Friday, August 25, 2006

Petron flunked Guimaras crisis test

I disagree with calls that we boycott Petron. Petron stands between the Filipino people and foreign oil companies. The competition it brings forth (not as great as before) sort of pressures the other big oil companies to moderate their prices. It is not Petron's fault per se, rather Petron's officers' fault. Thus, like the Rapu-Rapu mining mess, Petron oficers and the board all need to be accountable for this. If we are really serious, we should even be buying petron stocks so we can get on the Board and issue stockholder resolutions calling for their resignation, investigation, and if possible, criminal prosecution. Certain people were responsible for this and should be held accountable. Let them identify all the culprits. Hurting Petron only hurts us. Petron's management leadership is a huge disappointment...

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

What connects Gawad Kalinga, RockEd, Filipino Martial Arts, and OFWs?

What connects Gawad Kalinga, RockEd, Filipino Martial Arts, and OFWs?

After a three year absence, my current visit to Metro Manila (or Manila) provides me an opportunity to assess changes thereat. Manila is afterall the 20 th most urbanized and dense megalopolis in the world. Hence, what happens in Manila has global implications. I begin with the bad news, since current management thinking posits that starting with criticism is actually more effective than with praise.

Manila is still a place of contrasts, inequality, and social exclusion. Urban poverty is glaring and an inescapable reality despite the gleaming buildings, new malls, flashy cars, and beautifully dressed people. The urban poor, living in over 500 squatter communities comprising at least 40% of the urban population are ubiquitous as they manage to be economically productive as low-wage workers/laborers. They are our household help, security guards, restaurant servers, government workers, drivers, etc. Like the year-long intense humidity of Manila, the urban poor are omnipresent.

Transport-wise, Manila roads are still traffic-choked, grimy, and soot-laden because of too many old, ill-maintained, smoke-belching buses, jeepneys, and tricycles. The vehicles clog the narrow and unmaintained highways and roads. Overpasses and even the new MRT and LRT systems are dirty and have unpainted, soot-laden walls with minimal landscaping. Drivers neither follow nor understand traffic regulations. Lastly, traffic enforcers are more concerned with apprehending traffic violators rather than ensuring smoother traffic flow. Traffic structures such as barriers, public urinals, and signs are painted with effeminate colors that only reinforce our showbiz "dumbing down" commercialism.

Commerce-wise, the tiangge phenomenon, while spurring economic activities, and like our billboard-laden roads, is a visual blight on once respectable commercial establishments. The mish mash of layout, poor maintenance, fake/ pirated items for sale, and no dress code generate a predatory/aggressive atmosphere amidst dirty surroundings. These dirty indoor marketplaces reinforce the unsubstantiated negative perceptions of "Muslim" traders.

Societal institutions such as politicians, the media, and church are still mired in politics, mud-slinging, and crass commercialism. The tri-media, in cut-throat competition for business survival, continue to focus on destructive sensational reporting and influence-peddling. Politicians cater to their and others' vested interests, while religious leaders oppose and denounce politicians and policies without providing cogent and viable alternatives. No transformational national leader is in the offing. The entertainment industry, from the producers to the actors, has engaged in a seemingly wholesale conspiracy to create the dumb Filipino.

These are just but a few of my negative impressions of Manila, which friends and family have also articulated. However, there are improvements and innovations that are truly impressive and I take great joy and pride in writing about them.

The first is that civic consciousness is evident everywhere. A great many Manilenos are neither greedy individualists nor alienated urbanites. I am a happy man because many of my friends, relatives, and colleagues have not given up on learning new things, and importantly, improving the economic and moral conditions not only of their families, but their communities as well. Gawad Kalinga (GK) for example is a world class nation-building movement recruiting one million members that has built nearly 20,000 homes in nearly 800 communities nationwide and in six other countries. GK's slum eradication, housing provision, human dignity, spiritual upliftment, and social healing programs, as well as community development activities are contributing to urban revival. In the process GK is transforming squatter communities, supporting the building and materials industry, providing education, training, skills, and livelihood opportunities, assisting preventive health initiatives, and promoting a culture of integrity, transparency and honest, hard work in all levels of society. All these lead to a sense of nationhood. I have not seen a truly holistic and effective model of development such as that of GK.

Another burgeoning movement is RockEd Philippines, which strives to promote Pinoy culture and the bayanihan spirit through alternative education strategies for the general public, the youth, and teachers ("train the trainors"). Like GK, RockEd does not seek funding support for its initiatives. Educators, artists, athletes, business leaders, and professionals have provided expertise, time, effort, and resources to numerous teach-ins, trainings, concerts, educational video clips, etc. that generate individual, community, and institutional resource bases for the more productive yet civic- conscious Filipino.

The movement of the overseas Filipino worker (OFW), expatriate Filipino, and their local partners is another inspiring development with significant implications for the country. The estimated eight-million strong OFWs have the technical and global exposure, as well as the monetary resources, which they are beginning to mobilize to support the Philippine economy, their families, and communities, promote Filipino culture and solidarity, and lobby for political and economic reform. OFW groups are engaged in a vast array of initiatives from free health clinics to livelihood cooperatives.

A specific example is the advocacy and partnership among practitioners of Filipino Martial Arts (FMA- kali, arnis, pikita tirsii, yaw-yan, etc). Like the famed Balikbayan dancers, FMA practioners, whether they are Filipino or of other nationalities, have been advocating Filipino culture through FMA. FMA incorporates and documents (via books, online newsletters, websites, conferences, tournaments, seminars, etc.) Filipino history, language (martial arts terms), Filipino cultural values of integrity, courage, and righteousness, an aspiration and commitment to make a cultural pilgrimage to the Philippines (supports the tourism and martial arts crafts sector), and global Filipino solidarity. FMA in their own quiet, unique, and self-effacing ways are promoting the best of the Filipino.

What is common in all these movements? One, the middle class Filipino has realized that nation-building starts with the individual with the education, training, resources, commitment, consciousness, and courage to initiate change and reform. New societal institutions need to be formed because existing ones such as political parties, media, church, etc. are dysfunctional. Politics is in the process being redefined by GK, RockEd, OFW, FMA, environmentalists, artists, etc. to one based on meritocracy and competence, transparency, integrity, and helping the fellow countryman. If you initiate something of societal good and you do it well, the resources, both material and human, soon follow. In reaction to the sensational media and dumbing down entertainment industry, I have witnessed the explosion of the use of the internet and online communities, alternative media, information and communication technologies (ICT), grassroots mobilizing, alternative education strategies, and other innovative forms of information exchange.

As those with ulterior motives go about their nefarious activities, we are witnessing many notable community-based initiatives. The new politics that leftists and libertarians both aspire for but never quite achieved in the country is being developed by these social movements.

Take Makati for example. Whatever apprehensioins we have on a Binay dynasty, some of the country's best-run barangays can be found in the city. These programs include the Salcedo weekend market, the free Lifeline and subsidized health services, the ecological solid waste management programs, the landscaping and numerous beautification projects in the residential villages, household help skills enrichment programs, well maintained and lighted roads, good security, traffic management, etc. All employ a holistic perspective of community solidarity and pride, social learning, skills training, environmental awareness and action, peace and order, preventive health, transparency and accountability.

The Philippine urban story will be one of highly visible and high performing barangays and towns vis-à-vis embarrassing stories. Thus, Pasay continues to be known as the "armpit of Metro Manila", while Parañaque is just recovering from years of showbiz scandals of Joey Marquez and Alma Moreno. Quezon City is positioning itself as the nation's IT capital, while Makati, in its self-destructive mode, will have action star Lito Lapid most probably running against Binay. Puerto Princesa remains a green city, while Dumaguete (which actually refers to all of Negros Oriental) is a balikbayan and tourist dreamland.

Another development is that the business sector continues to discount the antics of politicians, media, and the Church. I think most Filipinos realize that these institutions are not working for their welfare. The services sector continues to attract both investments and business despite the political squabbles. Microenterprises as well as business process outsourcing (BPO) projects are sprouting every where. Private education and health services are expanding. The telecom sector is thriving. The mining industry and other natural resources projects, as one professor observed, is learning from the mistakes of the past, including the recent past (Rapu-Rapu), and is positioning itself to be a major driver of national economic growth, including industrialization, and a proponent of corporate social responsibility (CSR). CSR is a social movement within the corporate world and if successful will be a radical revolution in how Philippine business operates in the 21 st century.

I have ridden on both the MRT and LRT lines, which were always full. While their soot-laden walls/pillars need to be cleaned, these mass transit systems are important transportation nodes and emphasize the need for world-class infrastructure if Manila is to develop. A colleague recently observed that the administrations since Marcos have failed to invest in infrastructure development as much as the dictator. If the trend continues, he expects the rehabilitation of the Marcos legacy because what will remain will be the once-considered white elephant Marcos projects. The NAIA-3 terminal remains an international embarrassment and a folly when we have the former Clark Airbase runway as a viable new international airport that could easily jumpstart the economic development of northern and central Luzon.

Nevertheless, the private sector has managed to rehabilitate the northern expressway and there seems to be a commitment to extend the Skyway. Rail projects north and south of Manila are in the offing despite political harassment. Bulacan province, north of Manila, is benefiting from increased economic activities and relatively competent local officials. Property development firms owned by the Ayala, Lopez, Concepcion, etc. and Chinoy taipan families are beginning to appreciate the commercial benefits accruing from landscaped, energy-efficient, clean, upgraded, and well-managed facilities. This speaks well of the new generation of managers. The gas stations have become focal points in the national highways serving aside from gas, food, drinks, cash withdrawal, and importantly, clean restrooms. Clean restrooms are a vital component of the tourism sector and I'm glad business is recognizing the value of this basic need.

Manila remains the arena of debilitating politics, graft and corruption, and poverty versus innovative community-based initiatives and social movements in human rights, environment, housing, livelihood, health, education, and CSR. It is Manila's human resources that shape the present conditions and will influence how Manila will develop in the near future. I am guardedly optimistic.