Sunday, July 31, 2011

Batanes stone homes rise from the rubble

By Winston A. Marbella

As if typhoons and wind-tossed seas were not enough torment, a massive 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck the province of Batanes north of Luzon near the southern Chinese border on July 16, 2000.

Many of its centuries-old Ivatan stone houses fell in rubble heaps to the ground.  

In a demonstration of how the human spirit can literally rise from the rubble, former Rep. Florencio (Butch) Abad took the opportunity to commission the University of the Philippines School of Architecture to rebuild the massive stone houses that were strong enough to withstand typhoons---but not earthquakes.

Labor of love

Thus began a labor of love by a group of enterprising architects who saw in the effort a chance to also study Ivatan architecture up close and personal.  Many houses were rebuilt from the ground up, literally stone by stone.

But the initiative took more than architectural dering-do.  The architects soon found that rebuilding the houses was the easy part.  Mobilizing local government political will and sustaining resident enthusiasm would take much more than architects are used to doing.

Thus was born an experiment in local governance management that was presented last month as a case study at the University of Makati’s joint Green Urban Design Workshop with the UP Graduate School of Architecture for graduate students and local barangay officials.

The two-month long workshop is conceived as a living example of how local government initiative can be harnessed to mobilize political will for urban renewal and conservation.

The workshop was a joint project of the university’s School of Public Policy and governance, the Pimentel Institute of Local Governance, and the UP.  If fund-raising efforts are successful, the barangay officials and graduate students may even visit Singapore to look at urban development projects considered state of the art.

Innovating institute

Since its inception last year, the Pimentel Institute headed by former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and the School of Governance headed by Dean Ederson Tapia have been innovating with programs to strengthen local governance at the barangay level.  They have been getting ample support from U/Mak President Tommy Lopez, Makati Mayor Erwin S. Binay, and Vice President Jejomar C. Binay, who founded the school while Makati mayor.

Only recently, the university launched a unique executive program designed to enable government employees to get credits leading to a bachelor’s degree from their life experience.  The Pimentel Institute, dubbed the Institute of Integrity by barangay officials who have attended its courses, has reached provinces like Nueva Ecija, Quezon and Laguna preaching ethical governance.

The joint project with the UP is the latest innovation in its effort to transform governance at the grass roots.  It was headed by architect Raymond Sih of UP and Prof. Raymund Rosuelo of U/Mak.

Ivatan project

The Ivatan conservation project became a model for mobilizing indigenous resources in projects of this kind.  The team was headed by architects Joven Ignacio and included Cristina V. Turalba, 

The Ivatan experience was chronicled in a book available at the UP School of Architecture.  It details the architectural challenges of the project, but more importantly catalogued the local governance implications.

The work has been presented to five countries, which includes Taiwan, which has an Ivatan community that speaks the same dialect near the Chinese island

Ignacio said a vital ingredient was creating an environment in which local stakeholders could “share ideas, opinions, experiences, and expertise in order to achieve a common goal.”

He said this was key to mobilizing the group’s resources and perseverance to complete the project.
                                                 Inventive approach

To complete, the restoration and conservation program needed inventiveness in the use of indigenous techniques and resources.

They needed to re-develop a pool of local reconstruction experts and engineers who gave technical advice on the sourcing of reconstruction materials like reeds, cogon grass, boulders and lime.  They also gave tips on the use of substitute materials where original construction materials were hard to find.

To withstand typhoons, the Ivatan stone houses sported as much as six-foot walls on the windward side.  Thatched roofing was built up to three-feet thick.

Secretary Abad is now head of the Department of Budget and Management, but the people of his home province will remember him more for preserving a rare cultural heritage for posterity.  

A renowned sibling, the late international artist Pacita Abad, not only sought but celebrated indigenous cultures of Africa and Asia in her Matisse-like paintings.  She will be well pleased with this effort to preserve the Ivatan heritage she loved so dearly.

(The author is chief executive of a think tank specializing in transforming social and political trends into public policy and business strategy.  Comments?  Marbella International Business Consultancy, email: Or visit 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The wind readers

By Winston A. Marbella

The dynamics of political governance and economic management are so similar it is easy to find common ground.  The government’s continuing struggle to perk up the economy and a resurgent stock market offer strikingly parallel lessons.

Every time analysts take stock of San Miguel Corporation’s current performance (quarterly, more or less), you can almost feel a resurgent vibrancy.  Knowledgeable observers cannot help but be impressed by its bold forays into hitherto uncharted territory, for San Miguel, at least.  

A new San Miguel is dawning, rising phoenix-like from the ashes of its former glory days.

Now, the food and beverage giant (mostly beer) is into everything else where money is to be made: energy (Petron), power generation and disitribution (power plants, Meralco et al.), even highway construction.  It is entering even the highly competitive telco field, crossing swords with the PLDT/Smart/Sun group and the Ayala group’s Globe.  As of the last quarter, SMC’s resurgent fortunes depended mainly on new businesses.

Whence derives this entrepreneurial drive?

Veteran reporters covering the business beat almost unanimously point to president Ramon Ang, under the benevolent leadership of his chairman and CEO, Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr.  It is prudent to review the historical track record.

No surprises

As far back as current memory serves, SMC was the local equivalent of IBM, blue chip but staid, conservative, and, ergo, predictable.  You could put all your retirement money in SMC shares---and many did---and you could look forward to a modest but livable cash flow.

The shifting political sands changed all that.  Buffeted initially by shareholder demands for more transparency, led principally by chief competitor John Gokongwei, Jr., SMC management sought refuge by “sticking to the knitting,” in the picturesque phrase of Tom Peters and Robert Waterman in their best-selling management tome, In Search of Excellence.

Eight themes

The landmark study, which analyzed 47 companies in the Fortune 500 list, found eight themes that the authors believed accounted for the companies’ excellence.  In light of SMC’s resurgent success, they are worth revisiting for the insights they offer.  These are:

1. A bias for action, which the authors described as “getting on with it.”
2.  Staying close to the customer, or the people served by the enterprise.
3. Autonomy and entrepreneurship, or supporting innovation and nurturing “champions,” people who will stick their necks out for a breakthrough product or process.
4. Productivity through people, or treating rank-and-file employees as a distinct source of quality and competitive strength.
5. A hands-on, values-driven management philosophy that guides everyday practice.  In brief, management commitment.
6. “Sticking to the knitting,” or staying with the business that you know.
7. Simple organization, lean staff.  The best companies had minimal head office staff.
8. Simultaneous loose/tight properties.  Autonomy in day-by-day operating decisions but faithful adherence to corporate values, vision, mission, and objectives.

It will take a whole book to analyze how the new SMC measures up against these parameters. 

Bold tack

Ramon Ang took a bold tack and sailed into the wind, and has been amply rewarded, to the delight of shareholders.  Perhaps the reason for his remarkable success is rooted in his entrepreneurial bent.  Perhaps he enjoys more shareholder support than his predecessors.  Or perhaps he is just plain lucky---although it must be noted that he is operating under widely different conditions.  

Ang flew headlong against conventional logic. Maybe there is much we can learn from the historical context.

Less than a decade and a half from the book’s writing, only a handful of the 47 excellent companies remained in the Fortune 500 list.  Many things could have accounted for that.  A management conference attended by Fortune 500 CEOs in 1994 in San Francisco sought to divine the reasons.  The jury is still out.

Insight from context

But reviewing the eight attributes of excellence could extract precious insight.

As an academic exercise, or performance assessment, if you may, we may run the Aquino government through the same standards:  Bias for action?  Close to the people?  Entrepreneurial?  Productive?  Values driven?  Visionary?  Lean and mean?  Decentralized?  
In a corporation as big as Philippines, Inc., the importance of a right leader cannot be underemphasized – or, for that matter, overemphasized.  

President Aquino was like a breath of fresh air just when the country needed a lungful to catch its breath in the race to modernize – and survive.  As he embarks on his second year in office, he may need a second wind – or a bold new tack, or both. 

He has to read the wind.

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

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tie me kangaroo down, sport

By Winston A. Marbella

Our friends from “Down Under” and our Department of Education have partnered to adapt our traditional teaching methods to the special needs of our Muslim school children.

Australian Ambassador Rod Smith said “over half of Australia’s aid to budget to the Philippines goes to education, and we are ready to support the DepEd as it scales up support for Muslim and indigenous students.”

Since 2002, Australian aid has helped increase the quality of education for some six million children in Visayas and Mindanao.  Education Secretary Armin Luistro thanked the Australian government “for helping us reach another milestone in the Philippine educational system as we encourage maximum participation of all learners despite religious affiliation, ethnic group or disability.”

Aside from education, we also have much to learn from our Australian friends in mitigating climate change.  That is the politically correct term now, instead of global warming, because the earth has not apparently warmed since the decade starting 1998, according to a group of scientists.

In a paper published recently, four scientists from the US and Finland argued that sulfur emissions from China’s mostly coal-fired power plants had been cooling the Earth, negating the warming effects of other human activities and carbon dioxide emissions.  

Camel rear-ender

Comes now this amusing Aussie angle to the debate.  An Australian company, under the name of "Management of large feral herbivores in the Australian rangelands", has applied for a patent to "obtain a carbon offset credit or emission permit" for shooting camels from helicopters!

Camels had been imported to Australia to help immigrants navigate trips over the parched Outback in the early days of colonization.  Desert-going Land Rovers obsoletized the camels and they were released to the wild, where they proliferated in the absence of natural enemies.  Now they pose an environmental threat?

The company based its bizarre application for carbon tax credits based on the theory that camels emit enough methane from their rear ends to cause climate change.  Methane, a critical ingredient of farts, has been identified as a more potent gas thanCO2 in causing climate change. (LOL)

Understandably, animal welfare activists were up in arms over the shoot-from-helicopter idea.  It turns out the bigger problem than camel fart is the fart from millions of sheep and cattle. 

If we really want to learn something from Australia, we have to look at the weather.  Last year, Filipino weathermen resigned en masse to move to Australia for better pay.
''We are trying to build up a picture of what Australia will look like if we were to reach 4 degrees of global warming,'' says Australian weather researcher Penny Whetton.  ''If we were to follow the high emissions trajectory path that we are on at the moment, then it is quite possible we will be looking at those temperatures this century.''

Tipping point: +4C

In an article titled “On course to suffer global warming of four degrees,” Paddy Manning of Fairfax Media wrote:
“Assume Australia hits its very soft target, cutting annual greenhouse gas emissions five per cent by 2020 - and the rest of the world does everything they've promised - we are on course to suffer global warming of 4 degrees or more by the end of the century.

“We have already warmed the planet by 1 degree, relative to pre-industrial times, and are almost certainly experiencing an associated increase in costly, extreme weather events to say the least. In Australia, while it is impossible to be definitive about the cause of any single weather event, a list of prime suspects includes last decade's crippling drought, Victoria's Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 and this year's devastating floods.

“Not scary enough for some, but as our chief climate change adviser, Ross Garnaut, warned earlier this year, ‘if we are seeing an intensification of weather events now, you ain't seen nothing yet.’

“Australia would need to lift its 2020 emissions reduction target to at least 25 per cent to play our fair share in giving the world a better-than-even chance of limiting warming to 2 degrees (the threshold level for potentially dangerous climate change), as governments agreed at the 2009 Copenhagen climate change summit and confirmed at Cancun (in 2010)....

“With low expectations for the climate change conference in Durban, South Africa later this year, there is now every chance the world will reach no binding agreement at all to reduce greenhouse gas emissions beyond the first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012....”

(The author is chief executive of a think tank specializing in public policy and business strategy.  Comments are welcome at Marbella International Business Consultancy, e-mail,or visit  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Battle of the Cloud begins

By Winston A. Marbella

“The Internet is the new cellular!” proclaimed Smart co-founder and now Chief Wireless Advisor Orlando Vea.  

With those words, the visionary Doy Vea defined the new frontier where consumer electronics was going and staked out PLDT/Smart’s corporate mission to bravely go ahead of the pack.  Their acquisition of Sun Cellular, third largest in market share but ahead in consumer endearment with its unlimited call and text promotions, is a bold blast into that technological future.

Now there is an aggressive new kid on the block, San Miguel Corporation president Ramon Ang, who sees consumer electronics services as a significant part of SMC’s diversification strategy.

Ang’s bold strategy now includes stakes in energy (Petron), power generation and distribution (power plants, Meralco et al.), infrastructure (road and highways construction), and lately consumer electronics (cutting-edge 4G broadband services).

The food and beverage giant’s bold foray into nontraditional businesses has begun to yield good profits.  SMC’s first quarter earnings showed more than half of its earnings coming from these new businesses,.

Shareholders and market analysts generally applauded the strategy despite initial fears SMC was straying too far afield from its core competencies.

Maturing market

The technological future that PLDT and SMC will fight for, together with the Ayala group’s second-ranking (in market share) Globe, is considered a maturing market, with growth expected to slow down.  But the profits are still there for the taking if companies stay at the cutting edge of seemingly unquenchable consumer desire for electronic gadgets.

The market spurted last year with the introduction of more advanced smart phones and tablet computers like Apple’s new iPhone4 and iPad, even as laptop computer sales, which replaced desktops, appeared to plateau.

Post-PC world

The two titans of technology looked at the future recently and came up with conflicting scenarios. 

Bill Gates, whose Microsoft software company launched us into the PC world perhaps more than the hardware giants Intel and Hewlett-Packard, exhorted students to take up engineering courses to get an easy job in the technological future.

Not more than 24 hours of each other, the other tycoon of tech, Steve Jobs, was preaching the opposite view. 

In launching the iPad 2, Jobs gave us a peek into how he sees the future of computing -- and Apple -- in 229 words!  
Gates pooh-poohed doomsayers who saw the death of the PC.  

“The PC is the tablet,” Bill said.  And the tablets will need software as much as the PC.

Artificial but intelligent

Now, Apple is looking at cloud services in a posr-PC world.  Cloud?

Picture this:  Using your Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), you have bought an airline ticket via the Internet and confirmed your flight to Hong Kong.  

Because your PDA is cloud services-enabled, it reminds you to cut your meeting at the office and head for the airport because your flight is on time.  Using satellite navigation, your PDA has looked at the traffic condition of routes going to the airport and found the quickest way to get there.

You hop into a high-speed elevator and board your car in the basement parking lot.  The motor is running and the air conditioning has cooled the interior.  No, your driver didn’t do it – you don’t need a driver.  Your PDA did all that while you were in the elevator.  

Virtually driven

You settle into the spacious back seat, and the car starts to drive itself to the airport.  Using satellite navigation and road sensor technologies now available, the car drops you off at the terminal, then turns around and drives itself back to your garage, waiting for confirmation of your return flight.  Then it will meet you at the airport when you return.

On your way to the airport, your PDA communicates with your home computer and starts a sequence to put your appliances on sleep mode or shut down completely.  Your home computer also will turn your lights on and off at predetermined times to convince potential burglars you are at home.  

You settle down in your private compartment in business class of the Airbus A380 and enjoy the champagne.  Your PDA confirms with the limousine service of the Peninsula Hong Kong that your flight is on time.  Then it tells you the weather in Hong Kong: it is raining.

Your PDA continues to provide information without any further prodding from you.  It prepares a list of cultural shows, remembering your preferences, and offers you a choice of restaurants, again remembering your favorites.  Should you select one, your PDA will check back if you prefer to walk; if not, it will get you a cab or the hotel’s limo service, and make reservations for you.

Science fiction?  No.  

It’s here

All the technologies needed in the scenario are available.  The only thing needed to make it all happen is cloud computing, according to Shane Robison, Hewlett Packard executive vice president and chief strategy and technology officer.   

“This next wave will be driven by a new model of computing: Instead of installing packaged software applications on their computers, people and businesses will use their web browsers to access a wide range of cloud services available on demand in the Internet….”

The future is here. It’s happening now. And PLDT, Globe and San Miguel are all gunning to outsmart each other for a healthier piece of the still lucrative market.

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

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The State of the Nation's business

By Winston A. Marbella

The Management Association of the Philippines is to be commended for compiling a lsit of 200 priority projects to be submitted for inclusion in President Aquino’s second State of the Nation Address.  It promises to complete the details by September.  It will help the government a lot if the captains of industry included a managerial tool box to go with their recommendations, considering the state of the bureaucracy.

The MAP 200 is a list of recommendations on 25 different sectors and issues for the President s agenda.. In a press, MAP president Felino Palafox Jr. said the country could increase its competitiveness by focusing on three key issues: corruption, criminality and climate change. The\ four Cs formed the core of the recommendations.

The MAP formed 25 task forces, which included airport improvement, Conditional Cash Transfer Program, anti-corruption in procurement, anti-corruption and anti-smuggling, climate change and disaster preparedness, criminality, agribusiness, audit, competitiveness, education, health, information and communications technology, and the Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan, taxation system, tourism and nationhood, budget, energy, finance, foreign affairs, free ports and seaports, labor, local governance, science and technology, trade and industry, and transportation.

A MAP-ful

A 22-page summary said: “By forming MAP [Public-Private Partnership] Task Forces that will work with government agencies, we hope to help build a globally competitive nation without corruption and we hope to continue advocating for country above self, which requires walking the talk and sacrificing self-interest for the country and the environment.

“The present committees and task forces will help selected government agencies pursue their mission and achieve their goals in order to sustain a culture of integrity.”

An interim list of recommendations was rushed in time for the SONA on July 25.  Final recommendations are targeted for end-September, in time for the preparation of the national budget.

Among the interim recommendations were the rationalization of the airline tax regime, the renovation of the existing Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1 and its retention as the main international terminal, the conversion of the Naia 3 into a domestic terminal, and the construction of the Naia-Diosdado Macapagal International Airport railway link.

MAP also recommended that 200,000 classrooms be put up within two years by tapping the private sector, that government back the private sector-led Integrity Initiative, that more aggressive steps be taken to reduce energy costs, that the country adopt a central branding strategy, and that policies be put in place for disaster preparedness and prevention.

Managerial tool kit

A managerial tool box will greatly help the bureaucracy pare down the MAP 200 into bite-size doables.  The tool kit could include Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. The 2005 book by Malcolm Gladwell presents in popular  format the mental processes that work rapidly and automatically from relatively little information. 

Gladwell describes the main subject of his book as "thin-slicing." an ability to gauge what is really important from a very narrow period of experience. The idea is that spontaneous decisions are often as good as—or even better than—when carefully planned and considered, as when, say, “Aha!” moments are generated by brainstorming in science, advertising, sales, medicine, and writing music.

Gladwell warns that an expert's ability to "thin slice" can be corrupted by his likes and dislikes, prejudices and stereotypes (even unconscious ones), and how experts can be overloaded by too much information.  Gladwell also talks about our instinctive ability to read body language, or to know what emotions a person is feeling just by looking at the face.

Analysis paralysis

Using limited information to come to our conclusion is a way of coping with information overload,. Hence, experts often make better decisions with snap judgments than with tons of data. Too much information can interfere with the accuracy of a judgment, a phenomenon known in management circles as "analysis paralysis."

The antidote is to focus on only the key issues to make a decision. The other issues may be irrelevant.. Collecting more and more data, in most cases, merely reinforces what we already know. Oftentimes, better judgments can be exercised when the big picture is clear enough.

Gladwell posits that intuitive judgment is developed by experience, training, and knowledge.  But prejudice can intrude into the intuitive unconscious level, even in persons whose conscious attitudes are not prejudiced. An example is in the so-called halo effect, where a person who has a reputation for certain exemplary qualities is thought to be superior in unrelated fields.

The captains of industry who populate the MAP are endowed with massive halos in their areas of expertise.  They can impose a massive halo effect on other fields that can make less endowed mortals … blink.

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

Monday, July 25, 2011

The engineering of consent

By Winston A. Marbella

Millions of school teachers, volunteer workers 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 have been deluged with thousands of baskets of egg offerings in previous elections that they have had to appeal to the faithful to devise other ways of praying for good weather.

Exorcising the bugs

The credibility and public acceptance of the election results were riding on the performance of some 80,000 Precinct Count Optical Scan [PCOS] machines deployed by a Venezuela-based company that has spent the last few days debugging technical glitches, leading to calls to postpone the elections or at least increase the number of manual vote counts beyond the 30 percent planned by the embattled Commission on Elections [Comelec].

Malacanang for its part appealed to voters to give the Comelec a chance to do its job even as it ordered the police and armed forces to support the Comelec, which has the supreme constitutional authority to run the elections. 

But the ultimate credibility of the elections would rest on citizen volunteers and reporters manning the ramparts to monitor the polls and report the results to media that have set up 24-hour nationwide coverage for two-days, when the Comelec expected partial results to be known.  The Comelec had put up facilities to report a running vote count as soon as polls closed and tabulation began.

Tsunami of texts

 Earlier, the influential Makati Business Club and other civic groups sought a totally manual parallel vote count following technical glitches in the run-up to the polls.  Information technology experts also warned a technological Armageddon was likely to happen if digital circuits were overloaded by a tsunami of cell phone messages from volunteer poll watchers as soon as counting ended.

Information technology experts expressed concern that nothing would stop the country’s estimated 60 million cell phone owners from texting one another as soon as polls closed.

The automated voting machines the Comelec would use for the first time depended standard cell phone sites to transmit results from some 82,000 voting precincts to tally centers at provincial and municipal levels.

The Comelec estimated 70 percent of tallies would go the digital route.  They set up additional ways to transmit returns, including manually, in areas not covered by the major cell phone carriers.  They also acquired portable generator sets in case of power failure, a traditional occurrence that trigers massive cheating.

The PCOS supplier itself fielded some 40,000 technical experts to help the Comelec maintain and operate the machines.

Logjam of worries

The political websites actually 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 volunteers these have spawned.

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

The numbers describe the massive potential political payback in mobilizing citizen volunteers for election duty.  In cyberspace, it would seem that the sky is the limit.

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

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

Armies of the night

One of the corporate supporters of ABS-CBN’s “Boto Mo iPatrol Mo: Ako Ang Simula” - is the computer school STI.  For the past four elections STI fielded volunteer students to report unofficial quick counts to media.
For the 2010 elections, STI President Monico Jacob said they fielded some 14,000 student volunteers to help the Comelec register an estimated four million new voters.  “It’s part of our corporate social responsibility,” Jacob said.  “At the same time the students learn their civic duties.”

They also learn that citizens need to make personal sacrifices to build a nation, Jacob said.  Maybe next time, when computerized election machines make poll watching unnecessary, the youth will move on from registering new voters to issue advocacy -- and spark a national debate on issues that voters can use to guide them in electing public officials.

Citizen volunteerism resulted in some glimmer of hope in the mid-term elections of 2007.  A priest, Ed Panlilio, narrowly won as governor against two traditional politicians associated with President Arroyo in her home province of Pampanga.  A broadcast journalist, Grace Padaca, defeated an entrenched political dynasty in the northern Luzon province of Isabela. (In the elections of 2010 both lost in close contests.)

But independent candidates who ran with limited resources and without access to citizen-based political organizations failed miserably.

Sleepless in battle

A coalition of reform-minded organizations and business leaders organized movements to lead efforts to register an estimated five million new voters for the 2010 elections.  The thinking was that this number of idealistic youth would provide a buffer of sorts against election fraud.

Many believed that civil society groups would have 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.

(The author is chief executive of a business consultancy specializing in business planning, management training, marketing strategy, corporate communications, and in transforming social, political, cultural and technological trends into business intelligence that works.  Comments are welcome at email

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bandwagon politics

By Winston A. Marbella

In the presidential campaign of 2010, accusations that poll surveys tended to influence voting preference because of the bandwagon effect dominated the headlines whenever polling firms--or their clients--made public the results of latest surveys, accusing one another of trying to manipulate voter perception.

The raging debates among the presidential candidates –- and the subsequent call of the Catholic bishops for the faithful to disregard poll surveys in deciding elections -– raised once again age-old questions over the accuracy and usefulness of surveys.

As critics asserted, are they indeed tools to sway the voter toward a perceived winner—thereby acting as instruments of mass deception in the engineering of consent?

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued a pastoral letter asking the laity to ignore poll surveys and political ads and instead to follow their conscience in discerning the qualifications of candidates, their moral standing, and adherence to church teachings, like opposing the use of artificial contraceptives and abortion.

The debate struck at the core of the surveys themselves, prompting voters to raise more serious questions over how they were done rather than what they found.  Examples:

1. How can a sample size of less than two thousand people represent the views of 50 million voters?
2. Does the way the questions are worded lead voters to certain desired results?
3. Isn’t the average voter too ill-informed to be able to form opinions of any significant value?
4. How can polls be accurate when I have never been asked for my opinion?
5. Assuming polls were accurate, should public officials do what is merely popular or exercise principled, courageous leadership?

Random samples

The rudiments of scientific sampling were first tested almost 75 years ago by a visionary young pollster named George Gallup in the American presidential elections of 1936. Using a small sample of a few thousand people, Gallup stunned the world by predicting that Franklin Delano Roosevelt would win reelection.

In contrast, the magazine Literary Digest, which had been running a poll for a number of years using a base of several million people, predicted that Roosevelt would lose.  Fortunately Gallup’s prediction was published by the Washington Post before the election,

Roosevelt won.  The befuddled Digest folded in a few years.  Gallup went on to become as famous as his Gallup Poll.

Gallup’s respondents were selected through a process by which small samples were used to project the views and preferences of large populations.  The terms “samples” and “populations” have precise scientific meanings in the statistician’s lexicon.  There is nothing random about them.

In explaining his method, Gallup used examples from other disciplines with which people were more familiar.  He pointed out that a doctor need not test all the blood of a patient to determine his blood type or sugar level.

Or, a housewife need not have to eat all her soup to find out if it tasted good.  All she would have to do is to stir the soup thoroughly to make sure the various ingredients were well mixed before she tasted it.  Then all she would need is a spoonful of the soup taken at random from any part of the bowl to be reasonably sure that it will taste the same all the way through.

In the esoteric world of pollsters, the term “random” has a precise scientific meaning.  When they draw a sample randomly they mean that every member of the population from which it is drawn has an equal chance of falling within the sample, and that whoever gets into the sample or who does not is purely a matter of chance.

Margin of error

According to Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll, in his book “Why Leaders Must Listen to the Wisdom of the People,” this means “that the mix of the people in the sample has an excellent change of reflecting the mix of the people in the large population.”  This also means that larger samples have minimal effect on the accuracy of surveys.

So how large do samples need to be to accurately represent the population from which they are drawn?  Pollsters say sample sizes as small as 1,000 persons, if picked randomly, can do the job.

Doubling the size of a randomly selected sample from 1,000 from 2,000 would double the sampling cost and time but only decrease the margin of error from 3 percent to 2 percent, according to statisticians.  The margin of error reflects the probability of the random sample digressing from the population it is drawn from. 
Random samples in the 1,500 region represent the best balance of accuracy and cost, Gallup says.  The key to generating good samples lies in the procedure that allows every element in the population being surveyed to have an equal chance of being included in the sample.  This, together with question wording that eliminates bias, results in good surveys, says pollster Mercy Abad.

Abad built her expertise doing market research for consumer products companies like San Miguel, Unilever, and Procter & Gamble.  Many of the tools used in opinion polling were honed in the rough and tumble, dog-eat-dog world of consumer marketing.

Media implications

Much of the controversy surrounding poll surveys arises from apparent distortions arising from media reporting of the results.  Most of the distortions are not deliberate but result from the nature of media reporting, which stresses the need to simplify, unearth the interesting, and remove complexities.  Poll survey results are often the opposite: complex, multi-faceted, and dull.

Preoccupation with the horse race –- who is leading whom in voter preference –- is a misuse of the value of polling, pollsters say  Look at issues the people are discussing and address them, they say.  In this way politicians can get their governance cues from the issues the voters consider important.

The political dialogue is thereby raised to a higher level, with voters and candidates rediscovering the lost art of meaningful political conversations.  Then perhaps better governance will follow -- but only when issues surpass the horse race as the preferred medium of political debate.

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

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Politics as advertising folly

By Winston A. Marbella

Three powerful communication technologies converged to radically reshape the making of the Philippine president 2010.  The new weaponry of modern political warfare included television news and its sibling, the paid political ad---the Internet and its offspring, social networking---and the citizen activism and volunteerism they both spawned. The confluence of these forces dramatically transformed the 2010 presidential campaign.

The 2010 campaign shattered myths about the power of the paid television commercial to elect a president and the capability of social media to raise the level of political discourse, but created new ones about the power of TV news to influence voters.

Caught between the devil of a short election period and a deep blue sea of over 50 million voters scattered across more than 7,100 islands, the presidential candidates spent tens of millions of pesos daily in political advertising campaigns that cost them billions of pesos before the shouting was all over.

Ads nausea

Armed with buoyant campaign funds, the leading presidential candidates spared no effort to flood the airwaves with tsunamis of splashy political ads to make up for lack of time to cover a lot of ground.

Citizen groups and Church officials expressed alarm that the massive ad spending merely raised the decibel level but did little to deepen voter understanding of the issues that mattered. 

On any given night, the primetime shows of the leading networks saturated audiences with the political messages of the presidential candidates, many of them airing at least five commercials each during the primetime 6-9 p.m. slot when viewership is highest.  At an average cost of P200,000 per airing, the ads of the presidential candidates alone exceeded a billion pesos by the time elections were held on May 10.

Political rallies in populous cities and provinces used to do the job, but not anymore since registered voters swelled to over 50 million..  

Reeling from exhaustion halfway through the senatorial campaign in 2007, Sen. Panfilo Lacson saw the dawning of the new media age.  “Now it’s all media advertising,” he told reporters on the campaign trail.

Villar, who was then also running for the Senate, had a businessman’s insight—he noted that it had become simply more cost-efficient to air his political ads and use the free time to campaign up close and personal, shaking hands and kissing babies in shopping malls and public markets.

A positive effect of the political ads was that the candidates were forced to beef up their usual jingles and motherhood statements with substance, lest they bore their audiences with repetitive nonsense..  As they bombarded voters with commercials at a frenetic pace, the candidates not only had to make more ads to add variety but also had to talk more sense.  Overnight, it became normal to hear the presidential candidates talk about taxes, jobs, education, and health care--to the point even this got boring!

Tower of blabber

On days when pollution does not blanket Metro Manila, commuters can see millions of antennas piercing the skyline-–-a bizarre architectural testament to the electronic icon of our time: television

Its presence is overwhelming.  Television now reaches 70 percent of all Philippine homes – 99 percent in Metro Manila - thanks largely to the $25 billion sent back by overseas Filipino workers, which gave families almost universal access to television.

Television has altered not only the popular culture but also the political landscape.  It has truly become, in the words of American historian Theodore H. White, “the playing field of politics.”

Television is now the most pervasive medium of information, although TV news started out as an unwanted sibling of a medium designed primarily to 

entertain.  TV news gives us a compressed view of history on the run, what James Reston of the New York Times called “the exhilarating chase after the Now.”

Media researchers have actually timed the average span of the sound bite to be precisely 9.8 seconds, a fleeting moment compared to the three hours or so we spend watching TV on a regular day.  How any human can make sense of anything that flashes by in less than 10 seconds defies belief.

The television commercial, running at a more comprehensible 30 or 60 seconds, has managed to elbow out the reasoned debate as the primary weapon of political warfare.


Significant nuance, intelligent insight, and perceptive analyses are glossed over in the blinding speed of the sound bite.  Inconvenient truths whiz through inattentive audiences.

The raised eyebrow passes for sophistication, impressions mimic intelligent commentary, and perceptions become reality.  The political debate, in some cases the only meaningful dialogue of democracy, is reduced to fleeting sound bites and images.

And so finally stagecraft has surpassed substance   and the headline-grabbing one-liner has supplanted in-depth analysis.  The purveyor of dreams that was television at its birth has become the political theater of the absurd --- and politicians have morphed from architects of democratic consensus to surreal actors on reality TV. 

It is perhaps one of the greatest ironies of our time that this most democratic of political exercises -- electing our leaders -- should now be confined to millionaires, celebrities, and movie stars.

Defending his massive pre-election spending at a television interview, Villar said he was merely trying to level the playing field, considering his more popular opponents.

“I am not a movie star and I do not have a famous political name,” he said, taking a broad swipe at his rivals.  “I am just a poor man who succeeded through diligence and perseverance.  I am not widely known.  Imagine, I have to advertise just to match their popularity!”

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

Friday, July 22, 2011

Guerrilla politics

By Winston A. Marbella

After performing what outspoken Albay Gov. Joey Salceda termed colorfully as “political CPR” (for cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, a medical term used to describe emergency treatment for cardiac arrest), the ruling Lakas-Kampi-Christian Muslim Democrat coalition fanned out to the countryside to court an estimated 14 million voters needed to make former Defense Sec. Gilberto Teodoro the next president of the republic.

“We’re doing political CPR,” Salceda told reporters covering simultaneous meetings of the ruling party coalition graced by President Arroyo in two hotels a stone’s throw apart in fashionable Ortigas Center in Pasig City.  

Mixing his colorful metaphors, Salceda said the party was “circling the wagons” around Teodoro in a last-ditch effort to make him win.  The aim is to “create enclaves of strength” for Teodoro in the countryside by aggressively campaigning for him, he said.

“We will exploit our internal strength and deploy this strategy to get 14 million votes---the number of votes you need to win,” Salceda said.  “It’s still viable because we have 51 (provincial) governors.”

Magic number

Thirty four of those coalition governors signed a manifesto of support at their meeting at the Discovery Suites on Asian Development Bank Avenue in Ortigas Center.  Sixteen others were expected to sign the circling-of-wagons document.

Shifting his metaphors now to economic-speak, Salceda said that although party conditions were “less than ideal” because campaign funds were coming “in trickles,” a Teodoro victory was still “within a feasible, strategizable domain.”  Meaning it could still be done, at least in theory.

At the governors’ meeting, Salceda said the challenge was how to make the city and municipal mayors toe the party line and support Teodoro.  

“We can make them stay if there’s enough incentive,” he said.  “It can be funds, it can be popular support.  My guess is they’re sticking by mere inertia.  Meaning this is the party they know.”

Not much to go by if you were Teodoro.

Which was probably the reason why Salceda---within a few days of uttering his brave words---bolted to the Liberal Party to support Sen. Benigno S. Aquino III, a seatmate at the Jesuit-run Ateneo University in college days.  

Battle for enclaves

With the Commission on Elections closely watching election spending in television ads, the campaign began to shift to a silent but parallel war raging beneath the airwaves.

Like a guerrilla ground operation, the silent war used speed, stealth and surprise--- and was as lethal as the noisy war raging in the air.  

Campaign strategists call this the “silent war” phase, when efforts shift to house-to-house campaigning – political volunteers knocking on doors distributing leaflets and political paraphernalia.

Tea parties were also beginning to spread in middle and higher-income communities, recalling the Tupperware parties that housewives popularized in the sixties to directly sell the durable plastic canisters.  

This time, however, they were not selling plastic containers but organizing discussion groups on campaign issues, generating tempests in classy teapots.

In the gated enclaves of Valle Verde in suburban Pasig City, where leading presidential candidate Benigno S. Aquino’s celebrity kid sister Kris used to live, it was not uncommon to see teenagers – volunteer political workers -- ringing doors and delivering invitations.

In these suburban villages, the distribution of campaign leaflets, once done by the kids, were left to the newsboys who deliver the morning paper.  They do it more efficiently for a minimal fee.  

The kids found a new calling – delivering tea party invitations to discussion groups – called “gapang” (crawling) in the political lexicon.

The relative scaling down of television ad spending confirmed the beginning of this silent but crucial phase of the campaign.  It is the time when thoughtful voters start to process the thousand and one images and sound bites they received during the high-intensity television bombardment.

Decision point

The next president could very well be decided in this phase, unless it was a close race and went down to the wire. In this scenario, the final phase becomes decisive – the party efforts to get out the vote.  Here party manpower and logistical resources become a major factor in getting out the vote to the polling precincts, the third and final phase of the political war of attrition.

Political strategists like to use military metaphors in describing the phases of the political war.  The opening salvo of TV ads is likened to an aerial bombardment or heavy artillery attack to soften up the terrain for the coming battle for the hearts and minds of voters, done largely through house -to -house incursions.

Next comes the silent phase.  Military strategists stress that air force and navy superiority cannot win wars.  You still have to send in the army to mop up street by street, house to house.  Then the noise goes up again on voting day when the ground troops are mobilized to get out the vote.

Television becomes secondary in the silent phase.  The internal communication system takes over--- the digital technologies of the Internet-based social media like Facebook and Tweeter and cell phone-based text messaging in the political campaign.

The efficiency of the house-to-house campaign -- the silent war -- and the effectiveness of getting out the vote, would depend heavily on the guerrilla bands roaming the villages, armed with social media tools and cell phones.  Television would take a backseat until the counting began.

For many of the candidates, it was all over but the shouting.

(The author is chief executive of the Marbella International Business Consultancy, a think tank specializing in transforming social, political, cultural and technological change into public policy and business intelligence that works.  Comments are welcome at email  He is a veteran of presidential, senatorial and congressional campaigns.)