Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Archive for October, 2010

Only in the Philippines?

Posted by butalidnl on 26 October 2010

We hear the expression “only in the Philippines” quite often. It comes out in TV, blogs, even everyday conversation. I wonder how many people really believe that these things are really “only in the Philippines”; and how many just go along since this has something to do with our national identity etc, even though they know these things are not unique to the Philippines.

I think that there are indeed some people who DO think that these things are really “only in the Philippines” – and I want to respond that most of these are NOT. In fact, I think that there is practically nothing that is truly found “only in the Philippines”.

Food, Faith, Geography
Many things we consider Filipino are actually similar to those found in other Asian countries, because of our common cultural background and history. Food is a good example: pansit and siopao are due to the Chinese influence, leche flan and arroz valenciana are Spanish, fruit salad is American. But even food like kare-kare is due to Indian influence, and eating all parts of the chicken or pig (e.g. “Adidas”, or “IUD”) is common in Southeast Asia and beyond. People think that balot is Filipino; but it is Vietnamese as well.

There are also a lot of things we have in common with Latin America, due to our history as a Spanish colony.  Our common Catholic roots mean that things religious couldn’t be uniquely Filipino. For example, our veneration of the dead during All Souls day is common in Latin America. Self-flagellation and even the reenactment of the Crucifixion is also not unique to the Philippines.

But there are things less obvious which we may think are Filipino, but which we have in common with Latin America after all. Take the barong tagalog: the Cubans have the guayabero; and most of Latin America have a similar shirt that is a national costume for men.  Or the kundiman: we may think this is uniquely ours, but it turns out that the tune of the kundiman we share with some Mexican or Central American countries. It seems that sailors in Spanish galleons brought these over to the Philippines. And thus, the kundiman has Aztec or Mayan roots.

Let’s take geography. The Chocolate Hills in Bohol look nice, but they are not unique. The Chinese have something that I think is even more impressive: the hills are bigger and there are streams between some of them; and you can see them by going by balloon (all we have is a “viewing hill”).
Or the rice terraces. If you still think that it is the eighth wonder of the world, I’m sorry to inform you that not only is it NOT the eighth wonder of the world (there is no such thing, btw), but that it is not unique. There are more impressive rice terraces in Indonesia and Nepal, and some other countries.

Response to Technology
Even things that we think are our “unique” response to technology are not unique. Jejemon may be uniquely Filipino in that it is the Philippine languages that are being “murdered”; but in the broader sense, people from France to China to Thailand are worried about how the young generation is creating their own language on the internet and on SMS.

Or the jeepney. We may think that we are unique in adapting the American “jeep” to become a public utility vehicle as jeepney. But I found out that they did the same thing in Thailand, and they call it the Songtaew.  And of course, our tricycle is the Thai tuk tuk.

Choc Nut
We could say that Choc Nut is unique to the Philippines. But, this is only true in the sense that there is really no other place in the world where such a chocolate delicacy is packaged as Choc Nut (I don’t think so, at least.) However, there is sure to be a place somewhere in the world which has a chocolate product like Choc Nut, but which is called by some other name by the people there.

And this is common for some other things that are supposed to be “only in the Philippines”. For example, someone said that it is only in the Philippines where the crime rate is 0% when Pacquiao has a boxing match. I agree. But this is only because Pacquiao is specific to the Philippines. But, in a sense, it is not really unique. For example, I’m sure that the crime rate in Brazil was also 0% whenever their national football team played in the World Cup.

We could  say that Kinaray-a, Waray, Pangalatoc, or Iranun are spoken only in the Philippines.  (Strictly speaking, this is not true, because of the many Overseas Filipino communities all over the world. But anyway…) This would be true for many language-specific statements, local place-names, or national personalities. After all, we can say that it is “only in the Philippines” where in every municipality, there is a statue of Jose Rizal. But, what would that mean, really?

There is really no particular thing that is unique to the Philippines. But this is not to say that the Philippines is not unique. The combination of all the things we find in the Philippines is unique only to the Philippines. Our national identity as Filipinos is unique.

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Reforming Water Distribution in Metro Manila

Posted by butalidnl on 14 October 2010

Change.org|Start Petition
This blog is my contribution to Blog Action Day, when people throughout the world will be blogging about: Water.


It’s a recurring problem in Metro Manila: lack of water.  People complain about high water bills, and of water service interruptions.  But at the same time,  many people use water “as if it was water”, i.e. in quite a wasteful manner.  I believe that the price of water in Manila could be restructured in such a way as both to conserve water and to distribute it more equally among the people.

Change price structure for water
I think the structure for water charges should be changed. The first change will be to separate a per-connection charge from the charge for water use. Then, the price for water use for amounts less than 20 cubic meters a month should be lessened, while the price for use above 20 cubic meters raised. 20 cubic meters (or 20,000 liters) seems to be a fairer cut-off amount (as opposed to the present cut-off amount of 10 cubic meters), since the average consumption of water is about 3500 liters (or 3.5 cubic meters)/person/month; making a household with 5 members consume less than 20 cubic meters/month.

The present price structure in Manila is to have a lump sum for the first 10 cubic meters, and then a steadily increasing charge after that. For example, Manila Water (in the Eastern Zone) charges Php 69.16 for the first 10 cubic meters, and then Php 8.44 per cubic meter for the next 10 cubic meters, and then Php 16 per cubic meter for the next 20 cubic meters, etc.

I would propose something like Php 40 as connection fee, then Php 5 per cubic meter for the first 20 cubic meters, and then Php 18 per cubic meter for the next 20 cubic meters, etc…

This way,  there will be a price incentive to have a separate connection per household; since the price of having two households connected to a single water meter will be significantly higher than that of having two water meters.

If more households have water meters, and get water bills, then they will also tend to be more conscious of their water use.  So, instead of having a single water connection for a compound of houses; there would be one connection per house.

All-in bills tend to promote wastage of water. So, for boarding houses, the water bill should be charged separately from the rental fee. If the boarders use too much water, they should pay more, and this will surely result in them being more thrifty in using water.

Check meters once in two months
Water meters are read once a month, and this is the basis for the monthly water bill. Now, if meters are read once every two months; the expenses for doing so would decrease by 50%.  I don’t mean that the bills be made for two month periods. Let the bill be for a month’s use, but base it on a two monthly reading – and simply divide the reading by two, for the bill for the next two months.  Doing so will not only reduce the cost of taking the readings, but also even out some peaks in water use, and make it more affordable.

With this change, the water companies’ cost per connection will go down, and make it possible for them to implement the lowering of the price for poorer households, who use less water.  At the same time, we could encourage the water companies to establish water supply lines to everybody.

Community Charge for “Leakages”
Instead of the current practice of dividing the cost of “leakages” (actual leakages, plus illegal connections) among all the customers; the water companies should charge specific neighborhoods for their leakages. Thus, a neighborhood would have a water meter measuring the whole community’s water use. Then, there would be meters in specific households. The difference between the total readings per household and the overall community meter would be the “community leakage”. This would either be illegal connections, or actual leaking water from pipes. The cost of these leakages should then be charged to all the water users in the community.

The rationale for this approach is community responsibility. If their individual bills are affected by leakages elsewhere in their community, then people will report leaking pipes or illegal connections. And there will be stronger community pressure against illegal connections.

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Excommunicate Me!

Posted by butalidnl on 5 October 2010

Excommunicate Me! This is now displayed on T-shirts in Manila; as a protest against the threat of the CBCP to excommunicate President Aquino on the issue of contraceptives.

CBCP did threaten Aquino with excommunication
Bishop Odchimar, head of the CBCP, may deny that he directly threatened Aquino with excommunication; but if we read the transcript of that interview, it is clear that he was waving the flag of excommunication as a possible result of the government policy of promoting contraceptive use. His threat was  indirect; what some would call a “trial balloon”, which is meant to be a threat without being explicitly threatening.  Such trial balloons are deviously formulated for their “deniability”; but I think that it is clear that Odchimar did intend to intimidate and threaten Aquino.

Over contraceptives?
The issue that holds the possibility of excommunication is: contraceptives. What? Is the Catholic Church going crazy? Family planning, including the use of artificial contraceptives is promoted by governments in very many other countries. And the Catholic Church in those countries don’t seem to have a problem with it. So, why the Philippines? Perhaps our present-day Father Damaso’s haven’t realized that we are now in the 21st century; apparently they’re still living in the 19th century (as in 1800s).

Isn’t it strange that the church is considering excommunication for something like contraceptive use, when they aren’t doing much to stem the sexual misbehavior of so many of their priests – priests in the Philippines (and in many other countries also) have elicit affairs (girlfriends, and yes boyfriends) or act as pedophiles. So, why isn’t the church threatening to excommunicate them? Why excommunicate hard-working couples whose only “sin” is that they use the pill or other contraceptives, so that they could properly plan their family size?  It is indeed strange, super-strange, that the Philippine Catholic church would stoop so low in threatening excommunication over contraceptive use.

Even historically, in the Philippine context, it is still strange. Why didn’t they excommunicate Ferdinand Marcos when his government promoted the use of condoms and pills. When I was married (during the Marcos years), I remember having a seminar on family planning and birth control given by a government health professional. So, why the strange turnaround now?

I think the only decent thing for the government to do is to stay its course. They should continue with the policy of sex education, and of distributing contraceptives to poor couples. If the church has a problem with it; then so be it. If the church says that some contraceptives are abortifacient; well, let them name which contraceptives those are, and let us see if they are right. Otherwise, contraceptives in general should be deemed good, and not abortifacient.

Contraceptives are intended to prevent conception, so almost by definition, they are not abortifacient. Their use actually lessens the possibility of abortion; since, if no baby is conceived, there is none to abort.  Thus, the church is advocating the opposite of what they want. If they want to lessen abortions, they should promote the use of contraceptives.

The church promotes the use of “natural” methods of contraception, such as the rhythm method. Well, this method works well for women with regular periods, and who are stay-at-home wives. Working women and those with irregular periods have a less stable body temperature, and the rhythm method will not work well. And they will end up pregnant when the method fails. And that is why the pill and condoms are used by many couples. Prohibiting people from using these will surely mean many unwanted pregnancies.

Excommunication?
Excommunication, or one’s  expulsion of one from the Catholic church has been a weapon at the hands of the friars in centuries past. In the 1800’s and earlier, when it was used or threatened, this meant that one is not only expelled from the church, but also from society in general. And this is would indeed be a heavy punishment.

But nowadays, where we have all kinds of Christian denominations, excommunication has a lot less weight. Expulsion from the Catholic church would mean that one could simply join another Christian church, or even opt to be a “generic” christian – i.e. a Christian in beliefs, but not attached to any church in particular.  One could still go to public schools, get married by the judge, find work, get buried at memorial parks. Excommunication no longer means being rejected by society.

So, in facing the Catholic hierarchy on the issue of contraceptives, I would not want to leave PNoy alone to face excommunication.  Let the church excommunicate me also, for supporting PNoy on the issue of contraceptives. Let the church also excommunicate thousands, or millions, of Filipinos who also think this way. And let us see who will then be rejected by society: the ones excommunicated, or the church itself.

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