Thursday, March 29, 2007

Yabang Pinoy

We've been thinking about a bracelet campaign for the Filipino, similar to Lance Armstrong's Livestrong initiative. Looks like someone beat us to it, though. :-)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Hummingbird

Just a teaser for CANVAS' next exhibit, "The Hummingbird" which is based on a Japanese fable. It's a very short story, and will be interpreted by Plet Bolipata.

CANVAS will publish the tale with the illustrations as part of a trilogy of environmental stories later this year. We'll keep the identities of the two other artists a secret for now, but suffice it to say, we're very very excited about the whole project.

The show will open on Monday, April 16, at 1/of Gallery at 6pm.

"I'm Doing What I Can"
by Plet Bolipata
Oil and Collage on Linen (2007)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Few Random and Pointless Thoughts from Vientiane

Just came back from Vientiane in Lao PDR (or Laos to most of us).

Take away the Buddhist temples, the monks and the cellphones, and this is probably what our country looked like in the 1960s. It certainly feels like some of the smaller cities in some of our provinces. Laid back, not too crowded, friendly smiles, lots of greenery, lots of people walking in the streets, no "real" malls, very much like our provinces in a quaint and innocent kind of way.

I was struck by how much taller we Filipinos are than most of the Laotians I saw. It's the other way around in the US where most people, on average, appear to be taller than we are. Even my cousins who grew up there appear taller. I have no scientific proof but I'm thinking it must be the food we eat. Americans eat better than we do, and we eat better than Laotians do.

Or maybe it's that we eat more meat than they do. Like most people in other countries in the Mekong region, Laotians eat more fruits and vegetables than we do. If we are what we eat, what does that say about us? ;-)

Finally, there's really no accounting for taste. Consider one of the city's landmarks, the Patuxay or Victory Gate of Vientiane. Their version of the Arc de Triomphe in France, I thought it was a pretty spectacular piece of architecture.

But what do I know? Just take a look at their own official description, installed on the wall of the Patuxay itself:

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

We're Number 1!

Asia's most corrupt economy! Woohooo!

Ever notice how we Filipinos like to make ourselves the butt of our own jokes? As in, there's this American, Japanese and Filipino talking about who has the dirtiest underwear, or the stickiest phlegm, or the biggest unmentionable... Guess who wins each time.

But talk about corruption, and it's no joke. So hey, we're corrupt, but don't call us the most corrupt!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A Horrifying, Unseen Social Cost

When we think of the social cost of families being ripped apart by the need to work abroad, we often think only of missed birthdays or graduations, or separation during Christmas. But the damage could be far worse than that...

Friday, March 9, 2007


For a great show on one artist's take on how the Filipino has been and continues to be shaped by other cultures (and vice versa), check out Joy Mallari's exhibit, running from March 10-21, 2007 at Boston Gallery in Cubao.

Definitely worth a look!

Thursday, March 8, 2007

It's not just the economy, stupid!

The economy is surging, interest rates are going down, OFW remittances are going up, jobs are being created (principally in the ICT and mining sectors), and the business sector (going by the surveys) have never been more upbeat.

Sure, the stock market is down for now, but really, that's not the government's fault - it's a global event, triggered by the Chinese. And by some accounts, long term prospects for the Philippines - and the stock market - firmly remain on an upward trend.

And yet, we have one of the most unpopular presidents ever.

Our guess for this palpable disconnect - While the numbers are encouraging, for most Filipinos they remain just that - numbers. They have to translate into tangible benefits, and those benefits have to actually be felt by ordinary Filipino.

The article below exemplifies what we are talking about.

And, needless to say, it will help if the President does a better job (her staff had better do a better job in preparing her) in communicating her successes to the public.

Knowing who her audience is would be a great first step.


Arroyo delivers Women's Day message to wrong crowd

By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez
Last updated 04:58pm (Mla time) 03/08/2007

No wonder President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo couldn't get her International Women's Day message across.

She was addressing the wrong crowd.

Speaking at the Ninoy Aquino Stadium in Manila on Thursday, Arroyo said one way of empowering women was making microfinance available to them.

"Kayong mga kababaihan, sino na sa inyo ang nakinabang sa [You women, who among you have benefited from] microfinance?...Sino sa inyo ang mga [Who among you are] conduit[s]?"

"Wala [Nobody]," the crowd chorused, to Arroyo's surprise.

Turning to Myrna Yao, chairperson of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, she asked: "What happened?"

Yao approached Arroyo and explained that the crowd was composed mostly of government employees, and not members of non-government organizations (NGOs) who make up the beneficiaries of the microfinance program.

Before Arroyo spoke, Yao had, in fact, warned her that most of the people in the stadium were government employees.

Arroyo got another heckling when she asked, "Siguro [Maybe this is the] first time kayong nag-attend ng [you have attended] Women's Day?" and noted that she also spoke on microfinance during last year's celebrations.

"Hindi [No]," was the crowd's reply.

She then went on to boast that microfinance is no available to 97 percent of people and the three percent to whom it is not available can turn to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

She then asked the audience: "Sino ang nakipag-ugnay na sa DSWD para malaman ito [Who has approached the DSWD to inquire about this]?

The crowd replied: "Wala."

Turning to Yao, Arroyo said: "Maybe what we need, Myrna, is to be with the NGOs we have invited here today."

When Yao tried to explain that the event included the launching of a livelihood training project for women funded by a P300-million Canadian grant, Arroyo stuck to microfinance.

Seeing DSWD undersecretary Alicia Bala in the crowd, Arroyo called her onstage and asked her to explain microfinance, which Bala did, explaining to the government workers that there were conduits they could coordinate with.

Arroyo then mentioned organizations that could act as microfinance conduits, including the Local Council of Women (LCW), Norfil, and Go Negosyo. An LCW officer went onstage to say they have 1,765 chapters.

"Kilala niyo ang [Do you know the] Local Council of Women?" Arroyo asked.

"No," the crowd answered.

A disbelieving Arroyo asked, "Hindi niyo kilala ang [You don't know the] Local Council of Women? Sino, sino ang nagsabi ng 'yes' [Who, who says yes]" as she scanned the crowd vainly for someone who would raise a hand.

When reminded by Yao that the audience was mostly government employees, Arroyo said there are cooperatives in government offices that can act as conduits for microfinance and then instructed the People's Credit and Finance Corp. to giver government employees wider access to microfinance loans.

Trying to salvage the situation, Arroyo addressed the audience with a subject she expected they would warm up to -- the P1,000 increase in government workers' allowances supposed to have been granted last year.

"Di ba meron kayong [Don't you have the] P1,000 allowance?" she said.

"Wala," the crowd answered again.

Looking appalled by this time, Arroyo asked: "Hindi kayo nakakuha [You haven't received anything]? Saan na ba ang [Where is the] DBM [Department of Budget and Management]? Pwede ba naming [Could it be possible]?…"

Finally, someone in the audience acknowledged receiving the allowance.

Arroyo promised the government workers salary increases when a law for this is passed this year. She also reiterated that microfinance would be made available to them and instructed the PCFC to make it a project "between now and March 8 of 2008" so that, by next year's celebrations, the answers to her questions would be, "Yes."

Monday, March 5, 2007

Lifestyle Check

According to the National Statistical Coordination Board, a little over P8,000 a month will place a family of five above the poverty threshold.

It doesn't seem like an unreasonable amount to raise, but, is P8,000 a month really enough to maintain an economically decent lifestyle? (Whatever that means...)


Family of five needs over P8,000 a month to live decently
By Doris Dumlao
Inquirer - 03/05/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- It's becoming more challenging for Filipinos to maintain an “economically decent” lifestyle -- or stay out of the poverty line.

A family of five in Metro Manila needs to earn at least P8,061 a month to meet the most basic needs for this year, the latest report from the National Statistical Coordination Board shows.

NSCB, the agency mandated to generate report on the country's official poverty statistics, said the poverty threshold for the National Capital Region or NCR for 2007 had gone up compared to P7,945 in 2006 and P7,859 in 2005.

“A sole breadwinner in a five-member family residing at the NCR is expected to find an arduous task in bringing the entire family above the poverty line if he/she only earns at most P265 per day,” said NSCB Officer-in-Charge Estrella Domingo.

The daily poverty threshold in the NCR for this year translates to P266, up from P262 last year and P259 in 2005.

Of the estimated minimum earnings of P8,061 a month to stay out of poverty, some P4,804 or P159 a day would be needed to meet the most basic food needs, the NSCB reported.

Astro del Castillo, managing director at investment management firm First Grade Holdings, said the country would have to post a consistent higher growth in its domestic economy or gross domestic product of about 6-7 percent for two to three years for the poor to benefit more.

Despite the 25 quarters of consecutive economic growth posted by the country, Del Castillo said the growth must accelerate at a faster pace to create more employment and uplift more people.

“Look at Vietnam and China, which have been consistently growing by 8 to 10 percent. We have to do more but it's not solely the responsibility of the government or the business sector,” he said.

The cost of maintaining an economically decent lifestyle is highest in NCR, where the poverty threshold for this year is 30 percent higher than the national average of P6,195 per month or P204 a day.

But the national poverty line has likewise increased from P6,003 a month or P198 a day in 2006 and from P5,916 a month or P195 a day in 2005.

On an annual per capita basis, the poverty threshold for 2007 is at P14,866, of which P9,987 was estimated for basic food needs.

The annual per capita threshold for the NCR is higher than any other region at P19,345. It has risen from P19,067 in 2006 and P18,859 in 2005.

Among other provinces excluding NCR, the amount of an “economically decent” lifestyle is highest in Abra as it posted P18,058 annual per capita poverty threshold. Of the 10 provinces with the highest poverty threshold, nine are in Luzon and one in Mindanao.

The poverty threshold, on the other hand, is lowest in Siquijor, at P11,663, followed by Negros Oriental at P12,012 and Cagayan at P12,479.

Of the 10 provinces with the lowest poverty thresholds in 2007, three are in Luzon, six in the Visayas, and one in Mindanao.

“Generally, families residing in urban areas need to earn 20 percent more than the income of families falling within the ridge of the poverty threshold in rural areas. Also, to meet their basic food needs for the year, residents of urban areas are expected to spend 20 percent higher than their rural counterparts,” Domingo said.

The current minimum wage for those employed in non-agriculture sectors in the NCR is P350 per day.

Recently, both houses of Congress passed bills to grant across-the-board minimum wage hikes. But despite the obvious benefits notwithstanding, economists warned that a legislated wage hike would end up costing more in terms of higher production costs, higher inflation, and higher unemployment.

Jose Leo Lemuel Caparas Jr, an economist at the University of Asia and the Pacific, said in a recent study: “The minimum wage hike bills approved by Congress are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital. Often highlighted are the benefits, but the costs remain in the background.”

Usually, he said an increase in minimum wage should be cause for celebration. After all, a legislated wage hike is not market driven and would allow people to get more money without doing much.

Caparas said studies conducted by UA&P on rank-and-file employees had these key findings:

• Workers at the lower wage levels are the new entrants to firms and are predominantly single. Their incomes are likely to supplement only the earnings of the heads of their families. Among the workers in this group, it is hard to find cases of workers earning less than what is required for their basic needs; and,

• Workers at the higher income categories are usually those who have been in the company for some time. Despite their higher salaries, however, a significant number of them earn less than they require for a decent family life because their needs have risen. They have a bigger family to support. The changes in their salaries have failed to keep pace with the changes in their family situation.

“These findings suggest firms must turn to instruments other than the minimum wage to guarantee a decent life for their workers. The problems they urgently need to solve are those faced by non-minimum wage workers whose incomes cannot support their families,” Caparas said.

“The existing minimum wage is more than sufficient to cover the basic needs of minimum wage earners,” Caparas said.

Further citing UA&P's own studies as of January 2007, he said a single individual in Metro Manila would need only about P190 to P270 a day to satisfy his basic needs.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Superman is Moro

How can we understand what it means to be Filipino without talking about the Muslim Filipino? How can the Philippines truly live up to its full potential without real and lasting peace in Mindanao?

Here are excerpts from an insightful essay written sometime last year by Adel Tamano - if you haven't heard of him, you probably will in the months or years to come.


by Adel Tamano

Superman is a Moro. How do I know this? - He has too many similarities with the contemporary Moro that simple logic reveals his true identity and ethnicity...

Proof No. 1: He has a Moro name. This is the biggest give-away - Kal-El is the real name of Clark Kent, Superman’s mild-mannered alter ego. His given name is incredibly similar to common Filipino Muslim names like Khalil, or even Ysmael and Abdul. In fact, for this reason, for him to get a job in the Philippines, he would have to use a pseudonym. According to the latest Social Weather Station Survey, Filipinos prefer hiring people with Christian–sounding names rather than those whose names appear to be of Islamic etymology...

Proof No. 2: He has to keep his real identity a secret...He knows that in the increasingly globalized and homogenized world, being alien, different, and outside the norm is a surefire way to becoming ostracized and misunderstood...

This is the same situation that the Moro faces; a case in point is the fact that many Filipino Muslims, when interacting with the Christian majority, have to adopt Christian names – Michael instead of Muhammad – as a way of side-stepping discrimination...

Proof No. 3: He is forced not to wear his ethnic costume...In this world, wherein intolerance abounds, emphasizing cultural pride, particularly when it is Moro pride, produces real-world problems...

For those of a more activist bent, the use of the hijab is a banner screaming for an end to prejudice and intolerance against Muslims; for those who prefer convenience, then they go the route of not wearing their veils to avoid complications, even in small things like hailing taxi-cabs...

Proof No. 4: He has strong views about what is right and wrong that constantly gets him into trouble. This is one of the powerful aspects of Islam – it provides its adherents with a simple and clear view of the world...

Superman too, in fighting for what he believed was good, had his Lex Luthor to contend with. In fact, there is never a shortage of villains for Superman to square off against, a reality that he bravely accepts as part of his responsibility. Kal-El needn’t have to put up with this situation because he could easily leave the Earth for another less violent and complicated planet. But he stays here and sticks to his beliefs.

Moros do that likewise. You find them in every metropolitan center in the country, usually with a small business, striving to survive within a system that discriminates against him not only socially but in terms of recourse to economic resources. Many in the Christian majority do not know the difficulties Moros face in looking for credit facilities.

Despite their hardships, the Moro maintains his faith no matter where you find him – in Manila, Baguio, Cagayan de Oro. He does this despite the routine harassment from the authorities, for some, especially those living in the poorer areas of the metropolis, the raids and tactical interrogations, which are all part of the global war against terrorism. How easy it would be for others to just renounce their faith and their culture in order to live a less stressful and challenging life...

Proof No. 5: He never finds peace. Unfortunately, because of this struggle, the Moro, like Superman, never finds peace. For ever Lex Luthor that he defeats, another villain appears in a never ending cycle of conflict for the man of steel. For him, peace too is elusive, a dream that never seems attainable.

For the Moro, one of the tragic non-variables of Philippine history is the fact of the conflict between the Muslims and Christians in the Southern Philippines. From the Spanish period through the American and into the 21st Century, our country never attains the peace that it deserves. In fact, it may be this never-ending conflict between Muslims and Christians in the Philippines that have embedded in Philippine mainstream culture the prejudice and intolerance against Moros. It is a sad self-perpetuating cycle – the intolerance against Moros breeds resentment in the Filipino Muslim against the Christian majority, which is the basis for some Moros to take up arms against the Philippine Government, which becomes the basis for the Christian majority to view Moros as violent, vicious, and unacceptable.


Moros have borne discrimination, marginalization, and intolerance in the Philippines for centuries with great measures of dignity and self-esteem. We remain proud of our being Muslim and being part of the BangsaMoro. Some brothers have taken the path of armed struggle, a matter that many Moros may have strong disagreement with but, at the same time, understand the roots and the motivation for fighting. That many Moros still strive to succeed - and in fact some do succeed – in an intolerant society is a great display of innate strength and resilience. Some would say that the armed struggle of the Moros, centuries long as it is, is also a sign of this inner power. Actually, we started this piece with a wrong premise; Superman is not a Moro; indeed, it is the Moro that is the Superman.

* The picture is an as-yet untitled acrylic on burlap piece by Rodel Tapaya. It is one of 20 pieces that will be used for Ang Batang Maraming Bawal, a major art exhibition and children's book to be launched by CANVAS this June 2007 at the Glorietta Artspace in Makati.