Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Scanning face of PH poverty at our dzRH program, Fr. Nebres S.J. cited studies opining that English-speaking upper-crust Pinoys can relate more to CNN stories about US hurricanes than to Ompong's fury. A palpable disconnect among our people.

Mother-child health in ARMM
Poverty Alleviation Program

Yesterday, Sunday, Oct. 14, RM Awardee for Theater Cecile Guidote Alvarez and I interviewed Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, S.J., a Ph.D in Mathematics from Stanford University, former Jesuit Superior in the Philippines (1983-1989) and President of the Ateneo de Manila University (1993-2011), on the deepening poverty in our country.

Initial discussion of this topic came a week earlier, during the observance of the first death anniversary of  former Jesuit Superior Romeo J. Intengan at the Jesuits' Sacred Heart Novitiate in Novaliches. Over lunch, Fr. Nebres observed that poverty is most prevalent in class D with its whopping 60% of Filipinos and class E at 30% , whereas wealthier classes A, B and C constitute only 10%.

News headlines back up these statistics, with Inquirer asserting that "Majority of Pinoys say they are poor."  PDI columnist Mahar Mangahas also cited that the SWS survey showed that from a low 42 % declared poor in March 2018, the percentage of Self-Rated Poverty rose in the third quarter 2018 to 52%, or 12.2 MILLION FAMILIES FEELING POOR (emphasis BOC's)."  As Mahar points out,  that's 12.2 million families feeling poor out of a projected base of 23.3 million families in the Philippines---a heck of a lot of poor families.

On the other hand, the impact of inflation, aggravated by the sharp rise in fuel costs, is now affecting even middle-class Filipinos, forcing government to recently suspend the excise tax on fuel.


I invited Fr. Nebres to continue our discussion on poverty in yesterday's episode of our weekly Sunday 6 pm. "Radyo Balintataw" program over nationwide dzRH---in order to help raise our people's consciousness about it. At the Jesuit Residence in the Ateneo  Fr. Nebres showed  us a short video film by Kara David about the family of a fisherman in Mercedes, a poor fishing town in Camarines Norte.  It showed a mother feeding her three children with bits of fish and shellfish distributed over three meals per day, as they awaited the father who had gone fishing for a few days. He had left his wife 40 pesos for the family's subsistence over the next days.

It was a heart-wrenching film showing children crying for more food amid the helplessness of the mother. As Fr. Nebres pointed out, that's a typical situation in that small fishing village, as poverty is most severe among fishing communities throughout our archipelago. Climate change as well as the destruction of coral reefs have severely affected fish catch, forcing fishermen to venture  farther and farther from the shores---and leaving their families in near-starvation. .

I shall show this particular film in my FB page after I share our interview with Fr. Nebres. Prepare to be perturbed.


As Fr. Nebres explained, from 1995 to 2015 poverty was very much the center-point of the Millenium Development Goals, aiming to reduce extreme poverty and hunger in 1995 to only 26% by 2016. Data comparing us with our neighbors in SEA, however, show PH clearly lagging behind. Indonesia's poverty level is now below 10%,  Once war-torn Vietnam's level used to be at 50% in 1995; now it's below 15%, while Laos is on track, according to the UN.

Here at home Eastern Visayas is among the poorest, and while the whole Mindanao has lagged behind, it's the ARMM that's worst hit, undoubtedly also owing to the political instability in past years.


Zeroing in on the school population across the country, Fr. Nebres cited the verdict of teachers all over---many children are going hungry, some worse than others. In nearby ParaƱaque, students said they take turns eating in their families; in Valenzuela, Bulacan, there are students who felt satiated ("nabusog") for the first time in their lives when the feeding program began there.

After Yolanda struck Eastern Visayas, Gawad Kalinga's Tony Meloto wanted to put up housing units there, but folks argued that by the time those units are finished, "baka patay na kami." It's the hunger stalking innumerable places in the country that appears to be the primary problem---not just malnutrition but hunger itself.

Gawad Kalinga  (GK) responded with what it has, in the Yolanda-stricken areas as well as in Mindanao, such as Basilan and Tawi-Tawi where some 5,000 schoolchildren are fed everyday---just part of the  estimated 100,000 being fed by GK all over the country daily. Some tycoons are helping to address the severe malnutrition. Other countries have also come in to help GK: in Bgy. Holy Spirit in Metro Manila, a group from the United Kingdom is helping out.


The Ateneo set up its Center for Education and Development which delves not only in brain development but also in problems of hunger, health and extreme poverty, such as in Payatas.

 Fr. Nebres spoke about the importance of nutrition getting to the impoverished mothers during the FIRST 1000 DAYS OF PREGNANCY onward to about 2 years of the child---so as to prevent growth-stunting and brain damage. To him, the problem is multi-faceted and the components cannot be separated: malnutrition arising from poverty that affects the child in its first 1000 days will haunt it all through its life. WHO statistics bear out the stunted growth of Filipino children.


What heartens Nebres nowadays is the growing involvement of local and provincial officials with these very real problems of their constituents from the poorest sectors. He cites Valenzuela in Bulacan under Rex Gatchalian which is feeding 16,000-18,000 poor children, constituting 13-15% of the population.

There's Compostela Valley in Mindanao under Gov. Tyrone Uy, where feeding kitchens have been set up. In the ARMM area there's Gov. Mujahiv Hataman while in Nueva Ecija, Dep-Ed officials are in the forefront of combating hunger and malnutrition.

There's also the "Pagkaing Pinoy Para sa Pinoy," a program filed by Sen. Bam Aquino and supported by fellow senators Grace Poe, Gatchalian and Chiz Escudero, that has allotted P3B in funds for day-care centers. In the House, Rep. Raul del Mar of Cebu supports the counterpart program.


Appeals are being made to the private sector to join the campaign to eradicate hunger and malnutrition especially in poorer Pinoy children's first 1000 days of existence, as this has a direct bearing on their brain function and stunted growth. There is, however, some indifference among the private sector---social classes ABC--- toward recognizing and acting on this problem.

Fr. Nebres cites an interesting theory about this disconnect of the upper classes with the problems of the broad masses. As an educator from the UK pointed out, it may be because the Filipino upper classes, especially the younger generations, speak in English and not in the national language, Pilipino, and the local dialects.

In contrast, he notes that in Indonesia there is only one language, Bahasa, the medium of instruction as well as the language of various tools of communication and culture such as newspapers, TV and radio.


Thus, as a result of this linguistic disconnect, many upper-class Filipinos tune in more often to CNN than to local stations---so that they are more familiar with the terrible effects of the hurricanes in the US rather than the typhoons in Eastern Visayas and Northern Luzon.

There is indeed real basis to be troubled by this reality-disconnect, and I for one plead guilty. I raised my children in English as I thought this would facilitate their entry into the world of education, business and commerce,  and now they, in turn, raise their offsprings also in English. Thus is the great divide among our people.

Enormous food for thought.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Read what cab drivers (and doubtless the common tao) are telling President Duterte about his fight-to-the-finish with Sen Trillanes and how proposed cut in SUCs budget would affect the future of their children. The discontent shows: Duterte's DISAPPROVAL rating shot up from 22% to 51% in recent Pulse Asia survey.

I have been riding taxis left and right ever since my driver got sick. It is tough to depend on public transport for at times a Grab is totally unavailable, and one can wait interminably at the street corner for an empty cab. But nonetheless, these days it's so profitable for a journalist to ride cabs as the exchange with their drivers is always full of insights for me.   

The battle that raged between President Duterte and Sen. Antonio Trillanes has been very much in the minds of taxi drivers and a number of them are open about their disapproval of the President's moves vs. Trillanes. It's not so much that they feel for the rebel-turned-politician now battling the commander-in-chief, as Trillanes doesn't really look lovable. Besides, cabbies hardly understand what double jeopardy is all about.

 As the saying goes, it's the economy, stupid!  


Invariably cabbies talk about hard economic times and the terrible damage wrought by Ompong in the north, plus the landslides that buried their town mates in the south, and other problems. But inevitably their concern reverts to something that hits them directly in the stomach---the RISING PRICE OF IMPORTED FUEL (crude oil prices might break the $80-per-barrel threshold in coming months) that shrinks their profit despite BACK-BREAKING TWELVE HOURS CONTINUOUS DRIVING DAILY. Throw in the solution-defying traffic in Metro Manila that affects especially Grab taxies---whose meter rates are previously relayed to the passenger, only to see their profit shrink more and more. 

Throw in also the increasingly runaway INFLATION that drives prices of even the very basic commodities to shoot up---and many cabbies confess to feeling the crunch as never before. 


This is where their feeling for Mr. Duterte comes in. Given all the problems facing the country, cabbies want him TO CONCENTRATE ON CURBING THE RUNAWAY INFLATION AND COROLLARY RISE IN PRICES OF PRIME COMMODITIES so vital to the poorer sectors. They want him to help the regions whacked by natural calamities in succession---instead of pursuing his arch-enemy, Sen. Trillanes, out of revenge for his allegations regarding the President's family.. 

The results of a recent Pulse Asia survey conducted earlier this month show that because of the Duterte administration's failure to handle the soaring costs of basic goods and services, his DISAPPROVAL rating has shot up from 22% to 51%! 


Cab drivers nowadays are more informed that ever before, because their cabs are normally equipped with a radio-TV that enables them to tune in to latest happenings. Those I've talked to view the Duterte-Trillanes fight as a personal battle between the two protagonists---the bold senator's "revelations" about the alleged wealth of the Duterte family and the alleged involvement of the presidential son with a big-time smuggling group. Nothing much has come out of Trillanes' "revelations," but the seeming battle to the death between them  is very much in the mind of cab drivers. 

Trillanes has appealed to the Supreme Court to declare President Duterte's recent Proclamation No. 572--- which seeks to revive the mutiny charges against him in rebellions staged in 2006 and 2007, that were already pardoned by President Noynoy Aquino---as unconstitutional. But the High Court deferred rulings on Trillanes' petition, choosing instead to throw the determination of facts to the same Makati RTC that, ironically, had squashed that very case against Trillanes eight years ago. 

With the SC's inaction against Trillanes, the Duterte administration's case against him is in suspended animation.  THIS COULD BE THE OPPORTUNE TIME FOR MR. DUTERTE TO CONCENTRATE ON TACKLING INFLATION AND ITS TERRIBLE REPERCUSSIONS ON PRIME COMMODITIES FOR THE LOWER-INCOME GROUPS. CABBIES ARE PLEADING. Mr. Duterte  to listen to the people's clamor---and just leave Trillanes' fate to the courts! . 


Riding taxis has been educational for me in another problem that preoccupies the working sector. This is the crying need to educate their children so that they could have a future more hopeful than their parents ever had. Every time I ride in taxicabs, I make it a point to stress to the cabbies THE VALUE OF YOUNG PEOPLE AVAILING OF HIGHER EDUCATION OR AT LEAST OF GOOD SKILLS TRAINING, AS THE SURE WAY OUT OF POVERTY.  I advise the cabbies to keep track of what their children do and i reinforce the importance of education as a means to a better life.  

It's elating that many cabbies readily realize this truism---and put so much hope in education  as their children's only hope to a brighter life and future.  


I readily point out to them a recent major achievement of Congress that should benefit their children---the passage of the law authorizing free education in state colleges and universities (SUCs) and Tesda-run vocational schools. .Formally called the RA 10931---"Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act," it was principally authored by Senators Bam Aquino and Loren Legarda.  . 

Whenever I explain this new law to cab drivers, they feel so elated as they have long realized that  EDUCATION AND TRAINING  ARE THE ONLY SURE WAY TO ESCAPE POVERTY.  In fact, frequently the cabbies' eyes moisten up as they stress that they'd motivate their children to make it in the entrance exams to SUCs. 


Sadly, however, recently I read about the move in the House of Representatives to cut the budget of the SUCs drastically, in view of certain financial constraints---in fact news is that AT LEAST 1/3 OF THE 2019 BUDGET FOR SUCs WOULD BE SCRAPPED, AND COROLLARILY, GOVERNMENT AID TO COLLEGE STUDENTS WOULD BE CUT BY P3.2 BILLION..

The senators vow to oppose the budget cuts on education in the House. Perhaps all our elected officials in both houses of Congress could show initial goodwill by opting to sacrifice A BIT OF THEIR PORK BARREL, so that the SUCs' budget and government aid to poorer college students won't be so drastically cut---that it would kill the dream in the moist eyes of the cabbies of this country.

Paging Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

With the NAIA accident as urgent game changer, PH has to get out of its lackadaisical and archaic mode and construct new, modern airports outside Manila, utilizing technology already time-tested by our Asian neighbors and BOLD FINANCING. A matter of urgency and political will for PH---NOW NA

Taipans Wilson Tieng and Henry Sy offer to operationalize Sangley Airport within one year

Ramon Ang of San Miguel Corporation proposes new airport in Bulakan, Bulacan

It had to take the skidding of a Xiamen Airlines on the one and only international runway at NAIA to shake up the whole nation last Aug. 16, as 200 flights had to be diverted to Clark and Cebu Airports as well as to Hongkong, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh and Bangkok---disrupting over 500,000 domestic and overseas passengers (NAIA receives some 66% of PH's annual tourist arrivals of 6.5 million). An estimated P5 billion worth of damage to our economy and  shattered Filipino pride shook up the nation as nothing in recent decades. 

It was the GAME CHANGER---so that now the proposals of two giant business conglomerates to set up airports in two different areas of Luzon are finally being discussed with seriousness and urgency.

What's good is that the two conglomerates proposing these two new airports---the rebuilding of the Sangley Airport in Cavite by the All-Asia Resources and  Reclamation Corporation of the Henry Sy/Wilson Tieng group, and the Bulakan, Bulacan Airport proposed by San Miguel Holdings Corporation of Ramon Ang--- feel they can CO-EXIST WELL as both giant companies are absolutely necessary for the country and could be quite profitable as well.


For years now, we have been complaining about our shameful airport facilities and dream about how to achieve world-class gateways to international tourism, which promises to draw 100 million here every year if the factors---principally air carriers in capable airports---meet international standards.

Reaction from government regulatory departments had been terribly slow over the years---vexing impatient the two giant groups seriously contemplating new airports. It was as if we were not in an emergency mode, whereas all our neighbors in the Asian region have been into reclaiming from the sea to accommodate more runways and ever-expanding airport terminals.

The NAIA accident had to happen perhaps so that government regulatory offices would now realize that we are in a super-emergency mode. We need to build new airports away from Manila---NOW NA.


Cecile Alvarez and I first interviewed Edmundo T. Lim, vice-chair of the All Asia Resources and Reclamation Corporation that's composed of Henry Sy's SM empire and the Wilson Tieng Group of Solar Entertainment. This consortium proposes to convert the old Danilo Atienza Airport at the former US naval base at Sangley Point in Cavite into a modern gateway to Manila, right next to the Cavite Economic Zone and Southern Luzon.

Edmundo Lim pointed out that it's imperative to operationalize Sangley as an expanded airport inasmuch as Clark Airport in its current condition is limited to handling only 4 million passengers a year---whereas NAIA last year handled some 42 million passengers. The total number coming to PH is expected to leap-frog over the next few years.


Lim pointed out that as early as 2013 their conglomerate was already proposing to work on Sangley airport but sadly, up to now no action has been done on it by government agencies. He stressed that the Sy/Tieng group is ready to expand the Danilo Atienza's existing US-made runway and put up another 2.4 km. long. runway that can handle both the Airbus 300 series as well as the Boeing 737s.

Lim stressed that Sangley's existing runway COULD BE OPERATIONAL WITHIN ONE YEAR,  and another runway could be constructed---all at a cost of P800 billion and fully operational in a minimum of five years---to handle 120 million passengers.  Part of this proposed runway would sit on 2,500 hectares to be reclaimed from the sea---a technology that airports in all our neighboring countries, especially HK and Singapore, have resorted to for decades.


Interestingly, long before the Xiamen accident happened at NAIA, a consortium of seven tycoons sought to rehabilitate that old airport at a cost of P102M to P350M over five years---to increase passenger capacity from 42 million people to 47 million by 2020 and 65 million by 2022. The Xiamen accident changed all that. In fact, if tycoon Ramon Ang could have his way, he wants to sell the 650 hectares of the NAIA Airport and convert it into a business district, much like Makati Center.

As BizNews Asia editor-in-chief/publisher Tony Lopez points out, there is a precedent to RSA's idea: until 1948, the Manila airport was in Makati, in what used to be called the Nielsen Airport---now within the sprawling business hub of Makati. The only thing left in that area is the old tower, now converted into a fashionable restaurant across the Manila Peninsula. RSA is quoted as noting that selling NAIA would generate P2 trillion. 


Cecile Alvarez and I invited Raoul Eduardo C. Romulo, grandson of the quintessential diplomat Carlos P. Romulo, to talk about RSA's plan: a new international airport in Bulakan, Bulacan, to be called the New Manila International Airport (NMIA),  with initially two runways already functioning to service 100 million passengers---expandable to a total of six runways. Like Sangley, the proposed airport in Bulakan town would also capitalize on reclaiming additional land from Manila Bay and ParaƱaque.

Bulakenos I have talked to are worried about possible further floodings of their town during the rainy season as well as spillage from the Ipo and Angat Dams---especially with the proposed airport construction in the area. In answer, RSA's team proposes to build spillways in the area, through which water would drain into Manila Bay.

Ramon Ang proposes to built this new modern airport at the cost of P736B.


To my mind, the strength of RSA's NMIA project in Bulakan town lies in its connectivity to and from various points in the huge metropolis---primarily through SKYWAYS that are already being built by the SMC Infrastructure in various parts of Southern Luzon. 

For instance, Raoul Romulo points out that taking the skyway from Alabang to the Bulakan Airport WILL ONLY TAKE 30-36 MINUTES;  from Novaliches to the NMIA only 25 minutes while San Jose del Monte will also be accessible to the new airport via MRT-7, also an SMC Infrastructure project.


In fact, as Romulo explained, Skyway 1 will connect Sucat to Alabang; Skyway 2 from Paranaque to Buendia, and Skyway 3 from Buendia to the Northern Luzon Expressway, passing through Quirino and Plaza Dilao. There's also the Southern Tagalog Arterial Route (STAR). This October will start the construction of the route from Batangas to Quezon, and Stage 2, from FTI to Batasan, Antipolo, etc. 

Vision is what lightens the heart of us Filipinos who have had to cope with the nightmare of decrepit airports and hideous traffic just to get in and out of these airports. Hope is that we are finally seeing the urgent modernization of these infrastructure necessities in our lives.