Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Monday, October 24, 2011
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
This was my column on the date indicated above.
There was a time when traveling to, say, Pagsanjan was a relaxing drive across rolling plains of green, or when the ricefields were ripe for harvesting, swathes of orange and gold. I remember having gone with friends to the town of Liliw some ten years ago to frolic in the cold waters of a river that, we were told, was then still safe to drink. Back then, people dipped right into the river, not in some man-made pool where water from the river had been diverted into by some enterprising person.
The changes brought about by development are becoming more and more evident each day, in a pace that has become faster and faster.
I am afraid that at the rate “progress” is happening in this historic home province of the national hero, large parts of glorious Mount Makiling would soon be covered entirely by houses and the breathtaking view of mystic Mount Banahaw will also be obscured soon by trappings of modern-day conveniences.
The sad thing is that most people I got to talk to were quite happy with the modern-day “improvements.” I don’t hear of activists screaming about cultural heritage preservation. As it is, many, most particularly the younger generation, were actually quite impatient with the pace of development. They bewailed the fact that Chowking halo-halo, for example, can already be had at Liliw and not in their own towns. Of course they’ve always had their own halo-halo stalls in their own public markets, but, well, it’s not served with a flourish, Chowking style, even if the ingredients are the same or perhaps even better because they are organic, or fresher.
In Nagcarlan and Luisiana for example, many couldn’t wait for Jollibee and Goldilocks to set up shop. I like eating Jollibee chickenjoy every once in a while and the cakes at Goldilocks are not bad either, but surely there are local equivalents that are just as tasty, perhaps even more nutritious. Fried itik (duck) at Cavinti is tasty, although in my opinion not quite as delectable as the ones in Angono, Rizal. But as if to make up for the lack of official Jollibee chickenjoy, a number of makeshift stalls have sprouted selling fried chicken, supposedly done with ingredients exactly the same as those of the national foodchain. I don’t vouch for the reliability of the information, in fact I really doubt if it is true , but someone whispered to me that the chicken pieces supposedly came straight from some Jollibee commissary.
Of course many think that having their own SM Department Store would be the ultimate measure of finally having arrived. It would be difficult to begrudge folks of modern-day conveniences. There is value to having Internet facilities even if one is relaxing in the pristine waters of one of the waterfalls in Majayjay or if one is simply contemplating the placid waters of the lake named after the town of Bai. And surely, a few other conveniences such as reliable cellphone signals, 24-hour drugstores and others would not be such a bad idea either.
But still, it would be tragic if, for example, the many stores selling shoes and slippers in Liliw were to disappear just because SM has opened a mall nearby.
Think how sad it would be if the makeshift stalls that sell local fruits in season and native delicacies such as special varieties of rice cakes and various food stuff were to disappear from the streets of Nagcarlan and Luisiana because bigger pasalubong centers have sprouted up, gobbling the little businesses in the area the way 7/11 has killed sari-sari stores in many areas of Metro Manila.
And just what would our lives be like if the rambutan and lanzones trees of Nagcarlan and Rizal were all felled to make way for the building of more subdivisions?
We have got to learn how to balance development with the protection of culture and the environment.
As it is, Calamba, Biñan and Los Baños are hardly worth visiting anymore because, quite frankly, they are now indistinguishable or difficult to tell apart from say, San Pedro, which is quite nearer to Metro Manila and therefore involve less travel aggravation.
If it is any consolation, there are efforts to try to save the environment. In San Pablo, for example, the use of plastic bags has been prohibited. In case you haven’t heard, plastic bags are the number one cause of waterways clogging. Those darn things pollute the environment for many scores.
We shopped at SM San Pablo Supermarket the other weekend and were pleasantly surprised to find that they use biodegradable paper bags instead of those ubiquitous plastic bags. The paper bags were more cumbersome and prone to easy tearing, but customers were allowed the use of shopping carts while inside the mall anyway, so one didn’t have to hug those paper bags the whole time. The lesson is that there is always a creative alternative to every wrinkle.
Unfortunately, our very short visit to SM San Pablo coincided with a major activity of the San Pablo Central School. They dubbed it their annual “playground demonstration.” I remember having gone through the same annual ritual as an elementary pupil when all of us would be required to wear a silly costume and made to gyrate to some improvised dance number or rhythmic activities (my parents referred to the annual embarrassment as character building). The difference was that we did ours in the Town Plaza or the school quadrangle, not inside some air-conditioned mall. We spent a few minutes watching little toddlers go through the motions of dancing an improvised “folk dance” that was as Filipino as a dish of pink salmon heads sinigang. The whole mall was teeming with kids in various stages of hyperactivity and their kith and kin. This is how we make our kids victims of consumerism.
At any rate, it would really be great if the leaders of Laguna would make a conscious and deliberate effort to preserve the various facets that make the province a natural heritage site. They can begin by saving old houses and structures. It’s probably too late to do that in Biñan where many of the old structures have already been torn down, but perhaps not too late for Pagsanjan, Nagcarlan and Liliw where a number of old houses remain. Efforts should be made to preserve old Municipal buildings as well as other historic sites such as underground cemeteries, etc.
I fervently pray that the churches in the towns of Nagcarlan, Majayjay and Liliw are left as they are and conserved properly because they are truly wondrous beyond words. In case you haven’t marveled the centuries-old heritage sites, Nagcarlan Church was the setting of the ABS-CBN soap Kampanerang Kuba (Hunchback Bell Ringer) while Majajay Church was the setting of the Filipino film classic Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (Three Godless Years).
Otherwise, I would encourage everyone to visit the towns of Laguna while there’s still some facets and artifacts of our culture remaining. These would probably be gone in a few years if nothing is done in the area of cultural preservation.
Monday, October 17, 2011
This was my column on the date indicated above.
For those happily unaware of this latest tempest to hit the blogosphere, Bastin is a British economist who “has been traveling to the Philippines since 1991.” He recently wrote a scathing piece on Manila in a recent post in a blog (the original link of which, for some strange reason, has been inaccessible since Saturday night). The post went viral and seemed to have hit a raw nerve among many fellow Filipinos who felt that Bastin committed the most grievous of mistakes, which was to diss his hosts. I think most of the indignation directed at Bastin is borne out of the fact that we truly are onion-skinned about criticism made by “guests,” sometimes forgetting that the businessmen and tourists that come to this country don’t really owe us any favors for coming here. Because we are ingratiating to a fault, we tend to take it personally when foreigners say bad things about us, and our country. Yes, we love Inang Bayan to bits, but it’s really time for us to see the grime and the smell the decay.
Bastin prefaced his post with what seemed like an attempt to justify his negative review. He said he hated writing negative posts and that one “cannot and should not generalize about such a large country spread over thousands of islands.” And then he went on to rant about Manila being “a dump.” Ouch, indeed.
He said Manila “has got to be the disgrace of South-east Asia, all the more so because twenty years ago when I used to come through here en route to Papua New Guinea it was THE place in the region to come to for shopping and R&R. How the mighty are fallen!”
In Bastin’s opinion, “Ninoy Aquino International is exactly the same as it was all that time ago; the same awful green lino when you arrive, the same over-crowded Departure Hall, nowhere to sit if your check-in desk isn’t open. Once through security you find the same down-market shops, toilets that don’t work or are “under repair” and very few F&B places… The coffee in this over-priced lounge is awful…. Over-boiled and they don’t have a modern machines (which these days can be purchased even for home use) to produce fresh coffee from beans. NO ONE uses this old filter method anymore, at least no one that likes good coffee.”
And then he dissed the hotel he was staying in, the Discovery Suites in Ortigas Center: “It used to be very good and remains convenient for my business meetings. But the owners have invested nothing in upkeep and I stay in a room that has the same furniture, same carpet as it has always had; it smells musty. The TV is years old. The water heating system provides limited hot water for my bath. My room is not cleaned until I have to go and ask. The Internet (OK, free wifi in the room) is dreadfully slow and the room service food lukewarm.”
Bastin did say nice things about Filipinos: “The Filipino people are nice, and indeed they are polite—we Brits might say “smarmy”—obsequious or ingratiating are maybe less pleasant words. But they do try. That does take the edge off the sheer misery of a crumbling, filthy, depressing city and an economy that exists only on the remittances of the smart ones who have left.” Again, ouch!
And then he offered some armchair analysis, saying the Philippines “has the WORST growth history of any of the ASEAN countries—Cambodia which was torn apart by civil war up until 1997 has a first-class airport (fresh ham and cheese sandwiches on foccacia, freshly brewed cappuccino , clean lounges) and some great restaurant food and hotels. But the Manila, where the intelligentsia sneer at their Asian brothers and sisters for their lack of English, is beaten hands down even by little Phnom Penh and left standing by every other mega-city in the region.”
There’s more. “There seems to be a theme here: the Philippines has many natural advantages and in fact a talented people who provide services everywhere in the world. But there has been no re-investment in the country, neither by the public sector (hence the terrible airport facilities), nor by private industry. People might build a hotel, but they run it into the ground rather than trying to build a long-term institution. Philippines can be described as an extractive or exploitive economy, not one where people want to build sustainably long term. As I say, the smart one’s all want to leave.”
Bastin concluded with a suggestion: “If you want to see the Philippines: get through Manila as quickly as you can, it has nothing to recommend it. Go out to the islands, Cebu, Mindanao, up to the cool of Baguio and see the people in the countryside and some of the spectacular scenery. That’s probably worth the trip. Otherwise pick almost anywhere else in Asia and you’ll get a better deal. “ This hurt because I would pick Manila anytime over, say, Timor Leste.
Once I got through my own anger at the harsh words Bastin used, my rational mind kicked in and I realized that the guy didn’t say anything I haven’t said in the past in this space or elsewhere, although I would like to think, with a little less venom.
If we sift through the tons of indignant verbiage heaped on Bastin and his post, three things stand out. First, people felt Bastin failed to balance his views with a more constructive context, in short, he compared apples and oranges. Second, many thought Bastin should not blame Filipinos for the lapse of judgment in choosing a hotel (which people thought triggered the rant) that many Filipinos agreed is not exactly world class; many suggested other “better” hotels in the area. And finally, many thought he was being a “racist” for spewing insulting comments and making unfair and hurtful generalizations on the basis of one experience.
I, too, was hurt by Bastin’s rant. It’s always painful to hear bad things being said about us. I was particularly offended by the very grim prognosis he offered at the end of his piece when he wrote: “For the Philippines the question is surely will it ever emerge from the mire into which it has sunk? Very frankly based on my very long experience of the place I really doubt it, in fact it is a “disappearing” country if there is such a thing.” He didn’t have to be snippy. He could have toned down the anger. He could have resisted the urge to put us down as hopeless.
So yes, I think we cannot be faulted for reacting with equal indignation at the tone he used. But at the same time, let us not bury our heads in the sand and dismiss the observations made just because it was done in bad taste. The mature response is not to shoot the messenger but to show Bastin that we are, in fact, more “gentlemanly.” Let’s resist the urge to give him the dirty finger and instead use the message as a wake up call.
I remain hopeful that we can make still make things work in this country regardless of how many Bastins tell me otherwise.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
This was my column on the date indicated above.
Barring any act of God, forces of nature, and other unfortunate events, human resource managers from all over the country will converge at The Atrium of the Limketkai Mall in Cagayan de Oro City at 3:00 in the afternoon today for the annual conference of the People Management Association of the Philippines. The event is the biggest gathering of people managers in the country. This year marks the 48th year that the association is mounting the conference.
There are a number of interesting issues that the conference is tackling but before we get to these issues, allow me to tell you about how particularly challenging it has been to put together this year’s conference.
First, there were the problems brought about by the visitation of the trio of unwanted visitors, namely Pedring, Quiel, and Ramon. The frustrating part was that we actually chose to hold the PMAP conference in October this year (it used to be held regularly in September every year) precisely because everyone said typhoons usually visited the country during September so holding it on October would be wiser. Of course we now know that global warming has really altered whatever weather patterns we’ve been accustomed to in the past. Lesson number one: There is no longer such a thing as a typhoon-free month in this country anymore.
Unfortunately, everything comes to a halt in this country when there is a typhoon. Electricity goes kaput, transportation systems go haywire, prices of food go berserk. Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez has his job cut out for him if he truly intends to put the Philippines in the map as a conference destination.
When we announced that the PMAP conference was happening in Mindanao this year, many heaved a sigh of relief thinking that the conference would not be affected by weather disturbances. Mindanao is an island rarely visited by typhoons. People figured that unlike the other year when hundreds of conference delegates got stranded in Manila because of Typhoon Ondoy, at least people wouldn’t have to go through a similar scenario in Cagayan de Oro. Lesson number two: There is no such thing as a typhoon-free place in this country.
We now know Mindanao is not typhoon-free anymore. As I write this piece, Typhoon Ramon is threatening to wreak havoc on the Northeastern part of Mindanao and Central Visayas. We are storming the heavens with prayers that flights coming out of Cebu and Manila would not get canceled because this would definitely affect the conference as most participants and speakers will be coming in from the two key cities.
But the most frustrating challenge that we had to respond to, and which gave us the biggest headache, was the Philippine Airlines fiasco. It would require more than one column to narrate the many stories of woe that our participants had to go through in the last few days trying to make sense of or find fixes for canceled or rescheduled flights.
As human resource management professionals, we empathized with the situation of our colleagues at PAL and tried to make allowances for glitches brought about by the labor strike. Many of us chose to stick it out with PAL despite availability of flights in other airlines because we truly wanted to help the flag carrier project the impression that it is “business as usual” despite the difficulties. Still, we couldn’t believe the extent of unpreparedness that most of us witnessed in the last few days. It was as if there was no contingency plan in place. In many cases, check-in time took 30 minutes for each passenger. Lesson number three: Anticipate all kinds of scenarios, including a labor strike.
At any rate, we hope to be able to hold a successful PMAP conference this year, particularly since there is a lot weighing on in this event. It’s the first time that a major conference is being held in Cagayan de Oro and we truly wanted to showcase the city’s potentials as a conference venue. They are building a bigger and hopefully more modern airport, which they will share with Iligan City, and it is expected to be operational next year. There’s a lot of infrastructure being built around the city—flyovers are finally being built in strategic intersections to manage traffic better. And the tourism attractions of the city are unique and more sustainable (think white water rafting, ziplines, and forest canopy walks).
The theme of the PMAP conference is Tao Muna (People First), which is a reiteration or re-statement of what is probably the most overused cliché in management literature, which is that people are an organization’s most important or most valuable asset. The reality, however, is that while many organizations profess to put premium on people, far too many simply do so because of social guilt; they feel it is their social or moral obligation to do so.
There continues to be a wide gap between theory and practice particularly in terms of effective talent management. Many organizations don’t see people as capital; they think it is products, or technology, or facilities that underpin business success. Many organizations continue to consider payroll as overhead cost, benefits as superfluous, and training and development as perks rather than as investments.
Over and above the philosophical issues of what and how people should be treated in business organizations, there is the critical need to develop sound and sustainable strategies to manage people in the emerging business environment.
There is very little doubt that the world has changed and is still changing radically and yet there is very little being done both in terms of crafting national strategies or promoting best practices to protect, nay, effectively harness, Filipino talent as the main source of the country’s competitive advantage. For example, we all know outsourcing has become an inevitable business reality but we don’t really have a strategic plan that will guarantee sustainability of jobs or promote equity in the long run.
What we have at the moment are various knee-jerk responses from everyone. Most of the proposed laws that impact on labor that have been filed in both houses of congress are tragically either reactive or irrelevant, are designed to promote protectionism which renders them unsustainable in the global business environment, or have potentially disastrous consequences in the long-term. Government seems content in doing a balancing act—trying to establish a middle ground for the various conflicting needs and interests. Business and labor are often left to their own devices and try to make things work, but unfortunately, there’s just a lot of ideological issues that get in the way.
“People first,” the theme of the PMAP conference is therefore timely. It is also an urgent call to action. People are our only lasting source of competitive advantage. We need to craft better strategies, promote best practices, and encourage more proactive collaboration to better harness Filipino talent. Indeed, Tao Muna.
Monday, October 10, 2011
Wednesday, October 05, 2011
This was my column on the date indicated above.
We know the flooding in Central Luzon in the last few days has been the worst we’ve seen so far. We know this because we have seen the pictures, we have viewed the videos, and we have heard the plaintive cries for help and deliverance from thousands of victims - many of them soaking wet to the bones, hungry and thirsty, and with fear and panic written all over their faces.
I saw this video of a grandmother who was rescued after having been trapped inside her house for two days while the floodwaters were rising around her. She couldn’t articulate her feelings; there were simply no words to express the pain, the terror, and the helplessness. In the end, all she could say in a voice trembling with unspoken pain, “Tulungan nyo kami, parang awa nyo na” (have mercy, please help us).
We’ve seen pictures of various animals stranded on roofs. One such picture ended up occupying almost a third of the front page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. It showed what seemed like an idyllic tableau of a dog, two cats, some chicken and ducks stranded on a roof (they were eventually rescued, thanks to the efforts of animal rights activists who weren’t amused at the picture). Although we’ve also seen images of people wading in the floods while tightly clutching in their arms their beloved pets, we have been told the rescue teams could only take in people, not animals. I dread the thought of how many animals—farm animals and domestic pets—drowned in the whole of Luzon.
We saw right in the front page of this newspaper a picture of a funeral procession being made across floodwaters, the coffin perilously perched on top of a boat. We are a people who honor our dead, come hell or high water. We learned that at least 59 people had perished in Central Luzon alone due to the flooding. And the numbers continue to rise. At least 16 villages in the town of Calumpit in Bulacan remain inaccessible as I write this column; we don’t know what has happened in those villages.
We heard stories of how mothers gave birth at the height of the flooding; some of them forced to immediately get up from their recovery beds and made to ride makeshift boats just so they could get to an evacuation center. One mother rode on a soft drink cooler while her newborn floated alongside on a washbasin. Thousands of children were cramped in evacuation centers, many of them eventually contracting colds, cough, and other diseases. In a bridge somewhere in Pampanga, a community of Badjaos took over a bridge and turned it into their temporary shelter, much to the dismay of the townspeople who want them evicted and sent back to wherever they came from.
The flooding has brought to the surface the extent of our problems in the area of population management. We’re seeing far too many children growing up under dangerous environments just because their parents don’t have access to reproductive health information and services. And as we pondered on the phenomenon, we heard that the Senate President has just expressed the opinion that even masturbation is a crime; it constitutes abortion. In a country where far too many children are growing up without access to basic care, education, and other necessities, he thinks sperm cells are alive and exist only for one single purpose—to mate with a female egg.
Meanwhile, everyone is talking about forced evacuation in the event of calamities and disasters such heavy flooding. Our leaders debate over the wisdom of forcing people to leave their homes to relocate temporarily to God knows where. Nobody seems to notice that the evacuation centers—actually, classrooms—are hardly habitable anymore. These structures were not meant to be live-in headquarters of thousands of people. The mayor of Calumpit was heard on television chastising people who have been talking non-stop about evacuating people from the flooded areas—“with what and to where?” he asked. He said it would take 200 rubber boats to transport 20,000 people. Nobody had that many boats. And where would the 20,000 evacuees stay? In this country, talk is cheap.
And so once again, there are many of us who have expressed annoyance over the stubbornness of people who refused to leave their homes even when the floodwaters were rising. How could they put their lives at risk just so they could protect a few worldly possessions, we openly wonder. Actually I am aghast that there are people who actually ask the question. Some of us don’t just get it. For the very poor, a few plates and glasses, a television set perhaps, and a few chairs and tables represent their only claim to respectability. Many of them saved up for their television sets for years! This might not make sense to those who preach from their air-conditioned cars while sipping their designer coffee, but there are people in this country who take their slippers off when wading through mud because they don’t want their slippers to get soiled or destroyed. If their feet get wounded, at least it would heal, they reason out; but where in the world will they find the money to buy a new pair of slippers? How can one argue with poverty?
As usual, the search for someone to blame has started and many of our leaders have jumped into the quest with guns blazing and tempers on full throttle. What caused the flooding? Why didn’t we evacuate people at once? Why are the relief goods taking so long to arrive at the evacuation sites? What is taking the floodwaters too long to recede? Where is the President in the midst of all the chaos?
What is clear now is that the flooding was not directly caused by rainfall spawned by Typhoons Pedring and Quiel. Experts said the rains generated by the two typhoons did not reach 30 percent of the volume of rain released by Ondoy two years ago. What caused the massive flooding was the fact that all six dams in Luzon released water almost at the same time. Apparently, the people responsible for the dams did not coordinate with each other. As usual, the problem boils down to lack of coordination at the top levels.
But there are other factors that need to be taken into account. An expert from the University of the Philippines has pointed out that Pampanga and Bulacan are actually sinking every year because of the presence of too many deep wells in the area. It seems people are simply digging up wells unaware of the consequences to Mother Nature. There’s also the problem of rivers and canals and other floodways being overly silted and virtually blocked by garbage. And yes, our mountains are almost bald so their capacity to absorb water has also been severely reduced. What goes around comes around. In the end, we all know the search for someone to blame will eventually lead back to us.
The President of the Republic has not deigned to shake hands with the flood victims or even hand out a few token relief goods to the families who have suddenly found themselves homeless. We are told the President does not want to take away focus from the victims and is shying away from photo-ops. To this day, I still couldn’t believe that at a time of great tragedy when leadership by example is badly needed, when actual presence of the president is required to boost sagging spirits or to communicate concern, all the bright boys at the Palace could think about was politics?
This is the Philippines. We see the best and the worst during crises.