Daily Archives: August 8, 2012

The nature of roads in Manila

Since I was young growing in Manila, the quality of asphalt roads in Manila is only as good as the summer season. As soon as the rainy season comes, its another story. I always wonder maybe all roads should be in concrete. I recently read this article and wonder whether its a matter of quality, governance or just the strong weather is the issue. Still, I don’t recall Ayala Avenue having similar road problems even in memories past. Hmm.


Melting in the rain


Three months – that was the life span of the asphalt laid on Roxas Boulevard for the meeting of the Board of Governors of the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The fresh layer of asphalt looked thick enough, at about four inches, from where I sat, stuck in traffic in my car, as the road improvement was rushed in the scorching days of April, in time for the ADB meeting on May 2-5.

Now long stretches of the boulevard look like the surface of the moon. Even the overpass on EDSA is damaged; the asphalt layer on the southbound lane was dug up several days ago, in preparation for re-pavement, but I guess the work has to wait for the end of the foul weather that continued until yesterday.

I’m no civil engineer so I don’t know how long quality asphalt pavement should be able to withstand monsoon rains. But I think three months is too short (with over a month still hot summer). The expenditure for endless road repairs, from the rainy season till Christmas, is too heavy a burden on taxpayers.

Inevitably, people smell corruption, sheer incompetence, or both. For President Aquino, who likes delivering his speeches in Filipino, the observation should hit harder in our language: Kaaayos lang, sira-sira na naman? Sino na naman ang kikita dito?

The criticism may be based on speculation, but it’s not entirely baseless.

I’ve written about World Bank studies showing that road construction and repair projects are among the biggest sources of corruption in many countries.

P-Noy, who has made the battle against corruption the lynchpin of his governance, should demand better roads from state civil engineers. Roads are among the most visible aspects of governance. If more good news is what P-Noy wants, rutted roads are always bad news.

At the very least, newly repaved roads should last longer than three months. That’s not an unreasonable objective.

For road projects undertaken by private contractors, full payment should be withheld for a certain period, until the durability of the product they delivered has passed certain tests.

Like the World Bank, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) should also debar contractors that keep delivering substandard services.

Remember the Buendia flyover that took four months to rehabilitate last year, only to disintegrate in the first heavy rain after it was opened? Taxpayers paid P87 million for that lemon, which contractor Towking Construction had to redo during the Christmas holiday rush.

Apart from requiring contractors to shoulder the cost of repairs for their shoddy work, the government should start imposing sanctions, on both the contractors and the DPWH personnel who are supposed to oversee the project.

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Roxas Boulevard looked like a huge infinity pool the other day, with the waters of Manila Bay and the flood on the thoroughfare rising up to the level of the seawall.

Late in the evening, hours after the flood receded, many patches of Roxas Boulevard looked like a lunar landscape, with the worst along the southbound stretch from EDSA in Baclaran, Parañaque all the way to the end, before Coastal Road.

As of yesterday, several of the potholes had become so large and deep they were causing traffic jams as even buses and other large vehicles avoided them.

The disintegration was only aggravated by the latest weather disturbance. Since I was wondering how long the smooth pavement would last after the ADB meeting, I kept a mental note of when disintegration would start. I noticed early signs of deterioration about two weeks ago.

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It was only the third massive flooding on Roxas Boulevard that I can remember in my lifetime. The first was in late September 2006, when I had to drive to the office through a boulevard blocked by toppled trees and lampposts, and flooded up to the service road with garbage-littered water several inches deep.

That flooding was understandable; it was the height of super typhoon “Milenyo” (international name Xangsane), which knocked out power in Metro Manila for several days. In the driving rain and powerful wind, my car shook so badly I worried that it would be blown away, like some trucks and shipping containers I spotted along the way.

The second time, the wind was less powerful but the flood was worse. The cause – as explained by weather experts – was so new we had to google the phenomenon: a storm surge. Typhoon “Pedring” spawned the storm surge on Sept. 27 last year, almost exactly five years to the day Milenyo struck. The surge, which sent waves up to 20 feet high crashing into land, destroyed the popular Spiral Restaurant at the Sofitel and flooded bayfront areas, from the hotel all the way to Roxas Boulevard

Ten months later, we have a “monsoon surge.” There were no 20-foot-tall waves the other day, and the flood receded quickly as the tide ebbed. By noon, all that was left on the boulevard was a sea of garbage. A swarm of scavengers helped clean up quickly, segregating the trash in separate large plastic bags for sale to recyclers.

But even before the monsoon surge, Roxas Boulevard had already started disintegrating. And it could get worse, all the way to Christmas.

P-Noy, who appears pleased with the performance of his DPWH chief, should try driving one of his favorite cars along the boulevard.

He should take a good look at where our taxes go. That’s public money, melting in the rain.

Harnessing the young talent available now

This is a novel idea in harnessing the future of the country now while they are young, willing and inspired. I wonder if other countries with similar problems like Spain and Greece can explore experimenting the same idea.


From the Philippine Daily Inquirer

Harnessing ‘bayanihan’


Monday, August 6th, 2012

What do you do with more than half a million Filipino college graduates who are jobless? How do you keep the increasing numbers of retired senior citizens productively occupied and help them keep from aging rapidly out of inactivity?


There were 2.8 million Filipinos without jobs as of last April, according to our employment statistics. Four out of five are no more than 34 years old. Our unemployed are mostly young. Sadly, one in every five is actually a college graduate. A waste of precious education, one might well be tempted to say so.


And yet this need not be. For about a third of what the government wants to spend next year for conditional cash transfers (CCT), the more than half a million unemployed college graduates in the country could all be gainfully occupied as volunteer development workers. They can be put to work in schools, health centers, local government units, grassroots NGOs, and other countryside institutions that could use some help from a college graduate. This is in fact already being done, albeit on a very limited scale so far, in a little-known but highly beneficial government program that has been around for many years.


The program is administered by the Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency (PNVSCA), an attached agency of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda). The agency coordinates the various foreign volunteer programs operating within the country, such as the US Peace Corps Volunteers, Japanese Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCVs), World Friends Korea (WFK) and others. PNVSCA coordinates the deployment of these volunteers to achieve maximum benefits for the country. It also takes responsibility for ensuring the safety of the volunteers and making their experience in the country a personally and professionally rewarding one.


But what holds greater significance to me is the agency’s local volunteer program known as Volunteers for Information and Development Assistance (Vida), and the associated Bayanihang Barangay. Invoking the Filipino bayanihan spirit, volunteers are deployed to work in communities and institutions engaged in various aspects of development work. Most Vida volunteers are fresh college graduates who sign up after finding difficulty landing a job. They get a modest P2,000 monthly allowance, with the host organization expected to augment this to ensure adequate support for the volunteer’s minimum needs. A volunteer can be supported for up to three years.


The beauty of the program lies in how it provides a way for society to harness the talents and energies of young educated people who would otherwise be idle, and provide them a way to be of service to fellow Filipinos while gaining valuable field experience that then enhances their employability later on. Apart from experience, the volunteers gain much stronger appreciation of working at the grassroots level and solving problems where they occur. And like the various foreign volunteers who leave the comfort of home to take on such development work overseas, they are likely to come out of the experience as more responsible citizens who are better equipped for their longer term careers. This has in fact been the hallmark of alumni of the foreign volunteer programs. Thus, such programs provide a true win-win between the volunteer and the host institution or community that benefits from his/her services.


There’s another important segment of the population for whom a nationwide development volunteer system can be a Godsend: our senior citizen retirees. Countless members of our population from all walks of life remain healthy and productive even way past retirement, and would prefer to keep themselves meaningfully busy rather than speed up their aging through idleness. In affluent societies abroad, we see them doing volunteer work in public libraries, community centers and other places where they can continue contributing their skills, knowledge and talents for the good of the community. There is no reason why we cannot organize a program for harnessing volunteerism among Filipino senior citizens as well—and actually do them a favor even as society benefits from their help. And I suspect we would indirectly improve the general health of our senior citizens for whom fulfillment and a feeling of self-worth can be far more efficacious than medication.


But for all its virtues, the Vida program remains very limited, with only tens of volunteers supported by a very modest budget. In a country whose foremost challenges include high unemployment and low productivity, a nationwide volunteer program can be an important instrument for addressing these problems and more, all at the same time. It is a program that yields multiple dividends.


As we allot tens of billions of pesos to millions of CCT beneficiaries, I see similar benefit—maybe more—in scaling up and expanding the Vida program into a National Development Volunteer System, to support not just tens but hopefully hundreds of thousands of volunteers nationwide. Local governments could have their own parallel counterpart programs, or the national system could have them become its primary implementors. In any case, we would be raising national productivity, lowering unemployment, reducing poverty, molding better citizens out of our youth, keeping our senior citizens healthier and happier and responding to various development needs of our communities—and we can achieve all this with one cost-effective national program. Harnessing the bayanihan spirit this way is, to my mind, an idea whose time has come, and an extremely effective way to spend our tax pesos.


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E-mail: cielito.habito@gmail.com

A different kind of Pacman

Manny Pacquiao is known as a boxer who never lost a match (or until the last time where he was judged to have lost). He now is fighting a different battle where his conviction is tested more than his muscle. Its nice to know he has used his standing in the community to put forward his beliefs despite the odds present.

From The Wall Street Journal

7 August 2012

Manny Pacquiao Hits Out Against Contraception

By Shibani Mahtani

European Pressphoto Association
Filipino boxer and current Congressman Manny Pacquiao attends a plenary session discussing a proposed reproductive health bill.

When Philippine President Benigno Aquino pushed forward a controversial health bill yesterday that seeks to subsidize contraception in the predominantly Catholic country, he set himself up for possible criticism from more than just the country’s powerful Catholic church. Another likely foe: Boxing icon Manny Pacquiao.

The famous athlete, who is also a congressman representing the Philippines district of Sarangani, has come out swinging against the idea of using state funds to make contraception more widely available in the country, which has one of the highest birth rates in Asia.

“God said, ‘Go out and multiply.’ He did not say, just have two or three kids,” he said in an interview earlier this year with the Philippines’ GMA Network, shortly after returning from Las Vegas. Mr. Pacquiao has continued to reference contraception as one of his key political issues, arguing that lawmakers should instead focus on laws that would alleviate poverty, rather than using government funds to subsidize birth control.

Efforts to reach Mr. Pacquiao on Tuesday were unsuccessful, with many government offices closed because of severe flooding.

The reproductive health bill – which would also mandate sex education and widen family planning offerings – passed an important hurdle Monday, when lawmakers decided to end long periods of debate on the issue so that a vote can be held, most likely in the next several weeks. If the bill passes in the Philippines House, backers would also need to get support from the Philippines Senate before the law can be enforced.

Leaders of the country’s Roman Catholic Church have fought hard to block the bill, which they say would promote promiscuity and weaken moral values. Some 10,000 people turned out against the bill in rallies this past weekend. Its backers, including women’s rights groups and some economists, argue the country’s birthrate is unsustainably high with 25 births per every 1,000 people each year – a number which they say must come down so that the Philippines can tackle poverty and infrastructure constraints.

Whether Mr. Pacquiao’s strong words on the issue will help sway more people against the bill is uncertain; indeed, many Filipinos have already made up their minds on the issue, which has been debated off and on for more than a decade. But it does add another popular voice to the debate, potentially helping Catholic leaders reach a wider audience with its message.

Catholic leaders remain adamant that the bill is fundamentally wrong. Archbishop Oscar Cruz, a veteran Catholic leader, said on the online news portal rappler.com that the bill “hates life, wants to do away with life” and questioned the economic value of efforts to rein in the country’s reproductive rates.

The Catholic church has planned more protests against the bill before it goes to a vote. Last weekend’s protests saw thousands carrying placards with phrases like “no to safe sex” and “no to RH bill,” according to local press reports. Proponents maintain that religious leaders have exaggerated the impact of the bill, which they note does not change the country’s ban on abortions, and would only make condoms and contraceptives available to the poor.

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