Monthly Archives: July 2008

Don’t kill the bill; remember the Rizal Bill

Links: Laos as a country of eco-tourism. Funny tips on how to survive the rising cost of living in Indonesia. A Brunei student in London. The first Brunei Climbathon.

My advice to the supporters of the Reproductive Health bill: Ignore the opposition of the Catholic Church. Concentrate on educating the people.

Politicians should disregard the threat of bishops that they will campaign against lawmakers who will support the controversial legislative measure. Rep. Edcel Lagman, the principal author of the “abortion bill”, managed to win in the last elections despite the aggressive campaign conducted by Catholic groups against his candidacy. Gabriela partylist, an advocate of the divorce bill, has two representatives in Congress. President Fidel Ramos finished his term despite endorsing the artificial family program. The Catholic Church wields a big influence on Philippine politics; but this should not be exaggerated.

Catholic Bishops often use public opinion polls to highlight the worsening poverty and hunger in the country. The same opinion polls show that majority of the people are in favor of using contraceptives. Politicians and bishops should respect the choice of couples.

The Catholic Church is not infallible. Remember its opposition to the passage of the Rizal Bill fifty years ago? If the church succeeded during that time, Jose Rizal’s novels would not have been included as required reading materials in colleges and universities.

Historians Renato and Letizia Constantino wrote briefly about the church’s campaign to defeat the Rizal bill in their seminal book, The Continuing Past. Here is a summary:

Senator Claro M. Recto wanted to include Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo in the reading list of college students in 1956. The Catholic Church opposed the proposal claiming it would violate freedom of conscience and religion. They said the “novels belong to the past and it would be harmful to read them because they present a false picture of conditions in the country.” A priest, who was introduced in the senate committee hearing as an authority on Rizal, added that the Noli was not a patriotic book since it only contained 25 patriotic passages as opposed to 120 anti-Catholic statements. A Catholic senator argued that he cannot allow his son to read Rizal’s novels for fear that the boy will lose his faith.

The Catholic Church issued a pastoral statement condemning the bill. Priests actively lobbied in the senate to defeat the measure. Bishops warned that pro-Rizal bill politicians would lose in the next elections. Catholic schools vowed to stop operations once the bill is passed. Recto replied by calling for the nationalization of all schools. He described bishops as “modern-day Torquemadas.” He also criticized the interference of the church on state affairs.

The controversy was resolved when the senate accommodated the objections of the Catholic Church. Students can opt not to read the unexpurgated editions of the novels on grounds of religious belief. (Have you heard of anyone who was allowed not to read the unexpurgated text of Rizal’s novels? Is there a Catholic-endorsed footnoted edition of the novels?)

Today students of Catholic schools are reading the unexpurgated editions of the two novels of Rizal. All students are required to study the life and writings of Rizal. A student today will be surprised to learn that just five decades ago the Catholic Church was telling the people not to read the novels of the national hero.

Catholic universities are now the proud defenders of Rizal’s legacy. Catholic priests often cite Rizal and his books to justify their plea for reforms in society.

The Catholic Church which opposed the teaching of Rizal’s novels is the same institution opposing the Reproductive Health bill. The church was wrong when it opposed the Rizal Bill fifty years ago. The church is wrong for opposing the Reproductive Health bill today.

Recto’s motive when he filed the Rizal Bill was not to attack the clergy. He only wanted the students to read the two great novels of the national hero. Through the novels, students would appreciate not only the literary prowess of Rizal but also his political philosophy. The Reproductive Health bill does not endorse abortion. It wants to prevent abortion by promoting child health, maternal care, male involvement in reproductive health, adolescent health, among others.

Lawmakers should ignore the loud objections of the bishops; they should immediately pass the Reproductive Health bill. Even President Arroyo, who once admitted of using contraceptives when she was a young wife, should muster intellectual courage and honesty to confront the irrational opposition of the Catholic Church. History will absolve them. Recto is still recognized by the youth as an outstanding nationalist leader of the country. Do you still remember the bishops and senators who opposed the Rizal Bill?

Fifty years from now, few Filipinos will remember that the Catholic Church once opposed the reproductive health bill, divorce and gay marriages in the country.

Related entries:

Unholy war
Women and Congress
Population debate
Rizal bill

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Legalizing organ trade in Singapore

Links: 100th year of “Kebangkitan Nasional” in Indonesia. Fuel protests in Jakarta. Vesak Day in Buddhist countries. Island dispute between Malaysia and Singapore.

New pictures in my webshots album. I wrote this policy briefer for the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development a few months ago: Economic Sabotage – The extent and impact of smuggling in the Philippines

There is a raging debate in Singapore today: Should the government legalize the organ trade? Should Singapore endorse transplant tourism? The debate began last month when two young Indonesians were jailed for trying to sell their kidneys to a wealthy businessman in Singapore. The Human Organ Transplant Act of Singapore prohibits the supply of any organ or blood for monetary transaction.

Singapore is fifth highest in the world in terms of incidence of kidney failure. According to a news report, at least 3,500 people in Singapore have kidney failure; 600 are on transplant lists. But they have to wait up to nine years for an organ from a deceased donor. This explains why many Singaporeans are seeking kidney transplants in other countries.

The people are divided on the issue of buying and selling organs. Some are in favor of it in order to save lives. Others oppose it because it involves the exploitation of the poor. The Singapore Medical Association, to the surprise of some doctors, voted against the legalization of the organ trade. The group cited the short-term and long-term medical complications arising from kidney transplants.

As expected, Catholic groups are criticizing the organ trade. They ask: “A donated organ can save a life but at whose expense? Will the organ trade lead to an economic allocation of resources where only those who can pay will stand a better chance of survival in receiving an organ transplant? Will an organ be treated like a commodity?”

One Catholic blogger wrote that the organ trade reflects the widespread commercialization in society and insisted that the relationship between the organ donor and the recipient has no altruistic meaning, but is purely a commercial transaction.

But lawyers Jennifer Yeo and Madan Mohan support the organ trade on the grounds that it can help both the poor and the kidney patient. They wrote:

“Is it fair to criminalize such social relationships where no third party is harmed? When a social relationship is forged which gives a new lease of life to both the stakeholders, then law ought not to step in to criminalize and punish such relationships.

“Organ donation, even if it involves valuable consideration, may make life better for both parties who find no way out of problems of health or poverty. If the state – and the altruists – cannot help the poor in overcoming their problems, it ought not to raise more barriers for them.”

The government of Singapore seems to be in favor of a limited organ trade. The minister of health recently hinted that a certain procedure allowing trade in organs will be tested soon. Singapore is reviewing the practice in Spain and Norway, which allow the use of cadaveric kidneys from persons above 60 years old. Singapore does not accept kidney donations from the elderly.

Iran is often mentioned in the organ trade debate because it is the only country in the world which has legalized the selling of kidneys since 1997. (Iranians call it “organ sharing.”) By 2006, more than 16,000 Iranians had sold a kidney. Singapore officials are now studying the Iranian model.

A live-donor registry is also being proposed in Singapore, which would facilitate the matching of donors to patients. It would also be used to monitor the health and financial conditions of donors after organ transplants. Charity groups would be tapped as well to help in the post-transplant needs of donors and their families.

The proposed live-donor registry, aside from being the first of its kind in the world, would address the common problems encountered by organ donors after transplants. A study published on the World Health Organization Web site enumerates some of these problems: In Egypt, 78 percent of donors reported deterioration in their health status; 78 percent spent the money within five months of their donation; and 73 percent reported a weakened ability to perform labor-intensive jobs. In Iran, 60 percent reported negative effects on their physical activities; and 65 percent reported negative effects on their employment status. Singapore policymakers should be guided by the disturbing results of this study.

The organ trade debate in Singapore is interesting and essential because the issue is being discussed from the point of view of an organ-importing country. In other countries like India and the Philippines, the organ trade issue is often linked to the issue of poverty. Discussions are focused on how to stop rich patients, especially foreigners, from exploiting the poor in these countries.

Singapore can discuss the issue dispassionately. It can take the lead in setting the legal, medical and ethical framework for an organ trade that respects the rights of both the organ donors and recipients. It can set an example by delineating the role of the state in ensuring that a fair, safe and rational system of organ transactions is in place.

Singapore should also not forget that the bigger issue today is not the organ trade but holistic medical care given to the poor. Prevention of kidney failure and other chronic illnesses should be a higher priority. Singapore should re-examine its healthcare budget and investigate if proper medical attention is being given to its citizens, especially the poor. As much as possible, organ transplants should be discouraged. They should be the final option for those who are sick.

Related entries:

Filipino kidneys for sale
Fastfood and Heart Center

ARMM and poll automation

Links: Modern architecture in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Save Malacca Straits Project. Singapore freeze. Private and public schools in Brunei.

Yehey photos, and look for me.

President Gloria Arroyo supports the proposal to postpone the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. This is a cue for administration lawmakers to immediately pass a law that would postpone the polls once Congress reopens on Monday. This is possible. Last year the first act of Congress was to postpone the barangay and SK elections.

If the ARMM polls are to be postponed, the poll automation program of the Commission on Elections will not be pilot tested on a bigger geographical/regional setting. The Comelec and election reform advocates are hoping that the lessons culled from using the new voting and counting machines in the ARMM polls will be used to prepare for the very important 2010 national elections. I fear that the delay in the ARMM polls will be cited by traditional politicians and political dynasties to call for the cancellation of the poll automation in 2010.

If there is a common thread in the brief (or long) history of poll automation in the country, it is the unbelievable, almost silly, series of flip-flops in implementing the election modernization law. Politicians were able to concoct numerous arguments in order to derail poll automation which justified the continued use of the fraud-prone manual system of voting.

History of (non) automation

Below is a timeline of the campaign to automate Philippine elections:

1995 – Republic Act 8046 authorizes pilot testing of a Computerized Election System in the ARMM.

1996 – Pilot test succeeds. Many have already forgotten this successful pilot testing of a computerized system of elections in the country.

1997 – Republic Act 8436 authorizes use of an Automated Election System beginning with the 1998 elections. However, the law was passed on December 1997. The Comelec claimed it was too late to prepare for the May 1998 polls.

1998 – Due to lack of time, only the elections in Lanao Del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi were automated. The results were successful in all provinces except Sulu. There was a slight problem with the voting ballots (not voting machines) in Sulu. The Sulu fiasco convinced many people about the many flaws of an automated system of elections.

2001 – Automation project stalled due to repeated failed biddings. And of course, the convenient excuse: lack of time to prepare for the 2001 midterm polls. Should we blame the Edsa Dos?

2004 – Automation project stalled due to the Supreme Court decision (January 2004) which annulled the contract with suppliers. More than 1,000 voting machines were shelved. Remember the late night news report which showed the gloomy face of then Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos after he met with the president in Malacanang Palace? According to news reports, he was ready to resign as Comelec head due to the failed automation project but he was persuaded to remain in the poll body.

2005 – The SC denied the request of Comelec to operate the unused voting machines in the 2005 ARMM elections.

2006 – No budget for automation project because of a re-enacted national budget.

2007 – Still no budget for automation. RA 9369 amends RA 8436 and allows the use of several voting technologies. But Comelec’s Advisory Council advised against implementation of the RA 9369 in the May 2007 polls, citing lack of time. The new law was not implemented in the barangay elections since no consolidation of election results was required. Comelec also said hand counting is faster due to small size of voters in the barangay polls.

ARMM elections

The 2008 ARMM elections is the best time to test the Comelec’s new voting and counting machines. Comelec will gain valuable experience or expertise in operating the machines. A successful automated ARMM election will prove to everyone the necessity of automating the 2010 presidential elections.

Two voting technologies will be used in next month’s ARMM elections – Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) in Maguindanao, and Optical Mark Reader (OMR) in Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi. More than 3,000 DRE machines and 156 OMR counting machines will be delivered to ARMM.

According to Comelec, “DRE uses electronic ballot, records votes by means of a ballot display provided with mechanical or electro optical components that can be activated by the voter, processes data by means of a computer program, records voting data and ballot images, and transmits voting results electronically.”

I think the DRE system is more reliable than OMR which still uses paper ballots. But DRE is more expensive which explains why it will be deployed only in Maguindanao. On the other hand, the OMR process has lower requirements in hardware.

The Comelec expects to proclaim a new set of ARMM officers in 36 hours after the closing of voting centers.

Comelec admits that poll automation will not end electoral cheating in the country. The OMR system will prevent vote padding but vote shaving is possible (Walang dagdag, pero mayroong bawas). Filipino politicians are creative; they will find evil but clever ways to tamper the results of the automated elections. But this is not an argument to abandon the poll automation program. It is a challenge to everyone to be more vigilant in safeguarding the sanctity of the voting process.

Congress should think twice before postponing the ARMM polls. If the postponement of elections is really crucial for the peace talks, then Comelec must be ready to pilot test the voting machines this year. A special election, a plebiscite, a snap election should be held in lieu of the ARMM polls. A presidential snap election?

Related entries:

ARMM situationer
2007 election events
All power to the barangays

Sex, lies, murder and Malaysian politics

Links: Brunei’s half-day energy conservation marathon. Military torture in Malaysia. Feather-boa bicycle bandits in Vietnam. The official mouthpiece of Myanmar’s junta.

Thanks Erwin of Inquirer for writing about the poll automation briefing event last Saturday.

Malaysian politics are sizzling with sex intrigues, murder accusations, scandalous lies and intra-party squabbles.

A few months ago a government minister resigned after admitting he was the person caught in a videotape having sex with a young woman in a hotel. The video was uploaded on the Internet.

Early this month opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was accused of sodomy by his 23-year-old aide. Sodomy is a crime in Malaysia, punishable by 20 years of imprisonment. The victim alleged he was sexually assaulted by Anwar up to eight times in various luxury hotels in Paris and Hong Kong. This is the second time the former deputy premier was accused of sodomy. The first case was filed ten years ago and led to Anwar’s imprisonment – although he was later cleared of those charges.

But Anwar has a bombshell of his own. He organized a press conference at which a private investigator revealed that Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak had sex with a 28-year-old Mongolian model who was brutally murdered in 2006. The model was shot twice in the head and her body was blown up with plastic explosives. Najib denied having an affair with the woman.

Najib’s close associate was accused of abetting the murder. A prominent Malaysian blogger also wrote that Najib’s wife was present when the Mongolian model was murdered. The blogger was subsequently charged with sedition and criminal defamation.

Who is telling the truth? It is definite that at least one of these persons is lying. It is also apparent that all of these accusations and counter accusations are politically motivated. Najib insists Anwar used a desperate tactic to divert the people’s attention from his sodomy case. On his part, Anwar believes the sodomy charge was part of a government maneuver to defeat the plan of the opposition to seize power this year.

Before the sex scandals, Malaysia was already facing a political crisis. Last March the opposition managed to secure one-third of the parliamentary seats. Five states were put under their control. Some member parties of the ruling coalition threatened to withdraw support for the prime minister.

Adding to the problem of the government is the resignation of former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad from the political party to which he belonged. He urged other politicians to leave the ruling party as well. It is no secret that Mahathir is not happy with the performance of his handpicked successor, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi.

Mahathir wrote in his blog that he has every right to be concerned over the “flip-flopping mismanagement” of the country and that of the party he helped to revive in 1987. “The party does not belong to Dato Seri Abdullah alone. Nor is it meant to support him as leader even when he mishandled the elections and the country,” he added.

Before the sex scandals, Malaysians were talking about the country’s faltering economy. Fuel subsidies were removed, which led to higher oil prices. Big protests were held in different parts of the country. Many people, including the frustrated sections of the middle class, began to question the economic policies of the government which they blamed for the rising cost of living in Malaysia.

Today Malaysians are more interested in the sodomy case and other sex scandals involving influential persons. The economic crisis is still a major issue, but sex and murder will always tickle the people’s imagination.

The opposition should not be distracted by the sex scandals. Analysts believe the opposition can form a new government with the help of some administration defectors. This could be done in the next few months, but the pressure against the ruling government must be sustained.

One way to weaken the already weak government would be to mobilize the people against high oil prices, inflation, the deteriorating economy and corruption. Young Malaysians are furious over the shameful acts of their leaders. The people should be made to remember why they voted for many members of the opposition in the last elections. In short, the issue should be refocused on the unpopular prime minister.

Abdullah Badawi had earlier promised to step down at the end of the year. Now he is saying he will leave office in 2010. It seems the ruling party has succeeded in preventing a possible opposition takeover this year.

It is good that Anwar is asking his supporters to “protest by all means," and to use stadiums and other public spaces as venues of protest actions. But the issue should be more than just the sex lives of politicians. It should still be about the economy and more importantly, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi.

Related entries:

Malaysia and fuel protests
Sex and youth
Chacha and political crisis

Unholy war vs. abortionists

Links: Cambodia’s new banknote. The Sabah Fest Cultural Show. Yahoo360 is very popular in Vietnam. Cluster bombs in the fields of Laos.

Thank you James for organizing a special briefing on poll automation. Thank you to all the bloggers who attended the event, especially to the students of UP Manila and De La Salle-Dasmariñas. Will write about the event this week.

Was the Catholic Church provoked when it threatened to withhold the giving of communion to politicians supporting the reproductive health bill? I think so.

Normally the church is satisfied in expressing its vehement opposition to the reproductive health bill through press statements and subtle threats directed to politicians. And the Catholic bishops have a direct line to Malacañang. They could easily nudge the devout Catholic and pragmatic president to kill the bill.

But why the sudden severe gesture of withholding communion to reproductive health advocates?
Perhaps the bishops realized that public opinion seems to be in favor of the bill. They panicked when they saw the handwritings on the wall. Bishops are not just bible readers and PAGCOR cash recipients; they are also newspaper readers. They might have read the news story about the priest who received an unusual mass offering: a dead fetus inside a bottle. Maybe this “message in a bottle” was interpreted by the bishops as an act of provocation initiated by diehard reproductive health adherents. And so the bishops replied with their own act of hostility. A message was sent: The bishops will not easily give up the holy war against the “conceptual abortionists.”

There were other instances which could have persuaded the bishops to rethink their political strategy. The dead fetus incident may have jolted the bishops into action but the throwing of a dead baby in a building, the long lines in front of NFA rice stores, and the early campaigning of presidentiables may have convinced church leaders about the need for drastic and early intervention to prevent Congress from approving the reproductive health bill.

How is the food crisis related to the population issue? Rising food prices has forced the government in recent months to review its agricultural policies. At the same time, politicians and several scholars have also raised the issue of overpopulation. They claimed that a high population growth rate worsens hunger and poverty in the country. The long lines in front of NFA rice stores throughout the country highlight the large number of people dependent on subsidized rice. Maybe the bishops realized their enemies might use the daily spectacle in front of NFA stores to explain the difficulty of feeding more than 90 million people. Maybe they sensed that if Congress passed the reproductive health bill, the Catholic faithful, even the hungry poor, will have no qualms in using artificial contraceptive methods. They have to act decisively.

The church is an influential endorser during elections. Politicians are always eager to get the support of Catholic bishops. The church directive to deny communion to select politicians can be construed as an election-related action. Maybe the bishops did not expect that presidential candidates will campaign this early. They were frustrated that the TV ads and media statements of prospective candidates contain no reference to the reproductive health position of the church. Maybe the real intent of the bishops is to compel candidates and political parties to include the population program of the church in their electoral agenda. The church is sending a warning to candidates: “Do not endorse the abortion bill or else you will lose in the elections.” At this early, the church wants to define the issues to be tackled in the 2010 elections.

To block the passage of a legislative measure, the most effective tactic is to secure the vote of the person who controls Congress: President Gloria Arroyo. The church used a very clever and cunning ploy to get the support of the president. A few months ago, Archbishop Oscar Cruz urged the priests not to give communion to public sinners. Many people believe he was referring to Arroyo as one of the public sinners. The controversy has died down, but the threat remains. Now the church wants to deny communion to “abortionists.” If the president supports the reproductive health bill, the bishops can quickly summon the faithful to excommunicate abortionists and public sinners. The president got the message. She has recently endorsed the position of the church on reproductive health. The bishops’ “divine intervention” has worked.

The doctrine of the separation of Church and State is enshrined in the Philippine Constitution. Politicians and commentators are using this argument to oppose the unnecessary meddling of some bishops in the work of Congress. But the church has every right to speak on political, social, and economic issues. It has an obligation to guide the faithful in fighting the evils in society. What we should resist are the extremist, dogmatic and anti-women doctrines of the church. Accusing reproductive health supporters as abortionists is harsh and unfair. It reflects the “terrorist” mindset of some members of the clergy. The church should struggle to become a progressive, not reactionary and conservative force in society.

Most likely the church will succeed in preventing the enactment of a reproductive health bill. Church leaders and their supporters will declare a victory of good versus evil, of life over death. But it’s a sad victory. It is the women and children who will suffer most if a comprehensive reproductive health program is not implemented. Reproductive rights are human rights. The life of the unborn is as sacred as the lives of the living.

Related entries:

Population debate
Religion and politics
Church and economic doctrines

Typhoon 101

Links: Medical education in Brunei. Political blogging in Cambodia. Tag clouds wordle: mongster.

A Nagueno in Blogosphere is correct. The website Typhoon2000.com is very useful and informative.

PAGASA’s weather forecasts are reliable most of the time. But local officials and ordinary citizens who want to validate PAGASA’s weather reports may visit the website Typhoon2000.com.

The website offers useful resources on disaster preparation, history of strong typhoon occurrences in the country, and various scientific data on tropical cyclones.
The website features regular weather updates which can guide local leaders to prepare early and effectively when a storm is about to hit their towns. Satellite images of tropical cyclones are uploaded. Illustrative charts and graphs show the size of typhoons.

Easy-to-follow instructions are given to help track the directions of tropical cyclones. Through the use of a simple online tool, local leaders can determine whether a storm will move towards their area of responsibility. The people can be advised early to prepare for the coming storm. This will minimize the typhoon casualties.

Definitions

Chris Landsea provides the technical definition of the following:

A tropical cyclone is the "generic term for a non-frontal synoptic scale low-pressure system over tropical or sub-tropical waters with thunderstorm activity and definite cyclonic surface wind circulation."

Tropical cyclones with maximum sustained surface winds of less than 39 mph are called tropical depressions. Once the tropical cyclone reaches winds of at least 39 mph they are called a tropical storm. A name is assigned for the tropical storm. If winds reach 74 mph, then they are called typhoon.

Storm signals

PAGASA uses the following guidelines for Philippine storm signals:

Signal 1 – Winds of 30-60 kilometers per hour (kph) may be expected in at least 36 hours or intermittent rains may be expected within 36 hours.

Signal 2 – Winds of greater than 60 kph and up to 100 kph may be expected in at least 24 hours.

Signal 3 – Winds greater than 100 kph up to 185 kph may be expected in at least 18 hours.

Signal 4 – Very strong winds of more than 185 kph may be expected in at least 12 hours.

During storm signal 1, rice crop may suffer significant damage when it is in its flowering stage. The people are advised to listen to the latest severe weather bulletin issued by PAGASA every six hours.

During storm signal 2, some old galvanized iron roofings may be destroyed. The coastal waters are dangerous to small boats. Children are advised to postpone their outdoor activities.

During storm signal 3, there may be widespread disruption of electrical power and communication services. The sea will be very dangerous to all types of seacrafts.

During storm signal 4, most residential and institutional buildings may be severely damaged. All travels and outdoor activities should be canceled.

Watch out for the eye of storm during storm signals 3 and 4. The passage of the eye of the typhoon is indicated "by a sudden occurrence of fair weather immediately after very bad weather." Many people have mistaken this brief calm period as a sign that the storm has quieted down. PAGASA warns that 1-2 hours after the passage of the eye, the worst weather will resume with very strong winds.

Worst disasters

Dominic Alojado and David Michael V. Padua have compiled a list of the strongest and deadliest typhoon disasters in the country. Their report should be read by local and national leaders so that the latter will appreciate the importance of efficient disaster preparation programs. So many lives were lost due to slow relief and rescue efforts every time a natural disaster hits the country.

The year 1970 was memorable not only because of successive and massive student demonstration during the first quarter of the year which came to be known as the First Quarter Storm. With only a few days and weeks as interval, three super typhoons wrought havoc in many populated areas of the country during the third quarter of the year. Super Typhoon Sening was the most popular in this "triplet" super typhoon.

1993 was also memorable since 32 typhoons hit the country on that year alone. Typhoon Kadiang was famous because it unleashed the lahar and other volcanic debris from Mt. Pinatubo. The lahar mudflows buried several towns in Pampanga.

Tropical Storm Uring was the deadliest natural disaster of the country. More than five thousand people died on November 1991 when the storm struck the Visayas regions. A billion pesos worth of properties were destroyed. Tropical Storm Uring triggered the Ormoc flashfloods in Leyte. There were many dead bodies in Ormoc which caused a shortage of coffins in the city.

The country’s most powerful typhoon in history occurred only two years ago. Super Typhoon Reming hit north Visayas and the Bicol region with winds of 320 kph. The super typhoon devastated Legazpi City and Albay province. Legazpi was submerged for many days. Volcanic debris from Mt. Mayon buried thousands of houses. More than one thousand people perished. (Remember the Albay lawmakers who stayed in Manila to push for a Charter Change despite the terrible damage inflicted by Reming in the Bicol region?)

Super Typhoon Ruping is considered the country’s most devastating typhoon which left more damage than any other typhoon had done. On November 1990 Ruping battered the whole Mindanao, Visayas, Central Luzon, Metro Manila, Bicol and Southern Tagalog regions. The super typhoon affected more than one million families or at least five million persons. Ruping destroyed ten billion pesos worth of properties.

Related entries:

Storm Milenyo
Refugee nation
Disaster preparation
Guimaras oil spill

125 pa rin!

Links: Brunei’s blog of the year. Cat welfare society in Singapore. Different types of lecturers in Malaysian schools.

Bloggers Kapihan event: Wanna try the new voting machines of Comelec? Then join the bloggers’ briefing on poll automation, July 19, Saturday, 1pm at the Comelec office in Intramuros.

Workers are still demanding a P125 legislated across the board wage increase. Someone asked, “Why P125? Why not higher or lower than P125? What is the basis of P125?”

Flashback to 2001. A student leader asked similar questions to an Ibon Foundation researcher. The reply of the Ibon researcher was simple: “There is no statistical basis for the P125 wage hike petition. The P125 demand has become a political battlecry of workers.”

The student leaders were astounded. They wanted a scientific explanation behind the P125 wage campaign. They asked for inflation rates, purchasing power of the peso, price comparison of basic commodities. But the Ibon researcher, who can easily cite the requested figures, was very firm in arguing that the right of workers for higher wages is ultimately a political struggle. The wage hike campaign reflects the class struggle in society. Who should prevail in the appropriation of profit: workers or capitalists? It is the competing political and social forces which decide the distribution of wealth in society.

Therefore, support for the P125 campaign is not just a gesture of compassion to the exploited worker whose minimum wage is not enough to survive today but also an affirmation of the right of workers to receive a “larger slice in the economic pie” of society.

A short history of the P125 campaign: It was August 1999, during the Estrada presidency, when workers first shouted the demand for a P125 wage increase. Alex of Bulatlat writes:

“Back then, the average family living wage for a family of six was P379.51 a day on a national average, based on data from the National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC). In contrast, the daily minimum wage stood at a national average of P193.67. A P125 wage increase at that time would have brought the national average minimum wage to P318.67 or P60.84 short of the national average family living wage that year.”

Today the minimum wage is P382 and the daily cost of living is almost P900. Even if the P125 wage hike is granted, the minimum wage is still not enough to pay for the daily expenses of workers. But workers are not greedy; they only want a P125 salary increase.

The Kilusang Mayo Uno has been successful in articulating a P125 wage hike demand. Everytime the issue of a wage hike is raised in the public, many are already associating it to the P125 wage hike demand of the militant labor center in the country.

The P125 campaign should be more than just bridging the gap between minimum wage and daily cost of living. It involves the need to radicalize the thinking of the people about the right of workers to earn more from their hardwork.

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Impressions to the P125 wage hike campaign in 1999: Big protest actions of labor unions. Estrada, who ridiculed these rallies, was called a “rambotete” by Joma Sison. Saksi (?) was broadcasted live in front of the protesting workers in Mendiola. Mike Enriquez was there. We sang the International – my first time to sing it in a rally. Teddy Casino became the spokesman of Bayan. Before Edsa Dos, Nat Santiago was the more popular mass leader of Bayan.

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Back to the demand of the students for equation, formula, scientific basis. It reminds me of a character in Charles Dicken’s novel, Hard Times. Thomas Gradgrind is

“A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations. A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over, and who is not to be talked into allowing for anything over.”

And his principle in teaching:

“Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them…In this life, we want nothing but Facts, Sir; nothing but Facts!”

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A worker shared this story: A police patrol saw some activists spray-painting a public wall with P125 wage hike slogans. Instead of arresting the activists, the policemen said some encouraging words about the justness of a wage hike.

A noise barrage was held last week in different parts of Metro Manila. In our area, police officers, security guards and traffic enforcers did not bother to prevent our protest action.

President Gloria Arroyo wants the police and military to monitor closely the peace and order situation especially in light of worsening hunger and energy crisis in the country. She should monitor a possible unrest in the ranks of the police and military. Soldiers and police also have families who are complaining about the rising cost of living.

Monitor the peace and order situation? It’s too late. A people’s war is raging in the countryside. Forget food riots.

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I learned some new acronyms. UL means Union Leave. GMA is General Membership Assembly. And GMAs are not held during payday. Why? Because during payday, workers usually hurry out of factories after work to buy the cheapest goods in the wet and dry market. And they have to queue in front of NFA rice stores.

CBA stands for Collective Bargaining Agreement. Then what is IBA? Individual Bargaining Agreement. Sadly, in many countries, IBA is quickly being adopted. The individual worker is left alone to defend and promote his/her rights.

A unique rally was held today. No chanting. No shouting. Just a solemn march of workers from Espana to Plaza Miranda in Manila. Written on a large streamer: Dahan-dahan kaming pinapatay ni Gloria sa kagutuman at kahirapan. Indeed, low wages, rising prices of goods and here comes IBA. Solve poverty by killing the workers? Hard times, harsh times. Revolution!

Related entries:

Rice revolution
Ibang rali ito
Mao as educator
Labor education

Solidarity needed in Southeast Asia

Links: Top 6 blogs of Brunei. Indonesians in West Java are flocking to the malls to pray. An NGO workers describes a slum area in Cambodia. Thailand no longer using the telegraph service.

Partly provoked by Slavoj Zizek’s bold assertion: "It is a unified Europe, not Third World resistance to American imperialism, that is the only feasible counterpoint to the USA and China as the two global superpowers. The Left should unashamedly appropriate the slogan of a unified Europe as a counterwight to Americaned globalism." What do you think?

Regional kinship in Southeast Asia is weak or nonexistent. We perceive ourselves as Asians in general; but not residents of the Southeast Asian region. There is little interaction among people in the region. Economic cooperation is minimal. Political events in one country hardly make an impact on the politics of a neighboring country.

Filipinos are so busy being Filipinos that they have forgotten their shared heritage with the rest of the people in Southeast Asia. The same can be said of other nationalities in the region. But nationalism is not the only reason why regional affinity is practically absent in Southeast Asia.

The colonial experience of countries in the region is partly to blame for the problem. Foreign occupation interrupted the long and productive relations of small and big kingdoms in the region. Centuries of Western domination have blurred this important historical period.

There was an opportunity to promote regional solidarity through the various national struggles for independence in the last century. But this was never achieved. Intellectuals and revolutionary leaders like Jose Rizal and Ho Chi Minh were able to inspire many people in the region. But in the end, each country was left to fight for its own interests. In short, Southeast Asians could not invoke a single memorable event when people in the region fought together against a common enemy.

The formation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations was significant in some ways; but ASEAN remains an impotent political body. It is a regional grouping whose constituents do not appreciate its objectives. ASEAN is merely a joint venture between governments and its programs rarely involve the participation of the people.

Disunity in Southeast Asia is also indicated by the lack of interest among its people to know more about the social conditions and cultures of their neighbors. Southeast Asians are more knowledgeable about the lives of Americans or Europeans than about the people in their own region. The effect is the inability of the people to empathize with the problems of Southeast Asian countries. Clueless to the situations of their neighbors, even governments fail to determine the right time to act in assisting countries which need help.

For example, the rising prices of rice, food and petroleum products could have had less negative impact in Southeast Asia if there was genuine regional cooperation.

Thailand is the world’s largest exporter of rice. Vietnam and Cambodia are also producing rice in large quantities. But their neighbor, the Philippines, is the biggest rice importer in the world. Singapore and Brunei are also rice importers. If from the very beginning there was a regional initiative to assure rice supplies in Southeast Asia, price speculation in the market would have been minimized. But rice producing countries have inflamed public panic by restricting rice exports even within the region.

Oil prices continue to climb higher, hurting the economies of many developing countries. Instead of sharing energy sources, Southeast Asian countries are closing the doors on their neighbors. Brunei wants to limit the number of cars from Malaysia which can pump gas from the tiny but oil-rich nation. For its part, Malaysia also wants fewer Singapore cars queuing at its gas stations.

There is no regional effort to develop new gas and oil fields. Alternative energy has a lot of potential in the region. Geothermal power can be harnessed in Indonesia and the Philippines. Thailand has numerous projects which aim to tap solar power. If ASEAN were truly about cooperation, it could start discussions on how to stabilize energy supplies in the region.

Rescue efforts spearheaded by ASEAN in the aftermath of the cyclone disaster in Myanmar in May were disorganized, negligible and very late. The slow response of governments and civic organizations was further proof of the lack of unity in the region and the failure of the people of Southeast Asia to imagine themselves as belonging to one regional community.

Perhaps the best example of the deep division in the region is the ongoing campaign of Malaysia to evict more than 300,000 illegal immigrants on the island of Borneo. Most of these workers come from the Philippines and Indonesia. The crackdown has been violent in the past. During times of economic crisis, the migrants are blamed for crimes, lack of jobs and worsening poverty in Malaysia. It is peculiar that within Southeast Asia, a racial campaign to drive out illegal migrants is taking place. This usually happens in Europe.

Rich countries like the United States have been exploiting the lack of unity in the region to further their political and economic agenda. For example the Philippines, which once hosted the biggest U.S. military bases, was used as a launching pad by the Americans to attack Vietnam and many parts of Indochina four decades ago.

Emerging superpower China taunts ASEAN by maintaining close relations with the ruling junta of Myanmar. China is almost succeeding in its bid to claim ownership of the Spratly Islands since ASEAN countries are not united on the issue.

One way to counteract the hegemony of the United States, China or any other superpower in the region is to build a unified Southeast Asia. A unified Southeast Asia could also match the economic and political clout of bigger and richer countries in Asia like China, Japan and South Korea.

ASEAN has to be overhauled. Malaysians, Filipinos, Indonesians and the rest of the people of Southeast Asia should also learn to identify themselves as Southeast Asians.

Failure to embark on this modernizing project will not only allow rich countries to retain their influence in the region, it will also give incentive to extremist groups who are already successful in ignoring national boundaries in order to recruit more members and launch terror attacks in the region.

Related entries:

Myanmar and relief invasion
ASEAN human rights
ASEAN summit

Trahedya

Links: Top 100 blogs of Thailand. Rats in the Singapore Philatelic Museaum. Inacraft 2008 in Indonesia. Funny street signs in Cambodia.

Sinulat para sa Tinig, Pebrero 2006.

Mahalaga ang tanong ni Kelvin Rodolfo sa aklat niyang “The Politics of Lahar”. Ang bulkang Pinatubo ba ay hinayaang tumubo (allowed to grow) o sadyang tumubo (made to grow)? Ilang beses na kasing inulat ng mga Ayta ang kakaibang napapansin nila sa bundok mula nang lumindol noong 1990 at sinimulan ang isang geothermal drilling sa Pinatubo pero hindi pa rin kinilala ang panganib na maaring nitong likhain.

Sumabog ang Pinatubo, bumulwak ang lahar at naging disyerto ang maraming bayan sa Gitnang Luzon. Magiging malaki pa rin kaya ang pinsala kung maagang pinansin ang mga indikasyong malapit nang sumabog ang Pinatubo?

Ngayon ay nagigimbal tayo sa trahedyang sinapit ng mga kababayan natin sa Leyte.

Sabi ng mga environmentalist, maiiwasan sana ang maraming bilang ng mga nasawi kung may plano ang pamahalaan noon kung paano paghahandaan ang pagguho ng lupa sa St. Bernard dahil may gumuho ng lupa sa karatig na bayan nito.

Batid ng pamahalaan na isang posibilidad ang pagguho ng lupa sa St. Bernard lalo na’t ang pagdating ng La Nina sa bansa ay nangangahulugan ng malalakas na pagpatak ng ulan. Pero wala pa ring aksiyon o paghahanda. Tuloy ang ilegal na pangangahoy, tuloy ang pagmimina.

Bakit nga naman papansinin ang St. Bernard; ilan lang ba ang botante dito? Noon ay hindi rin pinansin ang silangang bahagi ng Pinatubo dahil ang matataong lugar lamang sa kanluran (sa panig ng Olongapo) ang binigyan ng prayoridad ng mga pulitiko.

Sanay na tayo sa mga kalamidad. Mahigit dalawampung bagyo taun-taon ang dumarating sa bansa at laging may panganib ng lindol o pagsabog ng bulkan. Pero bakit atrasado pa rin ang ating kasanayan at gamit upang paghandaan ang mga sakuna? Bakit daan-daan o libu-libo ang kailangang mamatay sa mga sakunang napakadali namang matukoy kung paano maiiwasan?

Kung tutuusin ay dapat tayong mga Pilipino ang may abanteng kaalaman, pananaliksik at instrumento ukol sa mga lindol, pagsabog ng bulkan at iba pang galaw sa kailaliman ng lupa.

Kaso imposible itong mangyari kung ang pamahalaan ay abala sa pagnanakaw ng pera ng bayan, pagbabayad ng utang sa banyaga at paghuhubog ng mga estudyanteng marunong magsalita ng “yes, ma’am” imbes na buhusan ng salapi ang pag-aaral at paglinang ng agham sa bansa.

Masyado tayong mayabang na nasa atin ang rekord ng pinakamaraming taong naghahalikan, pinakamalaking sisig, pinakamahabang linya ng nilutong bangus o talong at iba pang pakulo ng mga pulitiko samantalang hindi natin pinag-iisipan ang pagpapaunlad ng kasanayan kung paano magliligtas ng maraming buhay.

Oo na, lahi na tayo ng magagaling na boksingero at magagandang dilag pero pwede ba pagtuunan din natin ng pansin ang pagpapakahusay kung paano tayo aangkop sa mga baha, lindol, bagyo, pagguho ng lupa, atbp? Kahiya-hiya na sikat na arkipelago ang Pilipinas pero maraming barkong lumulubog dito. Kahiya-hiya na hinahayaan nating nakawin ng mga dayuhan ang ating yamang mineral dahil wala tayong alam kung paano gamitin ang ating likas na yaman sa pag-unlad.

Pwedeng sisihin si Gloria Arroyo kung bakit maraming namamatay sa sunud-sunod na trahedyang dumarating sa bansa. Sa kabila ng nangyari sa Aurora at Quezon noong 2004, tuloy pa rin ang pangangahoy. Sa kabila ng nangyari sa Marinduque at Rapu-Rapu, bukas pa rin ang bansa sa pagmimina.

At tulad ni George W. Bush na nalantad ang pagwaldas ng pera ng Amerika sa gera sa Iraq nang walang sapat na tulong na ibinigay sa mga nasalanta ng ipo-ipong Katrina, malalantad din ang mga hungkag na pulisiya ni Arroyo sa pananalapi, kalikasan at ekonomiya.

Related entries:

Preserve mineral wealth
Super republic
Milenyo aftermath

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The Politics of Lahar – unang aklat na binili ko sa UP Press noong 1996.

Ship of state. The lower deck is on top

Links: Dubious poverty statistics in Cambodia. Cyrene blogging carnival in Singapore. Laos and the map of the world’s happiness. Racism in Brunei.

In the opening pages of Jose Rizal’s El Filibusterismo, the steamer Tabo was described as a Ship of State. Sulpicio’s MV Princess of the Stars can also be likened to a Ship of State. The ferry tragedy can be compared to the “sinking” of Philippine society. Everything seems to be falling today – the economy, politics, culture, values.

Before it capsized, the 23,824-tonne vessel was the pride of Sulpicio Lines. It was the largest ship of the company. Built only in 1984, the vessel can be described as modern for Philippine standards. But the Princess of the Stars is now a “graveyard of the seas.”

The government and its apologists are insisting that the Philippines has a robust economy. In a matter of years, they said the country will become a “first world” society. The economic fundamentals are strong. President Gloria Arroyo’s policies are working. But the same government is admitting today that inflation is high, jobs are few, and prices of commodities are rising. Lifeline subsidies and other token reforms are given to the poor to conceal the gravity of the economic crisis.

The captain of the ill-fated ferry was aware of the typhoon in central Philippines. Instead of taking precautionary steps, the captain decided to sail in the middle of the storm. Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales was correct; it was an act of foolishness.

The neoliberal economic doctrine has been proven ineffective in many parts of the world, including the Philippines. The policies of privatization, deregulation and liberalization have caused more hardships in the country. Instead of adopting a different economic framework, the government and market fundamentalists want more doses of neoliberalism. Recidivist ship captain; recidivist economists.

Officials of Sulpicio Lines have blamed everyone except themselves for the sinking of their vessel. They blamed God, weather forecasters and coast guard authorities for the sea tragedy. They failed to admit their liability. President Arroyo and her minions have also blamed everyone except themselves for the worsening problems of the country. They are always accusing the opposition, leftists, journalists and other government critics of causing disunity in the country.

There is no doubt that the management of Sulpicio Lines should take the primary responsibility for the death of more than 700 passengers and crew members of the Princess of the Stars ferry. But government is guilty as well. Why was the ship allowed to leave the north harbour in Manila? Who inspected the ship which contained tons of toxic pesticide endosulfan?

This latest maritime accident is another reminder about the outdated weather forecasting system in the country. Is there really no hope for Pag-asa?

Sea travel is vital in this nation of more than 7,000 islands. But marine transportation remains pre-modern. The country has yet to acquire the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System which would have improved emergency communications for the shipping industry. Obviously, this is not a priority of the government.

President Arroyo showed insensitivity to the sufferings of her constituents when she remained in the United States despite the ferry accident and the flooding in Panay. This is the same president who once postponed an important summit of Asian leaders due to a typhoon. Apparently, the sinking of a big passenger ship and the shocking devastation caused by typhoon Frank were not enough reasons to postpone the president’s state visit to the U.S.

Is this true: The president is severe towards Sulpicio Lines so that her cronies can dominate the shipping industry?

Before demanding the cancellation of the company’s license, remember that Sulpicio Lines employs more than 7,000 workers. These workers and their families do not deserve punishment.

Let us go back to Rizal’s novel. The steamer Tabo has two decks. Note the arrangement of the passengers:

“On the lower deck appear brown faces and black heads, wedged in between bales of merchandise and boxes… Seated on benches or small wooden stools among valises, boxes, and baskets, a few feet from the engines, in the heat of the boilers, amid the human smells and the pestilential odor of oil, were to be seen the great majority of the passengers.

“While there on the upper deck, beneath an awning that protects them from the sun, are seated in comfortable chairs a few passengers dressed in the fashion of Europeans, friars, and government clerks, each with his puro cigar, and gazing at the landscape.”

Rizal cleverly used the steamer as a metaphor to depict the inequality in Philippine society. The upper deck is for the few elite while the lower deck belongs to the poor majority.

Like the steamer Tabo, the Princess of the Stars ferry is a symbol of Philippine society. But something is quite different. The doomed ferry is upturned. The lower deck is now on top. Whether it was an act of God or human folly, some strong force has caused this shocking event. The ship is now inverted.

Perhaps the most memorable image in this tragedy is the protruded hull of the capsized ship. The scene is almost difficult to imagine. It rarely happens in real life. But the sight of the overturned ship will overwhelm us for quite some time.

Actually, the haunting image allows us to imagine a possible event in the future. A storm, a volcanic eruption, some destructive but creative force will hit the country one day. The “lower deck” will be on top. I’m not referring anymore to a natural disaster and the lower deck is no longer about the steamer Tabo in Rizal’s novel. Welcome to the Real of the future!

Related entries:

Refugee nation
Disaster preparedness
Deped library
Naminghoy ming tanan
One island
Imperial Manila