Thursday, August 30, 2012

'Like the molave' in coastal greenbelts

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

“Until our people, seeing, are become/ Like the molave, firm, resilient, staunch…/ Strong in its own fibre, yes, like the molave!”

It is a pleasant surprise to read Rafael de Zulueta’s famous 1940 poem “Like the Molave” in a scientific handbook on the Philippines’ coastal greenbelt, even if the first line—“Not yet, Rizal, not yet”—is all I can remember now of the stanza we had to memorize in school. More on the molave later.

When we think trees we usually think of forests, mountains and valleys. And the winged creatures and other wildlife that thrive on their branches that reach out to the skies. We seldom associate trees with beaches, coastlines and river banks.

But trees are in fact important to the marine ecosystem. They are not for the birds alone but for the fishes, too, that thrive, not on their branches, but in their shade and intricate root system that serve as haven and womb to sea creatures. Even those that do not grow in watery habitats where sea life spawns have a role to play.

And so it is gratifying to know that our marine scientists are focusing on the Philippines’ endangered mangrove associates and other beach forest species. Dr. Jurgenne Honculada Primavera and Dr. Resurreccion “Rex” B. Sabada have just come out with the book “Beach Forest Species and Mangrove Associates in the Philippines.” The book should be a delight to read not only for ecologists but also for beachcombers and even resort and fishpond owners, and you and me. This book is a sequel to “Handbook of Mangroves in the Philippines-Panay” (2004).

Not only is this sequel colorfully designed, it also contains much information on the foliage and their flowers and fruits that thrive on the beaches of our archipelago. It also serves as an urgent warning.

Dr. Joebert D. Toledo, chief of the Iloilo-based Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (Seafdec), says in his foreword: “Mangroves are important in maintaining the sustainability of coastal fisheries. Aside from being the nursing and feeding grounds of an array of marine species, the contributions of mangroves to the coastal environment and the subsistence livelihood of communities are indispensable. Regrettably, the expansion and intensification of shrimp farming since the 1980s came at their expense. The results were devastating—acidic soils, viral diseases, coastal erosion, and loss of livelihood, among others.”

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Ants, Robredo's mascots

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

In 2000, when Jesse Robredo, then 42 and Naga City mayor for three terms, received the Ramon Magsaysay (RM) Award for Government Service, I was assigned to write a front-page story on him. In 2010, when he was appointed secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, I dug up that story for a column piece.

Not many can and will be DILG secretary, but there are thousands of mayors and mayors-to-be out there who can learn from the way Secretary Robredo served. After news of Robredo suddenly plummeting into the sea and soaring to the eternal skies, I recycle that 2010 piece as a tribute to him. A great man has passed and the Commission on Appointments—shame on you!—did not know it. We should be mourning for ourselves.

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It was with bated breath that we waited for Jesse Robredo of Naga City, one of the ablest mayors this country ever had, to finally be sworn in as DILG secretary. And then everybody was sworn in except him.

The post had been unabashedly coveted by former Makati City mayor and now Vice President Jejomar Binay who did not hide the moistening in his eyes. But President Aquino was not about to hand the post to him. It was Robredo’s, or so we thought, and then, the wait.

What a relief it was when Robredo was at last handed the DILG post and he accepted.

As an RM awardee, Robredo had shared “the story of a small, faceless but inspired community which got better by continuously trying to better itself.” When he took over in 1988, Naga was “in bad shape” economically, service delivery was bad and political patronage was the order of the day.

Mere words wouldn’t have worked for a cynical citizenry. But leadership in action proved irresistible and couldn’t be ignored. Still a little creative gimmickry went a long way to make people “hit the ground running.” Symbols and slogans were among the secret ingredients.

Robredo had to offer his constituents a dream they could visualize and aim for—a place where they could live happily. “Ang maogmang lugar” (the happy place) became a catchphrase to describe the Naga dream, along with slogans: “Kauswagan kan Naga, kung bako ngonian, nuarin pa?” (Progress for Naga, if not now when?) And the busy ant, that does not work alone but in community, became the mascot. These, Robredo called his “communications strategy.”

Robredo said “participative visioning” was a key. This involved three essential elements: a core development perspective, a mechanism for updating the corporate vision/mission from time to time, and a strategy for communicating that vision. But first, he said, one had to do “environmental scanning” in order to know what Naga and its people were all about.

Robredo, a mechanical and industrial engineering graduate of De La Salle University and who has an MBA from the University of the Philippines, was a San Miguel executive in Manila until he heeded the call of former President Cory Aquino for young people to help build People Power at the grassroots level. Robredo packed his bags and headed for home.

Robredo used corporate jargon to describe his strategies but, more than that, he was a hands-on leader in touch with the grassroots.

Said France Clavecilla, a community organizing veteran who had worked in Naga: “He delivered fast. Housing for the poor was among his priorities.”

“Growth with equity” was at the core of Robredo’s administration philosophy. This meant that every citizen was a partner-beneficiary in the city’s development.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Push, pass, FOI Act now!

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Yesterday, August. 15, was the National Day for Freedom of Information (FOI). I don’t know how the day came to be declared such, but the why should be obvious. Below is a pooled editorial which the Right to Know Right Now media coalition hopes would be widely circulated, published, broadcast and discussed in blogs, radio and television talk shows, newspapers, forums, schools, etc. Let us all help spread the word so that FOI would become a reality in our everyday lives. A people in the dark are a people with no power. Is this what we want to be?

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In 1986 at Edsa, the first people power revolt ended 21 years of a government so dark and so opaque, and ushered in one of light and transparency. The strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos was vanquished and democracy icon Corazon C. Aquino came to power.

A year later, the 1987 Constitution enshrined state policies of full transparency and accountability in the conduct of all public officials and employees, and of full public disclosure of information vested with public interest. The Constitution upheld the people’s right to know and be informed about all policies, projects, and programs of government that involve use of taxpayers’ money.

It is now 2012, or over 26 years after Edsa. Filipinos today are the most exuberant in their exercise of the freedoms of speech, of the press, and of peaceable assembly for redress of just grievances. But one other inalienable freedom that the Constitution also guarantees—Freedom of Information—remains just a bill perpetually stuck in the legislative wringer over the last 14 years, hobbled by the discombobulating “concerns” of the executive, and mocked by restrictive administrative fiats of the judiciary, the House of Representatives, and even the Office of the Ombudsman.

The Freedom of Information Act long promised by the Constitution remains, to this day, just a promise. And from the 12th to the present 15th Congress, despite the dozens of bills filed and refiled, it seems like we always return to square one, marching but only in place, on the FOI Act.

The second Aquino administration of Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III was installed in June 2010 on major summons for the citizens and public officials to trek the “daang matuwid,” rid the nation of corruption, and alleviate poverty. From birth, it is an administration that seems naturally betrothed to pushing and passing the FOI Act. Two years and two months in office hence, the administration and its Liberal Party-led coalition in the House of Representatives have yet to do the job.

From various accounts of senior officials and pro-administration legislators, their less than vigorous interest to pass the FOI Act supposedly derives from a few reasons: 1) that some executive agencies have become more transparent anyway [and] are already uploading online some budget and public finance documents; 2) that the FOI Act seems largely an issue of the middle class and the media; 3) that the FOI Act might not get the numbers needed in the House, and with the May 2013 elections coming soon, might divide more than unite the political parties.

Online uploads of public documents are just half the transparency equation that the FOI Act must guarantee. The other, more important half of the equation that an FOI Act guarantees is the public disclosure of documents on request or on demand of citizens asserting their right to access information in government custody.

Citizens need to and must know how public officials exercise their powers and authorities, how they spend public funds, what contracts and agreements they sign and seal on our behalf, what policy issues bother them that must also bother us so we may participate in making decisions.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Mom, frat man-prof on willing hazing victims

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

My column “Hazing victims, willing victims” (Inquirer, 8/2/12) drew many reactions from readers. As the title suggested, it was about putting the blame also on the willing victims and not just on those doing the hazing in order to prevent students from joining “brotherhoods” that inflict violence on candidates.

Law student Marc Andre Marcos of San Beda Law School (run by Benedictine monks) died last week after initiation rites of the Lex Leonum Fraternitas, which is not recognized by the school.

Among the letters I received, one was from a mother and another from a frat man-university professor-government official. Neither wants to be identified.

The mother wrote: “I read your article and I could not help but cry. If you have the time, please read the open letter that I have been wanting to write for over a decade now… I am keeping [myself] anonymous due the sensitive intricacies in the fraternity to which [my husband] belongs.

“Your article struck a very raw nerve because my husband is a victim of hazing, a willing victim. He entered law school and joined his fraternity after our children were born. As if he didn’t have enough brothers and sisters, he sought the brotherhood of more…

“In college, we both laughed at the senseless rumbles in our campus. Instead, we both joined school organizations where we met true brothers and sisters with whom we formed true and real bonds.

“There were telltale signs, albeit few and far between—his repeated requests for ‘permission’ to join, and his suddenly wearing, for two straight days, his one and only jogging pants which he had never worn before.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Hazing victims, willing victims

Phiilppine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

This is an unpopular, even tactless, thing to say while a family is grieving the loss of a beloved— that hazing victims are partly to blame for their own deaths. That they had it coming. It is not nice to blame the dead. But things need to be said.

Another willing victim, a law student, is dead. Sue me for saying willing victim. WV, how un-cool.

I have yet to hear bereaved families and friends of hazing victims say that their dear departed were willing victims, if not somewhat hesitant ones. I have yet to hear weeping parents say this in order to warn would-be victims and prevent more senseless deaths among the young who walk willingly into the valley of death.

What one hears from families are cries for justice and retribution, which, of course, need to be made. The blame is always heaped on the hazers who are alive and walking, that is, the fraternity brods who wield paddles, whips and baseball bats in the name of brotherhood and loyalty. They who had once been brutalized themselves and survived, and who are “paying it forward” with the same physical cruelty. As they say, there are no sadists where there are no masochists.

Among those who had survived by the skin of their teeth, had anyone come forward to say it was all wrong and then severed ties with the so-called brotherhood? Ex-cultists who survived with soupy brains have done better.

The grieving should go beyond extolling the virtues of their dear departed, they should go beyond lamenting the unfulfilled promises and the dreams that were laid to waste. Yes, we commiserate and sympathize. But not you, not I, who have not experienced this kind of loss, can ever understand or fathom their pain. We can only shudder as we behold the weeping. This is my way of saying that this kind of loss should not happen to anyone.

Grieving families should do more than just blame the perpetrators, that is, the fraternities that inflicted the death blows. They should go out there and tell the bright but gullible young—in the strongest, un-coolest words—that it is stupid, katangahan and kabobohan to allow one’s self to be beaten black and blue. That is almost like saying their dear departed belong to that category. But how to explain law students getting misled to think that a true brother inflicts physical pain and even sends brothers to the morgue, if not to the ICU, there to languish like pinikpikan?

Pinikpikan (live chicken slowly beaten black and blue then cooked and served as a delicacy in the northern region) is prolonged animal cruelty that should not be inflicted on fish or fowl and must be outlawed. Imagine having Chicken Hematoma on the restaurant menu. I mean to be graphic, no apologies.