Saturday, November 19, 2011

Misibis Bay, Cagraray Island, Bacacay, Albay

We received a warm resort welcome as we unloaded from our shuttle vehicles on our way from the airport of Legaspi. Young Bicolanos dressed in vibrantly colored costumes are dancing to the tribal beat of a local music - "Ibalong".

Since it's already 2:30pm and we have not yet taken our lunch, jumping into the buffet of Spice Market (restaurant) is the first thing that we have to do. I think I am really very hungry as I almost forgot what food came into my mouth, but Misibis Bay did not disappoint us with their delicious dishes.


CAGRARAY AMPITHEATRE, Pitstop during one season of Amazing Race. Our own pitstop during the ATV tour.





... to be continued.

Friday, April 8, 2011

International Human Rights in the Philippines

Humans are the most intelligent and civilized animals on earth. But like animals, we are territorial in nature. And being naturally territorial, we are very protective of our space and interests. Men in the same territory who shares common interest learned to form groups. Historically, conflicts between armed groups arise by trying to defend what they claimed as theirs. As war evolved, weapons used during armed conflicts also became deadlier where instances of brutal or inhumane killings are most likely to happen.

Different laws or standards in the conduct of war emerged. Trying to be civilized, humans agreed to have a common understanding during armed conflicts and efforts were undertaken to make war more humane in the nineteenth century. This is to have restrictions in the conduct of war and to have laws respecting humans and knowing when enough is enough. The most concrete and recognized form is the creation of the International Convention of the Red Cross in February 1863 and the signing of the International Humanitarian Law in August 1864 in the Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the wounded in armies in the field, which gave birth to the International Humanitarian Law.

The laws of war were based on the four cardinal rules. These rules include limitations, proportionality, humanity, and military necessity.

The International Humanitarian Law recognizes two categories of armed conflict namely the international and the non-international. “Non-international armed conflict involves hostilities between government armed forces and organized armed groups or between such groups within a state.” This definition therefore qualifies the different threat groups such as the NPA and the Islamic groups in the south. Even if wearing of uniform or distinctive sign and carrying of arms openly is required, exceptional circumstances such as wars of national liberation makes this requirement not strictly imposed. The carrying of arms openly is sufficient to identify that distinction.

However, this may not be easily applicable in the case of the terrorists groups such as the Abu Sayyaf. According to the Protocol I of the international treaty, “armed forces must be organized, be under a command responsible to that party and be subject to an internal disciplinary system that enforces compliance with humanitarian law.”

International Humanitarian Law provides recognition and protection only to organizations and individuals who act on behalf of a State or an entity that is a subject of international law. It excludes "private wars", whether conducted by individuals or groups. This means that "terrorist" groups such as Abu Sayyaf Group acting on their own behalf and without the requisite linked to a State or similar entity shall not be accorded prisoner of war protections.

Even if the Laws of War was originally crafted in the context of traditional military warfare, said convention still applies with the current form of armed conflict. Without the laws of war, conflicts will even become violent and inhumane, especially with the emergence of weapons of mass destruction. Weapons of mass destruction such as bio-warfare do not necessarily mean instant death to its targets. Though these modern weapons are not specifically described in IHL, it is still covered by the "Declaration of St Petersburg to the effect of prohibiting the use of certain projectiles in wartime" which says that "the only legitimate [objective] which States should endeavour to accomplish during war is to weaken the military forces of the enemy", and second, that, "this [objective] would be exceeded by the employment of arms which uselessly aggravate the sufferings of disabled men, or render their death inevitable".

The Philippines as a signatory to the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) is bound by it even during peace time. The country’s present conflict scenario on the other hand is still close to actual clashes of armed groups with the probability of a member of either party becoming a prisoner of war. So the laws of war are still valid.

Although these laws of war shall be re-evaluated for thorough study on certain issues that may no longer be applicable to present realities in the battlefield. Because these laws will at least govern the future actions of groups in times of armed conflict especially those groups vying for international recognition.

Today, the laws of war distinguish the government armed forces from the terrorist groups like the Abu Sayaf. It also continuously affects the conduct of armed groups like the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and New People’s Army (NPA). These groups may not want to abide with these rules but are bound to bear with it to gain political stature in the international community. Actions like mutilating the wounded or dead soldiers by beheading them during encounters are definitely unacceptable. Wounded soldiers must be treated as humane as possible and without unnecessary sufferings. There are even confirmed military and media reports that support government’s claim that both the MILF and NPA are using minors in combat and training them to be combatants as early as adolescent age.

It may not be very obvious to the public’s view that other Islamic militant groups hide behind the curtains of religious buildings for military purposes. But it is a fact known to few AFP personnel that these groups make use of mosques and even with the consent of priests/Imams as meeting place, armory and safety haven.

The clearest instance of religious buildings being used for military purposes is the stockpile of weapons and bomb paraphernalia reported by intelligence units as hidden in two separate mosques in Barangay Riverside, Maigo, Lanao del Norte and Barangay Pendulunan, Lanao del Sur. MILF fighters were sighted harboring in these mosques stockpiling high-powered firearms, ammunition and bomb paraphernalia.

IHL provides the protection of the wounded, sick or captured members of the armed forces, and civilians but forbids the use of hospitals for military purposes. A typical example happened in Lamitan, Basilan in year 2000, under the pressumption that Abu Sayyaf is not a terrorist group. The Abu Sayyaf Group led by Abu Sabaya barricaded the Hospital in Lamitan and held all doctors and nurses hostage inside the building covering and shielding from the pursuing military. While the gunfight is ongoing, they were able to have their wounded treated and there were reports that abuse of female nurses also happened in the building.

Above examples reflect the exploitation of physical churches and hospitals in pursuing their military objectives. Unfortunately, secessionist and terrorist groups such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and ASG respectively use religious ideology as a deception to gain mass based support and even international recognition. Last August 17, 2008, heavily armed MILF attacked and killed innocent civilians and unwary travelling military personnel in three towns of Lanao del Norte. This incident actually occurred gradually even before the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain was preempted. The groups of Umbra Kato and Kumander Bravo pressured the government for the implementation of said agreement, by rallying his men and performing atrocities under the banner of a religion.

This act of treachery by the MILF remains unpunished to this date considering that the perpetrators have hidden behind ideological and religious cloaks that professional and disciplined soldiers of the AFP dare not to desecrate.

With the above examples and actual experiences, present warring groups do not refrain from using religious, medical and cultural buildings or facilities for military purposes. Sadly and unfortunately, government forces are the only ones who adhere to the laws of war by refraining from the use of the mentioned facilities for military purposes.

The International Humanitarian Law (IHL) concerns limitations on the methods and means of warfare introduced in order to protect combatants and non-combatants alike. But with the actions made by the enemy groups in the country, the MILF tries to conceal their violation while the ASG are blatantly ignoring it, even to the extent of kidnapping workers of the International Committee on the Red Cross.

IHL unequivocally prohibits acts of terrorism, such as attacks against civilians or civilian objects. It also explicitly prohibits acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population. Thus, persons suspected of such acts are liable for criminal prosecution. Like the unacceptable acts of Abu Sayyaf terrorist group on mutilating and beheading soldiers who could no longer fight, and they should be prosecuted under our domestic criminal law.

Clearly, the IHL is followed only by those who are mandated such as the government forces while armed groups are forced to follow the same to gain international support. Unfortunately, the government is not pursuing the elevation of these violations to the international community, possibly so as not to grant them international political identity. Even if the IHL is applicable in the Philippine scenario, its continued re-evaluation is still recommended.

Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific

Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific (MAAP) entered the maritime school industry only on January 14, 1998. Too late compared to its competitors in the industry, yet it can boast of being one of the respected maritime schools in the country today. Why?

MAAP’s origin can be rooted to the creation of Associated Marine Officers' Union of the Philippines (AMOUP) for the protection of officers working on board commercial ships by Capt. Gregorio S. Oca who was moved by the unjust working conditions of the Filipino Seafarers in the 1960. This group transformed into Associated Marine Officers and Seamen's Union of the Philippines (AMOSUP) in 1972. But it was only more than a decade ago that the association capitalized and developed the academy seeing the need to breed merchant marine deck and engine officers in the world from our country.

Such a relatively new institution gained admiration of owners of merchant vessels choosing to sponsor the financial requirements of future Filipino seafarers as its midshipmen. Remarkably, it was able to get enough funding from a Japanese institution to build different set of facilities specifically constructed for midshipmen intended for Japan.

These can be considered breakthroughs in a very streamlined industry – maritime training, with its very young entry into the market. But what have these commercial institutions found in MAAP which gained their confidence to invest large amount of money to a newcomer? I believe other than the products or maritime graduates who may have made credit for their institutions, the world-recognized certifications by an external body for the academy gives MAAP its edge over the others. Standing alone, without government support, she has to be creative in getting the attention of its major stakeholders – the investors.

Certifications such as ISO and PSB-QMET builds a different character not only among the human resources but to the institution itself. MAAP in short was successful in developing an attractive brand both for its future cadets, and its consumers. In order to maintain those certifications, a high standard of learning and facilities must be maintained. It maintains a training standard which keeps up with the new trends in technology available in the industry.

Monday, April 5, 2010


We arrived in Busan Airport at around 6:50AM of March 29, 2010.   Since time zone in Korea is 1 hour higher than that of the Philippines, I manually adjusted my watch while my phone automatically updated its time.  I also set my phone to manually select a network to activate roaming feature.  I chose SK Telecom because the Customer Support I talked with a day before the travel told me this network offered cheaper roaming rates.  Temperature here is twice colder than that of Baguio City so it is best to wear your thermal suit upon arrival at the airport if you intend to go directly to your tour destinations.

Busan City is the second largest metropolitan city of Korea after Seoul.  It is like the Cebu City of Korea.  You can't see a lot of people roaming around but you can notice that it is a very progressive city.

Our first stop at around 9AM was the United Nations Memorial to pay tribute to the Filipino soldiers of the Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea (PEFTOK) who died during the Korean war.  Our delegation head layed a wreath to honor the heroes as the rest of the group had prayers and offered individual roses.

Then we went to Hanjin shipyard at about 11AM, the mother company of the Hanjin shipyard in Subic.  It was the first shipyard of Korea established in 1937.  They are manufacturing naval ships for the Korean Navy and also delivered orders of Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia.

We had our lunch at MokJangWon Korean Restaurant overlooking the Busan Bay.  I thought we will have shabu-shabu as we usually do in the Philippines, instead, we had Bolgogi... The attendant smiled when we asked for more rice...

After a quick Korean lunch (that means- no chairs:-D ), we continued with a travel of about two (2) hours to Jinhae,  the home of Republic of Korea Naval Education and Training Command (ROK NETC).  After visiting the institution that trains the sailors and marines of Korea (both officers and enlistedmen), we went directly to the ROK Naval Academy also in Jinhae.  At the academy, we dropped by the Navy Museum and seen a lot of miniature ships of the ROK Navy as well as their reverence to the fathers of ROKN and NETC (Philippine Navy's Naval Education and Training Command).

Then we went to the neighboring Changwon City - the home of Samsung Techwin, GM-Daewoo, LG Electronics, Hyundai Rotem, Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction, Doosan Infracore, Doosan Engine.  Changwon is the capital of Gyeongsangnam-do (South Gyeongsang) province which includes the Jinhae.  Visited Samsung Techwin Head Office and were expecting a brief about digital electronics technology.  Instead, we were awed by what we have seen and heard- Techwin is Korea's leading defense industry manufacturing K9 Thunder 155mm self-propelled artillery, K10 ARV (Ammunition Resupply Vehicle) capable of transferring 12 rounds of 155mm ammunition to K9 Thunder, and the KAAV Amphibious Assault Vehicle. KAAV is an amphibious vehicle designed for the Marine Corps with a speed of 13 km/hr on water and 72 km/hr on land.

After the plant tour showing us the step by step modules of how they manufacture the KAAV, we departed for Seoul which is about five hour drive.  We had our diner at the expressway stop-over.  Unfortunate, while parking, the bus driver hit a truck on the right side of the bus.  I had a meal at 6000 Korean Won - pork cutlet with spicy Korean soup and kimchi.  After eating, I have to bring the dishes to the conveyor belt receiving the used utensils.  Then we continued our travel to Seoul.  We arrived at the capital of Korea around 11pm, imagine how cold it was... When I went out of the bus to pick my luggage at the bus trunk, I was chilling because I have not yet worn by thermal suits, bonnet and gloves by that time.  They were all in my luggage, so I have to hurry picking the gloves and bonnet and wore them on my way to Vabien Residences.  Whew... I made it, but I was still chilling inside.

We checked in at room 801 together with my six other colleagues.  The hotel is elegant and spacious, I can even compare it to a three star hotel in Manila, considering that its classification in Korea is only a serviced residence.  It has a kitchen complete with stoves, utensils, kettle, refrigerator and even a fully automatic washing machine.  Of the three rooms of the suite, I shared the smaller room with my colleague, though he decided to sleep at the couch at the comfort of the cable tv's remote control :-).  What is missing in Vabien is wireless internet connection.  We requested for an internet and they brought a UTP cable which can be plugged at an RJ45 socket on the wall - unfortunately, our IT powers is not enough to enable the connection.  We asked the hotel to fix the problem, the receptionist said she will visit our room to take care of it - but she never came.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Friday, November 27, 2009

Philippine Navy Modernization (Multi Purpose Attack Craft - MPAC)

The main problem of the navy modernization is the limited fund appropriated by the legislators. Our modernization budget is supposedly substantial but the government only release small part of it. so the AFP is restricted to buy small items just like the harris radios and not actually big items such as ships.

What happened to the BCDA? The AFP only have 31.5% of the total proceeds from selling the military bases. And what happened in return? The Navy has no more base of its own, it is already squatting from Fort Bonifacio, and even, hopefully not, in Fort San Antonio Abad (now Naval Station Jose Andrada).

The Philippine Navy has recently acquired small but very fast combat boats known as MPACs or Multi-purpose Attack Craft at about 73M each. Big ships will cost billions in acquisition and millions in maintenance. It can run to as fast as 45knots (45 miles per hour). It can reach top speed in less than five seconds, and it can also stop in similar duration. It can turn at stationary position (imagine a harrier aircraft rotating on air). It is used by the Navy in the southern Philippines for interdiction and interception, while one is used in Palawan to protect the government's sensitive project there.

The thrust of the current Navy administration is to purchase new though small but lethal ships.

It is also in the process of acquiring a multi-role vessel which accommodates marines, LCU/LCAC, choppers and amphibian crafts. Our acquisition is based on the need of the country.

Another effort is to acquire a strategic sealift vessel on a lease-to-own scheme through the initiative of the Philippine Navy's civilian board of advisers. These are dedicated Filipino citizens coming from different sectors of the society devoting a portion of their precious time in recommending and sitting with the Philippine Navy as to what they can suggest and do. I hope when this group of people comes up with a foundation intended to purchase modern vessels, you will be among those who will contribute.

The most that you can do to help today is to urge our legislators either through the internet or through other means to prioritize the full and actual implementation of the AFP/NAVY modernization by releasing/allocating the appropriate budget. We Filipinos will only release those budget when the need already happened. Look at Ondoy, the Navy has been asking always for more rubber boats but a modernization program process takes at least more than 1 year and six months if you are lucky. That's Philippine government bureaucracy. But with Ondoy, the DND is urged to buy those rubber boats AS FAST AS POSSIBLE.

In short, we have to wait when China, Vietnam, Malaysia, North Korea or other neighboring Asian countries to invade one of our Kalayaan Islands before the legislators will scamper to look for someone to investigate and to blame. Have they ever blamed themselves? And when that happens, that is the time that they will say let us buy missiles for our ships now. let us buy torpedos for our choppers now. I really that invasion will soon come, so that we will be forced to really modernize our navy/AFP. Unless the LAWMAKERS/EXECUTIVES don't feel the pressure to buy new ships, we will never be modernize as fast as we can. The navy will continue to pass through the very very very very taxing process of making every document pass... the very bullying question of why do you need that? "how many school buildings or books will be lost if we buy those ships. How many mouths will not be fed if we buy your toys?" Now what?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Participatory Leadership

“Do not ask anybody to do something unless you are willing to do it yourself.” A statement by Mayor Jesse Robredo that says it all about his strategy in transforming Naga City into one of Asia’s most improved cities. This humble Mayor proves that success in both the political arena and good governance can be combined. Introducing a total shift of leadership style from traditional politics into people participation using turn-around strategies, Mayor Robredo believes that empowering his constituency gains greater power than solely using it.

Mayor Robredo is not simply “leading by example” as commonly known, but leading through vision anchored strategies. Four strategies namely: Confidence Building, Investing in People, Building Partnership, and Greater People Participation brings Naga City’s vision into reality. A government official who lives to the true meaning of leadership, he rallied his constituency by taking the lead in restoring their pride through visions created by the people themselves.

With the country’s painful experiences in the Marcos regime and series of coup attempts during the Aquino administration, the Honorable Mayor faced real challenges when he was elected as Naga’s City Mayor in 1988. The election process is just like a hill that blocks the view to a gigantic mountain. What lies behind is a more challenging task that remains unseen until the hill has been climbed. Step number one for the new-comer is CONFIDENCE BUILDING. Indeed, how could you lead the people when they doubt your capacity and your sincerity? The odds must be faced. He eradicated illegal gambling particularly “jueteng” and stamped out lewd shows as concrete steps. Believing that for as long as these practices exist in his area, the people will always perceive that he is receiving “toll fees” from it. Possibly aided by his background in the corporate world, transformation will not materialize without the participation of the stakeholders. This is true to any organization, from the Sangguniang Kabataan to the national government, from the Non-Government Organizations (NGO) to private institutions, even in the military or the navy.

This leads to Mayor Robredo’s next step which is INVESTING IN PEOPLE. He recognized that the transformation can not be done by the elected government officials or the city employees alone. He empowered the people by letting them participate in the affairs of the city, by letting them feel that they are important and their voices are heard. People participation was institutionalized through an Empowerment Ordinance creating the People’s Council - a body specially created for accredited business, non-government and people’s organizations of the city, to represent the people in local special bodies. This gives them the power to observe, vote and participate in the deliberation, conceptualization, implementation and evaluation of programs, projects and activities of the city government. They can even propose legislation, participate and vote at the committee level of the City Council.

BUILDING PARTNERSHIP is the third strategy which played a very crucial role in the economic development of the city. The local government shifted its role from “do-it-all” provider to integrator and coordinator of local service providers. This strategy enabled LGUs to marshal untapped resources of the local community for pro-poor programs and other local development initiatives. Robredo recognized that he or anybody in the City Hall does not have the specialization to handle specific sectors of the society. He tapped parents of mentally-ill children to build and run a local center for that specific need. He forged partnership with NGOs to take care of urban-poor program, livelihood, health and nutrition, emergency assistance and education. Number of informal settlers reduced to a significant level through the cooperation of those urban poor organizations, landowners and private developers working together to find mutually-acceptable solutions to tenure related issues. As of 2005, they already covered at least 8,717 households. In military parlance, partnership is termed as alliance which has been emphasized by famous strategists including Sun Tzu. Alliances by the military can be forged not only in times of war but most of all in times of peace, not with other military organizations or nations but with private institutions.

Finally, the last strategy harnessed by the Mayor is GREATER PEOPLE PARTICIPATION. He believes that the people are the one who has given him his powers hence if shared with them will be returned in greater magnitude. Letting the people decide on major issues affecting the future of the city gives them ownership of that decision. And ownership of anything gives them a sense of responsibility, a responsibility to stand to that decision and keep it in the long run even if Mayor Robredo is no longer in position.

These strategies of Mayor Robredo can be applied in the case of the Philippine Navy on a different perspective. Rebuilding our navy requires the trust of everybody, at least generally. Every member must have the reason to believe that the Navy leadership is indeed sincere in making our organization strong and credible.

Alliances with private entities in this modern era will be instrumental in the navy’s transformation. Local car manufacturers, ship builders, gun-makers, shoe and uniform factories, realties, and even food & beverages producers can be tapped in a partnership with the navy for its different requirements.

Greater participation in military context will still apply in the navy by letting our men participate, also on a limited manner, on some matters for the development of the organization as what we have done in the development of the Navy’s vision.

Investing in the people would mean giving attention to the personal development of our men. Training should be taken very seriously by the Command in order to meet what we expect from the organization. We always look forward with our vision but our own people are not properly groomed right at the start of their training. At our level, we can see program of instructions taken for compliance and not regularly evaluated. Candidate soldiers seem to be having fun in a summer outing and thought under the instruction of one or two enlisted personnel as drill supervisors. We intend to impart discipline and training to our enlisted personnel and new officers but those who are handling the actual instruction are not officers. These trainees or students are expected to be under the leadership of officers hence they must be trained also in that perspective.

Nature’s Wrath

Known with international code name Ketsana, typhoon Ondoy submerged up to 80% of Metro Manila, and covered with water the areas that never experienced flooding before. Stranding people on rooftops and bringing death and misery to rich and poor alike, it poured 334 millimeters of rain in the first six hours from 8am to 2pm, the highest ever recorded rainfall in the Metropolis. That amount of rain caused by the infamous Ondoy is almost equal to the average monthly rainfall in Metro Manila. The previous record was 341 millimeters over a 24 hour period in 1967. Even after the raining stopped and the waters subsided, Metro Manila and the nearby regions were caught unprepared to handle the evacuees, the injured, and much less the contamination that the floodwaters brought.

The government has been severely battered by the media saying it served a very poor reaction to the situation especially during the critical hours. Particularly lambasted was DND Secretary at the same time NDCC Chairman Gilberto Teodoro Jr who was blamed by some network stations for not rescuing people in distress. Or rather, for not rescuing Christine Reyes, an ABS-CBN actress who has been calling for help from the television network she works for. As of the last official online situation report by NDCC on 27 September 2009, the government effort was able to rescue a total of 5,594 persons. While the humanitarian coordination effort served 193,775 families or 982,408 individuals. NDCC also reported 12,399 houses totally damaged and 21,031 partially damaged. And the total casualties numbered to 335, broken down into 288 dead, 5 injured and 42 missing.

As a component of the NDCC, the Armed Forces of the Philippines performed a very crucial role in the rescue efforts being deployed in the most dangerous areas of operation. In fact, two soldiers and five militiamen died while performing rescue missions on separate occasions. Army Pfc. Venancio Ancheta died after he was hit by a log while saving a drowning man. Likewise, Cpl. Adriano Regua who was leading rescue efforts in Barangay Nanguma in Mabitac, Laguna, was killed while trying to save a militiaman from drowning who was also part of the rescue mission. The militiaman was among the five other CAFGU who perished.

But what is alarming to note though is the peculiarity of this calamity. It submerged areas never before been flooded, and water rose to level at very fast rate never imagined by those who were affected. Others may shrug-off their shoulder and say it is just one special case. But I would rather believe those who say that it is due to climate change. Weather patterns have recently become so erratic. Typhoons occur during the usual dry or summer season, while droughts occur in the supposedly rainy season. Different weather phenomenon such as El Niño, La Niña, and now the “El Niño Modoki” emerges. Some scientists explain that the 11 year sun cycle is the culprit that triggers the La Niña and El Niño Modoki. But human’s contribution plays a big role on the primary reason of global warming, which is emission of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests in its report in 2001 that glacier retreat, ice shelf disruption such as that of Antarctic’s Larsen Ice Shelf, sea level rise, changes in rainfall patterns, and increased intensity and frequency of extreme weather events are attributable in part to global warming. And a major culprit in this irreversible process is human activity particularly the increasing rate of forest denudation and combustion of fossil fuels. The rise in CO2 concentration, methane, troposphere ozone, CFCs and nitrous oxide occurred since the start of the industrial revolution. Presently, we are still not addressing with full attention this concern and remain mediocre in preventing the change in global climate.
During the intensity of the typhoon, flood level increased very rapidly that people no longer have enough time to respond. The rate of increase may be attributed to the voluminous water poured from the sky. However, there are still areas where water has not yet completely subsided as of this writing. This means that the small tunnels of many drainage systems remain clogged due to a lot of waste. Small pieces of plastic wraps may, in a way or another, have a big piece in the reason why water rose too fast. Ordinary citizen have contributed individually with their petty trashes that clogged the drainage system. Many local government units boast of Solid Waste Management Program but very few have actually implemented them seriously up to the individual households and every individual citizen.
Sincerity of government effort in environmental protection is in doubt. We have a total log ban that is not indeed TOTAL. We have a “Clean Air Act” that never eliminated or discouraged the use of diesel fuel (which emits 22.2 lbs/gallon of CO2 as compared to 19.4 lbs/gallon for gasoline), not to mention the particulate black carbon and associated organic matter ("soot") emitted per kilometer.

Disaster response by the NDCC and its subordinate Coordinating Councils is only a first aid to emergency. The Philippines’ ailing environment needs a long term cure that warrants the cooperation of every sector of the society. Our government should take bold steps to pursue sustainable development. RP should make a clear statement in the forthcoming Copenhagen Summit for Climate Change on December 2009 and stand for that statement at the homeland. Though our present government does not seem to consider environmental protection as a priority concern, as the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.” In the context of the country’s physical health, abuse on environmental exploitation in all forms must be attended to deter its long term effect. And minimize, if not prevent immediate occurrence of world climate change. Climate change is already here, it is now a matter of slowing it down and prolong the life of the earth.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Suzuki Alto - a super compact car

Why do we have to own a car? Whatever your reason is – during this time of crisis, it is no doubt that getting to your destination at the most practical way is a major consideration. Remember the time when you can't hardly see any SUV in the streets because gasoline costs around Sixty pesos per liter?

Nowadays, vehicles that use as little petroleum as possible are the norm. Car manufacturers have taken this factor very seriously. They have created a new breed of car – the super subcompact hatchback - that not only saves a lot of fuel or money, but saves space as well. The most notable of this type of car is the Suzuki ALTO. 

Imagine owning a brand-new car for a low down-payment of P70,000 and paying a monthly amortization of P7,400 only. You will not be troubled with the high maintenance cost of regular repair. For a total price of P358,000 on a brand new standard model Alto, it defines automobile frugality to a new level.

This 5-speed manual transmission car is not only economical upon purchase but also cost-effective upon usage. On October 24, 2008, the Department of Energy recognized this vehicle to be the top performer among the 52 participating car models in a fuel economy run marking an astonishing 34 km per liter consumption rate. The test dubbed as “2008 DOE Fuel Economy Run” started its journey from the agency’s compound in Bonifacio Global City up to Subic and back to Manila the following day for a stretch of 333 kilometers at a standard maximum speed of 80 kph. In my own experience, I took my wife and two kids with me to Baguio City and the trip consumed less than 15 liters from Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

With an over-all length of about 3.5 meters and width of almost 1.5 meters, you have the power to pass-through thin thoroughfares. Its small 4.5 meter turning radius also gives you agility in heavy traffic situations and flexibility in parking conditions. Its three cylinder and computer controlled engine has a displacement of only 796 cc. You are virtually just like riding a four-wheel motorcycle in the comfort of a powerful and very cool air-conditioning system.

This car may be small in size, but is also space-efficient inside. It has a large trunk and split-fold rear seats which can handle a balikbayan box plus three to four travel bags. Personally, I was able to transport a treadmill from the mall to our house, and on a separate occasion was also able to fit-in a kiddie bmx bike, my wife and our two kids comfortably. Its additional features are a CD player with tuner, additional tail lights, rear wiper and washer. Engineered and first introduced in Japan in 1979, it has a 30 year track record and already sold more than 10 million units worldwide. It is a global standard car from Suzuki being exported to India, UK, Australia, Middle East, Africa, South America and now, the Philippines. A variant of this small-but-terrible car has a power steering wheel, power windows and power locks. I have personally tested the durability of this car in traffic condition, uphill, long distance travel, full-load, during heavy-rains, and even flood. And it never turned me down and just served its purpose very well.

Suzuki Alto is truly a budget car, but one you can never be embarrassed of. In fact, if you own this super compact car, its mighty features may even give you a reason to boast.

Start Getting Rich Today

“Do you want to start getting rich?” If the answer to that question is yes, then bear with me as I continue, so you can do the first step in getting rich today. I am not going to sell anything that will cost you money, what I am going to sell will cost you your attention and your time.

Why are there poor people? Is it because they don’t have a job? Or is it because they can’t afford to study and they have to work at a young age due to poverty? Or is it because their parents are poor and they were born poor? NO! People remain poor or stay in the middle class due to lack of financial literacy, while those who were educated do not act on it because of job security. We often hear of the familiar Filipino saying, “Pag ipinanganak kang mahirap, hindi mo kasalanan yun. Pero pag namatay kang mahirap pa rin, kasalanan mo na yun.” (It’s not your fault if you were born poor. But it is your fault if you remain poor until you die.)

The first item that I will sell to you is FINANCIAL LITERACY. Most parents tell their children to study hard as early as grade school. So that the children can earn a degree, get a high-paying job, and save the family from poverty. Most parents believe that concept, even until today. And I believe that someone, if not most of us in this room today, also believes the same way for their own children. Why? Because, we were not taught in school to learn financial literacy. We were taught how to become a nurse, doctor, lawyer, accountant, front desk receptionist, cook, technician, secretary, and so on. In short, we were taught how to become slaves and rely on how much our master will give us. The more you harvest for your master, the more share you will get.

Our common concept of getting rich is to get a secured and high paying job with lots of fringe benefits. We will save from our salary, put it in the bank and you can start getting rich. But your salary is not enough because you just bought the latest high-end cellular phone model. And you will say, “I will use a portion of my savings first, then I will start saving again once I get promoted next year. Anyway, I worked hard for it, so I deserve a treat.” Unfortunately, even before you were promoted and get an increase in your pay, you decided to get a brand new car on a loan though PNSLAI. And so you were added with additional monthly bills which deplete your budget. Then we tend to earn masters degree, doctorate, or even get another degree to earn a higher position or take a different high paying career. Because you exerted so much effort to earn that increase, you will say at the end of the day, “This is what I get after spending time, sweat and money for the company?” We remain unsatisfied for our salary and ask for another raise.

Every parent’s objective is have their children graduate from College, and become slaves. Employees become slaves not to the owner of the company, but slaves to monthly salary. Why did I say that? Have you seen a hamster in a cage with a little toy that looks like a wheel? The hamster will be forced to run on that wheel once it gets into it. The faster it runs, the faster the wheel will spin. Hamster keeps running in infinity until it gets out of the wheel. We are like that hamster on the wheel. The wheel is the employment, and the spinning is the salary. The harder the hamster will run, the faster the wheel spins. In our case, the more money we earn, the more things we buy. It’s because nobody in school taught us how to use the full power of money. For every thousand that we build in our savings, we can’t resist the temptation of spending it. We may not admit it, but most of us can be called “galit sa pera” (mad at money). Again, we thirst for more. It will in turn force us to ask for increase in pay, and continue that cycle until infinity – just like the hamster in the wheel.

What’s the reason? Because we try to look like we are rich, while the true rich people remains to be modest. That’s related to the second item that I am selling to you right now - LET MONEY WORK FOR YOU. It’s not bad to look up to rich people – if we know what we have to imitate from them. Unfortunately, what we emulate are their clothes, cars, houses, and luxurious lifestyle. We fail to see the things that we really need to duplicate from them – their saving and spending habit. The rich people keeps a good hold of their money and let that money work for them 24/7. Money is their most hard-working employee. The true rich people buy the things they want not from the money they spent a lot of sweat. They buy their luxury or rewards as we may say, from the sweat of their money – from the money generated by their money.

Don’t buy more than what you really need. If I show you now a picture of a man in white camiso-chino shirt, will you believe that he is rich? But if I introduce that same man as Lucio Tan, you will never doubt that he is rich. Ironically, his bodyguards dress-up even more luxurious than he does. Warren Buffet, the richest man of 2008 and the second richest today, still lives in the same small 3-bedroom house he bought after he got married 50 years ago. He drives his own car, and never travels by private jet although he owns the world’s largest private jet company.

So what do you have to do? Begin acquiring assets. Assets not in the context of Accountancy – but in the context described in Robert Kiyosaki’s book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.” Assets according to Kiyosaki are those which generate money such as businesses, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, income-generating real estate, notes, royalties from intellectual property, and anything that has value, produces income or appreciates and has a ready market. You can build your assets while keeping your daytime job and strive or remain as a great hard-working employee.

Buffett made his first investment in stock market at the age of 11 and yet he regret because he started too late investing. He bought a farm at age 14 with his earnings in delivering newspaper. And we often hear people saying they don’t have money to start an investment. What do you say? Investing is difficult and stock market is risky. You can’t afford to loose your hard-earned money. We fear losing that we’d rather play it safe than take the risk – ironically, that risk is getting rich. Who among us here learned how to ride a bike without falling to the ground or without getting a scratch? You know that risk, even the risk of getting hit by another vehicle, yet you tried learning to ride a bike. Why do you want to ride a bike anyway? Is it just for the sake of riding it? I believe not. It is because we want to go places, further, faster, with lesser effort. That bike is like money, it can bring you to different places, further, faster, with lesser effort. But you have to take the risk of learning how to ride that bike, even though you know that you might fall and get a scratch. But until you persist and ride that bike again after the fall, you will never learn. Don’t regret if you fail, at least you are making headway. For it is in failure that we learn our lessons. This is just like a game, sometimes you win and sometimes you learn. Most people never learn because they are more afraid of losing. (Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki,1998 )

The next item I’m sharing particularly about a business is also based on that book. Do not run a business - LET A BUSINESS RUN. Have a business that does not require your physical presence. Own a business which is managed by other people. If you are personally running that business – it’s no longer a business, it becomes your job. You have to pay hardworking, honest, and smart people, even people more intelligent than you are. In this way, you will be assured that your business is run by professionals and experts- those taught by the school to do exactly as you say. Hire and pay excellent accountants, lawyers, brokers, skilled-workers, and managers.

And so you insist – “I don’t have money to invest!” Sure! Why not? Never mind riding a bicycle, but you have to start walking early in the morning to reach your destination – because it will take you a lot of time. “I do not have a capital to start a business either.” Well, you have something that you always use but you often neglect. We are all blessed with a gift, something that makes us different from the rest. It was used by Bill Gates, Alexander Grahambell, and a lot more inventors who became rich. But Grahambell was rejected by the big company whom he offered to sell his invention. Because of that, AT&T Company was born together with the emergence of a multi-million dollar industry. I did not say you make your own new inventions to make money. Shorten the process and start INVENTING MONEY. Use what is called the one true asset – your mind. Your mind can generate money, if you improve your financial IQ.

Five years ago, I was able to start an internet company while I was still studying website development. How did I do that? I do not have the money to start one! My salary is not enough to sustain that. Taking the advice of Marlo Sanchez in his book, “A Smart & Practical Guide for New Entrepreneurs,” I became an industrial partner to my wife’s aunt who has the money to finance the business. We became partners and our business still runs today. It gives me additional income as well as employment for my wife so that she no longer has to leave our house to work for somebody else. She is now working for me as the manager, and she watches over our two little kids as they grow up. Google sends us check for advertisement in my websites and blogs almost every month. In this way, I invented money by investing in my mind.

However, Bill Gates studied computer programming as Grahambell mastered physics. Then, you have to devote your time increasing your knowledge on your invention – the money. Improve your Financial IQ by taking time to study money, attend seminars, read books, or listen to people with success stories. But don’t neglect listening to their failure stories too. Marlo Sanchez in his book Pinoy Entrepreneur for instance gives a step by step instruction on how to start a business. It’s not a perfect recipe but you can start with that. He has his own failures too- in fact so many of them. But that’s the lesson of life that is not usually taught in schools. Kiyosaki said Financial IQ is the synergy of many skills and talents, a combination of four technical skills: markets, accounting, investing, and law – or MAIL. M is for understanding markets, which is about supply and demand. A stands for Accounting which is what Kiyosaki called a vital skill - financial literacy. The more money you are responsible for, the more accuracy is required. It is the ability to read and understand financial statements which allows you to identify the strengths and weaknesses of any business you are eyeing to join. I is for Investing, which involves strategies and formulas. The science of money making money as mentioned earlier. And the fourth, your skills about the Law. Here you must gain knowledge in taking advantage of reducing or exempting you from paying the taxes, in a legal manner. And becoming knowledgeable of the law will protect you from lawsuits.

About three years ago, a bank is selling a foreclosed townhouse in Taytay, Rizal with a lot area of fifty-six square meters for Five Hundred Fifty Thousand Pesos. The bank requires Ten Thousand Pesos non-refundable reservation fee, and at least twenty percent (20%) initial payment from interested buyers of that two-storey and two-bedroom property. Weeks before the find, I’ve noticed that SM Development Corporation is placing construction fences about five hundred meters away from the subdivision. I thought of it as an opportunity and must not let go of the chance. I must decide quickly because it was a Friday afternoon and there will be no business transaction the following day. The bank will be posting the property in classified ads that immediate weekend and it will be swarmed by a lot of potential buyers. But how could I buy it since I do not even have Php 100,000.00 to pay for the down-payment? After convincing my lifetime partner – my wife, I filled-out the reservation form and sent it to the bank in Makati City via fax. That same day after inspecting the property, I made a check amounting to Php 10,000.00 as reservation fee and gave it to the broker in exchange of an acknowledgement receipt. Following Monday, I was in Makati City paying the bank with Php 100,000.00 I loaned from a financial institution. I managed to pay the remaining balance through in-house loan, which costs me Php 4,400 every month. After making a few improvements, we are now living today on that property right beside a shopping mall in Taytay. We have sent out signals that we intend to sell the property at the right price. Somebody is bidding 1.4 Million Pesos, but I said I will sell it if he can give me 1.7 Million Pesos and a down-payment of Php 400,000.00. If someone will buy, I’m going to use his down-payment to pay in full my mortgage in the bank. I would have then invented more than One Million Pesos which I can use to buy another property. Opportunities come constantly but we fail to recognize its potential. You will never know it unless you gained Financial IQ and grab the opportunities hanging right in front of our face.

Do not think of your job as a source of income, WORK TO LEARN – NOT TO EARN. Because you gained financial literacy, you can perform your job at the same time acquiring your assets. We have a lot of learning opportunities in the service. But do not rely on it, think out of the box. Invest in learning by paying even costly trainings. Warren Buffet never invested in IT companies during the early 1990’s simply because he can not understand it. Improve your vocabulary, your public speaking ability, your selling skills, bargaining techniques – learn from every opportunity. You can even join multi-level marketing or networking business, not just to earn but to learn.

So you ask me, what is the first step in getting rich that you can start now? Well, if you bought those ideas that I just shared – then you are done with the first step. It’s up to you to follow-through with the second step, and the third, until you reach that point of becoming rich. We have been discussing about it since the start – START GETTING RICH TODAY by acquiring financial literacy. How many stories have you heard about lottery winners who won millions of pesos, but end up more miserable than their previous financial condition? Have you heard about uneducated people who became rich? It’s not about their highest educational attainment – it’s about money management.

And the first thing you have to do to manage your finances is to pay yourself first before paying your bills. But paying yourself first does not mean to spend it for you for anything that you desire. It means, setting aside a portion of your monthly income, say at least 10 percent and make it also earn for itself. If the rest of your money is not enough, it gives you motivation to create more money. I did not say don’t spend your money. You need to buy your basic services and commodities such as food, electricity, telephone, etc. What I mean is for you to think first before spending anything. Every peso is your employee. Think before letting go of that very hard-working employee. Consider it every time you spend as another hard-working employee leaving your empire of richness.

Let me give you an insight on how are you going to measure the wealth of a person, or how will you measure your wealth. Is it by the amount of money you have in your savings account? No. Wealth can be measured by determining how long you will survive after loosing your job, business or other sources of income. That’s how rich you are. Again, it boils down to one thing – your income less your average expenses is your measure of wealth. So, the basic guideline is: increase your income generating activities, and reduce your monthly recurring expenses.