Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The rise of Aquino

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

At noon today, Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino, or P-Noy as he prefers to be addressed, will take his solemn oath to defend the Constitution and uphold the laws of the land as the 15th President of the Republic of the Philippines. He will be the second second-generation President to occupy the highest seat of the land after Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the first unmarried person to become President.

This particular juncture in the history of the country represents different things to different people. On one end of the continuum would be meanings captured by the words destiny, deliverance, and redemption. On the other end of the continuum would be words like disappointment, grudging acceptance, defiance.

But I think it is safe to assume that everything converges on one prayer: Hope for better times ahead.

Some people have expressed the wish that P-Noy’s assumption into the highest seat in the land would also signal the start of the healing process for a nation deeply wounded by political differences and fragmented by divergent political ideologies and interests. Unfortunately, such is not a reasonable expectation; at least not in the next few weeks and months. P-Noy and most of his volunteers and supporters see their rise into power as a vindication of sorts, the triumph of good over evil, the return of the Jedi. Some scores need to be settled, certain assertions need to be proven, and quite a number of promises need to be fulfilled. There will be some posturing around, unsheathing of swords and rattling of sabers if only to satisfy some people’s need for emotional closure.

Most of us pretty much know however how all these will eventually end. Given our collective short memory and our inherent distaste for ugly confrontations, people will eventually get tired of the political intramurals and begin to lose interest. I know this smacks of extreme cynicism but the only way we can predict the future is to look at the past. And our record at prosecuting former presidents and leaders is quite dismal. The Marcoses and the Estradas are not only back in power, they have almost completely succeeded in deodorizing their images. Even Senator Ping Lacson is expected to be able to reclaim his stature as an outstanding role model in this country; if Honasan, Trillanes, Lim, and Querubin were able to successfully pull it off, why not someone like Lacson?

It seems P-Noy is going to have to hit the ground running. Already, certain sectors have indicated that they are cashing in their chips this early.

For example, militant labor groups have already sent word that they intend to collect on P-Noy’s alleged promises regarding general improvements on the living conditions of Filipinos, which they have liberally translated into promises of another round of wage increases, preferably across the board.

Some quarters have pointed out that P-Noy made no such specific promises, someone even scoffed that the militant labor groups did not support P-Noy in the last election; that on the contrary, they kept on dredging during the campaign the grim specter of the Hacienda Luisita massacre to indicate P-Noy’s alleged bias against the downtrodden. Not that these things make a difference, anyway. P-Noy is now president of all Filipinos and he cannot say that the promises he made during the campaign were only applicable to those who supported him.

There’s going to be more of this delicate balancing act that this administration will need to do. On one hand, I can understand the need to act tough and be venomous towards President Arroyo. This is the kind of emotional closure is demanded by his core supporters. On the other hand, this administration needs to also think strategically and cannot keep on dwelling on the past. The challenge is to move the country forward, not keep it stuck in the past and the present.

P-Noy and his volunteers and supporters will come to grips with the painful realization that the campaign—when all P-Noy had to do was to demonize the current administration, wear yellow shirts, and make promises—was the easier part of the whole engagement. They can continue to blame the previous administration for the country’s woes but at some point they will have to face up to the fact that they are the ones in power now and are the ones directly accountable to the people.

There’s a whole lot of unsolicited advice, friendly reminders, grim warnings, even threats directed at P-Noy that is floating around so I will not get into that now. What needs to be expressed even if seemingly unnecessary at this point is that there’s also a lot of hope and optimism that is accompanying today’s momentous occasion. In short, most people want P-Noy to succeed; we all want the best for our country and for Filipinos.

I join everyone in praying that this resurgence of optimism is not wasted.

* * *

What is going to happen at noon today at the Quirino grandstand is a matter of such importance it has not escaped the common Pinoy’s predilection for levity and humor. We do find opportunities to see the funny side of any situation.

One clever shoutout that I saw on Facebook was a clever adaptation of the mystery of faith recited during celebration of the Eucharist: Cory has died, Noynoy has risen, Peping will rise again.

Yet another attempt at humor that basically echoed the same reservations about the incoming administration was this other Facebook shoutout: Ipagdiwang and pagbabalik ng KKK (Kamaganak Inc., Kaklase Inc., and Kris!).

* * *

And speaking of the garrulous first sister, most people still cannot believe that she actually stole the thunder from her older brother. There are 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days in 2010—did she have to pick the current period to announce the latest complications in her marriage? On the other hand, all this is vintage Kris Aquino. It’s foolhardy to expect her to do otherwise.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Thanks, but no thanks

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

People don’t have to be in P-Noy’s cabinet for them to be able to help this second Aquino administration and the nation in general.

We are aware of course that many people are scrambling to get appointed to Cabinet positions for reasons that have nothing to do with helping government or the Filipino people in general; but that’s a topic for another column. The mood this week is upbeat and hopeful except for the general disdain for Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, which the incoming administration obviously and naturally wants to continue to fuel because it makes it look noble in comparison. For as long as they can demonize someone else, they can continue to deodorize themselves.

It’s three days to go before P-Noy’s formal inauguration and the official list of people who will be in that first Cabinet meeting immediately after the swearing-in at the Quirino Grandstand is still one of the most tightly-kept secret. So far this is what most everyone knows: Campaign manager Butch Abad, Budget Secretary; Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo, Local Government; Dinky Soliman, Social Welfare; Leila de Lima, Justice (a splendid choice!); Edwin Lacierda, Presidential Spokesperson; Paquito “Jojo” Ochoa Jr, Executive Secretary; Teresita “Ding” Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. Reportedly being considered for Presidential Management Staff head is Julia Abad P-Noy’s former chief of staff at the Senate, incumbent Secretary of Health Esperanza Cabral for the same post, Cesar Purisima for Finance, former Presidential Security Group chief Voltaire Gazmin for National Defense, Jim Paredes for Tourism, and Jose de Jesus for Public Works, Guillermo Parayno for Customs.

We now know that Armin Luistro of the De La Salle brothers has been offered the post of Education Secretary, a post that Luistro seems bent on accepting. I really wish Luistro would graciously turn down the offer. Like I said, there are many other ways in which people can become more helpful to this country and to P-Noy’s administration aside from becoming Cabinet secretary.

I really wish Luistro followed Gawad Kalinga Antonio Meloto’s example— which was to turn down the Cabinet post to be vacated by Vice President Noli de Castro as head of urban housing, precisely because he would be able to do more as an individual not beholden to political interests. Certain important tasks in this country just need to be left in the hands of the private sector and freed from government or political interference.

Don’t get me wrong—I think Luistro is qualified for the post. However, becoming Luistro just has too much baggage to become really effective in the post given the current challenges facing the education sector.

For example, the two raging issues of the day that face the education sector just happen to be issues that the De La Salle community is invested in - in many ways: sex education and the proposed addition of two years into basic education.

On the matter of sex education, I hope people have not forgotten that the De La Salle community is a Catholic institution that strictly subscribes to the tenets of religio, mores et cultura. Luistro is the current President of the De La Salle University system and was formerly the Provincial of the De La Salle Brothers Congregation. He is obligated to adhere to the community’s strict moral teachings. Media ambushed Luistro recently and as can be expected, all the questions had to do with the sex education modules that the education department is piloting this school year. Luistro tried to appear objective and cautious. Essentially, he said that he still needed to review the sex education modules being used and that he still needed to receive his official mandate from P-Noy.

But we all know how all of these will end: In a loss-loss situation for Luistro, the De La Salle community, and the Filipino people. If Luistro pushes the sex education modules, those who are strongly against these would accuse the brothers of selling out. If he does not, he would be accused of hypocrisy—the De La Salle system after all plays host to various advocacy programs championing the rights of women and other minorities.

On the issue of the proposed addition of two years into the basic educational curriculum, Luistro would be accused of having a very biased perspective because the De La Salle schools in this country happen to be primarily for the rich—people who can afford two years of additional schooling for their children. If he doesn’t, then the whole thrust of the De La Salle system to provide remedial courses to students who are deemed unprepared for College education will be put in question as well as the fact that many La Salle schools require 12 years of basic education—they have kindergarten as well as a Grade 7.

Another La Salle brother, the late Andrew Gonzalez also served as Education Secretary in the past, specifically during the brief presidency of Joseph Estrada. But the challenges that were present then are completely different from those operating in the present. Quite frankly, Luistro just does not have Gonzalez’ stature in the academic community to command unquestionable authority.

In a related development, Vice President-elect Jejomar Binay issued definitive statements over the weekend categorically making himself unavailable for any Cabinet post.

An interesting and hilarious side bar to the whole canard was Joseph Estrada’s pontification about how Binay should have accepted being head of the body that will supposedly run after Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for corruption. Those who commit graft and corruption while in office should be prosecuted and punished, Estrada said. How Estrada is able to preach morality and good governance given his own grievous mistakes while he was President is incredibly stupefying. He is without doubt a great actor.

Binay’s non-acceptance of the post of chief mad dog that will pursue Arroyo after June 30 was actually a wise move. Whoever thought of putting Binay in that post must really hate the Vice President-elect with a passion. Binay is not exactly known as Mr. Clean. Solita Monsod recently came up with a column detailing some of the accusations of corruption lobbed at Binay’s doorsteps. Getting someone like Binay to prosecute someone like Arroyo for corruption would be a moro-moro of gigantic proportions.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Acid tests

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

The President-elect said over the weekend that he would review the Department of Labor and Employment’s decision giving Philippine Airlines the go signal to outsource some of its non-core business functions. PAL had been bleeding heavily in the last few years on account of a combination of factors—most notably the drastic fluctuations on the prices of oil as well as cutthroat competition in the airline industry—and the decision to outsource some functions is widely seen as a last-ditch effort to keep the airline afloat.

Incidentally, it’s not just PAL that is going through the same problems—many other airlines in the world, mostly national carriers, are weighed down by the same difficulties.

Three other airlines in the country with lower overhead costs have been giving PAL management intense migraines. Cebu Pacific, for example, offers various promotional packages that give away tickets at ridiculously cheap prices. A friend who works in Manila now commutes practically every weekend to Tacloban City; according to him, what he spends on a return flight is less than what he would normally spend on a weekend night out in Manila. The downside is that he has to book flights way in advance, which is not a problem for someone who has blocked off most of his weekends for these flights anyway.

Unfortunately, PAL with its massive infrastructure and bloated bureaucracy cannot go head to head with the new airlines in terms of pricing. Lest we forget, PAL invested heavily in developing the airline market in the country and had to put in place the people and the structures to make the airline operational. Long before there was Cebu Pacific, Zest Air, Air Philippines, or Sea Air, there was PAL laying the foundations that other airlines would soon be able to take advantage of. The analogy that people like to make is that PAL established strong roots in the industry—the same roots that is now pulling it down and preventing it from staying on air. Metaphorically, PAL is now trying to cut off some its roots—the result is the current messy, painful, ugly situation that has turned PAL employees against each other.

The new airlines are lean and mean and have already outsourced many of its functions right at the beginning of its operations. PAL is just catching up.

PAL’s business decision will result in quite a number of its people—some estimates put it at around 3,000—joining the throngs of the unemployed although the airline is cushioning the impact with separation packages.

As a human resource management professional, I have some reservations about PAL’s business decision. A colleague pointed out in a public forum recently that the airline does seem to have fallen into a pattern insofar as the way it makes business decisions and the way it treats its employees. But when needled about business realities and the absence of better alternatives, most everyone I know—including the colleague who spewed quite a mouthful against PAL —agreed that PAL’s business decision to outsource some of its non-core functions and consequently, to let go of some of its people, does reflect present business conditions. In short, it’s the way to go.

The PAL employees who will be affected by the DOLE ruling have sent word that they will take their case to P-Noy. They’ve announced that they would picket P-Noy’s Times Street residence. I don’t know exactly what P-Noy wants to achieve with his intended review of the DOLE decision. There’s the distinct possibility that the statement was just another knee-jerk reaction. P-Noy’s default reaction on most decisions and actions done by the outgoing administration is to suspect the worst in these—as if everyone in the whole government bureaucracy is incapable of correct judgment and as if he and his team are the only ones blessed with an abundance of wisdom.

What he does in relation to PAL is an acid test of the P-Noy presidency. The PAL case is not unique; nor is it isolated. There are many more business organizations that are slowly re-engineering their processes with the end view of outsourcing non-core functions.

The good thing about such moves is that the jobs will still be there—they will just be in another form or with another company. The jobs will still be in the country. What is alarming is the rumored exodus of some manufacturing plants out of the country.

This paper bannered yesterday the news that Nestle will be moving its production plants to Indonesia. This rumor had been whispered about for quite sometime now. Nestle executives, as can be expected, have denied that such a plan of action exists. The last thing it needs right now is a labor problem. The textbook approach to management actions like these is to go the way of Intel—which was to do it quickly, and efficiently. Announcing it months in advance poses major difficulties as employees can throw various obstacles along the way.

But it seems there is more to this than meets the eye and not just because where there is smoke there is fire. Actually, many Nestle plants in the Philippines have long been mere packaging centers since they have long stopped actual manufacturing of some of their products in the country. For example, Nestle breakfast cereals are manufactured out of the country and simply packed here.

Nestle’s industrial relations experiences are staple fare in human resource management classes. For quite sometime there, Nestle was the thought leader as well as best-practice leader in terms of human resource management practices. And yet, Nestle was wracked by major labor problems in the 80s and 90s. Some attributed the problems to massive infiltration of militant labor forces within the Nestle organization.

If Nestle is indeed packing up operations here and moving to Indonesia, then it joins the list of many multinationals that have made the painful—but some argue, wise—business decision. Labor costs in our neighboring countries are cheaper, conditions are more business-friendly, etc. There’s no need to beat ourselves hard with the harsh facts—we know Vietnam, China, Laos, Cambodia, even Indonesia and Malaysia, are being perceived as much better places to do business in and it’s really not because they rank lower in terms of corruption. There’s a confluence of factors that impacts on our overall competitiveness and it would be foolhardy for the incoming administration to think corruption is the end-all or be-all of competitiveness.

Monday, June 07, 2010

From the frying pan into the fire

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

There is a very strong possibility that Senator Noynoy Aquino will be proclaimed president-elect within this week, perhaps even within the day. When this is done, I hope we can then move on to the more pressing issues of the day such as the impending start of the new school year and the thousand and one problems of the educational sector, the onset of the rainy season and the predicted lash of La NiƱa, and the question of what to do with Kris Aquino and Boy Abunda. Hold off, fans; am just kidding about the last one.

There will be half-hearted attempts by certain quarters to delay the proclamation under the guise of ensuring that the rule of law is upheld. Proclaiming Aquino president-elect will pretty much give the whole automation program a seal of approval. Everything —issues about the overall integrity of the process, doubts over the accuracy of the results, complaints about certain aspects of the whole automation program—will become a foregone conclusion. The moment the joint committee proclaims Aquino, all others issues will become moot and academic.

Mar Roxas can continue flailing around, kicking and screaming about how he was cheated, even point fingers at anyone and everyone. But we pretty much know how all these will end: With Jejomar Binay being proclaimed vice president. The surveys prior to the elections did show Binay surging past Roxas and we all know why. Most loyal Aquino followers went for an Aquino-Binay tandem. The truth was that many people were never really comfortable with having Roxas as Aquino’s second-in-command. Given Aquino’s relative inexperience and temperament, Roxas was seen as a clear and present threat.

Thus, Mar Roxas needs to accept the inevitable. He was royally scre**d. It stinks, but that’s politics. The sooner he accepts the fact that he lost the 2010 elections, the better for his image. As it is, most people already see his current efforts at questioning the millions of null votes and the supposed indicators of dagdag-bawas operations being done in certain places as the usual antics of traditional politicians who simply cannot accept defeat gracefully.

Complaining about the results of the elections and insisting that there was cheating solely and exclusively for the vice presidential contest portrays Roxas as a sore loser. In the minds of many, it’s just improbable that the kind of cheating that happened was limited to the contest for the vice presidency. It’s not that people have very little respect for the vice presidency, just that if cheating could be done, people would have attempted to do it for other posts, notably, the presidency. Roxas must accept that he cannot endorse the results of the presidential elections because Aquino’s victory is acceptable to him and then question the results of the vice presidential elections because he lost.

It’s really about time that we put closure to the May 2010 elections. I know that it’s not a good idea to leave matters unresolved; God knows how we have accumulated a very long list of unresolved issues in this country. They continue to haunt us even decades after they happened. Unfortunately, our collective memory is really quite short and we do have very little tolerance as a people for convoluted and drawn-out processes. Eventually, we all just want to get on with our lives. And so, it’s time to focus on other matters outside of the 2010 elections.

It’s probably unlikely, but in case you have been absorbed in very little else other than the elections and have therefore been blissfully oblivious to something as seemingly mundane and routine as the passing of time, let me point out to you that today is June 7. Yes, we are almost halfway through 2010.

Classes in many schools start today. The rest will begin next week. Our educational system continues to be plagued by serious problems that affect our national competitiveness. Simply put, our educational system is not producing graduates that meet global— even national—needs. Experts have said that we need to add two more years into the basic educational curriculum but we all know implementing this will not be easy. To begin with, we don’t have the infrastructure to support additional two years of basic education. As it is, we don’t have enough teachers, classrooms and books for the current setup of six years of elementary and four years of high school education. Adding two more years will probably send the whole structure collapsing like a pack of cards.

Parents who send their children to private schools will probably be up in arms while schoolchildren themselves will most likely resent the delay in their progression in the academic ladder. But we need to confront the issue because our graduates are seriously lagging behind in terms of overall preparedness. There are many holes in the educational system that need to be plugged, too many gaps that need to be bridged, and far too many urgent problems that need immediate solutions. But what are we fussing about today? What is the issue that is getting everyone riled up as classes start? Sex education!

We already know that any discussion about sex in this country is accompanied by some degree of snickering and embarrassed coughing and vigorous protestations from certain quarters. It used to be frustrating and, all right, downright annoying because such reactions would have been appropriate in another time, when Spanish was the lingua franca in this country and women still wore six layers of clothing. But given how such reactions have become irrelevant today, the correct response to the moralists is to label their assertions as ridiculous and hilarious.

The moralists are against the inclusion of sex education in the curriculum because of several beliefs. First, that sex education would encourage school children to go out and have sex. Second, that sex education is best done by parents rather than by teachers. But by far the most damaging misrepresentation about the proposed sex education in the curriculum is that the modules will teach schoolchildren at various levels the kama sutra. This is further from the truth as the proposed modules teach messages appropriate to the age and competency level of the learners.

The belief that having knowledge about something encourages people to experiment is a myth. The reality is that lots of kids experiment precisely because they don’t know the facts—or simply don’t know any better. And really, given the rising incidence of sexually transmitted diseases and the increasing percentage of teenage pregnancies, withholding critical information from kids today that would have empowered them to make the right and informed choices would be foolhardy.

I agree that parents are in the best position to teach their kids about sex education. But how many parents have the time, the competency, and possess the correct attitude? How many families are comfortable discussing sex? I still have to meet someone who had parents who actually gave an orientation on the facts about the proverbial birds and the bees. Mine certainly did not despite the fact that my mother was a public schoolteacher most of her life.

Whether we like it or not, kids today have ready access to all kinds of information about sex. Children are not stupid. They have eyes and ears. They are capable of absorbing information. Most children today have Facebook accounts, for crying out loud, and know how to navigate the Internet. We can cross our fingers and hope that they can process all the information on their own —or we can help them and give them the correct information and advice. It’s probably wrong to label the whole thing as sex education because what it really is life education.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Leadership brand and billboards

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

Each leader is distinguished for his or her leadership brand. There are many brands as there are leaders since a leadership brand is really a composite of the person’s competencies, experiences, personality traits, etc. One of the most popular topics of discussion among management circles in the last few weeks has been Noynoy Aquino’s presumed leadership brand. There’s a lot of speculative drivel being floated and tossed around on what kind of a leader Aquino is most likely going to be. I think it is a little too early for anyone to be able to make any kind of authoritative and definitive analysis on Aquino’s leadership brand; the guy has not even been officially proclaimed, much less sworn into office. Any attempt at dissecting his leadership competencies at this stage comes off as plain and simple nitpicking.

This, however, has not stopped some people from already clucking their tongues and shaking their heads this early at perceived chinks in the armor, at some quirks in Aquino’s overall projection so far.

A friend of mine sent me an email noting what he perceives as Aquino’s tendency to make statements that border on temperamental outbursts as well as Aquino’s tendency to put personal comfort and convenience over and above everything else. According to my friend, Aquino strikes him as someone who seems to expect the whole bureaucracy to adjust to his particular needs. My friend listed off some critical incidents to buttress his theory: Aquino’s refusal to stop smoking, his expressed desire to transform his current residence at Times Street in far off Quezon City as presidential quarters, the snafu over who should administer his oath of office and the potential constitutional crisis if and when he makes good his threat not to recognize the legitimacy of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, etc. It’s difficult to argue with critical incidents although even these are subject to interpretation. But Aquino does seem to have the tendency to shoot from the hip.

His pronouncement last week belittling the surge in some indicators of economic growth and attributing the improvements mainly to campaign spending made him come across as petty and petulant. As a number of economists have already pointed out, campaign spending accounted for only a small fraction of the surge. Aquino should also remember that while it is the government that crows about economic improvements, there’s a whole structure of technocrats, industries, private companies, non-government and private organizations, and millions of citizens propping up the economy. I am aware that it has become very, very expedient for most people to heap all the blame and the scorn on just one person, but the reality is that it’s not just Gloria Macapagal Arroyo that makes the economy move up or down.

But like I said, let’s all give the guy a chance. Developing a leadership brand is a process that is never perfected. Aquino is a work in progress and there is ample room for improvement. Besides, he did anchor his platform—or what passed off as a platform—mainly on getting rid of corruption in government not on outstanding leadership competencies. Of course moral leadership cannot be the end-all or be-all of any presidency, but it’s a good starting place as any.

In a related development, this matter of how to address Aquino in the meantime that the official canvassing and proclamation have yet to be completed has reached ridiculous heights. What has made the situation unique is that everyone—with the exception of Joseph Estrada’s camp, of course—already knows and has accepted that he won the elections. Automation has enabled us to have knowledge of the results of the elections even if the official canvassing by Congress had yet to begin. It is obvious our lawmakers didn’t have the foresight to anticipate that such a situation would come to pass—we retained the old set-up where a joint session of Congress had to be officially convened to canvass the votes for President and Vice President not realizing that such a complicated and cumbersome process would be rendered almost irrelevant by automation.

Some have taken to calling Aquino as President-elect, which technically is not quite correct because without the official canvassing of the votes he has not been deemed elected. I have heard people refer to him as President-apparent, which seems accurate—he is apparently the next president, but it seems a bit tentative perhaps even frivolous given that the person being referred to is the President of the Republic. I referred to him in recent columns as presumptive President (some dailies use the more long-winded term presumptive President-elect) because that is the general assumption—he is going to be the next president. I came across articles that referred to Aquino as President-in-waiting, a designation that seems neither here nor there: Waiting for what, exactly?

I know a number of people who have solved the problem by simply addressing Aquino by his current title and post, which is as senator of the Republic. Thus, Senator Noynoy Aquino.

What we can glean from this current dilemma is that we do have a culture that puts a premium on titles and designations as status indicators; which is a topic for another column.

***

I was in Davao City over the weekend for work. Local politics in Davao City has always fascinated me not only because I spent some time there as a child but more because local politics in this city at the foot of majestic Mount Apo has always been colorful and out of the ordinary. The Dutertes trounced Speaker Boy Nograles in the last elections and very few people were surprised. The Dutertes have a firm hold on the city. Thanks to Duterte’s iron resolve, Davao City strictly implements an anti-smoking ordinance, bans firecrackers all year-round, and even has a strict ban against selling of liquors after 2:00 am any day of the year. The father-and-daughter team ran for vice mayor and mayor, respectively, this time around; the daughter, Sara, used to be the vice mayor of the city while her father, Rodrigo, used to be the mayor. The rigodon was required by term limits.

What struck me this time around were two giant billboards near the Davao City International Airport which had this message printed in bold, complete with an illustration of a human eye: Pikat nimo, Pete! The message is lost in translation, but it’s a childish taunt equivalent to “in your face.” For Tagalog speakers, the phrase is equivalent to “belat, Pete!” The billboards went up immediately after the results of the elections and most people initially thought it was a teaser for a new product, or a new ad campaign for an event such as a theatre play or musical.

The billboards, it turns out, are a direct taunt at the local parish priest of the area named Pete who used the pulpit during the campaign to denounce the Dutertes. Residents told me that the parish priest campaigned openly for Nograles, who lost in the elections. The billboards are amusing because it illustrates a shift in paradigm in the way politicians—or anybody in particular —can get back at another person who presumably did wrong. Instead of physically doing harm on others, we can always shame or ridicule them in public.

Prior to the “Pikat nimo, Pete” billboards, Davao City had already seen a profusion of billboards proclaiming all kinds of messages. One message that was plastered in many billboards all over the city was “Change? What for? We have the best!!!” This message was obviously in response to billboards that proclaimed: “Change is coming on May 10, 2010.” One wishes that conflicts and disagreements among local politicians in Davao were always settled this way—through billboards rather than through bullets.