Monday, May 31, 2010

Midnight benchmarks

According to a front page story in one of the local dailies, a 7.3 per cent growth of the gross domestic product (GDP) was registered in the first quarter of this year, compared to the moribund 0.5 percent of the same period in 2009. Amazing indeed, but suspicious nonetheless, even if election-related expenses were taken into account. The cynic in me feels that such glaringly optimistic and flattering reports about astounding last-minute economic growth can have only one purpose-- to erode our confidence in the in-coming government of president-apparent Noynoy Aquino.

Acting Secretary Augusto Santos of the National economic and Development authority (NEDA) said he expects the 7.3 percent GDP growth to be sustained in the second quarter. Why not? After all, the Arroyo administration will officially end on the last day of the second quarter. NEDA director for national policy, Dennis arroyo, was pleasantly shocked because traditionally, first quarter growth is never ever that high. However, warning signals were emitted by the above-mentioned agency.

The El Nino and La Nina are tops on the national worry-list followed by Greece's debt crisis which might have adverse effects on our lucrative industry, the exportation of overseas workers. Then follow the endemic lack of competitiveness, inadequate infrastructure (specially for tourism), low tax collection and the high cost of energy. Agriculture shockingly posted zero growth.

I caught bits of a radio report that said something about six million jobs being generated by the still present dispensation; whether these were created here in the country or found abroad by Filipinos, it was not explained. Does that include the 1.73 million jobs generated by the incredible 7.3 percent GDP first quarter growth? Only the NEDA can tell.

Analysts of Goldman Sachs ( of all people!) have been lavish with unsolicited opinions; they said the Philippines is poised for economic recovery (as if we ever admitted a crisis) and will sustain its high GDP, at least through the second quarter of 2010. Why is the Arroyo administration setting such insurmountable benchmarks, and at midnight?

A hundred laws

Although short-lived, the Congress of the First Philippine Republic passed more than a hundred decrees and laws to address the imperatives of the young nation. Aside from those establishing the branches of government and appointing department secretaries and directors, schools were founded in October 1898 lie the Universidad Literaria, its Faculty of Law, and the Instituto Burgos.

It may interest you to know, that it was Congress that proclaimed General Emilio Aguinaldo president, after which a congressional commission formally made it known to him. President Aguinaldo took his oath of office before Congress, delivered a patriotic speech, then the Philippine Army swore allegiance to the Republic and to the Constitution.

From the more than a hundred laws and decrees passed by the Malolos Congress and President Aguinaldo, you can tell that nation-building was the primordial concern of our forefathers, that they were doing their honorable best and that obviously they were ready for self-government. Significantly, as early as 21 June 1898, a decree gave tenants the lands they tilled; another issued on the the 29th punished cattle-rustling, and on 15 July town presidents were instructed to administer church property.

There were laws that aimed to protect future generations. Cock-fighting, cards, and other forms of gambling were forbidden to the young who were encouraged to engage in sports like swimming, boxing, and athletics. But curiously, a decree prescribed how young people could marry without parental consent.

Tax laws were passed to generate government revenue; a Permanent Commission of Justice was established, the Departments of Finance and Public Welfare were reorganized. By January 1899, due to the impending war with America, there were decrees of great urgency that ordered the production of food, creation of "Juntas de Defensa" to assure territorial security, strengthened army discipline, placed civil officials under military authorities, and forbade merchant vessels flying the American flag from entering ports controlled by the Republic.

There was an ominous decree dated 7 May 1899 after a Cabinet crisis, accepting the resignation of the brilliant loyal Apolinario Mabini while flamboyant Padro Paterno took charge and formed a new Cabinet. The rest, as they say, is history.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Nagging Noynoy

I wonder if President Corazon Aquino ever nagged her only son about smoking, a thoughtless, harmful and expensive vice. If she did, she must have given up for he evidently never took heed. At fifty, he is no cold turkey and seems hopelessly addicted to nicotine.

Be that as it may, let us not badger the president-apparent about his chain-smoking because there are graver matters, more life-threatening, about which we should ceaselessly nag him, until he succumbs to our collective clamoring.

No, he should not make the prosecution of newly-elected Congresswoman Gloria M. arroyo a doggedly personal quest; that could turn out to be such a waste of time and energy. There are special courts and credible committees that can handle investigations and vastly improve what his late and lamented mother tried to do during her own presidency.

I most definitely plan to nag Noynoy about three things, for the meantime--food (in)security, the screaming cost of energy and slow death by debt strangulation. There are other nag-points like education , but, in my unsolicited opinion, those three are the most crucial to national survival.

Like malignant tumors, these socio-economic cancers have metastasized and curing them will inevitably cause the president- apparent a lot of tension and stress. So, let him be! Don't nag him yet about the vice he can no longer keep a secret; we can do that later.


Flagging means to lose energy, to become feeble, less active and to decline. (The Penguin English Dictionary, 2001). Pardon the pun but the campaign to promote the Flag Law seems to be flagging. Every year, during the week ending on May 28, the National Historical Commission (NHC, formerly NHI) energetically musters the population to celebrate Flag Day. Absolutely everyone has to be involved--local government units, the Boys and Girls Scouts, departments and agencies, particularly National Defense and Education.

Last year, the NHC sent a rather phlegmatic lecturer to the Manila City Hall where student representatives of various public schools were gathered at the ceremonial hall eager to learn about the history of the Philippine flag, how to fold the flag and the Flag Law (Republic Act 8491) that sanctions disrespectful acts and misuse of our national standard.

Not content with that single lecture, the Manila Historical and Heritage Commission took an extra step by distributing to the city's 896 barangays enormous colored posters illustrating the do's and don't's contained in the Flag Law. The informative, sturdy and glossy posters were distributed through the Manila Barangay Bureau, in May 2009.

A couple of weeks ago, while making an ocular inspection of an archaeological site along Pedro Gil Street in Santa Ana, some residents of the place urged me to take down the flag in front of a tiny barangay office located on the traffic island cum park. The flag was faded, grimy and tattered at the edges. To display ( either deliberately or negligently) the Philippine flag in that pitiful state is definitely against the Flag Law.

And where was the barangay chairman? Didn't he read that Flag Law poster distributed last year? He was nowhere to be found; neither did he answer his cell phone. Two men clambered up the post, took the flag down as respectfully as they could, and handed it to me. It shall be properly cremated, during Flag Day ceremonies ( twilight of 28 May) with 300 other tattered flags gathered from all over the city by Manila's Reservist Corps.

It might interest the reader to know that out of the 896 posters only one remains. The rest, according to reports ( of the Manila Tourism and Cultural Affairs bureau), became collateral damage of typhoon "Ondoy". Be that as it may, we should not lose heart, our interest in promoting respect for the Philippine flag should never wane.

The Met opens

Softly, very softly, the Metropolitan Theatre opened on 29 April at five o'clock in the afternoon. For those who do not know or have forgotten, it is near the Liwasang Bonifacio (formerly Plaza Lawton) and the Post Office and a stone's throw away from the City Hall of Manila.

Three agencies are involved in the restoration of the Met-- the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the GSIS and the City Government of Manila. Precisely because it was soft, the opening was not be a glittering social event, like it was when then First Lady Imelda Marcos re-inaugurated the theatre in the 1970's.

Champagne did not flow; there were no canpes from Via Mare; no blare of trumpets from the Maniila Symphony, the Met's in-house orchestra; instead, the much-awarded Manila City Band was there to welcome guests with festive melodies.

The lavish ballroom with fabled chandeliers will remain closed until phase 5 of the restoration work is completed. The two Amorsolo murals are kept in the GSIS museum. However, the guests admired the intricate Art Deco grill work at the lobby as well as the graceful statues by Francesco Monti, the muses of music and song.

Realistic and doable were the priorities of work phases 1 to 4. The enormous roof had to be repaired and meticulously sealed, then the unscrambling, debundling, reconnecting of old light and water connections which took forever; the partial rehabilitation of the proscenium, the more thorough refitting of the stage and its appurtenant equipment and dressing rooms; the recurrent, baffling inundation of the orchestra pit was finally solved.

There were no rows of red velvet cushioned chairs, the Marcos vintage ones had disappeared, cannibalized perhaps like the unique costume collection. But, the guests were comfortable enough. There was passing cooling, no air- conditioning. The Manila Historical and Heritage Commission distributed souvenir fans with the picture of the Metropolitan Theatre.

The show affirmed its metamorphosis into a real people's theatre. It consisted of excerpts of councilor Lou Veloso's "Senakulo", a song from "Baler, the musical" , Asia's Queen of song, Pilita Corrales, brought the house down with an emotive rendition of "A Million Thanks". Significantly, the same singer-actor who played the Filipino revolutionary in "Baler" also portrayed Jesus Christ in the "Senakulo" reminding the audience that our anti-colonial struggle for Independence was, at one time, expressed through the passion of Christ. "Pasyon at Rebolusyon" is the favorite thesis of Filipino historian, Rey Ileto.

Mayor Alfredo S. Lim and Vice-Mayor Francisco Domagoso arrived dramatically, in open carriages which they rode during a city-wide motorcade--they were campaigning. Enthusiastic about the Met opening, they stayed until the end so did Gloria Romero, German Moreno, Cecile G. Alvarez and other notables. There were more than eight hundred students from the public schools of Manila, teachers and principals, barangay folk and their officials , a smattering of foreigners who had read about the soft opening on line and people who just walked in to marvel. It was standing room only!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rags to riches

Since the time of the late and eternally lamented President Ramon Magsaysay, candidates have been weaving maudlin "rags to riches" stories about themselves. I think it was in the 1950s that very humble origins became the cutting edge in any electoral campaign. Being poor was equated with honesty and compassion for the indigent, the "common tao". That was the winning platform of "Magsaysay, my guy" who, as it turned out was not that poor.

Since then, the political landscape has deteriorated dramatically. Just because someone was poor once upon a time doesn't mean he or she is saintly pristine and not rotten to the core. Neither does it automatically follow that those who were never ever poor are callously indifferent to the plight of the underprivileged or clueless as to the structural causes of poverty.

Perhaps, those who capitalize on mawkish "rags to riches" tales believe they can inspire and uplift the poor whose votes they aim to capture. It it is indeed their purpose to project themselves as avatars and exemplary citizens, they should first take the sage advice of erstwhile NEDA director, Winnie Monsd-- explain to us, with quivering details , how you got rich.

Strikingly, none of the fanciful infomercials and jingles brag about a candidate's intellectual prowess and cultural pursuits. As if it were a crime against the poor, no one admits to reading serious books and periodicals or to spending a few hours at the National Museum. Don't any of the candidates believe that a good education, a solid cultural background, breeding and sophistication are things worth advertising?

For all you know, the poor are tired of your pandering and are nauseated by the hypocrisy of those soupy "rags to riches" tales.

Faith restored

Against blatant lies, against shameless back-stabbing against insidious sabotage, against contemptuous disloyalty, against profligate and nauseating vote-buying, against the severe dictates of organized pressure groups, against all unthinkable cruel odds, Alfredo S. Lim won another term as Mayor of Manila.

That restored my faith in human nature and more importantly in the Filipino. How could a mayor like Alfredo S. Lim lose? He is so indisputably focused on addressing the basic needs of Manilenos. He judiciously disburses taxpayers' money on free hospitals, doctors, medicines, health centers, and a fully equipped "Health on Wheels" trailer that serves depressed communities. He gives much-needed "womb to tomb" care.

Life has taught MayorLim to uphold education as the greatest equalizer, so he makes sure there are institutions where education is given free to deserving students. He also inculcates an awareness of history and culture, pride of country in the young. I have not even touched on the rule of law and livelihood.

Evidently, during the May 2010 elections, Manilenos rallied behind their sitting mayor and together we overcame all those insurmountable odds mentioned in the first paragraph. Moreover, with a young charismatic and respectful vice-mayor, Francisco Domagoso, by his side, the most malevolent political foe is now biting dust.

Indeed, God never sleeps and there is hope for the Filipino voters.