The MANILA ENVELOPE – Of PAG-ASA, Bagong Pag-asa & Asa Ka Pa

MAKATI, Philippines – It continues to rain in fits and starts in Makati. This makes it the sixth day of rain since I got here. As the weather report says:

”Ang Kalakhang Maynila ay makakaranas ng mga pag-ulan dulot ng habagat. Katamtaman hanggang sa malakas na hangin mula sa timog-kanluran ang iiral at ang Look ng Maynila ay magiging katamtaman hanggang sa maalon. Ang tinatayang agwat ng temperatura ay mula 24 hanggang 29 antas ng Celsius (75°F hanggang 82°F).

Ang Luzon at ang Kabisayaan ay makakaranas ng mga pag-ulan dulot ng habagat lalo na ang kanlurang bahagi na maaaring magdulot ng mga pagbaha at pagguho ng lupa. Samantalang ang nalalabing bahagi ng bansa ay magkakaroon ng madalas na maulap na kalangitan na may kalat-kalat na pag-ulan at pagkulog-pagkidlat.

Katamtaman hanggang sa malakas na hangin mula sa timog-kanluran ang iiral sa Luzon at Kabisayaan at ang mga baybaying-dagat sa mga lugar na ito ay magiging katamtaman hanggang sa maalon. Sa ibang dako, ang hangin ay mahina hanggang sa katamtaman mula sa timog hanggang timog-kanluran na may banayad hanggang sa katamtamang pag-alon ng karagatan maliban na lamang kung may mga pagkulog-pagkidlat.

Ok. Those folks at PAG-ASA surely know their Filipino. I also believe this makes it the most rain I’ve seen in ages.

Met up with an old friend from Chino Hills who, like me, has reverse migrated back to the Philippines. He introduced me to a group of his friends and business partners who now fashion themselves as “expats” in their own country. Some of them have been here for quite some time so it would be nice to catch up with them at some point to shoot the breeze about the home country (whichever that may be for them). Anyway, it was nice to have some Chino Hills company.

In the news over the weekend, a particular item caught my eye. The headline read:

”US firm to invest $50 billion in RP project

The investment will be made in the province of Zambales and will reportedly be for projects in tourism, real estate development, infrastructure, agricultural research, indigenous power supply and mineral enhancements. The investment is to be made over a 10-year period. The investor is a US-based company called Swiss Global Connect USA – a partnership of Russian, Japanese and American businessmen incorporated in California.

Let’s suspend reality a little while longer and have a “whoopee” moment. This would be awesome for the Philippines and the province of Zambales.

Okay, enough – back to reality.

$50 billion!@#$%^&*()

That is US dollars baby…Granted the money will supposedly be spent over a period of 10 years – that is still $5 billion or P245 billion a year. That is 16% of the budget for the entire Philippine government for FY2010. That amount is more than what the Department of Education, which will get the most from the budget, will get (P172.8 billion). And for my non-Filipino friends, that is more than twice the capital expenditure budget of Microsoft ($2 billion) for FY 2010. Talk about suspending reality…

…but wait…

Maybe the “American” investor is Warren Buffett. Warren did say he was giving away his estimated $62 billion in net worth albeit to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Maybe Warren changed his mind and decided to give it to Zambales instead…

No dice…

A quick Google check shows the Swiss Global Connect USA is headquartered in West Covina, CA just a couple of exits on the 10-Freeway from my old office. Not exactly a neighborhood where you’d find a multi-billion company with (at least) $50 billion to spare (though I could be wrong).

On to the California Department of State website. A few taps on the keyboard and…Voila! Swiss Global Connect USA is a duly-registered and active company in the great state of California. Same page – Agent for Service of Process…sigh, no Warren Buffett. Instead we get John Taylor (try googling that) whose listed address is an office in a strip mall in Diamond Bar, CA (hey, a stone’s throw from Chino Hills).

Let’s check their website…ummmm, they don’t have one?

Red flags, anyone?

Oh well, at the end of the day they may indeed turn out to be a legitimate firm with a solid track record to be able to deliver on what they have promised. I sincerely hope they are because this would provide a significant boost to the local economy of Zambales and help to alleviate the economic lot of its people. Not to mention the ancillary benefit to the surrounding provinces and Metro Manila with the proposed infrastructure projects.

Hey, I am all for initiative, foresight and creative thinking on the part of local governments. What I am not for is being taken for a ride.

At the very least, someone should be checking up on the track records of these investors and make sure that they are who they say they are and that they can follow through on what they promise. Otherwise, tayong Pilipino din ang mapapahiya…

You know what they say about things that are too good to be true, they usually…


The MANILA ENVELOPE – Powerpoint Slides, Ka Erdie & Dreamland

MAKATI, Philippines – I felt like a fish taking to water today. It’s hard to feel like you’re home when your family’s not with you. Other than that (which is a big other than that), I really felt like I was home. It was a good day shooting the breeze with both old and new friends, rediscovering old haunts and getting drenched in the rain spawned by Typhoon Labuyo.

I happened to chance upon the Iloilo-Guimaras Investment Forum which just happened to be at the hotel I was staying in. I was pleasantly surprised that the politicos who made their pitches to potential investors actually did a good job. I expected them to be more like – “you need me more than I need you” – but they actually made very well-prepared presentations with perfectly synchronized PowerPoint slides (just a pet peeve). I was also happy to see and hear Rex Drilon – president of the Iloilo Economic Development Foundation – admit to mistakes made in the past. This is quite a refreshing turn from your run of the mill investor pitches where accountability has not been a strong suit. I just hope that Mr. Drilon and his group keep plugging along and persist in their quest.

The government just declared Monday to be another one of those non-working holidays to mourn the passing of Ka Erdie Manalo – the head of Iglesia ni Kristo. This follows the non-working holiday this past Monday and another one on Monday, September 21st. Phew, three 3-day weekends within a month. How cool is that? Apparently not that cool as some comments I found will attest.

“sus mga tamad!”

“bkit ganon?? ginawang holiday??? i’m not totally against to the INC, but please use your common sense naman, mas malaki ang population ng catholic kaysa INC. ung INC puro dirty politics lang naman ang alam ng mga yan.”

“ginagamit lang yan sa politics ang inc.malapit na naman kasi ang halalan.sayang nga naman ang boto ng inc kung sa pambato ng malacanang mapupunta.pandagdag din kahit mas nakakarami ang katoliko sa pilipinas.”

Probably indicative of how low the people’s trust and confidence has sunk to such depths that people actually complain about not having to work. Oh well…

Overheard this from a gathering of some of the old guard this morning.

“Alam mo Governor mali ka diyan, eh. Hindi naman natalo si Marcos kay Cory na yan, eh…”

Welcome to Dreamland…

…and with that I am off to Dreamland (the one with your eyes closed)…

The MANILA ENVELOPE – An Introduction to Philippine Politics

MAKATI, Philippines – With my first appointment at 11 am, I (unintentionally) got the chance to brush up on current and past happenings in Philippine politics. The big news on that front was the announcement by Senator Mar Roxas that he was suspending his candidacy for the presidential election next year and stepping aside to support the potential candidacy of fellow Senator, Noynoy Aquino. The clamor for Sen. Aquino to run for president started when his mother, the late President Cory Aquino, passed away recently. In his press conference today, however, he did not definitely say whether he planned to run for president though his words seemed to imply that he would make and announce such a choice by next week.

The persons whom I have spoken to about this look favorably upon Noynoy’s becoming a presidential candidate. He does not (not yet anyway) carry the burden of being labeled a “traditional politician” and he does sound and act like an honest to goodness public servant. I don’t want, however, to be too quick at assessing how he would be as president given his relatively thin political resume (9 years as a Congressman, 2+ years as a Senator). Second, his legislative record has not been one that stands out or points to him being anything special (other than being Ninoy’s and Cory’s only son).

The bottom line is, I don’t know how he would be as a leader of a nation that badly needs one and be the force to push a sincere and effective effort at fixing all that is wrong with governance in this nation. Maybe he’ll end up the lesser evil among all the other candidates, maybe he’ll use the time until the election to really build himself up as a credible leader…maybe you don’t have to take my word for any of this. After all, I thought Gloria would be a great President!@#$%^&*().

The other big political news event working its way around was the interview of Congressman Mikey Arroyo, also the son of President Gloria Arroyo. The interview was his attempt to clarify the growing controversy over the substantial increase in his net worth within his Statement of Assets Liabilities and Net Worth that all public officials file very year. It was just his luck that one of the interviewers was the ever feisty and persistent Solita Monsod who tore into (in her motherly way) Mikey’s bumbling and feeble attempts to answer Mrs. Monsod’s pointed questions. WHAT WAS HE THINKING? Why would he choose to be interviewed by Mrs. Monsod who is not known for lobbing softie questions? He had the temerity to say the following:

“As far as I am concerned, here is my Statement of Assets and Liabilities (SAL) and it is self-explanatory,” and,

“If you are in doubt, sue me in court.”

To which Mrs. Monsod replied, ”The law is very clear, if there is a question of unexplained wealth the burden proof is with the government employee.”

To which Mikey answered…”…”

…I guess Mikey didn’t answer.

At some point, he must have figured out he wasn’t going to get away with his amateurish answers and Mikey started to use the ”…ask my lawyer…” cop-out. Uh-oh, he’s in deep doo-doo. One comment I got was that Mikey just committed Suicide by Media – political suicide, that is. Hala lagot ka kay Mommy…

This reminds me of the phrase by former Manila Mayor Arsenio Lacson, ”…so young yet so corrupt”.

I also finished reading this book, Trial of the Century by Earl K Wilkinson (at that time a retired Australian businessman living in the Philippines). The book is about the impeachment trial of former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada. It was a very interesting and engaging read. I particularly liked his insights into the demeanor and often-times comical actions of the Senators who served as judges during that trial. It also saddened me that we still have some of the same senators serving in the current Senate who clearly put the interests of one person above that of the whole country. Sigh…

That book should serve as a reminder of the consequences of electing the wrong person to the highest position in the land. With Erap pushing himself as a presidential candidate again, I hope our memories aren’t too short and maybe remind ourselves that we don’t necessarily share the preference of former President Manuel Quezon for a ”…government run like hell by Filipinos…” otherwise we would get – to paraphrase national hero, Jose Rizal – a government that we deserve (in the negative sense).

So in the last 24 hours we have gotten the best in Philippine politics (Mar Roxas’ selflessness) and the worst in Philippine politics (no description needed). Just another day in the life of the bagong salta

The MANILA ENVELOPE: My Limited Edition (1) Musings about Life as “Bagong Salta sa Maynila” (2)

(Inspired by my mentor and friend, Matthew Sutherland’s Observer series of articles in the Sunday Inquirer ca. 1999-2000)

MAKATI, Philippines – I finally arrived in Manila at 4 am after a long and bumpy ride from LAX. Like my last flight to Manila, we skipped the refueling stop in Guam and flew non-stop to Manila. Unlike the last time, I wasn’t as concerned as the ground staff of PAL at LAX explained that this would happen if the “weight and balance” of the plane as well as “wind conditions” (i.e. having a tailwind) were favorable. I guess the weighty (pun intended) cost of excess baggage has served as an effective deterrent to loading up on those balikbayan boxes (so much for all that SPAM, HORMEL corned beef and last-minute COSTCO knick-knacks).

Those government forms that you have to fill up still strike me as a little wacky. They now have advertisements on them. I don’t really know what to make of that. On the other hand, they have done away with those questions which go something like – “Do you intend to commit a crime during your stay in the Philippines?”. On the other other hand, they now have those health questionnaires in response to the spread of the H1N1 flu virus. Answer “Yes” to any of those questions and you’re in quarantine baby. Or not. On your way to immigration, they have these kiosks with ladies who you hand these questionnaires to. They take the form from you as you saunter by them. They don’t even give it the cursory once over. Maybe next time I’ll answer “YES” to all those questions and write down an alias as my name. I wonder what would happen when some functionary eventually looks at that form.

The nice thing about arriving in Manila that early is that you don’t get to experience its infamous traffic. The bad thing about arriving in Manila that early is that all the convenient eating places are closed. Maybe I should have had more of that delectable airline food.

Then the text messages started arriving. My brother had lent me his phone the last time and I had it with me as I arrived. Word goes around fast even at 6 am in the morning. You send one text message to a friend saying you’ve arrived and you receive a ton of messages back. As I said in my status posting – “First “Welcome to the Philippines” thing that struck me…nobody calls anyone on the phone, they just text message each other”. Even when you text them – “Call me” – you still get a text message back saying – “Col u l8r”. A friend explained this to me (via text naturally) – “Sorry about sending a text message when it’s more sociable to call. But in the Philippines today, it is at times, more polite, less intrusive, to text than call! Ha!”. Okay. Anyway, just as I was getting the hang of this text thing, I try to send out a text message while inside a bank. I guess I had run out of “load” (4). I tell my brother this and he tells me, oh by the way – you can’t text inside a bank, there’s thing about bank robbers and texting as their form of communication.

As the world works its way out of this economic mess, you couldn’t tell that such was going on by the number of people you see in the malls and in the restaurants in Manila (or in Greenbelt and Glorietta at least). You can also tell that the security industry is doing quite well with the number of security guards that you see all over the place. Each hotel I walked by also seemed to have its own K-9 unit. Even the Starbucks (in every street corner, it seemed like) had a security guard! To their credit, the guards were all quite nice and polite – opening the door for you and saying “Welcome to (name of establishment) Sir/Ma’am” all the while waving their metal detector wands over your body.

I’ve begun to re-learn the art of “patintero” (5) while crossing any street, even the ones with pedestrian lanes or traffic/crossing lights supposedly giving the pedestrian the right of way (right of what?). Here, THE CAR IS KING.

That’s it for now…jet-lag is starting to get to me…zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

(1) Will run until I lose interest; (2) To my non-Tagalog friends, means being a newbie in some place; normally used to describe Filipinos newly arrived in other countries; (4) The predominant cell phone plans are prepaid plans, you buy these phone cards which have various denominations and “load” these denominations onto your phone service by dialing a certain number then entering the card’s Call and Text Number and the PIN associated with that card; (5) Can be taken to mean as playing cat and mouse with car/vehicle drivers when trying to cross a street