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Related readings on DSWD and relief

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GMACabral

Yesterday, the Inquirer's editorial, Turtle-paced relief, looked at the controversy caused by a blog entry that questioned the speed at which donated relief goods made it out the door and into the hands of intended aid recipients. The editorial gave DSWD Secretary Esperanza Cabral's response to the questions raised in the blog entry, but also pointed out that the DSWD's own records showed a senator, congressmen, and cabinet members intervened in the release of relief goods, contradicting Secretary Cabral's own policy of making relief and rehabilitation "politico-proof."

The editorial also mentioned the 2006 South Leyte Mudslide, which had relief efforts marred by officials plundering relief goods and sending often inedible goods to the victims (Stella Arnaldo in her blog, points out the deterioration of the DSWD and corruption in its ranks dates back to the Marcos administration; the Guinsaugon tragedy took place under the current administration's watch and partially explains the climate of hostility or suspicion that surrounds government relief).

Northern Luzon needs your help!

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Please read this appeal in the Marocharim Experiment: Northern Luzon needs your help:

Typhoon Pepeng is wreaking havoc in Northern Luzon. There are reports of landslides, floods, and devastation in the Ilocos Region, Cagayan Valley, and my homeland of the Cordilleras. The worst part for me, personally, is that many of my friends still live in the area, and are suffering the brunt of this storm. Messages from friends are describing a waterworld in Baguio that I never got to experience in 22 years of living there, and it saddens me to realize that the geography of Northern Luzon makes it a challenge to help people.

Let us rise up to that challenge; not only as Filipinos, but as human beings who help out in times of calamity, disaster, and devastation.

For us here in Metro Manila, the Internet has been a powerful tool for rescue and recovery in the wake and wrath of Typhoon Ondoy. We can harness that same power for the victims of Typhoon Pepeng up north, and perhaps translate that to a relief effort that will alleviate their suffering.



Updates and alerts

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I've moved my updates to a new entry. I won't be updating How to help : please help focus attention and help update List of Places to Donate instead.

For an overview of the situation, see OndoyManila which is supported by Google and with volunteers from around the world updating it.

For relief/response see also Sahana FOSS Disaster Management System, set up by volunteers, supported by IBM, and adopted by the National Disaster Coordinating Council.They have a Sanaha Forum, please visit; and here's the Volunteer Sheet for the Sahana Project.

There is an unofficial List of Missing Persons put up by the Ateneo de Manila.GMA News Also has a Missing Person Database.

For concerned individuals overseas, here's how to donate if you're abroad.

Follow me on Twitter for more regular updates.

How you can help (being updated)

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Note:  Follow me on Twitter for more regular updates.

9/29/09

12:49 PM List of impassable roads as of today. Here's an Unofficial Database of People Still Missing.

12:37 PM Commission on Higher Education announced classes suspended at all levels, private & public schools until Saturday in NCR, other areas under state of calamity.

11:44 AM The Ondoy Manila disaster map has been massively expanded to include provinces outside Metro Manila. Help out by filling out the Map Update Form (for those maintaining the map, perhaps it's time to color code past/ongoing events).

So many heroes. So many victims. There is growing awareness of the necessity of knowing which bank accounts, etc. are verified, so that donations aren't diverted to fraudulent ends. Check the Online Donations Options page for a list of verified bank accounts (domestic and international).

There are Filipinos abroad, in particular, who may not have much cash but are willing to gather relief goods if there's a way to send the stuff home. Please get in touch with the nearest Philippine embassy or consulate first! There is the unfortunate but distinct possibility relief goods you send home would be intercepted by the Bureau of Customs and either impounded or taxed!

Please review the Philippine National Red Cross' advisory concerning donations of goods/items for relief:

1. Send a letter of intent to donate to the PNRC 2. A letter of acceptance from PNRC shall be sent back to the donor 3. Immediately after shipping the goods, please send the (a) original Deed of Donation, (b) copy of packing list and (c) original Airway Bill for air shipments or Bill of Lading for sea shipments to The Philippine National Red Cross National Headquarters c/o Secretary General Corazon Alma de Leon, Bonifacio Drive, Port Area, Manila 2803, Philippines.

Outflanking her enemies

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gma_afp.jpg

This passage (by Ryszard Kapuscinski, first put forward in my entry of February 22, 2008), considering not only recent goings-on in Iran, but goings-on here at home, comes to mind:

It is authority that provokes revolution. Certainly, it does not do so consciously. Yet its style of life and way of ruling finally become a provocation. This occurs when a feeling of impunity takes root among the elite: We are allowed anything, we can do anything. This is a delusion, but it rests on a certain rational foundation. For a while, it does indeed look as if they can do whatever they want. Scandal after scandal and illegality after illegality go unpunished. The people remain silent, patient, wary. They are afraid and do not yet feel their own strength. At the same time, they keep a detailed account of the wrongs, which at one particular moment are to be added up. The choice of that moment is the greatest riddle known to history. Why did it happen on that day, and not on another? Why did this event, and not some other, bring it about? After all, the government was indulging in even worse excesses only yesterday, and there was no reaction at all. “What have I done?” asks the ruler, at a loss. “What has possessed them all of a sudden?” This is what he has done: He has abused the patience of the people. But where is the limit of that patience? How can it be defined? If the answer can be determined at all, it will be different in each case. The only certain thing is that rulers who know that such a limit exists and know how to respect it can count on holding power for a long time. But there are few such rulers.

I think it's fair to say the President has learned how to push the envelope without bringing the whole house of cards tumbling down. It helps that quite a few of her in house tacticians earned their spurs during the Marcos years, in the Marcos administration. They knew well enough that no situation unfolds exactly the same as a previous one; but that in bold strokes, an old battle plan might be useful if suitable tweaked and revised.

In bold strokes: keep many possibilities up in the air; pursue them simultaneously; switch your emphasis from one to the other, depending on circumstances and as opportunities arise; recognize the essentials, as far as public opinion is concerned; never force your foes to feel their backs are against the wall until you possess overwhelming force; meanwhile, pick them off one by one; recognize that the ultimate trump cards in the president's hands are the armed forces and police, and that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, if divided, is as much a bulwark of support as it might be a focus for rallying one's opponents; and always maintain the appearance of legality.

So we are seeing a dizzying number of possibilities raised, knocked down, revived, shelved, or what have you; the essentials, however, have been identified -primarily, an election in 2010- while everyone is still kept guessing, so that the resources of the enemy are dissipated while that of the administration is more cohesive; the military and police have been kept fat and well-groomed, the hierarchy remains divided, and everything is geared for resolution in the Supreme Court.

I know many people, both among her admirers and her critics, strongly believe the President's bottom line is simple: she does not want to be disgraced by going to jail, and she wants to complete her term. I do believe that her stay in office has also convinced her that God put her in power to kick the country into shape. Therefore to be convinced of failure when it comes to the former, will only inspire her to pursue staying in power, as her self-preservation, to her mind, becomes a case of national survival, too.

So all options must remain on the table for the duration, if only to keep everyone guessing. It helps distract her leading opponents, but also, helps keep her supporters tractable.

For example, Lito Banayo thinks that Gilbert Teodoro's headed for a trap: he will have to resign from the cabinet on November 30 to pursue his candidacy for the presidency; at which point, Hermogenes Esperon will become Secretary of National Defense. Meanwhile, the President has showered Class 1978 of the Philippine Military Academy with promotions and raised them to the command of strategic forces: "In the Army," Banayo points out, which "is 75% of all the armed forces," her loyalists command "six out of 10 infantry divisions." All dissent within the AFP has been suppressed; the Marines are kept busy in Mindanao. The case against General Francisco V. Gudani is instructive, too.


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(photo from Jose Antonio Figueroa collection)

Now let me reproduce a passage from Ferdinand Marcos' diary, from September 1, 1972. Senator Daniel Inouye, on a visit to supposedly survey typhoon damage, confided to Marcos that he was in town to "see the general situation." Marcos then goes on to recount,

He asked me what is going to happen. He explained that he has been told there are four options: 1. Extension of my term 2. A parliamentary form of government 3. I run for reelection 3. Martial law.

I immediately countered that I do not need martial law to win an election and that in the present situation anybody I opposed would come out; that I would not agree to allowing the First Lady to run since it would be unfair to her. "We are too old in this game to need martial law to get votes," I said and he smiled with understanding.

"However," I explained, "do not misunderstand me. If the communists sow terror in Manila. If they bomb and burn, kill and kidnap, if they use the Vietcong tactics; then I will not hesitate to proclaim martial law."

"What I would prefer would be an extension. But I would accept it only if the political opposition agrees to it. If they do not I will not agree to it."

"I would then try to be a Prime Minister."

"But I would first wipe out the communists before the next President or Prime Minister takes over so he has a chance. I need several years to build up my replacement. None of those aspiring now are fit to lead the country. Aquino and Diokno are demagogues and are communist-inclined. They would immediately set up a communist regime. Roxas is a weakling. He would not risk his life to protect our freedoms. Puyat is an oligarch. He has too many interests to protect."

"What we need is somebody who is trusted by the Armed Forces, is a liberal thinker, will fight communism and will risk not only his life but everything in this fight."

Consider the tactics in play in this passage.

1. Reassure everyone of your adherence to democracy;

2. Downgrade your enemies;

3. Point to a credible threat;

4. And point to yourself, by virtue of this process of elimination, as the one who should be left standing, by force of arms if need be.

Now consider this video, of the President speaking at the PaLaKa unification shindig.



Here is the transcript of what the President said:

Let us also make the alliance between the local government units and the Armed Forces of the Philippines a major campaign plank, especially in the local elections.   

I ask Administration candidates to take this up as a key governance thrust, and openly support those who pledge to push peace and development, and oppose collaborators of those who seek to use violence to overthrow government and to impose their obsolete ideology on the people. (applause)

In 2010, let us have none of our LGUs flirting with the enemies of the state. (applause) And let us show those who continue to do so as undermining their communities and their Republic. I am confident that with you working with me now under one political name and banner, we can further strengthen our partnership in pursuit of the people’s welfare.

In 2010, let us have none of our LGUs flirting with the enemies of the state. (applause) And let us show those who continue to do so as undermining their communities and their Republic. I am confident that with you working with me now under one political name and banner, we can further strengthen our partnership in pursuit of the people’s welfare.

Our government has always found it easier and more productive to bring down projects and services to provinces and localities where governors are not at odds with congressmen, or mayors are not at odds with their governors or their congressmen. And I am glad that our merged party will have a mechanism for reconciliation or, if necessary, the adjudication of disputes at the local level.

Cynics and detractors love to paint grim scenarios about a cancellation of the 2010 elections. Let this merger of LAKAS and KAMPI be tangible proof of the Administration’s readiness, nay determination, to help ensure that the elections do push through. (applause)

The emergence of LAKAS-KAMPI-CMD as one party is our finest weapon and perhaps our best guarantee for success in the 2010 elections. (applause) I look upon LAKAS-KAMPI, moving as one, fighting as one, as the instrument and vehicle for electing the best, most qualified and the worthiest leaders of our country. (applause)

Let us strive for victory which not only our party but the entire nation and our democracy can claim as their own.  

I've been trying to find an Executive Order the President reportedly recently signed, instituting the above as an official policy of her administration.

But straight from the horse's mouth is the emerging tactic of pursuing a showdown with the Left, to galvanize support within the military, and set the stage for a showdown which opens up many tactical opportunities: a means to crack down on local government leaders being just one of these opportunities, under the guise of a renewed offensive against the Left, along the lines long ago drawn up by Norberto Gonzales and friends.

This is not an encouraging one, for those inclined to hope 2010 comes along and resolves the past few years' divisions by taking the President out of the equation.

She sees an opening and intends to maximize it. Of course there will be elections. It will be accompanied by a showdown. The showdown... well, it expands the options available to the ruling party.

The Filipino Garibaldi

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(above: President Aguinaldo with veterans of the Revolution at the funeral of President Roxas in 1948)

A British writer once referred to Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy as "The Filipino Garibaldi," and the comparison seems appropriate. The story of his life has yet to be properly written; much of it will include his long battle to assert the Magdalo version of our history.

That version asserts June 12, 1898 as Independence Day. Our choice of June 12, 1898 as Independence Day, instead of say, August 29, 1896 when Bonifacio issued a proclamation calling on the citizenry to rise up in arms (the date of the famous tearing of cedulas being mired in controversy to this day), is interesting to me.

What is it, about Bonifacio's August 28, 1896 Proclamation, that makes it unfit as the founding document of our nationhood?
This manifesto is for all of you:
It is absolutely necessary for us to stop at the earliest possible time the nameless oppressions being perpetrated on the sons of the country who are now suffering the brutal punishment and tortures in jails, and because of this please let all the brethren know that on Saturday, the 29th of the current month, the revolution shall commence according to our agreement. For this purpose it is necessary for all towns to rise simultaneously and attack Manila at the same time. Anybody who obstructs this sacred ideal of the people will be considered a traitor and an enemy, except if he is ill or is not physically fit, in which case he shall be tried according to the regulations we have put in force.
Mount of Liberty, 28th August 1896.

Andres Bonifacio

What eventually transpired, of course, was that the professionals asserted control of the Revolution as Bonifacio's class background and lack of success as a military leader turned the provincial worthies among his supporters into critics, then rivals.
By 1897, the Katipunan as the vehicle for the Revolution, and as its government, became increasingly unattractive to provincial leaders who may have been unsettled by the subordination of the old hierarchies to what they could've increasingly resented as a bunch of urban amateurs. And perhaps, the romantic belief of Bonifacio that Castilian mores ought to be purged, replacing even the concept of nationhood as Filipinas with his idea of the new polity being Katagalugan, was just too strange and smacked of the kind of leveling the provincial worthies felt was too radical.
For this reason, this song, Marangal na Dalit ng Katagalugan, which was really our first national anthem, is hardly remembered and indeed, had to be reconstructed by the composer long after the events of 1896-1897.

Marangal na Dalit ng Katagalugan - Inang Laya


The victory of Aguinaldo was as much an assertion of the historic destiny and hierarchical sureties of the principalia; when he was inaugurated president in Malolos, the cane he carried was a symbol of authority dating back to the days of the cabezas de barangay, of which he'd been one, after all.

Here's another song, Inang Laya's version of Alerta, Katipunan! which was originally a Spanish military march. The music was adopted by the Katipuneros and new lyrics added. I've often wondered why this isn't the official march of the Philippine Army.


Alerta Katipunan - Inang Laya

Anyway, so today is, officially, the 111th anniversary of the Proclamation of Philippine Independence, and the culmination of our flag days. June 12 has been Flag Day since 1941.

Not content with a single day, in 1998 an innovation was put in place, "flag days," beginning on May 28, the date the flag was first carried aloft in battle.

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The flag, as rendered by Eric Agoncillo Ambata in an approximation of the 1898 ratio and features. You can see my June 5, 2005 entry for details on how our flag belongs to a Flag Family that includes Cuba and Puerto Rico.

The Proclamation of Independence in Kawit on June 12, 1898 stated the symbolism of the flag:

And lastly, it was results unanimously that this Nation, already free and independent as of this day, must used the same flag which up to now is being used, whose designed and colored are found described in the attached drawing, the white triangle signifying the distinctive emblem of the famous Society of the "Katipunan" which by means of its blood compact inspired the masses to rise in revolution; the three stars, signifying the three principal Islands of these Archipelago - Luzon, Mindanao, and Panay where the revolutionary movement started; the sun representing the gigantic step made by the son of the country along the path of Progress and Civilization; the eight rays, signifying the eight provinces - Manila, Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Bataan, Laguna, and Batangas - which declares themselves in a state of war as soon as the first revolt was initiated; and the colors of Blue, Red, and White, commemorating the flag of the United States of America, as a manifestation of our profound gratitude towards this Great Nation for its disinterested protection which it lent us and continues lending us.

Considering all the debates concerning the original colors and design of the flag, it's a pity that the "attached drawing" has never been found (details on the debates, etc. can be found in my Flags of the World article on the Philippine flag).

Apolinario Mabini in La Revolucion Filipina was of the opinion the proclamation of independence was premature, and the document read in Kawit, defective:

...I realized also that the proclamation of independence which was being made that day was premature and imprudent because the Americans were concealing their true designs while we were making ours manifest. I foresaw, of course, that because of this want of caution the American commanders and forces would be on guard against the revolutionists, and the United States consuls on the China coast would sabotage the purchase of arms for the revolution. However, unable to prevent the proclamation because I had arrived too late to do so, I kept my peace and set myself to studying in detail the measures most urgently called for in the existing situation.

After the capitulation of Manila, the Philippine Government moved from Bacoor, Cavite, to Malolos, Bulacan, where the newly created Congress held its first session. The first results of this assembly's deliberations were the ratification of the proclamation of independence prematurely made in Kawit, and the decision to draft a constitution for the establishment of a Philippine Republic.

I haven't located a copy of the September 29, 1898 ratification of the proclamation of independence, but it would surely make for interesting reading, compared to the Proclamation made at Kawit.

Aguinaldo wrote his own True History of the Philippine Revolution to rebut Mabini. There's two sections concerning the flag:

In conformity with my orders issued on the 1st of September, all Philippine vessels hoisted the national flag, the Marines of the Filipino flotilla being the first to execute that order. Our little flotilla consisted of some eight Spanish steam launches (which had been captured) and five vessels of greater dimensions, namely, the Taaleño, Baldyan, Taal, Bulucan, and Purisima Concepcion. These vessels were presented to the Philippine Government by their native owners and were converted by us, at our Arsenal, into gunboats, 8 and 9 centimetre guns, taken from the sunken Spanish warships, being mounted on board.

Ah! what a beautiful, inspiring joyous sight that flag was fluttering in the breeze from the topmasts of our vessels, side by side, as it were, with the ensigns of other and greater nations, among whose mighty warships our little cruisers passed to and fro dipping their colours, the ensign of Liberty and Independence! With what reverence and adoration it was viewed as it suddenly rose in its stately loneliness crowning our victories, and, as it were, smiling approvingly upon the undisciplined Philippine Army in the moment of its triumphs over the regular forces of the Spanish Government! One's heart swells and throbs again with the emotions of extreme delight; the soul is filled with pride, and the goal of patriotism seems well-nigh reached in the midst of such a magnificent spectacle!

At the end of June I called on Admiral Dewey, who, after complimenting me on the rapid triumphs of the Philippine Revolution, told me he had been asked by the German and French Admirals why he allowed the Filipinos to display on their vessels a flag that was not recognized. Admiral Dewey said his reply to the French and German Admirals was—with his knowledge and consent the Filipinos used that flag, and, apart from this, he was of opinion that in view of the courage and steadfastness of purpose displayed in the war against the Spaniards the Filipinos deserved the right to use their flag.

I thereupon expressed to the Admiral my unbounded gratitude for such unequivocal protection, and on returning to the shore immediately ordered the Philippine flotilla to convey troops to the other provinces of Luzon and to the Southern islands, to wage war against the Spaniards who garrisoned them.

And this one, about Commodore Dewey:

The Dictatorial Government decided that the proclamation of Independence should take place on the 12th June, the ceremony in connection therewith to be held in the town of Kawit. With this object in view I sent a Commission to inform the Admiral of the arrangement and invite him to be present on the occasion of the formal proclamation of Independence, a ceremony which was solemnly and impressively conducted. The Admiral sent his Secretary to excuse him from taking part in the proceedings, stating the day fixed for the ceremony was mail day...

During that month (July) Admiral Dewey accompanied by General Anderson visited Cavite, and after the usual exchange of courtesies he said—“You have had ocular demonstration and confirmation of all I have told you and promised you. How pretty your flag is! It has a triangle, and is something like the Cubans'. Will you give me one as a memento when I go back home?”

I replied that I was fully satisfied with his word of honour and of the needlessness of having our agreement in documentary form. As to the flag he wanted, he could have one whenever he wished.

The Admiral continued: Documents are useless when there is no sense of honour on one side, as was the case in respect of the compact with the Spaniards, who failed to act up to what had been written and signed. Have faith in my word, and I assure you that the United States will recognize the independence of the country. But I recommend you to keep a good deal of what we have said and agreed secret at present. I further request you to have patience if any of our soldiers insult any Filipinos, for being Volunteers they are as yet undisciplined.

I replied that I would bear in mind all his advice regarding cautiousness, and that with respect to the misconduct of the soldiers orders had already been issued enjoining forbearance, and I passed the same remarks to the Admiral about unpleasantness possibly arising through lack of discipline of our own forces.

The flag was banned by the Americans from 1907-1919. From 1919 to 1941, Flag Day was on October 30. See How our flag flew again by Joe Quirino.

pre_1936_2

The stampita above was part of a series sold to raise funds for the Independence Missions from 1919-1933, particularly after a court case decided public funds could not be appropriated for the purpose of lobbying for independence. It shows how the mythical face on the sun was already passing from popular use, although the 7:8 ratio and non-equilateral triangle of the 1898 design were still current in the 1920s and early 1930s.

inaugural-parade

At the inauguration of the Commonwealth on November 15, 1935, the giant Philippine flag, made of Japanese silk, was a gift from General Artemio Ricarte, who was still in exile in Japan, as he'd refused to recognize the American conquest. His gift of the Philippine flag was a token of solidarity with his countrymen as they embarked on full autonomy, the penultimate step to independence.


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The flag after the 1936 reforms that standardized its component parts and other features. To summarize the main differences, the old ratio of 7:8 was changed to 1:2 and the triangle was made an equilateral one, and the rays of the sun regularized and the mythical face, dropped.

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Our flag is unique as it is reversed in times of war; this has happened twice. From 1898-1901 when the First Republic was at war with the United States; and from 1941 to 1945 when we were at war with Japan. The poster above, commissioned by the Commonwealth government-in-exile, is also interesting because it confirms the use of Cuban blue for the flag.

When Aguinaldo participated in the first commemoration of June 12 as flag day, in 1941, he did so as a public act of endorsement and acceptance of the 1936 changes. During the Japanese Occupation, to distinguish the de facto Puppet Republic from the de jure Commonwealth, an effort was made to revive the 1898 design but it did not catch on.

The dilemma of the good soldier

The era of the preprogrammed Big Rally is over; that much was proven yesterday, I think.

As far as it goes, if what people had in mind yesterday, was to participate in the kick-off for a campaign culminating in a national noise barrage on the eve of the SONA, then it was a moderate success.

But that was not how many interpreted yesterday; it may be more accurate to think that pros, antis, and neutral parties all looked at it as a show of strength; if viewed in that manner, then it was a complete flop.

I do think there's broad opposition to a Constituent Assembly; but there was equally broad indifference to proving the point by means of a Big Rally.

This indifference does not mean that a time when a spontaneous outpouring of the public into the streets will never happen again; it can, and probably will; but I do think the political effectivity of orchestrated, massive demonstrations in one place must be seen as highly questionable.

The question then becomes, what now?

The answer actually lies in what took place yesterday.

Yesterday, there was a marked contrast between what took place in Makati City and yesterday along Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City (and what took place the weekend before along the Baywalk in Manila). The old was straddled by the new.

The old is seen in there being no fundamental difference between the administration or the opposition in that adhere to the adage that politics is a "numbers game." It does not matter how the numbers are produced, or even concocted, so long as they can be advertised.

The Palace advertises its numbers on a regular basis in its bailiwicks: Camp Aguinaldo, Camp Crame, the House of Representatives, among governors and mayors, in the courts, and the Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The opposition does the same in the Senate and in the streets. This is enough to keep the House of Representatives, for one, relatively in check; and the streets are enough to keep the Palace, the courts and the AFP and PNP on marginally good behavior, if only to maintain the existing divisions in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, on the principle that in a war of attrition, the administration ultimately wins.

Now both administration and opposition rely on the chain of command. The effectivity of both depends on leaders being obeyed by followers.

Where both are out of synch with an increasing portion of the public, methinks, is people have reach the point where taking orders has ceased to be either fun,or fulfilling, or a situation that makes any sense continuing at all.

In the past I've pointed out that the "old obediences" are disappearing and this is having an effect on all our institutions and that includes politically-involved ones.

Now we've reached what I'd like to call the dilemma of the good soldier. It's a dilemma I've been experiencing since 2006, actually.

I think it matters to take a stand; I find comfort and inspiration being with like-minded people, particularly when agreement in broad terms also leads to debate on the finer point of things.

But I am tired of having to contend with the various established leaders, who actually are very similar to the administration and its apologists in demanding that not only their followers, but everybody else, has to give up some of their freedoms in order to move the nation forward -when what they're advancing is their electoral chances in the next election, nothing more or less.

I'm also tired of the essentially atavistic nature of things: it's not that opposition to the administration should be reconsidered, it's that opposition only seems to manifest itself in predictable ways and has become so formulaic you have to wonder if it's all just for the sake of playacting.

People find meaning and fulfillment in associating with like-minded people; the need to belong is a very basic human compulsion. But it may be that the need to belong no longer has an appeal in terms of big, broad, sweeping movements; we surely still like the feeling of belonging, but crave a sense of intimacy.

But I also think people are increasingly insistent on personal integrity and independence. Gang Badoy pointed this out to me a year or two ago, when I quizzed her on the "silent protests" RockEd was holding along the BayWalk in Manila.

As I've become aware of this point of view, the more I think that it's not only it's very widespread, but the way forward.

People do not like being told what to think; people do not like having others put words in their mouth; people want to take a stand, yes, but on their own terms, she said. The broad suggestion having been made:

"Here's an issue. Are you for or against? We believe the following; if you agree, hang out with us from such and such a time to such and such a time in such and such a place, come when you will and leave when you must, and let's look at the sunset and think our own thoughts," is essentially how it works.

And it works beautifully. Some of those who went to Makati yesterday also went to the BayWalk on Sunday; I made mental comparisons between their stories and feel Sunday seemed to involve far less frustration and much more optimism than yesterday.

On Sunday, the broad call being made, it was up to the individual if they'd answer the call, and why, and also, up to them how they'd get there, what they'd do (some brought placards, others didn't), who they'd go with, and talk to, and for how long they'd stay.

Compare the problems that arise from trying to cobble together a mass action like yesterday's in Makati. The problems range from getting the various leaders to sit around a table and not fight with each other, to convincing their followers to hold their fire and maintain the peace for the duration of the mass action.

In itself, this is a worthwhile exercise in mutual respect and tolerance, but really, extremely draining as it means arriving at compromises that end up being so brittle, they lead to recriminations afterwards.

There is the problem of logistics, in simply getting everyone together, and getting them from point A to point B, the ethical issue of rent-a-crowds as groups try to make an impression, in putting together a sound system and a stage, in securing permits, in making sure no one gets dehydrated or goes hungry, and so forth: never mind the nightmare scenario that is trying to put together a program in which everyone has to be accommodated even as the factions all compete for prime time.

The problem with an inclusive program arrived at after much bargaining and maneuvering by often mutually-antagonistic groups, is that they do help maintain solidarity within the ranks of individual groups, but alienate other groups, and don't register among the broader public, the group the other groups are all trying to court.

And there's a simple reason for this: the programs are simply obsolete; they hark back to the bombastic days of the old miting de avance, to the era when the Balagtasan was actually a form of popular entertainment; and when the Agitprop of the 1960s was still novel and notice-worthy.

In contrast to this, along Katipunan, yesterday, they made noise and encouraged the public passing along that avenue to simply toot in solidarity; and then there was a rock concert mercifully free of speeches altogether. The weekend before, along the Baywalk, there was the sound of silence, where being there was statement enough, no one tried to speak for anyone else, and if any talking took place, it was one-on-one, the most meaningful kind of communication of all, because it was a personal dialogue.

And there are probably those who were grateful that the students along Katipunan didn't actually impede anyone's ability to go from Point A to Point B, and in Manila the weekend before, the curious were welcomed and not intimidated or bombarded with hard-sell messaging.

Which brings me back to the dilemma of the good soldier. Unless you're a real war freak, I don't know if anyone wants to be a soldier, in the political sense, anymore. People just want to do their part for the country but to live, not die, for it; and certainly not go through life as a mindless robot for the generals.

Back in end of May, Torn and Frayed in Manila, a sympathetic observer, mused,

It seems to me that the current set-up in the Philippines helps to criminalize virtually all of us, limiting our capacity, and even our desire, to support justice.

Do you pay all your taxes? If you run a business, have you waited patiently for the endless licences the state requires, or have you “eased” the process with a few hundred pesos? What about that time a cop pulled you over for swerving, did you hand over your licence quietly or slip him a couple of hundred?

I won’t go on, but even you have stoutly answered “yes” to all of those questions, what about your family? Is your dad’s business 100% legal? Your mother works in government service, are you sure everything she does is by the book?

The fact that almost all of us are forced or at least encouraged to commit these misdemeanours is an enormous advantage to the high rollers in the grimy game. To return to Bolante, the real beneficiary of the fertiliser fiddle was not the congressman who received an addition to his election war chest, it was not even Joc-Joc. The spider who wove the web was the president, who through this and similar schemes managed to manufacture an unlikely election victory and to ensure that everyone along the way was caught in her trap.

Those of us in the outer circles of the web are not caught as tightly as those in the middle, yet still we can’t quite kick ourselves free. Even businessmen and women who support a fair taxation regime baulk at the idea of even more BIR interference in their companies. At a philosophical level, our enmeshment breeds a kind of resignation, almost a kind of solidarity with the playmakers.

Randy David, during the opening of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation's “For Freedom and Social Justice” exhibition, gave a talk, and I'd like to share some of his insights (as I scribbled them down; unfortunately, his remarks haven't been published online in full), for discussion.

Let me put them down as bullet points (not in chronological order as he delivered his remarks, but thematically).

  • Politics has been our biggest failure as a nation.
  • We are faced with a political system increasingly useless, out of synch with the modern world.
  • While our institutions are modern in form and concepts, the underlying concept is different: things are highly unequal, and patronage is built on powerlessness and poverty.
  • No long-term vision; only short-term vested interests.
  • We look for patrons because we do not trust legal systems to be fair. The ordinary Filipino has an ambivalent attitude towards the law, either an hostile or predatory attitude, a legacy of colonialism. Ten percent of Filipinos have participated in rallies; but the overwhelming majority has taken part in civil disobedience.
  • We do not assert our rights, we steal them.
  • Instead of being a burden, politics should be a tool for long-term survival and growth.
  • Leaders have to be competent, qualified, not merely popular.
  • Personal integrity and trustworthiness are important... but not enough... authentic leaders create new ways... superior in achieving collective goals.
  • The paradox of modernizing politicians:to achieve change, it cannot be done from outside; one must secure a foothold within, to effect change; but then, one risks being swallowed up by the system one is trying to change.
  • People are growing in numbers but are also growing more sophisticated as they imbibe new values from abroad; and yet Filipinos abroad do not immerse themselves in the politics of their host countries.
  • There is also a higher percentage of those with education, made possible by new money from relatives working overseas. These people are not hospitable to traditional politics; but have yet to become organized and still feel powerless.
  • In the short term, this changing attitude and frustration feeds crises.
  • The Middle Class in this country does not believe in elections, they believe in coups. They are impatient.
  • And yet, the boldest initiatives in the past 50 years have come from the Middle Class, from whose ranks even the leaders of the Left have sprung.
  • The current Crisis of Modernity is also driven by the bifurcation of the Filipino elite:  "Moderates" who want to shield the government from capture by vested interests versus "Traditionalists" who want to preserve the existing captivity of the system to vested interests
  • We know what we want but it takes time to figure out why things don't turn out that way.
  • And yet Filipinos are know throughout the region for Organizing Abilities.

Since I believe everything is political, this plays out in the political sphere, as well. Resignation, "even a kind of solidarity with the playmakers," has been a dilemma confronting people since 2005, when the country divided on the question of the President.

In any division of the house, there are actually three options: Yea, Nay, or an Abstention.

If we imagine 2005 to the present as a series of formal and informal referendums -votes of confidence or non-confidence- in the President and her ruling coalition, she has won every formal vote of confidence while preventing any informal vote of confidence from spilling over into the formal arena.

If we look at Randy David's points, things start to make a lot of sense in terms of the actual outcome, which has been the survival of the ruling coalition in power.

David's point concerning rallies is taken from Mahar Mangahas' findings (see The important right of civil disobedience April 12, 2008):

As of 2004, only 9 percent of Filipinos (adults, that is) had ever joined a protest rally in their lives. That is much less than the global average of 24 percent. Incidentally, 10 percent of Filipinos said they might do it, whereas 80 percent said they never would.

Nine percent is small, relative to other nationalities, yet it is sufficient for People Power, as was proven in 1986 and 2001. Surveys by the poll group Social Weather Stations (SWS) in the last week of January 2001 and the first week of February 2001 found that at least 11 percent of Metro Manila adults had joined the protest rallies that led to the ouster of President Joseph “Erap” Estrada. That “small” proportion amounted to at least 727,000 adults; protesters at EDSA People Power II exceeded one million, as it included Metro Manila youths and persons from nearby areas too.

If the People Power constituency is 10%, its importance lies in serving as the tipping point when the legitimacy of a president is on the line.

It is said there are only three national institutions in this country: the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, and the Roman Catholic Church. Two of these are under the command of the President of the Philippines, and in 1986 and 2001, presidents learned that if the hierarchy deprives an incumbent of the "Mandate of Heaven," the result can be a fragmentation if not outright rebellion by the military and the police, leading to the loss of command and control necessary to maintain power.

For the military, the spark for a rebellion is having to confront the question, "if the President orders the army or the police to fire on the crowd, will it comply?"

This is entirely different from ordering the military and police to disperse demonstrations; since the 1960s an elaborately-choreographed, symbolic, symbiosis has emerged, in which, generally, everyone, from those protesting to the military and policy, adhere to scripted roles; people make noise, a little shoving for heroic effect, the authorities growl, but as much as possible, everyone tries to get to go home in one piece.

But there are times when the protests end up not only sustained, but start growing; in which case the question of extreme measures arises.

Recall, also, that at 2:25 AM on August 25, 1987, when the soldiers of Gringo Honasan fired on civilians in Nagtahan (according to some accounts, the civilians were heckling his troops; other accounts say the rebels were careless and caught civilians the crossfire), it turned public opinion fatally against his cause.

The public does not like extreme measures, and even the most ruthless among the military realize that these do not pay off. the public does not like extreme measures on the part of governments, however beleaguered (unless the public feels it's as beleaguered as the government: hence the implict endorsement by the middle class, of the crushing of the May 1, 2001 rebellion), and it does not like military adventurism whether in 1989, 2003, or 2006 although once rebel officers are prepared to offer themselves up as candidates, the public actively encourages their trying to reform the system from within, by electing them into office.

And here is something by way of a gentle criticism of people like Gen. Lim or even Antonio Trillanes IV. As the top brass divided on the question of whether to support President Estrada, you may recall that aside from the meetings going on among the AFP top brass, the PNP brass had a showdown in which the police brass basically ganged up on then PNP Chief Panfilo Lacson and gave him an ultimatum: withdraw support from the President, or else. Lacson threw in the towel and said as much to then President Estrada.

The President, whose husband and other strategists cultivated hard-liner support within the military and police before 2001, and accelerated the pampering of officers after gaining power, have ensured that no one can turn the military or police against them: anyone trying to do so would be eaten up alive by loyalists within both institutions. This is what happened to Lim in 2006, for example, and to Trillanes even when he was still trying to plead for reforms with the President herself before Oakwood in 2003.

Trillanes and Lim have both tried to outflank the President by appealing directly to the enlisted men and also, to the broader public; but they refuse to see that their own institution will not move unless the officers reach a consensus, and that neither man reflects the opinions of the top brass; and second, they refuse to recognize, for ideological reasons, that the public simply will not tolerate the military deciding the rise and fall of governments unless there exists a declaration of the withdrawal of the Mandate of Heaven (the moral basis for the ouster of a government), and an unmistakeable manifestation of public indignation and resistance by means of a spontaneous outpouring of public protest.

If Lim or Trillanes had gotten their troops together and actually dared to round up corrupt general and either summarily shot them or held impromptu courts-martial, I think there would be an outpouring of popular enthusiasm such as we've never seen: because they would be seen as cleaning up their own ranks, which would make it difficult if not impossible to further pervert the military; yet at the same time, they didn't take the frightening step of appointing themselves the ruling junta.

It's like Churchill said -democracy may not be the best system but it's the least bad; if things are bad now, a military or even military-civilian junta is as bad as PaLaKa Forever.

But returning to my point on the diminishing usefulness of the Big Rally.

The best that massive rallies can do, then, is exercise the atrophied civic sense and political muscles of the public; but if what's attempted are the same old boring calisthenics, no one will get with the program. In which case rallies become counterproductive, because they will fail to gain ground, which will depress the committed, leave the uncommitted unmoved, and will not necessarily embolden the other side, but confer on it the aura of invincibility, which is possibly worse.

And unlike the late, great, Yoyo Villame, yesterday's effort to get the public exercised was neither quaint nor cute. Just a novelty number turned stale over time.

There has got to be a better way, not least because so much is at stake.

Teodoro L. Locsin Jr.'s dismissive observation in 2005 remains valid: the more you try to manufacture a People Power moment, the less likely it will actually take place, if the authentic components of it remain lacking.

See fritzified.com, who was heartened by the event; and photos in rain contreras, Touched by an Angel, the University Student Council of UP Diliman, and in Davao City. See also Dr. Giovanni Tapang on estimating crowd sizes. Meanwhile the Palace crows FFCCCII supports charter change (but as one observer interpreted it, perhaps fairer to say they simply stated they want to be consulted, whatever happens?)

Where to, next?

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This is a question posed by quite a few bloggers active in the effort to reverse the policy of imposing import duties on books.

La Nueva Liga Filipina has been the fiercest in insisting that the battle isn't over yet, and that if political momentum has been generated, it must be sustained:

We now have the initiative. We have the enemy on the run. We must maintain the momentum and not let it go to waste. Guys, we have a good thing going here.

Entonces, I now recommend that we push on and now demand the resignations of Undesecretary Sales and Customs examiner Rene Agulan for embarrassing our country before the international community.

village idiot savant has a similar point of view:

Even its resolution calls for some pause. It looks and feels like Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has struck a blow for book-lovers everywhere. Remember: it was her Secretary of Finance that imposed the tax in the first place, and being a cabinet position, it was, effectively, an extension of her office. If she caved, it was because it was an opportunity to look good, not to acknowledge the DoF's and the BoC's violation of the Florence Agreement. It cannot be properly called a victory without censure of these offices' flawed interpretation of the law.

Both also say that it isn't enough to identify problems, but that work needs to be done to propose solutions. He is not alone in pointing this out. 1ReAd2 says there remains the problem of public libraries:

There is still a need to develop other avenues by which everyone can avail of the book and one of this is develop our public library system. Promote and develop them.

Not everyone can afford to buy a book. Not everyone has a credit line to buy a book. This is where or this where a library, public or otherwise can fill the gap.

Or that returning to the status quo ante is not particularly something to cheer about, as My World describes it, lifting book duties will have an effect on prices that are still high:

A “really good (imported) book” in the Philippines, hard bound, excellent paper quality written by a noted author can command a price of upwards 2000 pesos. The paperback edition of such book with nice paper quality sells at around Php1500 to Php2000. A “good book” (one in which the author is not that popular) with a nice paper quality typically sells around Php1000 – 1500. Between Php800 – Php1000 are the “downsized” version of a typically good book or the so – called mass paperback copies. Below Php500 are books whose printed pages are of newsprint quality. By comparison, in China, a paperback edition book with nice paper quality costs around Php300 – 400 (converted already) tops. As a matter of fact, last December, during my vacation in China, I’ve bought 7 books for 341 RMB or roughly Php2500 total. Imagine 7 books for the price of 2 or maybe even 1 bought in the Philippines (the books I’ve bought in China are scholarly works on Chinese History). Now that is expensive. It is due to this high price of books that book buying and collecting is fast becoming an expensive “hobby” of the “well – to – do”. A “financially struggling” individual can’t “afford” to read and collect books even if he loves books. It is for this reason that an imposition of a few percentage points of custom duties on the cost of books would only make books more expensive and the matter worse. However, it won’t be that bad if we have a “functioning” public library system instead of a pathetic one that we have now.

School Librarian in Action noticed the lack of engagement by librarians, as organized professionals, in the issue, but takes a positive attitude:

I'd like to think that most Filipino librarians are battling their own professional issues and problems that to make a noise on the TGBB is just too much to do for now. I would like to think that somewhere out there, Filipino Librarians are quietly transforming their libraries into places where the public can freely access information from printed and online media.

Philippine Commentary would be somewhat pleased with the above, because in his view, the call of the times is to hasten the demise of the book and to encourage, instead, the consumption of books as digital files.

Indeed it seems to me that the healthy thing about online advocacy is that it helps cure -or remedies- a basic weakness of public causes and those involved in them, which is, the disinclination of many participants to take stock of what took place, so that lessons, hopefully, can be identified, learned, and institutionalized.

There seems to be a lot of angst in that the supposedly successful resolution of the whole campaign has revealed it to be a primarily Middle Class cause. As Cocoy put it in Filipino Voices:

Victory is sweet. Who would have thought we could change Government’s mind?

The sad part of it, as much of our people care more about Kho’s, Belo’s and Halili’s sex life. We won this victory without 95% of our people understanding why it was fought in the first place and why this is important. We fought this battle largely without network television and hardly any support from the daily newspapers. Heck, I don’t think they know it was fought at all.

The frightening and dangerous thought is that if this was won largely without popular support, in the next engagement, should we bother getting them onboard? That to build this nation, do we still need them? Are they immaterial to the larger war? Dangerous question, correct?

People saw the book blockade, this war on book taxes and duties as a war of the elite. How many people who joined this crusade who are actually multimillionaires but instead are ordinary people, living ordinary lives who love books?

Now there were those ambivalent about the issue from the very start, because of its bourgeois characteristics or, to be more accurate about it, because of their disdain for anything smacking of the bourgeoisie. This was clearly expressed in stuart-santiago and by caffeine_sparks in Filipino Voices, but the answer may be in another portion of the same entry by sparks:

“Did you see who carted away the books first?” I murmured a negative, having come a bit late. He motioned his head to the inhabitants of the Manila Bay area, skin darkened from sleeping underneath the naked sky. To be clear I said, “You mean the Great Unwashed carted most of the books away?” In a conspiratorial way only journalists would ever be able to manage, he murmured an affirmative. “You see, we the so-called enlightened ones like to assume the hoi polloi would never care for books. But right there, before my eyes, was proof that isn’t true.” Indeed. The printed word is a luxury for many. In our little enclaves we tend to forget the great privilege of being able to make sense of letters strung together. What jewels they must be for those whose precious monies must be spent on not starving.

Now this may or may not suggest by even the Divided Left had both its main branches speaking out against the book duties, but was it out of genuine concern for issue, or a desire to pander to the Middle Class, a manifestation of United Front politics? Nonetheless, Stuart-Santiago's, caffeine_sparks' point of view was also echoed by The Zeppelin's Mezzanine:

But I just can’t help but wonder. If the power of the Internet-driven Pinoy community was that great, it’s a wonder people haven’t tried to levy for a decrease in gasoline prices via Facebook. Or they hadn’t called for the exposition of First Gentleman Mike Arroyo by Twitter. Heck, it’s actually a wonder that there aren’t any online petitions calling to end Jejomar Binay’s plans to run in the 2010 elections.

See what I’m talking about? The curious variable in this whole mess was that the only reason these guys went to the streets – er, what’s the Internet equivalent? – was because it involved something they held to be important. This only serves to point out the old adage of infernal dynamics: The energy required to move an object in the correct direction, or put it in the right place, will be more than you wish to expend but not so much as to make the task impossible.

Meaning people will only move when they think the cause is worth their while. But as to what my own demographic considers important, well. You could say that that’s a whole new ball game.

Personally, I believe our civic sense to have become so thoroughly enfeebled, that any small victory -and the victory, perhaps small though it may be and possibly even temporary, becomes a large one, if only because there have been so few instances where domestic public opinion actually led to official action and someone in officialdom relenting- is worthy of celebration in and of itself.

Also, surely it's also worth considering the perspective that Middle Class empowerment is a good thing, and a necessary thing, if politics is to be about the national community and not just a winner-take-all battle between its constituent parts. If there is to be pluralism and not just triumphalism on the part of segments of the population, then the entire apparatus has to be seen as responsive to a Middle Class that has been so enfeebled, politically, as to have boycotted the country by voting with its feet and pursued permanent emigration abroad.

Now on to something else that Cocoy thinks, which is that,

This battle was won largely because the diverse group used cyberspace to get our message across. We were heard in the halls of the US Embassy. We were heard in twitter and facebook. We were heard in the UN. And those entities helped put in pressure on our government who would normally wait for the storm to pass.

The Internet isn’t just a delivery mechanism for sex scandals. It is a delivery mechanism to help change the world.

Perhaps a bit premature, methinks, and a tad colonial-minded in that "we were heard in the halls of the US Embassy" seems to be perceived as an achievement in itself. We do not know, and there seems no reason to think, the US Embassy lifted a finger in terms of this issue; although it is remarkable that the Americans -or, to be precise, an American in the embassy staff- told David Hemley that the issue made them reconsider their previous low opinion of the effectiveness of the Internet when it comes to mobilizing people.

I do believe that the the Internet made possible the story's emergence in the first place. David Hemley -an American, one less inclined to take official impositions sitting down, which is what Filipino book importers were inclined to do- wrote about it online.

His story was tremendously easy to reproduce, because of that; and a constituency was revealed because of that story. More remarkably still, the story was enriched because of the initiative of blogs like Philippine Genre Stories that didn't just take Hemley's word at face value, but dug around deeper. The online buzz forced at least a token nod in the direction of all the online agitation going on, on the part of mainstream media, though I personally suspect mainstream media viewed the issue with ambivalence because it tends to view most things through the same Class Struggle lenses that made some bloggers ambivalent about the issue, too.

Anyway, if the story would not have otherwise emerged, if not for the internet; if the story wouldn't have spread, without the internet; if the internet made possible people not only expressing personal indignation, but discovering they didn't exist in impotent isolation, but actually formed a constituency, then the view of Cocoy is valid.

But I'd like to point out one shortcoming, and that's of official perception and even, of what gets officials to act. In a sense, even as online media and organizing proved its clout with this issue, it also demonstrated the residual power of the traditional print media: if only because the ferocity of print commentary kept the issue from being totally shrugged off by both print reporters and radio and TV media.

I must say though, that I'm on shaky ground on this one, as I might simply be seeing this through the self-satisfied eyes of a print opinion writer. Though I was told that it was the direct challenges to UNACOM that prodded it into hastening the release of its statement, which the Department of Finance never wanted released at all.

There are officials, though, who are surely of the impression that the whole issue had nothing to do with the internet, or put another way, that the internet was irrelevant in the resolution of the issue. What resolved it was media noise, which gave one faction within the President's official family, the nerve to challenge another; but that in the end it was a matter of getting the President's ear, and her stepping in to stop the official squabbling.

But be that as it may, perhaps the celebrations and soul-searching are premature. See Gov’t urged to totally scrap tariffs on imported books in BusinessWorld. As The Grin Without A Cat says, vigilance!

The globalization of Essay Mills

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This morning I got an e-mail from Davao City, bringing an article to my attention, and asking me to do an episode of The Explainer on it.

Let me quote from that e-mail:

I wonder if you have discussed the issue on 'online writing' in your show...

Pity that I didn't run a thread before working for them. It turned out that we were writing academic papers for lazy students abroad. But while on it, I would receive follow-up phone calls at 12 midnight or 4am from who I believe to be a Filipino call center agent (the accent). It's like Filipino professionals helping foreigners to rip off Filipino professionals.

I asked the sender if the information above came from person experience, and here's a portion of the reply:

It's a shame Sir, but I did for almost 2 weeks this April 09. I remember making a historiographic essay on Joan of Arc and an architectural analysis of The New York Times Heardquarters building...

Then, I saw this report on Fox (or CNN, not sure now) which discussed about the triviality of the homework and a local school's effort of purging the practice due to the number of essay mills offering custom papers for a pay.

So I quit and run a thread online. I learned that a number of Filipino writers (and Indians) have been scammed since 2006! Most of them got quite nasty while a few felt like their passion was ill-used (helping students to cheat).

Finally, this person's views on why the issue needs to be discussed:

As a Filipino and a teacher at that, I feel like in the losing end if this will be discussed by foreign media. The question on ethics, plagiarism, the parasitism of the third world, the (in)dignity of the Filipino professionals, the practice being currently adapted in our colleges and universities... among others... I guess, need to be comprehensively discussed.

The article in question is Cheating Goes Global as Essay Mills Multiply: From Virginia to Manila: on the trail of papers for cash published in The Chronicle of Higher Education.In a nutshell, the article is an expose on companies that write academic papers for a fee. A case study of sorts is used in the article, focusing on entrepreneurs from Ukraine who set up dummy American companies and then operate an academic paper sweatshop in the Philippines:

Call any of the company's several phone numbers and you will always get an answer. Weekday or weekend, day or night. The person on the other end will probably be a woman named Crystal or Stephanie. She will speak stilted, heavily accented English, and she will reveal nothing about who owns the company or where it is located. She will be unfailingly polite and utterly unhelpful.

If pressed, Crystal or Stephanie will direct callers to a manager named Raymond. But Raymond is almost always either out of the office or otherwise engaged. When, after weeks of calls, The Chronicle finally reached Raymond, he hung up the phone before answering any questions.

But while the company's management may be publicity shy, sources familiar with its operations were able to shed some light. Essay Writers appears to have been originally based in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. While the company claims to have been in business since 1997, its Web sites have only been around since 2004. In 2007 it opened offices in the Philippines, where it operates under the name Uniwork.

The company's customer-service center is located on the 17th floor of the Burgundy Corporate Tower in the financial district of Makati City, part of the Manila metropolitan area. It is from there that operators take orders and answer questions from college students. The company also has a suite on the 16th floor, where its marketing and computer staff members promote and maintain its Web sites. This involves making sure that when students search for custom essays, its sites are on the first page of Google results. (They're doing a good job, too. Recently two of the first three hits for "buy an essay" were Essay Writers sites.) One of its employees, who describes herself as a senior search-engine-optimization specialist at Uniwork, posted on her Twitter page that the company is looking for copy writers, Web developers, and link builders.

Some of the company's writers work in its Makati City offices. Essay Writers claims to have more than 200 writers, which may be true when freelancers are counted. A dozen or so, according to a former writer, work in the office, where they are reportedly paid between $1 and $3 a page — much less than its American writers, and a small fraction of the $20 or $30 per page customers shell out. The company is currently advertising for more writers, praising itself as "one of the most trusted professional writing companies in the industry."

It's difficult to know for sure who runs Essay Writers, but the name Yuriy Mizyuk comes up again and again. Mr. Mizyuk is listed as the contact name on the domain registration for essaywriters.net, the Web site where writers for the company log in to receive their assignments. A lawsuit was filed in January against Mr. Mizyuk and Universal Research by a debt-collection company. Repeated attempts to reach him — via phone and e-mail — were unsuccessful. Customer-service representatives profess not to have heard of Mr. Mizyuk.

Installed in its Makati City offices, according to a source close to the company, are overhead cameras trained on employees. These cameras reportedly send a video feed back to Kiev, allowing the Ukrainians to keep an eye on their workers in the Philippines. This same source says Mr. Mizyuk regularly visits the Philippines and describes him as a smallish man with thinning hair and dark-rimmed glasses. "He looks like Harry Potter," the source says. "The worst kind of Harry Potter."

So there you go. The article includes a presentation, Journey to the Center of an Essay Mill, which gives an online tour of what essay-mill writers see when they log on to the company's website.

We, the People: As Readers

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AAQ bookplate MLQ bookplate (Above: scans of AAQ's and MLQ's bookplates; though rarely used today, bookplates used to be a highly-developed form of personal expression) I've been meaning to start a series on we, the people, as the political strategists and advertising people understand us, and the ongoing controversy about the Book Tax has helped kick-start the process. This entry was triggered by blogger 1ReAd2 asking,
I wonder if the present policy is a reflection if we really are a book reading country. For several years we have been touting our literacy rate … Yes we can read but do we read? Or is reading the enclave only for the privileged and for the lucky ones. And is there a place where people who cannot buy books go and get to read books. Do we have enough libraries and does government support and promote such libraries to be alternatives for people to do research and read?
Well, what, indeed, do we know? Back in December 12, 2007, I mentioned the latest National Readers Survey, commissioned by the National Book Development Board. It was the second of its kind, the first being in 2003. The NBDB's recommendations, based on the 2007 survey, makes for ironic reading today:
The challenge is for booksellers and publishers, printers and paper and ink manufacturers, to make more books affordable. The government can facilitate this, as well as the financing of technology upgrades to make operations more efficient and economical.
How many of us read, and what do we read, and have the percentages changed? The following chart, based on overall national percentages, indicates a consistent decline in the percentages who read various types of reading materials: percentage who read As Queena Lee-Chua put it, in 2007 (see readings below),
Generally, the survey shows that reading has slightly declined in our nation. Only 92 percent of respondents say they read, down two percent from 2003. The reading of books, comics, newspapers, and magazines has gone down, by seven, 13, 14, and 15 percent, respectively. Ninety-six percent of urban respondents read, compared to 88 percent in the rural areas. This may be explained by the lack of access to reading materials in areas far from city centers. Reading has also declined across all socioeconomic groups, except those in the AB class. Public school students now read fewer books, newspapers, magazines, and comics than they did in 2003, and as for private school respondents, the slight increase in reading today is only among those reading comics.
However, take a look at the demographic breakdown of people who read, by age, socio-economic class, and by region. You'll notice that there's a healthy improvement overall (tremendously so in the Visayas, followed by Mindanao), except in the National Capital Region, and it's the decline in the NCR that seems to have affected the overall national percentages: demographics of reading Again, Queena Lee-Chua's explanation:
Why the decline? One culprit is the National Capital Region (NCR). Surprisingly, the NCR is the only cluster in the country where reading has decreased, by five percent. In Luzon areas outside NCR, readership has actually increased by two percent, and in Mindanao, readers have held steady. Despite the proliferation of bookstores, publishers, and libraries in the NCR, book readers have decreased by a whopping 31 percent, from 95 percent in 2003 to 64 percent in 2007. Magazine readers in the NCR have decreased by 27 percent, comics readers by 12 percent, and newspaper readers by 10 percent. But there is good news elsewhere. In the Visayas, general readership has increased by four percent. Readers of books in the Visayas increased by 11 percent; comics readers, by 10 percent; magazine readers, by one percent. (Newspaper readers have decreased by four percent.) It is interesting to note that NBDB has done a lot of intervention programs in the Visayas, such as the Booklatan community reading activities, which may possibly have accounted in part for the increase.
And here are figures concerning the age at which people start getting into reading non-textbooks (people are getting into the reading habit at a younger age): age started reading non school books Queena Lee-Chua puts it this way, as good and bad news:
The youth are leading the way. They start to read non-school books at age 16, on average, one year earlier than in 2003. Again, NCR is the poor exception—young people here start reading non-school books at age 18 on average, two years later than the national norm. Unfortunately, reading has declined across all age groups, except again for the youth, those in the 18 to 24 age bracket, where the percentage of readers has in fact gone up.
Another chart suggests that if you look at people who read, the percentage of those who read books other than textbooks, is increasing sharply: school versus non school books Here are additional details concerning our national reading habits, mainly concerning books other than textbooks (which are required readings). Here are the top influences on our reading habits: influences on reading habits And a NBDB pie chart on the reasons people give for not reading: sg2 Here are answers to the question, "When did you last read a non textbook book?" last time read a book And how often do people read books? frequency of reading There seems to be a decline in monthly book reading, and an increase in the percentage of those who read a non-textbook less than once a year. Could it be because we seem to be highly utilitarian readers, with only a small minority who read for pleasure? reasons for reading Or could it be a factor of language? Here are figures comparing the languages in which books are published, and read, with the languages people actually prefer: top languages used and preferred And also, here are our preferences when it comes to domestic, foreign, or a mix of foreign and domestic authors: kinds of authors read When it comes to the kinds of books we like to read, these are the top-rating titles or types: top book choices Followed by these kinds of books: other top book choices (proponents of the Reproductive Health Act will notice the increase in popularity of the Bible; and yet, that books on Family Planning are pretty popular, too, but possibly subsumed within the subset of non-Bible fans?) As to the means people use to acquire books, it seems many more get their hands on books by borrowing them or being given books as gifts, than actually spend money to get books: how books were obtained Could it have something to do with whether it's easy or difficult to find a bookstore or library? bookstore library accessability When it comes to noticing things about the books we read, here's what sticks in people's minds: what buyers notice Some added details: what buyers notice detail 1 And some more: what buyers notice detail 2 So Queena Lee-Chua summarizes things as follows:
Pinoys read anytime they want. Evidently, reading non-school books is not a habit for most people, except for some who read before going to sleep. The number of books read in the past year is seven on the average. An average of seven books a year is not too bad, but what is alarming is the median number of books read, which is a low three. This means that even if half the adult population of the Philippines have read three or more non-school books in the past year, the other half have read only at most three, or worse, no books at all. Why do we read? More than 85 percent of the respondents read to gain knowledge or more information. The rest read for enjoyment. Almost half of the readers read books by Filipino authors only, while the other half read both local and foreign books. However, the majority of the respondents, whether they read or not, have few books at home.
But something that I think ought to be emphasized is the relatively small volume of books bought and sold, when you set aside textbooks. Here are some interesting figures taken from the NSBC website on the volume of books imported (presumably by commercial firms, and not by the public at large) compared to the volume of books we export: graph2 importexportofbooks And an interesting set of figures provided by Dominador Buhain (see readings below) concerning the publishing and book-related firms that have flourished and those that haven't (book importers and bookstores had negative numbers): publishing industry 2003-2004 In connection with the above, let me point to two versions of a speech by Tony Hidalgo, who is an innovative publisher, and who is never loath to share his knowledge (and opinions) with others. The earlier (and longer) version of his speech dates to July 29, 2005 and was reproduced in FilipinoWriter.com; the later version dates to December, 2007 and appears in the website of his firm, Milflores Publishing. Here's an extract from the earlier speech, which answers the question posed at the beginning of this entry:
It is simply not true that Filipinos don’t read—they do. In fact, the Inquirer recently ran a story on an international survey that shows that Filipinos, on the average, read more books than the Chinese, Koreans, or Indians do and that our readership of books is pretty high when compared with other Asian countries. A 2003 SWS survey of reading attitudes and preferences of Filipinos showed that 90% of Filipino adults have read books and 68% have read non-school books. Filipinos read books that they think they need or want. This accounts for the sustained success of large publishers that specialize in romance novels in Filipino and in religious books.
However -and this is where Tony Hidalgo, referring to the original, 2003 Survey, helps make sense of the findings- there is a problem of language:
One of the most dramatic findings of the survey was that 57% of Filipino adults prefer to read non-school books in Tagalog (Filipino), 30% prefer English, and 13% prefer Cebuano. According to the survey, there are nearly twice as many readers who prefer to read in Filipino than those who prefer to read in English. Alternatively, we could say that local books in English cater to less than a third, or 30%, of the potential market for books in the country. I have discussed this finding with many friends who are involved with books as writers, editors, publishers, intellectuals, etc. and it never fails to inflame passion. I have concluded that this is because the finding is counter-intuitive to those whose first language is English and who think that the rest of the country is like them. Yet, the SWS survey finding is supported by other data. Rey Duque, when he was editor of Liwayway a couple of years ago, told me that the circulation of his magazine was a hundred thousand during bad times and 250 thousand during good times. Compare this with the circulation of magazines in English that also carry short stories, like the Free Press and the Graphic, which sell far fewer copies per issue. For me, of course, the best corroborating evidence to the SWS survey are the book sales of my own company. I wrote a series of four manuals (two with short stories) on cockfighting originally in English. Then, I translated all four into Filipino. These books have identical content and their covers and illustrations are by the same artist, Manuel Baldemor. They are sold on the same shelves in the same bookstores. The only difference between them is that the English books are sold at P190 per copy because they are in book paper, while the Filipino books are sold at P150 because they are in newsprint. Except for this difference, the framework approaches that of a laboratory experiment so that any difference in sales between the English and Filipino versions could be confidently attributed to the language used. The Filipino versions have been outselling the English ones for more than a decade now by a ratio of about two to one.
A little later in his speech, he explores this question in greater detail:
Another important constraint is the mismatch between the books that the best Filipino minds write and the needs and preferences of readers. Most Filipino books are still written in English though most readers prefer books in Filipino. The best Filipino writers still concentrate on writing fiction (novels, short stories, plays) and poetry in English, while 9 out of 10 book buyers want information books. Because of class differences in lifestyles and experiences, the content of the best Filipino literature in English is often at odds with what most readers want from fiction, so they turn, instead, to the movies, telenovelas, and romance novels. The gap between most readers and the best writers exists in many other ways—even in the visual aesthetics of books. The covers and layouts of books on the Philippine literature shelves are highly Westernized—clean, crisp, modern, and sparing in the use of space. Those on the more masa shelves like the spaces for the romance novels in Filipino and the texting humor booklets are more crowded and baroque, closer to the aesthetic of the masses. Most readers ascertain which books were written for them through their visual look, so they shun the literature shelves and crowd the other ones. The small, but affluent, A and B market is fluent in English and should be the natural market for Filipino literature in English by the best writers. Unfortunately, this segment is also highly Westernized and prefers books by foreign authors. Some of them are even unaware that there is now a fairly large body of work by Filipino authors in English.
Hidalgo also looks at the utilitarian aspect book reading, and this brings up the question of cost (as well as demographics and the health of various demographics):
According to the SWS survey, 91% of those who had read a non-school book did so to get information or gain additional knowledge, while 9% read for enjoyment or amusement. Again, our sales figures validate this finding. Our best-selling information book, Grammar Review in our English grammar series, sells nearly a thousand copies a month, while our best-selling literary title in our humorous essays series, Suddenly Stateside, averages a little less than a hundred copies a month, although, of course, the former book is only about half the price of the latter book, so that some of the difference in sales could be due to price. The survey found that young adults from ages 18-24 read more non-school books, five per year on the average, than older adults. This finding must be coupled with the unique demographics of our country. We have one of the highest population growth rates in the world at around 2.3% annually. This means that each generation is much larger than the previous one, for there are more and more parents in each generation to beget even more children in the next one. To understand this exponential population growth, we need only consider that our population in the mid-fifties was a little more than 20 million, while now it is more than 85 million. Obviously, the young far outnumber the old in our country because of our demographic trends. The dominance of young readers in the market is further heightened by the fact that not only do they outnumber the old, but they also read more books than the old, on the average, because they are more curious and have better eyesight. Another important finding of the survey was that a large majority, 58%, of those who bought non-school books for personal reading spent P200 or less on these books for the entire year. Obviously, affordability levels for books are quite low because of the widespread poverty in our country.
He also points out that
The limited reach of bookstores in our country is another limiting factor. All publishers sell the bulk of their production through bookstores, since this is more efficient than direct sales to the general public. Therefore, the market for books of publishers is basically that portion of the total market that has access to bookstores. In an article in the December 2004 issue of Book Watch, Karina Bolasco of Anvil Publishing, Inc. (a sister company of National Bookstores and one of the larger publishers) said that Anvil’s research in 1995 showed that there are, at most, 2,500 bookstores in the entire country, or one bookstore, on the average, per 34,000 people. The Anvil mapping of these stores showed that most of them were concentrated in Metro Manila and the National Capital Region (NCR). In Mindanao, there are far fewer bookstores and the average in Regions 9 and 12 is about one bookstore per 200,000 people.
And finally, an interesting insight into the backwardness of some aspects of printing, as well as the toll browsing takes on publishers' profits:
At the operational level, local printing, though relatively cheap because of lower labor costs, is generally of poor quality due to outdated technology and poorly trained workers. We sometimes get as much as 5-10% rejects in our print runs. This forces us to inspect each and every book to protect our readers and our reputation. This is costly because the print runs of some of our most popular books in our English grammar series are 10,000. Some printers also try to cut costs by using paper of lower quality than that specified by the publisher. An operational problem stemming from poverty is that some readers use bookstores as public libraries—they read books while standing without buying them. This destroys many books—our rate for popular books is about 5% of the books we place on the shelves. All bookstores simply return damaged books and publishers have to take the loss. This has forced us to wrap all our books in plastic to discourage reading without buying, and this has increased our production costs.
Further readings: The various surveys have been reported and analyzed as follows: The extracts by Queena Lee-Chua came from her article, Do Pinoys read at all? November 27, 2007. Some blogs with additional details are Malikhaing Komiks, in DEVCOMPage, (focusing on educators), in WowPare, The highlights of the 2007 National Readership Survey, from which most of the images above came from, were very kindly provided by the NDSB, and their hard copy version's been scanned and posted online by me: see NDSB Readership Survey 2007 on Flickr. The article The Romantic movement, by reporter Johanna D. Poblete in BusinessWorld, has publishers talking about Romance novels:
"Romances are the bestsellers," Anvil Publishing Inc. assistant general manager and publishing manager Karina A. Bolasco told BusinessWorld at the sidelines of a book launch last February — echoing an article she wrote, "Emerging Trends in Philippine Publishing" (BookWatch, December 2004), wherein she stated that romance novels sell the most number of units next to textbooks. At the time, around 20 romance novel titles were being produced in the country each month, with 20,000 copies per title, generating a monthly gross of P14 million. These days, production is deemed lower, with some publishers diversifying their product line, but insiders still refer to the romance novel as the "backbone" of the publishing industry. Bookware Publishing Corp. alone has a regular target of 12 titles, but releases an average of eight titles, with 12 copies per title, amounting to 96 units in a month (or 96 titles, 144 copies, and 1,152 units per year). Also, they sometimes make reprints, dub-bed "Bestsellers" of their My Special Valentine series, which placed no. 1 (in-house) in terms of sales. Not too shabby, considering that an average of only around 5,000 titles each year (5,518 in 2007, 5,713 in 2006, 5,429 in 2005, and 5,139 in 2004) are issued an ISBN number as monitored by the Philippine National Library. Employees of National Bookstore charged with purchasing books confirmed in an official e-mail to BusinessWorld that "absolutely the romance genre, consistently, has been a significant contributor to the overall sales for Fiction & Literature, both in terms of sales quantity and [revenue] amount." In general, almost half of the sales of locally published titles under Fiction & Literature are either Tagalog romances or chick lit (also referred to as "chic lit") novels by local authors in English. For imported titles, it’s the bestselling sub-category next to general fiction and the literary classics. Notably, local romance novels (both in English and Filipino) sell about five times more in quantity than imported romance novels, but total sales amount is almost equal at National Bookstore.
Here is a 2001 exhaustive survey of the Philippine publishing industry, by the Center for Business and Economic Research and Development of De La Salle University: Printing and Publishing Industry 2001 In 2005, Atty. Dominador Buhain, President of the Philippine Association of Publishers, gave a presentation in Bangkok on Publishing Today (Philippines), which updated some of the information above. Some interesting snippets (rearranged for thematic purposes):
Book sales of both local and foreign titles account for only fifteen (15) to twenty (20) percent of total store sales of National Book Store, the country's largest book retailer which has about eighty (80) stores. nly 15% of the total elementary student population and 45% of the total high school population comprise the private school market. These are the areas where private publishers compete with one another. ...private publishers have developed all basic textbooks for the public elementary and secondary schools and have printed and distributed close to 45 million copies of pupils' texts and teachers' manuals during the last six years. Printruns for the private schools range from 50,000 to 80,000 per title. In both public and private schools, the lifespan of a textbook program is five years--the same edition may be used for five successive years. Next to textbooks, romance paperbacks or pocketbooks are bestsellers in the country. About 20,000 copies per title are sold every month. Each month an average of 20 titles are released. Romance novelettes have won over a large portion of the comics readership.
Philippine Genre Stories, by way of a regional comparison, had an interesting entry in 2008 on bootleg books in Vietnam.

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