Archive for July, 2010


July 9, 2010


First Posted 05:26:00 05/26/2010

Whether it is on the dining table or the national budget, pork is bad and unhealthy. In the body, it clogs the coronary arteries with cholesterol and leads to heart attacks. In the national budget, it fills up the pockets of congressmen with illicit money that belongs to the taxpayers. Even before he assumes the presidency, the pork barrel is already a problem with Noynoy Aquino. It is the age-old problem of thieves fighting over loot.

This is the problem: Noynoy won on a promise of change. People hearkened to his promise that he would eradicate corruption. “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” (If there are no corrupt people, there would be no poor people) is his slogan. And since most Filipinos are mired in poverty from which they are trying to get out, the people believe that at last here is a messiah who is going to deliver them from poverty.

“Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.” Sounds like Erap’s “Si Erap para sa mahirap,” but Noynoy’s slogan gives the people an idea of what causes their poverty: corruption. And what is more corrupt than the pork barrel?

The pork barrel is the appropriation in the national budget disguised as Countrywide Development Fund and Priority Development Assistance, but are actually a bribe to legislators. The fund is used for projects of congressmen and senators such as roads and bridges, schoolhouses, puericulture centers, basketball courts, waiting sheds, etc. Each senator gets P250 million a year and each congressman P70 million a year in pork barrel. There are at least 250 congressmen, including party-list representatives, and 24 senators. Do the arithmetic and you have an idea of how much of the people’s money is wasted on the pork barrel.

If all the billions and billions of pesos in pork barrel funds is used for public works projects year after year, the entire Philippines would be crisscrossed by concrete highways and there would be no shortage of classrooms every time schools open, as will happen two weeks from now.

But only a small portion of those pork-barrel funds actually goes to the projects. The rest goes into the pockets of members of Congress, public works engineers, private contractors, auditors, cashiers, clerks, etc. The pork contaminates everybody’s hands with unhealthy fat.

For decades, the people have clamored for the abolition of the pork barrel. It is one of the main causes of corruption and waste of the people’s money. Even before I became a journalist, the press was already fighting the pork barrel, but like cigarette smoking, it is very difficult to give up.

Now comes Noynoy Aquino promising heaven for the believers and hell for the sinners. Like a thoroughbred, he comes with a pedigree. His father is a national hero; had he not been assassinated, he would have become president. His mother became the president instead, and she was so loved by the people they would have made her a saint had they the power to do so.

That’s what made people believe in Noynoy. All candidates promise heaven and earth to the voters but Noynoy is different: he comes from good stock. He is the son of Ninoy and Cory, like Superman is the son of Jor El. How can he go wrong?

Now comes his first test: the pork barrel. What will he do with it?

He can abolish it and, in so doing, abolish most corruption and save trillions of pesos that otherwise would be stolen. Imagine what those trillions can do towards the abolition of poverty: a home for every squatter, schools for all students, hospitals for the sick, roads and bridges, financial assistance to the farmers and fishermen, jobs for the jobless. In other words, Heaven with a capital H.

But how will President Noynoy entice senators and congressmen to join his coalition, elect his chosen speaker and Senate president if he doesn’t have the pork barrel with which to bribe them? How can he make them go to Malacañang where he can ask them to do this do and that if he doesn’t have shopping bags filled with money like President Macapagal-Arroyo used to do. This is the surest way for the president to control members of Congress. He either bribes cooperative ones with pork or punishes uncooperative ones by freezing the release of their pork. It is like beating the feeding trough to make the pigs believe that food is coming and then not putting any slop there. The squeals of the hungry hogs are painful to the ears, and that is what we will hear from members of Congress if the president does not release their pork allocations.

But already Arroyo is getting ready to fight Noynoy for control of the pork barrel. She warned the incoming president that there is a provision in the P1.54 trillion 2010 national budget that prohibits the president from impounding pork barrel funds without the approval of Congress. For the first time, control of the pork will be in the hands of the speaker, and that is the position that Arroyo may run for next. (She said she is not running for speaker, but do you believe her?)

And it turns out that Noynoy himself had filed a bill in the Senate that prohibits the president from withholding the release of budget allocations. In short, President Noynoy cannot use the pork as a carrot to attract members of Congress to elect his chosen Senate president and speaker, and pass his legislative agenda. What a quandary Noynoy has boxed himself in.

So I don’t expect President Noynoy to get anywhere in the anti-corruption drive, at least in the first year. Many people would be disappointed. The poor would still watch helplessly as the corrupt run laughing all the way to the banks abroad.


Evil Drivers

July 9, 2010

Specimens of the asphalt jungle

The road much travelled
July 6, 2010, 2:19pm

The Philippines must be the only place in the world where traffic is governed by Darwinian laws.

The roads here are jungles, inhabited by wild animals called Filipino drivers. These animals can be subdivided according to their species, which is easily identified by the kind of car they’re driving.

But as with all manner of creatures, Filipino drivers are marked by one defining characteristic: they cannot be tamed!

Draw lines on the road and Filipino drivers can be expected to step over them. Tell wang-wangs that a street goes one way and they will use it to go the other; a behavior called counterflowing. Designate loading and unloading areas for public vehicles, and they will pick up and drop off passengers in the middle of the road. Filipino drivers are fiercely independent; they follow no whims other than their own.

In the Philippines, there is no speed limit, but there is a minimum speed at which you can drive. Expect to be eaten alive for driving too slow. Taxi drivers and brash young college students will honk their horns fiercely at you, then throw a contemptuous look as they overtake your car. The most obstinate ones will even hurl obscenities in your direction.

Some species are notable for being predatory. Jeeps for example follow a hit-and-run strategy when it comes to hunting: they dent and scratch other cars, then speed away right after. Others only hunt on certain times of the day; buses have been known to mercilessly run over both cars and pedestrians in the middle of the night. Some prey species, therefore, have evolved defense mechanisms to combat these predators, such as carrying guns or pipes under the driver’s seat.

Filipino drivers also follow some sort of social hierarchy within their species. At the top of this hierarchy are the wangwangs, though the jeepneys might disagree. Wangwangs are the lions of the jungle, a tough prey to catch even for the most seasoned hunters, also called traffic enforcers.

Slightly below them are the trucks and buses, which look like elephants but move like flies.

At the bottom of this social order are the motorbikes and tricycles, which really are flies in every sense of the word.

But majority of the species can be classified as private vehicles, and their behavior follows a predictable pattern. On their own, they will not cause any trouble. But when the roads get congested, they start to become very aggressive, for they see this as an encroachment on their personal space. And when the wangwangs start sounding their sirens, one can expect these animals to fall in line and follow behind them.

Filipino drivers also have distinct ways of adapting to their environment. Traffic lights, for example, communicate very distinct signals to these animals. Green lights are no problem as they simply mean, “keep on going.” But yellow to a Filipino driver means, “go faster,” and red — which studies have shown to incite belligerent behavior from certain animals — means, “go fastest.’’

They also maximize the use of space on a road. Their instinct is to squeeze into any space where their bodies will fit. For this reason intersections are often clogged, because Filipino drivers don’t stop moving until something is explicitly blocking their way. In very extreme traffic situations, jeepneys and taxis would even use sidewalks as an additional lane — a testament, no doubt, to their resourcefulness. They will also park anywhere as long as there are no pink lines. Thus narrow residential streets are often too tight to traverse.

Finally, a remark can be made on their relationship with the hunters.

In general, Filipino drivers are afraid of traffic enforcers, but have developed devious methods of escaping their traps. Speeding ahead and pretending not to see them are common strategies to avoid being pulled over. But if caught in a pull over situation, Filipino drivers have creative ways of devising escape, such as crying, getting angry, or using sex appeal. In the event that no exit strategy works, bribing is usually good enough.

Philippine roads are a haven of biodiversity; it’s a wonder that zoologists aren’t coming in droves to study them. Filipino drivers are fascinating creatures with remarkably intelligent behavior patterns. But as with other wild beasts, it is very difficult to change them.

Shimpan Gusukama Life and Times

July 2, 2010

“Gusukuma Sensei used to work at the 1st Elementary School in Shuri Castle. He also gave instruction in karate as part of the gymnastic curriculum. He was more than an expert at ‘Chinto’ kata and was trained by Sensei Ankoh Itosu, one of the restorers of Shuri-te karate-do. He was an expert in kata-no-dozo (movements of the kata), and in this respect his training was especially painstaking.”

“He used to use Shuri Castle as his dojo before the castle became a national treasure. At this time few experts had their own dojo; they would often use their own gardens at home. I trained at karate from an early age and had many instructors, but I consider Gusukuma Sensei’s instruction to have been the most systematic. He used to tell us, ‘Shuri-te must be systematic and efficient. It must not be wasteful, and it must not become “Inaka-te” – that is not true karate. We must strive to be true to our karate.”

“Gusukuma Sensei and I worked as teachers, so we could understand each other very well. Both of us understood physiology and so he was able to answer all my questions with ease. We would also have long, friendly arguments over various points. I deeply appreciated him and I owe the fact that I am a karate expert to his wonderful character and friendship.”

“After World War Two I met him in Naha and he told me that he had retired and no longer trained in karate. He said that he was supporting himself as a practitioner of moxa. He was old, with grey hair – and he seemed so lonely. I will never forget his looks at that time.”