Sunday, December 1, 2013

Love him, Hate him

He's iconic in the realm of boxing. Manny Pacquiao, the Philippines greatest boxer ever, has the fairy tale story most people would dream of. From dirt poor to one of the world's highest paid athletes - yeah, even I take my hats off to his phenomenal success. Better known as Pacman, the gargantuan fame and fortune that came his way was beyond anyone's dream. And while his fights were without a doubt some of the highlights of boxing history worldwide, so were his earnings. His statement of assets and liabilities (SALN) to date puts him at over Php2,000,000,000 (which we all believe is probably an understatement)...that's more zeroes than a regular calculator can punch out.

There's no doubt on the legitimacy of his earnings. While Pacman ran for Congressman in his district in Saranggani, General Santos, and won (he is currently in his second term), he was hardly around during the sessions in Congress. His paltry attendance stood out like a sore thumb. The position was there, but the man running and representing his district was not. His excuse - he was busy training and fighting those fights which would bring accolades to his countrymen. When he was chided for his absence in sessions in congress, media and people close to him brushed it aside. Whenever he was criticized for his ineptness, it was always one big holler that everything hurled against his incompetence and irresponsibility was a political ploy. Let's call a spade a spade. He was never even fit to run as Congressman for this district from the get-go. He is a boxer and that's all he knows. Nothing wrong there because boxing is his first job. It's the main source of income, his daily bread, and the reason for maintaining his current lifestyle. You can say that in terms of wealth and success - Pacman has arrived.

But here's the rub.

A few months ago, I had written a blog about doctors and other professionals regarding taxing our professional fees. While Bureau of Internal Revenue honcho Kim Henares was running after tax evaders, the media AND the public did not take too kindly on professionals who were not remitting their taxes correctly. There was even a proposal to place the Menu for Professional Fees plastered on the walls of our clinics and the BIR began publishing in the newspapers the taxes that various establishments paid during the past year.


The average family and general physician practitioner earns a measly amount compared to Pacman's earnings. One fight of Pacman would easily put me and my family in Nirvanah for the rest of our lives. Most of our earnings are loose change for the BIR. Seriously, I don't think I would even make the same amount of money that Pacman makes in one fight in my whole lifetime as a doctor. The facts are easy to calculate. The HMO makes a killing from those who pay their insurance coverages. The average doctor gets Php250-300 (minus tax around Php225) for every patient seen on an out-patient and Php400-Php500/day gross, for every patient admitted to the hospital. If one saw 10 patients a day, that would mean a net earning of Php2,250 a day of practice and 12% of which we will still to remit as Value Added Tax (or Php1,980 net). If he/she practices 5 days a week in the clinic and has 5 or 7 in-patients with an average stay of 4 days for each hospitalization a month, that would sum up to Php14,000 gross (deduct 15% withholding and 12% VAT or a net of Php10,220.00) for a net total of Php65,440.00 a month. An amount where even a product manager for a pharmaceutical company or even an assistant operations manager for a call center would consider much lower by professional standards.

Unless the doctor is a surgeon by profession, the actual average net income of most of the doctors would range from Php 40,000 to Php 75,000 per month. Or Php480,000 to Php900,000 a year. Not assuming that there are patients that cannot and will not pay the professional fee. If we waive our fees, we still have to execute an affidavit to the effect that we did not charge the patient! This is not enough to even buy a Birken Hermes bag for oneself!

The last few days, we saw the exchange in barbs and words between Kim and Pacman. Pacman cried foul because of his alleged failure to pay P2.2B in taxes from 2008-2009. He blamed it on politics. To me, it was stupid to cry political ploy alone for the BIR to run after Pacman's millions, errr...billions. In fairness to Kim (it's the first time I'm siding with her), the signs were obvious. Pacman was making more money, owning more assets year in and year out, and the taxes he was remitting were less and less. It is a Philippine law that you need to pay the right taxes to the Philippine government even if you make money from earnings elsewhere as long as you're a Filipino citizen (I think the OFWs are exempted, but Pacman is no OFW). Which means that if you paid only 15% taxes in the US for an endeavor, then you will still need to pay the remaining 17% (32% taxes) in the Philippines.

What is most disturbing with Pacman's press conferences were that he felt he was being singled out. I also wrote in my blog that the government should run after the government officials embroiled in the Pork Barrel scandal first as they were siphoning our money. But some of my readers didn't respond too kindly. To them, what is due to Ceasar should be paid to Ceasar. I didn't argue with that. How could you argue with logic? It was illogical and irresponsible for Pacquiao to even argue along any line because the BIR demand for payment had been there for over 2 years (hence the penalties slapped on him) and that because he is supposedly a lawmaker, he should have known the law! For him as a congressman to turn his back on the law is something that is mind-boggling.

The fact that even Aling Dionisia, the Pacquiao matriarch, exchanged barbs with Kim and covered by media was really a low blow. Aling Dionisia has three houses in her name. But the old lady says she is jobless so how can she pay taxes? What the f*ck?! So what? Being jobless does not excuse her from paying real estate taxes because the houses in General Santos are under her name. The squatter-like response of the Pacquiaos can only reveal their true color of ignorance of the law.

Even if you blame the accountant and managers of Pacman for the fumble in this tax fiasco our "Pambansang Kamao" is facing, we need to own up to our ultimate responsibilities instead of passing the buck. Gullibility is never an excuse for evading responsibilities. Just because he has brought fame for the Filipino does not exempt him from paying his taxes correctly. We are, after all, heroes in our own little way. From the lowly OFW who toils day in and day out in a country far away to the physician who provides heroic gestures to cure the sick and the least of our brethren.

It peeves me that the public, media and fellow politicians are siding with Pacman on this charade. Let him prove that he has no obligations to the government. Let him prove himself that Kim is wrong and that he is right. And let's not drag our dirty linen in public by abusing public trust. As a government official, Pacman owes it to the public to fight this fight in the right venue by producing the right documents.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lessons from Yolanda

"Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things." - Winston Churchill

Typhoon Yolanda arrived in the Philippines last November 8, 2013 leaving a trail of massive damage beyond proportions. Perhaps I will underestimate the tragedy if I say that this wrath of nature changed not only the landscape of many cities and provinces in my country, but their lives as well. As many of us in Metro Manila stayed glued to the onslaught of the typhoon, I guess most underestimated the strength of this storm. Local media had not captured how horrific the storm was until ANCs Atom Araullo could not be contacted and neither could anyone from the President's men who had already been sent to Tacloban.

If there was anyone who said that we were prepared for Yolanda, it was the president himself. The night before the storm, "President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday assured the public of the government’s readiness to face supertyphoon “Yolanda” which will directly hit Samar and Leyte at midnight. Aquino said in a televised speech that the country’s C130 aircrafts are fully mission capable to respond to those in need, adding that 32 airplanes and helicopters from the Air Force are on standby together with the Philippine Navy’s 20 ships which are positioned in Cebu, Bicol, Cavite and Zamboanga. He said that relief goods are also pre-positioned in many of the areas expected to be affected by the supertyphoon. Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Councils, both national and local, have also been activated to mitigate the effects of the typhoon." []

It turned out that we were not and someone had to take back his words. The blame game followed. During a press conference immediately in the aftermath, PNoy had shifted the blame on the local government units in Tacloban. Tacloban is the bailiwick of the Romualdez, one of the richest political clans in the country and relatives to former first lady Imelda. In his disgust, he had walked out of the press conference in a huff and puff and typical of what he usually does when faced with frustration.

When media had eyes and ears on Tacloban already, we knew that help in whatever form, if it came, would be too late.

A part of me died that day. Tacloban has always been close to my heart. This is where I grew up the first six years of my life. I have friends and distant relatives and from where my family and I were in Manila, watching the news and trying to get in touch with loved ones was futile and agonizing.

While local media scrambled to get accurate news on all fronts, foreign media, in particular CNN had been at ground zero from the get go. There were mixed reports on casualties and what was left of Tacloban City after Haiyan (Typhoon Yolanda) exited the Philippine Area of Responsibility the following day.

Technology played a vital role in the relief operations for the people who were affected by recent calamities. Twitter and Facebook were abuzz in asking people to help our brothers and sisters in the Central Visayas area. It is undeniable that social media played a pivotal role in disaster management and in the operations after the carnage. It is undeniable also that social media has been and is being used for both good and bad intentions even during a calamity like this.

Postings on what allegedly transpired or did not happen became the trending topics. It was obvious that we did not need to add to the chaos but that's the reason why technology is called Disruptive Technology. And while there are good intentioned people, there will always be bad. But that is what social media is all about. We either live with it or get the hell out of it. I'd rather take the brighter side of life and say that social media is one of the best tools invented because it not only became an instrument for communicating with those who were affected by the typhoon but because it was used intelligently to pan out to the world on the disaster in the Philippines and how the world responded to our cry for help. Seriously, we could have never done it alone.

It's 10 days after Yolanda devastated my country and its people.

What lessons have we learned from this?

1. We have no disaster preparedness program in place. It's all lip service but if you look through the budget of the Philippines, it's zero. PNoy vetoed disaster preparedness budget in 2011 and left disaster preparedness to local discretion and as part of local calamity funding. I guess when it becomes a national problem as in this case, then the national government is really unprepared. Let's cut the crap on saying that "NO ONE IS EVER PREPARED FOR A DISASTER LIKE THIS." An earthquake I would understand. But a typhoon? Get real. We get it year in and year out. We just weren't ready for something as strong as this and we underestimated nature. The president's hullaballoo on preparedness was crap. When we needed the C130s and planes and helicopters and ships, we were caught flat footed. When foreign ships and aid came to the rescue, we found out that this country has a paltry army, navy and air force. We need to face reality and the truth eventually comes out. No matter how painful it is, we need to swallow our pride. At the end of the day, the thousands of lives that could and should have been saved had pride not taken precedence would be a more decent approach to caring for your countrymen. []

2. There are opportunists in our midsts. The painful part is that many of them are in government. Calling them insensitive is too kind. They are like are vultures who circle even the living, waiting for us to die. Take the example of the BIR commissioner who said that "The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) on Thursday clarified that relief goods both from here and abroad for the victims of monster typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) will be spared from tax as long as it is coursed through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) or accredited private foundations." Ms. Henares was quoted as saying that this was meant to curb people who would take advantage of this calamity to claim donations for and on behalf of the calamity later on. []

This did not sit well because essentially all the goods we buy for donating it to the typhoon victims already carry a 12%VAT at the cash register in the supermarket counter. Why do we need to get taxed doubly? So if we called a spade a spade, perhaps it would be a good reminder that prior to this devastation, another devastation had just hit us in the form of Janet Napoles (remember - the bitch and the typhoon had arrived simultaneously). This is where our taxes went. This is where government officials were enriching themselves. Had these been addressed from the get go, my beloved country which is mired in so much corruption would have a definite road map to recovery.

It's a fair reminder that if you like to help, help. But don't stand in the way of those who want to help. And calling its citizens "thieves" isn't helping any. Perhaps our government officials need to look closely at themselves in the mirror before they look at its people.

It is a fair reminder that after we recover from this gargantuan task of rebuilding, we need to focus on the corruption and governmental faux pax so that we can serve our citizens better. We need to remember that everyone - rich or poor - is a contributor to the growth of this nation. We need to focus on the bad eggs so that we can make relief efforts work to our advantage.

3. There is no single hero in a calamity like this. Big or small, every relief effort, every single donation is a step to a greater good. It is expected that those who have more in life share more of their blessings, but those who have little, and yet who have spared their small change are big heroes in my heart. It becomes irritating that there are politicians or media men or even church officials who act as if they were God-sent. Repacking relief goods under the guise that you gave it yourselves or even if you gave it yourselves is not in good taste. During a crisis like this, there is no "I". Every effort begins with "We".

It was uncalled for to be exchanging barbs with foreign journalists who had only good intentions in alleviating the sufferings of our people. Dapat ba parating may bida sa bawat sakuna?

4. The Filipino people are resilient. I take great pride in being a Filipino. Living in a country with 70% of my fellow men impoverished has taught me that behind the hardship we go through and in spite of all the tragedy we live through day in and day out, we learn to rise above it all. Our dignity may be scarred but it will remain intact. Our bodies may be broken but our spirit will always rise above every occasion. I have friends who have migrated to land of more verdant pastures. They have better lives today. But they will remain Filipinos in their heart. They understand what it is like to live in a country that in spite of our limited resources, learn to make it through the toughest of times and celebrate the best of our successes as well.

Today, many of us will bury our dead.

Tomorrow, we rebuild our country - from sand to rubble and brick by brick we will rise to rebuild our hopes and dreams. There will be scars in our lives and we will all have our stories to tell.

But the story that will be remembered most is that we are a proud nation that is grateful for all the help from other nations who are determined to help us rise from the storms of our lives. And rise we will, for tomorrow is another day.

[photos from Philstar, Philippine Daily Inquirer, news reports from sources named]

Monday, October 28, 2013

Wealth, happiness and pretending

There's a saying that goes "I owe, I owe, so off to work I go."

Who doesn't like to be making tons of cash? I know some people who even bend back ethics and morals as long as their bags (and bathtubs) are awash in cash. After all - it makes the world go round, it makes you buy all the best things in life, and even on a temporary basis, yes, it even buys you happiness.

While cash is a necessity in order to live, survive, and yes, remain sane in our day to day existence, at times the end does not justify the means. The operative word being "justification".

The other week at the clinic, the parents of one of my patients had told me that she was giving birth in a few months. I congratulated her! Then the grandmother said that the obstetrician would be doctor so and so...I remarked, "why?, wasn't your OB so on and so forth two years ago?" They said yes, but that the obstetrician was building a house. And I understood what they meant.

It's not only in the medical world that this scenario is seen. We all try to make a decent living in order to fulfill our dreams. Some of us want to own houses and condominiums in posh villages. Others want to drive brand new European cars or send their children to high-end schools even if it is beyond our budget.

And this does not occur only in the upper and middle class families. My driver is a prime example of this. He has three children and the youngest is 3 years old. While he sends his two older children to public school, he sends his youngest to a semi-private nursery school. I asked him why and he said that the other two are boys and they have the tendency to drop out of school and be lazy. But because his youngest is a girl, she will most likely study harder and be the breadwinner of their family later on in life. And while I have nothing against dreams and ambition, there's a thin line in having to sacrifice the rest of the family by being pretentious.

Pretending to be someone or something that one isn't is the greatest deceit of all. Whether it's a relationship, a job, a business - pretending to be adept at a task in order to profit for wealth (and the temporary happiness) it provides can prove to be uncanny at the end of the day. There are people who are not fit to run an organization because they have no knowledge about how to run it well except the fact that they base the selection of managers based on trust and not on competence. It creates problems in the work force and becomes frustrating for employees whose bosses pretend that they know so much when they know so little, and the work force is not appreciated back no matter how hard they try.

Here are five pointers to remember:

1. There's no point in using limited life chasing unlimited wealth. When we all die, we can't bring the wealth with us. Even if your casket is made of gold.

2. There's no point in earning so much money if you can't live to spend it. Sometimes we spend our lives chasing the money that we forget the people we've trampled upon just so we have more material things in life. We forget that life comes full circle. If that money isn't meant to be for us, karma is such a bitch at getting it back.

3. Money isn't yours until you spend it. And earning it rightly is just as proper as spending it and sleeping well at nights knowing that it was earned well.

4. When you're young, you use your health to chase your wealth. When you're old, well, it's sad that you use your wealth to get back your health. Happiness at any stage and at any age is not all about money. It's about being true to yourself and being just with the people around your lives. The trouble is, often times, it's too late. Your children don't know you. Your friends have left you. Your family won't even care if you lived or died.

5. Man is happy not because of how much he has, but how little he needs.

Think about it...what buys you happiness?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Defining moments...

Over our work career, some of us simply wear one hat. For the average employee, he goes to work, does his job, punches out then goes home. He waits for the 15th and 30th of every month for his paycheck. It's like that day in, day out. The paycheck defines his existence.

Then there are those who wear more than one hat. In my case, I have been tiptoeing from corporate role, to committee head role, to the role of leading of a department, to consultancy role for certain groups in the research and pharmaceutical industry, and of course, to private practice. Multi-tasking is definitely a driver for stress and anxiety. The paycheck is not the defining reason for this. It's the challenge.

Over the years, I have virtually multi-tasked. I have become accustomed to multi-tasking. Each time I try to unload myself from one task, there is an emptiness that takes over. For example, when I decided to retire from teaching from the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery after 23 years being with the academe, I had a separation-anxiety attack for a few months. The day after retirement, I would wake up at 4AM prepping myself to get ready to go to the university, thinking about how traffic would be that day, and looking forward to the students whom I would mentor and colleagues whom I considered best friends. Then reality would hit me that I had retired. A few months sank in before I moved on, but move on I did.

There are several reasons why we make choices in our career(s). Why we suddenly make a left or right turn or decide that it's the end of the road. Financial remuneration is probably at the top of the list for most. To others, it is the search for something they become passionate about - a teaching position, an administrative post, a new career, a life-changing experience, to better health (both mind and body), or a bold brave new world. And then there's the game changer - your self respect. Of all the reasons that interplay with the choices we make in life, it's the self respect that impacts on your will and becomes the deciding factor.

I have been in many game changing situations in the past. Whether it was a personal change or a change in work environment, the defining factor that makes you decide that it's over is self respect. Sadness overtakes your impetus in looking forward to a brand new day. Seeing your better half becomes overbearing rather than happy. Going to work becomes a burden rather than a challenge. I would rather wake up to an empty feeling which I can eventually get over with rather than feel the anxiety of having to go through each day of my life not having to deal with the issue that I allowed sadness to consume me. It's the most difficult decision that I had to make, but what lied within me was what mattered.

One of the most difficult choices we make is when we find passion in what we do, the circumstances surrounding the passion become too heavy to bear. No matter how you try to make it right, no matter how much explanation you provide, it becomes frustrating that people who do not understand the work actually become the burden to the work. Corporate businesses are usually run that way, with half the people in the lower work force going unrecognized and the blame being shifted to the lowly employees because of corporate greed and mistakes made by upper management. Bigger rewards are merited by people who pose to have delivered the outcome but not the people who actually made it possible for the company to survive the worst of times.

Personal or work relationships are similar to one another. In a personal relationship, you invest not only time and money but mostly your emotions and personal worth. You probably give up half your pride in search of happiness. You work at making the relationship work and search for happily-ever-afters. It's what defines fulfillment. It's what defines our core being.

I tell my friends that there are two defining moments in the choices we make in life.

The first is when we decide to take the plunge. Make choices for better lives. Make choices because we wanted to make changes not only in our lives but in other peoples lives.

In the process, there will be friends we make along the way, co-workers whom we empower to become stronger, a better half who becomes part of our lives. Then there is the shattering moment. The one that breaks our heart or principles in life. The one that makes the game changing decision we need to make.

The second defining moment is when we decide to walk away with our principles shattered but still together. Head up high, hurt from within, you know that it was and is, the right thing to do.

And we move on. To write a new chapter in our life.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Professional fees and the physician

A week after Napoles surrendered, BIR chief Kim Henares was back - blazing her guns at what she calls the professional tax evaders of the Philippines whom she fondly identifies as mostly coming from the sector of physicians, dentists, and lawyers.

It's such a shame to wash our dirty linen in public, but some people have to become popular at a job that is highly unpopular - tax collection. Some of my friends and colleagues abroad who have been practicing medicine since they graduated from medical school and decided to hie off to a country with lesser corruption were asking me - do we really not remit the taxes due to the government?

Good question! No answer?

For the sake of argument, let's stick to the basic rules and principles. As citizens of the Republic of the Philippines, we need to pay our taxes. We are considered by the government as a value added service. Never mind the fact that we get patients that we do not charge (like our colleagues and their families, the poor people whom we get to see but don't have the money to pay, compadres and comadres and some of the celebrity friends we cater to) - the point of it all is that services rendered and paid for should have an accompanying receipt. The receipt should incorporate the 12% VAT already.

With over 100,000 registered physicians, over 1,000,000 nurses, over 100,000 lawyers and over 100,000 dentists in the country, Kim asks a simple question - why is the collection from this bunch of professionals so paltry? Her argument, particularly for physicians, lawyers and dentists is that the majority of us in this profession can afford luxury houses, several cars, send our children to expensive schools, post pictures on Facebook on so many travels abroad - and yet many of us remit taxes less than P100,000.00 a year.

What does P100,000 a year in taxes paid mean? It means that in your profession you more or less should make around P65,000 a month or P2,166.66 a day presuming that you hold clinic every day. If you charge an average of P500.00 per consultation on an out-patient basis, that means you see around 4-5 paying patients a day. This is probably a very low end computation because this consultation fee does not include specialties that need procedures (like ophthalmologists, ENT, cardiologists, etc.).

I get the point. We're not all good people. Some of us don't walk the talk. But neither is the government. With all the money that is being siphoned off to Napoles and PDAF and government officials who literally, brazenly steal under our very noses, it wasn't really a good time to call tit for tat. But Kim was just doing her job. Obviously, you cannot please everyone. The doctors ask back - how about the patients that run away and don't pay us? Where do we charge this to? Or the patients that pay you with chicken or eggs, or JCo or coffee or cologne? How do we deal with that? And the answer of Kim is that if they don't pay, don't issue a receipt. The majority of our patients, however, contribute to the food on our tables, roof over our heads, schooling of our children, gasoline of our cars, travels we have abroad (not to include the drug companies share), and according to Kim, all taxes to these professional fees should be duly remitted to the government (to steal?).

But like other businesses in the country, what is paid for is duly taxed and a receipt is duly provided. The bureau describes the scenario as - when you go to a restaurant, you don't tell them that "okay don't issue the receipt and you can remove the 12% VAT on our food". And if the owner of the restaurant is your friend and he gives you the meal or dessert on the house, he doesn't include that meal on your tab. And we can do the same.

Which now goes to the stupid idea of putting a menu for services we render (akin to a restaurant). There was more hoopla when the doctors were fighting back (like me) at the idea of a menu for patient services.

CHECK-UP P500.00
Confinement in standard room P2500.00 per day
Confinement in suite room P5000.00 per day
Confinement in ICU P10,000 per day
Cesarean section without anesthesia P5000.00 (this is a sick joke)
Cesarean section with anesthesia P100,000.00

These were thoughts that were playing in my mind...and I was aghast because we don't actually charge patients on a standard fee for in-patients (well I don't for that matter). We charge patients according to the capacity they pay and gazillion patients end up bartering with you for your professional fees at the end of the stay. There's an ethical dilemma in advertising the professional fees - it's not fair to barter with healthcare levels because patients don't understand why there are disparate charges between doctors - the level of expertise, practice and achievement - comes with a price.

We have patients that are disappointed with how some doctors provide services. As one FB person would say, it is just correct that the BIR run after the doctors because we charge P500 "para sa laway na puhunan". A clear misunderstanding, but clearly also a disappointed patient who may have his own views on why in God's name they need to pay this much for a 60 seconds consult.

Health Insurances are different and the charges are fixed rates depending on the room and the disease or what was performed on them during their hospital stay. A good many of doctors are not affiliated with health insurances and quite a number of us hold clinic only sparingly because some of us wear multiple hats and have a more fixed paying job. Which means that the clinic is there to accommodate some of our private patients but 60-90% of the time some of us are doing some other corporate activity or have their own small businesses while the remaining 10-30% see patients as a hobby and not a full time profession.

The health profession in the Philippines is significantly different from the US, Canada, Japan or even any other country. Here, the doctor has to make ends meet by multi-tasking and taking on different hospitals at different hours of the day at different days of the week. We have no 13th month pay. We pay for our own transportation and gasoline and car maintenance. We have no fringe benefits. If we don't make it as a doctor, many of us take a nursing course in the hopes of finding greener pastures in some other far away country because what we actually make is not enough to make ends meet. It's the way the healthcare is built in this country. Of course, Kim Henares is getting accolades from the US and other countries about her being one tough cookie trying to address the tax deficits in the country. But a tough cookie not in tangent with reality speaks poorly of the knowledge of the bureau on the practice of law, medicine or dentistry in this country.

What counts actually is to really run after the largesse that use taxpayers money in order to enrich themselves. And that's where the difficulty lies because most (if not all) of them are from the government. It is obvious that they have the manpower, the will and the innovativeness to hide what they steal and steal what is supposedly for the people. I guess at the end of the day, we just draw the line and say - let's follow the leader.

A perfect example are how some young people drive around in spankingly expensive Mercedes Benz owned by their parents who probably do not have legitimate resources for funding these. I have neighbors (sad to say) who really have no cash or are not even financially well off but they have a dozen cars or so in their garages. Why can't the BIR start from that? Look at all these fancy cars, find their owners and dig backwards and see if they even paid their taxes due compared to the properties they own or the businesses they run or even the cars they have? It's a simple way of running after tax evaders.

The meat of the problem lies not in government being inefficient but rather in who enriches himself while he/she is in power - are the ones running after the people who apparently do not pay taxes correctly. You can only expect the professionals to abide by what the government says if you dialogue with them and look for solutions by understanding what the real concerns are. Until government is able to take this step, there will always be an avenue for misunderstanding. With one side opposing the other side with various reasons. You can only expect people to pay taxes correctly if the taxpayers palpably see where their taxes are going to.

Several months after Kim has said that she would run after online businesses, where has that gone? Nowhere!

Several months after the government has run after former AFP Comptroller Garcia, where is the loot his family has stolen? What has happened to the Euro Generals in the term of GMA?

When you're running after the small fry, they only get angry because government has not resolved the bigger fries.

Start with them and then you can expect all professionals to follow your rules. In the meantime, it will be a long, tedious, painful debate on what Kim expects the professionals like doctors, dentists and lawyers to follow.

You can only make changes if you make the changes within the bureaucracy first. You cannot expect people to trust you just because you say so. Trust is a long relationship and the most pivotal one. It will wear itself thin because rules and regulations are made only for a select few.

Professionalize the Bureau of Internal Revenue. Then change will come. You cannot start with the taxpayers. Like every family, change begins from home.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Pork, the BIR and Justice in the Philippines

There's something awry in this picture. Former Chief Justice Renato Corona had said during his trial that he was subjecting himself to allowing the court to open his bank accounts as long as the other lawmakers were too. A year after his being ousted from the third highest position in the land, the same lawmakers that found him guilty are now embroiled in graft and corruption in what would be one of the biggest scandal in the use of the pork barrel funds allotted to the upper and lower houses of governance in the Philippines.

And that leaves a black eye in the President of the Philippines, where his passion to convict Corona seems to take a backlash at his own men who are now scrambling to deny or defend themselves in public because of Janet Napoles and her family's acquisition of illegal wealth at the expense of the Filipino people.

Hence, the million people march.

My niece is skeptical about the march. She told me that even if two million people charged to Malacanan Palace for this cause, the problem would not be solved. Over the weekend, I talked to some parents who are lawyers and they said that in this country, the truth is that justice is elusive among those who have the money to splurge for lawyers and connections in the military, police and other government officials. As Filipino citizens, we've been there, we've done that. I have friends who are more optimistic with PNoy. Seriously, with this latest scandal, my optimism has faded.

I was one of those that voted for PNoy because I believed in his parents crusade that the Filipino was worth fighting and dying for. But graft and corruption in Philippine Politics has become so entrenched in a web so complex that I just watch from the sidelines hoping that one day, some day, some ray of hope can come from the changes we so believe and fight for. Yet each election is the same. The trapos are still around. Their children and grandchildren have now become adults and run to take their places and entrench themselves in the complicated web of learning hands on how to keep their dynasties alive. And we can only have the Philippine electorate to blame.

Yes, the million people who will march tomorrow in Luneta will be mostly the taxpaying citizens of this country who are the most affected. While I am a doctor, I have retired from the academe and joined the pharmaceutical industry. And in my years in the academe and my current years in the pharmaceutical industry, I cringe at the amount of taxes I pay to the government. The chunk of hard-earned cash slips through my fingertips even before I enjoy the fruits of my toil. I always believed that while it was painful to part with the large chunk, at least it went to social programs of the government for reforms, education, and alleviating the poor.

When Kim Henares lambasts my colleagues on tax evasion charges, I cannot help but hate her. To those in government who have not committed a sin, they can cast the first stone. But even Madam Kim will agree with me that even her cohorts, those that work in the Bureau of Internal Revenue (Bureau of Internal Robbers as my friend would call them), and those affiliated with various government sectors have not brought changes to the various branches of government. Francis Tolentino, head of the MMDA for example had smoking bans in public places and jaywalking as initial initiatives of the government agency. Where is it now? The BIR is busy chasing the middle men who try to cheat the government from the taxes they are required to pay. Can you blame them if we don't want to pay because all the money that we make simply go to the coffers of people like Napoles and government officials and their families? What has she done to run after these lawmakers who apparently make oodles and caboodles of money from what we so painstakingly try to earn decently from our blood, sweat and tears? Where is her passion and conviction against people and government officials who steal from taxpayers hard earned money so that their children and family can afford luxurious lifestyles? If you asked me, these people and their family should be hanged in public. The temerity to spend what is rightfully not theirs from the get go.

Accountability, transparency and good governance are apparently not on the list of most of our public servants. They run for petty offices so that they can part with the largesse of funds that are appropriated for their constituents. As I would put it, "makapal talaga ang mga mukha nila", but they wouldn't care what words you choose to describe them. Even if you called them pigs or scums of the earth, as long as they financially gain from their positions in government, you can even call them the devil.

Many of my friends have migrated to other countries and for the very reason that they have found no hope in the Philippines. Those of us left behind are left with little choice - "maghanap na lang ng ibang raket" or join in an upheaval for change every time we elect a new president.

And believe me, it's not only tiring, but frustrating as well. The working class is left with little choice. You dance with the music or you just leave your family with no food on the table, no money for medicines, no roof over their heads, and yes, no education at all.

But I will make this message loud and clear to PNoy. My dear president, you have three years left to leave a legacy. I may not understand politics as much as you because you were born into a family of politicians. I have only this to say. You were not ready to take on the helm of president of the Republic of the Philippines. In all honesty, I seriously doubted your capability from the get go. But I took the chance. The chance that with your parents background for love of country who were willing to die for us, maybe, just maybe they passed the same passion and burning flame to you. At this point, doing what is right and not who your allies or friends or compatriots or family is what you were elected to do. You have nothing to lose by taking the right road or as you would call it, "ang daang matuwid". I don't buy the fucking claim of the NBI or other police officials that Napoles is hard to find. You are the most powerful man in this country and by all means, use your power and have some balls to go after the bitch and all her cohorts. If there is one legacy you can leave behind, it's earning respect not only for you, but for your family name.

Maawa ka naman sa mga Pilipino.

If you need to die for your country fighting this crusade, so be it.

Tama na ang babuyan sa mga buwis namin na pinaghihirapan ng bayan. Nakakasuka na ang kababuyan na ito!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Why I will join the million people march

The Special Audit's Office report 2012-2013 is a 462 page report on the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Various Infrastructures including Local Projects (VILP).

It has 5 parts:
Part I - Executive Summary
Part II - The PDAP and VILP
Part III - Audit Observations
Part IV - Recommendations
Part V - Annexes

There are 70 tables including the definition of a soft and hard project, transactions denied by suppliers, documents purportedly signed by legislators and their authorized representatives, list of beneficiaries, suppliers that cannot be located or non-existent with some submitting deficient documents, persons connected to different NGOs, salaries and administrative expenses charged by NGOs, suppliers that did not reply but submitted questionable receipts, NGOs with legislators and/or their relatives as incorporators, legislators who denied signatures on documents submitted by NGOs, beneficiaries who attended the same or similar seminars/trainings and received multiple number of kits, projects implemented in the same barangays by different NGOs, funds transferred to three municipalities, projects with deficiencies, projects constructed on private properties, projects with excessive indirect cost, projects with erroneous indirect cost, vehicles included in the contract, LGUs with questionable transactions, LGUs with suppliers who are not fully reporting their transactions, items procured by LGUs that cannot be presented or accounted, to name a few.

A "soft project" (PDAF) covers both non-infrastructure and small infrastructure projects defined in the GAA to be implemented out of PDAF appropriated in the GAA. The non-infrastructure projects are scholarship, purchase of IT equipment, medical equipment and medical assistance to indigent patients in government hospitals, livelihood support, purchase of firetruck, firefighter equipment and patrol vehicle, specific pro-poor program and those categorized under forest management and historical, arts and culture. On the other hand, small infrastructure projects are the likes of water system, irrigation facilities, barangay rural electrification, and construction/repair of police, jail and fire stations.

A "hard project" (VILP) covers small infrastructure public work projects, such as roads, bridges, flood control, school buildings, hospitals, health facilities, public market, multipurpose building and pavement. These projects are reflected in the GAA under the DPWH locally-funded nationwide lump sum appropriation with allocation for each district.

The total appropriations included from 2007-200 General Appropriations Act (GAA) for PDAF and VILP amounted to P79.878B. Of this amount, P29.004B went to soft projects (PDAF) while P50.874 went to hard projects (VILP).

The audit was conducted to determine:
1. the propriety of releases of PDAF and VILP by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and
2. the efficient utilization of funds and effective implementation of projects by the implementing agencies (IAs)
taking into consideration the menu of programs defined in the GAA and pertinent laws, rules and regulations.

What did the audit find?

The audit disclosed that PDAF and VILP were not properly released by the DBM and not appropriately, efficiently, and effectively utilized by the IAs. As reflected in the summary of releases from VILP provided to the team by the DBM, the P32.347B were released out of the allocation of 356 legislators and a certain LUIS ABALOS who is not, however, a member of the 13th and 14th congress received P20M for VILP.

As to the status of NGOs, a number of these NGOs are either unknown, or cannot be located at their given addresses, or have no traces of office existence, or addresses traced in a mere shanty or high-end residential areas without any NGO signage, or have given non-existent addresses, or while existing, have no apparent capability to implement projects of such magnitude, or were not issued business permits to operate during 2007-2009, or submitted questionable documents.

For example, the NGO SDPFFI received P581.359M with the address located in a garage of a residential unit in Laguna but certified by the Secretary of the Home Association to be unknown within the subdivision area. Or KKAMFI who received P526.679M gave three addresses: one is non-existent, the 2nd is a residential unit with the NGO unknown within the area; and the 3rd is a unit at Reliance Center Building in Pasig City. The NGO AFPI received P524.910M and the given address is a vacant lot storing various equipment. It was not issued business permit since 2004 to present but registered with SEC. The NGP MAMFI received P477.033M had a given address as a residential unit reportedly owned by the NGO president.

Around P123.005M was used by the NGOs to pay salaries and other administrative expenses, contrary to rules and regulations. For example, the implementing agency Quezon City provided to NGOs MDSF and SPFI. The nature of the expenses for MDSF was operating expenses in the amount of P2.921M while SPFI charged P12.269M to furnitures, meals and other miscellaneous expenses.

A number of NGOs were incorporated or managed by the same persons with a number connected to as many as six NGOs! Benhur K. Luy is the incorporator/COB/President of 6 IAs - TRC/NLDC/ZREC/NABCOR and incorporator/Board of director/stockholder for TRC/NABCOR.

There were even cases where exactly the same list of beneficiaries were submitted by the same NGO to two different agencies and/or list of beneficiaries from the published list of board passers in various professions. In the CPA Board Exam in October 2007, there were 2,299 published list of passers and 1090 were listed as beneficiaries. In September 2007, there were 1,289 that passed the Bar Exams and 620 were listed as beneficiaries. In February 2008, 28,924 were published to pass the Nursing Board Exams and 905 were listed as beneficiaries.

Forty-one suppliers with purported transactions amounting to P352.136M with 17 NGOS out of funds transferred by 5 IAs denied their involvement and participation in the projects. For example the supplier B.B. Vergara Plant Nursery for implementing agency ZREC and NABCOR denied transacting P108.903M. The legislators linked to this were Juan Ponce Enrile, Danilo P. Lagbas, Franklin P. Bautista, Ma. Isabelle Climaco, Thomas L. Dumpit, Al Francis Bichara, Niel C. Tupaz, Jr., Roberto C. Cajes, Ignacio T. Arroyo, Nerissa Corazon Soon-Ruiz, Antonio V. Cuenco, Mariano U. Piamonte Jr, and Joseph A. Santiago.

Two hundred thirty other suppliers with transactions amounting to P689.818M could not be located at their given addresses, or have given insufficient or non-existent addresses. A number of these suppliers do not have permits to operate business, or have issued questionable receipts.

Items procured from C.C. Barredo Publishing House amounting to P541.742M consists of 4 to 5 volumes of manuals consisting of 100-104 pages costing P2000 to P3500 per kit written in English or in Filipino. These pertain to various types of livelihood programs such as raising livestock, farming, food processing, and the like which are already of common knowledge to an ordinary farmer. Validation conducted in Region V disclosed that a number of these manuals were even distributed to high school students who may not even be the right recipients of the kits.

Forty-six suppliers with transactions amounting to P787.161M that did not reply to the team have also submitted questionable documents. For example, Zynmil Agrisciences, Inc. for NGO BTLFI for the implementing agency BA-RFU III under Rozzano Rufino Biazon issued P5M. Zynmil has no business permit to operate.

Six legislators and/or their relatives are incorporators of recipient NGOs of fund transfers from their respective PDAF allocations. Amado Bagatsing is an incorporator/BOD/stockholder of KABAKA Foundation, Inc. and released P19.8M to DSWD-NCR and P1.94M to NABCOR. Edgardo Angara is an incorporator/BOD/Stockholder of Kalusugan ng Bata, Karunungan ng Bayan, Inc NGO and released P14.4M by the IA DSWD-CO.

These are but a few of the findings which are not published in the expose of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

You can download the full PDF report and it's an interesting read because it covers all the documents of the filth in the pork barrel.

I wanted to puke after reading the document.

And yes, I had to go through the 462 pages to understand what the clamor for better governance is.

Apparently, this is as transparent as it gets. And to just brush aside the issue for the sake of hope and optimism has got to be the joke of the year. Anything this deep, this entrenched, and this foul, can only be redeemed by rendering swift justice. Even the friends and family of PNoy should not be spared.

I could not help pity the people ravaged by the three days of rain and flooding in Luzon, and Metro Manila - had the money been put to better use on proper drainage and relocation of illegal settlers, we wouldn't be in such shit floating away because of pork chop being spent for personal gains.

I support the MILLION PEOPLE MARCH. And if PNoy cannot address this problem now, with all the glaring facts and figures, there is something very wrong in his battle cry. As I always say, "KUNG GUGUSTUHIN MAY PARAAN. KUNG TALAGANG AYAW MAY DAHILAN."

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Plain filthy

Her name is Janet Lim-Napoles. She is the sleuth businesswoman embroiled in the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), a.k.a, Pork Barrel fund of the Philippine government.

How does the PDAF work?

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) allocates P200M a year for each senator and P70M a year for each congressman in what is known as the "pork barrel fund". How did it get the name "pork barrel"? The process for requesting for the PDAF allocation to the congressman or senator is actually a matter of politics. The senator or congressman makes a request for the release of his/her allocation with a project list accompanying that request. The projects are based on a menu list from the annual budget given to the DBM before the start of the following fiscal year. The chair of the committee from either the Senate or the House of Representatives then endorses it to the Senate President or the Speaker of the House, and the request is forwarded to the DBM. As long as the budget is in the menu list of the budget law, the DBM then releases the funds to the implementing agency identified by the lawmaker. The latter is then given a copy of the release of funds document called the Special Allotment Release Order (SARO).

In reality, the lawmaker is not supposed to interfere in how the project is implemented. COA chief Grace Pulido-Tan reveals that unfortunately, that's not what happens. After the implementing agencies have received the PDAF money, these agencies just turn around and transfer the money released to the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) identified by the lawmakers. The transfer is presumably covered by a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) signed by the lawmaker, the implementing agencies and the chosen NGOs. When the auditors conduct a post-project implementation audit, the funds have already been misused.

And so goes the story of how pork barrel funds have been widely criticized because the people whom the program was created initially for benefit had benefitted the largesse of the lawmakers' family and relatives instead. It is the reason why, in spite of the meager pay of a congressman or senator, they continuously run for office declaring to the Filipino their dedication in the name of public service. And we all wonder how, in the X number of years with that meager pay, they can afford to buy luxury cars, live in mansions and send their children to the most expensive schools in the world.

Who is Janet Lim-Napoles and how did she strike it rich? What was her connection in the the PDAF and her current amassed wealth? It is estimated that she had amassed P10B (approximately $250,000,000.00) in less than 10 years. She owns 28 houses (and the joke is that it includes the lower and upper houses of the Philippine government) and a fleet of luxury cars.

Embroiled in one of the largest money laundering schemes, is a woman who had skills at manipulating and conniving lawmakers into putting our hard earned taxes to enrich themselves.

According to, Napoles has properties worth over $10M in the United States - most of which are being spent on the lavish lifestyle of her daughter Jeane who is currently unemployed and is supposedly a fashion designer (in her dreams). The video of the 21st birthday of Jeane Napoles in a boutique hotel in Beverly Hills drew the ire of the Filipino people in the Philippines because the money apparently being used to sustain her rubbing elbows with the rich and famous are stolen money meant for the poor people in the Philippines.

In Jeane's blog, which she recently shut down after the Inquirer broke out with the news on how their family obtained the money she apparently spends in the United States, Jeane depicts her life as that of a princess whose families have oodles of cash to sustain her lavish choice of clothes and living. She lives in the Ritz Carlton in Los Angeles during her college years. Friends of Jeane also were not surprised on the recent revelation, noting that she began to flaunt opulence after 2005.

A nobody. That's who Janet Napoles is. Married to an ex-army Major Jaime Napoles, Janet's scheming ways began in the military. In 2001, Napoles and her husband, were among 18 personnel of the Navy Marine Corps and civilians, charged by the Office of Ombudsman in the Sandiganbayan with graft and malversation in connection with the acquisition of substandard Kevlar helmets worth P3.8 million. Not surprising is the fact that the Euro-Generals and comptroller Gen. Garcia were also linked to several financial indiscretions and criminal acts in the Philippines. You wonder how these military officials in our country are able to afford the lifestyles of the Sys and Gokongweis when they make only a pittance serving the government and the military. The complexity of how money is shuffled from one unit to another is amazingly dizzying and the audit trails remain cold. One cannot help but recognize the fact that the operations for these are deeply and intricately webbed with people in high places in the government.

In the Philippines, the Napoles "are known to reside in houses and condomiums in at least 7 posh locations. The National Bureau of Investigation has also released a list of 30 high-end vehicles registered under the Napoleses.

If we go by the official filings of her registered businesses, however, Napoles doesn’t have the means to acquire and maintain any of these.

The net profits they last reported (for 2011 and 2012) to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) totaled less than P1 million – P577,807.47 to be exact.

Rappler checked with the SEC businesses registered under the names of Napoles family members.

We found a total of 24 companies incorporated by one or all of the following: spouses Janet Lim-Napoles and Jaime Napoles, and their children Jo-Christine and James Christopher.

12 of these are still operational, at least on paper, and only 3 have complied with the SEC requirement of filing annual Financial Statements (FS):

RLG Solutions Corp, formed on Feb 15, 2012, and deals with “security systems and IT”
JCLN Global Properties Dev’t Corp, formed on June 3, 2005, and which is engaged in “real estate”
JLN Corp formed on April 27, 1999, and which deals with “marine supplies and equipment”
In its FS for 2012, RLG Solutions declared zero revenue and losses of P383,340.94.

JCLN Global Properties’ last FS was for 2012, when it declared a gross income of P4.3 million and a net income of P544,699.30.

From 2006 to 2012, it declared annual net incomes of between P69,839.99 and P544,699.30.

On the other hand, JLN Corp last filed an FS for 2011, where it declared a gross income of P4.03 million and net income of P33,108.17.

From 2004 to 2011, JLN Corp – supposedly the flagship company of the Napoleses – declared annual net incomes of between P21,085.82 and P100,395.48.

It is during these years when the Napoles family purchased expensive properties in California. They bought 3 properties worth P415.1 million between 2006 to 2007, and acquired an apartment worth P80 million sometime in 2010.

The 24 companies were formed over the last 16 years – from 1997 to as recent as June and July 2013. They are into restaurants, retail, advertising and public relations, printing, tours and travels, among others.

The Napoles and Revilla sons are business partners.

Among these companies, Wingold International Trading Corp was the first to be established in 1997, while Socal Holdings was the latest to be formed only in July 2013.

People who have worked for, or dealt with, Napoles over the years say she started as a vendor, selling food and school supplies on a pedicab in Laguna in the 1990s, before she became a “struggling supplier” in the military.

Based on Rappler’s interviews with sources, as well as other news reports, the improvement in the Napoleses’ lifestyle became very evident – drastic, some described it – around 2003.

Napoles explained this was made possible by their coal mining business in Indonesia.

Among the registered businesses in the Philippines, only two have something to do with mining and coal trading, but there is no way they could have made the family wealthy.

Asia Star Power Resources Corp, which is engaged in "coal import/export," was formed on April 8, 2011 but was one of the companies that filed an Affidavit of Nonoperation with SEC in 2012.

The other company, which should be directly engaged in "mine and quarry operations" – Sur Mine Corp – was formed less than two months ago, on June 20, 2013. This is the company where former Surigao del Sur congressman and House defense committee chair Prospero Pichay is a co-owner.

Some of the companies registered over the last 16 years share the same incorporators:

Magdalena Lim (Janet's mother) - 5 companies
Gertrudes Luy (former nanny of Jeane Napoles; mother of whistle blower Benhur Luy) - 5 companies
Jo-Christine Napoles (Janet's daughter) - 3 companies
Annabelle Luy (Gertrudes Luy's daughter) - 3 companies
James Christopher Napoles (Janet's son) - 2 companies
Marciano G. Delson (Prefect of Student Affairs, San Beda College of Law) - 3 companies
Nathaniel L. Tan (Sta. Ignacia, Tarlac councilor) - 3 companies
Anthony P. Dequina (former Cotabato representative) - 2 companies
Mia Legacion - 2 companies

A number of the companies have the same offices:

11 companies are registered at the 25th floor of Discovery Suite building in Ortigas, Pasig City
3 companies are registered at Suite 505 of Dona Generosa building in Pasay City
2 companies are registered at Unit 402 of L.V. Locsin building in Makati City."

The Catholic Church has also been the recipient of some of the largesse of pork barrel funds and this has made some secular societies cringe at the way the funds have been acquired. With the government officials and military deeply embroiled in the thick of this scandal, one cannot help but wonder what the government is doing to apprehend and provide justice to every Juan de la Cruz. While BIR chief Kim Henares is running after the doctors and lawyers who do not pay their taxes correctly, people like Janet Napoles are able to afford a battery of lawyers who can keep her from going to jail. Unlike the average Juan who is accused of beating the red light or pocketing some pieces of bread to feed their hungry children, people like Napoles are unfortunately more fortunate of getting their day in court. In the meantime, all that money flying around have been spread too thin for any of us to recover.

It is sad that the Filipinos will never learn their lessons. Marcos in the years of his reign practically stole from the coffers of the government. He had US President Ronald Reagan as an ally, plucking him from the bastion of Malacanan Palace to exile in Honolulu. People like Chad Osorio speaks his mind in defending Janet Napoles by saying:

"If you've got it, flaunt it.

Let’s start with a question: why can't Jeane Napoles take pictures of the stuff she owns? Just because some people are offended that they can't afford it? It's not her fault that poor people are poor. It may have been done in bad taste, but it was never a crime to be proud of what you have.

The social media networks are specifically designed so that people can connect, and yes, “sell” themselves to others so that their social value increases.

And how do we do that? By asserting the social influence, high level of attractiveness and material wealth that we have. That way, people will either love us, respect us or fear us. It's a tool for attaining social power, and Jeane did precisely that.

I initially address the issue of her social networking audience. The readers of Jeane’s blog, in the first place, are her friends from the A community. I've never heard of her and her luxurious ways (and I'm pretty sure neither have you) until this scandal blew up. I doubt that she intended poor people to read it in the first place. They don't even know who Lacroix or St Laurent is, and they do not understand the social value of a US$3,000 designer bag one uses for everyday wear.

These posts were specifically targeted towards her own clique, which she intends to rule over as Queen Bee. It's not an in-your-face, I-have-this-you-don't statement to the rest of Filipinos."

It's Filipinos like him who remain apathetic to the greater picture of graft and corruption in his native land that paint this whole picture as ugly. While the Napoles will still have to have their day in court, the judicial system in our country is slow to anger and the people, amnesic to the pain of corruption.

We see the filth in our own backyard and we don't even have the temerity to clean it up. Our neighbors see the filth and stink and they wonder, why in God's name do we just let it be?

It's not how the filthy rich spend their money that matters here. It's how we deal with this scandal as a nation that makes this filth really stink.



Monday, August 5, 2013

The enforcer, a.k.a. Pulis Patola

I have no compassion when it comes to traffic enforcers. To me, they are the scum of the earth. I don't care what Tolentino says about their jobs being an act of "heroism" or "self-less" giving. I don't believe in Tolentino when he says that. To me, they are the people whom the government provides jobs for. But they don't do their jobs well. As a matter of fact, these are the kind of people whose jobs make other peoples lives a living nightmare.

I apologize to my English readers that I will write this down in my native language. I am doing this because I am hoping to God that somewhere along the way, even the lowly traffic enforcer will be able to read this blog or someone will make him read it or some government official who does not know how to read the English language will be able to read this and understand the lament of the daily commuter.

Mas matalas pa sa ilong ng aso ang ilong ng traffic enforcer ng bawat siyudad ng Metro Manila pag dating sa paghuli sa mga pribadong sasakyan sa number coding. Parang ang mga mata nila eh nakatutok lamang sa plaka ng mga kotse. Lumagpas ka lang ng 15 minuto dahil na traffic ka sa SLEX dahil may bus na bumangga sa pader eh malas mo talaga. Walang lusot lusot kay traffic enforcer. Hindi naman niya kasalanan na may nagkarambulan sa SLEX. Wala siyang pakialam na gumising ka ng 4 ng madaling araw, umalis ka ng bahay ng 5 para lamang di maipit sa SLEX traffic at boom - may bus na bumangga sa container van at leche - isang lane lang ang puedeng dumaan. Galing ka ng Santa Rosa at hanggang ngayon, alas 7 na, nasa Alabang ka pa lamang. Buwisit talaga. Hindi lang yung traffic enforcer. Pati na ang number coding scheme na yan. Buwisit! Malas! Nung nagpasabog si satanas ng ganid sa mundo, bakit kaya gising ang mga local government officials at MMDA?

Nakakainis talaga yang mga traffic enforcers na yan. Di ko nga alam kung bakit at paano sila natawag na traffic enforcers eh sila ang taga dulot naman ng traffic. Isama mo na yan sa listahan ng kung paano mababawasan ang traffic sa metro manila - bawasan o ibura ang mga traffic enforcers sa lansangan. Sa totoo lang eh mga glorified kotong boys ang mga iyan. Iyan ang bagay na tawag sa kanila. Bawat lugar na may bawal na sakayan at babaan ay meron traffic enforcer diyan - na nakatunganga lang. Di ko nga malaman kung pipi, bulag or bingi ang mga yan. Di ko naman puedeng sabihin na bulag sila, kasi pag may kotseng number coded, eh mas mabilis pa sa alas kuwatro ang mga hunghang na yan na manghuli. Lalo na sa Las Pinas, yung mga traffic enforcer nila eh nasa gitna ng kalsada. Kahit na yung katabi nilang jeep ay nagsasakay at nagbababa ng tao sa gitna din ng kalsada o kahit na may kuliglig na nag-counterflow ng sarili niyang sikap eh walang nakikita yung traffic enforcer. Parang sinabi ni Aguilar - "EYES ON THE PLATE NUMBER LANG MGA IHO! Diyan ang delihensiya ninyo.!"


Yan naman talaga ang pakay ng bawat traffic enforcer sa bansa. Wala naman akong pakialam kung meron umiiyak na traffic enforcer ngayon at ang tingin niya eh niyurakan ko ang kanilang trabaho. Pwe! Anong trabaho pinagsasabi ninyo? Wala pa akong nakikitang traffic enforcer na tinotoo niya ang kaniyang trabaho. Bakit pagdating sa paghuli ng mga pribadong sasakyan dahil nag-beat ng yellow light (ewan ko kung anong parte ng batas na meron beating the yellow light) eh ang siba ng mga traffic enforcer? Eh dito sa Pasong Tamo nga kaninang umaga, yung jeep na kasabay namin eh umarangkada na lang kahit naka-pula ang stop light! Sabi ko sa driver ko, kung tayo iyan, pustahan tayo yung dalawang pulis patola (my terms of endearment to traffic enforcers) na nasa kanto eh hahabulin tayo.

Wala kasing delihensiya pagdating sa mga yagit. Kakosa ng mga pulis patola yan. Mga kapwa mahirap. Isang kahig, isang tuka. Eh paano nga naman aangat ang mga buhay ng mga yan eh ang pinagkakaabalahan nila eh paano makapag-delihensiya. Di naman sila tapat sa trabaho nila. Pag pumapatak na ang ulan or kundi bumuhos bigla, parang mga Gremlins ang mga yan...nagtatago na at baka dumami, este, baka mabasa at baka magkapulmonya? Weh! Kaya pag tagulan, buhol buhol ang traffic sa Metro Manila. Busy masyado mag-text at candy crush yung iba diyan. Tatakbo na lang sa gitna ng langsangan pag buhol buhol na ang trapik. At parang wala silang coordination sa isa't isa? Makikita mo sa kabilang kanto eh may nagwawagayway na "STOP" pero yung nasa harap mo eh nagpapahiwatig na "GO". Ang gulo nila! Tinatanong pa ba kung bakit? Dahil wala na din ang mga pulis patola.

Ang daang matuwid na pinaglalandakan ng ating Pangulo ng Pilipinas ay walang saysay kung ang pinakamababang tao na taga-pamahalaan o pinapasuweldo ng pamahalan ay hindi sumusunod. At sa batas trapiko, ang mga traffic enforcers na ito ang pinakamababa sa kanila. Pera ng taong bayan, pera ng mga may kotse at pribadong sasakyan, pera ng mga nagbabayad ng buwis ang nagpapakain sa kanila tatlong beses isang araw! Walang kontribusyon ang mga jeepney drivers, kuliglig boys at bus drivers sa kanilang kabuhayan.

Bakit natatakot ang mga pulis patola humuli ng mga driver ng pampublikong sasakyan? Isa lamang ang dahilan. Lagay!

Pera pera lamang ang katapat ng mga pulis patola. Kay delihensiya siya sa pribadong sasakyan o lagay mula sa sasakyang pampubliko. No matter how you look at it, bribery pa din yan.

They are a waste of time and resources and seriously, they give the Philippines a very bad name. If the government is really bent on taking the painful narrow yet straight road to economic and moral recovery, it needs to clean up the people from the lowest ranks and not just the upper ranks.

These lowly ranked government workers are the multitude rather than the exception. And while they may be raking in peanuts compared to the "untouchables" up in the air, the amount of money that is being raked in is still in the billions.

However you look at it, a thief is still a thief. Media should not only center on the high profile criminals working in the government. It doesn't matter who the criminal is. A criminal from the ranks of the traffic enforcers projects a bad image to the Boss - because the buck stops up there.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Traffic? Just repeal the Lina Law

I am a skeptic when it comes to politics. Whether the scenario is in government or the private sector, I've always frowned upon the "weather weather lang" system. I guess, while it exists in all countries, I cannot help but compare how pathetically low this type of practice is in the Philippines.

A perfect example is the recent spat between the local government and the national government on solving the perennial traffic problem in Metro Manila.

I have never been a fan of former president, now Manila Mayor Erap. But his latest move to decongest traffic in Manila was a wow factor to me. The following day, after banning all the errant busses plying the streets of Manila's major roads, I got from Makati to Manila in less than 15 minutes. This was at 930am in the morning on a work day week! It usually takes me 1 hour to get from my work place in Makati to UST (a travel of less than 8 km). The 15 minutes was such a treat! This was compounded by the fact that the MMDA recently extended the ban of cargo trucks from 6-9AM to 6-10AM during the daytime.

While public transportation owners hollered over the unilateral move by the Manila local government, private car owners praised it. The LTFRB (Land Transportation and Regulatory Franchise Board) called the move illegal. Isko Moreno, the vice-mayor reasonably provided the side of the local government - was the local government consulted when the LTFRB decided unilaterally to grant franchises to the public vehicles without considering whether the roads of the local government could accommodate all the public vehicles franchises were granted to? Very intelligent reasoning!

The traffic in Metro Manila can be solved. It takes political will. Something direly lacking because whoever sits in the throne of governance seems to lack not only the brains but also the resolve to approach the problem for the benefit of the majority.

The inefficiency at regulating the various traffic scenarios in the metropolis speaks of the lack of political will of not only the local governments but the national government office as well.

1. The Philippines touts to have 7,101 islands surrounding the archipelago. Which means that there are so many waterways that surround not only Metro Manila, but almost each and every province in the country. Why not ban the large cargo trucks during the day? Because it is big business for haulers. We have a port in almost every province - bordering the Pacific Ocean and South China Sea, not to mention those found inland. Move those cargoes from port to port during the daytime. Put more use to the Philippine Port Authority.

2. Then there are the railways. So we don't have the best railway transport in the world. Put to good use the railways of the metropolis. Instead of having those illegal settlers (read - squatters) put up their shanties along the railways, the trains can haul part of the cargoes hauled by cargo trucks that take up what little space there is left on the roads of Metro Manila.

3. Remove the colorum public utility vehicles. From busses, jeepneys, tricycles and pedicabs. We don't put efficiency on the roads. Seriously, there are too many of them! And it's not true that there is not enough. Most of them are illegal. Most of them load and unload in every part of the city. All of them create a state of anarchy on the roads. When you try to educate them or correct this, the drivers are up in arms declaring poverty as a pathetic excuse for trying to improve the worsening traffic in Metro Manila. I cannot understand why they refuse to just follow rules. Traffic rules are made not only for the private cars but for public utility vehicles as well. So why are traffic enforcers more lax with public utility vehicles who don't obey the rules? The answer is simple. Corruption is skin deep and entrenched so deep among the poor that the government, both local and national, would prefer to turn a blind eye.

If you look at the busses on EDSA or the jeepneys that ply the roads of the metro during non-peak hours, they're almost empty. Why can't we create a system where the volume of allowable public utility vehicles should be lessened by half when it is not rush hour? Say 9AM-3PM?

4. Create sidewalks so people can walk. Well, let's face it. We do have sidewalks. But the sidewalks are full of vendors. Illegal vendors at that. No one can even get rid of them. Well, some public officials have tried but after ridding them, they simply congregate back after a few months. And with the crowd of people and vendors, are the criminals who prey on commuters and the public in general. You can't even find a decent policeman around because most of them are in cahoots with the criminals.

Where I live, it takes me almost 30 minutes to get out of the service road on any given work day. The reason is that we have to go through two villages where illegal settlers live. The jeepneys, tricycles and pedicabs take the whole day using the national road as their loading and unloading zone.

Time is precious, not only for these poor illegal settlers. They're also vital for businessmen and everyone else. Traffic results in a waste of time and money (not only in terms of wasted gasoline) on everyone. When this happens, it's simple economics that all costs and commodities take a toll on the public as well.

Let's face it. The real problem to all the problems related to traffic and flooding in the metro are the growing illegal settlers in the city. And there's the irony. The Lina Law, otherwise known as Republic Act 7279, The Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992, was enacted to “Uplift the conditions of the underprivileged and homeless citizens in urban areas and in resettlement areas by making available to them decent housing at affordable cost, basic services, and employment opportunities”, “Provide for the rational use and development of urban land”, “Reduction in urban dysfunctions, particularly those that adversely affect public health, safety and ecology”, “Adopt workable policies to regulate and direct urban growth and expansion towards a dispersed urban net and more balanced urban-rural interdependence,” among other laudable purposes. This was authored by then DILG Secretary Joey Lina. He was hoping that by copying the Singapore model, this country would be great again. But Philippine politics is not like Singapore.

The law is laudable and while it may have a purpose for uplifting the poor illegal settlers, the Local Government Units have not taken the initiative to convert government land into housing projects for the poor. You see the Sys, Ayalas, Consunjis and other developers putting up condominiums left and right. With so much housing development going on abuzz in the metro, I have yet to see the majority of it going to the poor.

And as I call a spade a spade, the law is useless. The illegal settlers just multiply in hoards. You relocate them, they just come back to the city because squatting is a billion peso profession illegally entwined in corruption among government officials as well. And they encroach on the rights of every citizen who owns a private land or on government property by constructing shanties that are not only a bane to the roads, but a bane to the progress of every local government unit.

If a law like this that has existed for over two decades cannot be enforced, what is the reason for its existence? Just repeal the law and let every local government take care of how to rid the illegal settlers from their cities. Let's not let a law like this that's not even implementable be the stumbling block to progress in the country.

While it's good in paper, it is not practical because the government has no political will and disenfranchises the majority of those who contribute to the taxes that run this country.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Leading like the good Shepherd

Shirard gave me a book entitled "The Way of the Shepherd".

On first glance, I wondered why he would even give me a book about shepherding. And while I am deeply connected with my religion, I had no plans of becoming a priest. I threw it at the back seat of my car. It took me a few days to even reach for the book. While caught in heavy traffic, my driver fuming at every turn of non-moving vehicles on EDSA, the 123pages of the book lay there.

The first page starts with THE INTERVIEW. The author of the book, a young reporter tells the story of his encounter, interview and role in the life of Theodore McBride, one of the most respected business leaders in the United States and McBride's mentor Jack Neumann during McBride's graduate school. The book is written in simple silly conversation mode and while it may not be a topnotch writing on the part of Pentak, McBride picked the right person to write his story as it came out written from the perspective of a friend guiding you along the way.

The book takes a different perspective on leadership, using the Shepherd and his shepherding ways and tools as the guiding principles of leading his flock. Alright, so we're not sheep!!! That's the first thing that came to my mind as I was busy poring into the book. But then again, as Neumann would compare later, we are like sheep in more ways than we can imagine when it comes to following the leader.

Each chapter of the book covers the different steps at people management. I can relate to that. Maybe some of you who read my blog are current managers or have been managers or even plan to be managers in the future. I manage a lot of people wearing several hats at a time in my multitasking world. And this book defines us as either shepherds of a flock or simply being in a managerial position because we need a job.

And there's the difference between the two.

Chapter 1. Know the condition of your flock
Chapter 2. Discover the shape of your sheep
Chapter 3. Help your sheep identify with you
Chapter 4. Make your pasture a safe place
Chapter 5. The staff of direction
Chapter 6. The rod of correction
Chapter 7. The heart of the shepherd

Many managers just focus on the task and getting things done. Nothing wrong with that. But we forget sometimes that it takes team effort to see a project through. In short, a task is never ever achieved with ONE person. A project is accomplished because of several peoples efforts. And while we preoccupy ourselves with work, we sometimes forget that it takes the flock to become a shepherd. The state and nature of your flock reflects on how well your shepherding skills are.

In our very busy schedule, we often make the mistake of being insensitive to our flock. We really don't care if one quits or one dies or one gets maimed along the way. It's the hallmark of a tyrant and a bad leader. We need to care a bit more about the people who work for us. If we don't care enough, they'll never reciprocate dropping everything just to follow you. "People don't care about how much you know until they know how much you care."

Choosing the right sheep is essentially to getting the task at hand done. In the hospital setting, I sometimes hear people moan and groan about things not getting done and things being all the way awry. Let's face it. There are moaners and groaners. They don't do anything except complain complain complain. They're tiring to hear. They have no ideas to share. Worse, they bring the whole organization down. We need to know the S.H.A.P.E. of our sheep. S-trengths, H-eart, A-ttitude, P-ersonality, and E-xperiences. Attitude is key in my book. You may have the person with the best personality but if you've got a team member who has a bad attitude, your group will never get anywhere. He may be the star surgeon of your hospital but if he's got an attitude of an Ass...they'll have a negative effect on your team and every management meeting will be back to square one. These are the people who think that the world is all about them.

The sheep need to identify with you and you can only do that by building trust, integrity, modeling authenticity and showing compassion. Every good leader has to remember that role modeling is the most important part of the job. How can you mentor a flock of residents if your training officer happens to be asking for out-of-town trips from pharmaceutical companies left and right? What's the message our students get when the Dean is never around except during commencement exercises or when he/she has to rub elbows with the priests? "Remember: Leadership is not just professional. It's personal."

Keeping your people well informed makes the pasture a safe place. No hush hush or secrets behind their backs. Tell them up front what's the problem, how you intend to solve it, how they can participate in the equation. We need to rake in everyone to play for the team! And getting rid of chronic instigators is part of the equation. "Some people in life aren't happy unless they're unhappy. It takes just one person like that to destroy the collaborative effort of a department."

We can never sit on a problem. When we give time for it to hatch, it becomes a problem that's difficult to get rid of. We need to act soon and deal with the problems before it infects the flock.

I never knew what the Shepherds staff was used for until I read this book. It was interesting that the staff symbolically provided direction to the flock. And when directing, we need to use persuasion rather than coercion. Even among my patients, parents always tell me "Doctor, you have to tell my son/daughter to do this or else...". I sit down with them and ask them (alright sometimes I want to slap them) what the problem is all about. I always tell them that people can only follow you because they trust you not because they fear you. That's why you're the leader and they're the follower. They need someone to guide them. But you can't just make them do something because you don't like it. We need to probe deep and think about why there is resistance. Is it you or is it them?

The rod of correction is interesting because it explains how, as leaders, we can Protect, Correct and Inspect our flock. As leaders, we need to fight for our sheep. We cannot just cow down at every disappointment. A great leader will always defend what is right and what his flock stands for. He/she will not stand only for his own selfish interest. Leaders who flip-flop or only look after their own hide are not fit to lead a flock because when they attempt to correct the flock, the flock will never follow the leader. Who wants to follow a spineless urchin?

And finally, there's the heart of the shepherd. The core of all leadership is how much you're willing commit yourself to your flock. It's not easy just leading a team. If you're never around for every little problem they have, then you're not fit to lead. The heart of the leader carries a high price tag. He may have all the money in the world to buy empire after empire, but people don't really trust his leadership because he looks after them. It's because they need the job and that he can afford to pay them to be hirelings. "What distinguishes a great leader from a mediocre one is that a great leader has the heart for his people. He can focus on both his people and the job in the long run, and will never leave them to fend for themselves."

We all want to be great leaders, or great teachers, or great achievers, or great people...IF IT'S GREATNESS YOU WANT, IT'S GREATNESS YOU MUST GIVE.

How do you lead your flock my friends?

"The Way of the Shepherd" by Dr. Kevin Leman and William Pentak

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A tale of three cities - my 2013 vacation

This year, I decided to splurge a little for my 55th birthday. The trip was supposed to be something out of the ordinary because my partner and I would be doing three different cities in two different countries in 11 days. Our flight on Delta Airlines and Air Canada was without a hitch. Delta Airlines Business Elite new lie flat beds offered exquisite rest for long hauls and you arrive in your destination well rested. And what's a vacation without the pampering? My recommendation to all vacation afficionados is to check out boutique hotels through and see their recommendations. Boutique hotels have been my guide to what I believe are the best choices so you get most out of your buck! Not only do they have the plush amenities, grandeur and comfort one looks for, but the rest one truly deserves away from the madding crowd.

First stop was Vancouver, Canada.

Of all major cities in Canada, this was one place I had never been to.

Arrived on time and checked into Loden Hotel. Situated right at the front of Coal Harbor is this beautifully and intricately well appointed hotel. The Park Vista room was not that large but the view of the mountain and the sea was spectacle to behold and a great way to wake to every morning with its double walled floor to ceiling windows.

Vancouver reminded me of Sydney, Australia. Laid back, quaint and quiet city, Vancouver, British Columbia was technically the migration hub of thousands of Hong Kong citizens right before the turnover of Hong Kong to China. Many of the Chinese living in Hong Kong in 1996 had feared that when the British colony would be handed over to China in 1997, there would be repression of rights. Most of the affluent had taken their money out of Hong Kong and infused it into this state in Canada. The large financial influx had made properties in Vancouver soar disproportionately to its current value.

Right at the back of our hotel was Coal Harbor. The hotel concierge offered bikes for free and Stanley Park was a must see area, especially on pedals. Food in Vancouver ranged anywhere from Asian to Western. But you could tell that there were mostly Asian restaurants on almost every corner, especially Japanese cuisine. I highly recommend Wingyo, a Japanese fusion restaurant and Yew (located at the Four Seasons Hotel) for great seafood.

Arriving on a weekend meant that most of the stores would close early. Sunday was dedicated to visiting the outskirts of Vancouver. And Whistler was a 1 1/2 hr drive from the city. Although this was summer in North America, the splendor of the glaciers with a Peak2Peak ride was the highlight of the stop in this lovely city of Canada.

The last day was devoted to shopping and meeting up with Winnie and Jerry. The few hours of small talk on how life has been since they moved to Vancouver and how life is back in the Philippines went by so quickly.

Our next stop was Toronto. On board a delayed flight of Air Canada, we arrived almost 7pm considering the time difference of the east coast and west coast. Which meant that by the time we checked into Le Germaine Hotel, there was really nothing to do already for the day wasted. The CN Tower was the first pitstop of this leg. Dinner was at 360C Restaurant, in what was once the world's tallest tower.

Toronto is more of a mix of eclectic culture and far warmer too. It was cosmopolitan to a fault because the city tried to be something different from the rest of Canada. The Eaton mall was huge. Casa Loma was historical. The St. Lawrence Market was perfect. And the Distillery District offered fine food and great art.

The final day was dedicated to going to Niagara Falls - the view from the side of Canada (which of course was more spectacular than the US side). Dags picked us up towards lunch time and it was a half day reminiscing old times and new chapters in our lives.

The highlight of this leg of our trip was crossing the Canada-US Border by land (and back). After Niagara, we headed off for some outlet shopping at Buffalo, New York, dinner at the Anchor Bar (famous I believe for it's SUICIDAL Wings), and yes, a bit of reminiscing for Bob who had once worked for HSBC and trained in Buffalo. We got back to the hotel almost 1030pm and started packing for our very early flight to the US.

We arrived in New York City early and a special thanks to The Chambers hotel for allowing us to check in early. After the laid back Canadian trip, arriving in the city that never sleeps had excitement painted all over our faces. While we darted off to meet separate friends on various occasions, we still kept a few days and moments to ourselves enjoying what New York City had to offer. And while this may be our umpteenth time to be here, there are still places where we have not seen. Whether it was SOHO, Midtown, Uptown, Central Park or the Lincoln Center, the company we kept was highlighted with one hell of a memorable weekend of shopping, eating, and sleeping! More shopping, more eating and sleeping in late at The Chambers was such a relaxing experience! The hotel is just a short two blocks from Central Park and unbelievably hip and cool.

Topping it was the gay parade where you could palpably feel the celebration of freedom of expression regardless of sexual orientation.

I cannot thank enough Jojo and Charles who took time out for my crazy weekend in NYC. Jojo flew in from San Francisco just to meet up. Talk about jet setting. Both Jojo and Charles were my students in med school. Seeing how successful they are in their own endeavors puts pride in me that when people set out to seek their dreams, I was part of that journey.

The best part of this vacation?

Let's put it this way. I don't have relatives in the US or in any other part of the world. But the tons of friends (not just acquaintances) that I have will always tell me that anywhere I will be, I have been part of someone's journey. As I said in FB, time is a luxury we can never purchase. And when people spend time with you, it defines the depth of your value.

Until my next trip, thank you to my friends for one of the best vacations I ever had.