Monthly Archives: December 2007

Handling torrents of holiday trash

A few days before Christmas, Philippines Environment Secretary Lito Atienza appealed to the public to reduce the garbage they would produce during the holiday season. He cited the findings of the National Solid Waste Management Council, which show that one person generates 0.7 kilo (1.5 pounds) of garbage on an average day, compared to a minimum of 1.2 kilos (2.6 pounds) during the holidays. In one public market in Manila, 30 truckloads of garbage, which is equivalent to 180 tons, are reportedly being collected daily.

Atienza was right to remind the public about the need to keep garbage at the minimum level during the holidays. Christmas may be a season of gift-giving and merrymaking but it is also notorious for inducing wild shopping sprees, conspicuous consumption, and trash production.

The mounting pile of junk in the streets during Christmas should remind the public and leaders as well about the seriousness of the garbage crisis in the Philippines. The problem is not just linked to holiday festivities or high population growth. It is aggravated by inadequate government programs and dwindling funds for waste management.

According to the environment agency, the Philippines produced 27,397 tons of garbage daily in 2003. Almost one-third of the garbage in the country came from Metro Manila. Production of industrial wastes and effluents is also causing water pollution. It is estimated that 2.41 million tons of hazardous materials are generated by more than 100,000 companies.

The garbage disposal system is very backward in urban centers, which clogs and pollutes canals and creeks. Flooding occurs in many areas of Metro Manila even during light rains because of uncollected garbage in the streets. This explains the persistent incidences of preventable diseases like bacterial infections, cholera, dysentery and dengue fever, which affect mainly children in urban poor communities.

The pathetic state of waste management in the country underscores the need for sound environment policies and laws. Yet the Philippines has legal instruments that cover garbage management. In fact, the fist law signed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when she assumed the presidency in January 2001 was the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act.

This law obliges local governments to assume the main responsibility for disposing solid wastes through the program of "reduce, re-use and recycle." The law requires segregation of wastes, mandatory composting, recycling, a ban on disposable packaging materials, and the granting of incentives for the development of recycling markets and disposal of residual waste through the building of landfill facilities.

Like all good laws in the Philippines, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act is not implemented properly. According to green advocacy groups, only 700-1,000 communities (or less than two percent of the country’s 42,000 villages) practice the "reduce, re-use and recycle" program.

Corruption and petty politicking are disrupting waste management programs. Local leaders from nearby provinces are feuding over the ownership and division of royalties in disposing of Metro Manila’s garbage. One of the earlier corruption cases involving Arroyo was the controversial US$360 million incineration project with Australia-based Jancom Environmental Corporation. The project featured an overpriced dumping fee and guaranteed the sale of energy generated by the incinerated garbage to the government at a very high rate.

Recently, lawmakers exposed the distribution of obsolete medical incinerators in public hospitals which were purchased through a foreign loan.

Scientists insist that waste management should not be difficult in the Philippines. Because of its backward economy, more than half of the country’s solid waste composition is made up of yard, wood and kitchen wastes. In short, they are organic, biodegradable and recyclable.

But at the same time, the Philippines is highly dependent on imported manufacturing goods. This kind of trading produces a lot of waste. The government even signed a deal which would legalize the dumping of Japan’s toxic wastes in the Philippines.

The liberalization of the economy allowed the entry of multinational corporations, many of them focusing on resource extraction like mining. Without establishing modern waste management systems, the garbage generated from these economic activities will worsen urban congestion and the environmental woes of the country.

Implementing garbage laws and programs requires consistent funding. But government subsidies are inadequate to sustain delivery of services in communities. Waste management should not just be good laws. More importantly, it needs to be translated into public trash bins on every corner, garbage collection trucks, and the establishment of facilities for composting and recycling.

Public awareness and education campaigns are crucial. Many Filipinos still burn garbage in their backyards. Waste segregation should be practiced everywhere. There are residents who complain that they may segregate biodegradable and non-biodegradable wastes dutifully but when their garbage is collected, all the trash bins are thrown in only one container.

The Philippine garbage problem is alarming because of its negative impact on human settlements and the natural environment. The good news is that more and more people are recognizing the gravity of the problem. The garbage crisis can be solved if laws and programs are executed correctly. Government financial support is needed to improve waste management. Lifestyles need to change, corruption should be eliminated and leaders should have the proper attitude in dealing with the problem. In short, political will is needed to solve the garbage problem.

This is possible. Why are garbage collection trucks visible during Christmas season? Why can’t leaders guarantee this kind of performance throughout the year? If waste disposal remains problematic, children will continue to stalk and coerce pedestrians and fastfood customers into giving them empty plastic bottles which they will trade for a few pesos in a junk yard. Do we want children to handle our garbage?

Related entries:

Water runs dry
Preserve mineral wealth
Super cities

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Green Christmas

Longest Christmas season in the world, my article for Global Voices. Check out the new blogs and websites in the Mongster Link section. Kabataan Partylist has a new address in cyberspace.

Christmas is a special day for many people. It’s about gift-giving, family togetherness, and love. It’s also about buying, selling, and consuming gifts, food and drinks. Christmas is the best friend of consumerism.

People, especially children, are seduced to buy commodities to feel the spirit of Christmas. Malls offer discount promos, stores give Christmas packages, and companies bless their employees with Christmas bonuses. The extra income is not wisely invested; instead it is immediately disposed to satisfy the craving to join others in “celebrating” Christmas.

The joy of Christmas prevents people from recognizing the poverty that engulfs the land. By January, people have less money to spare for their real needs. They begin to remember their meager salaries, rising cost of commodities, inefficient government services and corrupt practices of politicians.

Is this the reason why so many political upheavals in the country take place during the first quarter of the year? When people suddenly feel the economic crunch, they become agitated by starting to demand for reforms in policies and even a change of leadership.

What distinguishes Christmas this year from previous celebrations is the vibrant campaign to save the environment. Companies are going “green” these days. Stores are telling their customers to stop global warming. Green bags are distributed, green products are found in market stalls, and commodities made from organic materials are now accessible in malls.

Mankind is saved! Protect the environment by buying green stuff this Christmas.

Paraphrasing British novelist Anthony Trollope, these green merchants are pettifogging rascals. The goal should not be to entice people to buy green products but to persuade them to consume less. The authentic green message instructs people to buy and consume fewer products, whether organic or not.

Beware of companies adopting a “green” attitude in their sales pitch. This may be a deceptive campaign to lure shoppers to buy as many green products while making them feel less guilty of contributing to climate change.

There is another advisable approach to promote green living. Implement a ‘personal carbon indicator’ mechanism when shopping for groceries and other products.

Today, consumers are informed of the nutritional values of products. This guides them whether to buy a commodity which contains the right or dangerous amount of fats, carbohydrates, or protein. Customers can determine their possible calorie intake when buying products in supermarkets. This gave incentive to companies to improve the nutritional content of their commodities.

In the future, consumers should be informed about the level of carbon they will be emitting when buying a particular commodity. A product label should include information about the amount of carbon which was used, stored, and will be released to the environment in manufacturing and consuming the product. This will guide customers in making the right decision in buying products which may contribute to global warming in measurable indicators.

Am I dreaming of a green Christmas already?

Traffic and Christmas

Christmas is also associated with stress, garbage, and traffic. Traffic is heavy in major roads especially near malls, markets, churches and provincial bus terminals. Christmas traffic reinforces the urgency of improving mass transport systems in the urban centers of the country. Traffic accidents during Christmas, among other factors like bad roads, reveal the lack of discipline among drivers and their inadequate knowledge on traffic rules.

Road rage and reckless driving can be reduced if drivers are made to understand the punishment for violating traffic rules. They may be motivated to obey traffic rules if they know it will save them money. Below are some of the common sins committed by drivers and their corresponding fines as ordered by the Land Transportation Office.

Driving without license will cost a driver P750. This is different from failing to show or surrender a driver’s license (perhaps the driver left it at home) which will only cost the driver P150. Don’t forget to sign driver’s license since a policeman can charge you P150.

Those caught driving while under the influence of liquor or prohibited drug will be fined P2,000. A second offence will lead to one year suspension. A third offence will lead to the revocation of driver’s license.

Possession and use of fake driver’s license will cost P1500. The fine for allowing another person to use his/her driver’s license is P500. Student driver operating a vehicle without being accompanied by a licensed driver is a violation too. The driver has to pay P200.

Take good care of number plates. A fine of P150 will be charged against drivers operating vehicles with number plates not firmly attached and visible; dirty or uncared for plates; inconspicuously displaced plates in front and rear; and no sticker showing current registration.

Think twice before buying commemorative plates. Improper display of number plates to accommodate a better display of commemorative plates is equivalent to P500 worth of fine. Displaying expired commemorative plates will cost the driver P200.

Another incentive to keep car parts intact is the avoidance of paying the P150 fine for having vehicles with improper/defective horn or signaling device; missing or defective headlights/taillights; missing or red rear lights at both/each side visible at least 100 meters from vehicle; missing or defective plate light; missing or defective brake lights; and missing or defective wiper on the windshield.

Keep you cars beautiful and clean. Driving with dirty/unsightly or dilapidated vehicles is a traffic violation. Drivers will pay P150. In addition, plates will be confiscated until defects are corrected.

Driving without spare tire will cost the driver P150. Keeping unauthorized bell sirens or exhausts whistle on emergency has the same fine.

Parking skills need to be enhanced if you do not want to pay P150 for the following parking violations: parking within an intersection, parking on a crosswalk, parking within five meters of the intersection of curb lines, parking within four meters of the driveway entrance to any fire station, parking within four meters of a fire hydrant, parking in front of a private highway and parking at any place where official signs of prohibition have been erected.

Public utility vehicles should avoid these violations costing P150 each: allowing a passenger on top or cover of vehicle, allowing a passenger to ride on running board, step board or
mudguard of vehicle while it is in motion, disregarding traffic signs and failure to use helmet while driving/riding a motorcycle.

Driving in a place not for traffic, failure to give way to police or fire department vehicle or ambulance, and hitching or permitting a person on a bicycle or roller skates to hitch to the vehicle will cost the driver P100.

Driving against traffic or counterflow has a penalty of P2,000. A fine of P150 will be charged against drivers who committed illegal overtaking, failure to give way to an overtaking vehicle, increasing speed when being overtaken, overtaking at a railway grade crossing and overtaking at an intersection.

Be kind to a traffic enforcer sine he/she can charge you P150 for arrogance or discourtesy. Driving in slippers or sleeveless shirt is illegal too. The driver will have to pay P100.

Do you think the fines are too small? Do you think they can really threaten drivers? Traffic rules are promulgated in order to save lives and avoid road mishaps. The least drivers can do is obey these reasonable road rules. Gas prices are skyrocketing already. Drivers can save money by avoiding unnecessary fines.

Related entries:

Open the gates of Forbes Park
On the rough road
From Laoag to Laoang

The political economy of transport strike

Originally published in UPI-Asia

Last week, simultaneous protest actions against oil price hikes were held throughout the Philippines. The main component of the protest was a transport strike initiated by a left-leaning transport group. Protesters had three demands: repeal the Oil Deregulation Law, remove the value-added tax on petroleum products and regulate oil prices in the country.

The transport strike was successful in most parts of the country. Thousands of drivers and operators of buses, jeepneys and tricycles opted to join the protest to dramatize discontent over government inaction on runaway oil prices.

As expected, government officials downplayed the impact of the strike by highlighting the normalcy of Metro Manila traffic. Yet they dispatched hundreds of military trucks and suspended the traffic color-coding scheme, which proved that the strike succeeded in paralyzing transport operations in the country. Schools suspended classes and offices closed early as public vehicles began to disappear from the streets in the middle of the morning.

The protest action achieved tactical victories. The Senate immediately conducted a hearing to check if recent oil price hikes were justified. Two senators proposed the suspension of the VAT on oil products for six months to ease oil prices. The energy secretary vowed there would be no more oil price increases for the rest of the year. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered government agencies to monitor if oil companies are overpricing their commodity.

The transport strike forced Congress to review the oil deregulation law and compelled the executive branch to check the profiteering schemes of oil companies. If not for the strike, oil companies would have continued to raise oil prices every week for the rest of the year.

Another achievement of the strike, which was not highlighted in mainstream media, was the formation of a consumer alliance against oil price hikes. For the past years, transport groups were almost alone in protesting oil price increases and the deregulation of the downstream oil industry. In last week’s protest, transport groups were joined by consumer networks and people’s organizations.

Usually, the government is able to persuade leaders of rival transport groups to belittle the necessity of conducting transport strikes. Last week, there were major transport groups which didn’t join the strike but at the same time they didn’t reject the soundness of protesting against oil price hikes. In fact, they were also demanding that the government control oil prices and repeal the oil deregulation law.

Another bit of bad news for the government is the threat of all transport groups, whether left-leaning or not, to conduct another transport strike early next year if the government continues to do nothing against new rounds of oil price hikes.

These are extraordinary times and the government should implement bold measures to keep oil prices stable. Aside from the transport sector, the government should protect the welfare of consumers. Oil price hikes affect the economy in a negative way. They increase production costs, which lead to a production slowdown, which triggers unemployment, which reduces consumer spending, which then lowers the country’s tax base. No wonder many groups are aghast over the government’s meek approach in regulating oil prices.

It isn’t enough for politicians to preach about energy conservation. Oil imports and actual consumption have been decreasing over the years, yet oil prices continue to rise. The government should seriously consider the three demands of consumer and transport groups.

The president can certify as urgent the passage of a bill which will repeal the oil deregulation law. A decade of deregulation allowed the unrestrained escalation of oil prices which guaranteed the super profits of oil companies at the expense of poor and middle-class Filipinos. The Philippine case shows that oil prices registered the biggest increases not during the Gulf War in the early 1990s but after the downstream oil industry was deregulated in 1996.

Deregulation assumes that free market mechanisms will make the oil industry competitive and thereby reduce the prices of petroleum products. But this is wishful thinking for an economy where three multinational oil companies dominate the local oil industry. These three big firms, not the market, dictate oil prices in the country.

Government intervention has become more than necessary today. It can impose a moratorium or rollback of oil prices, punish oil companies for overpricing, and it can become a major player in the industry by buying back a former state-owned oil company which was sold to foreigners.

But politicians are reluctant to reverse the deregulation policy. They refuse to stop oil price hikes since collection of VAT from oil products, shouldered mainly by poor and middle-class consumers, is a big source of corruption. Big business and fat bureaucrats are united in the pauperization of the Filipino people.

There are other options available to control oil prices. The government can enter into commodity-swap agreements with oil-producing countries. Centralized procurement of oil products can be initiated to prevent a distortion of the oil supply.

The current mantra of the government is renewable energy. Biofuel is hyped as the miracle product which can lower oil prices. But more and more scientists are worried that focusing on biofuels could jeopardize food production.

Renewable energy will never lower fuel prices as long as the government’s deregulation policy is in effect. The government continues to privatize power and energy assets, which could make the push for renewable energy a futile endeavour. Haven’t we learned from various privatization programs that when profit-seeking private companies are given monopoly control of a vital industry, the welfare of consumers will not be given the utmost priority?

The recent transport strike manifested the willingness of transport groups and consumer organizations to use extreme measures against successive oil price increases. Unless the government decides to implement reforms, more and more people and groups will be further radicalized in the future.

Related entries:

Where are the advocates of oil deregulation?
E-VAT and riots
E-VAT and food

Newsmakers of the year

Everybody loves to hate President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. But she seems unperturbed by low public trust ratings and survey results which named her as the most corrupt president in modern Philippine history. Perhaps what is important to her is that she remains the landlord of Malacañang.

In the eyes of the political opposition, she is a liar, thief, cheater and human rights violator. Admirers credit her leadership for the country’s outstanding economic fundamentals. Scholars and pundits may be divided over Arroyo’s legacy but there is no doubt that this diminutive president is a tough survivor. Arroyo defeated a third impeachment bid last October. She eats embarrassing scandals and coup threats for breakfast.

Arroyo was accused of abetting human rights violations in the country. Foreign governments and institutions pressured her government to improve the local human rights situation. Despite her scandalous human rights record, a Spanish university conferred Arroyo with a medal for her human rights advocacy. This is a manifestation of what a European philosopher described as the principal function of the Master: “Set down the lie that can sustain group solidarity and surprise the subjects with statements that manifestly contradicts the facts.”

Arroyo’s main rival and former president Joseph Estrada is another important newsmaker of the year. He actually believed that he was the kingmaker of the recent senatorial elections. He became a convicted plunderer in September before agreeing to compromise with the “illegitimate” president to regain his freedom. He is now busy conducting medical missions throughout the country. He will be the most important endorser in the 2010 presidential polls.

Political scientists need to probe the Trillanes phenomenon. Senator Antonio Trillanes IV is known for shocking the public with his daring activities. First the Oakwood mutiny, then his victory in the senatorial elections, and now the ill-conceived Peninsula Hotel siege. What’s next for the talented and idealist Senator Trillanes? The presidency?

Former Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos is accused by his critics of promoting impunity in two fronts: electoral fraud and corruption. Abalos and Lintang Bedol were associated with electoral cheating. Abalos and ZTE became symbolic terms for bribery and corruption.

The whistleblower of the year is no ordinary person since he is the son of the president’s erstwhile most reliable ally in the House of Representatives. Businessman Joey de Venecia made a name for himself by identifying Abalos and mystery man First Gentleman Mike Arroyo as the influential brokers of the anomalous national broadband network project. Is Joey aiming for an elective position in 2010?

This is a memorable year for Speaker Jose De Venecia. His usually easy electoral victory was seriously threatened by a local official with impressive public support. But De Venecia proved that he was the better politician by beating his main rival in the polls. De Venecia’s woes continued when administration allies initiated moves to unseat him as Speaker of the House after his son implicated the president in a controversial project. De Venecia lost influence when his subordinates received cash gifts from Malacañang without his knowledge. A bomb blast inside the Batasan Complex further undermined De Venecia’s leadership. How long can JDV hold on to his post? Will he remain loyal to Arroyo?

The Supreme Court through the leadership of Chief Justice Reynato Puno became pro-active in promoting human rights. A summit was held to determine the doable judicial measures against human rights violations. Victims sought sanctuary in the courts. The Writ of Amparo was promulgated which became a landmark legal instrument.

Jonas Burgos is the most famous icon in highlighting the deplorable human rights situation in the country. Manny Pacquaio lost in the elections but he is still a TV star and more importantly, he remains the athlete of the year. Secretary Angelo Reyes is the most favored member of the Arroyo Cabinet. Governors Ed Panlilio and Grace Padaca scored the most awesome wins in the local polls. Malu Fernandez should be credited for uniting the netizens. Marimar is the TV primetime hit of the year.

Executive Secretary Ed Ermita used to be the most powerful man in Malacañang. Now, Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronnie Puno seems to have gained the upper hand in the power play in the Palace. Puno was the alleged mastermind behind the giving of cash gifts to loyal lawmakers; he delivered the pardon papers to Estrada; ordered the midnight curfew and justified the arrest of journalists after the Peninsula Hotel standoff. Is Puno the political operator of the year?

The prominent critics of Arroyo are senior citizens. Who could forget Rep. Satur Ocampo’s unlawful arrest in the middle of the campaign period? Rep. Crispin Beltran walked out of hospital detention without signing an unprincipled deal with Malacañang. He also exposed the bribery attempt during the deliberations for the bogus impeachment complaint. Jose Maria Sison’s detention further proved how the State is threatened by his writings and political activities. Civilian supporters of Trillanes were very old patriots like former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, Dr. Francisco Nemenzo and Bishop Julio Labayen.

Marianette Amper became the symbol of poverty and hopelessness. The long march of Sumilao farmers is the protest action of the year. Bomb blast victims and the Marines who were beheaded in Basilan should not be forgotten.

Next year, the big newsmakers will be the presidentiables, political parties, charter change and big protest actions against poverty.

Merry Christmas and a Yehey New Year!

Related entries:

2005 memorable events
2006 naughty and nice
2007 political words of the year
Tulay Lupa

Travelogue: Southern Mindanao

It’s time to promote my photoblog: check out the new pictures

I was in south Mindanao for one week. I am grateful to my hosts for making the trip very memorable and pleasant. Kailan kaya ulit ako makakabalik? Meanwhile, below are some of my travel notes during the one-week tour.

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I wanted to view ARMM with fresh eyes by forgetting the stereotype that it is a war zone. Somehow, it didn’t help that an armoured carrier stopped in front of me at the arrival terminal of the Cotabato City airport. Later, I found out that the airport is located inside the compound of the biggest military camp in Central Mindanao.

Perhaps I am allergic to the presence of military personnel roaming the streets and other public spaces with full battle gear. Residents of Cotabato (and even General Santos City) seem oblivious that soldiers are seen almost everywhere: parks, jeepneys, schools, markets, national highways and government buildings.

In downtown Cotabato, there is a gun store located beside a drug store. The former sells products that kill people; while the latter offers goods which can save lives. How’s that for irony?

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The best place to study the impact of foreign aid on impoverished communities is the ARMM region. Because of its extraordinary poverty, ARMM has attracted the most number of foreign donors in the country. Offices of international monitoring agencies and even UN cars are commonly seen in Cotabato City. Unlike in other parts of the country where vain local politicians are claiming credit for public projects, most of the billboard and streamer promotion materials in ARMM are owned by foreign donors. Some of these infrastructure projects include waiting sheds, markets, the Gensan airport, roads and even water wells. The recent State of the Region Address by the ARMM governor turned out to be an accomplishment report in behalf of funding agencies. US ambassadors are also well-known in the region.

In Carmen, North Cotabato, the municipal hall building is one of the magnificent local government structures in the country. It even has an escalator. Where did the small municipality acquire the funds? Carmen used to host the Balikatas exercises between Philippine and US military forces. Connect the dots.

Foreign aid is not bad if it contains no preconditions and does not compromise the political and economic independence of small states. Its time to assess the impact of foreign aid in ARMM.

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Passenger power. In Cotabato (and I think even in Bacolod too), the minimum jeepney fare is P6.50. But passengers are only paying P6. The student fare is P6 but students are only paying P5.50. Drivers are not protesting since they know the people could barely afford the minimum transportation cost. So far, nobody has been arrested for violating the law on minimum jeepney fare. Can we do that here in Manila?

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Bus bombings are changing the perceptions of people on public transportation. My Cotabato friends insist that L-300 vans are safer than buses if I want to travel to Davao City. On the other hand, my Davao friends believe that buses are safer than L-300 vans if I want to go to General Santos City.

Usually, bus bombings are linked to terrorism. But there is a theory that certain individuals only want to extort money from bus companies. There is also an allegation that the rivalry between bus owners and van operators provoked the bomb activities. After the bus bombings, more people opted to ride the L-300 vans.

Speaking of bombings, there is a bomb awareness campaign in Kidapawan. While other regions have anti-drugs, anti-gambling, anti-insurgency and anti-prostitution campaigns, it is interesting that bomb awareness campaigns are being initiated in south Mindanao.

A bomb exploded in a Kidapawan mall more than a month ago. This was not given prominent attention by mainstream media. In Gensan, a friend led me to a mall which was bombed about a year ago. By the way, I stayed in an NGO office where a hand grenade exploded some years ago.

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There are localities which are famous because they host big and reputable schools. Dumaguete has Silliman; Diliman has UP; Katipunan has Miriam and Ateneo; Dasmarinas has De La Salle. The town of Kabacan is famous because of the University of Southern Mindanao. Cotabato friends claim USM is producing better agriculture graduates than UP Los Banos. Recently, students protested the militarization of the campus.

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To improve Christian-Muslim relations, we should begin with schools. Is it right to open a program with a Christian prayer even though there are Moro students in the audience? Is it advisable for public schools to promote a particular religious practice? Should Muslim students be required to take religion classes or join recollection seminars in Catholic schools? Should non-Muslim female students studying in Moro-dominated schools be mandated to wear traditional Muslim clothing? Can the French practice of banning religious symbols in secular schools work in the Philippines?

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The Vice Mayor of Davao City is bewildered over the inefficiency of local offices. To improve efficiency, she issued an interesting order: Remove all TV sets in the city hall. There is another wonderful Davao City ordinance: Videoke sessions are allowed only until 10pm.

Davao City politics is heating up. The feud of Mayor Duterte and Congressman Nograles continues to this day. Nograles is preparing to dominate the local polls in 2010. His face in promotional streamers is visible everywhere.

While in Davao, I read about the death of a politician who was recognized for his peace advocacy in ARMM. It is peculiar that politicians are recognized for championing issues which they have failed to solve in their areas. A politician in a gambling paradise is known as anti-gambling crusader. Cities with pervasive drug trade have many anti-illegal drugs politicians. Provinces with astonishing poverty rates have anti-poverty leaders. Not surprisingly, the leader of a country with high number of human rights violations was recently awarded for her human rights advocacy.

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Activists are still boycotting Nestle. Maxwell is my preferred 3-in-1 coffee. My parents like Folgers. Friends endorse Figaro for being Filipino-owned but they hang out in Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf which offers the best tasting coffee and tea brew. Kapeng barako of Batangas is my usual breakfast drink. My wife prefers Benguet or Kalinga coffee. In North Cotabato, I was offered a native coffee of Pikit and I instantly liked it. No doubt, Pikit has one of the best coffee beans in the country. I already stopped associating Pikit with local violence by recognizing its superior coffee product.

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Funny names: There is a Palparan Advertising agency in Kidapawan. A chicken restaurant in Gensan is named BJ. A friend said a Cebu hotel offers Blowjob drinks. A school newspaper headline caught my attention: ND students attend a convention. ND stands for Nutrition and Dietary students; not national democrats.

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I always ride the jeepneys, but not at the topload. To my horror, I was forced to climb the top of a small overcrowded jeepney in Carmen, North Cotabato which offered little protection for passengers. I enjoyed that quiet, cool, and exhilarating trip. It has been some years since I was able to travel in the countryside and marvellously enjoy the glittering skylight and refreshing air while conscious of the fact that a slight bump or wrong twist in the road could dangerously send me into the pavement.

There seems to be no right word or gesture to bid farewell to friends, especially if there is no certainty as to when will you meet again. Even if you want to fully express your gratitude or affection, it always ends up in awkward moments. A pat in the shoulder or back, a guarded hug, a handshake, some inappropriate remarks or teasing, then it is finished. Later, a long and sentimental text or email message is sent. What is odd is that kind of affectionate message could have been directly expressed earlier. It’s funny, sad, sweet yet so impersonal.

Related entries:

Travelogue: North Luzon
Rough roads
Up, up and away
Dumaguete delights
Inside ARMM

Political words of the year

A Supreme Court official speaking in an anti-corruption forum used the most appropriate words to describe Philippine society today: We live in “perilous times” where “beastly authorities” are engaged in “terrorism legislation” while “timorous citizens” seem helpless from the sidelines.

Global warming and climate change are the most important political words of the year. Unknown to most people a few years ago, global warming is now commonly discussed in media, academe, and official government discourses. When people speak of climate change, they refer less to the scientific aspect of the phenomenon and more likely about the destructive human activities and lack of decisive political interventions to save the fragile environment.

La Niña and El Niño are familiar terms to many Filipinos but they are inadequate to explain the frequent occurrences of super typhoons, mudslides, landslides, freak weather events and coral reef bleaching. Global warming is teaching Filipinos why environment policies should be prioritized and everyday habits need to change. It’s true, green politicians are well-loved these days.

Extrajudicial killing became synonymous with political repression and human rights violation. Before, it was called summary killing. The government insists it is “unexplained killing” but nobody has adopted the silly term. Ordinary citizens are suddenly curious why the Writ of Amparo is a very special legal instrument. The anti-terror law was renamed as the Human Security Act.

What were the memorable words during the last elections? Clerical error is the new name of dagdag-bawas. Hello Bedol is in, but Hello Garci is still famous. Politicians issued juicy soundbytes: Former Senator Ralph Recto teased the public with his “Honey, I’m home” farewell speech. Senator Loi Ejercito countered with her “Erap, here I come” address. Manila Mayor Fred Lim warned criminals to “cooperate or evaporate.” Malacañang’s whiz kid Mike Defensor said he will reinvent himself.

The Sandiganbayan convicted Estrada for plunder charges. Groups are now interested about a possible plunder case against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Estrada was found guilty and sentenced to reclusion perpetua. After a few weeks, Arroyo granted him pardon. The compassionate president extended pardon to other senior citizen prisoners, most notably one of the soldiers involved in assassinating former Senator Ninoy Aquino.

Corruption cases were numerous this year but the most scandalous was the national broadband network project between the Philippine government and ZTE Corporation from China. The controversy educated the public about broadband connections and produced the ZTE ringtone and alphabet.

The mystery man was identified as the First Gentleman himself. Is Ricky Razon the mystery businessman? Joey De Venecia was told to “back off.” Former Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos made a very tempting offer: “Sec, may 200 ka dito.” But former NEDA head Romulo Neri refused it.

The cyber education program was also implicated in the scandal. It was exposed as an overpriced distance learning program.

The Philippines has one of the highest incidences of petty bribery in the world. But grand briberies are also common in this part of the world. They are called cash gifts, donation for barangay projects, charity funds or goodwill measures.

Because of these scandals, a third impeachment bid was launched against the president. But a bogus impeachment complaint “immunized” the president for one year against such political move.

The Peninsula Hotel standoff had different names: mutiny, coup, situation, press conference, hotel siege, Trillanes caper. After the incident, journalists were “processed” in Bicutan. The midnight curfew refreshed memories of Martial Law. Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim will be remembered for these words: “Dissent without action is consent.”

Suicide became a symbolic protest against poverty. Landless farmers conducted a long march, a boycott campaign was launched against an elitist writer, and recently, a transport strike was initiated.

President Arroyo wants to leave a legacy to the Filipino people. The legacy could be good or bad depending on which side of the political fence you are leaning. The president described her detractors as “titans of hate” promoting a “politics of destruction.” Senator Antonio Trillanes and company were referred to as desperate individuals, transgressors, and five star rebels.

Impunity is now ordinarily used to describe the state of lawlessness, violence and government wrongdoings in the country. There is a “growing culture of impunity” linked to the assassination of journalists, extrajudicial killings involving leftist activists, poll fraud and corruption.

Government credibility has plunged to the lowest level which explains why so many groups are demanding independent probes of various issues involving the Glorietta blast, Batasan bombing, cash gift distribution, Abalos bribery allegation and military role in extrajudicial killings.

Surprisingly, Speaker Jose De Venecia is calling for a moral revolution. More surprisingly, church leaders are supporting the campaign.

Charter Change or Chacha has not been vibrantly discussed this year. But fresh attempts to renew Chacha could make it one of the most divisive issues next year. Will there be a Sigaw ng Bayan part two?

In the showbiz front, Angel Locsin was called ingrata by her former colleagues. Willie Revillame committed a “Hello Papi” mistake which provoked Joey de Leon’s famous one-liner: “Explain before you complain.”

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Impunity
In other words
Name game
Numbers and politics
Coping with climate change

Defending human rights

In its year-end report on the Philippines, human rights watchdog Karapatan noted the decline in the number of human rights violations this year, with 68 victims of extrajudicial killings and 26 enforced disappearances compared to 185 killings and 93 disappearances in 2006.

Despite this development, there is still no reason to celebrate. Summary killings and forced abductions are not acceptable in a society which claims to be the most democratic in Asia.

Karapatan revealed that 29 victims of torture, 116 victims of illegal detention, and 7,542 victims of illegal displacement or forced evacuation were recorded this year. Karapatan’s documentation shows that from January 2001 up to Oct. 31 this year, there were a total of 887 victims of extrajudicial killings and 185 victims of enforced disappearances. There are still 235 political prisoners languishing in Philippine jails, 204 of whom were imprisoned during President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s term.

Karapatan attributes the lower figures to the successful campaign to bring to international attention the high number of human rights violations in the country. A strong lobby from international institutions and local peoples’ organizations helped in exposing the repressive policies of the Arroyo administration.

The Philippine Supreme Court has decided to take a more pro-active role in guaranteeing respect of human rights in the country. The Arroyo regime is also under pressure as it prepares for the April 2008 Universal Periodic Review as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

As expected, local police authorities insist there are fewer cases of human rights violations. They claim only five incidents were reported and validated this year compared to the 38 cases reported last year.

Could the upcoming U.N. review be the motivating force behind Philippine officials who insisted on the creation of a human rights body in the Southeast Asian region? Could this be the Philippine government’s source of confidence in reprimanding Myanmar’s junta for the latter’s murky human rights record? Could this be the reason why a university in Spain recognized Arroyo as a human rights champion? What’s next for Arroyo, a Nobel Peace Prize?

To sustain the momentum in improving the human rights situation in the country, it is necessary for the national leadership to implement bold steps like prosecuting military officials accused of masterminding the assassination of activists and journalists. The government should revise its anti-insurgency program which identifies members of legal activist groups as legitimate military targets.

The government should also release political prisoners as a gesture of peace and national reconciliation. After all, wasn’t the pardon granted by Arroyo to convicted plunderer and former President Joseph Estrada to promote unity in the country?

It is also advisable to review domestic laws, programs and mandates of institutions which seek to protect human rights. For example, the Commission on Human Rights should be strengthened to fulfill its objectives.

The CHR is tasked by law to investigate all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights. It can exercise its visitation rights over jails, prisons and detention facilities. It can monitor the Philippine government’s compliance with international treaty obligations on human rights. Unknown to many people, it can also grant immunity from prosecution to any person whose testimony or whose possession of evidence is necessary to determine the truth in any investigation it conducts.

But the CHR is unable to exercise its functions effectively. In several instances, the body was reminded by the courts that it may investigate, receive evidence and make findings of fact as regards claimed human rights violations, but it cannot adjudicate. The CHR cannot issue a restraining order or writ of injunction. It is only empowered to investigate human rights violations involving civil and political rights. Economic and social rights are not included in its mandate.

Members of Congress should discuss how the commission can be further empowered to advance human rights in the country. The CHR should be an independent body with sufficient authority to prosecute human rights violators.

Congress has other options to promote human rights in the country. Next year, Congress can review or repeal the anti-terror law. Right now, Congress should assert its oversight functions in monitoring the implementation of the draconian measure. Congress can prioritize the passage of a law against torture, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings. There are international legal instruments which can guide Philippine lawmakers.

Members of Congress should read the vital provisions in the Philippine Constitution on human rights protection. In Article XIII, Sec.1 of the Constitution, it says that "Congress shall give highest priority to the enactment of measures that protect and enhance the right of all people to human dignity, reduce social, economic, and political inequalities, and remove cultural inequities by equitably diffusing wealth and political power for the common good." In Article XI, Sec.11, one of the principles of the state is to value the dignity of every person and guarantee full respect for human rights.

Religious politicians can refer to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church which reminds the faithful that "the movement towards the identification and proclamation of human rights is one of the most significant attempts to respond effectively to the inescapable demands of human dignity."

Human rights protection is not one of the achievements of Arroyo. On her watch civil liberties were curtailed. Unknown assassins have targeted activists and journalists. Political violence has gripped the Catholic-dominated Philippines. But the people are fighting back. There is still hope in recognizing, respecting, and protecting human rights in Philippine society.

Related entries:

In defense of human rights
Will the real terrorist please stand up?
Total war

Gloria and the Opposition (Let’s GO)

Just arrived in Manila from General Santos City, the tuna capital of the country.

Veteran political analyst Luis Teodoro is frustrated over the lack of investigative media reports which could be used to fight corruption and foster transparency in governance. Teodoro wrote:

“Where are the investigative reports that in 2001 led to Joseph Estrada’s impeachment, and eventually to his ouster? Where are the reports that in 2005 and early 2006 shook the Arroyo regime by exposing the ‘Hello Garci’ tapes, their source, and the individuals involved in the perversion of the 2004 elections?

“For the most part, the public has had to rely on news reports that by their very nature have neither the opportunity nor the space and time to provide the complete, relevant and comprehensible information a supposedly sovereign citizenry needs to make sense of events.

“Note how citizens are receiving information piece-meal and without the crucial context needed for them to understand the most recent Arroyo regime scandal.

“Investigative reporting has proven to be crucial to better governance. If this continues, there will be reason enough to blame the media for the continuing sorry state of the country.”

It is right to remind media of its crucial role in educating the public. Indeed, there seems to be a lack of investigative reports these days. Media should not only be aware of its power to influence public opinion; it should also strive to use its power to conscientiously expose the wrongdoings of those who hold the reins of power in the country.

Another important source of information on the real state of affairs in the country is the opposition. If media is failing in its duty to give well-researched news reports, the opposition is ominously guilty of failing to provide media and the public with credible and solid evidences which could seriously threaten the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo presidency.

With so many embarrassing scandals hounding her government, President Arroyo should have been ousted from power by this time. But she is still in Malacanang and seems poised to finish her term until 2010.

The main strategy of the administration to quell dissent is to use money and brutal force. Acquiescence is achieved by using the coercive powers of the State. Politicians are easily seduced by the promise of higher pork barrel allocation.

But there is another reason why Arroyo is surviving despite being the most unpopular president in modern Philippine history. Arroyo’s notoriety as a “bad politician” is matched by the sheer incompetence of the political opposition. Arroyo is fortunate that the opposition has been bungling in its job as fiscalizer and critic of administration policies.

The best manifestation of the opposition’s ineptitude is the unprincipled acceptance of the pardon granted to former president Joseph Estrada. An icon of the opposition who never minced words in badmouthing the administration, Estrada readily accepted the freedom offered by Arroyo in exchange for his softer stance against the government. Estrada has always questioned the legitimacy of Arroyo’s presidency but his acceptance of the pardon showed the public (again) how he can easily abandon his agitated supporters for political expediency.

The public gave the opposition an overwhelming mandate in the recent senatorial elections. The opposition had the chance to wrest control of the senate leadership. But infighting among opposition senators with presidential ambitions allowed the administration coalition to retain majority control of the senate.

When fresh evidences of corruption surfaced that could implicate president Arroyo, the opposition, for the third time, failed again to launch an impeachment bid against the president. Maybe Atty. Roel Pulido was quicker in filing an impeachment complaint. But the disagreement within the opposition on whether to file an impeachment case may be the key factor why the impeachment attempt was easily defeated.

Many opposition members were reluctant to support an impeachment case because they believe the effort will be futile and the process will be reduced into a ‘numbers’ game. These were valid apprehensions. But there were also opposition members who remained quiet during the committee deliberations because they didn’t want to antagonize Malacanang officials who could reduce or block their pork barrel funds.

There are opposition politicians who have decided to accept the Arroyo presidency by rejecting or refusing to participate in anti-Arroyo activities. Many are already preparing for the 2010 elections. They are not anticipating that Arroyo or her cabal of advisers may attempt to remain in power beyond 2010.

Believing that Arroyo will step down voluntarily in 2010, the opposition has not been enthusiastic in digging new documents, evidences, and testimonies which could prove damning to Arroyo and her cabinet. The opposition has not been maximizing its network of spies inside government to unearth “inconvenient truths” about the Arroyo government.

The credible witnesses who exposed anomalous transactions in the government were not from the opposition but from the camp of the administration. Thanks to disgruntled administration personalities like Joey De Venecia and Romulo Neri, the public was immediately informed of corrupt deals involving top leaders of the country.

It was a former priest-turned governor who revealed the distribution of cash gifts inside Malacanang Palace. Members of opposition political parties later admitted that they also received funds from Malacanang functionaries. If not for Governor Ed Panlilio’s revelation, these opposition politicians will not confess that they also received “manna” from Malacanang.

There are “Chavit Singson” witnesses but there are no opposition-led initiatives which could seriously undermine Arroyo’s hold to power. It took a rebel soldier, a non-trapo to break the passivity of the opposition to show that something concrete, something bold and extralegal must be done to mobilize the political forces against Arroyo. But even the failed mutiny in Peninsula Hotel showed the pathetic lack of coordination among opposition groups.

President Arroyo will not be removed from office simply because she is a “bad politician.” Estrada was ousted from Malacanang because there were various legal and extralegal activities and initiatives spearheaded mainly by the opposition. The People Power II was both a spontaneous and organized series of protest actions in EDSA and other parts of the country.

The opposition should understand its role in marshalling and coordinating all anti-Arroyo efforts. It should support the various advocacies of peoples’ organizations and link them with the campaign to unseat Arroyo.

If opposition politicians continue to be distracted by the prospect of grabbing power through the 2010 elections, they will not succeed in preventing Arroyo from dominating the political landscape today and maybe even beyond 2010. Even if there are explosive evidences against Arroyo, but as long as the opposition remains disorganized, these issues may succeed in embarrassing Arroyo but they are not enough to oust her from power.

The president keeps on repeating here and abroad that she has chosen to become unpopular by implementing controversial measures rather than cultivate the need to remain well-loved by the public. There is another interpretation to this assertion: Arroyo is content with being unpopular as long as she remains in power. The opposition should not underestimate its major adversary.

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Election season begins
Chacha dance
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Bright versus Spice
Dovie Beams and Hello Garci

ARMM in the time of the Ampatuans

Failed mutiny draws mixed reactions, my article for Global Voices. After my two-day stay in North Cotabato, I’m now in Davao City. I miss the cold Manila weather. I miss my wife and anak.

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is a region of superlatives. It is the poorest region in the country with the most disappointing record in almost all human development indicators like education, health, housing, human rights, agrarian reform and peace and order.

The Moro people living in ARMM are also among the most discriminated and oppressed groups in Philippine society. They confront Christian chauvinism on one hand and feudal exploitation on the other hand. It is not surprising that local armed uprisings are present in ARMM.

ARMM is headed by Hon. Datu Zaldy Uy Ampatuan who belongs to the most powerful clan in the Moro land today. Last November 19, Ampatuan delivered his 3rd State of the Region Address or SORA. This is the local counterpart of the State of the Nation Address of the Philippine president.

Ampatuan’s SORA was not given prominent attention by the Manila press. But the SORA was of national importance since it gave an overview of the priority projects being undertaken by the national and local governments to uplift the welfare of the people in ARMM. The public deserves to know what the leaders of ARMM are doing (or not doing) to improve the conditions in the region.

Below are highlights of Ampatuan’s SORA which was hailed by Senator Chiz Escudero as more substantial than President Gloria Arroyo’s SONA.

Ampatuan began his report by mentioning the peace and order situation in the region. This was understandable since there are various organized armed groups and private armies of warlords operating in ARMM. In fact, the Manila government had been volunteering south Mindanao as the second front in the United States-led global war on terror.

Ampatuan noted the declining number of skirmishes between the military and other armed groups. There were 66 encounters in 2005, 28 last year and only 11 during the first half of 2007. Except for the famous encounters in Sulu and Basilan, ARMM seems to be “generally peaceful and orderly” these days.

The violent battles in Sulu and Basilan are already enough examples to contradict the statement of the governor. If they were minor incidents, why did the President launch a “humanitarian offensive”?

To bolster his assertion about the peaceful security situation in the region, Ampatuan credited the local police for bringing down the number of reported crime incidences from 854 in 2005 to only 338 during the first half of 2007. More than 18 conflicts involving prominent families had been settled already. Crime solution efficiency is 81 percent. If this is true, do you think PNP-ARMM should lead the investigations of the Glorietta blast and Batasan bombing?

Ampatuan also addressed the embarrassing issue involving the failure of past ARMM administrations of remitting the obligations of teachers and other ARMM employees to the Government Service Insurance System. Ampatuan reported the improvement in the fiscal situation of the regional government.

Agriculture production, especially rice and corn, increased last year. Agrarian reform communities were established with the help of foreign-funded agencies. The Halal industry is maturing. Fisheries and seaweeds production also registered growth. In fact, Ampatuan boasted that ARMM is the top fishery producer in the country.

Ampatuan reminded investors that ARMM offers the lowest minimum wage rate (P190 per day) in the country. Small and medium enterprises created 4,286 jobs. Business name registration flourished too. About 470 firms applied for business registration last November 2006 while 875 applied this year. Major exports included woodworks, garments, banana chips, cassava starch and cavendish banana

More than 428,000 hectares of land have been declared as “No illegal logging area.” But what about legal logging? Environmentalists should monitor the two mineral exploration applications in Tawi-Tawi which Ampatuan declared.

The ARMM governor gave specific updates on numerous projects. Local government units were praised for accomplishing notable programs the past year. Housing units are being constructed. Public information is on full swing through radio programs and website development.

Ampatuan recognized the efforts of the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency for assisting overseas-bound ARMM workers. The National Statistics Office has been providing efficient service to ARMM constituents. Madaris learning centers are complementing the programs of the Department of Education. TESDA was acknowledged for consistently giving English language training sessions in the region.

Ampatuan reported the implementation of the Department of Health’s Fomula One health program. Ambulance cars were donated to remote communities. The governor should rightly boast that about half a million children were given immunization, vitamin A, and deworming drugs. But why reveal that only 14,958 schoolchildren benefited from the food for school program of the Department of Social Work and Development?

Ampatuan claimed that ARMM is “moderately on track” in the achievement of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals by year 2015. The implied message is that ARMM can reduce the poverty rate in the region by half in the next eight years. Did the governor realize the implication of his statement?

Ampatuan’s SORA, hailed by the bright Senator Chiz, turned out to be an accomplishment report in behalf of funding agencies. Most of the projects enumerated by Ampatuan were partly or wholly funded by foreign agencies and governments. Ampatuan identified some of the generous donors:

“Muli lubos po tayong nagpapasalamat sa ating donor communities kagaya ng AUSAID-BEAM, ASFP-World Bank, UNICEF, JICA, JBIC, UNFPA, ADB, at ang ating mga NGO partners para sa kanilang walang sawang pagsuporta sa ating pagpapatupad sa mga programang pangkomunidad.”

Because of the extraordinary prevalence of poverty in ARMM, the region attracted the attention, resources and manpower of funding institutions and governments. ARMM seems dependent on foreign aid which could be detrimental to the region’s political and economic independence.

Ampatuan’s SORA mirrored President Arroyo’s SONA in terms of its uninspiring focus on empty statistics, one-sided presentation of ground reality, and unwillingness to pinpoint the failure of current policies.

Reading the text of Ampatuan’s SORA could create a false impression about the real situation of ARMM. Ampatuan failed to mention the extent of poverty or hunger in the Moro provinces. Ampatuan neglected to inform the public about the number of internal refugees and human rights violations in the region.

SORAs or SONAs should not just highlight the projects of incumbent politicians. They should attempt to present the basic problems confronting the community. Acceptable and unacceptable realities should be reported as well.

ARMM remains an impoverished region despite possessing abundant natural resources. Poverty cannot be eradicated unless leaders will admit the seriousness of the problem. Poverty will worsen if the roots of the problem are not addressed.

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On fishy waters

The need to cope with AIDS

I am in Cotabato City today. My batchmate Zaynab Ampatuan invited me to give a series of lectures on the youth situation.

Thank you Marlon for providing the data I used in this article.

"Every minute, a child under 15 dies of an AIDS-related illness. Every minute, another child becomes HIV-positive. Every minute, four young people between the ages of 15 and 24 contract HIV," says the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV damages the defense system of the body. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS is caused by infection with HIV. The infected person develops a number of serious illnesses which eventually leads to death.

Some people develop AIDS shortly after being infected with HIV. Some live with HIV for more than ten years before developing AIDS.

Last year, 4.3 million people around the world were infected with HIV, more than in any previous year. There seems to be a lack of progress in lowering the number of HIV cases.

The first reported HIV case in the Philippines was in 1984. Dolzura Cortez was the first prominent HIV-infected person in the country. After her life story was made into a film in 1992, more people living with AIDS came out into the open and revealed how they were struggling with the disease.

According to the National Epidemiology Center, there were 2,965 HIV Ab seropositive cases reported from January 1984 to September 2007. More than half of the cases were in the 25-39 years age group. Sixty-six percent were males. Sexual intercourse, mainly through heterosexual contact, remained the leading mode of transmission. About 307 have already died due to AIDS-related complications.

The average cumulative annual increase of cases is at 110. But since 2002, an average of 20 cases per month has been reported. This figure may be higher because many persons infected with AIDS are still undocumented or unwilling to report their condition.

According to a study conducted in 2004, the estimated number of people living with HIV in the country may reach 9,000. For every known HIV/AIDS case, there are three to four individuals who are unaware of their condition.

An area is recognized as high-risk to AIDS prevalence if it is a tourist area, highly urbanized, contains a high number of transit points and a high number of registered entertainment establishments. High risk groups include female sex workers, deep-sea fishermen, injecting drug users and overseas Filipino workers.

The high prevalence of sexually transmitted infections is another indicator of high-risk behavior. Young people are also vulnerable because of the high percentage of those engaging in unprotected sex. Condom use has been consistently low in the Philippines. It is also alarming that more than 60 percent of the youth believe there is no chance for them to contract HIV/AIDS and only half of them know the major methods of preventing transmission of HIV.

In 1998, the Philippines passed the AIDS Prevention and Control Act which laid the basis for a comprehensive national HIV/AIDS response. Some local governments also created Local AIDS Councils to strengthen advocacy for AIDS prevention and awareness campaign. There is a need for an independent assessment to validate if the mandates of the law are operational and if the local councils are functioning.

The Fourth AIDS Medium Term Plan (2005-2010) seeks to maintain HIV prevalence in the Philippines below one percent of the general population. Preventive interventions focus on education, condom promotion, STI management, voluntary counseling and testing, harm reduction and stigma reduction. Institutions are asked to integrate HIV/AIDS policies. Schools, work places, communities and mass media are tasked to take the lead in offering programs and services to help reduce AIDS incidences.

Support, treatment and care for those infected with AIDS involve clinical care, home care, palliative care, ante-natal and community support. There should be an increase in the percentage of people with advanced HIV infection receiving anti-retroviral combination therapy.

The government should target more schools with education on HIV/AIDS integrated into the curriculum. The country’s 30 largest companies, 100 medium and 100 small-scale enterprises should have HIV/AIDS education programs. Government spending on health facilities should be increased.

Last June, the government health department included call center workers as among those vulnerable to HIV infection. Public officials, employers and the workers themselves should be aware that risky behavior in call center establishments, like taking drugs to remain awake during the nightshift and unsafe sexual practices, may lead to HIV infection. Preventive education and counseling programs are needed in call center companies.

Stakeholders should exert the best efforts to prevent discrimination against people infected with HIV/AIDS. Positive attitudes should be harnessed in the community to facilitate the integration of AIDS victims. Leadership is important to prevent a rise in the number of AIDS cases and foster respect for the human rights of all HIV-infected persons.

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Sex and youth
Usapang gatas