Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Last words

This may come as a pleasant surprise to some members of the Filipino community in Toronto who have been repulsed by the critical observations I have often raised in this blog. Particularly those who had been averse to criticism as if no one is beyond reproach. The time has come, therefore, to say goodbye to this blog. All those elated to hear this news will surely feel a great sense of relief—like an unexpected but wholesome Christmas gift. Good riddance, others would probably say.

There are myriad reasons for this decision to announce my blog’s ending just about the close of 2010. I was hoping when I started posting that I would eventually reach 200 blogs before shutting it down for good. Due to shifting priorities and lack of adequate time to produce quality posts that my readers so deserve, I have chosen to embrace a life of quietude, like that of a monk who has chosen to lead a more or less contemplative life apart from the world.

However, as it is against my nature as a contrarian, I will not go quietly into the night.

In my first-ever blog, I wrote that contrary opinions play a very useful role in understanding the truth or its meaning no matter how unpopular they are. Reactions to my postings confirm the loneliness of critical dissent, but not so much of the willingness to accept the truth. For in a multitude of times, truth is somehow what is perceived as popular, neutral and safe, even though by simple logical observation it could be wrong or false. The real truth, oftentimes, is drowned by the voices of the mob and consigned to oblivion.

One community leader’s reaction to my blogs is typical of the arrogance of a few who believe they are clothed with papal infallibility. This type of leader does not take criticism mildly, not just from anyone who is beneath their mighty position in the community. This leader had the audacity to make known to all and sundry that she would never back down from criticism, whether right or wrong, especially if it is coming from this blog.

Leaders like them should be subject to a public review of their performance, for the ideas they espouse, and their apparent disdain for democratic dialogue where contrary opinions are also allowed equal space and opportunity to be heard. But like other leaders in the community, they have barricaded themselves with like-minded officers who are timid and afraid to stray from the official line when circumstances demand.

Thus, our community leaders will continue to lead and think insularly, instead of engaging with the bigger civic society. Every year they will continue to stage beauty pageants, song and dance contests, parades and other events that do not reflect our rich culture and heritage, but those that perpetuate our bondage to our colonial past. Our community organizations, as they are now, will always be instruments for the community’s self-anointed cream of the crop, for highlighting and sharing their personal milestones and other anniversaries, not to mention their trips to foreign and exotic places. We will continue to be absent from bigger and more inclusive events that celebrate our kinship with other Canadians and their current priorities. We will prolong our marginalization, thanks to our leaders and elders who do not have the vision of our youth who have long recognized the need for greater civic engagement.

Perhaps, we need a community Ombudsman who will review and assess whether our leaders truly have the interests of our community at heart. Internal reviews are self-serving and no current leaders in the community will allow herself or himself to be painted in bad light by their own committees or organizations. This may sound unrealistic, but not unachievable by any means.

Our community is presently served by a proliferation of local newspapers run by so-called journalists and profit-driven publishers who are only interested in racking up advertising revenues. A by-product of free press and the free market, our local press has become billboards for posting social and family gatherings such as weddings, birthdays, coming-out parties of society debutantes, and personal and familial promotions. Whereas we could do with three or at least five of these newspapers, we are constantly barraged, biweekly or monthly, with more than 12 similar editions of local news from the Philippines and the latest entertainment gossips. It is not so much the quantity of newspapers, but rather the mediocrity of writing and reportage that these newspapers suffer from.

Improving the quality of our local newspapers can be a worthwhile project of the Filipino press association, as they can perform audits of these newspapers if they conform to accepted standards of professional journalism. But they have to know correct English grammar and syntax, a prerequisite towards change and improvement. This may appear more unachievable given the inherent stubbornness of many Filipino-Canadians to learn how to speak and write correct English, which stems from the mistaken belief that having English as the medium of instruction in schools in the Philippines exempts us from training or even re-learning it as a second language. That is why ESL classes are filled by people from nationalities (not Filipinos) who admit that they could profit from learning English for work and for integrating within the larger Canadian community.

Just as we need a watchdog for our local newspaper reporting, the same notion may also apply for our chat or email groups on the Internet. This would, however, be enormously difficult given the neutrality and unregulated character of the Internet. It can be done through self-regulation by chat groups such as those that belong to professional alumni organizations. You may think I am making too much of this, but if we publish our thoughts on the Internet, those who regulate us should also be responsible in maintaining that we observe not only decency and respectability but also proper and correct English usage.

Take for example this message from an alumni president wishing his members good wishes for the Christmas season. While the intent was clearly to spread the good news of Christmas, it somehow vanished when he included “the material things we possess” as among those blessings we should pause to reflect on. So, if you have a Lamborghini or palatial accommodation, be thankful for not being among the ranks of those who lost their jobs and their homes due to the economic downturn or those street people who have to seek shelter from the cold this frigid winter. The message stinks of insensitivity to others who may not be as fortunate like him and his kind. A few months ago, the same leader said that “there is more to Filipinos here in Canada than care giving.” The true message he wanted to convey got “lost in translation” because, without proper grounding in grammar, he missed the intricacies and nuances of the English language whose syntax and rules of composition can oftentimes limit one’s ability for self-correction. Too much credit is given to being UP alumni, not only for tribal pride but also as a guarantee for mastery of the English language.

In all these aforementioned instances, what is clear is the need for us to have a process of accepting criticism and for correcting our faults—whether these are mere ideas we espouse to the greater public, the way we exercise our leadership, or with the statements we publish that may expose our continuing difficulties in grappling with our second language. Fundamental to this process, however, is embracing an attitude of accommodation of the opinions of others—however difficult to accept—because they come from people we deem beneath our estimable stature.

During his last Sunday homily, our parish priest said that the true spirit of Christ’s Gospel comes from justice and love. This is also the simple message that we may wish to share with others this Christmas, that there be peace, hope, love—and openness—in our hearts.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Note: I am not posting my regular blog this week but instead would like to share with my readers some excerpts from the blog written by Michael Moore, Oscar and Emmy-winning director, regarding his take on WikiLeaks and the arrest of its c0-founder, Julian Assange.

Why I’m Posting Bail Money for Julian Assange
By Michael Moore

Yesterday, in the Westminster Magistrates Court in London, the lawyers for WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange presented to the judge a document from me stating that I have put up $20,000 of my own money to help bail Mr. Assange out of jail.

Furthermore, I am publicly offering the assistance of my website, my servers, my domain names and anything else I can do to keep WikiLeaks alive and thriving as it continues its work to expose the crimes that were concocted in secret and carried out in our name and with our tax dollars.

We were taken to war in Iraq on a lie. Hundreds of thousands are now dead. Just imagine if the men who planned this war crime back in 2002 had had a WikiLeaks to deal with. They might not have been able to pull it off. The only reason they thought they could get away with it was because they had a guaranteed cloak of secrecy. That guarantee has now been ripped from them, and I hope they are never able to operate in secret again.

So why is WikiLeaks, after performing such an important public service, under such vicious attack? Because they have outed and embarrassed those who have covered up the truth.

WikiLeaks deserves our thanks for shining a huge spotlight on all this. But some in the corporate-owned press have dismissed the importance of WikiLeaks ("they've released little that's new!") or have painted them as simple anarchists ("WikiLeaks just releases everything without any editorial control!"). WikiLeaks exists, in part, because the mainstream media has failed to live up to its responsibility. The corporate owners have decimated newsrooms, making it impossible for good journalists to do their job. There's no time or money anymore for investigative journalism. Simply put, investors don't want those stories exposed. They like their secrets kept ... as secrets.

I ask you to imagine how much different our world would be if WikiLeaks had existed 10 years ago. Take a look at this photo. That's Mr. Bush about to be handed a "secret" document on August 6th, 2001. Its heading read: "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US." And on those pages it said the FBI had discovered "patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings." Mr. Bush decided to ignore it and went fishing for the next four weeks.

But if that document had been leaked, how would you or I have reacted? What would Congress or the FAA have done? Was there not a greater chance that someone, somewhere would have done something if all of us knew about bin Laden's impending attack using hijacked planes?

But back then only a few people had access to that document. Because the secret was kept, a flight school instructor in San Diego who noticed that two Saudi students took no interest in takeoffs or landings, did nothing. Had he read about the bin Laden threat in the paper, might he have called the FBI? (Please read this essay by former FBI Agent Coleen Rowley, Time's 2002 co-Person of the Year, about her belief that had WikiLeaks been around in 2001, 9/11 might have been prevented.)

Or what if the public in 2003 had been able to read "secret" memos from Dick Cheney as he pressured the CIA to give him the "facts" he wanted in order to build his false case for war? If a WikiLeaks had revealed at that time that there were, in fact, no weapons of mass destruction, do you think that the war would have been launched -- or rather, wouldn't there have been calls for Cheney's arrest?

Openness, transparency -- these are among the few weapons the citizenry has to protect itself from the powerful and the corrupt. What if within days of August 4th, 1964 -- after the Pentagon had made up the lie that our ship was attacked by the North Vietnamese in the Gulf of Tonkin -- there had been a WikiLeaks to tell the American people that the whole thing was made up? I guess 58,000 of our soldiers (and 2 million Vietnamese) might be alive today.

Instead, secrets killed them.

For those of you who think it's wrong to support Julian Assange because of the sexual assault allegations he's being held for, all I ask is that you not be naive about how the government works when it decides to go after its prey. Please -- never, ever believe the "official story." And regardless of Assange's guilt or innocence (see the strange nature of the allegations here), this man has the right to have bail posted and to defend himself. I have joined with filmmakers Ken Loach and John Pilger and writer Jemima Khan in putting up the bail money -- and we hope the judge will accept this and grant his release today.

Might WikiLeaks cause some unintended harm to diplomatic negotiations and U.S. interests around the world? Perhaps. But that's the price you pay when you and your government take us into a war based on a lie. Your punishment for misbehaving is that someone has to turn on all the lights in the room so that we can see what you're up to. You simply can't be trusted. So every cable, every email you write is now fair game. Sorry, but you brought this upon yourself. No one can hide from the truth now. No one can plot the next Big Lie if they know that they might be exposed.

And that is the best thing that WikiLeaks has done. WikiLeaks, God bless them, will save lives as a result of their actions. And any of you who join me in supporting them are committing a true act of patriotism.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The problem with public opinion polls

Remember the 1980 movie, “The Gods Must Be Crazy?”

A Sho native in the Kalahari Desert found a Coke bottle, his very first encounter with technology, and decided to return it to God because his people started fighting over it when he brought it home in his village.

The most recent Pulse Asia survey gave President Noynoy Aquino with a very high 79 per cent approval rating, which means that nearly eight out of every ten Filipinos like what the President is doing. This is like Noynoy Aquino finding his Coke bottle on Mendiola on the way toward understanding the challenges and intricacies of a president’s job. The President’s circle of advisers must be fully elated now that their boss’s popularity continues to shoot up even after the elections had already been decided. Or this could be much akin to Shakespeare’s witches in the first act of Macbeth, foretelling his rise to power as king of Scotland. Better beware of the next two prophesies, especially the last one that tells of Macbeth’s downfall.

Considering all the trials and tribulations of Noynoy Aquino’s first 100 days in office, the gods must be crazy to give him a very high passing mark as president.

President Aquino’s spokesperson, Edwin Lacierda, said that the survey spoke glowingly of “the people’s trust in the President and official family,” which includes Noynoy’s sisters who are known to be the President’s closest advisers. Lacierda added that the survey showed the people understood the President’s efforts to fulfill his campaign promise to fight corruption and poverty.

Either the Pulse Asia survey got it wrong or it has joined the ranks of fanatics in the Aquino administration in denying the truth. Skim through the following and decide whether Mr. Aquino deserves this very high passing grade for his performance in the early months of his presidency:

 The Supreme Court ruled that Aquino’s order to create a Truth Tribunal is
unconstitutional, setting a major obstacle to his administration’s campaign
promise to prosecute former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for corruption.

 The Morong 43, a group of health workers detained for alleged links with the communist insurgency, have called on Aquino to order their release so they can be with their families this coming Christmas. Aquino replied that he could not do anything and it is up to the courts to decide on their fate, which surprisingly reveals his ignorance of the law.

 Last November 15, botanist Leonardo Co was killed when the 19th Infantry Battalion fired at him and others while they were conducting work inside the compound of the Energy Development Corporation. The military alleged that Co and his team were caught in the crossfire between the New People’s Army and the 19th Battalion.

 “Kuliglig” drivers were violently dispersed after they were banned from Manila inner streets. So-called “Kuliglig” for driving three-wheeled unique Filipino contraptions through the inner neighbourhoods of Manila to make a living, they said they would agree to regulation if they are compelled, but not to be deprived violently of their right to work.

 According to a research conducted by IBON Foundation, Filipinos would be assuming the burden of repaying 44 billion pesos for Aquino’s Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program. The administration’s CCT program will be funded by borrowings from the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, which increases the debt burden on the people, thus strengthening the argument against the CCT as a dole-out program that brings no significant impact on genuine poverty eradication.

 Cases of extra-judicial killings and other human rights violations continue to pile up under the Aquino government. With 20 extra-judicial killings under his belt, Aquino has surpassed former Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s record during her last six months in office.

 On August 23, 2010, a dismissed Philippine National Police office hijacked a bus carrying a group of Chinese tourists from Hong Kong in Rizal Park. The ensuing rescue, shown live on television, resulted in the fatal shooting of eight tourists and the police officer. The Philippine government admitted the rescue operations were bungled and the Hong Kong government responded with a “black” travel alert to the Philippines.

 303 days have passed since Noynoy Aquino promised to distribute Hacienda Luisita to their rightful owners, and Noynoy’s promise remains outstanding.

If the above incidents bother your conscience, then you must be wondering why the recent Pulse Asia survey gave Mr. Aquino a flattering appraisal of his early presidency. But if by a miracle or whatever reason you happen to agree with the survey, then you are probably also living in another planet.

It is not surprising that President Noynoy Aquino continues to sleep on his job since induction to the presidency. He was a do-nothing member of Congress, both as a senator and a representative. Noynoy is an accidental president, brought to the highest position in the land because of the legacy of his parents, and not by his own merit.

But what does polling public opinion really suggest? Or is it any helpful at all?

Politics in the United States and Canada rely quite heavily on polling numbers. Bad polling numbers could in fact be disastrous. No politician would dare champion unpopular schemes or even seek public office when his numbers in the polls are too low. During the Clinton administration, social security and other key issues were almost entirely shaped by poll findings. For example, when Bill Clinton planned to make parents responsible for their children’s crimes drew dismal support in public opinion, he quickly retreated and abandoned his plan. In Canada, the sitting Prime Minister is likely to call for an election when the polling numbers favour his party.

Our government and leaders have been putting too much weight on polls, as if this is the best way to promote democracy. Obviously, poll surveys have serious shortcomings which may not be curable under present circumstances. Even if respondents are absolutely honest and the highest technical standards are satisfied, opinions sometimes can be politically irrelevant. Wrong opinions may be possibly collected and when leaders follow this guidance, they could be poor alternatives to intuition or personal experience.

President Aquino’s spokesperson was quick to exploit the Pulse Asia survey by saying that it “is an indication that the President and the public are in harmony as to national goals on the way to pursue reforms needed.” At this early in the President’s term, Lacierda must probably have spoken too soon. The most he could have accomplished was to massage Aquino’s ego into believing he has been doing his job well.

Perhaps, Vice President Jejomar Binay was more circumspect and prudent in his response to his 78 per cent approval rating by seeing it more as an expression of optimism and confidence in the future. If at all, the Pulse Asia survey shows a glimmer of hope, not a very reliable approval rating of presidential performance.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Our gift of happiness

If you’re unhappy, blame the economy. Certainly for the Irish, it’s the economy, stupid. But if you are U.S. President Barack Obama, you may well add the Republicans and the Tea Party movement to your woes.

As the gross domestic product of most nations, big and small, continues to dwindle, governments are now starting to ask if it’s time to rethink the measure of a country’s growth or decline and whether it has anything to do with the level of happiness of the people.

The British (UK) government, for example, is set to include a “happiness index” in gauging the national mood, which would include measuring people’s psychological and environmental well-being. France and Canada are also looking at similar initiatives as the movement to think seriously about being happy goes global. Nobel economists Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen have urged world leaders to move away from a purely economic concept of gross domestic product to one that includes measures of well-being and sustainability, and the world seems to be listening.

Even a poor country like the Philippines has jumped on the bandwagon. Senator Loren Legarda has suggested measuring whether economic activities make people live in a healthier environment, educated and better acquainted with their cultural roots. Legarda echoes the philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH) which the Kingdom of Bhutan practises in looking at their economic growth.

Bhutan’s concept of GNH is anchored on its four pillars: sustainable and equitable socio-economic development, environmental and cultural conservation, and good governance. So far, however, the Bhutan government has only produced technical papers about its GNH philosophy, and no actual and practical way of measuring it.

This is why the UK government intends to add questions in its household survey which starts as early as next spring about people’s subjective well-being, with the purpose of attaining a more objective sense of how well people are achieving their life goals. There is a pervading air of nervousness in Downing Street with the prospect of testing the national mood amid the government’s deepest budgetary cuts in a long time.

But the problem in measuring national well-being or happiness depends largely on the accuracy of surveys and who are conducting them. Well-being is a multifaceted dimension and cannot be reduced to a simple question of how happy people are or how satisfied they are with their life. People may be satisfied with their basic needs if that is the only thing you may want to find out. They may be happy with their present state of health, their jobs or their income. Yet they may be unsatisfied with their government leaders, the way they make decisions or policies about the environment or solutions for criminality. And if the government is conducting the survey, it may be logical to expect that its questionnaire will include only matters which it may be held responsible, or those which would yield favourable responses about those who run the government and their performance. Public perception could be everything, and no sitting government will allow itself to be damned by a wave of popular discontent and dissatisfaction.

If the government is to be trusted with any type of “happiness” survey, then it should be willing to test its fairness by allowing validation of the results by non-governmental surveys from time to time. A replication of the official surveys will provide transparency and reliability as to their methodology or original or raw data, which in the long run, will make people trust this kind of surveys.

But let us keep ourselves grounded on the earth we are standing on right now. Why this sudden interest in measuring whether we are happy or unhappy? For one, it only shows how much we have become miserable with our lives to dwell on happy or unhappy thoughts, and even for governments to conduct official surveys to find out our state of well-being as a probable excuse for admitting a declining GDP. For instance, there is the perception that the rich are really getting richer, and they may not make for a happy society when you count and stack their numbers against the poor or even the fabled middle class. Is this a fair thing or not?

For us Filipinos, whether here in Toronto or in Manila, happiness is a state of mind that doesn’t need measuring. Our idea of happiness is very shallow, as we commonly attribute this to our nonchalant attitude of mababaw ang kaligayahan natin (our happiness wellspring is hollow). As one Filipino writer suggests, “we are a culture of conviviality.” We all embrace our basic values of pakikisama, hiya, utang na loob (friendship, shame, debt of gratitude) as opposed to Western values such as individual authenticity, freedom, virtue, etc. We favour maintaining smooth relations over being confrontational. We would prefer to suffer in silence rather than push our grievances, no matter how legitimate.

After centuries of colonization, we still remain imprisoned by this culture that values sociability for the sake of preserving harmonious relationships. We welcome foreigners to our land and homes with open arms, even let them exploit our natural wealth. Our culture of happiness springs from our good relations with our family, relatives, friends and neighbours – to be able to engage them in pleasant conversations, story-telling and sharing of jokes.

No wonder the Philippines has outranked the United States in the world’s survey of happiest countries. But the significance of this ranking hides our other more pernicious side, if we are to probe deeper into the culture that allows this generosity. For some of us, we appear to be benevolent only insofar as it will make us look good outside, or being caring only when it pertains our immediate family and relations.

Even as we have been transplanted abroad, our basic cultural orientation still radiates towards home. Away in a foreign land, it is still with our family and friends where we feel happiest. But to a certain limit. We do good and feel good where it puts us way ahead of or held in high esteem by others. Or we do good and feel good when it earns us points.

This weekend, graduates from the University of the Philippines here in Toronto are holding a Christmas shindig with singing and dancing that reminisce the nostalgic early seventies, with features such as Two for the Road with Joey and Elvira and Uncle Bob and Friends for the older ones, and Penthouse Live 1 with Martin and Pops and Friends for the younger set. Although the invitation suggested that attendees could bring Christmas gifts for disadvantaged children, this part was made “optional only.” That the gifts for the disadvantaged children should merit only second mention and a caveat to boot (just in case attendees would not be as well disposed to share at this season of giving as they are with the partying), says a lot on what we believe and value most.

Like the rich Filipinos back home who think giving to the poor is an act of charity that can be disposed of at will, alumni of the Philippines’ premier state university in Toronto have shown real benevolence or caring for the poor: they may or may not give it, depending on their predisposition or mood at the moment. But the partying will go on. We are a happy people, after all.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Life is a cabaret

Sally Bowles’s powerful closing song, “Life is a cabaret,” sums up her choice to turn away from reality, taking the cabaret as a great escape from the burden of society’s troubles. But the actual message of the film Cabaret is exactly the opposite: escapism is dangerous for the individual and to society as a whole.

The choice of a musical to highlight the dangers of escapism is quite ironic because it is typically for pure entertainment. Somehow the director, Bob Fosse, in using film techniques such as crosscutting and montage, was able to enhance the message that escapism is wrought with dangers. Through his characters and plot, Fosse showed us the inherent dangers that escapism brings. Through Sally and Brian, he showed us the dangers for the individual, and through the hedonistic baron, Max, the dangers for society.

Yet, the image of Liza Minnelli singing “Life is a cabaret” continues to linger on and remind us, not of its dark message, but of the fleeting joy and delight in leaving your troubles outside. The song offers us a fantasy, for we can see that outside of cabaret, life is anything else but. This rings a bell in today’s politically unstable world (the terrorists are out to destroy us and sow anarchy everywhere) and depressed economy (people are losing jobs and their homes as the economy remains in shambles). What better way to forget our troubles than to escape in fantasies, in what entertainment can offer: the Internet, Facebook, YouTube, video games, Hollywood and Bollywood, sports, sex, gambling, porn, alcohol and drugs. Even religion is targeted as a form of opiate, like a potent drug, albeit metaphysical, capable of relieving one’s depression and worries in life.

One person stands out from my experience whenever I am reminded of escapism. To caricature him as the epitome of a happy-go-lucky type is doing him a great disservice. From all appearances, he’s more than the sum of his parts. Or he is just a great escape artist, better than Houdini or Steve McQueen.

This guy I’m talking about plies his taxi around the busy streets of Toronto. He drives his own cab and hires out two or three more, so he could qualify as an entrepreneur, rather than a lowly cab driver which has become a ubiquitous job for male immigrants from South Asia. Nothing mysterious or quirky about him—unlike Robert de Niro in the film The Taxi Driver—although he talks like a straight-shooter like de Niro. “You talkin’ to me,” it could have been him mouthing de Niro’s famous line with the typical accent of a New Yorker.

While wandering around or gallivanting with his friends—happy and inebriated revellers like him—he would tweet to his group in the Internet about his musings on life and almost everything under the sun. Never a dull moment for this guy, or even his colourful commentary of life around him. Nothing seems to dampen him, even if you intimate or insinuate about his obvious lack of refinement. If you do this, he’ll predictably come back at you jabbing and stinging like a butterfly, almost like Ali and Pacquiao combined. He doesn’t get mad, but can make your blood boil that you wish you could just dunk his head. Everything to him is a joke; he wears the cap of the eternal jester. Sometimes you wonder, is this guy for real? Like Nietzsche’s Übermensch? What could be the true persona behind his mask of invulnerability against the weight of everything others seem so incapable to bear?

Sometimes, people could be just like this fellow I know. He might be in an escape mood every time, trying to mask his own problems and frailties, but it is too hard to tell. Unlike others who are so transparent. One guy who pretended he belonged to a group tried too much to blend in, flaunting his association with known members of the group with tall tales about his exploits. It was obvious that he wanted people to notice him, to pay attention to his presence, so he concocted an intricate web of fantasy which he thought would last. But time and the truth finally caught up with him and he was exposed.

Is this happy and content cab driver like Sally Bowles? Are they both trying to escape reality? One in the cheerful life of the cabaret, where everything is warm and beautiful? While the other, steering his cab wherever his fare would tell him to go, unmindful of all the troubles around him, not even the potholes on the street.

In a letter to his chat-group sometime ago, our man about town belittled the intelligence of anyone who thought it was a good idea to write a petition to kick out a non-member, even suggesting that intelligence can become hazardous to one’s health (whatever it meant). Then ending his missive with a plea for everyone to ignore him, he wrote: “Don’t mind me. I’m just a donkey with a hangover last night. Please forgive me.” How, in heaven’s name, could you not possibly burst in laughter and not simply forgive this hapless guy?

Sally in the movie was caught up in the cabaret lifestyle, choosing to be detached from life outside or around her. She chose the world of the cabaret, yet she lost everything and gained nothing. She lost her father’s respect, and lost both Brian and Max, too. Most importantly, she lost an intrinsic part of who she was, the life inside her.

We all know, at least those who have watched Cabaret and still vividly remember the film, what happened to Sally in the end. But we don’t know how to divine what the future holds for our guy in the cab. Sally Bowles’s downward spiral reflected the grave consequences of running away, of escaping. For our man, no one can really tell. Maybe someday he’ll leave us with these words: “Sorry, this cab is taken.”

I have chosen to write about these two characters to demonstrate that reality is, most of the time, what life offers in real time, and not the full-length story we see in a film. Reality is ongoing, non-stop and the end may or may not happen soon. Cinema, on the other hand, is over after one-and-a-half or two hours.

The paradox is that running away from reality in the film shows us it’s not always going to end living happily ever after. On the other hand, our guy who simply brushes aside life and its troubles in gay abandon, seems to run away with it and enjoys being in his own cabaret. One time he told me that life is just a joke, and he might not be kidding after all. Perhaps, he is not running away or escaping like Sally. In spite of everything, he could be running with reality tagging along with him.

Take one more time to reflect on one of his rants: “What have we proven out of all this brouhaha? Aha, I know what it is. One, lots of intelligence but lack of common sense. Two, lots of animosity but lack of compassion, respect and love. And lastly, lots of big egos but lack of life experiences.”

Most people feel the need to escape their real life (that’s why reality shows are a hit), but often what they really want to run away from is their thoughts about their life. Our man in the cab seems to possess the rare ability to forget all his fears, worries or disenchantments. He doesn’t let his mind spin round and round, for if he does, he knows what happens to most, his mind will never shut off. It will control him, and that will annoy and exhaust him to no end.

Perhaps, this is the key to a wonderful and happy life: the ability to shut down one’s brain and thoughts and just keep on living life as you see it. When you happen to be on the street downtown, flag down a cab and ask the man on the wheel if his name is Ray and what keeps him going. You may learn a lesson or two.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mainstream as the new social order

Many Filipino professionals in Toronto, at least those I know from my alumni association, lament some of the experiences told by Filipino newcomers to Canada about other people mistaking them for nannies. The newcomers recount how they had been asked if they could clean their co-workers’ homes after work or if their parents had also come to Canada as nannies. Somehow this gave the impression that being a nanny is degrading, especially if this is attributed to an entire ethnic group.

What’s wrong with being a nanny?

To many socially-mobile Filipinos in Toronto, it has become a stigma to be identified with the Filipino nanny, the lowest of jobs in this affluent metropolis. Strange but true, these professionals who’ve made it big in their job careers don’t want to be associated with their poor country cousins. Instead, they want to be identified as the new Filipinos: professional, competent, who dress and speak like Whites, and are a vital part of mainstream Canada. As one so-called professional and leader of his alumni association said, “There is more to Filipinos here in Canada than caregiving.”

To counter such image, of being identified with a nanny, some Filipino professionals have suggested that Filipinos should try not to talk, nor think or dress like a nanny. That they should integrate themselves into the mainstream, learn about hockey so they can easily assimilate in group conversations in this hockey-crazed city.

Almost instantly, the nanny has become the new leper, and it is quite tragic that this perception is being engendered by fellow Filipinos. Perhaps, we need a drastic makeover or plastic surgery so we can alter the way we look or speak in order to conform to the dominant image of the superior race perpetrated by centuries of Spanish and American colonialism. A by-product of racism, colonial rule has ingrained a colonial mentality among Filipinos that “white skin is better.” More than 60 per cent of Filipinos today believe that life in North America or Europe is a lot superior to their own culture and country. Economically speaking, that makes sense, but do we have to look down on our own?

This reminds me of how Filipinos were portrayed in early Hollywood films as the proverbial maid or valet, such as in Reflections on the Golden Eye where Marlon Brando had a conversation with his wife’s (played by Elizabeth Taylor) servant Procopio. Or that Filipino wife of an Australian from the outback in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, who had a special knack for spitting ping pong balls from between her thighs. We have been racially stereotyped in the past as lowly servants and this tragic image continues in the present, thanks to the help of members from our own ethnic community.

Integrating in mainstream activities has been bandied as the most effective way we can earn a respectable identity that truly reflects our educational and professional background, that we are not merely a nanny population. The word “mainstream” seems to be the magic word. Everywhere and every time mainstream is spoken as if it were a synonym for society.

Perhaps, this is a failure of the policy of multiculturalism that promises every ethnic community to retain its culture and tradition in the larger Canadian mosaic. What multiculturalism has accomplished is to push minority groups to the fringes of political and economic power. It only helped establish and fund organizations that single out the promotion of the cultural elements of their ethnic origins to dressing in traditional costumes, showcasing their traditional dances, and serving their exotic culinary feasts. Yet ethnic communities in Canada still lag far behind the circles of power in politics, business, and social life.

Filipino organizations in Toronto, whether community or grassroots-oriented or professional associations, are essentially inward looking. We continue to serve our parochial interests and fail to attract the mainstream’s involvement in our activities. Thus, we continue to hold beauty pageants and singing contests, invite talents from the Philippines to perform in concerts, profess our religious devotion in pilgrimages and processions, or hold annual festivals featuring and promoting our local businesses but only to ourselves.

When a group invited Miguel Syjuco, award-winning author of Ilustrado, those in attendance felt an affinity to our historical ilustrado of the Spanish colonial period, affirming what Syjuco has said in one interview that overseas Filipinos are the new ilustrados. Truth is, most of us here in Canada or even in the United States are not born from wealthy and privileged families.

In Toronto alone, more than half of the 250,000 population of Filipino origin are former nannies and their families. More than ten per cent of the Filipino population live overseas, about 8 million souls, not because they are escaping from their rich and landowning Filipino families but from the lack of opportunities in our homeland. They are the face of the new Filipino diaspora, voluntarily exiled to foreign lands in search of better-paying jobs and a better life.

Interestingly different and much more intellectually refreshing was a small forum organized recently by our young people at the Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts and Culture. The forum, part of the Kamalayan Konsciousness Series, was about the role of the ilustrados in our history and their relevance today, especially to émigrés like us in Toronto. A consensus was arrived by the young group that we could be the “new propagandists,” like the Propaganda movement’s Rizal, del Pilar and Lopez Jaena during the Spanish colonial times, in spreading a better understanding of the present conditions in the Philippines to our kababayans in Toronto. There was no false pretence of kinship to the historical ilustrado because most, if not all of them, hail from working class families.

A more worthwhile event also happened recently in Toronto at the launching of Gawad Kalinga Canada, with GK founder Tony Meloto as guest. Even if this was for the particular benefit of Filipinos in the Philippines, the launch engaged the participation of Canadian companies in building sustainable communities for the poor in the Philippines. Canadian companies led by Telus and Sun Life Canada as well as the Toronto-based Canadian Urban Institute—already involved in building communities in the Philippines—were present, along with Filipino-Canadians who have rallied to the cause of our poor countrymen.

A few nights later, a Philippine alumni association held its bash to pay tribute to its past leaders, as if being chosen as the organization’s president was not enough recognition by itself. This is an archetypal Filipino social gathering in Toronto, with self-serving speeches, pats in the back, and dancing until the clock strikes midnight. Yet, these are the very same people who would challenge Filipinos to join the mainstream and be an active part of the Canadian social fabric and not to be insular yet ending up catering to their own tribal and trivial preoccupations.

Last November 15, my wife and I attended a forum sponsored by the Literary Review of Canada (LRC) on “Our Green Economy” at the Gardiner Museum. The forum invited Andrew Heintzman, author of The New Entrepreneurs: Building a Green Economy for the Future, to speak on how green venture capitalists are reconciling the need to protect environment from the demands of a high-growth economy. Heintzman’s thesis is that green capitalists can save the world. It was refreshing to hear questions and answers on oil sands, global warming, carbon tax, cap and trade, and other matters ordinarily heard in big debates between the Conservatives, the Liberals, and social activists on Canada’s hot issues of the day. Heintzman concluded that today’s green tycoons are showing the way on how to make money and at the same time save the planet.

Not one of those Filipino professionals we often hear enjoining fellow Filipinos to mix and be part of the mainstream was in the audience that night. Was it hockey night in Canada? Or perhaps they were still celebrating Manny Paquiao’s victory in his last fight toward establishing himself as boxing’s greatest of all time?

The condescending attitude of some Filipino professionals to look down on the plight of nannies only reveals their utter ignorance of why our women are leaving the Philippines to take on jobs beneath their qualifications. Maybe these same professionals are so besot of their own success that they have become oblivious of their own past struggles to be where they are now.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The new panopticon

Our insatiable thirst for tabloid fodder makes privacy a lost cause for the famous. No celebrity is safe from tabloid gossip anymore. The more famous you are, the more you are hounded by the paparazzi until everything about you is made public.

But nothing compares to the advances of technology and how they have made our society a modern-day panopticon where everything and everyone are under constant observation.

The social theorist Jeremy Bentham designed a prison called the panopticon which allows the observation of all the prisoners without them knowing they are being watched. Bentham did not see the panopticon built during his time, but his design was invoked by Michel Foucault (1926-1984) who is often described as the most important philosopher of the second half of the twentieth century.

In his work Discipline and Punish, Foucault used the panopticon as a metaphor for society’s invasive tendency to observe and punish aberrant behaviour.

Today, the Internet as a structure for social control is sometimes referred to as the new panopticon. Many new technologies, in particular new Internet services, are eroding privacy worldwide, with the United States leading efforts to remove legal restrictions that limit electronic surveillance.

Sometime in 1996, the FBI started using a program called Carnivore to randomly monitor email, a form of surveillance similar to telephone surveillance called “trunk-side” wiretapping, which has been illegal in the United States for more than 30 years. While it has been argued that email should be protected by the Constitution against government intruders, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that email messages stored in a computer are not protected by the Electronic Privacy Communications Privacy Act of 1986.

It is this feature of monitoring Internet users that gives the Internet a semblance of the panopticon prison structure.

As a conceptual structure, the panopticon can apply to any physical structure that allows those in a position of authority to monitor the inmates without the inmates knowing. Within the structure of the Internet, there are multiple layers of observation where no one knows who is the observer and who is the observed.

Today’s Internet user’s privacy is being overlooked to allow corporations to provide declared necessary services such as security against terrorists and hackers, control over illegal content (pornography, pirated computer music and film files, and dangerous information on how to build bombs, etc.)

While it is impossible to say or verify that one central organization is implementing panopticon on the Internet with the objective of achieving social control, the panopticon may in the near future emerge as a desirable structure for the perceived need for the protection of national security over Internet user safety. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) warned against the passage of the Patriot Act, for example, during the second Bush administration as a carte blanche authorization for the FBI to access communications of innocent people contrary to the core promise of the Fourth Amendment.

With the onset of the “Cam Era” or webcam technology, surveillance cameras have extended the panoptic technology of power. Surveillance has now become even subtler and more intense, fusing material space and cyberspace. One writer has called this as the contemporary urban panopticon.

As in Foucault’s ideation of the panopticon, all that is needed is just a gaze. There is no need for arms, physical violence or material constraints. People under surveillance can, as in the panopticon, be seen but never know when or by whom. They are under control but without physical intervention.

By erasing online privacy as already practised in some countries, governments are quick to embrace mass surveillance that threatens privacy rights. While the West is quick to criticize the Chinese government for its surveillance programs, London, England, with its “ring of steel,” has the highest number of street-corner cameras in the world, with roughly 16 cameras for every square mile.

The number of surveillance cameras in cities has grown so massively that our cities have become like enormous panopticons.

In London, thousands of surveillance cameras that line the city’s intersections and neighbourhoods have been credited for providing license plate numbers, images of suspects and other important clues in crime investigations.

New York, specifically lower Manhattan, the site of two terror attacks that included the 9/11 attack, is not far away in building its own “ring of steel.” The area includes the New York Stock Exchange, the Mercantile Stock Exchange, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the site where the World Trade Centre once stood and where the Freedom Tower is now being built.

Police officials say that surveillance cameras will be effective in helping combat crime and terrorism, perhaps even deter it. Civil liberties advocates, however, argue that such systems are a threat to privacy rights and just another step for a society to move toward a constant state of surveillance.

The modern-day electronic panopticon can be considered as unlimited warrantless surveillance. Civil libertarians, notably the American Bar Association and American Civil Liberties Union, are up in arms against the pervasive use of presidential power to monitor the activities of innocent civilians through electronic surveillance under the pretext of protecting national security interests.

It appears that the events of 9/11 may have pre-empted all objections to state monitoring of suspected or potential terrorists. However, there is a need to balance protection of national security with the right to privacy. While the President of the United States or any government leader must have the ability to use all the appropriate tools in his command to defeat the enemies of democracy, there is always a need for a careful balancing of interests. Otherwise, constitutional freedoms would become a victim of the fight against terrorism.

The electronic panopticon can be a tool to install totalitarianism, especially in an environment where technology has taken over every aspect of civil society. Through pervasive electronic surveillance of society and virtually every activity of its citizenry, the personal has become political, where the totalitarian goal is not just legal control over actions, but of our thoughts as well.

Those of us who oppose totalitarianism to flourish under the auspices of electronic technology must expose the agenda behind mass surveillance, censorship and thought crimes. Or we will run the risk of turning into a future reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984. The fact is, there are no longer any technical barriers to the Big Brother regime portrayed by Orwell as the surveillance monster grows in power. But it is upon us to continue building stronger restraints to protect our privacy.

We cannot allow September 11 to be continued to be used as a convenient pretext to loosen constraints that law enforcement has been chafing under for years.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Government for private profit

In his first state of the nation address, President Benigno Aquino III bewailed the fact that his new government has only 6.5 per cent (or 100 billion pesos) left of the total government budget of 1.54 trillion pesos to spend for the remaining months of the year. He pointed to his predecessor’s wasteful use of government funds as one reason for this sorry state of the nation’s coffers.

There was no need to worry, the President said, like a hopeful captain of the ship reassuring his passengers of the impending storm. “The answer is a new and creative approach to our long-standing problems. Many have already expressed interest and confidence in the Philippines. Our solution: public-private partnership,” the President declared.

In a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York during his first foreign trip as President last September, Noynoy Aquino repeated his mantra of public-private partnership. He said: “I am here today to tell you that my government is doing what it takes to create a more investor-friendly environment. I came here to declare that the Philippines is open for business under new management. The forging of private-public partnerships would be our main engine in revving up our economy. We will enlist the participation of the private sector, both domestic and foreign, in big-ticket, capital-intensive infrastructure projects, while ensuring reasonable returns. We look forward to the participation of the U.S. investors, specifically as we open up our infrastructure sector for foreign participation.”

What exactly is this public-private partnership or PPP that President Aquino is so enamoured of? Contrary to what Noynoy Aquino claimed as a “new and creative approach,” PPP has a history of two decades of hit-or-miss performance in the Philippines, having been started by his mother Cory Aquino through the Build-Operate and Transfer program or BOT upon the advice of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.

Before he left for New York, Noynoy Aquino signed an executive order renaming the BOT Centre as the Public-Private Partnership Centre of the Philippines (PPP Centre) and earmarked P300 million for the study and evaluation of selected PPP programs and projects.

The concept of public-private partnership (PPP) applies to a government service or private business venture that is funded and operated through a partnership of government and one or more private sector companies. It is sometimes referred to as P3.

Fundamentally speaking, public-private partnerships are about giving private investors and financiers high returns with low risks, at the long-term expense of taxpayers and the public. Proponents of P3s are able to borrow capital at lower rates of interest, which narrows the interest rate spread between private and public sector borrowing rates, allowing P3s to appear more financially attractive than otherwise.

In reality, however, private investors do not bring as much investment to the table as advertised but actually rely on foreign loans, frequently with state guarantees. The Aquino administration’s PPP program will likely be funded through a multibillion foreign borrowing scheme. Another possibility is the creation of a government corporate entity that would sell bonds to foreign creditors to raise funds to bankroll infrastructure projects.

Right now, the Aquino government is developing a proposal to set up a new entity that would serve as a financial intermediary for PPP projects, issuing bonds and providing funds, equity participation and guarantees. This initiative would also involve ongoing discussions with multilateral financial institutions. The government is also planning to establish an insurance scheme to protect private partners in the event of courts overturning a contract or issuing a stop order. A total of $15 billion has also been earmarked by the current administration for its 2011 budget, representing the government’s counterpart for funding of PPP projects

Doesn’t PPP sound like privatization, and nothing more? Critics of P3s in Canada point out that they are means to contract-out public services over the long term, which in effect, is “privatization by stealth.”

The ideological preference for the private sector is based on the belief that the private sector can deliver services more efficiently than the government, and that the role of the state should be reduced. This can be traced to the pro-privatization policies of the late 1970s and 1980s when governments in North America and the U.K. pushed heavily for deregulation, policy decentralization, cutting the size of government, outsourcing public services and privatizing important utilities such as gas, electricity and communications.

Right-wing political groups and neo-liberals also helped spawn the notion of the private sector being superior in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. But the cuts in public spending that they demanded served to fuel disenchantment with the public sector. Privatization created problems of its own that only proved that the private sector was just as capable of the inefficiencies commonly imputed to the public sector.

The failure of Metronet, the private company that won a £30 billion, 30-year P3 deal to upgrade and maintain London's Tube network best illustrates the pitfalls of privatization. Taking over the beleaguered transport, the City of London cost its taxpayers an extra £2 billion and left Londoners with 500 subway stations in various states of disrepair for a P3 deal that was forced on their city by the central government under its Private Finance Initiative (PFI). Even the normally conservative Economist magazine admitted that the P3 deals looked like "complicated costly mistakes."

There is no empirical foundation to the claim that the private sector is better at managing risk than the public sector. In Canada, where virtually all P3s have been modelled after the U.K. privatization efforts, a growing list of public-private ventures shows that P3s are both more risky and more costly for the public. A number of Canadian studies reveal that privatization is often no more efficient or less costly than conventional approaches to service delivery. In the area of utilities, for example, studies have shown that there is no significant difference between public and private utilities in terms of quality of service.

Noynoy Aquino’s first 100 days of presidency are not very encouraging for ordinary Filipinos. His ambitious privatization program, which rivals the privatization frenzy of the 1990s through the public-private partnership route, is a clear indication that his government will continue to adhere to controversial free market policies that have pushed poverty and hunger to their worst levels.

The present administration’s privatization initiative is tantamount to a mega-sale of the Philippines to foreign investors who would participate in the public-private partnership programs of the government, which is best advertised by Noynoy Aquino’s declaration that “the Philippines is open for business.” His trip to the U.S. netted him US$2.4 billion in committed fresh investments, which included US$1 billion of PPP funds from the American Energy Solutions (AES) for the expansion of the capacity of the Masinloc power plant by up to 660 megawatts.

After his state of the nation address last July, President Aquino has ordered increases in mass rail transit fares and power rate hikes to finance privatization debts and scrapping of the rice subsidy. The government justified the hikes in train fares as necessary in order to pay the investors’ profits which were guaranteed by the government despite the government’s takeover of the Metro Railway Transit (MRT) system.

Last month, the Philippine Supreme Court lifted its restraining order on toll fee hikes in Southern Luzon Expressway (SLEx), Skyway and Northern Luzon Expressway (NLEx) where it said that private developers contracted by the government to build and operate what should have been government-controlled services are entitled to the right to reasonable profit. Drivers using these expressways have lamented that the roads which are part of public service have now been privatized and turned into businesses for profits.

Everywhere public-private partnerships are resorted as options to build infrastructure or render essential public services like transportation and utilities, P3s have turned out to be both flawed and costly. The traditional way of creating infrastructure, for example, was to have the private sector design and build it, but for governments to finance, maintain and operate it. The P3 model extends the role of the private sector into all of those areas. Everybody wins, so they claimed P3s could deliver – the private sector gets paid well for their efforts and after say, 30 years or so projects revert back to the public. But the reality is, all too often, it is the citizens who are left holding the bag and the list of failures keeps on growing.

Public-private partnerships, like the huge bailouts the U.S. government needed to stimulate its economy after the Wall Street financial meltdown, ultimately place all the risk on the shoulders of the public, while the private sector gets all the profit. Infrastructure and public services are still best financed and delivered by the public sector, and should not be left to risky and unaccountable public-private partnerships, especially if the end goal is privatization.

A Canadian actor and activist puts it best: “P3s should be called P12s – Public-Private Partnerships to Plunder the Public Purse to Pursue Policies of Peril to People and the Planet for all Posterity.”

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The 4Ps: A poor strategy against poverty

Is living on government dole-outs the way out of poverty?

This is the underlying message behind the conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs initiated by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in line with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty by 2015. Mexico started the first CCT program in 1997 and it was copied by other countries. Brazil’s CCT program, called bolsa familia, became known worldwide and every other country is now attempting to replicate it.

The Arroyo government implemented its own CCT program, more popularly known as the 4Ps (Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program). President Benigno Aquino III is extending 4Ps as his administration’s signature program to combat poverty with a much bigger budget of P21-billion and an additional loan of $400 million from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon Soliman presided over former President Arroyo’s 4Ps. She will continue to be at the helm of the CCT program under the Aquino government. Recall that Soliman resigned from her position during the Arroyo administration in the wake of the Hello Garci election cheating scandal. President Aquino picked Soliman as his social welfare secretary after winning the presidential election last June 2010.

Even the megarich city of New York under Mayor Michael Bloomberg has fallen under the spell of the CCT program. New York City established Opportunity NYC as the first conditional cash transfer initiative in the United States, but unlike other programs already running in other parts of the world, the New York program is totally funded by a number of private partners.

The underlying premise behind a conditional transfer program is that it helps the poor to develop their human capital by breaking the cycle of poverty through monetary incentives that meet certain conditionalities. In essence, cash benefits under the CCT program are supposedly linked to specific behaviour changes that help recipients free themselves from the clutches of poverty.

To qualify for cash grants under the Philippine government’s 4Ps, recipients must meet the following conditions: pregnant women must get pre-natal and post natal health care, attend responsible parenthood sessions, children must receive regular preventative health check-ups, children 3-5 years old must attend day care at least 85 per cent of the time, children 6-14 years old must enrol in elementary or high school and attend classes 85 per cent of the time, and children below 14 years old must avail of de-worming pills every five months.

According to the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the 4Ps has already provided, as of January 2009, cash grants to 341,374 poorest households from 27 poorest provinces, 12 cities, and 148 municipalities in the country. By the end of 2009, a total of 700,000 households were expected to benefit from the program.

One heavy criticism of the CCT program is the perception that it is meant to "buy" votes of poor people. No doubt, the CCT program will help any incumbent government to secure votes to win an election. Brazilian President Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva, after assuming office in January 2003, expanded the country’s CCT program to become a vigorous social safety net program. Lula was re-elected handily largely because of bolsa familia, his government’s flagship poverty alleviation program. Too bad, Gloria Arroyo could not run for re-election after implementing her own version of the CCT program because of term limits, otherwise she could have used the 4Ps as a vote-generating arm.

Political apprehensions aside, do conditional cash transfer programs really and effectively help the poor break away from the cycle of poverty?

Building social safety nets has become the international trend in government policy-making since the 1980s, after the IMF and World Bank started their programs of economic stabilization and structural adjustment. Aimed towards market deregulation and increased competition, these programs were supposed to lead to the dismantling of the State machinery and cutbacks in public spending, especially in the social sectors. But structural adjustments ushered in adverse consequences like massive poverty, rising unemployment, and a host of other social problems.

Anti-poverty solutions became highly unaffordable under conditions of economic austerity. To counter these adverse social and economic effects of structural adjustments, a strategy was developed by using specific instruments such as social funds implemented by a range of institutions including government, civil society, international donors and the poor communities themselves. Thus, selective cash transfer policies became the major response to the problem of large-scale poverty, although they fall way short of the idea of providing universal benefits as a basic right similar to the guaranteed rights of citizens in industrialized nations.

Stories of families in Brazil who have slid back to conditions where they were before receiving stipends from the government under its bolsa familia sound like a warning to those who think the conditional cash transfer program as a panacea.

Evidence shows that bolsa familia is not working as well in cities as in rural areas where rural poverty in Brazil is much greater. Policy experts have said it would be in the large metropolises of developing countries where the problems of poverty are expected to grow in the future.

Brazil’s bolsa família program is not without its critics. One recurrent criticism of the program is that it discourages the search for employment, encouraging laziness among people. Under this premise, many people would give up trying to find a job, content to live on the program, which many Brazilians called the cesta esmola (“alms-basket”). The National Conference of Bishops of Brazil, a powerful arm of the Catholic Church, maintains that “the program is addictive,” and leads its beneficiaries to an “accommodation.”

Transposed to a highly urbanized environment like New York City, the city’s ambitious privately-funded conditional cash transfer program that offered rewards to poor families for maintaining good habits—like $25 or $150 for things such as going to the dentist, staying on the job or opening a bank account—turned out to be a dud.

Opportunity NYC produced such mediocre results that Mayor Bloomberg conceded it is likely not the answer to eradicating poverty. The Associated Press headline called it “Money for good habits doesn’t change lives.”

According to the urban poor group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay), the 4Ps of the Philippine government is a “deceitful program.” The government even has to borrow $400 million from the ADB to fund the 4Ps. As the government is already burdened with servicing its current debt, incurring additional debts will prove even more harmful to the country in the long run.

Besides failing to address the real causes of poverty, the 4Ps as presently construed is sorely insufficient. Compared with Brazil and Mexico which have one-fourth and one-fifth of their households under their respective CCT programs, the 4Ps covers only a mere one million out of 18 million households. Even if the DSWD achieves its 2.3 million target by 2011, it still represents about 0ne-eight of total households. Its impact, therefore, is very minimal and will not make a dent in poverty.

A 2009 study of the impact of CCT programs in Mexico and El Salvador pointed out that the success of any CCT program will depend on the availability of good-quality and accessible health and education services, together with the existence of a governmental system that provides the beneficiaries with access to other social programs. At present, the Philippines does not have this kind of necessary social infrastructure to make the 4Ps meaningful.

For the 4Ps to help families break free from the cycle of poverty, it must seriously address the real roots of mass poverty.

A government dole-out program will not help eradicate poverty. What is needed is a re-orientation of the Philippine economy to respond to the needs of the majority of the Filipino people, and not those of big foreign and local corporations.

Poverty reduction can only be achieved through vigorous, job creating economic growth with redistributive policies and social investment rather than the simple construction of safety nets like the 4Ps. The government’s current conditional cash transfer program fails to address the real problems of the people. With millions to spend, the program could potentially be the next big venue for corruption.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A ‘hands-off’ Presidency

In his presidential inaugural address, President Benigno Aquino III referred to the Filipino people as “you are my boss,” obviously in reference to the people who elected him to the highest office in the land. After one hundred days in office, the harsh reality of the Aquino government has started to sink in.

The President’s words, however, seem to grow hollow and hollower as his calendar days go by, and as the real meaning of the word “boss” becomes clearer—that it means to embrace only the interests of those in the middle class and upper crust of Philippine society, the same class the new president was born to. If it is any comfort to Noynoy Aquino, it is his own class that he truly represents. And while loyalty to his own class of origin is understandable, it will not be the correct basis of leadership for a president elected by a huge plurality of votes, more than 80 per cent of whom are poor.

Noynoy Aquino promised in his acceptance speech to institute changes that would reverse the anti-worker legacies of his predecessor. Among the most urgent issues that confronted labour in the previous Arroyo government were wage freeze, work contractualization, flexible work arrangements and regional wage-fixing, and trade union repression.

Yet, during the early days of his presidency, Noynoy Aquino looked the other way when the workers’ union of the nation’s flag carrier, the Philippine Airlines (PAL), accused its owner, the Lucio Tan Group, of violating labour standards such as paying flight attendants below minimum wages, not paying for their maternity leave, and not providing equal opportunities for the airline’s employees. To date, PAL employees have been prevented from collective bargaining as PAL management continues to play hardball negotiation. A proposed deregulation of the airline industry through an open-skies policy looms in the horizon as it threatens the dire labour situation at PAL.

Aquino is also quick to point out threats to changes he wanted his government to implement, yet is slow to react to violators of workers’ rights. ABS-CBN, a multi-media conglomerate owned by the powerful Lopez family, terminated more than a hundred long-time employees in violation of their rights but Aquino seemed unperturbed. Like PAL owner Lucio Tan, the Lopezes are perceived as avid supporters and close to President Aquino.

President Aquino’s position in most labour-management standoffs in his early presidency, which by now seems the business-as-usual or standard Aquino official policy, is to take a hands-off approach. The Aquino government calls this a policy of minimal intervention in labour disputes. It gives the appearance of impartiality, that the government is not taking sides. But by using the power of the Secretary of Labour to assume jurisdiction over labour disputes, the President in effect is forcing workers and their trade unions to stop all protest actions and force them to sit down with management to mediate their grievances or contract disputes.

Not that there's anything wrong with mediation and arbitration. While they may appear as harmless mechanisms to settle disputes, the past experiences of labour in the Philippines have taught them that employers are prone to take advantage of their powerful positions and coerce their employees to accept their own view of settling their disputes. It is not enough for President Aquino to tell PAL and other unions, for example, to continue talking and that management should respect their employees and their rights to decent wages and equal opportunities. The history of labour in the country is replete with instances where employers can get away with violating labour standards because the government is on their side.

Whenever labour unions start to flex their muscle by exercising the right to strike in order to press their demands, the government is lightning quick to assume jurisdiction. Trade unions have become disempowered, and once they sit on the negotiation table under the pretext of mediation, they have lost the only bargaining power they have. Employers and the government on their side, as history tells us, will force their way in coercing labour to its knees. The threat of police and military intervention is always present if the unions would attempt to disrupt work or production through other means of protest.

Labour has perceived the Aquino government as 1oo per cent anti-workers. The evidence speaks for itself. At this early stage of his presidency, Noynoy Aquino is on track to follow the anti-labour legacy of the past Arroyo administration.

Just as the Aquino government has already taken an anti-labour stance, President Aquino’s land reform program appears as equally wanting, if not by intelligent design, neglected as a government priority. He never mentioned anything about land reform in his inaugural speech, a program so close to his late mother’s heart. Noynoy Aquino’s decision not to interfere in the settlement of the dispute over Hacienda Luisita, a plantation owned by the President’s family and relatives, reveals the lack of strength and character in his leadership. Taking the cue from its non-interventionist labour policy, the Aquino government has again relied on the farcical and ineffectual process of mediation to settle the age-old Luisita problem, despite the issue having reached the Supreme Court to make a final determination.

By nature, President Aquino seems to possess the habit of evading responsibility. Consider, for example, the Rizal Park hostage taking and how he would not dare accept that key people in his administration were somehow responsible for their inaction or incompetence. The same goes with the involvement of one of his cabinet undersecretaries in the alleged jueteng scandal and the lack of moral culpability of his administration.

Last October 4-5, 2010, the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) convened in Brussels, Belgium. The ASEM, which was established in 1996 in Bangkok, is composed of leaders from the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the European Union (EU), China, South Korea, Japan, India, Pakistan and Mongolia. Twice a year, the ASEM holds a forum among its members to discuss economic and social issues that affect them, like trade, foreign debt, workers’ protections and other related matters.

President Aquino was invited by the secretariat of the Asia-Europe People’s Forum (AEPF), the civil society’s counterpart of ASEM, but declined to attend because the forum’s most important leaders would not be present. It was the first time that a Philippine president did not attend the summit.

Whereas in the past, previous Philippine presidents gave importance to the ASEM forum by their attendance, President Aquino decided not to go, and as a result, has missed the chance to push the concerns of Filipino migrant workers in Europe, which hosts hundreds of thousands of overseas Filipino workers. Europe is also one of the biggest sources of development aid for the Philippines, and the ASEM could be an appropriate forum for President Aquino to speak about his campaign promise to solve poverty by eradicating graft and corruption.

The President’s current preoccupation showed its clearest manifestation when he recently visited New York. Thrilled to set foot in the place that evoked nostalgia and reminded him of his teens when the Aquino family was in exile, he said there was nothing that beats being back in his old haunts and eating hotdog on a New York street. With his pliant entourage gathered around him, the President offered his profuse apologies for making reporters wait while he took his lunch—mind you, $54 instead of the $22,000 tab by his predecessor—in the same cavalier way he makes light of the awesome responsibilities bestowed upon an elected leader of the people.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why do we leave?

Migration of humans across continents has occurred since the dawn of human evolution. Most people generally leave for the same reason. Today’s migrants move to look for greener pastures, or for a better job or opportunity to support their families. Like their forebears who moved in search of food, shelter or a more hospitable climate. There are, of course, a few others who move for a different reason rather than purely economic.

Professor Solita Monsod’s premise in her supposedly last lecture in her Economics class at the University of the Philippines (U.P.), videotaped and shown on YouTube (please click picture on the right to view), seems out of touch with the reality of migration. Addressing her students, Prof. Monsod said that leaving the country is like a betrayal. Especially when the country needs their brains in order to join the elite countries of the developed world. In fairness, Prof. Monsod was talking solely to U.P. students whose education is largely subsidized by the government and scholarship grants, compared to those who studied in private universities and paid for their own tuition. Although, she was only emphasizing the obligation of U.P. graduates to give back to their country, her message could apply as well to graduates of other Philippine schools.

Other than the sophomoric exhortation of the former Economic Planning Minister of the Philippines, nothing in her last lecture is obviously of value, either intellectually or for any simple sentimental reason, like keeping the YouTube lecture as a memento or showing it around. The lecture didn’t even relate to the subject matter she taught, and it sounded like a last parting shot, so for that matter she could probably be forgiven.

When my wife told Prof. Monsod we were leaving the country in the mid-eighties, right after the political turbulence of the EDSA Revolution, she asked my wife if there was a job waiting for us in Canada. My wife wrote her speeches at that time when Prof. Monsod was a cabinet secretary. She obliquely reassured her that I had a job, when the reason for our leaving was not economic but something more fundamental than putting food on the table. Prof. Monsod also lived for a while in the United States while her husband worked with the World Bank and she completed her post-graduate studies.

Why do Filipinos continue to leave the country?

The simple answer is that most of them are “pushed” from the country because of its conditions, mostly economic, and are “pulled” to a new country where the quality of life is much better, i.e., where there are jobs which pay more and better opportunities for the children.

In the past, migration used to be from the rural areas to the urban centres within the country. But as population grew in the cities and jobs became more scarce, overseas has become the new destination. Besides, our quality of life has deteriorated, the political situation has turned to worse, economic opportunities monopolized by big and rich corporations, and our culture and intellectual life have become self-indulgent with forms or figures of entertainment that cater to our most decadent desires. In other words, our country’s fabric as a liveable society has broken down.

Young people leave because opportunities for them to grow have run out. No wonder our schools today produce graduates who are prone to be poached upon by the more advanced countries. As an economist, Prof. Monsod knew this was bound to happen. In effect, our country—so poor and broken down—subsidizes the education and training of the workforce of the rich and powerful countries. All these countries have to do is simply to cream our country of the best of its talent pool. Maybe, our government should ask the governments of foreign countries that rob us of valuable manpower to reimburse our government for training expenses for every Filipino going abroad to migrate. This seems totally logical if what overseas Filipino workers and migrants remit back home is not enough to keep the country afloat.

Perhaps, what Prof. Monsod should be more concerned is why Filipinos, after they have left the country and did so well abroad, eventually lost the yearning to go back. So unlike how she felt when she and her husband decided to return and serve back home.

Most refugees from ravaged and war-torn societies return after a series of significant political changes have been achieved and social reconstruction has followed in earnest. The animus to return was also true with a great number of Europeans who have migrated to America before the end of the Second World War or for present-day migrants, when their countries have recovered from economic slowdowns. Many children of Chinese and Korean immigrants have returned to their parents’ homelands to start up their own businesses or apply the education and skills they learned abroad. Sadly, however, this phenomenon of returning is not happening in great numbers in the case of overseas Filipinos. More and more are simply leaving and staying put where they have resettled.

The motivation to return is driven by changes in the home country that attract people to go home and re-establish their lost roots. If nothing much has changed between the time they left and now, people will never go back home, except to visit. Prof. Monsod should not fault those who leave or even those who do not wish to return if her only rationale is to point out their act of betrayal. As if patriotism is static and confined to the ground where one stands.

One can be outside of the country and still be loyal and true to one’s homeland. Look at Marcelo H. del Pilar, Graciano Lopez Jaena and Jose Rizal, the leaders of the propaganda movement during the Spanish colonial period. Today, where citizenship is more elastic, i.e., more than one allegiance is allowed in most countries, patriotism has become borderless. There must be preconditions for returning; in other words, the circumstances on the ground must have changed to attract people to re-acquire their old citizenship or rekindle their interest to go back home.

Why Filipinos leave is easy to understand. But it is not as easy as accepting why so many will not come home again.

We have friends from university who have been dividing their time between Canada and the Philippines every year. Their goal is to resettle eventually. The reason behind their decision to go back: their children who seem to have re-discovered their parents’ native land through the magic of music and film. Perhaps, it is our children, born or raised in a foreign land, who will pursue this miracle of returning, more than us old fogeys who most probably are in our retirement years.

Speaking of retirement, wouldn’t it be the most laudable of all reasons to go back to our homeland and spend the rest of our lives dedicating it to things we have always wanted to do when we were young? It could be as lofty as helping rebuild the nation, or as practical as promoting literacy, or nurturing and caring our natural habitat, even if it’s only a small garden patch. This perhaps will make Prof. Monsod smile and release us from her haunting from the grave.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Healthcare as a matter of right

After a year of refuge in Baguio City from the first shock of martial law imposed by Ferdinand Marcos in 1972, our young family decided to leave the mountain retreat and return to the confines of old Manila. Actually, with another child coming, I needed to look for work to support my growing family. Two years later, I would find a job with the Population Centre Foundation, a private organization established to promote and fund family planning programs and research as part of the New Society’s population control initiative. The Foundation was bankrolled by huge grants from the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations and the USAID.

Here it was one late sultry afternoon when the chairperson of the Foundation, the First Lady of the land, Imelda Romualdez-Marcos, made a surprise visit along with her retinue of friends and foreign visitors, among them Van Cliburn, the celebrated American pianist. She wanted to show the new building and its modern facilities to her guests. For the first time, I got up close and personal with the dictator’s better-half, even shaking her soft and silky hands that exuded a fragrance totally foreign to my native nose buds. Mesmerized for some reason, I didn’t wash my hand that night to keep the bouquet as fresh as possible. My right hand was also a bit swollen, almost crushed, when I shook hands with the famous Van Cliburn, whose fingers were so large they could run the full length of two baby grands.

By that time, the Population Commission, the government office in charge of family planning on a national level, was already distributing free condoms, contraceptives and other birth control devices in health centres throughout the country. Their offices were also housed in the Foundation’s new edifice which was part of the tour that I conducted for the heavily-scented First Lady and her guests. The tour ended in the ultramodern kitchen where someone from the group started asking whether there was any food they could nibble before they left. It was fortunate that the canteen concessionaire had a whole apple pie left and the guests, including the wife of the New Society helmsman, digged at it as if they had not eaten for days. Well, the guests loved the lip-smacking apple pie. My boss, the executive director of the Foundation and Madame Imelda’s gynaecologist, took me aside and whispered if I could ask the concessionaire to send another pie to Malacanang Palace where the First Lady and her husband lived. Mrs. Marcos would really appreciate it, he added. His total obeisance jolted me from my bad dream. I quit my job soon after, promising myself not to kowtow again to the infamous occupants of the Palace by the Pasig River, and never to eat an apple pie when our starving people couldn’t even afford to smell or buy a real apple.

More than 35 years have passed and now the country’s Roman Catholic Church is being threatened by a Reproductive Healthcare bill in Congress. For some, it would have been better without such a law since the Catholic Church never protested against family planning and birth control during the Marcoses’ halcyon days. Was it also because the Church lost its voice during the twenty years of iron rule by the Marcoses? Others rue that Church hierarchy waited it out till after the EDSA People Power Revolution drove the Marcos family out of the country. Yes, from all indications, the hierarchy’s reaction was far and between a little bit too late.

Promiscuity, among the young especially, had become permissive. New social values and sexual norms have sprung up and eroded the modesty and temperance of the old generation. The fact is that the Church had slept and almost by default allowed the forces of progress to march onward along with birth control devices. Except for its unflinching stand against abortion, the Church has lost this fight a long time ago.

Truth is, the proposed reproductive healthcare law is not all about birth control as the Church and other opponents of the bill would like to portray it. It only became a family planning issue after President Benigno Aquino III during a recent visit to the United States said that he would extend assistance to couples planning to limit the number of their children by using artificial contraceptives. According to the Church, contraception is a type of abortion and it is a grave crime and banned by the Constitution.

Arguments over the proposed reproductive health law range from whether population control will actually alleviate poverty or whether the law is moral or immoral. Oftentimes, our leaders and policy makers blame overpopulation as the root cause of poverty. That kind of argument goes far back to the Middle Ages which echoed the plaint raised by an Italian priest and diplomat by the name of Giovanni Botero, who said that population cannot increase beyond its food supply.

There are other countries and cities in the world which are much more crowded than Manila or the entire country, yet they have a higher gross domestic product per capita. Accepting that a manageable population of healthy, educated and productive citizens is key to sustainable human development, population control is not an assurance of genuine development.

Poverty in the Philippines is not caused by overpopulation but by farmers’ problems of landlessness, workers’ lack of jobs and low wages, and government policies that favour big business interests over people’s welfare. An inequitable concentration of wealth in the hands of the richest 10 per cent of the population also reinforces widespread poverty.

Any effective reproductive healthcare law must address issues beyond population control—not just about the use of pills, injectibles, condoms and cycle beads. It must focus on making reproductive healthcare services accessible to all women, particularly indigent and poor women workers who have long been excluded from healthcare. It’s the woman’s health, stupid, to borrow from James Carville’s famous epithet.

The poor, particularly women, have always been at the losing end of this debate about population control. Take abortion on demand, for example. Criminalizing abortion has forced pregnant women who do not want to give birth to seek clandestine options. A recent study made by the New York-based Centre for Reproductive Rights found that over half of all pregnancies in the Philippines are unintended and one-third of these pregnancies end in abortion. The same report also said that because of various reasons including rape and dire socio-economic consequences, half a million Filipino women are choosing abortion with more than 1,000 women dying and 90,000 being hospitalized for complications from unsafe abortion.

Making abortion illegal does not stop abortion; it only makes it more dangerous for the health and lives of Filipino women. The Philippines, which owes its Roman Catholic faith to Spain, makes abortion criminal by lifting directly from the old Spanish Penal Code of 1870. Because of high rates of death from unsafe abortion due to its illegality, Spain has already reconsidered its restrictive law and, since 1985, has allowed abortion on certain grounds. In February 2010, Spain went even further in liberalizing abortion by allowing the procedure without restrictions up to 14 weeks and by giving 16- and 17-year-olds the right to have abortions without parental consent.

Other predominantly Catholic countries like Belgium, France, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Colombia, Mexico and Portugal have all also allowed abortion on certain grounds.

Whether to allow women to abort is a hot issue that will linger, perhaps even forever. Those who believe in the sanctity of human life in accordance with the teachings of their religion will never be deterred in championing the pro-life cause. Pro-choice activists will do the same. Bridging this great divide will require a rational understanding of social evidence that more and more women today die from unsafe abortions. In the end, the real issue is whether we should deny healthcare as a matter of right to these unfortunate women.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The perils of voting

Prior to coming to Canada, I had never voted in any election, whether national or local. On second thought, I might have had—but in student elections. In fact, I voted for myself in one of those elections for a college student government. And if you’re wondering—yes, I won by a plurality of votes.

The year I became eligible to vote, Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law all over the Philippines and if there had been any elections held that time, they were sham and not free. After the EDSA Revolution, we decided to leave for Canada and entirely missed exercising our right to vote in any of the elections after the Marcos dictatorship. But in retrospect, we might not have voted because we had always entertained the idea of either boycotting the elections or spoiling the ballot. So whichever way it was, it didn’t seem like voting at all.

It’s totally a different story when we came to Canada. Voting could be very frustrating. Most of the time we see only the grief and sadness of defeat in the losing candidates’ faces. But how about voters like us, who never experienced picking a winning candidate. Save for Jack Layton, the NDP opposition leader who is the Member of Parliament for our riding. And David Miller, the left-leaning mayor of Toronto whom we voted for a change. But he decided to step down after two terms and forgo a third stab for re-election. You would know by now the type of candidates or political party we support, so you can understand our anguish if our candidates always lose during elections, save for these two notable faces.

We have quite a number of aspirants for the Toronto mayor’s office. This is a very important elective position. After all, Toronto is the centre of the earth north of the 42nd parallel. Every Toronto native would know who the city mayor is, even though he or she might not know the prime minister of Canada. We’re not Canada’s capital, but so is New York City.

Going back to our mayoralty candidates, the list is long but only four are viable and potential pretenders to His/Her Worship’s throne. All the others are nuisance candidates who have no real or even imagined chances of winning.

When the electoral race started, there were close to ten possible winning candidates but one by one they dropped out like flies until only four were left standing. The thing with city elections is they are the most democratic. Really. Candidates don’t have to run under political parties. Anybody can throw himself or herself in the ring—straights, gays, lesbians, men, women, disabled, old, young, rich, poor and what have you.

The smorgasbord of candidates gives the appearance of choice, which is important to the democratic process. So unlike the U.S. electoral system, our superpower neighbour in the south, where the only choice is between Tweedledum or Tweedledee.

The question that bothers me, however, is when candidates drop out of the race to endorse another candidate. In endorsing someone more winnable, the lucky candidate endorsed looks like he’s getting a bunch of votes, which in reality does not count. Why not simply stay in the race and let the people decide on election day?

Today, running for office in a democratic election seems all about winning. There is no more honour in losing even if running for office enables a candidate to sell a vision of the city he or she wants to lead. All that matters is what the poll survey says. In reality, a majestic vision of the city doesn’t buy votes any more.

Elections used to be an opportunity to choose the candidate that offers the best political platform. Even in an advanced and mature society like Toronto, that seems to be the dilemma. I remember some years ago when Barbara Hall, the mayor of the small fiefdom of Toronto before amalgamation, decided to become the first mayor of the new megacity. She offered to rebuild Toronto as a city with a vibrant cultural community under a new kind of urban leadership. Although she won the majority of the vote in the old Toronto and two boroughs, Hall lost the mayoralty election to a clown who had a strong base of support in the suburbs.

History seems to repeat itself. The frontrunner in the Toronto election, Rob Ford, has always thrived on bombast and controversy in his ten years in city council. Running on the people’s discontent about City Hall (the long garbage strike that made the city stink for over a month and the subway and transit strike which tested the city residents’ limits for patience and tolerance), Ford was able to bring to Toronto the wave of nasty right-wing populism that is now spreading all over North America.

Amid the backdrop of anger and resentment fuelled by the Tea Party movement in the United States against the democratic incumbent in the White House, Ford is enjoying the ride and the momentum of his political crusade against big government.

The other contender is gay, in a same-sex marriage, which is legal in Canada. Equally boisterous and sometimes furious, George Smitherman represents the Toronto mayor the rich and the liberals would prefer to win. However, Smitherman, the frontrunner from the opening of the gates, has stumbled and appears totally blindsided when Ford entered the race.

The NDP candidate, Joe Pantalone, could still overtake Smitherman for second place but the pants of the mayor look too big for him, no pun intended. As usual, the candidate with the best political platform will lose, and there is no consolation in finishing second.

As an aside, there is also a serious lesson for Filipinos to learn from the coming Toronto election. A major Filipino community centre in Toronto that has boasted its non-partisan status in the past has publicly endorsed George Smitherman for mayor. For a non-profit and non-partisan organization that relies on grants from the city for its programs, this kind of endorsement has not been a wise decision, if not a no-brainer. If Smitherman loses, the Filipino centre in effect will be alienated from City Hall, especially from a new mayor who has been known to be against cultural diversity and anti-immigrant (read: he doesn’t want newcomers from non-white countries).

What were the leaders of this Filipino organization thinking? It could have been all right for them to individually vote for whoever they want as mayor, but not to publicly endorse one candidate over the other as if he is the choice of the whole Filipino community. This shows how parochial or what a friend would call “barriotic” the decision-making process of some of our community’s so-called leaders. In the Philippines, a large religious sect would do exactly the same thing every election time, to endorse a candidate as their church’s choice.

Voting has its perils, especially when you put principles at stake. The irony, however, is that the candidate who speaks the loudest most often ends up taking the throne. Never mind if he has offended so many and has had past brushes with the law.

But we must not despair. Rather, we should continue our struggle and hope someday the people will listen to a more serious public debate of ideas and principles. We cannot simply let the democratic process continue to be a constant revolving door for politicians or leaders who do not have the interests of the people at heart