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.