Sunday, December 30, 2007

A scam in Boracay?!

Has anybody heard about “Diniwid Beach Resort” in Boracay? I bet nobody does, nor most people in Boracay. But try clicking their websites (here and here) and you will see a very enticing place supposedly just beside the beach. Well, it’s supposedly a “beach resort.” So my architect friend booked and paid here in Manila hoping she could bring joy and warm welcome to a sister who came from Canada. Upon landing in Boracay, they were surprised that nobody knows about the “beach resort” and were shocked to learn it’s not located beside the sea but an interior, almost like a squatter’s area. In her blog, my friend Louise recalls:

"Imagine to our surprise when we arrive yesterday at Diniwid Beach, looking for the Diniwid Beach Resort, and there was no Local who can point to us where's it located... After almost 30 minutes of asking around, she finally found where it was, only after she mentioned the owner's name.

And there we saw our place, after being led to an alley. A shack of a house [see picture], absolutely different from what was advertised on the web. Ano to, squatter's area?, my Ate was furious. The steps leading upstairs was only about 18" wide, too steep, my folks would sure slip any time, if they can even manage to climb it at the first place. The other cottage showed to us was more deplorable. Instantly, we decided to transfer to a better location…"

Refund! That’s the only solution when you are misled but the operator, a british national, wouldn’t return the money. Says Louise:

"Negotiating if we can get a refund for the deceit the Owner did to us, we were met by her rough British husband who flatly declared a NO REFUND policy. It seemed that he owns the place and uses only the local as his front."

The gall! Louise said she is going to file complaints at the local tourism office and I hope she gets her money back soon.

The local tourism office, nay the entire local government should act on scams like this before it destroys the image of Boracay

So let everybody be warned about this “resort” (kuno).

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Get the gun, it's Santa!

Get the gun, it’s Santa! That’s Eric’s good natured take on how Americans celebrate Christmas. Imagine yourself seeing a fat man getting into your house through the chimney. What will you do?

And yet this Australian actually tried getting through one’s chimney and got stuck for ten hours until rescuers did their job.

The man had been stuck inside the chimney for about 10 hours with his knees
jammed tightly into his chest, said local fire station officer Mark James. "He
was like a grub in a cocoon when we found him," James said. "He was really
wedged in there."

That guy, of course was a thief, but really I’m no fan of Santa, especially the ones they got in New Zealand.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — A gang of about 50 apparently drunken Santas invaded a New Zealand cinema complex at the weekend — frightening customers, damaging property and swearing, the cinema's manager said Monday. Police believe the Santas were a group of university students dressed in Santa suits who ran amok for 20 seconds through Hoyts Cinema complex in the South Island city of Christchurch on Saturday, manager Derek Rive said.
Being a cop is probably one of the noblest professions (assuming one does her/his job seriously) putting order in society, enforcing the law, etc. And society respects them for that. But in America sometimes they are treated as nothing but a nose wipe, as what this woman did:

Cpl. S.E. Elliott said he had arrested the 36-year-old woman last week after
seeing her slap a man, bite him on the elbow and spit in his face. Elliott said
the woman wiped her nose on him as he led her into the police station for
booking on a charge of domestic battery.


If no one wants to give me any travel bag, a nice “Bush Out of Office Countdown 2008” Calendar will do. Happy New Year to all!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Complete domestication in 2008?

I won a flat iron from our Christmas e-raffle. Will I be “domesticated” in 2008?

Lest you think I’m superstitious, consider this. During our 2005 Christmas party, I got a travel bag. Our editor told me: “Maybe you are going to travel beyond the shores in 2006.” A few months after, while enjoying my life in Palawan after leaving Today Newspaper, I got a call from the US embassy.

“Dave, do you want to go to the US,” said a voice from the other line.

“Sure! But why should I go there?” I asked. “And how?”

“We have chosen you as a fellow for the International Visitors Program 2006,” she said. “It’s for leadership training in print journalism. Please come to the US embassy on Monday.”

And indeed I traveled to Washington DC, Virginia, New York, Florida, the mid-West (Nebraska and Colorado), and California (San Diego and Sta. Monica) to interact and learn from media organizations there.

In December 2006, someone gave me another huge travel bag. An officemate joked that I’ll be on a tour once again. True enough, I went to Australia courtesy of the Jaime Ongpin/Australian Ambassador’s Choice Awards. Then came the Jefferson Fellowship where I got to Hawaii, Silicon Valley, China and India.

Last week, I won a Hanabishi flat iron. Does it mean I’ll be completely domesticated in 2008?

Will somebody please give me a travel bag before the year ends?! Haha! Joke. Happy New Year to all!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas sans carbon footprint

You will probably call me Grinch or kill joy, but I really feel there’s a need to reassess the way we celebrate Christmas. No, I’m not complaining about the “crass commercialism” that Christmas has gone down to. The flow of commerce is important if we are to create jobs and all that, but is there a way we could celebrate it in less environmentally harmful ways?

I’m no certified tree hugger (well, I did hug trees when I still enjoyed tree climbing as hobby and that was years ago), but I do think a paradigm shift is in order. But I won’t preach to you guys, but let me share here how I do Christmas with less carbon footprint.

I won’t shoot or light firecrackers, for obvious reasons.

I don’t have Christmas lights to help minimize the burning of fossil for electricity. I don’t have any Christmas tree, either. I find it so artificial.

I don’t wrap the gifts I give. Those wrappers always end up as tons of wastes in the dumps.

I minimize travel to minimize vehicular emissions.

I avoid excessive consumption for my health’s sake. Haha!

To celebrate Christmas, I only pray in silence, and read books to nourish my soul.

Would that make a difference? I don’t know, but if many of us adopt some of these measures, the world will be a better place and Al Gore wouldn’t think he is a failure.

Merry Christmas to all!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Is Mar Roxas really a reformist? I dont think so.

I’m puzzled by this story going around that cause-oriented types are now warming up to Mar Roxas hoping he will pursue “policy reforms” once he captures the presidency come 2010. As far as I know, Mar has never been associated with any progressive policy agenda. Mar doesn’t seem to have the knack for speaking for or against anything even when time demanded so. We never heard him talking about agrarian reform or agricultural modernization. He never knew him being passionate about human rights and political killings. He was never truly pro-Erap nor was he really anti-Gloria. He doesn’t seem to have clear stand on anything: environment, globalization, foreign debt, gender, deregulation, Doha round of talks, etc. He never spoke against monopolies and oligopolies. Maybe he behaves this way because he is just consistent being pro-Mar Roxas.

If there’s one thing he is associated with, it’s with Corina Sanchez, and the buzz about them simply faded after he won his Senate seat. Now, that he is angling for the Presidency are we going to see him with Corina again? And why does he have to do that? What is he trying to cover for?

Mar says he is Mr Palengke (markets). But he never had any legislative proposal for expanding or freeing Philippine markets. He is probably even anti-market.

Consider this: In 2001, Roxas caved in to the local cement lobby that was then complaining about “injuries” caused by rising cement imports and was forced to slap additional duties (about P20 per bag) on them, thus significantly raising cement prices in the local market and penalizing the local construction industry. In response, the Tariff Commission conducted an investigation and found out that Roxas’s decision was totally baseless, as local manufacturers maintained an 80-percent share of the domestic market. The report also stated that there was no injury to speak of, nor was there any worker losing his job because of the rise of cement imports. The industry, in fact, improved its productivity as a result of the rising foreign competition. But Mar Roxas simply brushed off the Tariff Commission study in order to shelter the cement industry from foreign competition.

Mar, who are you really? Show us the real stuff you are made of.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Seems like the 7 percent growth rate has started to trickle down

The recent numbers on jobs based on the October 2007 Labor Force Survey seem to tell us so. The NSO report says the jobless rate has declined a full percentage point from 7.3 percent last year to 6.3 percent this year. Underemployment has declined from 20.4 to 18.1 percent. That’s a two full percentage point down, meaning that a significant number of dissatisfied employees has gone down as well.

The details are quite interesting. The percent share of farm jobs has declined but those of the industry sector has gone up, mainly because of a growing job uptake in construction. There’s also a growing share of jobs in the services sector particularly in the transportation, storage and communications; real estate and renting; education; health and social work; and private households. It means more people are hiring maids and drivers? That says something.

And there’s a significant increase in own account workers, an indication perhaps of greater entrepreneurship activities. Figures on those who get wages and salaries are also encouraging as more private establishments are hiring.

In terms of occupation, the percentage shares of professionals are rising. So are those of trade and related workers; clerks; and laborers and unskilled workers. This trend is not surprising because of robust construction sector. Hey, it quite broad-based.

Is this the trickle down effect of the 7 percent growth rate we have been registering? Seems like it. But expect the doubters to dismiss these numbers. I’m a doubter myself but I don’t denigrate these numbers:I feel these are real gains by real people. And it’s not because of Malacanang but despite Malacanang.

I'll look at the numbers again when I have the time.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The middle class and the rule of law

I was expecting to see retirees and middle aged guys when the boss told me I should show up for the Entrepreneurs’ “networking night” in Greenhills. That was last Tuesday, the second day in my new job. But I was surprised to see young boys and girls in 20s and 30s, many of them barely out of college. And my goodness, they were all talking about “doing business’ and making money! In my time, we were all about “social engineering,” “social change,” and revolutions as if we knew what we were talking about.

Is a new ethos taking over? I hope so. It’s about time. If we want the country to move faster into the lane of progress (whatever that means), we should have more entrepreneurs in our midst. And its not only because of its positive economic impact, its also because the growth of the middle class is the surest path to political stability. Fareed Zakaria in “The Future of Freedom” said so. Francis Fukuyama (in his “The End of History”) said so. And of course, they are not the original guys to have said so. It was Aristotle who theorized about this long time ago. And I guess, the reason is simple: the middle class, especially the entrepreneurs have a stake in stability and order.

Why? Consider this: if you are really rich, filthy rich, if you are an oligarch, you don’t really need “the rule of law.” In fact, you want the law (or rules) to be opaque so that you could buy it anytime when it suits your end. And the really poor, those who have nothing, don’t care much about the law, the rules, either because they don’t have a stake in the system. Sometimes they have to bend the rules to maintain their existence. Or at least, that’s what some of them think.

But when you are a budding entrepreneur with a little money, you have a stake in the system. Yet you can’t afford to buy the bureaucracy, so you desire for proper societal rules to work for you. You want to be protected from predatory actions of the super rich and the protection from those who will rob your of your wallet. You desire order, stability, transparency, predictability, and fairness. And these are foundations, the values, of a functional liberal democracy that we crave for.

Hmmm, seems like I got an interesting job here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Congestion in MRT: the pain of "success"?

Call it the pains of “success.” Or at least, the people’s pains for MRT’s success. It seems that these days, Metro Rail Transit is always congested. If one doesn’t start riding at either end of the line (either in Baclaran in the South or North Edsa in the opposite end), one would always have to suffer being packed and squeezed like sardines inside the coaches.

It’s not for love of the trains; it’s because a commuter could save lots of time. What takes one hour or two in the bus just takes about 25 minutes in MRT.

But there’s another reason. It’s so cheap: the 25 kilometer stretch just costs P14 pesos (0.32 US cents), probably about a hundred percent cheaper than the bus. And it’s cheap because its subsidized, meaning that people who live in the rural areas are also paying the maintenance and bank amortization of an infra that is being used solely by the dwellers of Metro Manila, a case of the rural folks subsidizing the “richer” urban dwellers.

Also, part of the value added tax that each one pays to the government whenever one eats in restaurants or pays for the grocery goes to the upkeep of the MRT. Isn’t that unfair? Of course, it is! And it’s not really improving the quality of life of the urban commuters because artificial cheapness suggests that it would be congested most of the time, thus lowering each weary commuter’s “ridership quality.”

Solution? Why not charge the true cost of the facility? That way, we free the rural dwellers, especially residents of Mindanao and Visayas, the burden of paying for such a facility that they don’t use. Those who use it should be the ones to pay for it. And of course, when ticket prices are a little bit expensive, more people would think about riding the buses again thus lessening the congestion inside the trains.

Or maybe, government should think about charging variable prices: charges are higher during the peak hours and lower during the non-peak hours so that people would have the incentive to schedule their travel time accordingly.

People do respond to economic incentives.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Til snow falls on Manila: a chat on globalization and labor migration

Jenny: So how’s Manila now?

I met Jenny in California early this year through a Japanese girl, an accountant working for one of the big global accounting firms operating in Silicon Valley. Over dinner she told me she has several colleagues from the Philippines. She called several numbers and voila and I had an appointment the following day at Starbucks near our hotel in downtown San Jose. Jenny came in a runners’ outfit, clutching a book “The World Is Flat.” We walked around town for hours discussing Philippine politics, economy and globalization. We checked some bars and other things that the Valley of Hearts Desire could offer during the night and promised to keep in touch but we failed to reconnect after the Jefferson Fellowship. Her message through Yahoo Messenger the other day therefore was a pleasant surprise.

Jenny landed in Silicon Valley three years ago after a stint at one of the leading accounting firms in Manila. Her ticket was her accounting expertise and her mastery of the computer, SAP and other enterprise management software. Her parents moved to San Francisco fifteen years earlier but she didn’t follow because she was finishing a post-grad in economics at the University of the Philippines. And she loved the beaches. Until the big offer came.

Dave: Bubbling as ever. Politically, I mean

As usual. That’s my frustration there really. I thought GMA was better than Erap so I supported Edsa Dos. It turned out we simply replaced him with someone as corrupt. But oh, I miss the beaches, I love Boracay!

Dave: And then we just had this Trillanes caper…

Jenny: But hey, the Philippines, or at least the GDP figures, have been doing quite good lately!

You mean you are actually following the trends here?

Jenny: Yup! I’m a frustrated economist, remember? Haha!

There are new growth drivers: outsourcing, mining, food and beverage, electronics, telecommunications, and financial services. Past reforms seem to have started bearing fruits. Globalization seems to have become a stabilizing force.

Jenny: Been reading about these. And ah, I remember you mentioning about a paper on that at the University of Hawaii. Could you send me an electronic copy?

Dave: Sure, here’s the link:

Jenny: Thanks. Interesting analysis. Amazes me because our politics there has never been that conducive. I also heard about this “economics delinking from politics theory” from [Congressman] Salceda. Do you think he’s accurate?”

Honestly, I’m not sure. I’m trying to look at it myself. But the guy has some points.

Jenny: How did those people at the University of Hawaii reacted to your paper?

Dave: Mixed, but some are incredulous.

Jenny: Or even hostile, haha!

Dave: How did you figure that out, hehe?

“Haay, Dave!, I’ve met lots of migrant Pinoys here who think that way.

When I presented that paper, I thought they’d be happy to hear some positive news besides the usual negative ones that they get from media. Many of them were disappointed that I didn’t tell them the usual horror stories. Weird!

Jenny: Probably a psychological thing. Many of those, not all, who left the country decided on the conviction that the country is hopeless, so when they hear that things are improving a bit, it unnerves them, irritates them.

Really? Why?!

Jenny: They are used to hearing about all the negatives, and there are lots of them in media, and they are happy because those stories tend to support the reasons why they abandoned ship. Now here comes some positive news that to them seems to question the basis of their decision to leave. But yeah, it’s weird.

Dave: In fairness, they are well-meaning people. They do sincerely believe the only way out for the Philippines is for every one to migrate. So they use every opportunity to petition relatives and convince friends to migrate. A friend in New York once told me to take up nursing or become a mortician. Or I could be a plumber in Australia. Be practical, he said. Ha ha ha!

Jenny: Ay totoo yan! [That’s so true!] Ha ha ha!

Dave: After that talk, someone asked if I was telling them to return to the Philippines. ‘Of course not,' I answered. 'Why should you; the Philippines doesn’t have snow yet,’ and all the participants burst into laughter.

Jenny: Ha ha ha ha!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Why the Trillanes caper failed

Why the Trillanes caper failed? Simple: the success factors are not there.

First, Trillanes and company failed to consider the 2010 factor. Politicians these days are now looking at the 2010 election as the reference point for their short-term political decisions. Hence, they would look with discomfort any action or event that deviates from that, especially something that’s being pushed by the likes of Trillanes. A junta that would emerge from a military rebellion is anathema to the presidential ambitions of bigwigs like Senator Villar, Senator Ping Lacson, Mar Roxas, Loren Legarda, to cite a few.

Second is the economic growth factor. The Philippine economy grew by 7.1 percent in the first nine months of the year. Big business engaged in real estate and construction, mining, outsourcing, electronics, finance, telecommunications, etc are now raking in money. So are the technical, professional, and managerial classes supporting these fast-growing sectors. With the increasing globalization of labor markets, even the lower middle classes have options other than becoming pawns in political games. So these people—crucial to the success of previous “people power” cum military revolts—now have a stake in the relative “stability” of the system.

Third, we Filipinos have probably learned some lessons from our previous “people power revolutions.” We probably have realized that we need to develop constitutional liberalism in this country if we want to mature as a nation.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

How to stage a coup like a jackass!

On the same day that Senator and His Most Incompetent Putchist Antonio Trilanes launched his ill-fated “coup” at a five-star hotel, the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) announced that the Philippine economy grew by 6.6 percent. The incident seems to remind us just how the dynamics of the Philippine economy has decoupled from our rambunctious politics. Nice trend, shall I say.

The numbers says it’s actually a pretty broad-based growth, with agriculture, industry, and services contributing altogether. With a 7.3 percent growth in the first quarter, 7.5 percent in the second, and a possible surge in the fourth quarter, we may yet grow close to or higher than 7 percent.

We sneer at these growth numbers, of course. They have yet to translate into lower poverty numbers. True. But we have been at this growth rates quite recently, after hovering at 5-6 percent in the last three years. Experience by the Asian tigers showed they grew 5-7 percent consistently for ten or twenty years before they started licking poverty. This means we have to growth at this rate or higher in the next ten years before we can see substantial reduction in poverty. So it’s a start, and its better late than never.

GMA has nothing to do with this. These improving growth numbers are legacies of the first wave of reforms done following the Edsa Revolution. So the credit goes elsewhere, especially Cory and FVR, and of course, to OFWs, the farmers, business, and entrepreneurs. Had GMA proved to be a better president, we could have achieved higher growth rates, probably at par with Vietnam and India (7-8 percent).

Certainly, she should go, and go to jail (for scandals like NBN, fertilizer scams etc), but can’t we wait two years for the 2010 election? That’s a better option than “taking over” a hotel and making us the laughingstock of the world.

Now that Trillanes is in jail, the latest rumor says he is planning to write a book entitled How to Stage a Coup Like a Jackass!