Sunday, June 22, 2008

Force Majeure

Typhoon Frank.

More than 800 people still missing and feared dead from the ill-fated ship, MV Princess of the Stars. This is apart from the 598 estimated dead or missing all over the country, out of which is the 143 confirmed dead and over 100 missing in my province of Iloilo alone.

Typhoon Frank is a force majeure alright, an act of God for better or for worse. Still, the sinking of the ship is something that could have been and should have been averted. De Quiros was right, the typhoon was a natural disaster but the sinking of the ship was an unnatural man-made disaster.

PGMA is now receiving condolences from US President Bush when she should be here directing orders on how to speed up the process for the recovery and search of possible survivors. Where is she when her country needs her most? She is in the US of A and is scheduled to hobnob with the Washington elites, including potential new US president, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama. While she wines and dines there together with her entourage of 59 congressmen, one senator, 10 cabinet members, excluding her family members and the family members of her group, the Visayan region, Iloilo in particular, is battling mud and loss of properties, crops and ultimately income in the wake of the disastrous storm.

The Typhoon Frank lashed out its fury in almost the entire country. From central Philippines, it made its presence felt both in Visayas and Mindanao. Not contented, it hit Manila and neighboring Luzon provinces before finally going out of the Philippine territory. This is the first time ever that a storm displayed a deadly magnitude that reached all three geographical regions of the country. Typically, storms just hit one portion of the country and affect neighboring provinces, but the other regions are mostly spared of its fury. Storms that hit the Visayas region are normally not felt in Manila. But this storm is different because after taking its toll on Iloilo and dumping heavy rains in some parts of Mindanao, it changed its course and rampaged Manila and other Luzon provinces as well. It was everywhere.

This event really makes you realize how deadly climate change can get. We need to accept that doing our share in saving Mother Earth is now a necessity and a not a matter of choice. Ours is a dying planet and if we do not act now, we will die with it. Storms as strong and even stronger than that of Frank will soon become a reality of our daily life.

I heard from some relatives in my hometown of Janiuay, Iloilo that it is the first time their place was ravaged by a flash flood. It was all so sudden and unexpected, they say. As a result, critical bridges were destroyed, and those living near the river were caught unaware by the onslaught of the raging water that some even lost their lives. This also happens to be the first time ever that my rural, sleepy and verdant hometown, the place where I could trace my roots and see hundreds of people bearing my maiden name, made news on national TV. Unfortunately, it was because my town was among the hardest hit of the disaster.

I fully well know the impact of such a storm in my townsfolk livelihood. Just this early June, when I went there for a family event, I saw the early rice seedlings already sprouting from the ground. If nonstop rain brought about by a massive storm flood the ricefield, all that hardwork and capital will go to waste. The farmers, the simple folks in my dirt town baranggay, with faces always ready with their genuine smiles, will scrimp and save and still go hungry for the remainder of the year.

Such is the hard fact of life in the province. You toil the land and hope and pray that no storm or other natural disaster comes your way. And if it does, you just do this process all over again. Yet, this they do happily and contentedly. Surrounded by the riches and beauty of the farmland, they spend most of their time communing with nature, and harvesting and partaking of its seemingly inexhaustible bounty. Regardless of their poverty, they live simple and happy lives.

One day, when I am gray and old, I will spend the remainder of my days in this farmland. And when that day comes, I too, will be able to enjoy the simple and happy life that they have on a daily basis.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Looking very harassed.

Free at Last

Ces Orena Drilon, the usually polished and sophiscticated ABS CBN news anchor, looks very harassed in this photo. Who wouldn't be? After nine days of captivity in the deep jungles of Sulu, with Abu Sayyaf bandits threatening to behead you unless your family chokes up PHP15M in ransom, I would look worse than that. Thank God, they got out of this ordeal alive.

Prayers work, indeed.

I really like Ces Crilon. I often watch the late night news and marvel at her poise, intelligence and wit on camera. I remember her undaunted coverage of the Peninsula Coup and how she managed to keep her composure despite the unexpected turn of events. She is a tour de force.

Admittedly though, Ces says it was her own brazenness that put her and cameraman colleagues in harm's way. Her unrelenting pursuit of the hottest story almost costed her her life. Now, she says she values her life more and knows what is truly important is her loved ones and family.

Ayoko ng TAX!

Yesterday, 18 Jun, PGMA signed into law Republic Act No. 9504 or the tax relief act. This law exempts minimum income wage earner from paying income taxes, which amounts to a couple a hundred bucks of savings every payday.

This law also increases tax exemption to Php50k regardless of the person's civil status. Where before, married and head of families earners usually had a bigger tax exemption and as such bigger take home pay, this law places everybody in the same playing (taxing) field. Moreover, this law also raises child tax exemption from a mere Php10k per child to Php25k per child.

This ought to mean a bigger tax exemption for me and yet, I expect it to barely make an impact on my daily living. These days, prices of every consumer items increase at a much faster rate than one's monthly income. In a family with one child and double incomes, I still feel that we are only eking out a living. Though my salary is more than double the income of daily wage earners, I still feel that we are living on a hand to mouth existence.

If I had a choice, I would never pay taxes at all. Government says they are estimated to lose Php14.2 B annually from these tax exemptions. I have always thought that those who earn say 10k or less, or even up to 50k, should not be taxed at all. Where do these taxes go anyway?

You guessed it right. Straight into their own pockets. Government claims the taxes fund vital health, education and infrastructure projects. Yeah right. Just imagine, how it was supposed to fund the ZTE broadband deal until every ordinary Juan and Pedro in this country learned the story about its multi-billion kickbacks. The price of almost all government projects are as big as the kickbacks required to get those inferior and thoughtless projects going. They enter flawed and disadvantageous contract, sometimes even with foreign governments and lenders, precisely because their share of the loot money is so lucrative.

It is estimated that a normal government project always makes room for a 25% kickback for officials responsible for pushing through with that transaction. So the bigger the price of the project, the larger your kickback pay becomes. This is one profitable business venture for most officials of the land. And the most amazing thing about this is that, no matter how ludicrous and hopelessly useless the outcome of their project becomes, they never get sued for it. They are never held accountable and do not feel personal responsibility over the misuse of public resources because they are not spending their own money in the first place. They figuratively get away with murder with no more than a tap on the back as their punishment.

Now, why would I want to shelve my hard earned pesos on that. If I were to give taxes, which I'm perfectly willing to do under different circumstances, I want to be given the right to choose exactly where my money goes. I want to know exactly what foundation or project my money is spent, and to make sure its not getting wasted. Or just used to further enrich these government officials with multiple secret dollar accounts abroad.

Do they really need the money more than us?

17 on 17th

Boo hoo! The LA Lakers should have just handed the trophy straight to Pierce and company's arms. A 39-point advantage in an NBA Finals Game, come on! They should have saved themselves from the embarrassment by choosing not to play at all.

But at least it was a fitting end to the Celtics, who after two decades of drought, got their 17th NBA trophy on the 17th of June.

What the Celtics fans chanted to Kobe Bryant, vaunted best NBA player at the moment, maybe harsh but oh so true, "You are not (Michael) Jordan."

Indeed, he was not.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Subterranean River, also called the Underground River, in Palawan

Some months back, I heard from the news that two natural wonder sites of the country are competing for the title of New Seven Wonders of Nature, namely, the Tubbataha Reef and Subterranean River National Park, both from Palawan.

I have been to the Underground River myself, an experience I could only aptly describe as unforgettable. We boarded this small engine-propelled banca, strapped our necessary orange life-jackets on, entered the mouth of this cave (as seen above) and saw the most amazing of stalactite and stalagmite formations. Some of these formations were named after what the stones sort of resembled like, i.e., The Pieta for what seemed to be a monument of Virgin Mary holding his dead son, and others that already escape my memory. But another vivid memory though, and one which will never escape me, is of sea snakes happily swimming alongside the banca as the boatman carried a tune in his wooden flute. Our friendly guide/boatman was actually calling on the snakes to come to our sides. While others wanted to jump out of the boat at the sight of the slithering snakes on top of the water, I calmly reminded myself of the fact earlier stated by our very thoughtful boatman, the river is at least 10 feet deep and freezing at that.

Feeling compelled to do my patriotic duties, I then googled the site and voted for the two lone Philippine entries, coupled by other equally enthralling entries from the Asian continent, such as Mt. Fuji, Mt. Everest, the Ganges River and others. I would have voted for the Philippine entries alone but one internet vote cast actually called for seven different choices, and of course, being Asian, I stayed close to home and limited my choices to the other Asian wonders of nature. Not content, I linked the add of the website and sent it to my entire Yahoo mail network so they could also promptly do their share and vote for the Philippines' entries as well.

Having done this, I mentally crossed my fingers and hoped that at least one of our national entry will make it to the final judgment. At that time, only the Tubbataha Reef seemed to be in the running, playing consistently between spots 7 and 8. As I understood it before, only the top entries will get the chance to proceed to the next level of elimination which will be determined by the group's panel of experts by next year, Jan 2009.

That was a couple of months ago. Just today, I read in an article at a travel forum, Four RP Sites in Top Ten of Nature Wonder Search, that the country now has four entries. The Chocolate Hills in Bohol, and the perfect cone-shaped Mayon Volcano in Bicol have been included on the list. Not only that, the ranking of all the Philippine entries have skyrocketed to the top spots. All four of the national entries are included among the top ten, with Tubbataha coming in at number 2 after a famous beach in Vietnam. What can I say? Amazing. The power of Filipino internet voting/blogging is undeniable.

I know for a fact that Filipino accounts as one of the top, if not the top, Friendsters user in the world. We have also consistently voted our Ms. Philippines candidate as the Most Photogenic in the Miss Universe competition for several years in a row. (We can't exactly claim pride in this though.)

Now, if we could only harness this focus and power into changing the course of our national economy and government, that would be more than amazing. It would actually be life-changing.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Dreaming of Coron

Coron, Palawan, Philippines

This picture says it all. Who wouldn't want to set foot in such a beautiful place, in such a paradise? One certainly wouldn't mind dying if eternity meant living here forever.

I have been to Palawan twice. I was fortunate enough to have visited the beautiful Sabang Beach and its adjacent haunting Subterranean Underground River. That was almost a lifetime ago. I was 16 then, a kid fresh from a stressful high school stint, when I got invited by relatives residing in Puerto Princesa to visit them at their place.

We went to Sabang by jeepney. The ride was interminable and exhausting. After almost a quarter of the day of enduring a bumpy and dusty journey, we arrived at our destination---paradise. It was worth all the ache and pain of my tired and beaten body. I must have cried when I first saw the place. It was my first and only time to see such a pristine and majestic beach complete with towering green mountains as its backdrop. As I enjoyed the sun and gently watched the crystal-clear waters lap my feet like the tongue of warm and loving puppy, I said to myself, "I will go back to this place."

But I never did.

Almost one lifetime forward, at 28 years, I still have not forgotten my promise to go back to paradise. Constrained by time, family, career and financial obligations, it seems almost impossible to do so. Until I stumbled upon this travel website one lonely and quiet afternoon. revealed to me the secrets of this once-in-a-lifetime chance of visiting Coron, Palawan for free.

SEAIR, a premier airline traveling to scenic vacation spots all over the country, is giving away 6 tickets for free to Busuanga, Coron, Palawan. For more details simply log on to the Seair website which I also separately posted in this blog, or read instructions on how to join this contest.

To go to Coron via SEAIR for free would be a dream come true for me. Flying, if one could afford it, is definitely the best way to travel. I learned that going to Busuanga, Coron by Seair takes only a mere 35 minutes. That's even faster than traveling to Makati by my place in Pasay. Imagine flying against the vastness of cloud and space to arrive in paradise in a little over half an hour. That is what this SEAIR ride promises. Paradise at the snap of your fingers.

I have previously seen paradise. I want to see it again, this time, in the guise of Coron. If I could get it for free, it would be most lovely.

Fly Seair Link

Click here for the Fly Seair Link

Seair Website

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Today, June 12, 2008, marks the Philippines 110th Independence Day. Rightfully or unrightfully so, we are historically the first republic in Asia to declare ourselves free from colonial rule.

Emilio Aguinaldo, the country's first declared president, waved a blue, red and white flag with three stars in the terrace of his own home, and thus said, "We are free." Cheers, exultation followed this proclamation. Unbeknownst to him, a couple of months forward, the Spanish and Americans will secretly have their tea party in France to seal the deal of the US' purchase of the Philippine soil for US$20,000,000. This agreement is officially called as the 1898 Treaty of Paris. Only a year after declaring independence, Aguinaldo was captured and forced to acknowledge American rule. Following this, the Philippines existed as a colony once more, by the US this time, for 48 more years. They finally gave the country freedom to govern itself on July 4, 1946, incidentally the same day of the US' national independence.

Technically, we were only truly free of colonial rule on that 4th of July day. But even that is not entirely accurate as American bases stayed in the country well until the Marcos era. They were booted out of Subic and finally out of the Philippine soil only during the Cory Aquino presidency. But as a result of the US' forced departure, we fell out of their radar of diplomatic aid and friendship, and thus suffered its adverse economic consequence.

Fast forward to 2008, American forces sporadically come back for supposedly benign US-Phil exercises in the south of the country, and so far, our government is still a consistent lapdog of the US.

So the question remains, "Are we a truly free nation?" And what has this freedom really brought us so far? Can we consider ourselves as free when the majority of our society is shackled by ignorance, poverty, sickness and war. Are we a truly free nation when only the few, elite ruling class lord over the country's vast resource of natural and man-made wealth? Are we truly free when most Filipinos dream of going to a greener pasture to escape poverty and dearth of social opportunities in its own land?

110 years after, are we truly freer today than before? Or have we merely passed on from one oppressor to next, only this time they are of our own?