By Digoy Fernandez If only the process of sweeping out the baggage and detritus of the old year could be so simple. Just get a broom and sweep away! Unfortunately, life in real time suggests that the only way to get rid of old baggage is to sweep clean oneâs own psyche, more like an emotional cleansing. At the very least, even if the problems of the old year manage to carry on into the New Year, one would be better conditioned, mentally that is, to tilt with the windmills that 2009 promises to bring to bear on oneâs already tired shoulders. A comment was made to the blog on global warming, insinuating that it is a problem of the elite or those who would raise the specter of rising ocean levels just to obtain paltry grants. Well, speaking for myself, I donât get paid a single cent to blog, nor do I rely on anyoneâs largesse to support this private initiative in favor of the environment (among other concerns, of course!). It is true that the planet has had to deal with catastrophic events in millennia past. But if we just think of the rough time span that homo sapiens has been on this earth, this would be the equivalent of a hiccup in the face of millions â perhaps billions â of evolutionary years. The great difference is that the recent crisis has been largely man-made, mainly through the rapid use of non-renewable resources, the constant emission of effluents into the air and the worldâs water systems, and the creation of incredibly large carbon footprints per capita that the worldâs dwindling forests can barely cope up with. (FYI, trees generally are able to process carbon dioxide from the air and convert them into oxygen, etc.) Who will be affected by rising ocean levels? Will this be merely a subtraction in the number of islands in a given archipelago? Well, try filling up a pan with water â with simulated island masses on it â and find out the harsh truth: rising seas will not discriminate on who or what they drown. Rich or poor, same same! Even if only 1,000 islands will be left of the supposedly 7,000+ islands we have in our archipelago, this will not mean that the islands left behind will be intact as before. They will also suffer severe diminution in size, leaving only areas maybe more than a couple of meters above water able to survive. Almost all existing shorelines of the big islands will be obliterated and will see a literal âsea changeâ, i.e., the encroaching seas will take over much of existing dry land. In which case, man had better learn to live in the hills and high mountain areas of of the world. Unfortunately, many of the worldâs poorer people live along the periphery of the normal habitats available to man, such is their inability to obtain more advantageous locations for their makeshift housing. Therefore, the poor would be most affected by rising ocean levels, whereas the rich will be able to secure better upland-inland areas for themselves. So, except for those coveted beachfront properties that the rich seem to gravitate to, the great masses huddle tightly in areas vulnerable to inundation, close to rivers and seas. Because this problem is one that affects everyone regardless of social or economic status, it is important to find out how one contributes to or helps minimize global warming. Again, this is not a problem generated by the elite for its benefit, because all mankind will have equal opportunity to drown in the encroaching waters as the Greenland ice, glaciers, and polar caps melt. There are already evident signs of this as we witness the sad plight of mighty polar bears drowning or starving as their normal hunting grounds melt into the oceans. I have a tongue in cheek name for the so-called Environmental Concerns committee of my village: The Tree-Cutting and Environmental Destruction Committee. This is a well-deserved sobriquet given their total lack of consideration for true environmental preservation and appreciation of the impact of their actions. If the strict implementation of PD 953 were to be observed, I figure they owe millions of pesos in fines and penalties for their wanton destruction of the existing tree cover and even half of the mini-forest we planted two decades ago. How can we talk about the economy and keeping afloat when we canât even take the first step towards keeping the country afloat, period! And just in case anyone out there is interested, look up the many opportunities that now exist in the areas where environmental concerns are pre-eminent. Biofuels, hybrid motors, hydroponic and organic farming, tree farms with selective cutting, safe waste disposal methods, etc. These are areas that will not go down with the sinking economy, simply because more and more people know that these are vital to the planetâs survival. We must, therefore, consider what baggage to leave behind in this year, and begin to think about new and better initiatives that would help both the earth and the people who live in it. Initiatives need not be big: A tree planting every month for each individual, stopping the use of non-biodegradable products, renewing & recycling, helping poor families get ahead with proper tutoring and assistance with microfinance and other such successful models, and so forth. We just have to take that first all important step!
December 2008 Archives
By Digoy Fernandez WITHOUT doubt, we now live in interesting times. In fact, the venerable Chinese -- who have seen many civilizations come and go over their long and storied history -- sometimes use the term in a euphemistic manner, akin to wishing that someone, perhaps an adversary, live in interesting times. A relative tells of her own well-to-do siblings taking off for a vacation in the US and then Europe. It seems that, in the case of the former, most stores still open are on Sale Mode, offering up to a solid 70 percent off on all goods. Problem is, there are no takers, leading one to realize that genuine belt-tightening is going on. This is not surprising given the problem of lay-offs and company closures that have been taking place in an accelerated fashion. To make things worse, even companies able to weather the economic storm find themselves with dwindling sales as less and less people commit to purchasing anything unless absolutely necessary. The consumer-led US economy is fast sputtering to a halt, and the new president will have his hands full trying to jumpstart the engine by building up buyer confidence by creating new jobs and opportunities for others who have already been laid off. Despite naysayers who claim that the US is no longer the world’s economic locomotive, it is pretty clear that this malaise has began to seep into the other main economies of the world, from Europe, to the Middle East and its oil riches, to the East with “ChIndia” (China and India) and Japan slowly sliding into the morass. An interesting footnote to that trip taken by our intrepid band is that they found themselves buying a lot of the bargains being offered, proving once again that Cash is King these days. It is a well known fact to many local country and corporate planners that the saving grace of the Philippine economy has always been the Value Added Tax and the foreign exchange inflows generated by our army of overseas workers. Unfortunately, the spread of economic gloom and a general decrease in economic activity worldwide will probably result in some diminution of the foreign exchange remittances currently propping up the economy. The government, probably prompted by the need to show some backbone in the current crisis, has mapped out a program for public sector spending meant to inject funds into the economy before it throttles downward. Unfortunately, there is little or no surplus to spend, and any program aimed at propping up the economy may be just a short-lived and expensive exercise as we poach into the largesse generated by VAT. I know of families that have recently gone through a series of sales of family properties, some through the Voluntary Offer to Sell (VOS) program under land reform (deformed?). Many of these people believe in paying the right taxes and fees. It is interesting to note that they have always had to pay much more just to get proceeds into their hands. What galls one is that the VOS is supposed to generate tax-free revenues for the selling party, and yet, functionaries find ways and means to make the transactions interesting. It is precisely this type of practice so prevalent today that screams for structural reform. A philosophical observer of the scene once said that, to get rid of corruption in this country, one would have to eliminate almost everyone above the age of 30 and start all over again -- hopefully in the right direction. The coming year promises even more of what will really be interesting times. The country will have to come up with creative ways to beat back the economic malaise that threatens to seep into our own fabric. It does not help that the political process is being thwarted yet again by people who hold on to their public offices like leeches. Like the true parasites that they are, they only know how to suck blood and do the country a disservice by coming up with new-fangled ways to cling to power beyond the mandated election year 2010. During these interesting times, we are tempted to take a page from our Chinese friends and wish the very best of these interesting times on those who seek to thwart the will of the people and the constitution. Perhaps, in the next process of reviewing the constitution -- for it does need some tweaking -- it may be wise to put in a provision that NO ONE who has ever held the highest position of the land can ever take on a similar top position, e.g., prime minister or chief janitor, even if the constitution were to be changed a thousand times.
By Digoy Fernandez IN my last post, I took a swipe at the callous indifference of many urban dwellers who view trees as pesky leaf shedders or as green fodder that must be cut down whenever and wherever. While a single tree felled by a villager may seem to be of no consequence in the worldwide scheme of things, the fact is that we don’t only have a few trees going down each year. Countless numbers of trees are felled or burned down to make way for concrete or new planting ground. The earth’s greenbelt is fast fading, and the carbon sink that these trees are, fail to make up for the increasing amount of carbon dioxide being spewed into the atmosphere. Last Sunday, during our regular weekly breakfast meeting of friends from our village, our soon to be retired high official from the ADB mentioned that their agency recently had to reassess their environmental programs because of alarm bells being sounded by their European counterparts. It seems that these agencies are truly worried about the effect of rising carbon levels and the effect these have on the melting of glaciers and the big snowy areas like that in Greenland. The net effect, of course, has been a steady rise in sea levels from 2 mm – 3 mm a year. A seemingly insignificant figure, once again, but truly alarming when one considers that the sea has risen by about a meter since turn of the last century. And the pace is picking up rather than slowing. In practical terms, rising sea levels would mean flooding of many parts of Metro Manila, especially those that were low-lying swampy areas to begin with. At least a third of the Metro area would be under water, with pressure to go inland toward the mountain areas. Now, those mountain areas have been much abused in the past until the present, with clear cutting resulting in denudation and the lack of topsoil and decent forest cover. Increased inland migration would put further stress on these already fragile and overdeveloped habitats. A substantial number of our 7,100 islands would probably go under for good, and provide good coral reef starting habitats. Good for the fish and other sea-life forms, bad for us. People who live in coastal areas and who make a living from the sea will be forced inland, and will have to adjust accordingly. The many creatures that find their beginnings in the mangrove and riverine areas will probably take another generation to replenish themselves as their old habitats end up in deeper waters. To think that the preservation or planting of a single tree can make such a difference, especially if millions of people all over the world thought the same way!
By Digoy Fernandez ONE fine morning, I was rudely awakened from my short morning nap -- yes, age requires one to cat nap every now and then -- by an obviously disturbed neighbour and fellow tree lover who was distressed by an apparent policy wherein the village officials and staff approved the cutting of any tree within the subdivision for the amount of P2,000. Of course, I was happy that someone else was bothered by this violation of PD 953 that not only mandates the planting of trees along streets and parks in subdivisions, but also exacts a heavy penalty on the unwarranted cutting down of said trees. Over the past two to three years, I saw a group of misguided village officials begin to cut down trees they did not like, whether on empty lots or along sidewalks. These officials earned for themselves the sobriquet “Putol Boys” from others who were bothered by the cutting down of trees but who preferred to remain silent on the issue. First, they cut down the second row of trees in the entire park, one that gave the feeling of a canopy to the area, to make way for flowering bushes and plants. I know enough about gardening to observe that flowering plants do best along semi-shaded or full sun areas, but that these areas should not be earned by cutting down trees to provide space for them. We have a very big park, for heaven’s sake. Second, they cut down trees not in the approved list, doing away with alibangbangs, mahogany, and neem trees, among others. To think that we had only included in the list the obviously destructive and extremely large trees like the gemelina, the brittle acacias brought in from New Zealand, giant ipil ipil, etc. They even cut down trees in empty lots, and only sort of stopped when I told them that maybe absentee owners planted those in anticipation of building in the future with the benefit of a large shade tree in place. What takes the cake is that they cleaned the village of all aratiles trees, the favourite of many birds, bats, and even village children and adults. Sheesh! In my street alone, they cut down about seven to ten shade trees (alibangbang, neem, and caballero), making our area look like the Gobi desert when the sun is out in full force. Unfortunately, some neighbours believe that we already have too many trees. This I do not believe, because my friend Ed de Vera and I helped – at one time or the other – formulate tree planting and preservation rules that have seen other villages in the vicinity look like nice subdivisions that one sees in other countries. In my brother’s neighboring subdivision, they fine anyone who cuts down a tree about P20K and then order the erring homeowner to plant exactly the same tree in exactly the same place. Yes, we had rules in place at one time or the other, but many of these seem to have been conveniently forgotten by subsequent administrations. Instead, we seem to have developed a “concrete” mentality wherein everything that can be covered with concrete should be so covered! If a test were to be taken with respect to my own village’s carbon footprint, we would loom large as a substantial contributor to global warming. Many times, village officials roll out the arguments that trees get in the way of power lines or cause leaks in the water system, or destroy sidewalks. These points are valid, but they do not constitute a reason to go through a clear cutting exercise. Each tree’s case should be studied – and indeed, it should under the terms of PD 953 – and examined to see if a happy medium can be achieved. For example, at one time in the past, former Sec Jun Factoran and I managed to save a large acacia tree whose roots had punched a hole in our water pipe. We arranged to have the offending root excised and wrapped in concrete, and then repaired the water pipe. Happy solution that pleased everyone. We got to keep the tree and the water system was spared any more damage. However, in most cases these days, the village officials take the path of least resistance and cut down trees galore. Many times in the past, friends and I gave seminars to the village staff and officials on the proper way to maintain and prune trees. If they had only listened then -- and also watched the Meralco subcontractors like hawk – our trees would have formed perfect Vees under the power lines and not look like the jumble of leaves and branches we have today because of the faulty pruning methods used that only created more water sprites and shoots. I have long refrained from mentioning my village because I still live here and have many neighbours of various persuasions, some pro-environment, others paying less than lip service to the cause, if at all. But like my angry neighbour, I guess enough is enough, and we should stop the cutting of trees before our village registers a collective temperature about 10 degrees above the ambient temperature elsewhere.
By Digoy Fernandez THIS is one blog entry that seems to have elicited quite a fair share of comments, mostly in favor with a couple expressing reservations. For the enlightenment of those who felt that I should have expressed my desire to be served by waving my hand etc., in practically all the circumstances stated, the waiters or waitresses stood afar and did not even look my way. Contrast this with the behaviour they showed after I had expressed my opinion on the (lousy) level of service in Gerry’s Grill. And this is not a random event. I noticed this in various times that I would go there with my family. What surprised me was North Park, because my son and I have never had problems with them before. And, as I said, on my second trip there, one waitress bothered to seat me and then left me to myself for the next fifteen minutes. Maybe some of the other staff were eating or undergoing a shift change, but whatever it was, the gods of service seemed to have deserted me that day. A couple of days ago, my family and I decided to try out the Ajisen Japanese restaurant in the same mall for the first time. It had replaced the old one, Sakura, a restaurant that was a favorite of my son, and whose staff always went out of their way to make you feel at home. Well, Ajisen’s three waitresses were serving a full house but they managed to come up with very acceptable levels of service. I guess, all one has to do is try…something that was previously lacking in Gerry’s Grill. I will venture over there once again this month and see if their service has gone up a notch or whether they managed to backslide once again. I also worked in a bank, and at one time helped develop our training and development programs. We had a highly motivated staff, both officers and employees, and the camaraderie is still existent to this day even if the bank was merged into another one. The branch staff was trained to perform different functions, and they were juggled around depending on where the pressure points would be for a given day. And, above all, they were taught to always smile and make clients feel that they were all Number One! Over the years, I have developed an ability to make friends with all kinds of people, perhaps a hangover from a previous activist background that had us mixing with people from all walks of life. As a process, one appreciates that everyone is working to support himself or a family. This is why an attitude contrary to good service sucks, because if shows that the person concerned really does not care about his or her job. Pity.
By Digoy Fernandez ONE of the things I have to promise myself is never to make promises I can’t very well keep. In my last post, I mentioned the sloppy service of a restaurant in an upscale restaurant in a tony Alabang mall. Well, my dear son who is my veritable shadow when it comes to wonderful shared experiences like watching movies and eating -- not expensive meals in posh restaurants, just good food in tried and tested venues -- decided that he wanted to try a particular dish that happened to be available in the restaurant I said I would avoid until hell freezes over. Famous last words! So, we hunkered over to Gerry’s Grill in Alabang Town Center (I mention them now because of subsequent events that happened in this visit) and -- Surprise! Surprise! -- a waitress saw us right away and proceeded to seat us at a table. This was 100 percent better than my last visit when I basically got ignored after trying twice to get seated or served, and was left to my own devices for about 15 minutes each time. We were seated and handed menus, and then, almost predictably, saw the waiters and waitresses just lolling around avoiding eye contact. Apparently, they want you to stand up and gesticulate wildly before they come over to serve you or take your order. At any rate, I finally had to wave my hand at one of them -- not without vigorous encouragement and mild disapproval from my son, though. Our orders were taken and we settled down for what we hoped would be a nice lunch. Not long after starting to eat, my son asked me to pass the Pepper, which was not available on our table. The other tables also did not have any Pepper shakers. Since the waiters had left us to survive on our own, I stood up and strode boldly to another section of the restaurant which housed the bar and asked them for pepper. Of course, the barista was befuddled, since they obviously didn’t have pepper on hand. He waved to a supervisor who promptly acceded to my request and mentioned that I didn’t have to stand and look for a shaker by myself. Aha! He gave me the opening for me to mention the extremely sloppy service I received the last time around. He shook his head but thanked me for bringing up the issues of the last time and the present and promised to tell the staff off in the afternoon meeting. Well, the obvious thing happened next. We had a waiter hovering over our table waiting for the slightest gesture on our part, hoping to anticipate any other needs we had like more ice, napkins, and even straws for the soft drinks (that they failed to give the first time around)! It was a bit unnerving to have them hover over us this time around, but certainly appreciated compared to the essentially lousy service that I had noted them to be consistent with (even with previous visits). When I reached for my wallet to get my senior card, another waiter rushed to our table with the bill already prepared! Hah! They could have fooled me with such fast reaction times this time around! I hope that the supervisor having berating the service staff will result in better and more consistent service next time around. Note: I brought out the issue of poor service only when our food had been served, because of my knowledge -- based on the admission by several waiters I had befriended in the past -- that waiters and waitresses sometimes spit on the food of people they dislike or who treat them badly.