January 28, 2005

The Middle Class: The Key to Our Nation’s Progress


There were many talks about the middle class before---who are they and where are they found. In the Philippine settings, identifying this sector of our society is never an easy task for this idiom, which has found its root in western economic theories, does not easily apply to our own principalities.

Who are the members of our middle class? Where are they? How can we identify them?

Generally, the determining factor in ascertaining the middle level of our society is primarily the earning capacity of a certain group of people and secondarily their social mindset. In a society like us, where for many centuries we were in virtual serfdom, we are mainly a nation of the rich on one side and the rest of the poor in the other. There is nothing much in between. We had at many times in the past a classless society.

We must only remember that even as we speak and while we kept again and again to break away from this stranglehold of unfair distribution of wealth in our nation, we have not effectively evolved from the virtual serfdom society that we have inherited from our Spanish colonizers of many centuries ago and if there were changes, they came in stifling trickles. We tried our best to escape this ugly past by adopting two versions of comprehensive land reform programs, one during the Marcs years and one in the freedom government of President Corazon Aquino, yet we are still presently hounded by the sad state of gregarious amount of land in the hands of a meager few.

I remember too well the lasting images that I have seen in the not too distant movie “Far and Away” which featured Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as protagonists and chronicles in a fictitious manner the onset of emigrants in a time of the birth of a nation, the land of milk and honey, America. Irish settlers and some other nationalities, were lined up in a multitude by the authorities with their horses and cavalcades readying themselves in a mad rush towards a wide open plains to which each family unit was given a white flag to identify the territory they have gotten for themselves. As they rush along towards more favorable plains, the very site that they could plunge their flags to the soft ground would immediately be theirs and theirs alone for eternity as long as they hold on to it and nobody, not even the State could take it away from them. The actors who took part in the rushing multitude of men, women and children perhaps captured so well the elation and joy of many American settlers who became part of such exercise, when as each flag was trusted to the ground, tears would roll down from their eyes and relief was all too apparent on their faces. The movie made me appreciate all the more the power of land and its role as the sustainer of life. What I saw in the movie was perhaps the most singular reason to the astounding progress that America has attained even up to the present, especially in the 20th century.


The government in America of past centuries had made sure that each men and women of their society became able to produce by themselves and become contributors to their young nation’s productivity. In short, the ordinary man was empowered with an economic capacity that was best brought for by the ownership of land. Thereon, everyone was capacitated to etched their own living and with money in their pockets, they had become voracious buyers that for every garment and T-Model Ford vehicles manufactured in Industrial Age America, a horde of middle class have the money to consume them. When there are many potential buyers who waits in the by side, bloating with consumer power, any product or material put on sale will surely find their own buyers and thereon, more and more factories would rise from the ground to produce more and more products with waiting consumers ready to pounce and more and more hands are hired to man these rising industries. The end effect of this would be more and more money in the hands of a growing middle class, consuming perniciously the produce of the nation’s productivity and thereon sustaining the economic cycle.

In the 1990’s, the economic world were parading the term “consumer power” and it is consumer power of the population that becomes one of the primary motivations for any foreign investor that aims to put money in any developing nation. We have seen the rise of new tiger economies and the most recent among them are Malaysia and Thailand. One of the veritable characteristic of their economies was a better than fair consumer appetite. It is mainly an illusion or perhaps a passing exception to think that multinational companies are putting shop in our shores just because they just want to manufacture products aimed at other markets. They come thinking partly that whatever they produce, the local market is mature enough to help consume them. This is the main reason for China’s economic juggernaut. American companies started trooping to the star of the orient as early as the late 80’s initially because they were staring at one billion possible drinkers of softdrinks and one billion eaters of burgers and one billion possible drivers of Chevrolets. Cheap and skilled labor in that territory of course remains a great come-on for companies who aims to save on overhead costs. A bludgeoning local consumer made it easier for many multinationals to decide on locating their businesses in China.


How we always go back to that most basic economic law of supply and demand even in a world of gargantuan complications. As the demand grows, supply rises in collateral amount and still remains that when supply overlaps demand, prices would certainly go down. Increase in the unit of supply certainly generates the expectation that more economic activity is done and when economic activity is humming with enough fervor, more labor is needed and employment statistics improved greatly. Aside from this, resources are much more sought after, especially raw materials one gets from low-end sectors like farmers and sea traders and therefore the GDP ticks at a higher scale.

We must now see more closely at the “demand factor”, for in my view, demand is the key to the upswings in the supply and demand curve. We must create demand if need be and every economic manager should be looking at this x-factor in the equation of things. I have no professional training in economics except for a couple of economics subjects that I was forced-fed in college. My only wish is that creating demand is unlike creating a bridge when there is no river or lake. (I remember that joke about a politician who had promised his constituents in an election campaign that he would build a bridge in their locality while addressing a crowd. When someone in the crowd blurted out that there was no river in their place, the politician then declared rather pompously that in that case, he will build a river.) What I mean is that, does it take a genius to find out the way to finding demand blissfulness?

My view on the matter of supply and demand is more of that of a layman’s and yet I believe that the ordinary eye can at certain point see some complicated perspectives with a clearer vista.

This is where my soliloquy on the middle class comes in. We must keep on building and rebuilding our middle class which should compose every man and woman who puts his or her hand in labor, as apart from the excessively rich who doesn’t need to sweat anymore to make their life uplifted and from the extremely poor who at most times do not toil anymore for lack of capital or capacity to make a living. This is the Philippine middle class and almost every one of us belongs to this class—the farmer and the fishermen, the lawyer and doctors, the middle politicians, the tricycle drivers, teachers and government workers, the sellers of food in the market and of everyday gadgets in city sidewalks, the restaurateurs and those who are paid to act as clowns in many children’s’ parties, the cotton candy maker, the cigarette peddlers, the media men in some local news station, the cook and the chef, the athlete who are paid a measly allowance by the state, the radio announcer, the factory workers, the planters of camotes and cassavas, the harvesters of coconuts and the struggling artist. You name it and we got it.

We need to find a way on how to harness the potential power of the middle class. Like water rushing from a cliff, the hidden energy is just there to be discovered.

The most practical mode of developing the consumer power of the middle class is by encouraging some growth in their income and benefits. This may make our capitalists and our economic planners squirm even while they sleep yet there is no better alternative to this. It is one of those challenges that connote some sacrifices and many hardships especially in the initial stages. Our economic managers would look at this view with great disfavor since raising minimum wage so sharply would make us less competitive with our other Asian neighbors in attracting foreign investments. As a countermeasure to this apprehension, I suggest that the key towards higher take home pays of the labor sector is not by legislating a wage increase all too often (which would scare away foreign capital) but by enacting or initiating a selective and pro-active compensation scheme for the private sector where the increases would come by way of bonuses and supplemental benefits like for example such items as productivity pay and performance bonuses. The government could offer tax rebates and credits to companies who adhere to the payments of particular supplemental wages and afford them major discounts in importing duties and such other similar rewards. In this manner, the minimum wage is not disturb by sharp increases and only companies whose net incomes are in the upswing are more inclined to raise the level of income of their workers. So in lieu of a legislated wage increase, the state could enact a pro-active scheme where the pay of the workers is supplemented not by direct wage increases but by an assortment of benefits. Like for example, a company with substantial financial success could offer their workers benefits like monthly supply of a sack of rice or scholarships for the workers’ dependents. This manner of compensation, although not in terms of wage increases, would certainly alleviate the plight of our workers and increases their buying capacity.

The business world needs buyers and we can develop many more aggressive buyers through our laborers, the soul of the middle class. This is the ideal cycle of a healthy economy and not a cycle where the fruits of a nation’s economic upswing are stagnated in the hands of the few who stashes profits into some Swiss bank account. As a result, the profits gained do not redound to more resources poured into the economy by way of generated investments and higher benefits for labor. Earnings should be rolled over by putting them back into the capital market and one of the capital expenses are labor expenses.

In corporate and financial laws, companies are prohibited from retaining more than enough earnings in order to evade the circumstances where companies hide their true earning numbers by secluding a great portion of their income as retained earnings for research or development. Retaining too much earnings is considered in fraud of stockholders as well as of creditors. In the same breath, although not as prohibited, if many capitalists retain their private earnings by not distributing them back into the economy and instead hide them away in some foreign bank accounts, this is tantamount to economic sabotage where they could be acting as if they are leeches just out there to fattened themselves and run away when they have siphoned already more than enough blood. This is like a hit-and run in broad daylight.

When any growth in economy does not redound to a more uplifted living standard for our laborers, it becomes meaningless in the general scheme of things but is merely appreciated by the few who have capital in their hands.

Another mode of harnessing the consuming potential of the middle class is by a government-led widespread capacitating program by penetrating the root bases of our society—the rural dwellers and the urban poor—and instructing them on various livelihood activities. This is actually being done by the state even as we speak through the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA) and through many other agencies, at many times in coordination with NGOs and international organizations like the World Bank and JAICA. This particular effort by the state should need to be more energized and spread out.

In any sense, we must invoke a fairer social justice in the distribution of our nation’s wealth in order that we reach the next level of industrialization. An economy without a powerful middle class would lack the instigating factors that could generate more and more business activity and growth is slow if not in a stand still. Our capitalists should begin to trust our economy and not keep on testing the water where they only shell out their money when they have ultimate certainty of return.

The cycle that we see the most fair is as simple as this: when the laborers and many other members of our middle class begin to have more than sufficient income, they begin to buy more cigarettes and beer and electronic appliances and toys and fancy garments and would begin to eat more in fastfood centers So we ask, isn’t it the capitalists themselves who will reap the fruits of a middle class with a vast consumer power? The answer is of course a resounding yes.

VERSE OF THE DAY. Matthew 19:21 Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

January 24, 2005

The Ship Has Found An Iceberg

This is a lament, an elegy for a passing thing—just another passing thing to be more precise. More or less, PPRO, the yet to be incorporated humanitarian aid that I was so deep into has found its own dead-end street where not even a bulldozer could bore a hole into the protruding wall.

There were so many struggles that hinder the beginning of what could be a life-long effort to help the poor and downtrodden amongst us (Funny at times how we speak that we are not poor ourselves). The situation was not to our favor and the events leading to the death of a seed is at times too rough even to be mentioned here.

I had a major falling out with Tony the other day, the one who invited me to join him to manage the bail section of his father’s insurance company. As a management team hired to resume the bail business (after its bondsman of two years, Mr. Jubay, had resigned for reasons unknown to me), we were smooth as a silhouette in putting the office section on the roll. I went immediately into arranging and rearranging the records and files of the nearly neglected unit, which were virtually in shambles, and went on reconnecting with friends and colleagues from law school to instigate a viable client base and invite more business. At one point, I got myself stamped in the arm with a very ubiquitous ink-mark when we went to the local jail to talk to some public officials, which could make our work more sufferable. You know, we were dealing with persons arrested for some malefaction although remaining innocent in legal presumption, which is why bailers come to them detainees. Tony was always saying, “Thank God for crime.” He was always mentioning that phrase to everyone we met on the streets that at first it was cool to hear but at some repetition, it became annoying and opened up to me some sort of reality to Tony’s personality and of the bail bond business. Of course, he meant it to be in jest but how does one see a man being openly grateful for the onset of crimes mainly because it’s good for a his business.

I understand fully well that bailing arrested persons ain’t a business that is in the mold of malice and impropriety for surety companies are just there to cater to a legal mode that is clearly allowed in our territories. In America, bail bonding is a mega insurance business. In our domestic legal sphere, bail is allowed any person arrested for crimes whose penalty is not so serious or if the penalty for the crime is grave enough, bail is still granted if the evidence against the person is weak and minimal. The bail process actually solidifies the theory that a man is innocent unless proven guilty. It also personifies the principle that says it is better to let free ten guilty criminals than imprison one innocent person even for a single moment. It’s a human rights thing---a universal concern for those who are innocent of crimes falsely imputed on them.

On the practical side, the bail process help unclogs the very cramped and overcrowded detention centers in our country where a cell meant for six inmates is thrown at with thirty or so unfortunate souls.

Despite, the legal theories that justify the granting of bail, I can see some of its unwarranted effects like escape of the bailed-out person is always present and even as the policemen try their darnest to arrest these malefactors, the bailers are there to set them free and let loose again into the streets, possibly to do the same malefaction again. I guess, if the grant of bail is not well regulated in our country, and overly abused, we could find a judicial system where crime is encouraged because the assailants easily find the opportunity to flee if money is sufficient.

After a week, Tony started to show some hidden traits like when he becomes unprofessional in work and lacks politeness and candor to me, as his officemate. He would frown and growl if I did not do some tasks he had instructed me to do very immediately and said that I am “nakaka-inis”. Whooaa! This kind of attitude shocked and surprised me that I said to him that we are all grown-ups here and everything can be said in a polite manner. Accordingly, although his father assigned us both the same position and title, Tony had assigned himself as the bond manager, and I do not know if there is really such position as a bond manager. I did not protest this self-assignment for anyway, it was not a big deal after all. What’s in a name?

However, Tony apparently felt so serious about this self-assignment that he scowls at me even for some very minor discrepancy. At first, after the calming of my initial shock and surprise, I just let him be thinking perhaps, this guy whom I’ve known for almost twenty years, ever since high school, was just immature at times. But as the days go by, I found out that he wasn’t immature at all. I think he is crazy in the head and he needs some professional help immediately.

He barks at me for forgetting some folder and castigates me even in public like in front of policemen. He makes me feel so much like a slave ordering me to get folders that he could get by himself and photocopying some papers that he had in mind. Ha! Ha! Ha! I said enough of this. He is really crazy. I never worked with a boor like him before. I was in many offices before even in college when I was in the school paper and in student politics, in government service and in many private agencies but never, exactly never have I met an office worker like him before.

Maybe it was psychological in all. I can see that his father orders him to do this and do that that perhaps he had resented it so much that he had to do the same thing to me.

But for goodness’ sake, how low can one get.

So one afternoon, Tony and me were in a shouting match and I said that I wouldn’t back out from a boor like him. And if he wanted a fight, I was always ready. I went home with my emotion so agitated. Just thinking how rough and undomesticated that man was makes me want to puke.

And so I called Russell that night and informed him of what happened earlier that day. And I said to Russell that I am not going to be a part of PPRO anymore. He wanted me to reconsider and I said that I am not closing doors but I am not going if Tony is on board. The Lord is forgiving and He wants us all to forgive those who have transgressed upon us. Maybe Tony can be forgiven but he is just not qualified to enter into an endeavor that aims to serve the unfortunate brethrens amongst us.

There is a possibility that Tony just desires this organization only for some monetary benefit. I am not pre-judging him but how could one get too concern about others when he doesn’t believe in prayers. I was always urging him in the past to join my fellowship of Christian worshippers that I was envisioning then but he said he doesn’t want to meddle into somebody else’s faith. I granted him that for faith is one own responsibility and choice. In his words, those who pray in the churches are “fanatic”.

I asked now when I am alone: How could he want to help the poor and yet he scorns those who pray?

Perhaps, the Lord had planned it that I shall be farther away from Tony for he is not worthy of an associate. I must find some others who profess to the Lord God with all mind, heart and soul. Everything is God’s will.

They even had planned to change the PPRO to a semi-political body by putting the word “reform” into the acronym, which then would read “Progress for Peace and Reform Organization” instead of the original “Progress for Peace and Relief Organization”. There is a wide difference between the two names and I never want to be politically inclined in helping others. Even previously, we already have a wide difference in views, not only about faith and God, but also on how we get the money to help the poor.

I do not want to linger in gripes but maybe, squares and circles do not mingle after all.

And so PPRO, as it was originally envisioned and peopled is now dead. I said to Russell that if they would resume without me, I just wish them luck and I really wish them some success. But I do not want to be part of it anymore.



January 20, 2005

EGGPLANTS LACED WITH SPICE AND DIAMONDS



Lotlot, our helper, said there was no fish available in the neighborhood flea market. I immediately scoured the weather in my mind and asked if the moon was full last night. I’ve had a lot of relations doing fish vending before. Most of them were uncles and older male cousins that in the past, I could hear them worrying so much that the moon was so illuminating in certain particular nights that there would be a slack of business for them during the week. “Masawa in Bulan”, one of them would say which is the Tausug words for “The moon in full”.

So I suggested to Lotlot to buy eggplants from a nearby sari-sari store so that we could dipped them in eggs and fry them in deep oil. I reckoned that she wasn’t used with this kind of meal that she did not cooked the vegetables the way that I have envisioned them. So I made her buy more eggplants and egg and made them by myself.

To cook this simple menu, one should need the following:

3 pieces Eggplants, fresh from the garden and shiny as a marble.

2 pieces Chicken eggs (from the healthiest of hens.)

1 teaspoon Salt, rock salt to be more tasty

1 quart Fresh coconut oil. If you have some olive oil then you must be
some sort of a rich man.

1 pinch Monosodium glutamate otherwise know as Vetsin.

1 pinch Pepper balls in small cellophane packages.

Wash your hands carefully before handling the eggplants for the germs is almost everywhere. Put the eggplants in a cauldron with an inch-deep tap water and make them boil. If you observe the scene of the eggplants within the water, you must be able to see that the eggplant are not fully immersed into the liquid, just the bottom half of them. In this manner, the vegetables would not turn into a soggy sponge, which would lessen the crispiness and taste.

While you boil the eggplants, bate the eggs in a glass bowl and put salt and vetsin. Bate them so hard like you haven’t got all the time in the world. A lesser purity of egg whites and yellow yolks would minimize the sweetness of eggs, like a woman scorned by her lover. Make the eggs feel good and treat them with all grace and respect, for they are the royalties of food. Without eggs, the way we cook our food would change forever, and never be the same again. Add the pepper into the mixture.

After a couple of minutes of the boiling of the water, take away the eggplants softly from the cauldron and make them rest into a wide plastic platter. With a smooth surfaced ladle, press the eggplants hard enough to make them flat as the ocean and then dipped them into the bated eggs and proceed immediately to paste them into a scorching oil in the pan. Do not overdo the dipping to evade the existence of burnt eggs which bitterness we do not need at this time. Remember, the eggplants are cooked much later than the eggs so be easy on the dipping.

After five minutes or so, the eggplants laced with spices and diamonds are ready to serve. I wasted no time in partaking of this heavenly meal and it took me three returns from the rice cauldron before I became satisfied. What a heavenly meal, what satisfaction.

When we were little, my mother use to cook this kind of meal especially when we run out of money in times when my father’s work as a postman before did not make ends meet in some days that are worse than the others. Because of these past lessons in life, I have learn to respect vegetables and the role they play in alleviating us when fish and meat are too costly at times to place on the dining table. Vegetables have become the heroes of those who are starving and those whose wealth is empty like a rusting tin can. We survive at times when we learn to realize that the things we must enjoy are at most times cheap. We always favor the much costlier foods and disregard the fact that with a little imagination, affordable foods brings us all much closer to ourselves. Fancy foods are sometimes pretentious although they are adorable to the palate. We eat French because the Joneses eat them too. Even in food, we become hypocrites.

VERSES OF THE DAY. John 6:31-40. “Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.' " Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." Then they said to Him, "Lord, give us this bread always." And Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day."

January 17, 2005

WHEN TOMORROW COMES

“Hold me now, oh hold me now. Till this hour has come around. We fought for justice and not for gain but the magistrate sent me away.” --- The Edge singing for U2 in Van Diemen’s Land


When tomorrow comes to this nation of our birth, what door should open to us and what road shall lead us unto what place?

To be certain, we take some little strides forward, and we have gained them, as our exports grow and the remittances of our overseas workers (our modern day heroes) redound into more and more families that are uplifted from the cruel stranglehold of poverty. Yet, as we examine our terrain, our society’s flawed pyramid of wealth, there are still much left to be desired. Like upon a battle, when the smoke clears after the last gunshot is heard and we see the dead and the maimed lying on the bloodied warpath, we know by heart that battles may be won now but the war ain’t over yet.

We must seek our future now for if tomorrow comes, we have no regrets to drink to and have no blame to impute upon ourselves.

Now we seek the key or keys to our forward march into the economic battles of this global economic world where competition is the harshest ever and those who flinch for even for just a second would surely lose any economic advantage where even the richest of nations now are more inclined to protect their markets with inequitable tariff adjustments that favors the few that caters to their own interests. The GATT is never fool-proof in fact, even as we speak, many have already seen blatant loopholes in the agreed rules and conduct of trade that markets like ours could not compete with subsidies other rich governments give their own farmers. There were times in the near past that it was much cheaper to import vegetables from South Korea than source them from local producers. And we are just talking about vegetables here. Fair play is an illusion and we only must realize this. We see even the European states gathering into a strong union in order to build and rebuild their markets and keep other competitions out of the way. To compete then is never to depend so much on equitable tariff adjustments from more advanced states but should be mainly on terms of quality and standard.

The great Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran once wrote: “Pity the nation that does not sew its own garments and pity the nation that does not make its own bread”.

The name of the game is self-sufficiency and resilience in trade. When we produce our own grains, then we do not have to bleed ever-scarce foreign currencies just to feed our people with bread. If we build our own cars, then we do not have to worry about being in the losing end of the economic game where we sell them commodities like rattan furniture and then on the other hand we buy from them high-end products like aircrafts. We gain a little and then lose heavily by gigantic profit margins. This is the apparent cause of the vicious cycle that we are in and that is why we continue to depend on foreign loans and aid to fulfill our budgetary requirements for the vicious cycle clearly indicates the symptoms of a bleeding nation and nobody seem to see the emergency situation.

There is no nation that rises without sewing its own garments. There are few exceptions primary of which are small countries like Singapore and Switzerland. Singapore rose steadily in the 1970’s by being the hub of British middlemen buying and selling anything from oil to silk and transporting them from one place to another—mainly to and from China mainland, which even in the past was already a very huge market. Of course, we know that Switzerland earns its wealth mainly by safekeeping other nation’s wealth and nothing much else. The Philippines could not become Singapore in a sense that the littlest of population of Singapore made it easier to distribute wealth into everyone’s pocket. We are a nation of tens of millions that we could not do business by simply becoming middlemen for other nation’s goods, to sell into somebody else’s market. In short, foreign investment may help small nations like Singapore but a huge nation like the Philippines, we need more effort than just taking in foreign investments. We need to look inward and see if we can create more wealth and become self-sufficient. When we sew our own garments, we can keep more hard currencies by not having to buy garments elsewhere.

When we can produce everything that we need then we will have lesser needs from outside entities and we do not need to bleed the nation for things we haven’t got. Productivity is the key to our nation’s success and self-sufficiency is our main objective.

Our engineers should have more buildings built. The lawyers more cases prosecuted and defended and judges should have more cases decided. Our farmers should reap more harvest and our fishermen should catch more fish from the seas. The writer should write more enchanting narrations and our poets should sing more wordy lullabies that endear the heart of readers. Our teachers should educate more children and our doctors cure more of those who are sick and pained. The carpenters must hammer more nails into more wood and cement while our taxi drivers should carry more passengers from one place to another. Our sellers then should sell more and our buyers would certainly buy more and more. And then when our laborers produces more sardines and electronic products, then they can have more in their pockets as the wages of their blood, sweat and tears rises also. And more money in the pocket of our laborers, the more they buy cigarettes and beer and milk and garments and the rich capitalists would surely have more business in mind. This is the cycle of our dreams, not a vicious one that holds us down like a leech, but one that will supplements us and complement every member of our society, and one day we could become a nation where no one is left behind, where everyone shall have a share in the pie and everyone moves ahead and not only the chosen and lucky few.

Many amongst us, the daily economists beside the leaders of our nation may at many times look outward towards the multinationals and the foreign investors with money to spare. But perhaps, we may miss the more important aspect of real economic progress where we only have to develop a self-generating system of economy by looking inward just one more time. We should give it one last try.

VERSE OF THE DAY. Matthew 21:22. “And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive."

January 11, 2005

SIBUCO: The Farthest End of The World

Thursday of last week was the unlikeliest day for me in years, ever. If there is an award giving body for the “Most Eventful Day” in any man’s life, I am pretty certain that the Thursday I had this week would be among the nominees in the running for the imaginably coveted imagined award.

The famous phone rang again Thursday morning and guess who’s on the other end of the line. You guessed it right. Tony asked: “How do you see yourself as an insurer?” I responded: “Why not?”

Tony was mulling a proposition for a job opportunity at his father’s insurance company and we thought it could open up for us some additional income in our free time. I reckoned his father, Mr. Bong Ramos, operator of Alpha Insurance, wanted his son to learn the craft of the business and Tony had the thought of taking me on the ride. Before lunch, Mr. Bong Ramos was contemplating on expanding his bail and surety bond unit and saw me as a bondsman if that day comes. I pictured myself as that bondsman and I found it to be not bad at all. So fingers are crossed on this certain matters.

We called Russell from the Alpha office to ascertain if he had received and check e-mails that I have sent containing the draft of the constitution and by-laws for Progress for Peace and relief Organization (PPRO), the infantile humanitarian organization that we are meeting heads for. It turned out that Russell was busy preparing for an expedition to Sibuco and he asked if we could accompany him on this one-day sojourn into the land that was in our mind during these past few weeks. Hec was on a task from the Mayor Edding, the Sibuco municipal chief executive, to fetch a vehicle there in order to bring it to Zamboanga for major repairs. We hopped in without any further adieu. I was a little taken aback how Tony decided to join the trip without any hesitation whatsoever. I had some reservation about going to Sibuco for reasons that you will know later on but I reckoned it wasn’t right for me to show any fear when others display courage like a badge on their chest. And so we headed towards heartland Mindanao in the early afternoon, through rivers and jungles and steep mountain passages.

Due to the volatile condition in some part of the route towards Sibuco, Russell had with him three military men serving as bodyguards—Usham, Kevedee, and Ibs. They did not wear their uniforms properly that if one were not careful, they would have been mistaken for rebels themselves.

The trip towards the farthest end of Zamboanga del Norte took us more than three hours. Nearly halfway, the brake of the Nissan Frontier we were riding collapsed and so we had to stop. There was some leaking in the tubings that brake fluid dripped out gradually. We had to stop a passing bus in order to source some much needed brake fluids. In those parts of the world, everyone is most inclined to offer assistance that stranded persons could always seek some water or automobile tools and equipment whenever emergencies occur. It put some scare inside me having the awareness that the brake system broke down. We may fix it soon but the chances of another breakdown would still be there.

Finally, we proceeded with our journey on a half-working brake system, through steep unpaved road and knee-deep riverways. We arrived in Sibuco town by about 3 o’ clock in the afternoon and we proceeded to take some pictures after a cup of coffee. We went to talk to the Municipal doctor as well as the principal of the highschool there. Talking to those people opened up the very reality that progress in the rural lands are much pitiful that as we left the town, we were forced to make some promises which at best, we could not really fulfill considering the very infantile resources we had.

Near nighttime, we proceeded back to Zamboanga City and not an hour after; the other vehicle we brought ran out of diesel. Everyone was blaming someone. Why the confidence that the tank was full and it wasn’t. It took us nearly two hours to fix this particular problem seemingly stranded in the middle of nowhere and feeling the real threat from rebel lost commands in the area.

We arrived in the city nearly close to midnight and the feeling was that of so much relief. We actually survived not a few scary moments in an area so sensitive in peace and order condition. This trip seem to forebear the things that we may encounter as we go along with our NGO.

Yesterday it was the birthday of my brod in Triskelion Ritchie Bucoy so we drank until we could not drink anymore. Present was brods Michael Lopez, John Elago, Russell Iglesias, Lester Masuhud, and nearly brod Ritchie Enriquez. I had to go home much earlier than the others since too much alcohol may not allow me to drive home safely. Last Saturday, a friend from way back in the elementary days, Zulpicar Mundoc was home from Kuwait on a short vacation. So we played billiards until we could not play anymore. Perhaps, these two events need more elaboration in my next post. There are just so much stories in our lives to contend to.

Verse of the Day: 1 Peter 5:9-11. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

January 04, 2005

SUPERSIZE ME!

You can’t always get what you want” – The Rollingstones

It was a warm Sunday afternoon yesterday, when the famous phone rang again and Tony was on the other end of the line. It was time for a marathon movie trip once more. We started with Harry Potter: “The Prisoner of Azkaban”, then “Super Size Me” and lastly, “Spiderman 2”.

The Potter movie was of course another tour de force of an adventure movie, just how we want them made. The latest Spiderman series was just that, another superhero movie. The Spidy movie tried its darnest to season itself with the love angles around Peter Parker but failed to match the tenacity of Clark Kent’s whirling and swirling affair with Lois Lane in the “Superman” series shown a couple of decades ago. It only shows that even superhero movies need someone like Mario Puzo to reign over what the characters have to say and live up to.

“SuperSize Me” is not a movie in the regular sense of the world but it is. I mean it was a true-blue documentary that got shown in Hollywood due to the surprising albeit, well-deserved accolades it had piled up starting with the “Best Director Award” in last year’s version of the Sundance festival.


Upstart director Morgan Spurlock took hold of the main tasks behind the camera and wowed audiences with crisp images and well-thought of monologues and dialogues. Between the beginning and the end of the movie, we are jested incessantly with a good amount of humorous illustrations notably that of Mr. Ronald MacDonald as an evil clown. I snickered every time the caricatures interrupt lengthy scenes. Morgan Spurlock style reminds as heavily of Paul Thomas Anderson in “Magnolia” and Steven Soderbergh in “Traffic”. If he ain’t a big one yet, Mr. Spurlock should be the “next big thing” going on in Hollywood. You can say he surely learned his craft from the two film masters mentioned herein.

The movie is mainly about the director himself hypothesizing upon a premise surrounding a new American problem: Obesity. In the words of Mr. Spurlock himself, “every thing in America is ‘supersized’. Supersized here. Supersized there.” In recent health studies, America is increasingly becoming the fattest nation on earth, if it is not still. 37% of American children and adolescence are obese and in the Manhattan area alone, there are four McDonald’s food store per square mile that for every New Yorker walking towards his or her place of work, he or she would have to pass by at least three McDonald’s food store. This is not counting the many other also-popular American food brands like Wendy’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell. All in all, that is just a lot of burgers in America.

The documentary takes off from a certain civil claims filed by two obese American adolescence against the MacDonald’s company averring among others that the giant food company has been offering its consumers high-risk foods without prior warnings. I guess they must be likening these foods to tobacco that requires health hazard precautions from the U.S. Surgeon General. This particular claim has been dismissed for lack of merit although the judge who penned the decision challenged the plaints that “if they can prove that McDonald’s had intended that its consumers to be compelled to eat their meals in their food store every time and at no other place, then the claims may be successfully instituted”---or something like that. This condition appears to be not a condition at all for it is almost impossible. Like Catch 22, there ain’t just no proving that McDonald’s has somewhat compelled the food buyers to eat their meals in their outfit exclusively although by tenacious advertising, they clear wish it. The issue should have been whether or not the food they serve is proximately dangerous to the health of the consumers or not.

The director then goes on interviewing various subjects mostly, people who looked obese or are actually heavy on their tummies. To top it all, Mr. Spurlock goes on an experiment on himself by a procedure where he would take only McDonald’s food in a 30-day period, and nothing else. By the end of the movie, and at the end of this “landmark” experiment, Mr. Spurlock’s body has become an 18% body fat consistency from a low of 5%. His risk of contracting heart impairment and other diseases has increased dramatically by 200% and his “sex life” had become worthless. Nearing the end of the 30-day, he had complained of pressures on his chest, “not pains” he asserted “but just pressures”; whatever that means. And he had developed depressive tendencies and mood swings. Therefore, a theorem was proven at the end of the flick. Eating too much fastfood items affects the health in a very grave manner.

To me, the greatest proof to the theorem/hypothesis mentioned in the preceding paragraph is the fact that in the beginning of the movie, Mr. Spurlock was in the lightest of mood---smiling easily and snickering even by just the sight of huge Big Mac. At the end of the movie, he was not the same man. His eyebrows are furrowed and dire worry was apparent on his face. The smile just disappeared. At one point, the doctor was urging him to take aspirin for a cardiac problem is high at that particular moment. “Just take it!” the doctor nearly hollered at him when Mr. Spurlock refused to take aspirin, which is known to lessen the chances of blood clotting.

Cinematically, it was a satisfying movie because of the clever dialogues and sharp camera takes and angles. You can say, a genius was at work. Content-wise, it was very informative and eye opening. It deserves all its awards.

And yet, I have some reservations about the dogmas presented by the movie like for instance, the 30-day experiment is itself irrelevant when we already know from common knowledge that too much eating of high-caloric food really makes the body weaker by a mile and bigger as a mule. It doesn’t have to take a genius to know this. And what did it prove against McDonald’s distinctively? How does McDonald’s become different from the other food companies? I am pretty certain that eating food from Wendy’s or Taco Bell with similar density as it was in the subject experiment will almost certainly lead to the same result.

This is not the only time that we are made aware of consumer actions against food or tobacco companies. Of course, we are not left uninformed about the huge billion-dollar tobacco payback that the American consumers had won from the Philip Morris cigarette company. It was in fact the subject of the famous movie, “The Insider”. In 1992, there was the scalding coffee case which an American plaintiff won against the same company we have been talking about here, McDonald’s. In that case, the judge awarded the sum of $150,000 to certain Stella Liebeck of Albuquerque, New Mexico when the coffee she ordered got accidentally poured at her lap, giving her third degree burns and a whole year of therapy. The court here decided that the McDonald’s should have been more alert and vigilant in the manner and method of serving food items to its customers like a super hot coffee. It further stated that as a company long acclimatized to the business of serving fastfoods, McDonald’s should have realized long ago that its consumers are mostly busy and highly mobile individuals who order items like coffee on their way to work and school, and that since items like coffee are insidiously harmful when mishandled, the company should have taken a degree of care above what is ordinary. The result for this coffee case is in stark contrast to the “obesity case” presented in “Super Size Me". And yet, we can see some parallels.

In the obesity suit against McDonald’s, the main claim is the dangerous content of its food items, which was of course could not be proven easily since it is universally accepted that although certain foods contain high amount of elements like calories and sugar, they are not considered as “dangerous” or “toxic” like tobacco, which the court found out to contain noxious elements intentionally added to the product to make it more tempting to the buyers. In burgers and chicken nuggets, there is no such intentional addition of foreign elements. They are cooked in the manner universally accepted.

In the coffee case against the same food company, the main issue is not the content of the food item served per se (whether it is harmful or not) but rather, how the item was handled and served. This is not a health complaint but an ordinary tort case concerning breach of care and the incident of negligence in the performance of duties.

In Philippine jurisprudence, we have not heard of any complaint against any consumer companies similar to those attending in the United States, at least not in a grand scheme. Yet, our laws are rich in provisions that regulate the conduct of individuals including those in the food business. We even have a Consumer Law Act to protect the buyers from harm due to breach of care and negligence. As our society evolves, our courts may soon take in a whole specie of suits concerning the effect of items we buy from numerous food companies.

Under the Civil Code, breach of care and negligence cases hangs on the following provisions:

Art. 19. Every person must, in the exercise of his rights and in the performance of his duties, act with justice, give everyone his due, and observe honesty and good faith.

Art. 2176. Whoever by act or omission causes damage to another, there being fault or negligence, is obliged to pay for the damage done. Such fault or negligence, if there is no pre-existing contractual relation between the parties, is called a quasi-delict.

Knowing these basic entries in our personal laws makes it more prudent for the companies to exert further improvement in their service while allowing consumers to protect themselves from being at the receiving end of poor service and substandard products peddled in our markets.

Aside from being very informative and stylish, "Super Size Me" is a must-see for all diet fanatics because at the end of the of it, one is hugely compelled to take every precaution on anything you take into your mouth and to have more frequent exercises in your waking hours. It’s like a horror movie about zombies. Once you saw it, you become terrified with the living dead and turn away from them the farthest. Once you saw the horror of obesity, you’ll want to turn away from it by the farthest of distance.

January 01, 2005

The Commander and Me

Yesrterday, we celebrated Yuri’s second birthday at the old but still chic Country Chicken Restaurant near the famous Pasonanca Park. The place hosted a-many events for our family primarily because it gave us the best deal we could ever get in town; affordability, the food is great and the place is just so wide that parents could just leave their kids running around without having to worry about passing cars or unworldly strangers prowling around. We had a grand time and the party was lively enough even though it was on a strictly family and close friends basis. I’ll put some pictures here in the coming days if they come soon.

As it was always it had seemed, like mostly what happens, like in the years that passed, Yuri’s birthday was celebrated not on the very day he was born due to scheduling factors. If the day falls on a working day, we have to move it to a weekend date in order that the invited guests may be able come. So much fuzz ain’t it? Ha.ha.ha. I would laugh at myself thinking that in the generation of my kids, this sort of events took us into a lot concerns like the place where to celebrate, how much to spend, and who’s to invite and who’s to come. When I was a kid, our aunts or older cousins would just bake us some chiffon cake (at times without icings anymore) and some Chinese pansit and family-size Coca-Colas and then we neighborhood kids would just troop down to the table, and munch like we never eaten for the longest days. “Take a shower!” said my older cousin Minda as I head home from a torrid afternoon playing session, “ and eat” she would continue, “it’s your birthday today”. Without further adieu and introduction, we just sang happy birthdays and blew candles and ate cakes without icings on them and then we go back to playing like nothing happened. In some birthdays then, when person like Aunt Minda were gone, (she is now in Seattle working as a nurse), and nobody really cared whose birthday is it anyway, I just collect all my friends into our backyard and announce to them that it was my birthday and since it was my birthday, I am giving them one cheese curls one by one. Some would jump would glee while some of ‘em complain what a cheapskate I was. “It’s your birthday and all we get is this cheese curls?” I just said something like (my memory now a little feint) all of you are lucky because it is my favorite cheese curls (the one with a mouse posing as a cowboy and a gun on the package) and usually I informed them, I just kept them to myself in our bedroom and eat them alone. Now shut up all of you and let’s continue to cook the maya bird we just slingered earlier. They taste just like chickens, these birds, you know. When we were lucky in some days, we would cook a dove felled from a neighbor’s birdcages.

We would fish also in nearby ponds and tried to cook our catch in those younger days. The first time we cooked a Martiniko, the taste was just so bad that we puked it out. Despite knowing that we could exactly do nothing with our catch except to stare at it until it dies inside tin cans that we used as makeshift aquariums, we still continue to fish. I bet that’s why fishing is such a major pastime for grown up men in the States because it was just a lot of fun fishing. American men love to fish although most of ‘em need not fish no more to have food on their table.

So in the afternoons, we spend hours after hours sitting by the pond, talking of dreams when we grow up, and of rocketships and satellites in the sky, and aliens and kapres, and boats, while we wait for some fish to pull on our baits. Boats seem to be the favorite topic back then, although I ain’t particular why this was so. Perhaps as kids, we all want to sail into the unknown and see if the people and kids at the other side of the world looks and talks like us or dress like we do and have the same kind of food in their tummies. We had a neighborly friend named Dodong. He was not a regular in our group because of a very strict and recluse of a father. He was kinda weird and stupid that when his around, some of my friends would do some tricks on him when like one day a friend named Michael taught him how to use the sling by pointing it the other way around. And so a fairly size stone struck his forehead and he cried of course, running to his father. I was so worried about that particular incident happened so way back in the past that I could not forget it even up to know. One of the reasons why it stuck in my head is perhaps not mainly because of how tragic it was but it was more to the amazing discovery then of how stupid some kids like Dodong was. At first, I was just relaxing a bit and assume that Dodong was just playing dumb and would not really slinger himself on the face with the sling pointing at himself. But he did for goodness sake. He just pulled the rubber and hit himself. I got scared and felt a little guilty as a conspirator that I could not look him in the eye for days and years to come.

One particular memory is still about the hapless and clueless Dodong. One day he just got brave enough to escape in the afternoon when he thought his daddy wasn’t around the whole afternoon. So he came with us to go fish in a nearby pond. But alas, his father arrived home and immediately came looking for him. He said he was just fishing but his father said what could he do with the fish he caught? His daddy just went nuts and asked for our day’s catch---a milk can full of Martinikos. And for fear, we just gave the whole of them fish to Dodong’s Dad. We got worried about what might happened to our friend and as kids we always like to see some spanking of some other kids. But I believe that day that we were just concerned over Dodong so we followed him and his dad without getting noticed. From a place unknown to Dodong and his father, we sneak and see for ourselves if he would get the major spanking that we foresaw. But he didn’t. What happened was queer enough that it was for the books. Dodong’s father cooked the whole batch of the highly insipid Martinikos in just plain boiling water outside their yard, as if he knew that we were watching them and was warning as of dire consequences. And then he made Dodong eat all the boiled fish. Jesus, it was so achingly awful to see Dodong gobbled all the fish while his tears was running down from his eyes like a flood. Dodong did not play with us ever again even when he did grow up into a young man. By the way, Michael is now in Los Angeles as an emigrant. He sent pictures the last time and we could not believe he drives a red car that looked like a Lamborghini---but I believe he got it from some second hand store.

Back to the present. And so Tony, Russell and Sheva were with me yesterday with their kids celebrating Yuri’s grand day out. We made some discussion on the formation of our organization and when Evelyn finally sat down on our table, we mulled over the possibility of tapping resources from the health sector like doctors and nurses willing to assist us in medical missions in the future. Already, even while our constitution and by-laws are yet to be instituted, we had invites from TESDA for a livelihood seminar in Basilan. And by early January, we are heading to Sibuco for a reconnoitering activity, introducing ourselves to our pilot area and see for ourselves the geographical, societal, and economical make up of the locality. (See the proposed logo for PPRO below)


Some active juices came rushing from my head as Tony narrated the coming itineraries for it reminded of days when I was the President of the student council in the Western Mindanao State University. It was sort of this kind of activities we pursued in those days. We travel and inspect places. We sat in many sessions of trainings and seminars. We met a lot of people. We create and initiate activities out of nothing. When I run for the presidency, my slogan was “ we can make things happen”, and although not much happening in my own term (in a year, the time is so short for a student regime), still my rendezvous as a student leader made me realize that with perseverance and a lot of talking to lots of people and going to a lot of places can make materialize anything that you have in mind. I remember this particular project that I had in school, a mural painting contest that I mulled over with a battalion commander of a Marines infantry based in Jolo at that time. He was so young and a friend of my law classmate Arlene Pelaez, already an attorney now. I went ahead with all the nitty-gritty works---scheduling, planning the opening and closing programs, approaching city councilors as guest speakers, soliciting for sponsorship funds for trophies and free paint, seeking permission from University President Eldigario Gonzales, (we had to negotiate for a particular schedule ‘no, I am not here at this date’, ‘oh, you must see the vice-president for something about this’, ‘ no program for this date, the gymnasium is in use’)---and everything came to place except that when the contest day came so nearly approaching, the said Marines battalion commander wasn’t around no more. He had insisted on providing the paint and the judges. So I got worried but did not stop at worrying. I went to the Southern Command camp where the Marines were based and was informed that the commander was in Jolo. I requested to have some contact with him. The few soldiers in their barracks lugging around like tired horses, said he was in the middle of combat embarking on a major assault on the Abu Sayyaf. I was disheartened and went home thinking, there would be no time to cover up for the task of looking for judges and sponsors for the paints, in so short a time remaining. So the next day, I went back to the barracks and insisted that I talked to the commander. I said there must be some way of communicating to him. You are the military; you must have all the gadgets. And surely enough they have the gadgets. So we called him on the kind of enormous phone kit that we see on some soldiers awkwardly lugging at their back when they are in the heat of battle. The phone was like no phone at all. It felt and sounded like a SMW radio receiver but it did work through crackling voices and interrupted conversation. As if there was a miracle, the commander said that he is heading to Zamboanga the soonest possible time after he asked permission from his higher-ups. And so the project pushed through in grand colors and it was the first time I spoke in front of TV as the ABS-CBN local news program gave a live on-sight interview of the commander and me. Now I remember that he wasn’t really a commander but I get use to call him that in the few days we were together and I forgot his name now. He could not have been a commander for he was so young and very young looking at that. He was then a lieutenant leading a unit of Marines. Maybe he was just an infantry leader. I just do not have the proper coinage for these military hierarchies as of this moment.

VERSE OF THE DAY. LUKE 1:37 : “For nothing is impossible with God”.

Tuba