sunday shorts: of politics and sports

courtesy: davidlicke.com

Iloilo City – Flying into Iloilo City yesterday, it became obvious that election season is upon us. On our plane were UNA heavyweights Vice President Jojo Binay, Rep. JV Ejercito and Former Senators Ernie Maceda and Dick Gordon. They were on their way to Iloilo for the opposition group’s proclamation rally of their anointed candidates for the local races.

By coincidence, Mayor Jed Mabilog was also on the plane.

I was on my way to a meeting where my company was going to complete its entry into a joint venture company to build a new hospital in Iloilo City. The chit-chat prior to the meeting was also about politics. As former Speaker (of the US House of Representatives) Tip O’neill once quipped – “all politics is local”. Thus, this discussion of Iloilo politics was indeed very interesting.

It is also quite interesting, as the start of the Philippine election season happens to coincide with the tail-end of the US elections. It makes for a stark comparison of the relative maturity level of the two countries’ political discourse. The ideological divide which has made for some very nasty exchanges in certain US races is relatively absent in the Philippines. The ease by which politicians change from one party to another, if not create a totally new party altogether, speaks to the lack of a substantive mooring based on personal convictions and beliefs.

This also begets flawed candidates and eventually elected officials who would otherwise never even be allowed at the starting gate. The manner by which the Filipino electorate easily gets swayed and awed by personality-based politics and shallow works of “public service” does not raise the level of scrutiny where the morally bankrupt and those with questionable character through plain gumption and the lack of personal kahihiyan present themselves as viable candidates. The problem is that we let them get away with it dahil mukha naman siyang mabait, guwapo at kung anu-ano pang kadahilanan  by which we delude ourselves into condoning mediocrity.

The race for mayor in Iloilo is a race between someone who has done things for the city but whose manner of doing so may have rubbed people the wrong way and someone who has done things for the sake of doing it to “establish” his credentials as a man for the people. The former has alienated some people because they have felt their old way of doing things being threatened. They have felt threatened because they fear the culture of accountability and are loath to give up their sense of entitlement.

The latter, on the other hand, is a man of contradictions. He swooped in after a long absence from the city throwing money around. He goes around in flashy cars with bodyguards. On the other hand, he has established free “soup kitchens” for the poor. He has bought up newspapers, ran for and won the presidency of the local press club. He wails out at what he terms the “culture of corruption” at City Hall with hardly a shred of evidence. Yet, at the same time he faces a tax evasion case alleging a tax deficiency of P85 million.

He calls for transparency in City Hall transactions. His plans include putting up a digital billboard in front of City Hall to show the city’s balance sheet, full media coverage of public biddings and a “government-sponsored” TV channel to show all transactions between the city and its suppliers. I’m sorry – WHAT?

Even as he says all this, his own source of wealth remains a mystery. He claims some of it comes from a shipping and export/import business which the Bureau of Customs has never heard of. He has implied some business relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and claims that relationship enabled him to get rich in the minerals business. Hay…

In all likelihood, the incumbent mayor will win the election. He has the support of the business community who have seen a sea change for the better in the way business has been conducted in the city.

Our democracy allows the ability to change for the better by guaranteeing the freedom of speech to keep government honest (that’s the intent anyway). Yet when one of the organs of this freedom – the Fourth Estate – is hijacked by someone of dubious origins and character and worse, the political opposition anoints the hijacker as its chosen one – well, there is something really, really wrong with that picture.

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The historic victory of the Philippine Men’s National Football team, the Azkals, in the Philippine Peace Cup was noteworthy for the significant contributions of players who were either new or finally broke out. Denis Wolf, Patrick Reichelt, Matthew Uy, Jeffrey Christiaens, OJ Porteria, Anto Gonzales and my man – Ed Sacapano. It was also notable for the long spells of beautiful football played by the team marked by gorgeous interplay while on the attack.

For many in the know, however, this was a Cup that was ours to lose. The Philippines (#150 in latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings) has surpassed Chinese-Taipei (#176), Guam (#185) and Macau (#200) as a better team. Of course, actually winning still takes hard work and being stronger on paper does not make one automatic champions. The pocket tournament also allowed our team critical match time to jell and break in the new players which is very important.

The Suzuki Cup will be much tougher. It was just our luck to have been drawn into the Group of Death which currently includes host Thailand (#131) and Vietnam (#146). Another team will join this group from a qualifying stage which starts this coming week with the favorites being Myanmar (#183) and Cambodia (#188). The other group, on the other hand, includes host Malaysia (#156), Indonesia (#161) and Singapore (#168).

We have lost to Thailand 12 straight times although we have not played them since 2007. Our last victory against them came in 1972 when I was in my diapers. Having said that, things are different now and the morale-boosting victories we have had in the last month or so should hopefully give the team a fighting chance.

The Philippines has played Vietnam 7 times. Our record has been 1 win, 5 losses and 1 draw. The lone win, however, came in the historic Suzuki Cup match in 2010 in our last match against them. The Vietnamese are probably still smarting from that defeat on their home turf and our match with them in this edition of the Suzuki Cup should be a dog-fight.

Whichever team joins this group from the qualifiers, the Azkals definitely have their work cut out for them. To duplicate their semi-final finish the last time out they will have to beat the qualifier and either of Vietnam or Thailand to advance. I just hope that the PFF and the Younghusbands resolve their differences to give us a better chance of doing so. Hey – who doesn’t want a happy ending? The Suzuki Cup will be no Peace Cup, this will be war and we need all the help we can get.


a slice of football heaven: barotac nuevo

English: Map of Iloilo showing the location of...

Image via Wikipedia

by Bob Guerrero

MANILA, Philippines — It is the day after Christmas, and like the Three Kings, Ebong Joson, a.k.a. the Blue Haired Fanatic, and I are on a pilgrimage. We find ourselves in Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo province, to soak in the atmosphere of the Philippines’ number one football town.

Barotac Nuevo has produced national team footballers for generations as university football programs regularly recruit thoroughbred players from the small town. Her sons populate the rosters of top club teams. Almost all the notable homegrown Pinoys on the Azkals learned their football growing up there. In a basketball-mad nation, Barotac Nuevo has always been an oasis of the Beautiful Game.

Azkal Ian Araneta planned a youth tournament here in his hometown months ago. He invited superfan Ebong to watch. Ebong invited me. In seconds, I decided to go. In minutes, I had booked my flights online.

Lurix Araneta, Ian’s father, picks me up from the airport. The former national team player is slight of build and soft-spoken, but legend is he was a terrific striker for Army. We chat all throughout the ride from the Iloilo Airport, and in 45 minutes, we arrive.

FIELD OF DREAMS

At a glance, Barotac Nuevo looks like any other small town in the Philippines. It seems quite unremarkable, with verdant ricefields and rustic Filipino homes dotting the highway.

And then you reach the plaza, where, under the shadow of the San Antonio de Padua church’s bell tower, lies the football field, perhaps weedy and patchy in spots, but definitely a full-size regulation pitch. It’s also fringed by mossy three-step stone bleachers on three sides.

I’m introduced to the other movers and shakers of the local football scene — Melvin Juarez, Jessie Sazon, and Sammy Causing, collectively known as the Caballeros Football Club. They are feverishly working to set up the lines and the goals for tomorrow’s tournament.

True Ilonggo hospitality is the order of the day. The organizers, all top footballers in their time, seem to appreciate my interest in Barotac Nuevo and welcome me with open arms.

I come not just to watch, but also to fulfill a dream of playing pick-up football in Barotac Nuevo. But unfortunately, the elements aren’t cooperating. A steady afternoon drizzle has scared off most of the players, except for a hardy bunch of lady booters, including one with exceptional pedigree.

Ina Araneta is Ian’s kid sister. She studies in Barotac Nuevo Comprehensive High School, and even though just a junior, is already being offered football scholarships by universities in Manila.

In spite of the rain, she and her mates take the field for a five-on-five with one very obese football commentator.

The girls can play. The standard is light years away from the typical girl game in Metro Manila. The ball control and dribbling is, as they say in football jargon, quite cultured. I huff and puff and try to keep up.

The obese football commentator should have scored. We get a free kick from some distance. Our opponents were expecting me to lob it to Ina. I go direct into the small goal with the tip of my boot. I catch it sweet, on target, with decent venom. But the keeper, a pretty little thing, maybe 13 years old, flat out dives and bats it clear.

We retire that day after some roast chicken and a few bottles of Gold Eagle beer outside our digs, the Aseur Pension House. It’s run by the chatty and vibrant Lorena Leigh, a Barotac Nuevo native married to an Englishman. Like everyone we meet there, she treats us like family.

THE TOURNAMENT

The next day dawns cold and stormy. We all wonder if the tournament will push through. But a trip to the plaza reveals that a little moisture won’t cancel a tournament in these parts. Ian, the gracious host is there, along with fellow Barotacnon Azkals Chieffy Caligdong and Roel Gener. Misagh Bahadoran has also come along for additional star power. Also in attendance are a bunch of youth teams, shivering in the waterlogged field during the very wet opening ceremonies.

After the pleasantries, the games kick off on the five small fields carved into the larger field. The lower divisions, from five to seven years old, are scrappy affairs, with the kids all swarming around the ball like ants. The older kids show more panache, although one field is basically little more than a giant puddle, where kids slosh around while hacking away at the ball. The kids show amazing skill, even the ones who play barefoot. The uniforms might be mismatched and the surface a tad ragged, but it’s clear that this is football country.

Meanwhile, Ina Araneta is lording it over in the women’s division, goals coming thick and fast. Her team wins the title handily.

By this time, Ebong Joson has transformed himself into his alter-ego, the Blue Haired Fanatic. Resplendent in blue wig, shades, and blue, red and white face paint, he’s a hit with the kids.

Lunch is across the street at Karen’s eatery. In between mouthfuls of authentic Iloilo batchoy, I gaze at yellowing pics on the wall of past Philippine National Teams. Most are stacked with Barotacnons.

That afternoon the tournament winds down. One team wins its division in a heart-stopping penalty shootout. Trophies are handed out. The spirit is great. Everyone has a wonderful time, especially the hundreds who lined the field to spectate.

MORE FOOTBALL

The next day is when we are slated to leave, but there’s more football. An open, inter-barangay tournament kicks off, and two senior teams duke it out on the pitch. They are mostly local kids, but vacationing Barotacnons based in Manila, like Stallion FC’s Ruben Doctora, are also in the mix. I trot over behind a goal to take pictures and hear a small, raspy voice calling my name from the crowd.

It’s none other than the town’s most famous product, Chieffy himself. We chat. I express regret that I’ll miss his inter-barangay game later in the afternoon because of my flight. His friendly, humble nature, in spite of his fame, is classic Barotac Nuevo.

I walk back to the center of the field and a stranger comes up to me and shakes my hand. He recognizes me from my Azkals commentary and thanks me for always mentioning his town whenever a Barotacnon Azkal makes a good move on the pitch. “Pumapalakpak ang tenga namin dito tuwing naririnig naming binabanggit mo ang Barotac Nuevo,” he says.

Doctora, after blazing over the bar twice, finally finds the back of the net. The halftime whistle blows and it’s time for Ebong and I to catch our flight. We say our goodbyes and thank yous and vow to see each other again.

The town leaves an indelible mark on me. But one last anecdote speaks volumes about how a passion for football is so deeply ingrained in local life.

Remember the little goalkeeper girl who stopped my shot the day before the youth tournament? On the day of the tournament I was suprised to see her in street clothes. I asked her why she wasn’t playing. Her answer shocked me. “Di pa ako pinapayagan ng doktor kase kaka-opera ko lang sa appendix,” she replies.

What kind of a football player instinctively dives flat out on the ground, in a friendly pick-up game, to make a save, on fresh appendix stitches?

A player from Barotac Nuevo. Where football is religion. And making the play is all that matters.


a manifesto for iloilo

The Fundamentals

A. A vision

– what do we want Iloilo to be?
– what direction should it be headed towards?

B. A plan towards that vision

C. People to work on the vision

Thirteen Points

1. What we do should be premised on improving the lives of each and every Ilonggo.

2. Iloilo can only grow so much. Its development should be managed.

3. We cannot have truly rewarding growth if we forget and let deteriorate our heritage be they physical or otherwise.

4. Managed development requires looking at what we have in terms of infrastructure and knowledge to sustain competitive advantage.

5. The vision and our current state should be compared to develop a plan and work on our shortcomings.

6. Iloilo cannot be everything to everyone, we should focus on our advantages and maximize the benefits that we can derive from these.

7. There are good investments and there are bad investments. We will not be able to insightfully distinguish which is which without a vision and a plan.

8. There is a lot of money in Iloilo. These are looking for good ideas. We should connect the suppliers of capital with these good ideas.

9. Indigenous industries are waiting to be developed. Focus should be given to bringing these to the surface.

10. Private sector-led pressure should be brought to bear on local government to act. This should not just be in the form of asking but more in the form of leading government towards beneficial and rational development.

11. Knowledge trapped within the four walls of the academic community in Iloilo should be teased out and marshaled to provide ideas for development. Knowledge not shared and made productive is pointless knowledge.

12. Half-baked ideas will get us nowhere and may even hurt us.

13. Very little will be easy. Hard work, reasoned thinking and disciplined execution are required.

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progreso: para kay sin-o kag sa ano nga presyo?

From top, left to right: Calle Real - Iloilo C...

Image via Wikipedia

ILOILO CITY, Philippines – This is the longest stretch of time that I have spent in Iloilo City in close to 20 years. It is no longer the eminently livable city that I remember it to be. The trappings of big city life are evident in the various amenities that have sprouted over the past twenty years.

The center of city life has moved from downtown Iloilo or Calle Real. It has moved less than 5 kilometers inland to the northwest to an area currently dominated by an SM City and right beside it the Smallville area which will soon see even more significant development with the entry of Ayala Land. The old Iloilo airport is seeing the beginning of another CBD-like development as being laid out by the property developer – Megaworld.

This is what is being touted by many as progress.

Yet, as I watch the transformation of the city, I see a city that may be losing its soul. The things that make Iloilo the unique place that it is are rapidly giving way to the conscience-less march of commercialism. The old Spanish-era houses are falling into disrepair and face being condemned, the various plazas that dot the city are in danger of being overrun by unsightly temporary structures housing beer gardens and “ukay-ukay” stalls.

The community activism which has slowed down the march of the “big-box” retailers in the United States is largely absent here as in many places in the Philippines. This has left the future of many of our communities in the hands of business interests who pursue profit at the expense of our cultural moorings and at the hands of politicians who tout mindless development as a sign of progress with an eye towards the next election.

It is pity that we have not developed the maturity to distinguish rational and progressive development with development that has no parameters. Left unfettered, we will soon see our heritage and identity demolished by the proverbial wrecking ball.

It is frustrating to know that there is not even a medium or long-term plan for the development of the city. This would ideally serve as a roadmap as to the types of investment that are solicited into the city. The closest to such a plan was a zoning and land-use plan that was prepared for the city by Palafox and Associates. The sad thing is that even this was not pursued after being shot down by the city council. The sadder part is that no alternative was even proposed by the councillors who voted down this plan. This essentially makes development in the city a free for all proposition.

This lack of planning is evident in the infrastructural deficiencies that remain unaddressed by the city.

Even before the fruits of all the current investment are felt, the city is starting to choke in the fumes of traffic gridlock. The flyovers that have been built along General Luna Street destroyed a large stretch of the street dividers which were home to decades-old pine trees while providing little to no relief to the gridlock. The pointless and unsightly pedestrian overpasses remain largely unused and instead serve as nightly sleeping quarters for the city’s homeless. The traffic enforcers as in many areas in the country are largely clueless about managing traffic flow.

The water supply remains a mess. The political squabbling centered on the Metro Iloilo Water District (MIWD) led to heated discussions with the result largely being an unacceptable status quo. The private water business remains very lucrative at the expense of the consumer who has to shell out more than would otherwise be the case with a functioning water distribution system. It is said that the officials of the MIWD are themselves involved in this profitable enterprise leading to serious conflicts of interest and the resulting lack of interest and incentive in fixing this problem.

The electricity supply situation has been addressed with the new power plant that came online earlier this year. The recent rash of brownouts point to a distribution problem from the power utility company which is playing catch-up with the provision of the new supply. While I have not seen the conditions attendant to the grant of the congressional franchise to distribute power, it behooves any utility to adapt standards which start with providing power to its customers 24/7, 365 or 366 days a year. If a utility does not have the ability to meet this standard, it should, at the very least, show concrete plans to achieve this within a specified period of time. Any interruption should be taken as a major deviation calling for full public disclosure as to the reasons for this interruption. This standard should apply to the water utility as well.

Public transportation is largely provided by inefficient jeepneys which need to go. There also appears to be too many of them. Like everywhere else, most jeepney drivers do not know how to follow traffic rules assuming they know them at all. Many of these jeepneys are a danger to safety with the lack of such basics as functioning front and rear lights. A lot of these jeepneys have corroding bodies which make it only a matter of time before they start falling apart.

Despite the presence of an inordinate number of medical and nursing schools, the delivery of healthcare services in Iloilo City is very expensive for the consumer. Prices appear to be twice what similar procedures cost in Metro Manila. Despite these prices, patients still complain about the state of facilities which are not commensurate to what they pay.

All these infrastructural challenges did not happen overnight. They are the result of short-sighted public-sector leaders, the timidity of the business sector in initiating progressive investment, the self-defeating passiveness of the populace and the general lack of real community pride.

I do not write this missive just because I have some nasty and malicious agenda. I write this because I am afraid.

I am afraid that my sense of being an Ilonggo will soon lose its physical mooring with the wanton destruction of the attributes that you can identify with the city that I grew up in.  I fear one day coming to Iloilo and having no sense of affinity to it. I fear the proverbial wrecking ball.

I write this to hopefully knock some sense into the leaders of the city – both from the public and the private sector. Yes, we may all have the same motive of making things better. But – it also makes sense to ask, better for whom and at what price?

Do we really need to attract call center businesses into the city knowing that the 24/7 culture of this industry has helped disturb the fabric of our society (the graveyard shift, anyone?)? Do we really want our children to start their careers with a dead-end job as a call center agent? Should we really be proud of the fact that we have educated many medical professionals who are now employed abroad? Should we banner the fact that a significant portion of the world’s commercial shipping crews come from Iloilo? Have we thought of how many families have been torn apart by the separation of its members? How many more parent-less children will we have to raise before we, as a society, realize that we are raising kids who will not have the moral grounding, the sense of family and the ideal home of generations past?

Yes – we have challenges and issues but I still believe in the innate talent and wisdom of our people to overcome these with the proper direction. We have to be less accepting of things that are not what they should be. We should be more open about our having problems and not sweeping them under the rug. We have to be less tolerant of those having the so-called “crab mentality”. And – we have to be more thoughtful and disciplined about the solutions that we will undertake to resolve our problems.

We have to stop skating through life without confronting our demons. To do so means to “kick the can” further along and leaving our problems to our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Doing so means asking future generations to solve problems which may not be as solvable as they are now.

As for those of us in Iloilo – go to the Jaro Plaza, tell me if you like what you see… is this the type of development that you can live with?


calle real – ano natabo sa imo?

Iloilo City, Philippines – Growing up, Calle Real was the name we associated with downtown Iloilo.  It was the hub of commercial activity in the city.

Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to run into a prominent citizen of Iloilo City. He had come to inaugurate one of the medical offices at a healthcare facility that is owned by a company I work for. I guess he liked what he saw because he told me – “obrahon niyo ni sa iloilo, ha (do this in Iloilo).He went on to say – “do this in downtown” – referring to Calle Real.

Sad to say, building a medical facility in downtown Iloilo is going to be a logistical and economic challenge especially given the other options in other parts of the city. Nevertheless, I went down to Iloilo and walked through Calle Real. I have to say that I had avoided going there (I have only been there once previously over the past 15 or so years) primarily because we say it’s kagarot to go there. I’m not sure what the exact English translation is but the term could mean irritating, congested, uncomfortable – all of those words together.

This time, I went on a Sunday afternoon. Traffic was not that bad as businesses were obviously closed and the shoppers had long migrated to SM City while the restaurant-going crowd no longer went to downtown. Despite my already low expectations of what I’d see, my experience turned out to be well below my already low expectations.

For one, I didn’t expect to see an abandoned building along Calle Real like the ones you’d see in seedy cities all over the world. I didn’t expect to see a boarded up lot along JM Basa Street. It also appeared that there have been efforts to clean-up and re-paint some of the buildings along this main thoroughfare. The end result only makes it worse as one (relatively) newly-painted building would sit beside another building whose owners probably don’t really care.

While googling “Calle Real, Iloilo City”, I discover that a Local Cultural Conservation Ordinance was enacted in 2000 to “to prevent further destruction of heritage sites in the city, preservation of the establishments and to be reused again for commercial, tourism, educational or institutional functions.”  The impressively named and abbreviated, Iloilo City Cultural Heritage Conservation Council (ICCHCC) is supposedly the overseer of whatever preservation efforts there have been.

I guess they had high hopes when this ICCHCC was set up. It’s also obvious that it has failed miserably in its task if my “man on the street” experience is to be any gauge.  As we say in Ilonggo – “Te, ano natabo? Puro hambal, wala man resulta (So, what happened?All talk, but no results).”

I have always been one to appreciate the fact that life will be full of mistakes, the question is – what have we learned from them? If the preservation of downtown Iloilo is something more than mere lip service, what is being done now or do we again say – “Bay-i na lang da. Wala ta mahimo. Amo gid na ya. (Let’s just forget about it. We can’t do anything about it. That’s just the way it is.)”?

“Pobre man ang Iloilo. Wala na tubig, kahuluya pa sang downtown. Maayo lang may kuryente na (Poor Iloilo. It has no water and downtown is embarrassing. It’s a good thing, there is at least electricity now).

Part of one’s identity is the place that he comes from.  In a sense, it’s his anchor.  It’s a place one can always go to for succor, to remember the carefree days of childhood.  When you see your hometown fade into obscurity through neglect and the absence of community pride – it becomes downright depressing.

If Calle Real is not saved, a significant part of the city will have died. And for many Ilonggos, a key part of their heritage will be relegated to the “baol” of old pictures.

Kanugon…

more pictures – http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=296659&id=754238445&l=2ec11ee3fb


Iloilo – Ang Banwa Ko nga Wala Tubig

The Old Calle Real (JM Basa Street) in downtow...

Image via Wikipedia

Iloilo City, Philippines – This past week has seen a deluge of press on the current and persistent problem of access to potable water in the city of Iloilo.  We have seen and heard accusations of corruption, calls for resignations and/or firings and the two cents worth of every Tom, Dick and Harry who wants to be heard.

When I was growing up, we had our water drawn from a ground well which was pumped up to a water tank.  The growl of the motor driving the pump irritated me no end as well as the chore of having to step out to turn off the pump when the water overflowed from the tank.  Now, I know how lucky I was.  At least, we had water.

It is painful to hear that 20 or so years later, the problem of lack of access to water for Ilonggos remains and has appeared to actually have gotten worse.  It is a sad and for some an ultimately life-threatening state of affairs.

It is also sad to see that despite everyone agreeing that there is a crisis, a lot of what we see and hear boils down to a heated war of words by the various stakeholders in various media outlets.  Is something substantive actually being done behind the scenes to address this crisis?

A lot of the current brouhaha centers around the adoption by the MIWD Board of Directors of recommendations made by Castalia, the consulting firm engaged by the World Bank to undertake a study of Iloilo’s water situation.  The recommendations include public-private sector partnerships to address the current crisis.  This Public-Private sector partnership is what is being alluded to as privatization.

MIWD management while raising other issues concerning the competence of its Board to make decisions, also admits that they fear the loss of jobs should privatization happen.  Another concern raised by some in the media and the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) – Iloilo are other potential negative effects of privatization like a rise in prices.  They often cite the sale of the Panay Diesel Power Plant in Dingle, Iloilo.

Given this conflict which are clouded by side issues, it is unfortunate that it is the tax-paying Ilonggo who will continue to suffer from the delay in resolving this crisis.

Having laid the situation as it currently stands, I will say right off the bat that the stakeholders need to have an honest to goodness discussion of the options that are available.  The exchange of charges of corruption and incompetence will not solve this problem.  The parties should take the appropriate action in the appropriate jurisdictions for these issues and not cloud the bigger issue at hand which is the water crisis.

The options at hand
As I see it, two of the options (there are probably more) are (1) retain the current system as management wants it; or (2) look at some other structure, including Public-Private sector partnerships, as the Board espouses.

The current system option
It seems, at this point, that management is the only one really wanting this option.  The media and NGO organizations, while criticizing the “privatization” option, don’t really put forth any suggested course of action.

As the proponents of this alternative, it is management’s obligation to present to the Ilonggo public why this is the best option including a detailed plan for how they intend to resolve this water crisis.  It would be nice if they also set for themselves certain benchmarks so their performance over time can be judged relative to what their plan promises.

Some key questions that need to be addressed in such a management plan include:

– what is the current state of the water supply and distribution in Iloilo City?

– what are the specific steps that you will take to (1) increase supply; (2) reduce waste as measured by Non Revenue Water (NRW); and, (3) increase the number of connections in Iloilo City?

– how are you going to fund your plan?

– how long will your plan take and what are the internal interim benchmarks that you will set for yourselves?

– what happens if you are unable to achieve the benchmarks and goals of your plan?

The public-private sector option
As the main proponent of this option, the board of directors should also be subject to the same questions as the ones raised above for management to address.  They owe this to the Ilonggo people who they claim to serve.

A word on privatization and MIWD
My own leanings are that other options other than the status quo should be explored.  This does not necessarily mean that privatization will be the answer.  At this point, however, the burden is on management to present to us why the status quo should be preserved.  They got us into this mess, they should tell us how they are going to get us out of it and let us be the judge if their plan is feasible or not.

Addressing issues
I’d also like to put in my two cents’ worth on side issues that I alluded to earlier.

We don’t have to go far to look for possible answers to the fears addressed over a potential privatization of a water distribution utility.  In February, 1997 the MWSS awarded concessions to Manila Water Company and Maynilad Water Services, Inc. to service the water distribution needs of Metro Manila.  We can learn a lot from what has happened since then to provide us with a framework for what can be done with MIWD.

On the issue of jobs, recent data show that 95% of the employees of Manila Water now were former employees of MWSS.  If you talk to them now, they are a lot happier now than they were then.

On the issue of price increases, the all-in tariff immediately prior to privatization was P8.78 per cm.  One year after privatization, it was P4.96 per cm in the East Zone and P7.21 in West Zone, a reduction of 44% and 18%, respectively.  More tellling, it was not until 4 years after the privatization when rates actually exceed the rates prior to privatization.

While the Philippines’ “relevant” water distribution utility privatization experience has generally been positive, it is important to remain vigilant should it be decided by the powers that be that this is the way to go.  One key consideration is the mode by which any public private sector partnership is going to be structured.  In the MWSS scenario, the concessionaires essentially are providing the services as private entities but the assets remain owned by the government.  It is also important to note that the MWSS remains the regulatory body with the power to approve or disapprove rate hikes.

If such were to happen to MIWD, it is important to insist that the members appointed to what would be the regulatory body are competent and free of any conflicts of interest.