pointedly underscored when asked for comments, was the absence of clear numerical targets for each intervention. They never invited me again.

In October 2008, when Mayor Robredo presented his second State of the Children Report at the Naga Youth Center, with Palencia and the new assistant superintendent Carlito Boni in attendance, the same concern was raised with greater urgency: Naga's performance has been slipping. And this inconsistent performance does not match continuing investments of the City Government. Both chose to skip this year's report that highlights the celebration of Children's Month every October.

Which is why at the very outset, when the 2007 COA report surfaced confirming our worst fears about Palencia's leadership, Mayor Robredo immediately sought her replacement. The city's public school system deserves a better leader. And it took the DepEd Central Office one full year to realize this.
Money released for salaries of teachers in the public schools in Naga City, even the establishment of a School Board or the enactment of an ordinance establishing the QUEEN will amount to nothing, if education is treated as a business enterprise and as a political item.
Correct premise, wrong conclusion. All these will amount to nothing if the Nagueno child cannot be assured of two things, and only two: access, that he has every opportunity to graduate when he enters Grade I and First Year; and quality, that what he is getting is the best that his city has to offer. All others are mere propaganda.
Many of those who had unkind words for Superintendent Palencia do not even know how to run an educational institution and how to teach a class of 60 students, with not enough room space and not enough books, students who report to school with empty stomachs and with parents who avail of any of their free time for home and livelihood chores.
I should know: all my school-age children are enrolled in the public schools of Naga, two of them in an elementary school that we share with the less well-off residents of the city. Which is why I am mad because they deserve far better than the rut that our public schools are in.
Government officials who are accustomed to be conferred with awards of excellence cannot claim that they have the right to treat unkindly anyone who falls short of it.
We are not claiming it now or in the future because that imagined right is definitely home, safe and sound, with Bicol Mail's angry old man. But we reserve the right to demand better public schools -- including better superintendents, school heads and teachers -- and better newspapers -- including better and more well rounded editorial writers whose lives do not revolve around City Hall, and for that matter Mayor Robredo, alone.


09 November 2009

The law of unintended consequences

According to Wikipedia,

The so called "law of unintended consequences" (or "law of unforeseen consequences") is ... a humorous expression in common use according to which any purposeful action will produce some unintended, unanticipated, and usually unwanted consequences. Stated in other words, each cause has more than one effect, and these effects will invariably include at least one unforeseen side-effect. The unintended side-effect can be more significant than the intended effect.

Like Murphy's law, again a humorous expression rather than an actual law of nature, this law is a warning against the hubristic belief that humans can fully control the world around them.

Reading this Philippine Star article, I have a feeling that not only incumbents Rep. Diosdado "Dato" Arroyo and Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya stand the possibility of reaping the unintended consequence of Sen. Joker Arroyo's singleminded effort to reapportion the 1st and 2nd congressional district of Camarines Sur. Should he decide to run and win, Rep. Luis R. Villafuerte, who sponsored the original House Bill, may also suffer the same fate.

Let's review how Andaya explains it again:
In a recent interview, Andaya said whoever runs and wins as representatives of the two districts would be unseated if the Supreme Court strikes down the law splitting the first district as unconstitutional.

“If I and Rep. Dato Arroyo run and win, pareho kaming sibak (we will be both unseated), because it’s as if the two districts did not exist,” he said.

Asked if the winning candidate in what remains of the first district would also lose his seat, Andaya, who is a lawyer, gave an affirmative answer.

Because Villafuerte's district gave up Gainza and Milaor in the reapportionment law signed by GMA, doesn't it follow that the smaller 2nd Congressional District he will be running in for reelection next year also would not exist -- effectively removing any representation to the 1st and 2nd districts as we know it today?

I think a plausible argument to that effect can be made. What do you think?


07 October 2009

Postscript to Peñafrancia

Note: I wrote the first draft of this entry last September 28, a week after the fiesta.

To a non-catholic, Daet Bishop Gilbert Garcera’s homily after the fluvial procession would not have mattered much if not for Jonas Soltes’s note that appeared on my Facebook. Apparently, Bishop Garcera’s fiery denunciation of the media -- for sensationalizing the melee involving a voyador and a priest -- did not spare the city government.

A paragraph from the homily however struck me, and I would like to highlight it because to my mind, it mirrors the thinking of the local Catholic leadership in regard to the fiesta:

Third, I appeal to the FUTURE MAYORS OF NAGA CITY AND ALL GOVERNMENT AGENCIES IN NAGA CITY - to facilitate a prayerful atmosphere for pilgrims during the month of September especially during the novenario to Ina and the Divino Rostro. It’s VIVA Naga because of Ina. Without Ina, September will simply be another insignificant month in the calendar of the city. (Underscoring mine)
The claim, however, is problematic from a historical point of view. Because 111 years ago, on September 18, 1898 to be exact, a regiment of indio civil guards led by Corporals Elias Angeles and Felix Plazo led a successful uprising that successfully ended Spanish rule in Ambos Camarines.

In fact, as described in Joe Barrameda’s newly launched historical novel recreating the events leading up to the battle for Nueva Caceres, the Spanish colonial government would later surrender to the victorious Naguenos at around 2 o’clock of the following day.

It is precisely for this reason that the Sangguniang Panlungsod, through Ordinance 2006-050 as amended by Ordinance No. 2007-032, established September 19 as the “Aldaw nin Katalinkasan sa España.” Further, it mandates the city government to formulate annual programs, plans and activities that will promote and perpetuate the significance of that date in the City of Naga.

I will not blame Monsignor Garcera for making that flippant claim because like him, I too have always equated September with the Peñafrancia Fiesta -- and the convenient respite from work it brings me as a non-catholic -- because that is what tradition has always made us believe. Were it not for the efforts of local historians Danny Gerona, Joe Obias and Joe Barrameda, I wouldn’t have realized the importance of September 18-19 and thereby continued to wallow in ignorance of a most glorious event in our history as a city.

Come to think of it, for more than 100 years now, what has been the effect of Bishop Jorge Barlin’s effort in 1905 to move the celebration of Peñafrancia Fiesta from July to September? Intended or not, it is to overshadow and effectively erase those glorious two days from our memory, when they should actually be celebrated as a high point in our history as a freedom-loving people.

The only other event that would match it was in April 1945 when the Tancong Vaca guerilla units led by Major Juan Q. Miranda successfully liberated Naga from the Japanese Imperial forces way before MacArthur landed in Leyte Bay. In these two occasions, victory was achieved through a purely Bikolano effort, with no external help extended to the locals.

Yes folks, as a Bicol Mail editorial raised which JoeBar’s latest work answers, when Angeles and Plazo surprised the numerically superior and better armed Spanish forces in Nueva Caceres at around 11 o’clock on September 18, 1898, the city had already celebrated the Peñafrancia fiesta -- as it had previously been doing every July.

What took place in Naga in those fateful days was a “triduum for a tranquilizer” of the restless indio population as Barrameda describes it, with the winds of war in Manila having already reached Daet in the northern part of Ambos Camarines five months earlier. Clearly, it was not the nine-day celebration that the Catholic establishment now wants to keep free of intruders and intrusion.

When the Church of Caceres finally marks 300 years of the Peñafrancia devotion next year, September 18 will fall on a Saturday, coinciding with the fluvial procession, and 19 on the final day of the festivities itself. Thus, this year’s skirmishes and post-fiesta recriminations will, in all probability, come back to haunt Naga again. (It will, for sure, be an election issue in 2010.)

But whether the city government, under a new mayor, will fold and bow to the Church’s wishes -- as Garcera’s homily desires -- or whether it will continue to grow a backbone and assert its right to celebrate those two glorious days in September 111 years ago remain to be seen.

What is clear though is that viewed from the prism of history, this heroic act of the sons of Handiong predated the Peñafrancia fiesta in September; hence, it is incorrect to claim that without the fiesta, September will just be another insignificant month in the city's calendar. This therefore calls for some more give-and-take, and not hardening of positions, by both sides. Its recognition of this historical fact will go a long way in mending the frayed church-state relations that has characterized the final year of the Robredo administration.


05 October 2009

Naga City wins Plaza Rizal case at the Supreme Court

UPDATED (Oct 7): The SC decision is now online here.

WHEN the Supreme Court website containing decided cases for September is finally fixed, expect the following to dominate the local airwaves for a news cycle or two:

Naga City retains control over landmark site (0 hits)
By Ira P. Pedrasa
The City of Naga has administrative control over a landmark site there called Plaza Rizal, the Supreme Court said. In a 21-page decision penned by Associate Justice Minita V. Chico-Nazario, the third division of the high court debunked the claim...
The incomplete, corrected lede (it refers to Plaza Rizal as Plaza Miranda, and misspelled "landmark" as "landark" ) is what the Business World Codex Free Search feature shows if one types "Naga City" in the search box. The article appeared in the October 3, 2009 issue of the Manila-based business newspaper.

The particular link to watch out at the Supreme Court website is G.R. No. 175064. September 18, 2009: Province of Camarines Sur, represented by Governor Luis Raymund F. Villafuerte, Jr. Vs. Hon. Court of Appeals and City of Naga, represented by Mayor Jesse M. Robredo.

This piece of info came courtesy of the Newswires widget in my sidebar.


22 September 2009

An eroismo kan mga Bikolano: Overview kan bagong obra ni Joe Barrameda

Given during the book launch of Jose V. Barrameda's historical novel on September 15, 2009 at the Raul S. Roco Library.

KAN mag-text si JoeBar na matao akong overview sa launching kan saiyang bagong libro, daing gayo ako nahadit ta saboot ko, dakol man siguro kaming mataram. Pero kan makua ko na su program, medyo kinabahan ako ta ako lang palan an matao kan overview.

Kaya kasubanggi, binasa ko giraray su pigsurat niya ta baka dai ko matawan hustisya. Ponan ko an estorya sa pagtao nin konteksto sa pagtiripon niatong ini. Dai pa sana nahahaloy, an mga autoridad sa Cebu nahahadit huling nalilingawan na kan mga aki ninda kun siisay si dating Presidente Sergio Osmena. Kan magheling ako sa Sunstar.com.ph, igwang artikulo duman manongod sa ika 141ng anibersaryo kan kumpleanyo kan dating presidente. Dakol sa mga aki nagsabing bisto ninda si Osmena huli sa (1) nakapangaran saiya an eskwelahan ninda, (2) igwang tulay na an pangaran Osmena, asin (3) si Osmena lolo kan presente nindang alkalde.

An libro ni JoeBar nagpapangyari satong mabisto nin orog kun siisay si Elias Angeles asin Felix Plazo, na para sa kadaklan tinampo sana igdi sa satong ciudad. An dua iyo an nasa likod kan sarong successful uprising laban sa mga kastila 111 anyos na an nakaagi igdi sa Naga, na mibdid kaidto bilang Nueva Caceres. Si Angeles asin Plazo pareho indiong guardia civil. Kun papanong an pag-entra sa PMA ngonyan sarong paagi tanganing an sarong tios mag-asenso sa buhay, kaidto palan ginigibo naman iyan. An mga indio puede man magin miembro kan guardia civil, an federal paramilitary police kan mga kastila segun sa Wikipedia. Si Angeles bakong propiong taga-Naga; sa Pasig siya namundag, alagad huli ta may kapilyohan na naginibohan, napiritan siyang magdulag asin nakaabot igdi sa Naga, kun haen sinda nagkabistohan ni Felix Plazo na tubong Tigaon.

Sa librong ini ni JoeBar, madidiskubre ta na an pista palan kan Penafrancia orihinalmenteng pigseselebrar kada Hulyo, bakong Septyembre. Sarong editorial kan Bicol Mail an naheling ko man sa internet, asin duman pigsabing nagin Septyembre sana an pista kan 1905 huli sa espwerso ni Jorge Barlin, obispo kan Caceres. Kaya bakong totoo na mayong diretso an lokal na estado na iselebrar an bulan na Septyembre; an totoo pigdeklarar na kan Sanggunian an ika 18 asin 19 kaini bilang aldaw nin katalingkasan kan ciudad.

Kaya kan Septyembre 1898, tapos na an fiesta. Pero kun babalikan ta an kasaysayan, maribok na kaidto sa Filipinas. Orog na nagroro an sitwasyon poon kan badilon si Jose Rizal sa Bagumbayan (ngonyan Luneta) kan Disyembre 30, 1896, na sinundan kan 11ng mga Bikolanong martir, kompuesto kan mga midbid na tawo sa Nueva Caceres, kan Enero 4, 1897. Limang bulan pa sana an nakakaagi, prinobaran na pabagsakon kan mga Katipunerong taga-Daet sa pangengenot ni Ildefonso Moreno an gobyernong kastila sa parteng idto kan Ambos Camarines (mayo pa kaidtong Camarines Norte). Alagad sa ibong kan tolong aldaw na pagkubkob kan tropa ni Moreno kan pinagkutaan kan mga kastila, dai sinda napasuko. Kagadanan an sinapo ninda Moreno kan umabot an ayuda hali sa Naga; an iba pinugutan nin payo sa kasuguan ni Francisco Andreu. An kaparehong kaaabtan an nagdara nin takot sa mga indiong guardia civil na pinangengenotan ni Angeles asin Plazo; arog ni Moreno, sinda man mga miembro kan Katipunan ni Bonifacio, sa lokal na sanga kaining pig-apod na Barangay Maluningning.

Tano ta nagkaigwa nin selebrasyon giraray kan Penafrancia kan panahon na idto sa Naga? Ini an draft blurb na pigsurat ko bilang kontribusyon sa libro ni JoeBar:

The Bikolanos’ finest hour

If you think the recently frayed (and hopefully mended) relations between the local church and state is something new, better think again and read Joe Barrameda’s latest opus. A fitting follow-up to the cinematic In the crucible of an asymmetrical war in Camarines Sur 1942-1945 that chronicled the exploits of the Tancong Vaca guerillas during World War II, Catalingcasan traces the fateful days of September 1898 that ultimately led to the successful liberation of Nueva Caceres (now Naga City) and Ambos Camarines from Spanish rule by a regiment of Tagalog and Bikolano guardia civil led by Elias Angeles and Felix Plazo. (Which raises the question as to why the Tigaon-born Plazo is not equally honored as Angeles, who originally came from Pasig?)

In its pages, you will discover that 110 years ago, Peñafrancia festivities are celebrated in July and not September; that the Spanish military rulers, often at odds with their civilian and religious counterparts, colluded with church leaders in mounting a triduum featuring a Traslacion and fluvial procession of the image of Lady of Peñafrancia to appease the growing discontent and unease among the locals; and how Angeles and Plazo, sensing a possible repeat of the tragic bloody fate that befell fellow Katipunero Ildefonso Moreno and his band of Daet revolutionaries, were forced to mount a carefully planned uprising that -- in an overnight of horror and terror, and sheer barbarism as unintended consequence -- successfully booted out the colonials from one of the original royal Spanish cities in the Philippines.

Catalingcasan showcases the perennially underestimated sons of Handiong at their finest hour, and its pages celebrate their heroism, valor and honor as turn-of-the-century Bikolano warriors. But it would be shortlived as the realpolitik of the Tagalog-led Philippine revolution would bring the Angeles-Plazo tandem in disfavor before the new conquering horde. Which only goes to show that the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Kan ako nasa hayskul pa, igwa kami kaidto nin sarong subject sa 4th Year na pig-aapod "Readings on Bicol Culture." Oportunidad ini kadto na pag-adalan an satong kasaysayan asin kultura; an makamomondo, an bagong kurikulum sa hayskul mayo na kan siring na subject. Baka maray paghingoahon ka Local School Board na ibalik ini huling itinotogot man iyan kan DepEd, basta dai sana inaan an basic curriculum.

Ikadua, baka kaipuhan na gamiton niato an iba pang medium -- nangorogna na visual arts -- tanganing mas orog na maapresyar kan mga hobenes an kasaysayan kan ciudad na ini. An duang obra ni JoeBar sa pagtubod ko cinematic: puedeng gibohan pelikula o kun dai man digital animation film ta igwa naman diyan kakayahan an ciudad.

An common theme kan mga pigsurat ni JoeBar iyo an eroismo kan mga taga-Naga. Kan 1945 sa saiyang libro manongod sa Tancong Vaca guerillas asin kan 1898 sa bago niyang libro, pareho nagin matriumpo an Bikolano sa pagpapalayas kan mga dayuhan. Matatawan sana niato nin hustisya an saiyang kontribusyon sa sosyedad kun ini mapapakinabangan asin aapresyaron kan satong mga kaakian. An angat sato ngonyan iyo an paghanap nin mga paagi kun pano orog na mapapakinabangan an mga obra ni JoeBar.


04 July 2009

Bridging the gap between community information needs and student research: A local government perspective

Remarks during the forum on Community Research Initiative:“Bridging the Gap between Community Information Needs and Student Researches” held at Avenue Plaza Hotel yesterday, June 3, 2009.

MY TASK this afternoon is to share my thoughts on how we can bridge research and the need for information.

Allow me to approach this from the perspective of a city official in charge of planning (who necessarily must view things from the confines of Naga City) and as program officer of the newly established Naga City Governance Institute (NCGI), whose advocacies encompass regional issues and consequently require a regional perspective.

In covering the topic, I will share with you a useful conceptual framework that, to my mind, captures the challenge we are facing in community research; examples of data gaps that we contend with in government; and my personal thoughts as to why we should move this effort forward.

Conceptual Framework
To situate our discussion, let me start with the so-called Data Triangle, which essentially captures the kinds of information that we at the city government and the NCGI are concerned about. According to the ADB Cities Data Book, to which I contributed the profile on Naga City:

At the bottom level of the data triangle are raw data or information. These data are usually assembled into statistics, which often take the form of tables or other partially organized data frameworks. These tables are not generally of much value in their own right for policy, since a majority of people cannot read large tables or perceive the importance of the results; and they require further interpretation and analysis.

The next step of organization is indicators, which are usually single numbers, mostly ratios, such as the unemployment rate of the economic growth rate, which permit comparisons over time and space and have normative and policy implications. Finally, at the top level of data organization are indexes, which are the combination of indicators designed to measure the overall health or progress of the object of study. The consumer price index (CPI). gross domestic product (GDP) and human development index (HDI) are all well-known indexes.
The same book distinguishes between indicators and the three other types of information: "The main difference between indicators and other kinds of data is that the connection with policy is, or should be, explicit. Indicators are about the interface between policy and data."

Of what importance is this Data Triangle to our work at the city and NCGI and your own work as researchers?

I don't want to underestimate college-level research, but to my mind, the area where we can more effectively work together in bridging the gap between the supply and demand of information is to focus on generating the two lower tiers of information, namely data and statistics, for two reasons: one, quite simply, these are the biggest holes in our information wall, to borrow from that popular GMA afternoon show; and two, we (and I particularly refer to student researchers) may not at this point and level of education have the expertise and experience required to grapple with indices.

Thus, I am proposing that by concentrating on addressing the local gap on data and statistics, we will all be better off because we will be doing something we can be good at and one what offers the most productive potential use to the local community of users.

Local, Regional Data Gaps
What are examples of the data/statistical gaps that we can address through a more responsive community-based research?

Allow me to share with you some, culled from my experience in assembling the Naga City indicators for the ADB Cities Data Book:

1. Population. Number of women-headed households, i.e. families where the father already passed away and the mother serves as household head.

2. Equity. Family income and expenditures by quintiles. What NSO has are income and expenditure survey results aggregated per province; data for towns and cities are not available. Consequently, it is difficult to definitively measure and track whether incomes and poverty incidence are rising or falling through time.

3. Health and education. On the surface, we have official data from the DepEd, but there are complications arising from the fact that public schools actually serve catchment areas that do not correspond to specific territorial/political jurisdictions. Which is why you find a significant number of children from neighboring towns – like Canaman, Magarao, Bombon and Calabanga to the north and Pili, Milaor, Gainza, Camaligan, Minalabac and San Fernando to the south-southwest enrolled in city public schools. This can overstate the real participation rate of school children in the city.

4. Productivity. City product per capita – or essentially the economic output of the local economy year in and year out. Even the ADB publication says this is usually not directly available despite its importance.

An important data that can help us generate this is the accurate picture on employment by sector, i.e. breaking down employment using the International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities (ISIC)
* Manufacturing, construction and utilities;
* Wholesale and retail, transport, personal services;
* Finance and business services;
* Education, health, government; and
* Agriculture, mining, defense.

5. New technology. Telephone traffic (the number of telephone calls per annum per person, broken down into local, international and mobile) and number of internet connections and their annual growth.

6. Land and floorspace. Rental rates, operating costs and other charges per month for prime commercial spaces, per square meter: these are especially important to investors.

7. Housing. Data on how housing is financed, especially the percentage of mortgages and those taken by women-headed households from such institutions as savings banks, commercial banks, government institutions, credit unions or cooperatives, trust or finance companies, and insurance companies or pension funds.

8. Physical and social environment. Energy usage per person, where you have to factor in all possible sources like petroleum (kerosene, aviation fuel, natural gas), coal, wood, electricity (hydro, wind, geothermal).

9. Transport. Mode of travel (private cars, train, bus or minibus, motorcycle; bicycle, including pedicab; walking, and others like boat or taxi). Percentage of car ownership. Traffic counts (pedestrian and automobile).

10. Governance. Perceptions as to livability and consumer satisfaction.

What else? Insofar as the NCGI is concerned, let me reiterate the example I shared during the launching of the institute last June 20 at the Crown Hotel, to wit:
At the same time, we will explore new perspectives on certain advocacies that come naturally and we often take for granted. For instance, federalism is now being dangled back as a sweetener to push Con-Ass and ChaCha, and there is danger that some of us may fall into that trap, But if you come to think of it, all arguments we have heard thus far in support of federalism are political arguments. I think it’s about time we explore other compelling arguments: for instance, we should explore the economics of federalism in the context of Bicol’s development.

Research should be able to tell us what the optimal conditions are – particularly financing and institutional arrangements – what will make federalism feasible. Otherwise, I am afraid we are running the risk of blindly rushing and pushing for an advocacy because of passionate reasons that run deeply in our veins as Bikolanos, instead of approaching the matter dispassionately.
Why We Should Bridge These Gaps
Let me now move to the last part of my talk, which deals with the reasons why we should move this initiative forward.

The answer, I believe, lies on why we are doing research in the first place – which is not just to earn a degree or confer these to our graduates, which by itself is a virtuous pursuit; or because there are opportunities in the environment and the market place, which should be taken advantage of lest we lose them forever. It is about our search for truth, or at the very least, a fuller understanding of the truth.

I want to mention this in the light of a lecture early this year at the Ateneo de Naga University, where Fr. Wilmer Tria took issue with the city administration in regard to its reputation as a good governance practitioner.

Now, let me say that I respect and even encourage researchers to think critically and cover all the bases in our search for the truth – after all, that is the most potent argument one can ever have against the claim that dissent is not being tolerated in the city.

For one, I fully agree with Fr. Tria when he said that good governance is merely a means and not an end in itself; that at the end of the day, the end-all and be-all to good governance, including the city’s claim to it, is human development. And this is where I part ways with him.

Because the state-of-the-art in research today shows that there are means of measuring the state of human development. I have already mentioned one – the HDI – a while ago, and the HDI has many other variants and flavors, depending on where on is coming from. We have the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and its plethora of indicators, which have been agreed upon by the international community of nations, and one which the NCGI has embraced as its own framework for regional advocacy. In others words, we no longer have to reinvent the wheel so to speak if we really want to understand more fully how local communities – in the province of Camarines Sur, among Bikol provinces and among Philippine regions – compare with each other in terms of human development.

And this is one concrete way through which community-based research among the educational institutions of the city can choose to move this initiative forward. For instance, you can choose to focus on each one of the eight MDGs and find out how towns and cities in Camarines Sur, or even how the 26 barangays in my native town of Pili are faring, considering that we have more or less five years to go before 2015.

If you are from Canaman, for example, where the purest variant of the Bicol language is said to come from, you may want to track down and analyze the comparative participation and completion rates of its various public schools, find out the magnitude of casualties – the average number of Grade I pupils who eventually drop out and are unable to finish Grade VI – the reasons as to why the phenomenon is happening (which is not true to the local but also the national level), and more importantly what the DepEd District Office and the Local School Board are doing or are intending to do about it. This puts you in a good position to relate these indicators to policy actions that they can explore as a means of addressing the problem.

Then, the Bercasio Group, probably in partnership with the NCGI and the Metro Naga Development Council, can sponsor an event that will allow you to present your findings, conclusions and recommendations to the concerned stakeholders. (Which is precisely what we are planning to do in Naga, through NCGI, within the year.) If this happens, one can really say with a high degree of confidence that his or her research is helping move things forward.

The bottom line is: we should not be afraid of numbers because as real researchers, they are key towards our deeper and fuller understanding of the truth, and in unmasking untruths. As is often said: one cannot improve what he does not measure. And one cannot measure what does not understand.

Otherwise, without the numbers backing up your thesis and assertions, what you will have is nothing but an educated opinion, which is still an opinion from anywhere one looks at it.

And while anyone can have his own set of opinion, he is not entitled to have his own set of facts. As researchers, our work will help ensure that these facts, or numbers, are valid, reliable and verifiable.

Thank you very much.


21 June 2009

A life changing surgery

A WEEK before the furor on Rizal's green house in Calamba hit the headlines, the three of us -- Lynn, Patricia Anne (our 5th we still call Nokie, but who now wants to be called by her real name) and myself -- found ourselves staying in our national hero's hometown.

Occasion was "Life Changing Smile" surgical mission arranged by the Calamba Medical Center (CMC), which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, in partnership with Operation Smile and the City Government of Calamba. The mission provided free cleft lip and palate operation at the 4th floor of the CMC Complex from June 15-17.

Nokie is turning six next month and the speech problem she had two years ago still persists, belying earlier assurances by local and Manila-based doctors that it is just a case of delayed speech which will correct itself when the right time comes.

Early this year, we brought her back to Manila and had her checked by an pediatrician specializing on speech problems; she referred us to an EENT who promptly diagnosed that Nokie's is a case of submucous cleft palate -- the outer lining of her palate is intact but the underlying muscle is not joined, which is most probably the reason why she has difficulty speaking clearly.

Last year, Naga (and several other Philippine cities) hosted an Operation Smile mission but its website showed there is none scheduled for the year. There are international missions scheduled in Southeast Asia, the nearest being Vietnam, but the ones for the Philippines have been concluded last February. Fortunately, when I inquired with its Philippine office, I found out there will be three local missions scheduled for Calamba in June, and Pasay and Makati in July. Renewed hope immediately replaced my quiet desperation.

The internets connected me with Dhey Nañola, CMC's bubbly marketing supervisor: first by Twitter, then by Facebook and finally by email, through which she sent the instructions and forms we need submit. It was already days past the extended June 1 deadline, and there are still data gaps and signatures by Pacol barangay officials we need to fill up.

Because I have to fly to Manila for a speaking engagement and the Camarines Sur Polytechnic Colleges (CSPC) board of trustees meeting to attend to on behalf of my principals, my eldest son Ezekiel had to take care of the rest; by midday, he emailed back to me the completed two-page form, which I immediately forwarded to Dhey after pasting Nokie's 3R picture I took the night before.

On June 10 and 11, Nokie had to take the blood test twice because her hemoglobin level (at 112) was quite low the first time around. After a good night sleep and iron supplements, it shot up to 119, only one notch lower than the 120 minimum but good enough that the attending pedia cleared her to undergo surgery.

On June 13, she and Lynn went ahead because I have important meetings to attend to in view of the approaching 61st Charter Anniversary of the city, which will be highlighted by the launch of the Naga City Governance Institute (NCGI) which the city planning office is handling.

In the late afternoon of June 15, I finally joined them at the CMC. Twenty four hours later, after calmly marching with a doctor and a nurse to the operating room, she went under the knife and emerged from the operating room about an hour later, terribly angry at the ordeal (and probably mad at the apparent betrayal of those she joined peacefully just an hour before?) with legs kicking and arms flailing at everyone.

Only when her mom cried unabashly and apologized did she regain the calm and steely resolve to overcome every hurdle just so she can speak clearly and finally join her younger sister Daddy (aka Ophelia Bianca, Jian Di or Bulilit Bulilit ang Liit-liit, depending on who's calling) at the latter's Peñafrancia Educare school.

The road ahead to Nokie's fully developed speech may still be long, or it can be short enough to be just ahead of the corner. I don't know: according to the doctors who briefed Lynn last June 15, the reconstructive surgery is no magic bullet for speech problems associated with children like Nokie. They have to unlearn how they now form words, and this can be difficult and will take time.

But with her palate now hopefully functioning well after the surgery, I am confident that we have addressed the physical constraint to Nokie's fully developed speech. Just moments ago, after a little prodding and coaching, she was able pronounce "Papa" correctly. Needless to say, I remain very hopeful.

As the world celebrates Father's Day, no gift can be greater, and for that I have to thank CMC (especially Dhey and Doctor Herbosa, who operated on Nokie), Operation Smile Philippines and the city of Jose Rizal for making it happen.


The Naga City Governance Institute: An introduction

Remarks during yesterday's launch of the Naga City Governance Institute (NCGI) and the Inaugural NCGI Local Governance Forum at Crown Hotel, Naga City.

MY TASK this morning is to introduce to you what the Naga City Governance Institute is, how it came into being, and what it proposes to do.

Let me start with how it came into being.

The State of MDGs in Bicol
In 2006, I was asked by NEDA Region V to write a midterm progress report on the Millennium Development Goals in the region, using data they collected and organized from various line agencies of the national government.

The report came out in 2007, covering the region’s six provinces and three major cities. I’m not sure if many of you read it, buy let me share some of its findings.

Fig. 1 graphically summarizes them.

While on the balance, Bicol region appears to be on track on four of the seven MDGs, provincial and city performance varies, especially as one goes down into the detailed indicators.

We have two provinces that have almost twice as many off-track indicators as the region.

Meanwhile, the urban-rural disparity is also evident: the three cities are noticeable faring better than the six provinces.

Two years later after the report came out, there has been very little change. Of course, the report was published and publicized in the RDC newsletter but that was pretty much the end of it.

The local and national government agencies in the frontline of delivering or coordinating services and interventions are back in their business-as-usual mode pretty much without regard to the 2015 deadline.

Local challenges facing the MDGs
What other observations stood out in the report? Allow to share more with you:

Information gap was noted as a major concern in the preparation of the regional progress report. The concern arose from data gaps (total or partial absence of required indicators), inconsistencies (conflicting datasets by government agencies), and quality issues (bad data that mask problematic situations on the ground).

• In addition, the report touched on “data implication,” pointing out that MDG indicators are substantially devalued when collected merely for the sake of monitoring without venturing deeper into their impact on policy. Essentially, it raised a concern on the inability of local authorities to link these indicators to policy and eventually to local action.

• Finally, the other face of the information gap concerns good local MDG practices. The report noted that while good local practices abound in the region, indicated by a DILG report that included less-known barangay programs from Bicol, there is a dearth in the number of documented, popularized initiatives that effectively address any or a combination of the eight MDGs. The particular gap has prevented more effective and widespread scaling up of local action addressing the MDGs.

It is in the context of the above that the city government, under Mayor Jesse Robredo, conceptualized the NCGI. Modesty aside, Naga did better than everyone else. Therefore, we must be doing something right, don’t we? And if there is that one thing we have been known for and proud to have been doing all along, it is our brand of participative governance.

The institute is built on the following propositions:

It proposes to embrace the MDG framework because it is minimalist, the targets are within reach if a community only puts its heart and mind to it; it is robust, built around measurable indicators; and it widely accepted, having been agreed upon by the international community of nations

It proposes that good local governance matters, because it brings a community together in mobilizing resources that promote economic growth and equitable social development that directly benefits its people

It proposes that the Philippines will be better served if the quality of governance improves at the local level, as it is the key in reducing disparities and inequities among groups and sectors of the local society,

Our challenge therefore is to scale up and widen its network of “islands of good governance,” which can serve as model for effective community resource mobilization in promoting social development.

For this reason, Mayor Robredo issued Executive Order No. 2009-004 on People Power Day last February 25 creating the NCGI to serve as the main agency of the city government that will respond to the challenge of growing, promoting and sustaining local governance innovations in Naga City and the Bicol Region.

Its mission is reflected by the NCGI logo showing the Naga City Hall as backdrop. The four hands around it represent its four core functions: research, training, networking and advocacy – and its readiness to work with entities who share the same goal of improving local governance in Bicol as well as the Philippines.

What it plans to do
In response to that challenge, the institute will dedicate its efforts to the following, which we hope to implement with the help of the international community, starting with a grant facility of the European Union that we have been prequalified to apply to.

They are built around the steps recommended by the midterm report recommended to address the information gap in regard to the MDGs and intensify their localization in the Bicol Region:

1. More localized MDG tracking down to the city/municipal level. This involves the conduct and institutionalization of MDG progress monitoring and assessment at three levels: (a) regional (for provinces and cities), (b) provincial (for municipalities), and (c) city/municipal (for the barangays).

2. More effective alignment between national and local agencies. The report pointed out that the MDG outcomes it documented reflects the status quo, where regional and sub-regional units of national agencies, local governments and civil society organizations pursued MDG-related activities independently. A better way, it argued, is for them to align these activities to achieve greater synergy and efficiency and improve outcomes.

3. Documentation of less-known good practices. These should focus on local initiatives that address any or a combination of the eight MDGs and more importantly yield concrete outcomes.

4. Dissemination of local MDG tracking results. This involves the regular communication of MDG tracking results to stakeholders using various available mechanisms – such as the annual mayor or governor’s state of the local government report – and the production and dissemination of analog and digital MDG promo collaterals to key stakeholders and constituents.

Parallel to that, we will pursue certain advocacies we believe will promote regional development. One of them is the Mother Tongue-based Multilingual Education (MLE), for which we already did a lecture-forum last March 31 in partnership with the UP-based MLE Consortium, We look forward to working with DepEd-Naga and the regional office to push this forward, in line with its own Lingua Franca initiative.

We will also conduct smaller roundtable events to promote a culture of local and regional research that will drive, define and inform our advocacies. For instance, in Naga City, we will be working closely with the Bercasio Business Solutions group in implementing their Community Research Initiative (CRI) that seeks to bridge supply and demand in applied and theoretical research, starting with the college level.

Truth of the matter is, much of our academic research in the city is grappling with the Mona Lisa conundrum: after being completed by students as a degree requirement, they would just lie there and die there, in a manner of speaking – in spite of their immense potential value to users.

For instance, students at the Naga City Science High School, if I’m not mistaken, came up with a way to produce katol our of water lilies – just imagine the impact it would have in revitalizing Naga River by suddenly giving value to the harvesting of these plants, thereby sparing us of a perennial headache during weekly cleanup drives.

Another research dealt the use of certain flowers as predictors of air quality – which we can potential use in cross-checking periodic readings made by our local environment office.

The NCGI will conduct events that will bring researchers (producers) to their logical community of users (consumers), thereby addressing what is called in literature as information asymmetry. At the same time, we will be working with our local academic institutions in crafting a research agenda that will respond to what the market really needs.

At the same time, we will explore new perspectives on certain advocacies that come naturally and we often take for granted. For instance, federalism is now being dangled back as a sweetener to push Con-Ass and ChaCha, and there is danger that some of us may fall into that trap, But if you come to think of it, all arguments we have heard thus far in support of federalism are political arguments. I think it’s about time we explore other compelling arguments: for instance, we should explore the economics of federalism in the context of Bicol’s development.

Research should be able to tell us what the optimal conditions are – particularly financing and institutional arrangements – what will make federalism feasible. Otherwise, I am afraid we are running the risk of blindly rushing and pushing for an advocacy because of passionate reasons that run deeply in our veins as Bikolanos, instead of approaching the matter dispassionately.

We look forward to working with each and every one of you in these endeavors.

Thank you very much.


22 March 2009

Zest Air, Cebu Pacific's new best friend

I TOOK Zest Air's afternoon flight to Manila today and mumbled to myself, "Cebu Pacific has a new best friend in Naga."

With its four-flights-a-week frequency (MoWeFriSu), the Naga Airport in Pili town effectively has three flights a day this summer: Cebu Pacific Air's (CPA) 72-seater European-made ATR 72-500 slugging it out with Air Philippines's Boeing 737 jet service every morning, and Zest Air alternating with CPA (TuThSa) in the early afternoon market.

Zest Air's aircraft is the Chinese-made 56-seater Xian MA60 (MA stands for "Modern Ark"). Powered by Canadian-made Pratt and Whitney turboprop engines, the flight was a tad louder than the ATR's, but less noisier than the YS-11, which Asian Spirit used to field for its Naga flight. But for a one-hour flight, it was tolerable enough.

In September 2008, Asian Spirit was rebadged Zest Airways (after Zesto, the flagship juice drink brand of AMY Holdings) when the Yao group purchased the former lock, stock and barrel. Last March 16, it resumed its flights to the city.

But one thing actually going for it are its staff, who are certainly more customer-friendly than CPA's. My main beef with the latter is its increasingly impersonal service: the personal touch that would make loyal patrons at ease is largely gone, replaced by rigidly applied rules that spare no one.

I can vouch for Zest Air's ground staff at Naga Airport, led by Ryan Manza: they were colleagues when we were still running Asian Spirit's operations here. For us, the customer is really king. This afternoon's flight was actually a get-together: sending me off was my city hall collegue Nick Motos, who was Ryan's boss at the time.

And of course, a P488 promo airfare (about half than what you would pay for the 7-to-8 hour overland trip) definitely didn't hurt: I managed to wangle one when I purchased online last Thursday. But that promo fare is most probably gone: when I checked before leaving Naga, the cheapest is already P888. With a full flight coming in and about 33 going out, that was not a bad fourth flight at all for the newest player in the local air passenger market.


19 March 2009

Most and least corrupt at the same time

FROM today's Inquirer:

No. 2 on the list of “most corrupt” agencies was the Philippine National Police (21 percent), followed by the Department of Agriculture (19 percent), Bureau of Internal Revenue (16 percent), DepEd (15 percent) and Bureau of Customs (15 percent).

“Interestingly, while the DepEd is identified as ‘most corrupt’ by 15 percent of Filipinos, 20 percent (of the respondents) deem it as one of the least corrupt government agencies in the country,” Pulse Asia noted.
Methinks it has something to do with the high level of respect still generally accorded by the population to hardworking public school teachers.

Corruption however starts to rear its head as one moves up in the totem pole. Teacher items for sale, overpriced textbooks and computers, padded cost of school and multipurpose buildings: these are some of the many faces corruption takes in our public schools.

Many years back, a friend once told my wife: "Mag-principal ka 'boy! Yaon d'yan an kwarta." She is now one, and controversies have always hounded her in all schools she was posted.

As graduation time nears, these vultures will again have a field day exacting their pound of flesh on hapless parents, especially the poor. "Libre man baga an pagpaeskwela" goes their twisted reasoning.

With an old-boy network instinctively looking after their kind, reinforced by criss-crossing padi-madi relations (called the compadrazgo culture in academic literature) I'm not so sure if change will ever take place in the DepEd that I know.


17 March 2009

Naga City Science High shines in Smart tilt

GOT the following in my mailbox. Congratulations to Joretze Carandang and her winning team.

Naga City Science HS reigns at the 1st DPSA Learning Challenge Awards

[14 March 2009, Manila] – The Naga City Science High School (NCSHS) won major awards during the 1st Doon Po Sa Amin (DPSA) Learning Challenge awarding ceremonies held in SM Megatrade Hall 2 in Mandaluyong City.

The NCSHS DPSA Team, headed by their Moderator, Ms. Joretze S. Carandang, bagged the Grand Champion and the Best in Social Science Topic Category awards with their entry “Si Ina: Sarong Debosyon sa Halawig na Panahon.” The entry is a research narrative about the social issues revolving around the Peñafrancia Festival, and is one of the top 5 entries under the Social Science Topic Category.

Thirty-five entries were shortlisted from the total 130 entries submitted by 40 Smart Schools Program (SSP) partner schools nationwide. Winners of the Best in Topic Category award are:

Science and Technology Education Center
Pulos: The Functions of Math in Oponganon’s Way of Life

Science and Environment
Lake Sebu National High School
Sagip Lawa

Language and Literature
Batanes National High School
The Untold Stories of the Ivatans

Arts and Culture
Batanes National High School
Laji and Palo Palo

Health and Wellness
Camiguin National High School
Amazing Nanay Ansing

Technology and Livelihood
Lupon Vocational High School
Bundas: Gateway to Squid Fishing

Teams of the winning entries in the Best in Topic Category award received P30,000 cash prize, trophy, and Smart Bro prepaid Plug-it Kit. Their schools, in turn, will receive one computer unit each. As the Grand Champion, the NCSHS team received an additional P50,000 cash prize, trophy, and one-year Internet access grant for their school.

The following entries also received Special Awards:

Best in Student Collaboration
General Santos City High School

Best in Photos
Barobo National High School
Baroto ni Tatay

Best in Website Design
Oton National High School
The Community Structure of Mangroves In Batiano River, Oton, Iloilo

Best in Community Impact
Agusan National High School
Moryo-Moryo: A Ray of Hope

Winners of the Special Awards received P10,000 cash prize, and trophy.

The Doon Po Sa Amin Learning Challenge, one of the components of the Doon Po Sa Amin project, is a competition for local content generation that seeks to engage SSP teachers and students to generate rich local content using ICT and curriculum-based topics that will help promote and develop their respective communities.


This made me pause

WHILE looking for something on the net, I stumbled upon this, which came out in the U.P. Ibalon Bicol online newsletter last November and needs to be quoted in full:

Naga City Could Be Left Behind

For the past years I have been a regular visitor to Naga and Naga is my base when I stay in Bicol. So, I have come to observe and be familiar with Naga. I have also travelled a lot over the years and I have stayed in different places. With that I am able to compare Naga with the other cities I have become familiar with.

Naga is a beautiful place with a charm of its own. It is place of gentle people who are really proud of their city, with enough reason of course. In UP Ibalon it has contributed its fair share of denizens.

Naga consistently ranked high in competitiveness surveys. It is a well-run city led by legendary mayor who has won award after award and who is not content to just sit behind a desk. It has also led in people empowerment, transparency and public consultation.

With these factors, Naga could be flying high soon but that is not what I see. I even see the threat that it could be left behind and I will be sad for that.

I see the Naga government is very good in the old things that it usually does. In short, the grind. Complain about something, you will be heard. A pothole and a burst pipe is reported, it will be patched soon. A problem rises, the city government will try to look for solutions, in the soonest possible time, that is equitable for all.

But then I feel something is lacking but I cannot put my finger into it.

Even decades ago Naga is already a great educational center. But I see that it really cannot absorb its graduates. Graduates are human capital and it is Camarines Sur which paid for that. Once lost few will come back and they will no longer be available for development nor consumption.

Naguenos might not be bothered by it but to an outsider like me the lack of development in the Diversion Road, which has been open for the past 25 years, is an indictment. I heard the former big landlords of Naga would rather sit on their land and see its "value" rise year after year. I see that beyond the highway the marks of the former haciendas are still around. Why not convert it into a value-added enterprises? I think they should learn a thing or two from outside developers. Or are they simply waiting for outside developers to drop by?

I heard one land owner was dissuaded from putting up a warehouse across Avenue Square because it would ruin the ambience of the strip. Good move but it reminded me of Concepcion Grande which became a center of warehouses. In some cities, rather than putting up warehouses they would rather build buildings for IT purposes.

Which brings up my question. Where is the IT park of Naga? I have learned from a former restaurant owner in Naga who is now an operations manager of a big BPO company that putting up a call center is no big deal and it does not need foreign capital or enterprise to put it up. Why is it that the known call center in Camarines Sut is in Pili and Naga people have to be shuttled there?

In the South, leaders do not talk of bringing in foreign or outside investors. Of course, they will be happy if those kind of people come. They just talk more on how local business leaders should invest so that the city will grow (here in our place they are prepared to just break even in the first ten years but they know they are investing for the future). And of course they will try to look where they fit in in the government's Medium-Term Development Plan (and Cagayan de Oro is very good in this).

Do the local wielders of capital in Naga get together to talk about and pool their resources to plan for the projects of the future? Are Naga landlords willing to become capitalists instead of just relying on rent seeking? Or Naga will just wait for the next Enrile or Astillero?

In Ormoc City, Koreans come in droves and help in the development of the city. All for the love of golf and the sea (their seas are frigid and their weather is cold). Ormoc is developing and I don't think many people will vouch for the competence or cleanliness of its government (so it seems a city can be sold beyond this). Do Naguenos wonder now how can the formerly-derided Camarines Sur Watersports Complex (CWC) became such a hit?

Every time I come to Naga I notice that radio anchors all devote their time for criticism. But of course some are obviously paid hacks of some powers-that-be. But how does hawk-eyed criticism relate to development?

Maybe the city needs to put up a think tank for future options so that it will have a vision and an action for the 21st century economy. And that is not about attracting Indian-owned call centers that pays just a pittance for stressful work.
The piece, I think, deserves a lot of soul searching and action by the local society.