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Back Opinion OP-ED Jose Ma. Montelibano
Jose Ma. Montelibano
Jose Ma. Montelibano

Jose Ma. Montelibano

13 Sep 2012
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Does anyone know how much money Filipino-Americans send to their families in the Philippines? I am told it is $8 billion annually or about P340 billion. I am not sure if Filipino-Canadians are included in this amount. Either way, the amount is staggering.

Does anyone know how many Filipino-Americans remit money home? Well, the latest available study of Asian-Americans pinpoint Filipinos somewhere at the top with 52% of them sending money to the Philippines.

06 Sep 2012
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The PRC is the Philippine Regulatory Commission. I believe it is tasked to regulate licenses of professionals like doctors, nurses, engineers, etc. I have never dealt with the PRC although I have been approached by interested parties asking for endorsements to become commissioners in this agency. Of course, I never got to accommodate any of these requests because I have no influence whatsoever with the appointing authorities.

At this point, though, I cannot help but wish I did have some kind of influence, not the necessarily the kind that can get commissioners appointed but get some of them terminated. Over the years, in pursuit of my twin advocacies, Gawad Kalinga (GK) and good citizenship, I have had the privilege of regular presence in two major fields – where the very poor are and where Filipino-Americans live. And from these two sectors, I experience the kind of ugly attitude that some government bureaucrats have for the poor who mean little them, and to Filipino-Americans who do medical missions in the Philippines.

First, let me start with the fact that the DOH itself admits it does not have the resources, and hunger and material, to serve all Filipinos. The last I heard, 20-25% of Filipinos, and I assume mostly the poorest among us, cannot get medical services from both government and the private sector. We are talking about out 20-25 million Filipinos here.

Because they are very poor, and many times in remote, hard to reach areas, these Filipinos live and die without medical intervention. Their only hope would be the kindness of doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners who do medical missions for free from the kindness of their hearts.

Medical missions are done by Filipinos based in the country or by Filipino-Americans. It is not so important where they are from. What matters most is that they want to help those who need help but cannot afford to pay for medical services and products. Those who do medical missions are not only kind, they are generous and heroic.

When Philippine-based doctors, dentists and other medical practitioners do their medical missions, what permits do they need from the PRC before they can do so?  And these groups often ask, and receive, donations from pharmaceutical companies. Later, as members of the Philippine Medical Association, these kind-hearted medical practitioners get citations of appreciation for their humanitarian endeavors.

Yet, with all the volunteer work of locally-initiated medical missions, hundreds or thousands of them, the DOH continues to profess that millions of Filipinos cannot get the medical treatment.

The PRC licenses doctors, dentists, nurses and other medical practitioners. Why cannot PRC use its powers to persuade those it licenses to treat the needy? Of course, PRC will say it cannot use its powers to force medical practitioners to give their services for free, or when they do not want to. After all, ours is a democracy, PRC will claim.

But if PRC cannot help millions of poor Filipinos get medical treatment, sometimes for the only in their lives, if the DOH admits it cannot serve millions, if the private sector, medical practitioners and pharmaceutical companies cannot do the same as well, then why not actively ask help from whoever can help, why not be a voice for those among us who mutely live and die without a chance to get medical intervention?

Besides being inadequate to its share of the challenge of poverty which denies health services to millions, what we have is a PRC that makes it difficult, frustrating and exasperating for Filipino-American doctors, dentists, nurses and other medical professionals to conduct their medical missions at their own expense, all the way from America? What is it about our poor people that gives PRC the attitude that they are of little or no to PRC who will not go out of its way to play big brother and help them? Worse, why would the same PRC force kinder Filipinos from the US to go through an obstacle course Just to get imposed permits before they can serve the poor?

There have been many discussions, debates and arguments to justify the unjustifiable. Is it so hard for the PRC to understand that it cannot justify denying free health services that the government and the private sector cannot extend to the poor? What is the PRC worried about, that the Philippine Medical Association will frown if Filipino-American medical missions are freely allowed, even facilitated? The same association cannot bring its members to fully address the marginalized population of Filipinos. What is the PRC worried about, that the pharmaceutical companies will frown if Filipino-Americans will bring suitcases of free medicine which the same companies cannot afford anymore to donate themselves?

What higher reason would stop the PRC from encouraging and facilitating Filipino-American medical missions? Other government agencies, like our Central Bank, already bask in the outstanding level of our foreign reserves which Filipino-Americans substantially contribute to – as in billions of dollars every year and growing. Does the PRC know this? Real estate developers scramble to sell to Filipino-Americans. Does the PRC know this? The Department of Tourism and Philippine consulates in the US court Filipino-Americans to visit the motherland. Does the PRC know this, or the fact that many Filipino-American medical missions already aborted scheduled trips here – thanks to the utak wang-wang pervading among commissioners of the PRC?

It does not mean that absolutely no guidance is necessary for Filipino-American medical missions. Some form of registration, even if only to gather information about who they are so government and the people can officially thank them, would be good. At the same time, the PRC can ask the 40,000+ barangays in the Philippines to identify the poor who cannot afford medical treatment so medical missions, both locally-initiated or Filipino-American, will know where they can go and be of help. The PRC can also get instant help from the data bank of the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program of the DSWD which already identifies millions of poor families.

In other words, the PRC should make guidelines that make it easier for the poor to get help. I think it is nothing less than criminal for the PRC to instead stand in the way of those who want to help.

31 Aug 2012
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It becomes clearer by each new visit, of which I have had quarterly for almost five years, that Filipinos in America continue to carry the flame in their heart for their motherland. The most intense evidence of this is their active attachment to family, resulting in approximately $8 billion of annual remittances.

I was informed that on December 24, 2010, Western Union and PNB recorded 1 million transactions of Filipinos in America remitting to their families in the Philippines. Although I have never been able to verify the exactness of the claimed number of transactions, the message is clear – the bonds of families are strong. And through these bonds, Filipinos and the Philippines retain their intimacy.

23 Aug 2012
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A schism, according to Wikipedia, is a division between people, usually belonging to an organization or movement of a religious denomination. The word is most frequently applied to a break of communion between two sections of Christianity that were previously a single body, or to a division within some other religion.

From the Catholic encyclopedia, schism is, in the language of theology and canon law, the rupture of ecclesiastical union and unity.

And from the dynamics within the Philippine Catholic Church and faithful, the seeds of a schism are now clearly planted by the controversy over the RH Bill.

17 Aug 2012
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My heart skipped a beat when I read what Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson said about presidential instructions to relocate about 200,000 poor from their threatened habitat. These families are all living, if you can call it that after seeing their sardine-like existence, along river banks, esteros and drainage canals. I had written just last week that government and Philippine society cannot just quietly stand by while flood after flood will kill, maim and render homeless these same families. I had mentioned that government must bite the bullet by taking these families out of harm’s way and build them new communities elsewhere.

10 Aug 2012
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I write at the tail end, hopefully, of a very wet no-name rain with a very terrible impact of Metro Manila and several Luzon provinces. It is almost impossible to believe that there was no storm, that this was only another of those southwest monsoon rains. Wow! When I was first told by a high-ranking environmental officer about the meaning of “new normal” last year, I understood the words intellectually but had to experience these last few days to REALLY understand.

03 Aug 2012
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I had taken a firm stand against Charter change initiatives when three presidents pushed it. My reason was simple. They seemed and smelled to me like they used all kinds of alibis to hide a crime – the extension of their official hold to power. They all claimed economic reasons, dangerously saying that certain provisions of the Constitution weakened our competitiveness. More specifically, charter change pushers wanted foreigners to own land.

It had always puzzled me why politicians with all the pomp and perks of office would want to be real estate salespeople. I know that there are commissions involved in selling land, and you can double or triple your earnings if you buy low and then sell high. With inside information, this is easy. There are a few local phrases to describe these, such as lutong makaw, ginisa sa sariling mantika, and even bantay salakay. But are thirty pieces of silver really worth it?

27 Jul 2012
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Without a doubt, the SONA of P-Noy can go down in Philippine history as one of the best. It is less the good report that was presented than the fact that a full-fledged report was submitted to his boss – the people of the Philippines.  I hope that the TV stations that cover SONAs continue to keep in their archives the previous SONAs delivered by past presidents. That way, direct comparisons can be made.

Would you believe that after one and a half hours of a long speech, I still read certain comments about what was missed out. P-Noy was right again, that there would be the usual critics just listening and waiting to find fault. It mattered less to them that this SONA was so detailed, the most detailed ever given, because they were only waiting for what was not mentioned.

21 Jul 2012
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It never entered my mind that China, the new superpower of the world, would even think of bullying our small nation. For so long, experts on China would tell me on the long history of China not attacking its neighbors although often had itself attacked, invaded, conquered. I saw only the Tibet takeover of China, but China claimed that it had not attacked a neighbor – only reclaimed what was China’s in the first place.

When China suddenly, and irrationally, claims Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Reef) as theirs even though the shoal is less than 200 miles from the nearest Philippine shore and about 800 miles from the nearest Chinese counterpart shore, I did not know what to make of it. I say irrationally because the Philippines is already largely owned by Chinese-Filipinos, many of whom sourced goods, credit and capital from China. It did not seem useful, or even sane, for China to start provoking the Philippines when Chinese-Filipino businessmen, or Chinoys, dominate the Philippine economy.

Perhaps, I underestimated the awesome volume of strategic resources that lie under the waters within the 200 miles from Philippine shores. The oil and gas reserves that have been pinpointed as within Philippine jurisdiction represent value that is beyond the trillions of dollars they are worth when monetized; more than that, they represent fuel to drive the engines of factories. Simply put, they mean security.

Perhaps, I underestimated the newfound power of a giant of a country with over a billion people – and the natural superior valuation of itself over other nations. What would I understand about the possible resentment that China may have been felt as foreigners once divided Chinese territory like loot being shared? The revolution that Mao began may not be over in the minds and hearts of key Chinese leaders who want to do to others what was once done to them.

I remember the case of Great Britain when their isles were fodder for the invaders of mainland Europe for 1,500 years. It seemed every Tom, Dick and Harry of a country in the mainland had their turn in looting, raping and plundering the tribes in the British Isles.  But when Alfred the Great managed to make the warring tribes unite to fight the foreign invaders, he also triggered the birth of a powerful nation that then went on a conquering spree around the world.  The once conquered followed the footsteps of its previous masters and became the primary colonizer of the earth.

Or, perhaps, I know next to nothing about the internal power struggles of a superpower whose civilian leaders have not tamed their military counterparts. The Central Committee can be locked in a competition for power and perks with the PLO, at least according to experts who make it their profession to follow and study China. It seems corruption is a major issue even within the military, and any effort to cleanse their ranks of wayward officers is meeting stiff resistance.  A recent article claims that the hawks now control the PLO, and the PLO is the one dictating the aggressive incursions into, and claims of ownership over, islands that are part of Philippine territory.

It may very well be opposing mindsets within the power blocs in China that has made this superpower an enigma of sorts to Filipinos. Even as tensions rise in the West Philippine Seas, or the South China Seas as China will surely insist when referring to this body of water, China grants us billions in concessional loans for a dam. And I am sure there are many more projects that China has been not only cooperative in supporting the Philippines but actually generous.  So, we have a spectrum of views and attitudes within the ruling factions in China, and these find their confusing way to us.

I carry no rancor for China, or the Chinese. God knows how much Chinese blood has intermingled with our native strain, but I can safely say a lot. We are Asians, we have much more commonality than differences. And we are a small-sized country with a weak military capability if attacked by a superpower. There is no motivation for Filipinos to fight China.

At the same time, I am aware of what partisan politics can do to a nation. I do not have to look far. I do not have to read the history of nations to know just how destructive internal conflict can be not only for citizens of an affected country but to its international relations as well.  We have had decades of pro and anti-America sentiments that have led to divisiveness, and death, among Filipinos. The screaming rallyists who pounce on every possibility to go against a government they believe to be pro-American or elite-led have become unusually quiet in the face of China’s aggressive posturing over Philippine territory. If we can have diametrically opposing agenda here, why can it not happen to China?

It is most unfortunate, then, that we receive from China a contrast or contradictory set of attitudes and actions. That is a political reality, however, not much different from how Democrats and Republicans in the United States, especially during campaign periods, give the impression that they are two countries with such conflicting values and perspectives. We Filipinos just have to be prepared for everything, for the good and the bad, and survive no matter which kind of policy is applied to us at any time.

Today, there is urgency in preparing ourselves. We begin by being aware that our government will be as weak as we are as a people. That is what democracy is – that government reflects the people. If we want our government to be firm in its dealings with China, we as a people must first provide the government with our firmness.  Do we negotiate meekly or stubbornly?  Do we submit or do we fight? That is up to us.

Meanwhile, I can only ask, “Why, China, why?”

13 Jul 2012
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It is a different world out there now. It is not necessarily better, but we have to realize just how different it is from before, and more importantly, just how fast the changes are happening. The rate of change, after change itself, will determine the kind of environment we all live in – the individual environments and the global one. Those who plan the future of countries and those who govern and implement those plans must be keenly aware that the speed by which our lives are shifting demands an understanding that anticipates flexibility. Conversely, the rate of change today will wreak havoc on patterns that impose rigidity.

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