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Friday, January 31, 2014

Erap and Isko, Reviving Manila (Part One)

January 31, 2014
by Paul Farol
Manila is the core city of the National Capital Region and despite the many attempts to restore it to its “old glory”, it is still pretty much rotting away and there seems to be no way of stopping its decay.
Polluted, crowded, crime infested, unbearably hot during the summer months, chronically flooded during the rainy season, and jammed with traffic throughout the year.
Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada and Vice Mayor Isko Moreno leading Chinese New Year Eve Festivities. (Photo from Liz Villasenor, Head of the Manila City Tourism Office)
Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada and Vice Mayor Isko Moreno leading Chinese New Year Eve Festivities.
(Photo from Liz Villasenor, Head of the Manila City Tourism Office)
Not to discount the efforts of former President now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada and Vice Mayor Isko Moreno to spruce up the city and shake it up a bit in a good way, but I think reviving Manila will require something more substantial and strategic.
And I think they have quite a good grasp about the kinds of substantial and strategic change that needs to be implemented to get the city out of the crippling stagnation it is in.
Although discounted many times over during the span of their careers for being “artistas”, Erap and Isko have proven their capability as leaders on the local level.  This is something that, taken together the good impression I have of Batangas Governor Vilma Santos’ performance, seems to fly in the face of the knee-jerk derision that artista-politicians are subjected to — it should remind those of us who think they’ve got highly tuned, critical minds not to fall for the trap of sweeping generalizations.
Erap, for one, had the right mind about a number of things when he was President and some say he is now showing quite a bit of brilliance as mayor.  Isko on the other hand, thanks to his good use of social media and genuine action on the ground as traffic czar as well as the leader of the city council, is really revealing himself to be highly capable of running the city.
The two have scored quite a lot of “quick wins” (cleaning up a number of places in Manila, solving traffic problems, etcetera) within the first half of their first year in office together and it is easy to understand how this tactic can work towards building confidence in their administration.  The thing about quick wins, however, is that it builds up expectations and soon enough, people will begin expecting big wins.
One big win in the offing is the actual implementation of plans to revive and revitalize Manila.
I’m not talking about just the restoration of parks and preservation of historic sites (although any kind of urban revival should include this) or the installation of streetlamps and re-paving of sidewalks.  I’m talking about something more holistic that will help reduce the problems of living (and working/doing business) in Manila as well as laying the ground-work for it’s future growth — yes, you read that right.
It’s painfully obvious, and has been for the last 50 years, that there is hardly any “open space” within Manila and whatever open space there is may be something that people may want to keep open.
Vertical expansion would seem to be the right solution to creating “new space” for offices and residences, but there are some serious considerations.  One is that it will increase population density (more people living per square kilometer) and with that, you’ll have a host of issues which includes: more traffic (more people going to or from one place), higher demand for power and water as well as food which can lead to inflation, and yes, ground subsidence or the sinking of the ground, which has been cited as one of the factors contributing to flooding in Manila.
UP’s Dr. Kevin Rodolfo made a big deal about the “alarming rate” of ground subsidence in Manila last year.  But what was largely left out of his findings is the fact that it is the huge excavations for the foundations of high rise buildings that causes the rapid, massive displacement of ground water in Manila.  What Rodolfo didn’t emphasize is that water extraction by companies in Manila that market filtered and purified water may only partially account for the rapid decline of ground water – forgetting, perhaps, that Manila sources most its water needs from surface water.
There’s probably a reason for why Dr. Rodolfo’s studies were presented in the way it was and it could be that high-rise building developers want to keep that fact hush-hush — the same way that developers will want to muffle any noise about the Marikina Valley Fault.
Moreover, using up all the available open space within Manila will contribute to even more flooding as it covers up the remaining areas which may have natural sinks that either absorb surface water or contain fissures that lead to natural underground aquifers.  These natural sinks usually suck up rainwater and keep it from running above ground, thereby causing flooding in low lying areas.
The loss of these natural sinks, clogging of already inadequate flood ways, and ground subsidence coupled with the denudation of forests and development of subdivisions in the uplands north east of Manila (the Siera Madres) are the main factors that contribute to massive flooding in Manila.
Another option, and a costly one at that, is for the city to finance the renewal and revival of sections of the city — as other cities in other parts of the world have done.  I’m still researching right now about how much it will actually cost Manila’s tax payers and the city government.  Given Mayor Eraps statement at the start of his term saying that the city was hard-pressed to pay a debt of about Php 3.5 Billion, however, I’d assume that the Manila city government might not be in a good position to undertake what could be a multi-billion project.
Then again, that doesn’t mean that the private sector shouldn’t be brought in to undertake urban renewal and while it may look like a great deal (private money funding a project that will benefit the public at large), the government won’t be getting a free ride on it.
Just consider, for instance a case where the urban area to be revitalized it involves a large enough piece of land which may be inhabited by informal settlers and figure out the financial cost of relocating them — not to mention the political blow-back it will surely have.
Thing is, that’s what is already happening at Quezon City’s north triangle area and it’s a good thing that the developers (Ayala Land Inc.) have the strong backing of the Aquino Administration, otherwise leftist elements in the urban poor groups protesting the North Triangle Development might have put a stop to it.
This underscores just how crucial strong political will is when it comes to undertaking huge land development projects, especially granting that it will run against the interests of “the poor” who:
(1) comprise the larger part of the country’s voting population;
(2) and are largely the prime justification for a lot of government projects/programs which end up as milking cows for corrupt bureaucrats and politicians.
So, as far as I can see it, there may be just one last option that seems like a win-win solution and that is the reclamation of land in Manila Bay.
Compared to the options cited in the preceding paragraphs, the reclamation of land from Manila Bay presents advantages in areas where other options have problems.
The option of utilizing available open space within Manila which can:
- increase population density and strain the city’s resources even more
- contribute to more flooding by (1) plugging up natural water sinks and (2) accelerating ground subsidence by displacing more ground water by the construction of its foundations
- run into political and legal complications because of the necessity of relocating informal settlers
On the other hand, land reclamation provides the following benefits:
- expands Manila’s land area, thereby decreasing population density
- become a barrier to storm surges and keep seawater from flooding coastal areas of Manila because it will act like a dike or breakwater
- can be built without legal and political complications posed by informal settlers — at least, in the case of one proposed reclamation project
With regard to the last item, while there may be no substantial legal or political complications from informal settlers, the flak hurled at reclamation is coming from real estate owners and developers who may have substantial land holdings in Manila.
It’s easy enough to understand why when you consider that land is an economic resource.  It is generally held that its value will continue to appreciate mainly because its supply is limited while demand for it grows as population grows.  The reclamation of land poses a threat to the value of land owned by Manila real estate owners and developers because it INCREASES THE SUPPLY OF LAND, thereby potentially decreasing the demand for their properties hence perhaps lowering the lease or sale price.
While those going against reclamation of land in Manila Bay claim they are fighting for the welfare of the urban poor, for the preservation of the environment, and protection of historical heritage, it’s easy enough to find out who is backing them and it will lead you to a who’s who of huge real estate owners and property developers who are just out to protect their own interests.

Baguio City: Ruined by ‘Pinoy’ Mentality

January 13, 2012
by MidwayHaven
I love Baguio; I was born here, I grew up here, and if circumstances dictate I might probably die here as well. I’m pretty much happy that I live in a City where the air is cool, the food is cheap and the people are still friendly. Ultimately, its allure as a mountain city would still attract people for generations to come.
The immediate concern, however, is the fact that Baguio is a city whose allure is on the brink of destruction from all fronts. I don’t want to go all nostalgic about Baguio’s past, nor would I talk about how Baguio has become worse; nothing would come out of such, and there are countless blogs, guestbooks and petitions out there that would do all those things for me.
Baguio is undoubtedly unique in the Philippines, because of its climate and its history. It is the Americans’ most tangible gift to the country, a City built on top of the mountains that served as a home away from home. Instead of engaging the local Kankana-ey and Ibaloi tribes through war as the Spanish did for hundreds of years, the Americans used diplomacy and commerce. I’m not saying all of what the Americans did for Baguio was good (consider the ongoing dispute between them and the Carino clan for Camp John Hay’s title), but the Americans nevertheless created Baguio as a model built from scratch for future urban developments in the Philippines.
Sadly, as history has shown, “development” took a completely different meaning for Filipinos after the Americans left. As a Baguioite, I know that my city is a mess. Originally planned by the famed American architect Daniel Burnham as a government center of 30,000 people, the city is now home to 300,000, many of whom have no legal claim to residence, and many of who are students with no sense of history and no will to learn history.
Baguio is I believe a microcosm of what the Philippines is today, because of a variety of factors.
1 – A DISTORTED SENSE OF ENVIRONMENTAL AWARENESS. It’s thankfully gone now, but as late as four years ago there stood atop Session Road an artifical pine tree crafted out of concrete, a hideous structure that cost taxpayers millions of pesos to create, maintain and ultimately destroy. At the bottom of this structure was a giant plaque that read “Plant Me and Protect Me.” The fake tree and its giant plaque for a time served as Baguio’s centerpiece and laughing stock, a visual monstrosity that ironically warbled about the environment but was crafted out of something that wasn’t.
The concrete tree may be gone, but the shame of artificiality remains. Baguio’s claim to be the “Cleanest and Greenest City” in the Philippines, as local politicians parade it, is a flat-out lie. Many people in Baguio have been led to believe that the only way to save the City’s ecology is to “plant trees at the Busol Watershed.” As such, people plant thousands upon thousands of Benguet pine trees not knowing that there are specific scientific methods to planting such. In effect, many of the seedlings planted just die anyway within the first year, totally wasting the time and effort invested by those who planted them.
Politics also comes into the picture of Baguio’s imploding ecology. Baguio has no tangible long-term plan to create a sustainable waste disposal system. A trash segregation policy is widely ignored, while nearly a hundred million pesos is spent annually to haul garbage out of Baguio to Capas, Tarlac–money literally thrown away. Meanwhile, Baguioites are now forgetting the fact that a massive landslide of garbage at the Irisan subdivision in 2011 killed ten or so people.
The Filipino love of cars is also contributing to Baguio’s decaying air quality; for a small city it could not handle too much private transport. The city has a potentially efficient mass transit system that exists in its taxi services, as well as proposals from previous local administrations to set up tram and cable car systems. Sadly, due once again to politics, any attempt to invest in improving Baguio’s transit system is shot down in favor of more profits.
As I write this, a well-known Philippine mall chain is mulling the destruction of 100 or so mature trees standing in the middle of Baguio’s Central Business District, in order to extend their already massive retail monopoly. The mall operators say the trees “won’t be cut,” but would be “transplanted.” The mayor apparently “could not do anything” because the tree-cutting permit was approved by the DENR. This however clearly shows the mall chain’s ignorance of ecology–Benguet pine trees more than three years of age have a 75% death rate after transplanting. Meanwhile, the mayor apparently “could not do anything” because the tree-cutting permit was approved on a national level by the DENR. If this is true, then it only presents two facts: the mayor simply doesn’t care about Baguio’s environment and only looks to the profits the mall can generate, or he simply is too incompetent to manage Baguio City. On a national level, this sounds strikingly familiar with the dangerous direction this country is headed towards.
2 – MISMANAGED CIVIL DEVELOPMENT. The city planners who created Baguio were aware that the Spanish setup in urban planning was not appropriate, where the Church was always at the center of things. The Americans however created an urban plan for Baguio that put government and recreation at the focus of city life, hence Burnham Park. The “Pinoy” mentality, however, has successfully wiped away the legacy of the Americans, turning portions of Burnham Park into endless “tiangges,” despite local ordinances that prohibit the existence of such. A “masterplan” has been thought out to rejuvenate Burnham Park, but the project itself is in need of funds. Though skyscrapers have thankfully not yet been put up in the City, the current mayor has still assured moneyed investors that there is no height limit to buildings in Baguio–a potentially dangerous declaration, considering that a number of large geological fault lines worm beneath Baguio, and no amount of “soil testing” could assure the structural integrity of buildings once a disaster hits. Have people here forgotten about the Great Earthquake of 1990, when the largest buildings were toppled down?
There also is the problem of increasing demand for hillside housing, which results in urban sprawl. People would rather have their own house and lot (often in precarious locations like cliffs or the bottom of valleys) rather than live with others in residential condos, resulting in the further degredation of the environment despite the limited land area that Baguio possesses. The condos could always be well within a certain height limit, and be modeled with that of Singapore’s residential districts, but this has so far been overlooked. Coupled with the lax enforcement of building and zoning ordinances, this sprawl reflects the frustratingly lazy Pinoy attitude of “bahala na;” leave it to God.
3 – POOR EDUCATIONAL STANDARDS. Baguio is the largest educational center north of Manila, with four big universities and scores of smaller colleges. However, many educators are now aware that many of these Baguio-based educational institutions rely on what is popularly known as “diploma mill” mentality. Simply put, a school cares little if you learned something or not, for as long as that school has more students, and thus more profits. A person’s potential thinking, reasoning and living skills are effectively compromised just to attain a diploma through dubious educational practices. Dozens of Korean schools claiming to be “centers of excellence” in English language development have sprouted all over Baguio, ignoring the fact that many of these schools are not registered through the proper government channels such as the Commission on Higher Education.
Of course, more students means cheaper housing, but as I already mentioned earlier there is no assurance that building ordinances could keep these students safe; virtually all of these so-called “boarding houses,” especially around Baguio’s big universities, are fire hazards.
4 – AN EMERGING FEUDAL POLITICAL SYSTEM. I can still remember that there was a time not long ago that Baguio was managed by competent local leaders who cared less about the about the money that lined their pockets and more about the welfare of the City they grew up in. That time has since ended, and now the local city council is made up of traditional politicians who care more about increasing their vote count and lengthening their stay in office. Twice in the past decade, the position of mayor and congressman were filled up by the same two people who just switched seats. It seems that they plan to rule over Baguio in perpetuity due to a legal loophole in term limits.
Unlike many provinces in Luzon, which I believe are ruled by a succession of people who technically belong to the same clans, Baguio (and Benguet for that matter) was once free of these petty feudal systems. The 2010 elections, which were heralded nationally as a “time for change,” became a springboard for the return of a feudal system that mainly cares about personal profit. A flyover project was hotly disputed some time around 2006, simply because it was unnecessary. The project went through anyway, at an initial cost of PhP88 million. However, for some reason, the project ballooned to a total coast of PhP280 million, perhaps even more–no one dared to check for the transparency of the project. Given Filipino politics, the kickbacks gained by local officials for such a project could be large indeed.
An underpass and yet another flyover are in the works for this administration, and it seems that the politics of the day would prevail given the current zeitgeist. The mayor and the congressman are often seen together, playing golf within the exclusive grounds of the Baguio Country Club. They claim to love and represent Baguio, but they aren’t even from here to begin with.
5 – GENERAL APATHY. I know for a fact that Baguio’s residents won’t hesitate to speak to a stranger, no matter how rude that stranger may be. This kindness however, has given way to a collective lucid apathy. In the years since the 1990 Earthquake, Baguioites (including myself) have fallen into a collective “I-don’t-care” attitude about the City they live in. For instance, only a few people nowadays are aware that the annual “Panagbenga” festival isn’t a celebration of Baguio’s floral culture–it’s an artificial festival originally designed in 1996 to keep people away from the commercial development going on inside Camp John Hay at the time. Panagbenga is now a cash funnel, celebrating a time of “flowering” in February (when flowers in Baguio actually bloom in November), totally ignoring the pollution that compounds Baguio’s urban maladies. And through it all, we Baguioites seem to just don’t care. “I have more important things to think about.” “What can I do? I’m just one person!” “It’ll be better, just leave it alone.”
As a Baguio person, it’s my fault as well that the City has emerged into this, a small yet powerful reflection of what the Philippines is today. The idea that Baguio (and thus the Philippines) can be better is of course an attainable vision, but to go along with the status quo is one thing that I simply cannot do. I do not want to bash the City I was born in and grew up in nearly all my life, however I find no harm in stating the facts as they are. It’s a cliche I have to live with, but t the very least I started the change by writing this.
[Photo courtesy Grace Bandoy]

Jojo Binay or Kris Aquino may be president in 2016 – but it really does not matter

January 31, 2014
by benign0
The next presidential elections is still more than two years away but Filipinos are already looking to 2016 for that anticipated cool change. It’s not that the current term under President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III can be described as hot. Far from it. The Second Philippine Reich can be considered more of a protracted political ice age — a long winter of discontent that blighted the Philippines’ short history as an “independent” state. President BS Aquino is like the Ice Queen in the movie Frozen. He had a lot of power in his hands thanks to the immensity of the emo popularity he inherited from his late folks. But his ineptness at wielding that power turned the Philippines into a gray wasteland — often literally.
A departure terminal of the Philippines' flag carrier
A departure terminal of the Philippines’ flag carrier
A lot of people say current Vice President Jejomar Binay will be president in 2016. Perhaps he will be. President BS Aquino can’t really be considered a tough act to follow. He ascended the Philippine throne the least qualified of the lot and he will be stepping down in 2016 after having proved that to the millions of poor sods who voted for him. The only other bozo who inceeded (that’s the opposite of “exceeded”, right?) people’s expectations is erstwhile promised future president Mar Roxas. Roxas blew it. BS Aquino tried to pave a six-year road to Malacanang for Roxas. But he bungled that journey and ended up paving that way for Binay. In his six years as BS Aquino’s little sidekick, Roxas single-handedly reinstated the true meaning of flashing the “L” hand gesture.
Binay isn’t resting on his Laurels. He’s astutely and deftly laid the groundwork for his ascent to the presidency. Best of all, he’s got the skin colour of the Philippines’ masa — which makes him and his clan a standout in the Philippines’ traditionally fair-skinned feudal oligarchy. It is a perfect media match.
Speaking of media matches, however, we cannot discount Kris Aquino possibly becoming president in 2016. Desperate feudal lords are a dangerous thing and there is no underestimating Uncle Peping’s resolve to hang on to the family jewels. Besides, if you can sell a chump like BS Aquino to the Filipino voter, pitching Kris to the Philippines will be the equivalent of selling Internet porn to a Pinoy seaman. Hacienda Luisita will be saved!
True colours: Vice President Jejomar Binay
True colours: Vice President Jejomar Binay
Whether it is Kris or Binay, the next Philippine President will be a win na win proposition for Filipinos. Binay’s potential lies in his being representative of the Filipino’s true skin colour (long-forgotten since Nora Aunor’s fall from superstardom), while Kris’s value proposition lies in her being a reaffirmation of da Pinoy’s stariray complex. Both will represent the ultimate revenge of da Pinoy masa. They will be giving the commies a run for their money.
So much for that.
And so now we get to the real point I wanted to make.
The real point I wanted to make is that Philippine Presidents don’t really matter beyond their value as objects of amusement. Whether a brillaint man or an idiot rules the Philippines, the future of this country will not be determined from a river-side palace in Manila. After almost 70 years of “independence”, Filipinos have yet to figure out that singular fact about the character of their nation. And it looks like they never will.
Nah. The future of the Philippines will be determined by a bunch of brilliant scientists working in a bunch of artificial intelligence and robotics labs Google has been busy acquiring in recent months
Former Google Android lead and current Google Robot Guru Andy Rubin’s list of acquired companies reads a bit like a baseline robot kit:
- Redwood Robotics for robot arms
- Holomni for robot wheels
- Bot & Dolly for robotics cameras
- Boston Dynamics for creepy and cool mobile robots
- DeepMind Technologies for artificial intelligence
- Meka Robotics for humanoid robots
- Industrial Perception for computer vision (which may or may not be for robotics)
Filipinos' future nemesis: Robots and artificial intelligence threaten future growth.
Filipinos’ future nemesis: Robots and artificial intelligence threaten future growth.
Bad news indeed. Filipinos rely on two key types of people to prop up their future: overseas foreign workers and outsourcing industry workers. On these two professions, rests much of the Philippines’ hollow consumerist economy. And Google scientists along with the most brilliant minds working in research facilities all over the world are furiously working on the technologies that will eventually replace such workers.
Google, of course, did not necessarily have the replacement of Filipino caregivers and telemarketers in mind when it acquired these firms. Then again when NASA engineers invented velcro for space flight in the 1960s, they did not have its application in the design of tacky men’s wallets in mind either.
Consider that in the period starting 2008 when the iPhone was born up to 2011 when the iPhone 4S was released, a system called Siri crawled out of an AI lab and installed itself into an affordable mass-produced handheld device.
In just three years, a rudimentary but state-of-the-art AI system went from being a lab curiosity to a consumer product accesible to hundreds of millions of ordinary people.
Tell me again. How many more years before 2016?
And here we are thinking Kris Aquino becoming President of the Philippines isthat crazy a thought.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Squatters and sitters

January 29, 2014 9:16 pm
As surprising as it may seem—shocking, really—that anyone could even think of an issue more important than the faulty social interactions of unremarkable entertainers this week, The Get Real Post (http://getrealphilippines.com/blog/) ventured where no one else dared to tread, and took on two somewhat more substantial issues: The business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, and the chronic problem of squatters in Metro Manila.
The BPO industry bubbled to the top of the murky stew of public attention recently, with the outraged reaction from call center employees to the pilot of GMA-7’s latest drama series, The Borrowed Wife, in which one of the characters had these tart observations of the trade: “Hindi ako nag-aaral para sumagot lang ng telepono! [I did not go to school just to answer phone calls!]”, and “pang walang pinag-aralan lang ’yan [that job’s only for uneducated people].” As the Get Real Post article, authored by Fallen Angel, points out, the anger on the part of offended call center workers and their supporters was just another example of the not at all uncommon phenomenon of Filipinos taking entertainment way too personally, with an extra serving of missing the forest for the trees on the side.
The issue of squatters was, of course, brought to the fore again by yet another “violent demolition,” this time in the San Roque neighborhood along a 1-kilometer stretch of Agham Road in Quezon City Monday, which resulted in a pitched battle between residents organized by the Anakpawis and Kadamay leftist groups, and Quezon City police. Fortunately, no one was killed in the skirmish, but about two dozen people were taken to hospitals with various injuries and several arrests were made. Get Real’s benign took on this topic, focusing on how any sort of discussion on one of the country’s most troubling chronic problems glosses over the bigger social, economic, and legal issues in favor of sensationalist populism.
What these two seemingly unrelated issues have in common is that the reaction given to each of them by all concerned never rises above the micro level. The outrage over the brutality that seems to characterize the removal of squatter areas hardly even rises to that level, because it makes the conflict very one-sided. Indeed, we should be distressed that “relocations” routinely result in violence—we cannot help but think “there must be a better way”—but on the other hand, who should be blamed for it is not at all clear. In the San Roque case, as just one example of many in recent years, leftist groups arrived well ahead of the authorities to organize a defense; a defense, it should not be overlooked, of unsafe dwellings erected without authorization on property owned by someone other than the occupants (in this case, somewhat ironically, the National Housing Authority). The economic roots of the squatter problem are given lip service at best, and the proposed solutions—on both the part of activists and the government—are extremely conservative, in the true sense of the word meaning “not progressive”: Either leave the squatters where they are, or move them to some areas out of sight where they can live in the same conditions.
In the case of the “BPO slur,” the offended workers perceived that they were being belittled by the characters in a fictional TV drama, and responded by pointing out the vast contribution of the BPO industry to nation’s economy. That, too, is a very conservative point of view, as Fallen Angel (a call center veteran himself) pointed out in a question he posed in a follow-up article: “Why is there a portion of the call center/BPO community that is more concerned with its image at the micro/individual level than with the issues that its industry faces at the macro/collective level?”
The answer to that question might be that the BPO workforces is simply being guided by the shallow level of planning being employed by economic policymakers; in effect, the “image” of the Philippine BPO industry is its biggest selling point from the prevailing institutional point of view, with the same reasons—generally good English-speaking skills and familiarity with Western cultural attitudes, as well as comparatively low labor costs—being endlessly repeated as the country’s competitive advantages. Which they are not at all, for the simple reason that they can easily be duplicated—were that not the case, then countries like India and even South Korea and China would not be making serious inroads into the Philippines’ “BPO supremacy.”
In a very real sense, the inconvenient fact that one of the biggest drivers of the Philippine economy (along with the equally vapid labor export industry) is one that has no native added-value is a big reason why the economic caste structure is such that squatters and riot police are hurling rocks and teargas canisters at each other on a regular basis. Take a look at the list of the top 20 BPO companies in the Philippines: One has to get to the very bottom of the list to find one (SPi Global, formerly ePLDT-Ventus) that has any sort of significant Filipino stake, and even that one is 80-percnt foreign-owned (by London-based CVC Capital). All the added-value is going elsewhere, and all that remains here is income—it only looks like wealth.
That misinterpretation, on the part of policymakers in particular but also a handicap of Philippine society at large, limits planning and problem-solving. So rather than “relocate squatters and use them as a population base for targeted value-creating economic development to raise them above the squatter-level economic bracket,” government policy stops at “relocate squatters.” Rather than “concentrate on digital infrastructure development to meet the global standard of global VPN integration with near-100-percent service levels, and use the experience of the huge BPO workforce to create centers of development for high-end applications and expanded services,” government policy stops at “Filipinos speak English rather well.”
On both the high and low ends of the socioeconomic spectrum, this country faces unsustainable conditions; that these conditions have existed for a long time suggests the false belief in the country’s productivity can be sustained for some time to come. When that time ends, however—and it will—if the change to a kind of thinking that takes in broader horizons and longer timeframes has not occurred, life here may become very grim indeed.

Blue-Eyed Hunter-Gatherers Roamed Prehistoric Europe, Gene Map Reveals

Some ancient peoples in Spain 7,000 years ago had blue eyes and dark skin.

An artistic impression of the blue-eyed male hunter-gatherer.
Dan Vergano
Apologies to Frank Sinatra, but the real Ol' Blue Eyes has been found—a 7,000-year-old Spaniard whose fossil genes reveal that early Europeans sported blue eyes and dark skin.
Mapping the blue-eyed boy's genes is part of ongoing effort to uncover the DNA of ancient humans. The new study in the journal Nature, led by Inigo Olalde of Spain's Institut de Biología Evolutiva in Barcelona, reports the genetic map of a skeleton found in a Spanish cave. (See also: "Modern Europe's Genetic History Starts in Stone Age.")
Why It Matters
Scholars had suspected that blue eyes arrived as an import into Europe, brought by late-arriving farmers who invaded the continent more than 5,000 years ago. Contrary to the conventional picture of a blue-eyed, fair-haired northern European, the study suggests that blue eyes were already common among the continent's early hunter-gatherers, along with darker skin.
But those aren't the only results that matter from the study. The researchers also discovered that a number of disease-resistance genes seen in modern Europeans were active in the ancient Spaniard's gene map. And the study adds genetic support to archaeological findings that hint that a widespread hunter-gatherer culture cut continuously across Europe in prehistory.
What They Did
The researchers extracted DNA from a tooth found with the skeleton of man, dubbed La Brana 1, uncovered in a cave near León, Spain, in 2006.
In the lab, they compared the DNA from the man with DNA from other Stone Age Europeans, such as Ötzi, the 5,300-year-old "Iceman" of the Alps (whose people were farmers), and older, partial samples of genes recovered from hunter-gatherer burials in Sweden, Finland, and Siberia.
They also compared the results against the DNA of 35 modern-day Europeans.
What They Found
Around 7,000 years ago, a Stone Age culture spread across Europe, made famous by discoveries of small, rotund "Venus" figurines found in their burials. The study results suggest those people were genetically connected—one thin population of dark-haired hunter-gatherers whose domain reached from Spain to Siberia. They were also partly the ancestors of many of today's northern Europeans.
Moreover, the ancient Spaniard had multiple genes linked to disease immunity, resistance to bacteria, and risks for musculoskeletal ailments, ones seen in people today. Understanding the origin of these genes can help better explain their function, which could aid medical studies, for example.
For fans of the "Paleo Diet" and other get-back-to-nature notions, the study brings some good news, suggesting that people carry around plenty of genes left over from their primeval forebears. The survival of some disease-resistance genes that mattered greatly in antiquity, as shown by their continuity in modern humans, also can help show how evolution worked its magic on us, and is still working today.

PNoy’s abuse of power is the result of the Filipino people’s laziness

January 29, 2014
by Ilda
We all have to deal or transact with hired professionals or employees on a regular basis. Most of us would rather see the good side of the individual we are dealing with than their bad side because the alternative would be hard work. For example, when we find a dentist who was highly recommended by a person we know, we tend to believe that that particular dentist could do a good job of taking care of our teeth than a dentist whose reputation is unknown and who charges more. Since we can’t be bothered or are too “lazy” to find out if there is a better dentist out there as an alternative, our mindset automatically switches to “I guess I can trust this guy” mode.
President BS Aquino's popularity made it easy for Filipinos to trust him.
President BS Aquino’s popularity made it easy for Filipinos to trust him.
However, when we find that the result of the dentist’s work is not satisfactory, we have to deal with the inconvenience of asking him to do the job again, which can become awkward or end in a dispute. What’s worse is when we have no choice but to deal with a bad outcome for the rest of our lives. In any case, we have to find another dentist we can trust again with our teeth. The whole process can be daunting, costly and a waste of our precious time because of the amount of work we have to do in search for a new dentist. It is enough to put us off looking and make us settle for the dentist with mediocre skills.
It is the same case in dealing with a doctor, lawyer, carpenter, driver, housekeeper or any help we need to hire. It is easier for us to look at the good side of these “professionals” and turn a blind eye to their “quirks” than question their abilities. We justify looking at the bright side of things by telling ourselves “no one is perfect” or “at least he is cheap and popular” and because our hectic lifestyle does not allow us to keep looking for the perfect one.
Sometimes, in our haste to move on with our lives, we ignore the warning signs that give us a clue that the person we are about to hire could be a crook or dishonest. Because he or she can be very charming at first impression, we can’t be bothered to check if he or she is just overselling himself or herself. Unfortunately, in the end, not being very thorough in the hiring process or even just ignoring our basic instincts that warn us not to hire someone can result in unnecessary expense to say the least.
Putting too much trust in someone without checking if he or she has the right skill for the task can have devastating consequences for any business owner. Just because someone vouched for a job applicant doesn’t mean we should skip the screening process. Hiring an accountant with a secret gambling addiction won’t be good for the bottom-line. Which is why everyone would be better off doing their homework first like conducting a background check, character assessment and evaluating the results of the candidate’s past work before employing or hiring the services of said candidate.
The same rigorous approach should be applied in voting for public servants. After all, the public will become the public servant’s “bosses” during their entire term in public office.
In fact, public servants who will handle public funds should undergo a thorough lifestyle check and psychological test to ensure that they are of sound mind to handle the pressures of the job under intense public scrutiny. Obviously, someone who is onion-skinned and cannot take criticism is not the right man for the job. The result of their previous posts in the public or private sector should also be taken into consideration before they are voted into office. Putting an incompetent individual into a powerful position can be both devastating and demoralizing to an entire society.
Take the case of Philippine President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino. Filipino voters ignored all the warning signs that indicated that he was overselling himself for a job that is beyond his skill level. They ignored the fact that he was just pushed to run as a Presidential candidate immediately after his popular mother passed away – taking advantage of people’s raw emotion. They ignored the fact that he was an underperforming Congressman and Senator during his stint in Congress. They ignored and keep ignoring his vindictive nature and that he is only good at putting his political opponents down in order to lift his status up. In other words, Filipino voters ignored the fact that BS Aquino does not even have the right skills to handle the problems that have been plaguing the nation for decades.
It was very convenient for the voters to think that BS Aquino can be trusted because for one, he was the only son of popular personalities, Ninoy and Cory Aquino who they consider “heroes”. It was also very convenient for them to just vote for someone with a popular name than continue looking for an alternative candidate. The task of following the process of doing a background check, character assessment and evaluating the results of a candidate’s past work before voting for him was and still is, considered a daunting task for a lot of Filipino voters. And since the voters could not be bothered or were too “lazy” to look for an alternative candidate, their mindset automatically switched to “I guess I can trust this guy” mode. Even worse was when some thought that they were prepared to settle for the “lesser evil” even when they were aware of his average abilities.
Of course some of us already realize the consequences of voting for someone who is not qualified to lead a nation of 100 million people. Unfortunately, a lot of Filipinos are still in denial that he made promises he could not keep and that he oversold himself using the slogan “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap”.
What is so appalling is that even though corruption under BS Aquino’s term is more blatant than ever and even though the number of poor people keeps increasing, his staunch supporters still say that his critics should “cut him some slack” and to go easy on him as if he was a baby. But that’s what they have been saying since Day One of his term. You would think that by now they can accept that he is not going to improve his performance considering his promise to ignore constructive criticism and considering he only has less than two years to finish his term, which he will spend campaigning for the Liberal Party candidate in the 2016 Presidential election.
One can’t help but question where the loyalties of some Filipinos lie. Are they fighting for the good of the nation or are they fighting to keep the ruling dynasty in power? It seems like they would rather turn a blind eye to BS Aquino’s violation of the Constitution and abuse of power just to please him. Even in the best of times, he still manages to botch the way he handles every crisis that lands on his lap.
Crisis after crisis, BS Aquino showed that he lacks diplomatic skills and is just trying to wing it by telling the media – both local and international – that everything is under control even when it is not. During the super typhoon Yolanda, the coverage that was being shown by the international media was grim, with bodies uncollected for days and starving people roaming the disaster zone but BS Aquino kept reassuring the rest of the world that his government was on top of the situation. He did confirm one thing to his critics though, that he is a bad liar.
The extent of his deceit is still unknown. There could be more information that the public is not aware of aside from what Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla had already revealed — that he gave 50 millions pesos of taxpayer’s funds to the senators and secretly met those who convicted former Chief Justice Corona at the height of his impeachment trial.
Malacanang mouthpieces can insist that they have stopped allocating funds through the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program or DAP, but it still doesn’t change the fact that its use is not covered by the law. And the fact that they dropped the use of DAP as soon as the public found out about it means that deep inside, they knew they were doing something wrong.
BS Aquino’s eagerness to find something good that could define his legacy through the peace agreement with the rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) likewise forced him to ignore the Constitution. A lot of people have noted that for the Supreme Court to approve the Bangsamoro Deal, Congress has to amend the Constitution. Obviously, giving away part of Mindanao to a rebel group to create a separate state is not in the Constitution. The deal doesn’t even guarantee that other rebel groups would honor the peace pact.
All that is just a tiny fraction of the way BS Aquino mismanages the country and possibly promotes further instability in the future. Although he only has less than two years to go, he can still do a lot of damage if allowed to continue abusing his position. The Filipino people need to cut their loses immediately to reverse the effects of his failures. It’s a choice between putting up with his substandard performance and finding an alternative leader. Like I said before, life is too short to put someone’s trust in people like BS Aquino who waste people’s time learning on the job while millions go to bed hungry every night.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Land ownership Hell: The Philippines is Squatter Central when it comes to government subsidies!

June 24, 2013
by benign0
Squatting does indeed pay in the Philippines. The most recent pandering to this vote-rich sector of Philippine society is an 18,000-peso “rental subsidy” to be provided by the Philippine government to each squatter family relocated to other settlement sites. This follows a reported announcement from Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson that “there is a need to clear the estuaries (esteros) and other waterways of informal settlers.”
For its part, the Kilusang Mayo Uno (“May One Movement” or KMU) denounced the 18,000-peso dole-out as “too meager even for renting houses and won’t cover additional expenses caused by being uprooted from the families’ sources of livelihood,” and offered their take on what the solution ought to be…
“Policies on the urban poor should primarily be about what’s good for the urban poor, not what’s cheap for the government. The government will never find a solution to the problems of the urban poor if it weighs options on the basis of what’s cheap,” [KMU chairperson Elmer "Bong" ] Labog said.
“The government should think beyond giving money to the poor or shelling out money during typhoons. The urban poor are calling for decent jobs, decent housing, and affordable social services,” he added.
Filipino warriors defending their 'informal settlement'
Filipino warriors defending their ‘informal settlement’
You wonder though why the “poor” is entitled not only to “decent jobs” and “decent housing” but an 18,000-peso “rental subsidy” as well. Last I heard, it is rich folk and people who occupy their domiciles legally who pay all the taxes that fund all these government “gifts” to these “less fortunate” sods.
I’ve been raised to believe that a “decent job” is something one earns by (1) listening to your parents’ sensible advise, (2) studying hard, and (3) working hard to earn your boss’s respect and confidence. So following that logic, one can infer that people who hold “decent jobs” are those that somehow did something right in the past.
Then jumping off that, the whole point of having a “decent job” is so that you secure yourself a reliable enough income stream to afford you “decent housing” either through an ability to pay a good enough amount of rent or to make the payments on a housing loan.
I fail to see where in the “solution” offered by the KMU this chain of causality I described above fits in. They seem to imply that bagging the good job and nice house is somebody else’s responsibility as far as the average squatter is concerned.
To be fair, squatters’ lifestyles are consistent with this KMU philosophy. They live on land funded by the hard work of somebody else and put a strain on public works and services funded by somebody else’s tax money.
Funny the way we paint these squatters (oh excuuuzzze me, “informal settlers” pala) like they are the victims in the overall scheme of things when in actual fact they hold Philippine society hostage by virtue of their enormous numbers. As Neal Cruz in his recent Inquirer article laments…
Even the government, at national and local levels, seems powerless against them. Or more accurately, is not willing to get the ire of squatters by relocating them. Reason: Squatters are voters. And squatters usually vote as a block. They vote for whomever their leaders choose. And with barangay elections coming up, it would be even more difficult for barangay officials to muster the courage and the will power to eject squatters. In fact, some of these local officials are the very same people who brought in squatters to vote for them. Some barangay officials (and even councilors, mayors and congressmen) protect certain squatter colonies because they consider these their bailiwicks.
That’s not exactly a new notion — just one of those commonsensical concepts that hover way above the intellectual faculties of most Filipinos. As far as the maths are concerned, there’s nothing like an accounting of who coughs up the cash to put the whole idea of the “victimisation” of “informal settlers” in the proper perspective…
Look at it this way: The homeowners pay the real estate taxes—in Quezon City, the highest in the whole country—as well as many other taxes. These taxes pay the salaries and allowances of all City Hall and barangay officials, as well as for all city assistance extended to squatters and other city expenses made for squatters. On the opposite end, the squatters pay almost no direct taxes (real estate tax, business tax, income tax, etc.). Worse, they are lawbreakers, technically stealing properties owned by others. So why do they have more rights than the law-abiding, tax-paying citizens?
I guess somebody needs to remind Mr Cruz that the Philippines is a society where all the wrong arguments win. Foremost of these arguments is who really is the bad guy around here.
As long as we celebrate poverty, poverty will celebrate us.
[Photo courtesy The National.]

A lot of decent Filipinos are getting fed up with arrogant squatters

By Ilda
The squatters in the Philippines have wreaked havoc in the country and they are out of control. The problem is quite obvious and the solution is staring everyone in the face; there are just not enough public servants with enough guts to address the issue. But someone has to put an end to the vicious cycle of squatting particularly in Metro Manila where most poor Filipinos from the provinces seem to converge.
Arrogant Filipino squatters
Arrogant Filipino squatters
The squatters or illegal settlers need to move out of wherever they have been squatting for years or even decades because they simply do not belong there. They have long enjoyed their stay, living on abandoned or unoccupied areas of land without being asked to move out. Some of them clog the rivers not just with their garbage, but also with their human waste, which eventually result in the flooding of the streets and residential areas of the cities specially in times of heavy rain. As long as the squatters remain where they are and are allowed to flourish, the Philippines will not reach its full potential as a business hub that finds favor in the eyes of foreign investors.
Squatters indiscriminately dump waste onto Manila's waterways.
Squatters indiscriminately dump waste onto Manila’s waterways.
In other words, the activities of the people squatting are foul. They have no concern or respect for the rights or property of others and have total disregard for the environment and welfare of other people. Some squatters can also be quite arrogant, defiant and selfish when law enforcement agencies finally clamp down on their illegal activities. One video shows illegal settlers berating the court sheriff and demanding to know when and if they are going to be paid by cash or check before they agree to being relocated. Some even joked that the check better not bounce. They appeared to be enjoying their few minutes of fame in front of the camera relating their tales of woes. One wonders why the news crew tends to focus only on their plight and not the story behind why they were allowed to stay there for so long. There is a lot to be said about why they were allowed to stay squatting to begin with.
The squatter problem in the Philippines has been made complicated by misguided Filipinos who think that it is the Philippine government’s sole responsibility to provide housing, education and health for them. Not only is this notion unsustainable, it is an unfair burden on taxpayers.
Retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno recently said that “Filipinos must be able to demand from their government their right to housing, education and health, or these socioeconomic rights would remain mere words on paper.” While Puno’s sentiments seem noble, Filipino taxpayers simply cannot afford to fund the growing number of Filipinos living below the poverty line. Some of these squatters, despite living in tiny quarters no bigger than a box, have no qualms about multiplying at a fast rate. Perhaps they have been led to believe that their children can be used to gain access to hand outs from the government.
Filipino politicians do not help solve the problem of squatters at all. If anything, they actually contribute to their proliferation. The root cause of the squatter problem seems to be the lack of urban planning from each Barangay and weak enforcement of the law by members of various agencies who are not doing their jobs properly. Obviously, they did not nip the problem in the bud. Had they been doing their jobs, they could have easily evicted the first squatter before they multiplied and became the enormous problem they are today.
Apparently, there are times when the law enforcement agencies that include the police and the court sheriff are helpless in certain situations. They are supposed to act independently from elected officials but are unable to do their jobs until they get instructions from city Mayors who hold off on evicting squatters during election season or when their popularity is waning. This was evident when Davao Mayor Sara Duterte assaulted a court sheriff 2011 because the latter initiated the demolition of shanties in Davao’s Agdao district without her go signal. She said that she felt compelled to punch the sheriff to prevent violence from ensuing. The irony in justifying the Mayor’s actions escaped her and a lot of people who supported her when she attracted criticism.
Duterte’s actions probably made a lot of squatters think they need to be handled with kids’ gloves. These politicians have emboldened squatters who are now quick to throw a tantrum and use violence whenever they are dissatisfied with the government’s approaches and arrangements to relocate them.
Bianca Gonzalez: the long-awaited messiah of anti-squatter activism!
Bianca Gonzalez: the long-awaited messiah of anti-squatter activism!
Lately, the squatters’ sense of entitlement and tough stance have finally caught the attention of some of the members of the upper and middle class who are fed up with the troubles they are causing. A celebrity and social media activist, Bianca Gonzalez have spoken out against the way the Philippine government treats squatters like “babies”. She is getting a lot of kudos for her unwavering stand against the lack of fairness in how the issue is being handled. She highlighted that law-abiding citizens work hard to save money to be able to buy property legally but still get taxed for it while squatters don’t even pay anything to stay in illegally occupied lands. It’s been noted that a lot of the squatters show their arrogance while demanding compensation from the taxpayers. Speaking of babies for that matter, some people who can’t afford to feed themselves shouldn’t have more babies.
It has come to the attention of many Filipinos too that a convoluted law on squatters introduced in 1997 has made it difficult for the government to evict squatters. Republic Act 7279 merely punishes the “professional squatters”. They are defined by law as those who can afford to pay for legitimate housing or those who have received housing units from the government but have sold or leased it to others so they themselves can settle illegally again in another urban area in order to deceive the system by asking for more compensation. In other words, most squatters don’t even get penalized anymore for their illegal activities. They even get rewarded for wreaking havoc in the community. No wonder a lot of Filipinos would rather stay as squatters and have adopted a squatter mentality.
Who can solve the squatter problem in the Philippines? Certainly, the incumbent President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino cannot solve it. Someone even said that the Aquino-Conjuangco clans also act like squatters who have occupied Hacienda Luisita for decades. Violence and intimidation were key to helping them keep the lands that were meant for the poor farmers.
BS Aquino seems more preoccupied with his popularity than providing a permanent solution to the country’s long-standing issues. He will not risk the wrath of the squatters because the Liberal Party still needs to get their votes in the next Presidential election. The President could even increase the number of recipients of the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) or dole outs to the poor as a way distracting them from the lack of progress during his term.
The reaction of the members of the thinking class is long overdue. They need to step up and call out what the government is doing, which is simply coddling the squatters. Philippine politicians need to quit being overprotective of people who abuse the system just to get the votes in the next election. This abusive behavior from both the public officials who buy off votes using tax payer’s money and squatters who take advantage of the situation need to end lest every corner of the country get run over by squatters.
[Photos courtesy Australia News NetworkLucy Whoand Asia Society.]