kuwentong kalye: ay jueteng (at si mang bronson*)

Charles Bronson at the Cannes film festival.

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MAKATI, Philippines – Mang Bronson is a jueteng cabo. Unlike the tough guy image of the “legendary” Charles Bronson, after whom he was named, Mang Bronson is a soft-spoken guy who is polite to a fault. He is someone who is well-respected in his community having risen through the ranks to be what is akin to being a supervisor in his jueteng organization. He started out as a lowly cobrador or collector, literally knocking on doors to collect bets.

Mang Bronson reminisces (not fondly) about those days when he was the low man on the totem pole. His earnings barely allowed him to eat two meals a day. He had a cigarette in lieu of dinner to ease his hunger pangs. He stuck to it because the only other alternative he had to earn money was to go back to being a day laborer at a hacienda. Some days there was work, some days there was none. He grimaces when he recalls many instances when he had to go several days without a decent meal.

It was a distant cousin who introduced him to the local cabo who was then looking for new cobradors to expand operations. It was tough at the start given his soft-spoken demeanor. But he persevered because what else could he do. When asked – “hindi mo ba naisip na masama yung ginagawa mo dahil bawal sa batas? Di ka ba natatakot na baka mahuli ka?” His answer is – “Me ilang beses na po na hinuli ako at ikinulong, pero madalas nakakalabas ka naman sa araw din na ‘yun.” I jestingly say – “Aba ang galing ng abogado mo a.” His response is revealing – “ay wala ng abogado Sir. Kadalasan ho nagtatampo lang yung mga pulis kasi nahuhuli yung para sa kanila pero pag nabigay na, labas naman kami kaagad.” And he goes on to say – “At saka palagi naman ho malakas si Boss sa Mayor. Maski papalit-palit sila, nandiyan pa rin si Boss. Mautak kasi ho yan at segurista. Bawat eleksyon lahat na kandidato na sa tingin niya ay puwedeng manalo binibigyan ng pangtustos ng gastos sa eleksyon. Kaya maski sino man yung Mayor, tuloy ang ligaya.”

When asked about the head of the local police force, he goes – “ganun din yung mga yun Sir. May palitan din sila. May iba na pag bago pa lang, maraming ek ek na kesyo malinis daw siya at mawawala lahat ng krimen sa bayan namin. Pero hindi katagalan, hindi rin makatiis, iwas-tingin din. May iba namang pulis diyan na ayaw talagang tumanggap pero hinahayaan na lang kami. Meron namang iba na sobrang gahaman akala mo kung sino.”

“So Mang Bronson anong tingin mo sa mga nangyayari ngayon na napagtutuunan na naman ng pansin ang jueteng?”

“Sanay na kami diyan. Iinit ng sandali. Sasabihan kami ni Mayor na tigil muna. Pero konting panahon lang – balik sa dating gawi. Ngayon nga lang medyo napa-isip isip na rin ako. 24 years ko na ‘to ginagawa at siempre sino ba namang tao ang hindi naghahangad na magkaroon ng marangal na trabaho. Pero dito sa amin, pati sa bayan – wala namang ibang puwedeng pagkakitaan. Maski gawin man legal o hindi siempre may takot ka rin na mawawala ang aming kasalukuyang panagkikitaan.”

“Sa tingin mo ganito na talaga ang buhay mo hanggang sa huli?”

“Mukhang ganun na nga Sir. Pero hindi pa naman ako tuluyang nawalan ng pag-asa na magbagong buhay. Kaya nga binoto ko si Noynoy. Siya talaga ang pag-asa natin.”

“Talaga? Bakit si Noynoy?”

“Madali naman hong mahalata sa oras ng pagkakampanya kung sino ang peke at sino yung tunay. Isipin mo sir, sa dami dami ng eleksyon sa atin, matututo ka na rin na maghusga sa ugali ng tao at masilip kung anong mangyayari pag nakaupo na sa puwesto. Unang tingin o dinig pa lang, alam mo na. Si Noynoy iba. Pag magsalita siya parang dama mo na ikaw talaga ang kinakausap niya. Ngayon, maraming nangyayari na kung sa panahon ni Gloria nangyari mapapa-iling ka na lang. Kay Noynoy tiwala ka pa rin na hindi niya kagustuhan yung mga nangyayari. Sana lang hindi siya masakop ng maruming sistema natin.”

“Tingin mo mangyayari yon?”

“Sa palagay ko hindi naman Sir, kasi kung lumihis ‘yan baka multuhin ng mga magulang.”

Laughter…

“Anong gagawin mo kung mawala yung jueteng?”

“Mahirap isipin Sir. May sabi papalakasin ang STL at lilipat daw kami dun full-time. Problema dun, wala namang may gusto ng STL sa mga tumataya. Mababa kasi yung jackpot. Kung wala na talaga napag-isipan ko ring lumuwas na lang tungong Maynila at magbabakasakali. Mahirap talagang isipin. Sana mapagbigyan naman kami ni Lord.”

Mang Bronson is one of millions of Filipinos who depend on these games of chance to put food on the table, provide shelter for their families and survive day by day. I hope our lawmakers and even we should think about their plight and the consequences of any decision made on the only real source of livelihood that they have.

Jueteng is not a law enforcement issue that can easily be solved by using the heavy hand of the law to stamp it out. It is a symptom of the deeper ills that pervade Philippine society. It is both a cause and an effect of corruption.

It is a multiple-headed hydra. A law enforcement solution stamping out jueteng will only drive people to other similarly illegal pursuits. Legalizing it is no guarantee that nothing similarly illegal will take its place.

I have not chosen to listen too much to the moral arguments against jueteng because the bigger immorality is the continuing plight of millions of Filipinos in poverty.  When we let symptoms of a bigger problem distract us, we only serve to prolong the sense of hopelessness of many of our fellow Filipinos.

You cure the root, you cure the symptom. Yes, it is easier said than done. But until we acknowledge that poverty is THE PROBLEM, until we devote all of our energies and resources to a common goal of eradicating poverty, when are we going to be able to give hope to people like Mang Bronson. When?

* Mang Bronson may be fictional in that I do not know a Mang Bronson but his thoughts, sentiments and lot in life are a reflection of the thoughts, sentiments and lot in life of thousands upon thousands of “Mang Bronsons” in the jueteng cottage industry.

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kuwentong kalye: ang barbero kong si sam*

Barber Shop in Richardson, Texas, circa 1920. ...

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MAKATI, Philipippines – I like talking to people. I like talking to people who many tend to pass by. This would be people that many never even see as a fly on the wall. The security guards, the janitors, the messengers, the taxi drivers, etc.

Then there is Sam – my barber. I have to admit, sometimes I’m not really into what Sam talks about. But what can I do, I’m stuck in his chair for 30 or so minutes. Anyway, one lazy afternoon I was in Sam’s chair getting a haircut. Sam goes – “Sir, baka puwede mo kaming matulungan?”

Hmmm, okay batten down the hatches, bring it on Sam.

“Bakit Sam, anong problema?”

“Kasi Sir, yung kumpanya namin medyo ginigipit kami.”

Okay.

“Paano?”

Sam works for this chain of barber shops. He’d been there before it became a chain. He’d been there when it was a one-shop operation.

“Tinanggalan ho kami ng mga benepisyo – SSS, Pag-ibig at PhilHealth at ginawa pa kaming contractual employee.”

“Ha?”

Okay, I’m no lawyer but alarm bells started ringing. This has to have broken some labor law here and there.

I go – “Hindi ko lang alam Sam pero parang hindi yata tama ‘yun. Di ba matagal ka nang empleyado dito? Ang alam ko magagawa lang nila yung ginawa nila kung sinara nila yung kumpanya at nagbukas ng bago (sneaky way of doing it) at kayo pa rin yung empleyado o kung nag-resign ka at pumayag ka na mabalik pero as contractual.”

“‘Yun na nga Sir, pinalabas nila na nag-resign kami.”

“Nag-resign ka nga ba? May pinirmahan ka bang resignation letter?”

“Wala Sir.”

One of the manicuristas in the barber shop overhears our conversation and begins to corroborate Sam’s story.

I’m thinking – okay, which lawyer do I know can I ask to help them file their grievance? Then my mind goes – wait. Gusto kaya nila mag-demandahan?

“Ano Sam, gusto niyo bang tulungan ko kayo na maghanap ng abogado?”

“Naku. huwag ‘yon Sir. Maski manalo man ho kami sa kaso, baka pahirapan lang kami pagkatapos. Mahirap na ho. At saka wala ho kaming pera na pambayad sa abogado.”

The money issue aside (I’m sure there are some good-hearted lawyers who could take on their case), I’m thinking – he does have a point about coming back to a poisoned work environment. Regardless of my thoughts about fighting on principle, I wasn’t going to be the one coming back to work here.

“Okay, so anong gusto niyong mangyayari?”

“Baka Sir mahanapan mo kami ng puwedeng magpundar ng puwede naming malilipatan na pagtrabahohan? O baka naman Sir, ikaw na lang?”

Me? A barber shop owner?

Teka muna. Slow down and back up Sam.

“A ganun ba Sam? Sigurado ba kayo diyan?”

“Oo Sir.”

“O sige. Puwede ba pag-isipan ko muna?”

“Sige Sir! Salamat mo po Sir!”

For Sam – a light at the end of the tunnel. For me – the light at the end of the tunnel? A speeding train. Hay, me and my penchant for taking up someone else’s cause.

Needless to say, tapos na yung haircut ko. Buti naman otherwise I would have had to sit there in uncomfortable silence or attempt to make small talk to distract from the big (elephant) idea in the room.

I do like to solve problems – be they turning around a hemorrhaging company or figuring out a way to help someone in a wheelchair cross Ayala Avenue (there is a pedestrian crossing in front of the StanChart building precisely for wheelchair-bound pedestrians). So this did get my mind going into overdrive.

What do I need?

– someone to put up the capital

– a place to put up the barber shop

– barbers and other barber shop services providers

The last one I already had (or so I thought, but more on this later).

I literally do happen to have a rich uncle. Of course, he’s no ordinary rich uncle. As a successful businessman, any idea I pitch to him must be supported by numbers. Lucky for me, I love Excel. I do love crunching numbers. I did use those columnar pads (remember those?) in school but I had been using Excel before it was fashionable (at least in the finance world) to do so. I did come up with “financials” for the barber shop which I validated with a friend of mine who used to own a beauty salon (close enough, I guess). It turns out that these barber shops essentially print money when run the right way.

Going back to my rich uncle, I pull out all the stops – come up with a business plan which basically goes like this –

The barber shop will be close enough to the area where Sam was currently working. This would allow him to continue to service his mga “suki” without them having to go too far.

The employees would be given a reasonable base salary with a significant share of any business that they generate. They would be given SSS, Pag-Ibig and PhilHealth coverage.

On top of these, the employees will be given equity in the business. The barber shop will be owned by a company which will be 80%-owned by my uncle and myself and 20% by the employees. The 80% was not a “stick your finger in the air, see where the wind is blowing, pluck a number out of thin air” decision. It was carefully thought of. Remember my uncle is a successful businessman. This means I had to make the numbers work so that he would make a reasonable return on his investment.

But why even give the employees 20% at all. Well, two reasons. The practical one relates to the reality that many businesses like this face problems of let’s just say – lack of inventory control. The impolitic description would be “ang pangkukupit ng mga gamit ng negosyo” by some mischievous employees. Giving the employees ownership of the company would hopefully give them pause and think that they are only stealing from themselves. Now who would do that?

My more pressing concern in giving the employees ownership is this. Sam is in his mid-50s. Even if the new company were to provide SSS coverage, I’m not sure that any retirement benefits he would derive from that would be able to provide him with a decent life in retirement. My thought was, if the barber shop was going to be as successful as I expected it to be, the company which owned the barber shop would be able to declare and distribute dividends to the employee/owners that could supplement any other income they would have in retirement. I was thinking that our radical business model could be replicated in different places thereby allowing the employee/owners a chance to derive dividend income from a bigger revenue pot.

Of course, as I was putting all this together, I needed to find out what and how much the operating expenses for the business would be. The second biggest expense would be the money needed to pay for the lease of the space where the barber shop would be put up. I had already put a realtor (who also happens to be my tita – God, I love my family!) to work on this. She had already found a place across the mall where Sam was currently working. I had also brought an architect-friend (okay hindi siya family per0 puwede na rin) to figure out what needed to be done and how much it would cost to turn this place into a barber shop.

If anything, I work fast. All this – from talking to Sam to reserving the space within just a week (Tuesday to Saturday). Not quite zero to sixty in 5 seconds but fast enough.

So, I call Sam. Oh boy – I couldn’t wait to tell him the good news.

We meet and we hit an immediate snag.

“Pero Sir, maganda talaga sana kung sa Ayala mall.”

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

Okay, Sam does know I had worked for that company. Having worked for that company, I also know that you don’t get space at an Ayala mall just like that. Pero okay, let me make some calls.

True enough, we’d have to wait an eternity to get space at an Ayala mall. As per Sam’s desire, an Ayala mall within 5 kilometers from where they were now. Which basically means – asa pa tayo.

So I tell Sam that I had anticipated that we would lose some foot traffic relative to where they were right now but I do have a plan. The place we had chosen was across a huge post-graduate school. Not an undergraduate school. Not a high school. Not an elementary school. A post-graduate school whose students are either already working or are rich enough to afford a post-graduate education. My plan was to offer promotions during non-peak hours where we could get the students to come in and avail of the services for up to 50% off. Barber shops are mostly dead before lunch and after lunch. We have a potential target market which we could go after to drive traffic into the barber shop at these hours.

Now we weren’t going to put up just some “rinky-dink” barber shop. We were going to have flat screen TVs, plush facilities (kaya nga may architect) and a real customer-friendly environment. I was confident that people going to our shop would so love the experience, they would come back even during peak hours. It wouldn’t be too over the top (I do want to make money after all) but it would be so much better than anything else right now.

And I was going to drive this process. I had as much stake in this as they did. Don’t forget the rich uncle I’d have to answer to if this thing flops. All this I explain to Sam.

“Pero Sir, maganda talaga sana kung sa Ayala mall.”

Aaarrrrggghhhhh…

Dude, you asked for my help – I’m giving it to you. Now you ask me for the moon?

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

Sad to say – hindi na natuloy ang barber shop ni Sam.

After some time, I though about what had happened. Maybe Sam and his guys felt that they were taking too much of a risk even if the place was just a 2-minute walk from where they still are. Maybe being in a mall and the traffic that it brings might have been too much of an obstacle that they thought could not be overcome. Maybe as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs proposes – physiological and security needs do really come before esteem and self-actualization.

I tried and I tried hard to help Sam and his cohort. I can’t blame them for choosing the certainty of the status quo. On the other hand, was it too much to ask them to believe in themselves? Was it too much to try to show them the way to improve their lot in life?

Sayang…

* Not his real name.


talk about killing the goose that lays the golden egg

A Philippine Airlines Boeing 747-400 taxiing a...

Image via Wikipedia

UPDATED – 17 February 2011

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of the Philippines’ Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of the Philippines’ air carrier operations.

MAKATI, Philippines – The finding above has been in place for quite some time now.  In view of this, the US FAA has been having discussions with the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP).  Word out of Washington D.C. is that the FAA is poised to “recommend that the (US) Department of Transportation revoke or suspend its carriers economic operating authority.”

This spells catastrophe for Philippine Airlines, an economic blow for the country and political embarrassment for the PNoy.  It doesn’t help that the CAAP was essentially inutile for quite some time due to the intransigence of its previous director general.  The new director general will not likely get the chance to do anything about this.

This kicks up the problem to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) which, itself, basically has had its hands full with diplomatic mishaps over the past year.  The “reluctant” ascension of Ambassador Albert del Rosario will hopefully get the DFA off and running.  The retention of Secretary Alberto Romulo has essentially been a period of “wait and see”.  Waiting as to who his eventual replacement would be.  In the meantime, nothing consequential has been done particularly with this FAA thing.

I just hope that the new Secretary will do better than his predecessor or else PNoy may be forced to look for another Albert/Alberto to fill the post.

MAKATI, Philippines – It is hard to empathize with either the management of Philippine Airlines or the flight attendants and stewards union of the airline who filed a notice of strike. Whatever the merits of the grievances of the cabin crew members, the sad reality is that PAL just cannot afford to give in to the demands of their employees.

Having said that, I have to say that it is just plain wrong for PAL to abandon their female flight attendants in one of their greatest times of need. Penalizing someone for giving birth (e.g. unpaid leave, reduction in service time) is just unconscionable.

This impasse has basically boiled down to one contentious point – the mandatory retirement age for cabin crew. It currently stands at 40 years old while the union wants it raised to 60. That is such a wide disparity that if each side weren’t so hard-headed, they could at least narrow down that 20-year gap. It would seem that industry developments appear to lean towards the union demand. Cathay Pacific raised the mandatory retirement age for cabin crew to 55 from 45. Singapore Airlines does not impose a strict age requirement though no employee can work as a flight attendant for 25 years.

Whatever the case may be, the reality is that PAL is in no position to grant any concessions with cost implications to its employee unions at this time. Raising the mandatory retirement age is one such concession. It’s simple math really. Older employees generally make more than younger employees. Raising the retirement age, means that PAL will not be able to replace older, more costly employees with younger, cheaper employees. It all boils down to economics.

Now before you all start complaining that it’s just about making more money, bear in mind that PAL hasn’t exactly been churning out the big bucks. Stripping out the accounting adjustments for the loss of value of some assets, PAL lost P148m in FY 2008 (their year ends in March), lost P12.8bn in FY2009 and eked out a P182m profit in FY 2010. Yes, P182m is a lot of money but this pales in comparison to the P7.3bn that they spent on crew and staff costs. So any concession that increases staff costs by 2.5% basically wipes out the miniscule profit.

It’s not about making more money, it’s really about survival for PAL. The way they do business right now has been proven not to work not just here but in the global airline industry. PAL has, in all likelihood, realized this as evidenced by their push to spin off their catering and non-core businesses. There are, however, things that act as a noose around PAL’s neck. The economic gains won by the unions over the years being one of them. Alam naman natin yung nangyari sa General Motors, Chrysler and Ford in the US. Unions essentially ran roughshod over management in labor negotiations eventually forcing their employers into actual bankruptcy or something close to it.

If anyone has been paying attention, Cebu Pacific has actually overtaken PAL as the country’s biggest airline in terms of passengers carried. In the first 6 months of the year Cebu Pacific transported 4.6 million passengers compared to PAL’s 4 million.

President Noy actually mentioned the dreaded “open-skies” option in the event of a PAL strike.

So PAL can’t afford to aggressively pursue a price war to win back passenger volume. It continues to face legal hurdles to shedding it’s non-core businesses. Its cost structure features punitive “legacy” costs. It loses pilots to better paying competitors. Should we be sounding the death knell?

The union has all the right in the world to seek redress for its grievances. The question is – how much does it really know about how far it can go?  Do they realize they may actually be killing the goose that’s laying their golden egg?


noy, the iirc & the unforgiving glare of live tv

MAKATI, Philippines – It’s tough to watch the Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC) investigating the tragic August 23rd hostage taking incident.  I am sorry but I have to say that Noy could have done better with his choices for the committee.  Their actuations under the tough glare of live television leaves more than a lot to be desired.

First off, I cannot understand the choice of having DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo and KBP President Herman Basbano on the panel.  My reservations of having both men on the panel have nothing to do with how I view their individual persons.  Rather, my reservations stem from the fact that having them on the panel ignores a trove of conflict of interest issues relating to the institution and sector that they come from and the potential culpability of the DILG and media in the tragic result.

I personally see the choice of Robredo as DILG Secretary as an inspired one.  It’s too bad that he is going to lose the opportunity to serve as DILG Secretary after this incident.  I can see the logic behind why he acted the way he did on August 23rd.  Reasons such as the need to follow protocol and institutionalize responses to crisis situations.  Nevertheless,  protocol also requires having competent people to make judgment calls in instances where protocol allows such.  And protocol allows such because not having such flexibility essentially makes us unthinking robots.

We have also heard the excuse that goes – “…we have only been in office so and so weeks.  We did not have time to address the deficiencies which contributed to this tragedy…”.  Okay, fine.  But if you were to make that an excuse – wouldn’t it have also made sense to loosen the reliance on protocol given that – who knows – the protocol could also not have been vetted properly in the so and so weeks that you have been in office?  Wouldn’t it have also made sense to loosen the reliance on protocol given that it could have been subject to the deficiencies that you say you did not have time to address in the so and so weeks that you have been in office?

To institutionalize things takes time and repetitive action.  Ordinarily, it should also be done without exception.  Pero, circumstances were anything but ordinary on August 23rd.  Hindi tayo puwede mag-practice kung may buhay na nakataya?

Mahirap din panoorin yung pagtatanong ni Robredo sa sarili niyang Usec – si Usec Puno. How can anyone expect that to turn out in any other way except, badly?  By Robredo asking questions in the position that he is in, he’s just shooting himself in the foot.  It’s either he turns out to have been clueless and derelict in his duties or  it reveals an unfortunate internal management issue that is better resolved out of the glare of live cameras.  Nakakahinayang.

Sayang si Robredo? Whether his actions on August 23rd showed who he truly is (i.e. he had us all duped) or he was saddled by this pathetic Balay and Samar group fight for spoils, Robredo did not show enough leadership nor decisiveness during the crisis.  And, to get back on point, why did he not have the foresight, courage, etc. to turn down the IIRC assignment and say – “My presence on the Committee will unnecessarily compromise its integrity given the scrutiny over my own department.  At the end of the day, I may find myself ultimately accepting responsibility for the failures of my organization on that fateful Monday evening and it behooves me to refuse this assignment to spare it from any real or perceived appearance of partiality or impropriety.  I am honored by the continued trust and confidence of the President but I have to say no.”

Herman Basbano’s own words reflect the conflicted position he is in.  He said something to the effect that he would refrain from asking Erwin Tulfo questions about RMN given that a parallel investigation was being conducted by the KBP on the actions of the radio station.  Enough said.

In general, the questions of the panelists (other than that of the courageous and sensible – Teresita Ang See and to a certain extent that of Sec. Robredo):

* seem to repeat so many questions asked and answered;

* seem to be a disjointed, rambling and pointless series of questions seeking an “A-ha!” moment; and,

* seem to be asked just so the questioner can have his voice be heard by the madlang pipol.

With so many questions being repeated, it makes you wonder whether they are even paying attention to themselves.  Nakakairita.  I mean, to be fair, some of the questions are repeated with the explanation that they are for the record, for clarification and sometimes with the acknowledgment that goes – “i’m not sure if this question was already asked”.  But many, many more don’t have these caveats – halatang hindi nakikinig.

The biggest disappointment on the Committee is the IBP representative – Atty. Roan Libarios.  I mean, as a lawyer, you give him the benefit of the doubt with what initially would seem to be pointless questions.  You patiently hear him out – question by question.  You look for that moment where you kinda get what he’s leading to.  You listen, you wait and then you wonder – that was it?  What was all that about?  Then you come to the realization – don’t expect too much from him.  Where are the Harry Roques, the Adel Tamanos, the Edwin Lacierdas (well – maybe not him, he’s swamped as it is)?  Even Ruffy Biazon, who I don’t think is a lawyer, would have done better.

As for Secretary de Lima, I guess I can say that she’s been uneven – at best.  I like the mga moments when she seems to be telling a resource person (whether verbally or through her actions) – “you must be kidding me”.  On the other hand, I don’t think it helps the investigation when she goes on those long-winded and leading questions, instead of asking a simple question and having the resource person answer in their own words.  Napapa – “yes ma’am” na lang tuloy yung witness.  Baka napagod din sa ka-aantay na matapos yung tanong.

As for Ms. Ang-See, she is obviously the saving grace of this panel.  The only one who seems to have the guts to cut through the b.s. and many obfuscations.  In behalf of many of us – Maraming maraming salamat po for your service!

The setting up of this panel should have been a slam-dunk for Noy’s administration.  Instead, it has become a lot less than that.  No disrespect to the panel members, but we could have done better.  It pains me that we have not.

I still believe in Noy and I still believe in the sincerity of his desire to effect real change.  Pero umiikli na yung pisi ng taong-bayan.  Hindi man ikaw ngayon nababahiran ng dumi, kung walang mapapalitan sa pamamalakad ng iyong administrasyon…that’s a very, very depressing thought.

Don’t let us down Mr. President…if you do, the unforgiving glare of scrutiny will not spare you.