Sunday, October 14, 2007

Letters to Community Movers and Shakers

Rewrites of Jottings: Letters to Community Movers and Shakers

Letter to a Rotarian Realtor

Your article caught my eye when it applied medical analogy to describe (your firm’s) support for the sell-Cagayan De Oro campaign. The health metaphor aptly articulates the perception that the city is not ailing, but is exposed to unhealthy influences that discourage confidence on security and evokes uncertainty ─ and in business, uncertainty is certainly bearish.
As a CDO denizen, I applaud the move to attract investments and tourists that will make the city prosper as a counter to misery and crime in the community. This then becomes my own personal interest. So, with your indulgence, here are some of my views:
J The One-Stop-Shop is a desirable concept ─ if it is sincere. Past disincentives, according to investors, are: (1) the hated changing rules, (2) the severe hassle in licensing and (3) the “social responsibility” requirement, the top three among many others.
J Collaboration of PR firms in the campaign is a nice first step, but the drive would only gain momentum when the bleeding-heart civic clubs (Rotary, Lions, JC, others) forgo their rituals and go promoting.
J Media and journalists could do effective promoting whenever they rise to a higher plane (above the coarse tabloid-style trash).
J The drive should project a cosmopolitan image, not lumad. Emulate the admirable artistry of the TV ads of our ASEAN neighbors. Malaysia’s TrulyAsia theme and Thailand’s Refresh Your Senses slogan are sophisticated and subtle lures. I realize the effort would need talent and imagination, qualities perhaps rare here, but there might be one or two out there waiting to be discovered. (Author’s update: Dick Gordon’s WOW Philippines recently joined this sophisticated company.)
L Checkpoints and full-battle gear are dismal images.
L City Hall needs to stimulate more, and dole out less.
L Remember past campaigns (convention city, sister-city) and improve on them. These feeble attempts by politicians did not endure, perhaps due to an intrinsic flaw. It is widely known that politicians are long on promise, but short on performance. Maybe the present drive is more promising. (Pardon the pun.)
In my youth, at about the age when I knew everything, I heard that the motto of a merry group called Rotarians is: Blessed are they who go around in circles. I later learned that this was not true; not entirely, anyway. I also learned that there were a few things I didn’t know, one of these being the fact that this merry group was not gay, and some of them cannot visualize a straight circle. Further exposure to Rotarian friends taught me that they too are human beings, possessing a bit more polish and swagger perhaps, being leaders in their line of work, but still mortals that can catch the flu and sin soon after Sunday Mass.
On the topic of leadership and the prestige it brings to those that reach the pinnacle, there is a certain pride in one’s profession, its impact on the community, how long it has served society and whether it is the oldest. There is widespread belief that prostitution is the oldest. Nevertheless, if we consider the dominant male in primate apes, then managers must be the oldest. Still, this is disputed even today. Accountants claim that Adam and Eve were the earliest bookkeepers ─ they invented the loose-leaf system.
Then there is this story about three men arguing ─ a doctor, an engineer and a politician ─ about whose profession was the oldest. The doctor said his was the oldest since God created Eve out of Adam’s rib and in fact performed a surgical operation. The engineer said his profession was the oldest since God, like any engineer, in creating the world, made it out of chaos. “And who,” asked the politician, “created the chaos?”
Whatever the government gives, it must first take away. John S. Coleman
From who else but we poor taxpayers!

An Open Letter toDelMonte

Food security is much more than being able to produce enough rice to feed the country’s population. It also means increased private initiatives, and all segments of the food community have important roles to play:
v Manufacturers and producers have the responsibility to see that food is produced safely and that it is accurately labeled.
v Wholesalers and retailers have the responsibility to see that food is made available conveniently and at a fair price.
v Government’s responsibility is to see that this system provides adequate protection to the public from the health and safety standpoint.
A fundamental food safety question of concern to consumers is the distinction between the roles of the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Food and Drugs that involve fresh versus processed foods. Who is responsible in cases involving chemical residues traced to agricultural operations? For food safety hazards involving animal feed additives? For the controversial GMO (genetically modified organism)?
Manufacturers or Producer’s role includes declarations of freshness and shelf life to avert spoilage, such as the open-dating system; thorough processing to prevent bacterial contamination and botulism toxins; appropriate packaging and descriptive labeling that includes nutrition data (resourceful food companies know “nutrition sells”).
The consumer’s role is to be alert to the numerous hazards existing in the marketplace. To protect the health of his family and his pocketbook, caveat emptor, Latin for buyer beware, must constantly be the guiding spirit of the consumer. Reading the label of goods would be prudent, looking out especially for flash messages. For durables, reading the warrantee or the proverbial fine print is a must. It would not hurt to read consumer tips from publications.
Being a giant in the food industry DelMonte has a social obligation to address the challenge of assisting in educating the consumer in making the right food choices. To be sure, the task is complicated by many formidable factors, a major one being the slim budget of a great majority of Filipino families that severely limits their range of food choices. Another factor is the prevailing government thrust of seeking cheaper sources of pharmaceutical medicines, a policy that stresses curative medicine to the detriment of preventive medicine.
Advanced societies now regard prevention as the most effective, wide-reaching and economical public health policy. Preventive medicine acknowledges the natural defense of the human body ─ the immune system ─ and takes a three-prong strategy: nutrition combined with personal hygiene and environmental sanitation. Vaccination to provide immunity to children’s diseases should complement the program. The intrusive curative medicine would then only come into play when natural defenses fail. Government should focus on prevention and leave healing medicine to the private sector.
A community whose members practice habitual hygiene and home sanitation, with a bit of help from an administration that practices a policy of clean air, clean water, and clean environment and, above all, a clean conscience ─ is generally healthy. It is in the area of nutrition where Del Monte can help, and join a host of trendsetters and visionaries. Microsoft Corporation chief Bill Gates, whose personal fortune of $80 billion matches Taiwan’s total reserve, has pledged $50 million to a five-year scheme to improve the health of children in poor countries by fortifying basic foods with vitamins and minerals. “The benefits to the children are quite phenomenal. We have seen great success with iodized salt.” Gates told a news conference held to launch the UN’s Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). The aim of GAIN is to support efforts by low-income countries to fortify foods such as rice, flour, sugar and vegetable oils.
Much earlier, our own Senator Franklin Drilon, assisted by Alaska Milk, applied his ‘congressional initiative’ funds (a.k.a. pork barrel) to support a schoolchildren feeding program. (Incidentally, I wondered why bisaya chicken (backyard grown) is priced higher than mass-produced chicken until I was told the meat is tastier, probably because of the minerals ingested from its scratching on the soil. This claim is plausible, considering the finding of scientists that steaks containing high amounts of the mineral zinc are tastier.)
The well-established marketing tool Kitchenomics may now be reaching its peak, what with copycats’ ads ala kitchenomics sprouting all over. Yet, its potential may be enhanced with a simple addition to its format ─ insert nutrition in the recipes and promote the prevention theme. Vary the message occasionally with a subtle hint that disease is a matter of personal choice ─ shield with food nutrients or heal with costly drugs. Continue leading the pack and being the trendsetter, and thank the imitators for their exquisite judgment. Such a marketing move may burnish the DM Shield and its reputed quality image to the familiar scintillating aura.

Letter to a Councilor

I watched closely the City Council session on 18 February that tackled the problem of shortage of water, a vital but often taken for granted commodity. May I offer my views on this public issue that affects the entire community?
I expressed my views earlier in an article written in 1995, expecting no reaction to an invisible threat (people do not react until they feel pain). So now, an aroused public is wailing about poor water service. In the article, I broached the idea to develop a surface water supply system to supplement groundwater sources. About a year ago, COWD did present a tentative partner, Vivendi, a foreign firm that proposed a BOT scheme for such a surface water project. But nothing was heard since then until the 18th Feb session. I do hope the Council would now be galvanized in pursuing the project.
On the subject of groundwater supplies, I am puzzled by some of the items presented by the guests:
z COWD employs consultants (five?) to solve profound problems, but they seem to have no comprehensive geological map of the aquifers (inferred from the dry wells they bored.). Perhaps some consultants may be no better than water-witch wizards.
z Consumer complaints of “cloudy” water are probably the result of human error by the service facility. Groundwater is naturally clear and aseptic, although loaded with mineral ions (which gives it the pleasant taste in comparison to the bland taste of pure or distilled water.) The cloudiness or murky quality complained of could only come from contamination.
Groundwater can be polluted from many sources: landfills, septic tanks, even nature via percolation. The various contaminants interact with the underground environment in different ways. In the aerobic zone, bacteria oxidize many of the organic constituents, but, in general, hydrocarbons are not metabolized under anaerobic conditions. Chlorinated organic compounds are more likely to be attacked in an anaerobic environment than under aerobic ones; chlorine atoms are removed.
To avoid future groundwater problems, it is obvious that pouring wastes into the ground be stopped. Combustion of organic wastes would change them into simple products (the Clean Air Act notwithstanding). Proper design of dumpsites and waste lagoons can guarantee that little of toxic substances escape to the environment.
z The answer to the question of “when will the groundwater run out?” may need more data than is apparently available. We know the extraction rate is 27.3 million tons (cubic meters) per month. Obviously, however, without a geological map indicating dimensions and texture of CDO aquifers, no one can even estimate the total volume available beneath us (“plentiful” is not reassuring). It is also doubtful if there is data on the locations of the recharge zones replenishing the aquifers and the recharge rates of each zone.
Again, I wish to compliment you on the civil, dispassionate and concise manner of your enquiry.

Letter 1 to Congressman A, 7 May 2000

The passage of the Clean Air Act … is indeed an impressive accomplishment for a neophyte Congressman from the boondocks of …(province) To be sure, browbeating the oil firms was not a simple task, but it finally boiled down to a matter of ensuring that the luster of lucre (theirs) was not tarnished.
It is now apparent you are taking on the more complex environmental challenge of salvaging our aquatic resources. The aquatic challenge may demand more versatility in dealing with squatter stubbornness and business cunning, the main polluters. Having encountered the complexities of water during the process of researching material for a paper I wrote, reviving the Pasig River, I surmise, would be a formidable undertaking and would serve as an ideal learning base for the Clean Water Act. I only pray the statute will reach beyond the Metropolis.
The urgency of protecting water supplies and coastal waters cannot be over emphasized. Boracay’s septic crisis some years back was solved only by natural means (tidal currents), but jolted frightened businesses into positive action. Macajalar Bay adjacent to this city was also found heavy with coliform bacteria in the mid-90s, but with only mild tidal currents and unrelenting flow of sewage the bay could by now be one huge cesspool.
The recent ABS-CBN Media Forum held at the Hotel Intercon had as its topic “Water, the Next Crisis”. Among the items brought up were the polluting synthetic detergents and the local availability of a biodegradable surfactant (no details divulged). I do recall reading an article in the papers about the development of an alkyl phosphate from coconut fatty acids by DOST and manufactured by COCOCHEM in Batangas. It is claimed the substance is a surfactant that can compete with commercial detergents and is biodegradable.
I am hoping you can add the Clean Water Act feather in your cap.

Letter to Congressman A, 28 July 2001

Congratulations! Your re-election is auspicious, a glimmer of hope in this benighted nation. Although I am no longer a constituent of your district, please indulge me when I send my views to you as a respected leader of the republic, not to my own congressman (with whom I am not comfortable). I recall that one of your last initiatives in the past Congress was in relation to “clean water” and biodiversity to be followed (I surmised in jest) by clean conscience, a comment alluding to the Erap era dishonesty.
May I now, in all humility, mention some items of national scope that must be addressed urgently. My appeal stems from a disappointment over the President’s SONA that, to me, consisted of an inordinate amount of socialism and a tendency to foster mendicancy in our culture and psyche.
Foremost is the economy. No rational mind can question the troubled status of our economy, and Gatt/WTO tariff reductions will soon add to our woes. I believe government should seek all means to motivate the private sector, the growth engine, to exert extraordinary efforts to be productive and thus be globally competitive. The prevailing mode of dole outs helps only a few and fleetingly. A resourceful leadership can boost national productivity by eliminating waste. It can start with eradication of corruption and boondoggles, and dismantling feather nested turfs in the bureaucracy (note the recent turmoil in the Tourism Dept and SSS).
To attract and keep investors (the job givers), we must learn from the past and avoid the three main disincentives: the hated changing of rules, the frustratingly excessive hassle of licensing, and the “social acceptability” requirement on new industrial projects.
On agriculture, food security must be transformed from a mere slogan into hard sincerity. Our staples, rice for people and corn for feeds, need stability in price and supply ─imports should be a contingency, not the norm ─ and consumers should not be alienated in the process (they do constitute the entire population). In this regard, we should review the role of NFA as food stabilizer not just as employer and feather nester.
On education, an educated citizenry is a given, and 2-3 more years of formal schooling would be beneficial. But, it would cost less and be more effective if applied when the child is most absorptive at 3-6 years old (practiced by discerning parents and dubbed pre-school). It would be disastrous to legislate Tagalog as the medium of instruction at any school level (beware of “Edcom” Angara); the corrosive influence of Tagalog on Filipino English has mutated into Taglish gibberish. (I’m willing to bet that doctorate degrees, yours included, do not come by means of fluency in Tagalog.). English must be buttressed, it functions as a major contributor to our global competitiveness. English as a second language might be facilitated if devised as part of pre-school formal play. In academe, professionalizing teachers is a mishap ─ titles merely dignify mediocrity.
On health, the cry for cheaper medicines is more pander than compassion. Collective health is best achieved by a three-prong strategy of preventive medicine: hygiene, sanitation, and nutrition.
If ignorance is bliss, Congress must be paradise.
The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it. ~ Theodore Roosevelt

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