Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Archive for March, 2010

Philippine “Myths”

Posted by butalidnl on 31 March 2010

No, this post is not about Philippine mythology, in the strict sense. It is about the various  “fables” or false claims to fame of the Philippines. Here are some of them.

Davao is the biggest city in the world in land area
This is definitely not the case. Davao, with its total land area of 2444 square kilometers, is a midget when compared to the really BIG cities. The real biggest city in land area in the world is: Hulunbuir, Inner Mongolia,  China. It’s total land area is 263, 953 square kilometers (or about 100 times that of Davao). Okay, the city is rather obscure, so I guess that it really has a lot of land area that doesn’t belong anywhere else, so this becomes part of the city by default. Let’s take then the No. 4 in the list: Chongqing, China. This is not obscure at all (having been the country’s capital during the Second World War), and its land area is 82,400 square kilometers. Or Anchorage, Alaska, (No, 4 in the US) which is 4396 square kilometers in size.

The Philippines is the only Catholic Country in Southeast Asia
Well, this is easy- it isn’t; East Timor is the OTHER Catholic country in Southeast Asia.  East Timor is Catholic, and 97% of the people profess to be Catholic there, in comparison with the Philippines where only 80% are Catholics (and 10% of other Christian denominations). East Timor became independent (from Indonesia) only in 2002, so I guess we could forgive the books for not being so updated.

The Banaue Rice Terraces is the Eighth Wonder of the World
There are only seven wonders, really; and the list of the Seven Wonders of the world is that of Antiquity (of which only the Pyramids of Giza remain standing). Now, some people would name special natural or man-made creations as the “Eighth Wonder”, just to emphasize their being special. Thus, here are some of the other things called the “Eighth Wonder of the World”:  the Grand Canyon in the US; the Great Wall of China; Taj Mahal in India; Machu Pichu in Peru; the Terracotta Army of Xian, China; Angkor Wat in Cambodia; and the moai statues of Easter Island, Chile. So, our rice terraces have some interesting company.

In 2007, a project called the “New 7 Wonders of the World” attempted to make a list of 7 man-made wonders. The list included: the Pyramids at Giza, Egypt; Chichen Itza in Mexico; Colosseum in Rome, Italy; Great Wall of China; Machu Pichu in Peru; Petra in Jordan; and the Taj Mahal in India.  Still, no Banaue rice terraces.

Talking about rice terraces, the ones that we have may not be that special or unique after all. Take a look at some other rice terraces .

The Barong Tagalog
The barong tagalog is the national dress in the Philippines. But it is anything but unique. In fact, many former Spanish colonies have similar men’s wear – the Guayabera. The guayabera is similar to the barong tagalog except that it has 4 pockets in front; it is also transparent and comes in pastel colors, and is not tucked into the pants.
Some people say that the guayabera actually comes from the barong tagalog, but this is not sure at all. Anyway, don’t be surprised when you go to Latin America, try to buy a traditional shirt and find what would look to you like a barong tagalog.

a songtaew
Well, it is almost unique. So far, I was only able to find one other country with a jeepney. In Thailand, they have the Songtaew, which is a converted pickup. It has seats like a jeepney, and is used just like a jeepney, i.e. for intra-city transportation. The only difference I guess is that Songtaews are generally red in color. Otherwise, they would be indistinguishable from our jeepneys.

And there are things like the balut (the Vietnamese have this too), or even self-flagellation in the name of religion (note: even Iran has this too) that are not uniquely Filipino.

So much for Filipino “myths”…

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Fixing the Partylist System

Posted by butalidnl on 27 March 2010

The partylist system is supposed to give underrepresented sectors in Philippine society a voice in the House of Representatives. It allocates 20% of total House seats for the partylist representatives, who are elected on the basis of proportional representation.  The partylist law limits the partylist system in various ways:
– parties have to have a minimum of 2% of the vote to get 1 seat, and multiples of this to get additional seats;
– parties can get at most 3 seats.

With these limitations, it became mathematically impossible to fill up the original 50 seats allocated for partylists (now 54 seats). Thus, the Supreme Court decided in April 2009 on the Carpio formula, which waives the 2% minimum for seat allocation, and upholds the principle of filling the 20% of seats reserved for partylists.

The Carpio formula gave seats to 18 parties which had not obtained 2% of the vote.  The lowest percentage needed to get a seat was obtained by Agham, with 146,062 votes (or 0.9523% of the votes).

I think that the Carpio formula worked well, in that it not only filled the seats alloted for partylists, but it gave a wider number of parties a seat in Congress. Some problems remain with the partylist system, though.

More than 6%
Parties that get more than 6% of the vote still get only 3 seats. This is unfair, since it effectively disenfranchises the people who voted for the “additional” seats. Bayan Muna, one of those which got more than 6% solved the problem by setting up additional parties: Gabriela and Anakpawis. So now, the vote is divided among these parties, and there is little “excess”.  However, this option is not open to many parties which do not have satellite sectoral organizations. I think that the 6% limit should be lifted.

Proliferation of Parties
The proliferation of partylist groups vying for a seat in the 2010 elections is due to a number of reasons. First, there is no real definition of “underrepresented sectors”. Thus, you get regional groups running – which theoretically ARE well represented by their regular district congressmen. Or groups that do not have any real roots with the sector they represent. Or groups that are proxies for established parties.

Then, the effective threshold for entry has  been lowered from 2% to 1%. This means that parties do not need to get as many votes as before to get a seat. Where it used to be that a party would need about 300,000 votes to get a seat, only about 150,000 will be needed this time around.  This number is within the reach of more groups, encouraging them to participate.

I think that it is not a bad idea to have many parties participating in the partylist vote. However, in order to make the system fair, better rules should be made to weed out groups which are mere proxies of existing parties, or which do not represent underrepresented sectors.

The Mad Rush to the A’s
And there seems to be a mad rush to be the first in the list; and since the list is alphabetical, everyone wants their party’s names to start with “A” or even “1”.  I think that there is a simple way to stop this mad rush to the “A’s”.  First, that parties are listed on the basis of the number of votes which they got in the previous elections (that is the system that they have here in the Netherlands).  And for those which are new, for them to be listed in the order of registration (thus, the first registered appears first). Then, the parties are given numbers so that their supporters can easily find them on the list.

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Legalizing Marijuana

Posted by butalidnl on 26 March 2010

California may be the first US state to legalize the use of marijuana. Californians are going to decide in a referendum in November (together with the midterm elections) whether or not to legalize “recreational” marijuana. California has already legalized the use of “medicinal” marijuana, and 15 other US states have followed suit. Now, it is the turn for “recreational” marijuana.

All this brings natural comparisons with the Dutch practices regarding marijuana. In the Netherlands, contrary to popular belief, marijuana is not legal. It is still illegal to grow it in significant quantities. However, the government has a policy of not arresting people for using marijuana. In effect, marijuana use is “tolerated”.  People can buy the marijuana they need from “coffeeshops” (which ironically don’t sell coffee, but soft drugs e.g. marijuana and hashish). Coffeeshops are regulated by the government. They can’t sell to minors (below 18 years old), or sell alcohol together with the drugs. And the maximum amount to be sold per person per day is just 5 grams.

People are allowed to grow marijuana for their personal use. The “tolerated” limit is 5 plants. Growing large batches of marijuana is illegal, and you can get arrested for doing so. But the punishment is mostly just confiscation of your plants plus a fine and community service. If you have a “plantation” in your attic and the house is rented, you may also be ejected from your house by the Housing Corporation (the excuse is that marijuana growing is a fire hazard).

Thus, the growing of marijuana is illegal. People have been clamoring to change the law, and really legalize marijuana. This way, the cultivation of the crop could be regulated, police could do other more important work, the government could tax the sales, and quality could be ensured.

So, to go back to California: If they succeed in legalizing marijuana, and not merely in decriminalizing its use, they would be one step ahead of the Netherlands.  And perhaps if California leads, the Netherlands could follow.

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Universal Health Care in the Philippines?

Posted by butalidnl on 25 March 2010

Universal health care in the Philippines? Well, probably not right away. But we could work on it a little. I was thinking more in terms of providing a basic publicly funded health service for most of the population, at affordable prices.

A basic ingredient to this health service is to provide health care professionals all throughout the country, especially in the countryside.  A key to doing this, I think, will be to make sure that there are enough doctors who will stay put in the countryside posts that they will be assigned to. Then, it will be an easier task to make sure that urban public hospitals are well staffed.

The emphasis should be on doctors, since nurses are in abundance these days, at least in the cities. I propose that the government take care of the education of a certain percentage of doctors that the country produces.  Let 10% of medical students be government funded. The government will pay for most of their education (leaving perhaps PhP 20,000/year as student contribution, and covering the remaining PhP 100,000/year tuition), and in return, the doctors are required to spend 5 years in a rural posting, with the option to stay on, on a government salary.

A result of this would be that in a matter of 5 years or so, the country will have a steady supply of rural doctors ready to be assigned anywhere in the country.  And that they will not have a need to charge high fees even when they are released from government service, since they didn’t spend so much to study medicine.

The funding for health services would come from the IRA (Internal Revenue Allotment) that local governments receive.  LGUs receive these funds automatically; and it was sort of understood that in turn they would provide certain services to their constituents. However, many of them aren’t.  I think the national government should pass a law requiring all municipalities to provide public health facilities – e.g. clinics staffed with doctors, nurses and midwives, and enough medicines and other supplies.

And lastly, I think the government should set up public pharmacies in all towns; so as to service the needs of the far-flung rural population. These pharmacies should make available generic drugs where possible, and branded drugs that have been discounted.

With these things in place, we may not yet have universal health care, but we sure would be well on our way to providing it.

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