upholding honor

graphic by MOVE U.P.

“MOVE UP hereby calls for the immediate resignation of Senator Sotto. We believe that Sotto should never exempt himself from this by virtue of the position he holds. Furthermore, we believe that his multiple acts of plagiarism and subsequent denial is breach of his office’s mandate to provide honest and credible representation to his constituents. We deserve better.”


appreciation by unknown

by unknown

One young academically excellent person went for an interview for a managerial position in a big company. He passed the first interview; But in that Company, the director did the last interview, and made the final decision.

The director discovered from the CV, that the youth’s academic result was excellent all the way, from the secondary school until the postgraduate research, never was there a year he did not score. The director asked,

“Did you obtain any scholarship in school?” and the youth answered “no”.

The director asked,” Did your father pay your school fees?”. The youth answered, “my father passed away when I was one year old and it was my mother who paid my school fees”.

The director asked ”Where did your mother work?”

The youth answered, “my mother worked as clothes cleaner.”

The director requested the youth to show his hands and the youth showed a pair of hands that was smooth and perfect to the director.

The director asked, ”Did you ever help your mother wash clothes before?”

The youth answered,”never, my mother always wanted me to study and read more books, furthermore, my mother could wash clothes faster than I could”

The director said, I have a request, when you go back today, go and help to clean your mother’s hand, and then see me tomorrow morning.

The youth felt that the chance of landing the job was high and when he went back, he happily wanted to clean his mother’s hands. His mother felt strange. With happiness mixed with fear, she showed her hands to the kid.

The youth cleaned his mother’s hands slowly and his tears fell as he did that. It was the first time he noticed that his mother’s hands were so wrinkled, and that there were so many bruises in her hands. Some bruises were so painful that she shuddered when his mother’s hands were cleaned with water.

This is the first time that the youth realized and experienced that it is this pair of hands that washed the clothes every day to earn him the school fees and that the bruises in the mother’s hand were the price that the mother paid for his graduation and academic excellence and probably his future.

After finishing the cleaning of his mother’s hands, the youth quietly washed all the remaining clothes for his mother.

That night, the mother and son talked for a very long time.

Next morning, the youth went to the director’s office.

The director noticed the tear in the youth’s eye and asked:

“Can you tell me what you did and learned yesterday in your house?”

The youth answered, “I cleaned my mother’s hands and also finished washing all the remaining clothes.”

The director asked, “Please tell me what you felt.”

The youth said:

“Number 1, I know what appreciation is now’. Without my mother, I would not be successful today. Number 2, Now I know how to work together with my mother. Only now do I realize how difficult and tough it is to get something done. Number 3, I know the importance and value of family relationship.”

The director said, “This is what I want. I want to recruit a person that can appreciate the help of others, a person who knows the suffering of others to get things done, and a person that would not put money as his only goal in life to be my manager. You are hired.”

Later on, this young person worked very hard, and received the respect of his subordinates, every employee worked diligently and as a team and the company improved tremendously.

The Lessons from this anecdote:

A child who has been protected and habitually given whatever he needs, develops an “entitlement mentality” and always puts himself first. He is ignorant of his parents’ efforts. When he starts work, he assumes every person must listen to him. When he becomes a manager, he will never know the suffering of his employees and always blame others. These kinds of people, may/will achieve good results and may be successful for a while, but eventually will not feel a sense of achievement or satisfaction.

If we happen to be this kind of (protective) parent, this is the time to ask the question – whether we did/do love our children or destroy them.

You can let your child live in a big house, eat a good meal, learn to play the piano, watch a big screen TV but when you are cutting grass, please let them experience it.

After a meal, let them wash their plate and bowl together with their brothers and sisters. It is not because you do not have money to hire a maid, but it is because you want to love and show them the correct way.

You want them to understand that no matter how rich their parents are, one day they will grow old, become weak and that their hair too will turn grey.

The most important thing is for your child to learn how to appreciate, experience and learn the effort and ability needed to work with others in order to get things done. They should also value, appreciate what the parents have done and love them for who they are.

sometimes, the catholic church falters badly and not quite carlos celdran: why i walked out of mass


The exterior of Manila Cathedral, one of the t...

The exterior of Manila Cathedral, one of the three basilicas located in the city (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Two articles in one. Why can’t the Roman Catholic Church get its act together?

Sometimes, the Catholic Church falters badly 

Ongpin, Ma. Isabel. “Sometimes, the Catholic Church falters badly.” Manila Times.  August 2012. 10 August 2012. <http://www.manilatimes.net/index.php/opinion/columnist1/28666-sometimes-the-catholic-church-falters-badly>. 

I am a Catholic and went to Catholic schools. I have lived with the Catholic hierarchy of this country as a student and now as an adult. I am still a Catholic and I have remarks to make in the light of the controversy or debate fuelled mostly by the Catholic Church regarding the RH Bill now about to be voted on.

One is that the Catholic hierarchy here has to educate itself much more than its present state of opinions exhibits. If it has to make rules and take stands on whatever issues, these should be thoroughly studied in the light of truth and fairness, freedom of thought and expression, accepted facts and scientific data even within the perspective of church teachings about right and wrong. Thus, they should know the facts about mining, what are and what are not abortifacients, how elephants should be managed, what is the line that must not be crossed into political transactions. In all these issues someone or the official stand of the hierarchy has expressed opinions, many of them extreme if not ludicrous and untenable. In matters like the RH bill, the environmental problems, even the elephant in the Manila Zoo, we hear churchmen using the most egregious reasons to make a stand which is so out of synch that undermines what they say from the beginning. Illogical, half-baked and simply automatically biased stands wears out their credibility to the audience addressed, except their unthinking followers.

It is happening over and over again and there seems no improvement from past mistakes of extremism and ignorance. And that may be the kindest thing to say.

Leaving the present controversy, I have experienced the irrational behavior of the Catholic hierarchy in the following ways which by now should be obsolete but seemingly are not:

Sometime in the 1950’s they blindly obeyed the unreasonable bias against the art of ballet dancing by the then papal nuncio. Without a dissenting voice or a plea for reason, upon his say-so, all Catholics were forbidden to have anything to do with ballet. All Catholic schools were conscripted to threaten their students with expulsion if they continued ballet studies. Ballet was demonized. Ballet performances were abolished. Ballet schools withered on the vine, ballet teachers were stripped of their livelihoods. My two sisters, my friends and classmates who were taking ballet had to stop or they would be expelled from their schools. Yet universally ballet was a revered art and accepted by civilization including by the Church everywhere else. But in the Philippines on the whim of the Catholic hierarchy with no papal bull, no theological argument, no dogmatic teaching, ballet was banned. The decree was sweeping, effectively killing ballet here for decades. Eventually that papal nuncio left, the animus against ballet was forgotten and it came back. Well and good, but wasn’t the war against it condemnable?

When I was about to graduate from high school in a small class of 13 students in Baguio, we were on the receiving end of warnings and threats about going to the University of the Philippines, the “godless” school that would ruin our souls. It was the usual prattle that would emanate in all Catholic schools just before graduation, perhaps based on some regulation from higher Church authorities. Finally, the bishop himself paid us a visit and ringingly brought down to us the dangers of going to UP. I had a scholarship to a Catholic school so while it did not affect my plans, I was somewhat perplexed by the high decibels. It certainly unnerved my classmates who were UP-bound. Some went anyway and their lives did not deteriorate to “godlessness.” And now UP is no longer reviled in Catholic schools, thank goodness and reason. This little episode of mind control, heavy-handed strictures and little logic rankled. It should not have happened.

Finally, when in college the bill on the mandatory reading of Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo came up, there was a hue and cry from the Catholic hierarchy opposing it for its criticism of the colonial friars, We were catechized that reading these novels would bring hellfire on us. That these books were the devil’s work and a direct attack on the church.. Our erstwhile admirable teachers were called upon to testify against the novels even if they themselves had never read them. An official opinion had already come down and they were merely to echo it at the Senate. When they lost that battle, they continued the war by trying to have Catholic schools exempted. This was beyond logic. And today anyone can read these novels, go through Rizal’s portrayal of the good and the bad friars and not lose one’s faith.

This was another ill-thought, ill-advised and totally unnecessary war instigated by the Catholic hierarchy.

In the light of these past instances for which no official apology or exculpating explanation has ever been given by our Catholic hierarchy, their present rabid and irrational take on the RH bill becomes suspect for its tactics that eschew truth and fairness.

For example, there is no provision or mention of abortion in the RH bill but time and again it is invoked as part and parcel of the bill. This is at the very least misleading and perhaps closer to the truth, deliberate falsehood. Very few contraceptives are abortifacients as they have been sweepingly labeled. Yet time and again they are indiscriminately defined as such. Where in the bill is it said that families must be limited to two children? Yet we have heard ravings against that phantom provision. As an institution that claims moral ascendancy and as the shepherd of the majority of this country, it is to be expected that the debating givens it uses should be true and accepted by the other side. That and the other misrepresentations of a foreign conspiracy (as compared to advocacy) and an indifference to unacceptably high maternal deaths and the surveys showing an unmet demand to limit families particularly by poor women, is disappointing and infuriating. Why can’t Catholics in this country be treated as adults with consciences? Why can’t poor women be listened to? After numerous catechism lessons regarding conscience and how it is the highest feature of a decision-making process for Catholics, why is it suddenly cast aside and denigrated when it comes to deciding on the RH bill?

What seems to be the driving force in the dynamics of the Cahtolic Church and the Philippine State is power, for which all appeals to reason and fairness fall on deaf ears. Power has to be exercised at all costs even at the cost of truth and fairness. It is the institution as a power base that matters now, not why it was created in the first place. It can even consider allying with morally dubious elements for its ends. It is to be conceded that the Church has to give its opinion and underline its mandate but it is to be expected that it does so within the values that it has long preached -– truth, fairness, charity, compassion. And with an acceptance that whoever is addressed is an adult who will make up his or her mind according to conscience. As it is, we are in the “Do what I say not what I do” stage which indeed validates Rizal’s criticism of some religious in his novels, whose primary preoccupation is the need to control and dictate to their parishioners on the presumption that they are non-adults, do not have a conscience to make judgments.

I am treating this situation as one more of those extreme and biased incidents of which we are all too familiar with.


not quite carlos celdran: why i walked out of mass

criticaleye2. “not quite carlos celdran: why i walked out of mass.” criticaleye2.wordpress.com.  October 2010. 3 October 2010. <https://criticaleye2.wordpress.com/2010/10/03/not-quite-carlos-celdran-why-i-walked-out-of-mass/>.

MAKATI, Philippines – I can’t say I’m outraged. I don’t exactly know how I can neatly describe the emotion I feel right now after having walked out of mass. As I told a friend of mine, as I reflect on this day when I reach the big FOUR OH, I was hoping to bask in the blessing of having been given the gift of life and take time to “smell the roses” so to speak. But unfortunately, it was not to be.

I value and treasure my being in the Roman Catholic Church. I believe in the over-all goodness that it represents. I appreciate the time I am given to commune with individual priests, deacons and the lay religious who have gifted to me their time as I seek spiritual sustenance. Given, the overwhelming flock that they serve, I admire the dedication and commitment of the religious. And – I believe.

Yet, as I savor and soak up their teachings, I am also made aware by them of the fallibility of the individuals who have chosen to serve as men and women of God. They are fallible because like us, they are human beings. Even Archbishop Oscar Cruz said he would kneel and kiss the hand of Usec. Puno if it turns out that his jueteng allegations are proved wrong. But, you believe because you trust that the institution that they commit to – the Church, itself – will ultimately be there to keep in check the fallibility of its members. That the Church will ultimately in its collective wisdom and discernment stay true to the Faith.

But – my faith in the institution has been shaken.

This past week, we have seen heated exchanges between those who oppose and those who support the Reproductive Health (RH) bill. For transparency, I am not very familiar with the details of the bill. I can’t say I’m in favor nor can I say that I’m not in favor of it.

As with any proposed solution to a particular problem, it is very important to make sure that one understands what the problem is. In the case of the RH bill, this is quite contentious because not everyone agrees that there is a problem in the first place. The Catholic Church insists that there is no “overpopulation” issue in the Philippines. The proponents and supporters of the RH bill on the other hand say that there is and that this is the key contributory factor to poverty in the Philippines.

If one were to read between the lines, what both sides appear to be inferring is that poverty is the real issue. The RH bill people say that we need this bill to be able to address poverty by being able to maximize our resources when we are required to provide for fewer people.

The Church’s position is a little more nuanced. Let me digress a little bit with what will hopefully be a clarificatory discussion where we can compare both views with something close to an apples to apples comparison.

Having poverty in a country does not necessarily mean the entire nation is impoverished. Developed nations despite all their wealth all have poverty issues in one way or another. Poverty is generally said to be present in a country when a section of the population of that country lives below a certain level necessary to provide for an adequate standard of living.

If we were to boil this to math or economics, it would look something like this:

GDP / Population = GDP per capita

GDP per capita is one way by which the relative wealth of nations is measured. It basically shows what the average income of each person in a country would be if the country’s wealth was equally distributed among everyone in that country – walang labis, walang kulang. The Philippines has an annual GDP per capita of about $1,982 which would place us 108th of about 164 countries as ranked by the World Bank. The most common cut-off for the poverty line is income of $1.25 per day. Over a year that amounts to $456.25. By this standard alone, the Philippines could hardly be considered as impoverished.

The reality is that income is not equally distributed. Which is fine up to a certain point. Another reality is that some people based on luck, familial circumstances, hard work or a combination of all three will end up having more than others.

Did I digress too much?

My point is that both the pro and anti-RH bill sides have that commonality of trying to address the poverty issue (I’m hoping, anyway). The differences lie in their approaches based on their appreciation of the cause of this problem. The pro side says it is overpopulation, the Church says it is the unequal distribution of the country’s wealth, a significant portion of which is due to corruption.

I would submit that poverty could start to be addressed from both ends. Both sides would be ingenuous to suggest that theirs is the only solution as both acknowledge to a certain degree the other side’s position. The Church by saying population does need to be “managed” through natural means and by PNOY’s own campaign tagline “walang mahirap kung walang corrupt“.

So why did I walk out of Church?

I go to Church to be spiritually nourished. I am fine with a homily that touches on society’s ills or even a discussion of the Church’s stand on certain social issues. What I am not fine with is when you support a position with misleading facts and assertions. What I am not fine with is when these misleading and incomplete facts and assertions ultimately mis-educate the less discerning of your flock. Where is the morality in that?

I am not Carlos Celdran. While I was tempted to speak out during the homily, again, I am not Carlos Celdran. So, I chose to vote with my feet and walked out in the middle of mass.

With a following mostly composed of “cradle Catholics”, I daresay that the Philippine Roman Catholic Church has been severely remiss in its responsibility to educate its flock of the Catechism of the Church. A significant number (if not the majority) of Catholics in the Philippines have no solid grounding in the teachings, philosophy and traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. When I was in the United States, I became a cursillista in the Diocese of San Bernardino (California). I learned more during our three-day retreat about my faith than the rest of my previous years combined. I also began to appreciate how ignorant I was of my faith. I had to go to a country where the Catholic faith is a minority to appreciate what it is to be Catholic. I had to go to that country to find people who could satisfy my thirst for knowledge of my own faith.

That it is an indictment of the abdication of this responsibility to “educate” and “form” by the Philippine Roman Catholic Church. It is not enough to be born Catholic. You have to be formed to live your life as a true Catholic. Otherwise, one becomes a Catholic in name only.

I would hate to think that this abdication is intentional. One could think that by keeping your flock in the dark, you are keeping them ignorant of what being a real Catholic is and that by so doing make it easier for them to just accept whatever it is that is being spoken from the pulpit. Bear in mind, however, that by keeping them ignorant, you are also leaving the gate open for every other religious denomination to poach in your backyard. When you cannot even arm every Catholic with an answer to the question – “why are you a Catholic” – how do you expect them stand firm and not succumb to every other sweet-talking Pastor Tom, Dick and Harry. How?

Despite all this, I recite Symbolum Apostolorum with all my heart, all my mind and all my soul because – I believe.

“Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, Creatorem caeli et terrae, et in Iesum Christum, Filium Eius unicum, Dominum nostrum, qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria Virgine, passus sub Pontio Pilato, crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus, descendit ad ínferos, tertia die resurrexit a mortuis, ascendit ad caelos, sedet ad dexteram Patris omnipotentis, inde venturus est iudicare vivos et mortuos. Credo in Spiritum Sanctum, sanctam Ecclesiam catholicam, sanctorum communionem, remissionem peccatorum, carnis resurrectionem, vitam aeternam. Amen.”

I guess I’ve vented enough…

when P352 billion does not even come close to cutting it (part 2)


A rescue on Taft Avenue near the Philippine Ge...

A rescue on Taft Avenue near the Philippine General hospital, c1910-1915 (Photo credit: John T Pilot)



CHINO HILLS, CA – It’s a week after the Habagat began to unleash its load of torrential rain. It wasn’t quite like Ondoy. Government agencies don’t seem as caught by surprise as they were by Ondoy. The appropriate warnings have been made by government agencies. Classes are suspended and eventually work is called off too. In less than 24 hours, however, everything goes to the dogs. Nature overwhelms man again.


I’m as far away as can be imagined from the surreal reality that is the possibility of Metro Manila being sunk again by the oncoming Tropical Storm Helen. As the Eastern seaboard of Luzon prepares to take the brunt of this storm, science would say that the low pressure created by Helen will draw the southwest monsoon into Metro Manila and other areas on the Western side of Luzon, just like Gener did. Or maybe not.


Here in Southern California, it’s all about the heat wave late in the summer. Weather.com says we’re about to be hit with over 100 degree F (38 degrees celsius) heat again. It’s dry type of heat which is more oppressive than the inconvenience of the more tropical, humid heat that is more common in the Philippines. This heat wears you down and if you’re not careful, it can quickly knock you out from dehydration. It’s the type of heat that forces you to run your air-conditioning 24/7 and forces you indoors. Again, nature overwhelms man.


Back to the P352 billion…


When was the last time you heard a 5-year government program, let alone a 23-year program, run to a successful completion?  Yes, I would agree that a real solution to address (or adapt to) the effects of nature in our country will be one which will take time to complete. Our record for these types of things leaves a lot to be desired. Filipinos are good at putting together plans (good or bad) but are notorious for their inability to execute. Noble intentions notwithstanding, plans miscarry because of the lack of will to see it through, the seeming lack of ability to anticipate (and thus, plan for) potential problems and the propensity to surrender to “puwede na” solutions or otherwise, just give up. Mabilis humina ang tuhod at mawalan ng loob. With this kind of attitude, we confine ourselves to mediocrity.


More than that, however, we confine ourselves to mediocrity, because we tend to think small. We think small and couch it under the rationalization of building “realistic” or “doable” plans. Yes, but, who says that “big thinking” is not not realistic nor doable? We support “small thinking” by the further rationalizing that we have to “work within the system”. But what if the system itself is broken?


Atty. Tolentino’s solution of a New Metro Manila is a step in the right direction. The reality that confronts us is that the current Metro Manila is dead and the spending that is being contemplated are mere palliatives that will end up bringing us back to square one.


Metro Manila’s population density of over 18,000 people per square kilometer makes one of the most, if not the most, heavily congested metropolitan areas in the world. And none of these other metropolitan areas can be called livable by any rational or decent standard. Physics dictates that you can only squeeze so much matter in some confined space before things start breaking down.


Metro Manila’s physical infrastructure is poorly designed, woefully inadequate and haphazardly delivered. It is not just breaking apart at the seams, its core is hopelessly broken. To fix it without more fundamental changes in thinking is really just throwing good money after bad.


The only way to save Metro Manila is to make it smaller.


Metro Manila has to be made smaller because it is not manageable given its current size. It will be hard work because even now, property developers are thinking vertical (i.e. build taller condos, office towers) to make money on their developments given the high cost of the land component of their projects. It will be hard because you will run into vociferous and virulent opposition from these same private developers and politicians eyeing the money-making potential of these developments in their respective jurisdictions. It will be hard work because you will have to change how people think.


In the meantime, all these vertical developments will serve to increase the “crowdedness” of Metro Manila, exacerbate the traffic problem and put even more pressure on the already woeful ability to provide basic services. Thus, things will get worse before they get better because you have to change how people think.


Yes – I cannot say that there is no other choice because the status quo and fixing the status quo with band-aid is always a choice. There is an alternative, however, and it will take a lot to get people to take this seriously, much less actually start to do something about it.


So how can it be done?


(To be continued)


when P352 billion does not even come close to cutting it (part 1)

Philippine General Hospital, c1910-1915

Philippine General Hospital, c1910-1915 (Photo credit: John T Pilot)

CHINO HILLS, CA – In the wake of the Habagat 2012, Patrick Gatan, the head of the Department of Public Works and Highways’ (DPWH) Project Management Office for Major Flood Control Projects bared a plan to spend P352 billion over 23 years (until 2035) for infrastructure projects “aimed at reducing the vulnerability of Metro Manila and and outlying provinces to flooding during heavy rains”.


I don’t really know whether to take this seriously or not. Of course, P352 billion is nothing to sneeze about. Then again, that’s only just over P15 billion a year on average over the 23 years. If you take out the P198 billion that is supposedly being appropriated for a new dam in Marikina, it leaves only P154 billion or P6.7 billion for other projects in the “comprehensive plan”.

This news item was all over the front pages of the major dailies and was even the banner headline on the Inquirer. But then again – who the heck is Patrick Gatan (no offense sir)? If something like this were to be taken seriously shouldn’t it be at least DPWH Secretary Babes Singson or even the President himself who should be front and center with this news and not poor Mr. Gatan who was quick to point out that the plan had yet to be approved by the NEDA Board.

A lot has already been said about the supposed causes of this recent cataclysmic event. These are really nothing new and really “old hat” coming so soon after the supposedly “one in a hundred years” deluge that was Ondoy.

Sadly, the punditry we are seeing and hearing now will continue to be seen and heard over and over again year after year because all the solutions that are being proposed (whether logical or inane) only go over the symptoms of the problem and not the root cause. And until those who are in positions to know the difference acknowledge the real problem, and propound and champion a real solution – Filipinos will be condemned to never-ending and more frequent Ondoys and Habagat 2012s.

If we look at what has happened and what could possibly happen in the future, the impact and effects of typhoons and monsoonal rains can be gauged from two variables – first, the strength and/or intensity of these weather phenomena and second, the physical environment that it will be impacting.

As to the first, the strength and/or intensity of these events, common wisdom is that global warming is causing stronger and more frequent typhoons and destructive weather. The perceived anecdotal evidence seems to support this view propounded famously by Al Gore in “An Inconvenient Truth”. But is this really the case? There are some equally compelling though less publicized arguments taking the view that global warming has nothing to do with typhoons or at least not caused an increase in the number and intensity of adverse weather phenomena. Whoever is right (and I am not here to argue either position), what is sure to happen is that the Philippines will continue to be hit on average by between 12-20 typhoons a year which will be compounded by monsoonal events.

As for the second variable, the physical environment which will be impacted by these weather events, it has definitely changed and changed for the worse. The denudation of our forests, the disruption of natural waterways and pathways for excess rain water, the building of structures where none should be built, the increase in the population living in disaster-prone areas – all these have contributed and will continue to contribute to the intensification of the effects of these weather conditions.

So, whether global warming has anything to do with it or not, the human tragedy from future Ondoys will continue to happen because we, ourselves, have laid the ground for this to happen.

Now back to the P352 billion – my hope is that this gets scrapped in its entirety. It will be money wasted and will only serve to make us (falsely) hope for a resolution to these tragedies – a false hope because this “comprehensive plan” does not confront the root cause of the problem and thus does not provide a real solution. Instead, it proposes to build more infrastructure which FIGHTS NATURE instead of accepting the reality of nature and adapting to it – a fight which we are destined to lose.

I also wonder about how the 80 million or so other Filipinos who do not live in Metro Manila feel about spending all this money. Why should they be made to pay to make the lives of those stupid enough to live in a flood plain marginally better?

So what should we be doing?

Strangely enough, the most sensible path has come out of MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino. Atty. Tolentino recently published a book – “A New City—A New Metro Manila, A New Future” – which essentially lays out the case for building a New Metro Manila. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, who better to know the frailties and limitations of Metro Manila other than the guy charged with trying to govern it.

(To be continued)

evacuate metro manila!

MANILA wins gold as world’s most densely populated city!

Is Metro Manila safe to live in?
(Note: Article is by Boo Chanco as per attribution below. Graphic mine.)
Chanco, Boo. “Is Metro Manila safe to live in?.” Philippine Star.  August 2012. 10 August 2012. <http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=836388&publicationSubCategoryId=66>. 

The best tweet on our horrific experience this week came from Valenzuela mayor Sherwin Gatchalian. “I call on the 17 mayors of Metro Manila to have an in-depth discussion on the vulnerability of the metro. Is Metro Manila safe to live in?”

The mayor then followed that up with this tweet: “After 50 years, Ondoy. After four years, habagat. Our constituents cannot live in fear every rainy season. Is MM really safe to live in?” Hmm… at last there is a Metro Manila mayor who has connected the dots.

The problems of this metropolis of over 10 million people cannot be solved by tribal leaders masquerading as mayors of the 16 cities and one town in Metro Manila. The floodwaters in Quezon City flows to Valenzuela and then to Malabon and Navotas and create havoc along the way… the same thing with the dengue carrying mosquitoes that do not recognize political boundaries between cities.

I had always thought Metro Manila needs a metrowide government of some kind to handle its interrelated problems. It seems an obvious conclusion to everyone but the mayors: a business like approach through some kind of metropolitan government.

Perhaps we had a chance to do that when Imelda declared herself Metro Manila governor during the martial law era. But unfortunately, she was more into the aesthetics of things rather than deal with the more difficult, but more crucial problems like flood control, traffic management, urban planning, health services delivery, etc. Her deputy Mel Mathay was more interested in garbage collection but not what to do with all of that basura other than create Smokey Mountain and Payatas.

Now the sh-t is really hitting not just the ceiling but everyone in the 16 cities and one town comprising Metro Manila. I once attended a meeting where Oscar Lopez wondered aloud if it was possible to have the 17 mayors working together and think of Metro Manila’s problems as one that requires them to work together. I think Raffy Alunan, a former DILG secretary was in that meeting and we sadly told Mr. Lopez that he is correct but that’s an impossible dream.

The problem with Metro Manila mayors is that they are all petty politicians who are more interested in protecting their local fiefdoms than really solving problems of urban management. The MMDA is largely toothless and relegated to handling traffic management but even at that, limited according to the whims of particular mayors.

Thus Makati had long ago declared its independence from MMDA. I remember the fight between a strong willed MMDA chief Bayani Fernando and an even stronger willed mayor Jojo Binay over what to do to manage traffic at the corner of C-5 and Kalayaan. How can they be expected to work together on other more contentious things like sanitation, building permits and what to do with informal settlers?

The result is what we see and experience now… death, disease and disarray. Ondoy and this week’s habagat merely dramatized the seriousness of our problems which can only get more unbearable with each passing year. The thing is… climate change is undeniably upon us and our country has been declared as among the most disaster prone due to climactic changes.

Early this year, Margareta Wahlström, special representative of the UN secretary general for disaster risk reduction came to Manila to deliver that message of concern. The Philippines topped the list of Asian countries hit by disasters in 2011, according to a recent report of the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED). The number of disasters that hit the country in 2011 totaled 33, claiming 1,430 lives. The figures are way higher than China’s 21, India’s 11, Indonesia’s 11, and Japan’s seven.

Our country also topped the list of the highest number of people affected by calamities like floods, storms and earthquakes in 2011. There were 1,147,270 Filipinos adversely affected, according to the World Health Organization collaborating center, surpassing Japan’s 368,820.

Rappler, the web-based news source, reports that disasters cost the country P15 billion every year. Damages caused by tropical storm Sendong alone are estimated to amount to P1.3 billion (roughly $29.6 million). Wahlström noted that economic growth in areas vulnerable to disasters around the world could not keep pace with institutional capacity to manage resources and disaster risk reduction.

According to Rappler, the UN official observed during her visit to Sendong-devastated Iligan and Cagayan de Oro, that many “municipalities lack practical experience on how to plan (for disaster risk reduction), how to prepare and how to keep it going.” This, she said, is the biggest gap on the ground. For all practical purposes, the inadequacy of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro in responding to floods is also true in Metro Manila, the seat of our National Government.

Wahlström emphasized the need for the National Government to guide local governments “because there is a collision of interests — economic development must be weighed against people’s safety.” She stressed that because the country is disaster-prone, there is a need to address the gap even as it competes with other priorities.

The UN official is just scratching the surface. The clash of priorities is even more basic – local officials will prioritize projects that enhance their political staying power. For instance, it is to the interest of Metro Manila that the Sierra Madre hills where the floodwaters come from are reforested. But don’t expect them to work together to see that happens.

Wahlström is right. “Let’s make sure that we are using the opportunities now to mitigate future impact. We have the resources and we have the partnerships, and let’s move along this agenda.” Otherwise we just move on fromOndoy to Sendong to habagat to the next big calamity and show the world we have learned nothing from these tragedies.

Commenting on a New York Times report of this week’s floods, a reader, Peter Geerts who listed his address as Tagaytay had this to say:

“Manila population could be 16m population at any time, some sources suggest 20m. Whatever the numbers: it’s over its neck since some time and growing. Every minute that passes is a chance….

“Some sweeping needs to be done: relocation of some specific urban activities (administration, specific businesses, education) offers a sudden opportunity to master plan the new location well and offer better living and working conditions. Because it’s not only just now with this flooding really that the city is hard to live and work in. It just requires a long term vision.”

Tomas Gomez III, a former press secretary of Tita Cory wrote this view:

“MetroManila is abused space. It is engaged in self-strangulation by not consciously decongesting and redistributing its population. Slums and squatter colonies predominate much of the terrain, occupying what used to be open canals/streams, river tributaries and even riverbanks themselves.

“Clogging of natural drainage arteries is the tolerated norm. It is beyond its carrying capacity and for a long time now has been bursting at the seams and there is no national policy/initiative to decongest, to demagnetize and to deimperialize.

“There is mass transit that goes around in circles within the metropolitan core instead of ferrying masses of people over long distances to and from the city. There is no such thing as a “freeway” or a “highway” cutting through the metro area through which you can travel at a speed of better than 10 mph.”

“All of its 636 sq.km. has a daytime population that is approaching 30,000 per sq. km. Manila itself is now planet earth’s most densely populated municipality. Yet, as the crow flies, just beyond 40 miles to the northeast, east and southeast of Manila are verdant open spaces waiting to be opened up to efficient infrastructure and a better quality of life. What a country!”

Yes sir… we could certainly do better if we had a Metro Manila government with the political clout to do what is right beyond the tribal interests of 17 mayors. I am glad one of the mayors, a young man who was elected with a lot of promise for modern governance, is asking the right question.

Is Metro Manila safe to live in? I hope the other 16 mayors will rise up to the challenge posed by mayor Gatchalian to meet and find out how they can do things better. We cannot go on living like this in fear of the rains year after year. Personal and local interests must give way to a metro wide outlook.

We need to make sure Metro Manila is safe to live in. Our lives and that of our families depend on our mayors being enlightened enough to do the right things.


To succeed in politics, it is often necessary to rise above your principles.

na naman?