Thursday, June 30, 2011

Aquino wears his heart out on his sleeve

By Winston A. Marbella

In a moment of extraordinary candor during conversation with reporters covering Malacanang, President Aquino wore his heart out on his sleeve.  

It had nothing to do with his love life, which he has vowed to keep secret and personal, notwithstanding kid sister Crus Aquino’s juvenile lapses of indiscretion. 

Instead it had to do with his official life as Chief Executive, and his personal frustration over “being singled out” for his crusade to fulfill a campaign promise---to rid government of corruption----by a Supreme Court he perceives to be loyal to his predecessor because most of them had been appointed by her.

On the surface that would seem to be a sweeping, if not an unfair, accusation.  After all ours is a government of laws and not of men.  And while the Supreme Court over time has indeed produced justices who have bowed to the appointing power, it has also sired men and women of independent minds whose legal erudition stands among the best and the brightest in the world.

In any case, the argument is made that all Supreme Court justices---indeed all judges---are appointed by the President with the concurrence, of course, of Congress. 

That is the system we have chosen for ourselves---a complex interplay of separation of powers and check and balance.  It is hard to make it work, but it is nevertheless the best we can muster from the long and practical experience of functioning democracies.  

Other structures may seem more efficient, and the fact that the wheels of justice seem to grind ever so slowly in this country at times has induced us to raise our arms in sheer exasperation.  

But for as long as men remain mortals, we still will have to make the system work to the best of our ability in an imperfect world where the better angels of our human nature do not always prevail, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln.

Tarnished institution

It’s almost impossible to accept the proposition that in the twilight of their careers the justices would throw everything away and invite the calumny and ignominy that flawed decisions would heap upon themselves---just as it is unimaginable to accept the notion that Mr. Aquino is motivated only by the siren song of a demagogue unable to move the institutions of government along the straight path he promised the people.

The more sober voices of society---senators, congressmen, bishops and lawyers’ groups---have called for a stop to the vicious political accusations against the justices.

Continued assaults on the justices as political pawns will eventually tarnish not only their personal reputations but also the institution of the judiciary, a co-equal if not equally powerful branch of government.

Legally tricky

The bone of contention was the legally tricky ruling (9-5) that thrashed as unconstitutional President Aquino’s first executive order creating a Truth Commission to investigate graft and corruption “scandals” in the previous administration. 

In the aftermath of the controversial ruling, two of the three main pillars of our constitutional government---the executive and judiciary---were rocked with political issues that struck at the core of our democratic beliefs, shook the foundations of our institutions, and set the tone and trajectory of how the Aquino presidency intended to translate its immense popularity into effective governance.

The highly incendiary and political accusations that the ruling ignited threatened to leave both the judiciary and the presidency as fallen idols with diminished public esteem and, unless sober discourse was restored, as stalemated institutions that could be weakened irreparably by the conflict.

Equal protection clause

The majority decision itself rested on a constitutional precept no less important than separation of powers and check and balance: equal protection of the law granted to all citizens by the Constitution.  The 46-page majority resolution was penned by Associate Justice Jose Mendoza.  

News about the court’s decision was announced to the media by spokesperson Gleo Guerra who said: “The majority, among others, held that EO 1 violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution in as much as it singles out for investigation the reports of graft and corruption in the previous administration.”

In a nationally televised address, President Aquino slammed the high court as pretending to be “deaf and blind” to the people’s wish and vowed to pursue his campaign promise to go after corruption in government.  Asked what he intended to do in light of the ruling, he said it seemed to him that the next best step was to amend the executive order, implying it did have legal defects in form if not substance.

Sober voices

Chief Justice Arturo Corona dismissed the charges and simply urged critics to read the decision and judge it on its merits.

Ranking officials of the influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines urged Mr. Aquino to explore “using other means to discover the truth,” including beefing up his legal staff.  Senators cautioned the parties to temper their language lest the people begin to lose respect in both the presidency and judiciary as respectable institutions. 

The alternative is the worst of both worlds: a diminished presidency and a tarnished judiciary. 

(The author is chief executive of a think tank specializing in transforming social, political and cultural trends into public policy and business strategy.  Comments are welcome at e-mail:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The presidential brand architect

By Winston A. Marbella

In Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the star-crossed lovers, Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, meet and fall madly in love.  As members of two families with a long history of blood feud, the lovers are doomed from the start.

Juliet tells Romeo his name does not matter to her—she’s in love with a person who just happens to be a Montague, and not with the Montague name or the Montague family.  In this line which captures the heart of the play and perhaps immortalizes it more than any other, Juliet professes undying love: 

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Burnt skin

In the business world, a name used to be called a brand-name.  Because businessmen are an impatient lot, they shortened the word to brand, evoking in the process a more down-to-earth meaning: “a mark showing identity or ownership, burned on an animal’s skin.”

In modern times, the word brand has evolved to mean anything and everything that comes to mind when we think of a product or a company.  It means everything that personifies a product or a company.

A brand now means much more than a logo, a trademark, or a catchy selling slogan.  It embodies everything about the company--its stationary, every press release it sends out, the voice of the person who answers the phone, the timbre of the salesman’s pitch.

Indeed, a brand’s personality transcends its physical attributes; it lives in the consumer’s mind.  It is the result of the consumer’s entire experience with the brand—an embodiment of the customer’s total interaction with the product over time.

Because it is the result of a continuing dialogue between customer and company, a brand is a product of communication--the sum of the intimate conversations between product and customer.  It is what the customer thinks about the product … without thinking.

The brand consultancy Interbrand calculates the value of the world’s most popular brands and ranks the most valuable as a percentage of its market capitalization.  In 2000 Coca-Cola ranked first, its brand value exceeding more than half the company’s value—51 percent, or $72.5 billion.

Beyond dollars

Another way of visualizing that mind-boggling number is by listening to a story told by its legendary CEO, Roberto Goizueta:

“Imagine that by some strange twist of fate all Coca-Cola plants all over the world were burnt down, totally destroyed.  Admittedly we would have a problem, short term, but any bank in the world would be more than willing to provide the funds to rebuild.

“Now supposing you wake up one day and find out brand Coca-Cola is simply not known.  A strange virus has wiped out the entire world’s memory.  Nobody knows what Coca-Cola is.  What do you have?  Nothing but idle plants.” 

While the brand’s economic values are staggering, they do not fully capture how much the brand is worth to its customers.  There are other values which are hard to quantify: let’s call them the brand’s endearment values.

Coca-Cola found this out dearly when, after perhaps the most intensive market research ever done, the company replaced its iconic product with New Coke, a reformulated variant that had won numerous consumer taste tests.

Irate consumers took the company to task for fooling around with THEIR (the customers’) brand.  

In a nationwide outcry, they railed, “How dare YOU (The Coca-Cola Company) change OUR product?!”  Coca-Cola quickly brought back the old formula and called it Classic Coke.  The company had surrendered ownership of its brand to its customers!


Last July 12, 2010, the award-winning columnist Manuel L Quezon III bade his readers goodbye to join President Aquino’s communications team.  He described his job: “My functions will focus on strategic planning in terms of messaging (including market research and polling), as well as editorial aspects of official communications, which in turn ranges from editorial guidelines and policies in general, to the Official Gazette in particular (bringing it from the 20th to the 21st century), to corporate identity and institutional memory.”

He did not elaborate on the Gazette, but I know it to be the official chronicler of the government--its records will define how the Aquino presidency will be remembered, at least in official archives.  That should be important enough for an historian of Quezon’s passion; he used to be curator of the Malacanang museum in another incarnation; hence he called his newspaper column “The Long View.”

But what caught my eye were the phrases “strategic planning,” “market research and polling,” “editorial guidelines and policies in general,” and “corporate identity and institutional memory.”  The phrases sound common and harmless enough, but they are more substantial than they appear.

By any other name

In my neck of the woods in the business world--the part that interacts with customers--Quezon’s job description looks exactly like that of a brand manager.  Call him by any other name, but Quezon will be chief architect of brand P-Noy.  (God forbid if he should coin a pedestrian “Erap Para Sa Mahirap” or pretentious “Gloria Labandera”-- or even a pompous “A Strong Republic”!)

Quezon will deal with the long term (strategic planning), the all-important customer feedback mechanisms (market research and polling), editorial guidelines and policies in general (as opposed to day-by-day operations), the brand image and personality of the P-Noy presidency (corporate identity), and what we will remember of this presidency (institutional memory) at least in official documents.

With the understated rank of undersecretary, he will report to the third leg of a communications group in charge of “messaging,” headed by a secretary, Ricky Carandang, formerly of the media network ABS-CBN.  

A second leg is headed by another secretary, Sonny Coloma, an undersecretary in the first Aquino presidency, professor and newspaper columnist, who will run the government’s information bureaucracy, including radio and television stations.  

The first leg is headed by a lawyer, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, whose easygoing manner makes him look less lawyerly and more disarming..

Of the four, Quezon’s job seems most interesting, not only because it will deal with the long term, but also because it will monitor the prevailing pulse of the people, the heartbeat of a throbbing, thriving democracy.

Public trust

Knowledge of the public pulse is a powerful weapon of governance.  It is not to be taken lightly.  It can lead to a responsive, responsible government—or it can lead to irresponsible manipulation of the public trust.  We can already see glimmerings of both, which I shall discuss presently. 

Beyond all that, the historian-journalist Quezon will be in his element.  At the end of the Aquino presidency, I should not be surprised if he should write a ringside view of history on the run—what the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist James Reston called “the exhilarating chase after the Now.”

Quezon’s definitive history of the P-Noy presidency conceivably could be called “Aquino of 2,000 Days:  Up Close and Personal.”  .

(The author is chief executive of Marbella International Business Consultancy, a think tank specializing in corporate planning, management training, marketing strategy and corporate communication, and in transforming social, political and technological trends into business plans that work.  Comments are welcome at email

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

One rainy day in school

By Winston A. Marbella

In grade school, whenever our class started losing its concentration (which happened every other minute), teacher with the horn-rimmed eyeglasses (Mrs. Benitez, was it?) would whisk out her old reliable animal stories to make us regain our focus.

Her favorite book had big letters and colorful illustrations, but after several readings the stories began to lose their competitive edge against other distractions.  Distractions like a bird entering the classroom, pecking at crumbs dropped from recess.  Or a beautiful butterfly on a rainy day.  (I would learn later, philosophically, of course, that a butterfly flapping its wings in our classroom could actually whip up a storm in the Gulf of Mexico, in a manner of speaking.)

One story never lost its edge.  In fact, it would keep us riveted to our seats.  I guess it was because it did not have a happy ending, which could be boring.  But I think it was really because it had a creepy character to it that made my hair stand.  It was the story of “The Scorpion and the Frog.”   (Just made my hair stand again, those creepy crawlies!)

The mists of time have dimmed the details, but here is how it goes, as best I can remember the frayed and yellowed pages of Mrs. Benitez’s storybook. 

Pain in the rain

One particularly rainy day, the waters began to rise on the island where lived a scorpion and a frog.  Natural enemies, they had achieved a sort of modus vivendi on the little island.  The scorpion had a poisonous bite, which made the frog wary.  And the scorpion was suspicious of the frog’s tongue, which could curl on prey in the blink of an eye.

As the waters continued to rise, the patch of ground where the two could perch grew smaller until they were within striking distance of each other.  The scorpion knew the frog could swim, so it provided an escape route in an emergency.  The scorpion decided to make peace.

“Froggie,” the scorpion said in its most appealing voice, “may I interest you in a proposal you cannot refuse?”

Curious, the frog replied, “And what is that?

“Well.” said the scorpion, “if you save me from drowning, I promise to help you catch prey if we both survive.”

Getting interested, the frog obliged the spider.  “Go on,” it said.

“”When it is time to leave the island, will you allow me to ride on your back?”

“You must be crazy!” screamed the frog.  “What do you take me for, a dodo?”


“I promise to behave,” said the scorpion.  “If I bite you while you are swimming to shore, you will drown, and then I, too, will die. What will it profit me to do that?”

The frog thought for a while and, convinced the scorpion made sense, agreed.  “Let’s go!” it said.

Soon the frog was swimming with the scorpion perched on its back.  Then it felt a stinging bite, which soon began to numb its legs.  Then it realized what had happened.

“You idiot,” the frog told the scorpion.  “Now we will both die.”

“I know,” said the scorpion remorsefully.  “But I couldn’t help myself.  It is my nature to bite.”


I remember this story to this day because later on in college, I would major in English Literature and be fascinated continually by the staying power of a good story told well.

In my senior year, in fact, all my subjects were about literature, from Beowulf to the Arthurian legends, from the Greek tragedies to Shakespeare’s own, from mythology to the modern plays by Pinter and Wilde and Williams.

This endless fascination I owe as much to the classics as to great teacher who spun golden tales, like the writer A.G. Uranza, and the literary historian Antonio B. K. Joaquin, who found me recently in the Internet.  To them and countless others who taught me well, I owe much.


I had occasion to leaf through the browned pages of old books recently when I wrote a piece on hubris, a concept that fascinated both the Greeks and Shakespeare.  The idea can be summarized in two sayings: “After the pride comes the fall” and “Whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.”

It amazes me endlessly that in one short word could be embedded the richness of such stories like Julius Caesar, or Hamlet---this concept of otherwise heroic men marching recklessly to their doom because of pride and insanity,

There is a third element to the word which further enriches its texture: the idea that these heroic characters knew---or at least sensed---the impending doom that awaited them.  But each threw caution to the wind and thus met his tragic fate.  Pride and madness and a fatal flaw: How can anyone be so unfortunate and betrayed by the gods?

Then I remembered the scorpion story and found my answer.  These tragic heroes of enormous proportions were really nothing more than overgrown frogs doomed to die by the bite.  Or scorpions which could not help themselves but to drown.

(The author is chief executive of a think tank specializing in transforming social, political, cultural and technological trends into responsible public policy and business strategy.  Comments are welcome at 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

‘Why do children have to die?’

By Winston A. Marbella

Going where no man has gone before, as the intro to “Star Trek” goes, Pope Benedict XVI did what no Pope has done before---answer questions fielded from around the world in the premiere telecast of state-owned Italian television on Good Friday.

The question that evoked worldwide interest came from a seven-year-old Japanese girl named Elena who, saying the Pope “speaks with God,” asked about the disasters that struck her country recently.  She spoke in Japanese:

“I am very frightened because the house where I felt safe really shook a lot and many children my age have died.  I cannot go to play in the park.  I want to know: Why do I have to be so afraid?  Why do children have to be so sad?” 

Benedict admitted: "I also have the same questions: why is it this way? Why do you have to suffer so much while others live in ease?

"And we do not have the answers, but we know that Jesus suffered as you do, an innocent, and that the true God who is revealed in Jesus is by your side."

Letter from Fukushima

The following letter, written by a Vietnamese immigrant, Ha Minh Thanh, now working as a policeman in Fukushima, was sent to a friend in Vietnam.  It was posted in New American Media on March 19 and has gone viral. The translation is by NAM editor Andrew Lam, author of East Meets West: Writing in Two Hemispheres.  It may help relieve some of the sadness in Elena’s heart.


“How are you and your family? These last few days, everything was in chaos. When I close my eyes, I see dead bodies. When I open my eyes, I also see dead bodies.

“Each one of us must work 20 hours a day, yet I wish there were 48 hours in the day, so that we could continue helping and rescuing folks.

“We are without water and electricity, and food rations are near zero. We barely manage to move refugees before there are new orders to move them elsewhere.

“I am currently in Fukushima, about 25 kilometres away from the nuclear power plant. I have so much to tell you that if I could write it all down, it would surely turn into a novel about human relationships and behaviors during times of crisis.

“People here remain calm – their sense of dignity and proper behavior are very good – so things aren’t as bad as they could be. But given another week, I can’t guarantee that things won’t get to a point where we can no longer provide proper protection and order.

“They are humans after all, and when hunger and thirst override dignity, well, they will do whatever they have to do. The government is trying to provide supplies by air, bringing in food and medicine, but it’s like dropping a little salt into the ocean.

A little boy

“Brother, there was a really moving incident. It involves a little Japanese boy who taught an adult like me a lesson on how to behave like a human being.

“Last night, I was sent to a little grammar school to help a charity organization distribute food to the refugees. It was a long line that snaked this way and that and I saw a little boy around 9 years old. He was wearing a T-shirt and a pair of shorts.

“It was getting very cold and the boy was at the very end of the line. I was worried that by the time his turn came, there wouldn’t be any food left. So I spoke to him. He said he was at school when the earthquake happened. His father worked nearby and was driving to the school.

“I asked him about his mother. He said his house is right by the beach and that his mother and little sister probably didn’t make it. He turned his head and wiped his tears when I asked about his relatives.


“The boy was shivering so I took off my police jacket and put it on him.

“That’s when my bag of food ration fell out. I picked it up and gave it to him. ‘When it comes to your turn, they might run out of food.

“’So here’s my portion. I already ate. Why don’t you eat it?’ The boy took my food and bowed. I thought he would eat it right away, but he didn't. He took the bag of food, went up to where the line started and put it where all the food was waiting to be distributed.

“I was shocked. I asked him why he didn’t eat it and instead added it to the food pile. He answered: ‘Because I see a lot more people hungrier than I am. If I put it there, then they will distribute the food equally.’

"When I heard that I turned away, so that people wouldn’t see me cry. A society that can produce a nine-year-old who understands the concept of sacrifice for the greater good must be a great society, a great people.

“Well, a few lines to send you and your family my warm wishes. The hours of my shift have begun again.”

(E-mail Marbella International Business Consultancy: 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Invincible hubris

By Winston A. Marbella

To the ancient Greeks, the word hubris meant actions that challenged the gods or their precepts, resulting irrevocably in the transgressor’s fall from grace. It often resulted in fatal retribution, or nemesis, an equally portentous word.  Down through the ages, hubris acquired nuance and texture, richly adorning our political lexicon.

The folk saying “Pride goes before the fall” just about captures the modern understanding of hubris.   Examples of hubris abound in fiction.  One is found in Sophocles’s Antigone.  The most famous example, perhaps, occurs in Sophocles’s tragedy, Oedipus Rex.  But the tale that persists to this day in the popular memory is that of Icarus, who, despite warnings, flew headlong to the sun with wings attached to his arms with wax, with disastrous consequences.

Steeped in the Greek tragedies and comedies, William Shakespeare adapted the classical themes to his own works.  How can we ever forget the fatally flawed Macbeth, or King Lear, or Richard III, or Hamlet?  In Paradise Lost, John Milton’s rendering of the ultimate sin of pride in the biblical Lucifer is without compare.

In Marlowe’s play, the immensely arrogant and self-indulgent Doctor Faustus signs a pact with the Devil, but he could have extricated himself from eternal damnation had he simply repented.  Above all else, it is this seeming inexorability of hubris that captures the fictionists’ mind so completely---and engrosses our imagination so thoroughly.

For sheer entertainment value, nothing beats Hans Christian Andersen’s disarmingly engaging The Emperor’s New Clothes.   

Once upon a time, in a land not too far away, lived an Emperor so vain he did nothing more than to indulge his passion for fashion.  So consuming was his fashion (sic) he changed clothes every hour for the slightest of reasons and showed them off for all who cared to see.


Word of the Emperor’s refined tastes in clothes spread far and wide beyond his realm. It reached the ears of two stylists who devised a clever scheme to strip him of his clothes---and fortune.  They went to the palace gates and introduced themselves to the chief of security:

“We are two excellent tailors who after years of research and development have found a proprietary way of weaving a cloth so light and fine it appears invisible to anyone who is stupid and incompetent in his job.”

Fascinated, the chief of security sent for the chamberlain, who notified the prime minister, who ran to the Emperor with the late-breaking news.  The Emperor could not help himself.  He gave the rascals a bag of gold coins and told them to start working.

The Emperor thought he got them for a bargain: For aside from indulging his passion for clothes, he would be able to rid his Cabinet of the ignorant and incompetent.  A few days later, he called for the old and wise prime minister to check the progress of the tailors’ work.

“We’re almost finished,” the two scoundrels said, “but we need more gold threads.  Here, Excellency, feel the fabric and admire the colors.”  The prime minister bent over the loom and felt cold sweat gathering on his forehead, for he saw nothing.  But, he recovered his wits quickly.

“What a wonderful fabric!” he said.  “I will tell the Emperor the good news.”  Finally the day came for the Emperor to see the fabric.  He almost fainted, for like the prime minister he saw nothing.  But, then, he thought, no one could know he did not see anything.  So he continued the charade.

The two scoundrels pretended to measure him.  Soon they were back for the Emperor’s fitting.  “You will have to take your clothes off to try these new ones.”  The charade proceeded.  Then they held up a mirror for the Emperor.  “Call in the entire Cabinet so that they, too, can admire my new clothes,” the Emperor said.

They all came, and the prime minister made a special request to ingratiate himself forever to the Emperor: “The people have found out about this special fabric and would like to see your new clothes, my Emperor.”

“All right,” the Emperor said, “let us indulge them, too.”


All the people cheered when the Emperor came out for the parade, for they had been forewarned about what the two scoundrels had said.  All except an innocent child, who could only believe what his eyes saw---or did not see.

“But the Emperor is naked!” he shouted at the top of his voice.  He tugged at his father, who was wildly cheering with the crowd.  “Dad, the Emperor is naked!”

”Hush,” the father said, seeking to silence his son.  “Can’t you see the Emperor even has new shoes?  Hush,” he repeated, hoping to hide his incompetence and stupidity from the Emperor.

“But the Emperor has no clothes,” the boy protested.  “Can’t you see he is naked?”

“Keep quiet,” the father insisted.  “Can’t you see his new shoes?  Hush, I said.  Hush!”

“Puppies?” the boy asked innocently.


Several months later, the polling firm Social Weather Station released a survey showing that the Emperor’s net satisfaction rating among his people had dropped 13 points to 51 percent.  His spokespersons insisted there was nothing to worry about, even if more than half the people disapproved of the Emperor’s purchase of a red-hot Porsche sports car.  

It was invisible.
(Comments at e-mail

Friday, June 17, 2011

City slickers’ survival guide to Manila’s traffic

By Winston A. Marbella

It’s hard to imagine civilization happening without cities.  Thinking randomly, where would we be today without Babylon, Phoenicia, Athens, Alexandria, Beijing, Rome, Florence, or Venice?

Although cities must have grown because they made commerce flourish, eventually they also became the centers of government and, more importantly, culture and the arts.  There lies the endless fascination of cities to the modern urbanite, who would not imagine trading life in the city for anything less exuberant. 

That is, until cities decayed and became urban jungles.

Hex in the city

Twice daily Metro Manila comes close to choking itself to death---via smoke inhalation and clogged road arteries. 

It plays a potentially deadly game of Russian roulette twice a day when 12 million inhabitants start their massive internal migration---going to work and schools in the morning rush hours and going home in the evening rush hours---but in no particular rush.  In fact, slower than a snail.

Two times daily the metropolis totters on the brink of extinction.  It’s a miracle it survives this massive onslaught at all---but hardly. 

One day soon it will just grind to a halt, warns the Metro Manila Development Authority, unless we do a lot of things.

How the metropolis manages this daily chaos boggles the mind. 

CPR, on steroids

The MMDA survives on steroids.  It keeps the metropolis barely functioning in intensive care unit (ICU) under constant cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) 24/6.

It will not take much to pull the plug on this overstretched metropolis.

To cope, the MMDA began last December a month-long experiment to find solutions.  It appointed a new traffic czar and opened “Christmas lanes” to decongest EDSA, the single main artery connecting 17 cities and municipalities. 

But hold your horses: All of the above will amount to a massive dose of aspirin, nothing more.  They might lessen the pain, but the cancer will continue to fester.

Smart city

As the holiday traffic began to worsen, some 400 government, business and academic leaders met for a day at the Smarter Cities Summit in Makati.  They looked at how the infrastructure systems that keep cities going can reverse a losing game of catch-up. 

These support systems include energy, transportation, health care, food and water.  Even the smart mind boggled 

The Department of Transportation and Communication estimates that traffic congestion three years ago caused economic losses worth P140 billion.  Many experts believe it’s a lot more than that, and things are going to get worse before they get better, if ever.

People dying

The World Bank says better traffic flow along EDSA will not only save billions of pesos in economic costs but sharply improve the health of commuters, not to mention their sanity.  

Air pollution sickens over a million people a year in urban centers, aside from shortening the lives of 15,000 people, the bank says.

Cities worldwide consume more than 75 percent of the world’s energy production and spew more than 80 percent of carbon emissions believed to cause global warming. 

                                      Internal migration

In 40 years, urban populations worldwide are expected to double.  Over the next 10 years Asian city populations will grow by 100,000 daily, stretching support services to a tipping point.  In 20 years, more than 60 percent will live in cities.

“Many cities in the country and in developing regions are growing faster than their infrastructure,” said James Velasquez, general manager of IBM Philippines, a sponsor of the Smarter Cities Summit.

“With modern infrastructures, we will be able to ensure the long term success of cities, as places to live and work and thrive.”

Living and working?  Maybe. It’s the thriving that’s hard to imagine.

But smart city slickers are survivors. I wrote this piece while stuck in traffic.

(The author is chief executive of a think tank specializing in transforming social and technological trends into intelligent public policy and business strategy. Comment: Marbella International Business Consultancy, e-mail:  Visit 


When the future met folk tradition

By Winston A. Marbella

Cyber technologies collided with quaint folk tradition to produce a species of electoral politics found nowhere else in the world in the country’s first computerized elections last May.  It also produced a president in less than 48 hours, an incredible achievement considering the months-long agonizing wait the country had to go through after every election.

In the end, tireless citizen volunteerism and people power carried the day. 

Millions of school teachers, volunteers and citizen journalists took center stage when some 38.5 million voters went to the polls to elect a president, vice president, half of the Senate and all members of Congress and local government units, in the first ever automated vote count in the country’s history.


But the high-tech gadgetry did not stop candidates from resorting to the quaint folk tradition of offering eggs to a patron saint to ensure good weather, which increases voter turnout. 

Religious workers manning the shrine of Santa Clara in the province of Bulacan north of Manila had been deluged with thousands of baskets of egg offerings in previous elections that they had appealed to the faithful to devise other ways of praying for good weather.

The candidates’ political websites began sprouting in early 2009 when citizen groups seeking to reform elections organized volunteer movements to find new ways to rid Philippine politics of violence, coercion, and fraud.

They found powerful tools in modern communication technologies like the social networks Facebook and Twitter and the citizen volunteerism these have spawned.

Armies of the night

The convergence of these powerful communication technologies shaped the making of the Philippine president in 2010.

The numbers described the massive potential political payback in mobilizing citizen volunteers for election duty. 

More than 50 million voters registered for the elections.  More than 60 million Filipinos own cell phones, everyone a potential Twitter user.

Facebook, the largest social network in the country, counted 9.1 million members.  Over three million more belonged to other social networking communities.  Some 20 million Filipinos have access to the worldwide web, including users of Internet cafes.

Sleepless in battle

Many volunteers believed that civil society groups needed to integrate separate initiatives into a cohesive movement to be effective.  Many groups did exactly that on Election Day.  In return they got to know their new President and other officials in two days.

Not bad for two days’ work without sleep.

That was the easy part.

Now the hard part of governance was about to begin---and they would need all the sleep they could get.

Weapons of mass dissemination

From a conference of politicians, academics and journalists in the Indonesian resort town of Bali came the confirmation of what we saw coming as clear as day, unless you were sleeping: The confluence of modern communication technologies would radically transform elections---from campaigning to voting to verifying the vote---thereby reshaping the political landscape forever.

Prof. Peter Dahlgreen of Lund University in Sweden presented a paper that showed how the Internet-based new media, including social networking sites, changed the political structure by facilitating the “communicative links between citizens and the power holders in society.”  

The Philppine experience was cited as a case, the Philippine Daly Inquirer noted in an editorial.

The Inquirer further noted: “Some observers even say that modern (states) are becoming (with the use of the social networking sites) ‘media democracies’ where the rules of the political game more and more are being set by the media.”

Warp speed

The presidential elections of 2010 also showed the viral power of social media to infect unwary traditional media with black propaganda, a phenomenon being closely watched with growing concern by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.

In the elections of 2010 television news and advertising emerged as the dominant political media for reaching voters.  But subtly and no less profoundly, social networking and the Internet began to fuel a cultural and political ferment that would converge with traditional media to propel Sen. Benigno S. Aquino III to Malacanang.

In May 2010 technology collided with traditional politics to radically alter the way we elect our president.

Obama’s America

It took less than two years for technology to take a quantum leap from President Barack Obama’s America to Aquino’s Philippines.

One of the more tantalizing moments of CNN's coverage of the American presidential elections of 2008 happened when anchor Wolf Blitzer “beamed up” a female correspondent from the streets of Chicago to CNN studios to deliver her report---an avatar.  

Less than two years later, our three television networks used siblings of this technology to deliver reports live---up close and personal---from the field.

Shifting votes

Earlier, CNN had unveiled an interactive map of the United States, accurate down to the street level, showing how American voters were shifting preferences---in real-time.   

In our case, poll surveys showed a few days before elections that Makati Mayor Jojomar Binay Jr. had overtaken Sen. Mar Roxas in the race for vice president.  Binay won by a hairline.

The future is here.  It is happening now..

As Yogi Berra put it, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

(The author is chief executive of a think tank specializing in transforming social, cultural, political and technological trends into public policy and business strategy. Comments are welcome at Marbella International Business Consultancy, e-mail: 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Reinventing Makati from street level

Posted on June 15, 2011 08:27:22 PM

Commentary -- By Winston A. Marbella

In the turbulent days of the pivotal 1970s, two human rights lawyers forged a comradeship in the parliament of the streets that was to last a lifetime and span two political careers that would converge, 40 years hence, in the fulfilment of one vision and two shared dreams.

The two lawyers were Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Jejomar C. Binay. Last week their lifelong dreams converged, not by coincidence but by a confluence of historical events because once upon a time in their idealistic youth they shared a vision of hope for a country and its people.

The younger man, Binay, now vice president, formally inaugurated and turned over to Pimentel, who has completed his constitutional term limits in the Senate, the leadership of the Pimentel Center for Local Governance at the University of Makati, which Binay had founded as a visionary local executive. It was a gift from a grateful protégé to a wise mentor, one still to reach the peak of a rising political career, the other bequeathing to another generation the wise counsel of an illustrious public servanthood.

The Pimentel center, lovingly dubbed by local government officials who have attended its innovative programs as the Institute of Integrity, was blessed by Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz and Bishop Deogracias Yñiguez. But typical of the way Binay and Pimentel worked together espousing libertarian causes, the center has been in operation for almost a year, bringing its message of integrity in local governance to the far reaches of the archipelago.

High and low

Its graduates have included the rich and the lowly, famous and powerful men like Barangay Forbes Park Captain Jose Concepcion and a retired Overseas Filipino Worker, Narito Estuita, who has come home to serve his country in his twilight years.

All are animated by the clarion call to bring integrity back to public service.

The center is housed on the fourth floor of the main university building and boasts a formidable library on politics, biography, and people-centered governance in the developing world. Value-driven politicians like Rep. Cynthia Villar, wife of Sen. Manny Villar, and retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno help form its glittering array of visiting professors.

The blessing was capped by the launching of a book, Reinventing Makati: A Vision of VP Jejomar Binay, a collaborative effort of University of the Philippines professors and U-Mak faculty headed by its president, Prof. Tomas Lopez.

Transforming a city

The book details the transformation of Makati from a sleeepy municipality to one of the world’s best-run cities, largely on the bold visions and administrative skills of Mr. Binay and the boost provided by the Pimentel-authored Local Government Code, which devolved central government powers to the grass roots.

The decentralized concepts of government were forged largely in the hands-on experience of both Binay and Pimentel, who himself was mayor of Cagayan de Oro city before he was thrown in jail by the martial law regime for his advocacy of human rights.

Addressing an enthusiastic crowd that included the country’s political glitterati past, present and future, Binay recalled how Pimentel had mentored him like a father by appointing him the first city mayor under President Corazon Aquino’s revolutionary government after the People Power Revolution in February 1986.

Results-driven, hard-nosed

Binay built a reputation as a hard-nosed local executive whose results-driven populist orientation is examined in great detail in the book, which uses as framework another landmark book, Reinventing Government, by David Osborne and Ted Gaebler. Students of modern political science will find Reinventing Makati a good template for replicating one city’s success in transformation leadership.

"This compilation of experiences and initiatives brings to the fore the compelling challenge for us and all government leaders and communities "especially on matters of transparency and accountability," Pimentel wrote in the foreword.

"[L]ocal governments work best when led by dedicated men and women who, in good conscience, apply the principles of good governance."

In seven months of work, the center has conducted seminars in ethics-driven governance for local government officials all over the country. It aims to reach most of the country’s 40,000 local government units over the long term.

Changing of the guard

Two years before Senator Pimentel’s last term at the Senate ended on June 30, 2010, then Makati Mayor Binay invited his political mentor to join the University of Makati as head of the institute. At noon of that day, Pimentel ended a sterling career in the Senate. On the same day, his protégé was sworn into office as vice president.

At the University of Makati last week, a student, now vice president of the republic, paid tribute to the man who had mentored him well. Dreams of people-centered governance, forged in brotherly struggle in the streets four decades ago, became a vision fulfilled for a senator and a vice president: an institute dedicated to good governance in a university that serves the people of a city proud of its populist heritage -- a student’s lasting gift to a beloved mentor.

The author is chief executive of a consulting company that specializes in the transforming social and political trends into public policy and business strategy. E-mail Visit us at
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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Empires of the mind

Posted on June 13, 2011 09:37:11 PM

By Winston A. Marbella

The buzzword-infatuated technology industry has started talking about "a post-PC world" in the wake of another catchphrase, "the consumerization of IT." Consumers are now carrying an ever more bewildering array of electronic gadgets of whatever size, shape and form, from smart phones to tablet computers.

Sarah Rotman Epps of Forrester, a research firm, notes that electronic devices have evolved beyond the traditional personal computer (PC).

Although laptop and desktop PCs are unlikely to vanish, Forrester predicts, people will increasingly use other devices for computing. Almost 80 million American consumers owned three or more connected devices in 2010 and 4.5 million owned nine or more.

More than any other company, Apple is helping drive this change. Whenever and wherever he can, whether unveiling a new pod, phone or pad, Steve Jobs, Apple’s top honcho, talks about the post-PC era.

Companies like Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard (HP), among the biggest beneficiaries of the PC age, are struggling to cope. HP is rolling out new e-printers that can print from any connected device, not just a desktop or laptop.

Consumerization has exploded video consumption over the Internet. Cashing in on this surge, Sony, Samsung, and LG are pitching Internet television.

In another study the McKinsey Global Institute foresees that companies and governments could reap huge rewards from analyzing this massive flow of data quickly and efficiently. The American health care industry alone accounts for $300 billion a year.

This, in turn, says McKinsey, will trigger a demand for around 1.5 million more managers and analysts with statistical and computing smarts to crunch useful information from the data. This opens up a whole new ball game for Filipinos looking for jobs in the IT industry.

Monico Jacob, president of the STI group, saw this coming. He has branched out into medical transcription.

Smarting from criticism that Microsoft was caught napping by the sudden consumer shift to a post-PC world, Microsoft chairman emeritus Bill Gates says, "The PC is the tablet." Whatever devices may emerge, they will still need software, Microsoft’s strong suit.

But unlike the good old days when Microsoft was at the cutting edge of the PC revolution, many more competitors have emerged in software, including free stuff we can download from the Internet.

Whether he likes to admit it or not, Bill Gates must come to terms with the reality that the terms of engagement have changed in cyber warfare, including the weapons of choice and the arenas of conflict.

Only the quick and the brave will survive in the empires of the future, the empires of the mind.

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