Sunday, July 25, 2010


When tweets started rushing in about floods across the metropolis, I asked people not to blame Pag-Asa, the country’s besieged weather agency.

The floods are, indeed, not Pag-Asa’s fault. Monsoon season always brings heavy rains. We got a sustained torrent today (or at least, Quezon City did) but hardly on the level of Ondoy. Poor urban planning worsens our flood woes. Citizens also bear part of the blame. We throw garbage anywhere, even in canals and other waterways. Businesses build over esteros and block natural drains. Illegal logging continues in the Sierra Madre foothills that border the national capital region, worsening silt build-up in lowland rivers.

So, yes, Pag-Asa shouldn’t be blamed for the floods. But it can be criticized – and fairly – for failing to warn us about the possibility of floods.

Unlike most folk, I’ve learned to automatically interpret “scattered rainshowers and thunderstorms” as B A A A A A D news.

Admit it, we don’t need more than an hour of a serious downpour to create a monster traffic jam. Metro Manila has a naturally low threshold because of its narrow streets and haphazard parking policies.

Most people, however, interpret scattered literally: “occurring or distributed over widely spaced and irregular intervals in time or space.” (The Google Dictionary)


A 30-minute thunderstorm that moves off to the next suburban district qualifies for “scattered.” To use that term for a full day of a deluge so heavy it limited visibility to two cars ahead is beyond understatement.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer website ( ) said Pagasa’s 2 pm bulletin reported rain levels six times the normal for the metropolis. But I’d been regularly checking its website ,which showed its 5 am “scattered rainshowers” forecast until 5 pm, when the synopsis changed to: “At 2:00 p.m. today, a Low Pressure Area (LPA) was estimated based on satellite and surface data at 170 km Northeast of Aurora (17.5°N 123.6°E). Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) affecting the country.”

That was a couple of hours too late for stranded commuters and those who were gripped, for some time, with terror over the possibility of another “Ondoy,” which forced a million people to abandon their homes to raging waters.

The disconnect between Pag-Asa’s alerts and on-the-ground reality may be gauged by this 3 pm advisory sent by Police National Operation Center (NOC):

• Along Agora Brgy NBBS, Navotas City (flooded but passable to all types of vehicles);
• Luna St., Brgy Balon Bato, San Juan, Maysilo Circle; Boni Ave. going to Kalentong, Mandaluyong City (not passable to light vehicles);
• Along NAIA Ave. in front of Pagcor, Pasay City, not passable to all types of vehicles;
• Along Arayat cor Zambales, V. Luna, Mother Ignacia Ave., Mayorn corner Dapitan, Panay cor Esguerra. Banawe cor Retiro, Calamaba (not passable to light vehicles);
• Araneta and Waling-Waling St., not passable to all types of vehicles.


I understand the difficulties faced by Pag-Asa, which is only this year getting a new Doppler Radar System that could help plot rainfall before it hits land. The one in Baras town, more than three times as expensive but also supposed more accurate and low maintenance than the one already in Subic, comes courtesy of P1.6 billion grant from Japan’s aid agency. Two others are set to go up in Aparri, Cagayan and Guian, Eastern Samar in the next two years.

The Doppler system will buy precious lead-time for disaster agencies.

But here’s what’s happening in the here and now: It doesn’t take a typhoon to spawn a disaster in the metropolis and surrounding provinces – Laguna de Bay routinely overflows these days.

If it’s not the loss of lives, it’s the loss of valuable man-hours (families stranded on the roads or kids in schools, business distribution lines screwed up, shipments failing to get to the docks on time, passengers missing their flights or planes unable to take off or land). Imagine the chaos of today’s rain levels fell mid-week.

It’s okay to discuss garbage and denuded slopes and homes clogging waterways. They are real problems needing real solutions. But to focus on them alone is much like insisting our poverty problem will disappear when the corrupt are harried from the face of this earth.

There are other, more short-term approaches for dealing with poverty. There must be other, short-term approaches that could help spare residents of Metro Manila and nearby provinces from the worst effects of floods.

Just offhand (and feel free to add):

Pag-Asa to give advisories AT LEAST EVERY TWO HOURS. Don’t just do the usual fax releases. Flood the air lanes with your warnings. It’s great to have a new (italics theirs) 24-hour hotline (ditto boldface) at 433-ULAN (433-8526).

But given our power outage problems, and the long distances people commute to workplaces and schools, radio and the social network sites are the best ways of reaching the most number of people. (I’m sure the Pag-Asa staff and/or its interns are relative techies familiar with Facebook and Twitter, which now reach people’s mobile phones.)

The National Disaster Coordinating Council should probably not limit its activities to typhoons, earthquakes and the like – and by the way, that’s a really strange name, worthy of the baddest of bad guys! – because we already know that monsoon tantrums are enough to immobilize the metropolis.

For citizens who try to help provide flood and other disaster updates, please be specific. I am sure three-dozen friends will know what you mean by “our village” but the rest of us don’t, and we would be greatly helped by that information. Specify street if possible, village, barangay, or district of a town. Saying Quezon City is under water is not the least helpful.

Schools will probably help create a more systematic disaster-response milieu in the medium and long-term by
a) incorporating in science classes lessons on how to interpret weather websites; and
b) freeing up some hours in those subjects that replaced CAT and CMT for disaster volunteer work– giving preparation and prevention as much stress as rescue and relief – ensuring that students are fielded to their own communities.

These are all the bright ideas I have. If you add to these, we may clobber a meaningful package of doable, not terribly expensive changes – and soon.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


All ye film buffs, here's something to look forward to!

From the mail: The Society of Filipino Archivists for Film (SOFIA), in cooperation with the Cultural Center of the Philippines, presents: OVERLOOKED FILMS, UNDERRATED FILMMAKERS, to be held at the Tanghalang Manuel Conde, Cultural Center of the Philippines, at 2-5pm with the following line-up:

August 14, 2010
Krimen: Kayo Ang Humatol (1974) Directed Jun Raquiza

September 11, 2010
Masquerade (1967) Directed by Danny Zialcita

October 9, 2010
Kasal o Sakal (1964) Directed by Efren Reyes & Johnny Reyes

November 13, 2010
Ito Ang Pilipino (1966) Directed by Cesar Gallardo

December 11, 2010
Gaano Kita Kamahal (1993) Directed by Butch Perez

January 15, 2011
Waray-Waray (1954) Directed by F.H. Constantino

For more information, feel free to send an email to or contact 0920 2836393

Friday, July 23, 2010



In collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, our partners at UNF/BWC are hosting a three day fellowship for journalists from September 7 – 9 in NYC. They are currently accepting applications for this and would appreciate you sharing it with all of your journalism contacts. Deadline is Monday, 9 August.

Please address any questions to Heather Wong (

UN Foundation and Better World Campaign Announce Journalism Fellowship: The MDGs in 2010

Washington – (July 6, 2010) – The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will dominate public discussion later this year when world leaders gather at the United Nations in New York for a historic summit to monitor progress on combating global poverty. In an effort to educate Washington, D.C.-based journalists and offer unprecedented access to policymakers in this arena, the United Nations Foundation and Better World Campaign announced today a special fellowship for journalists on the MDGs.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are eight international development goals that all 192 United Nations member states have agreed to advance in a shared effort to end poverty and its root causes. The United Nations will host the 2010 MDG Review Summit in September to mark the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the MDGs. President Barack Obama, and other world leaders, will deliver their plan to advance progress to achieving the MDGs at this summit.

The United Nations Foundation and the Better World Campaign are offering a three-day fellowship for journalists from September 7-9, 2010 in New York City, in advance of the UN MDG Review Summit in mid-September. Fellows will be given direct access to officials from the UN and a behind-the-scenes look at agencies and organizations including the Millennium Campaign.

With support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, this fellowship is designed to foster participants’ understanding of the issues surrounding the MDGs, and will provide the exclusive opportunity for fellows to participate in on- and off-the-record issue briefings, luncheons and roundtables with issue experts and high-level officials. Briefings scheduled include: the Secretary General’s office, UNICEF, the United Nations Population Fund, UN Aids, and UN Development Program, amongst others.

This fellowship is geared towards Washington, DC reporters who do not have regular access to key UN experts, but are interested in foreign policy, international development and the United Nations. Special consideration will be given to journalists whose portfolios include international relations issues. Fellowship applicants working outside of Washington, DC, will be considered as space becomes available.

For more information about how to apply for UN Foundation/Better World Campaign MDG Fellowship Program, please click here. To download and complete the application, please click here.


About the United Nations Foundation
The United Nations Foundation, a public charity was created in 1998 with entrepreneur and philanthropist Ted Turner’s historic $1 billion gift to support UN causes and activities. We build and implement public/private partnerships to address the world’s most pressing problems, and work to broaden support for the UN through advocacy and public outreach. Through our campaigns and partnerships, we connect people, ideas, and resources to help the UN solve global problems. The campaigns we conduct reduce child mortality, empower women and girls, create a new energy future, secure peace and human rights, and promote technology innovation to improve health outcomes. For more information, visit

About the Better World Campaign
The Better World Campaign (BWC) works to foster a strong, effective relationship between the United States and the United Nations (UN) through outreach, communications, and advocacy. We encourage U.S. leadership to work constructively through the United Nations and to strengthen the United Nations’ ability to carry out its invaluable operations around the world. And we engage policy makers, the media, and the American public to increase awareness of and support for the United Nations. For more information, visit

Media Contact:
Heather Wong
Public Affairs
United Nations Foundation

Thursday, July 22, 2010


“A good intention clothes itself with power.” -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yes, but sometimes, the Emperor wears no clothes.

That’s not to call President Benigno Aquino III a fraud. You cannot say that of a man who won by a landslide. The son of martyred senator Benigno Aquino Jr. and the late President Corazon C. Aquino managed the feat by repeating what has become the nation’s mantra of hope: “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.” (Without corruption, there would be no poverty.)

It may sound simplistic but that line contains a lot of truth.

Governance watchdogs say that much as 30% of the national budget is lost to corruption. Thirty percent of the 2010 national budget of P1.54 trillion is P462 billion. Here is what that amount of money can buy:

• Core shelters, if each costs just P300,000, for 1.54 million families (or 6.16 million Filipinos if all families only have four members);

• At P30,000 tuition a semester in the tertiary level – and this is a very low estimate -- the complete four-year course of 1.925 million students;

• The cost of a complete anti-TB protocol (at the high private pharma rate of P17,600 instead of P550 under the Global Drug Facility) for 26.25 million patients.

So I applaud Mr. Aquino’s vow to restore integrity and transparency to Philippine governance. And I agree that, “there can be no reconciliation without justice.”

But just how serious is the President about his vow?

The war against corruption largely hinges on a system of checks and balances. Even at its most cynical form, say that of an obdurate Senate hassling an executive branch with probe after probe, oversight plays an important role in bringing to light crooked deals.

But the real point of reforms is to prevent conditions from reaching a stage requiring legislators’ intervention. That means putting up natural barriers to collusion.

The opposite is what you achieve by appointing three members from the same family to key executive department positions (chief of the budget department, chief of the Presidential Management Staff handling Mr. Aquino’s discretionary fund, and chief of staff of the finance secretary) -- especially if their lone elected representative also becomes vice chair of the House appropriations committee.

Even if all the Abads are saints, it does not detract from the potential for abuse. And the potential is what Mr. Aquino should ultimately kill.

The other development is even more problematic.

To head the Truth Commission, the body tasked to lead the charge against perpetrators of corrupt deals and other abuses of the last decade, Mr. Aquino has chosen former chief justice and envoy to the United Nations, Hilario Davide Jr.

The problem is, ousted president Joseph Estrada, has accused Davide of actively lobbying for the CJ post, with no less than controversial taipan Lucio Tan as his chief patron.

Mr. Estrada claimed Tan summoned him to a meeting in the taipan’s penthouse and that Davide was present in that event. This story, of course, casts as much light on Estrada’s Presidency as it does on Davide’s very huge feet of clay. And that is why the former leader’s tale has the ring of truth.

Considering that Tan faced a billion-peso tax-fraud case at the time he sponsored Davide’s appointment, Mr. Estrada’s claim is highly disturbing. But not as disturbing as Mr. Aquino's cavalier dismissal of Estrada’s allegations – which neither Davide nor Tan have denied.

In the President's world view, if he chooses a person then there can be no question of that person's integrity. But last I checked, Filipinos had elected him President, not God Almighty.

I have praised Mr. Aquino for some actions in the past weeks. But there has been a consistent and troubling display of hubris on his part, even from when he was just one of the candidates for the land's highest post.

Mr. Aquino, sir, you cannot impose one standard for the enemy and another for your people. That is precisely why this nation has lurched from one crisis to another in half a century.

You certainly cannot defeat corruption by letting crooks conduct that war. And if you do not understand why Davide does not deserve to head a commission, much less one devoted to the unearthing of truth, then you, sir, give lie to very lynchpin of your campaign.