Thursday, November 1, 2012

3.41-M malnourished kids

People's Tonight
October 31, 2012

By Winston A. Marbella

A novel teachers' feeding program has inspired a local cooking oil manufacturer to join the worldwide fight against hunger with the introduction of polenta, a corn-based super food that is cheaper than rice but more nutritious.

Polenta was rolled out initially in the corn-eating regions of the Visayas and Mindanao as part of its corporate social responsibility program by Limketkai Manufacturing, makers of several brands of healthy cooking oils.

Boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, in a recent interview by a foreign magazine, said corn was responsible for his punching power.

Limketkai said the new product  supports United Nations and World Health Organization efforts to combat hunger worldwide, especially among children. It is sold at P23 per kilo, or P10 cheaper than the cheapest rice.


Polenta is an Italian word for ground cornmeal that is all-natural and fat-free and used in many traditional dishes;

Polenta is even more popular than pasta in Northern Italy.  Under various names, it is also very common   in Mexico, Romania, Slovenia and Switzerland;

In the Philippines, several regions in the Visayas use polenta as bugas mais (corn rice).  It is also a cheaper and healthier alternative to white rice because of its nutritive content.

Nutrition info 

Instead of the more widespread white corn polenta, Marca Leon offers yellow corn polenta, considered to be healthier than white corn  because the yellow pigment indicates a higher Beta-Carotene (Vitamin A) content.

Polenta is high in iron,  necessary for oxygen transport in the blood and energy production; and B vitamin complex, which  helps break down carbohydrates, protein and fats.

In eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, the Philippines is behind by at least six years and at most eight years in achieving its goals. Prevalence of underweight children is yet to be halved, and incidence of poverty in the population has not improved either, according to the United Nations Millennium Development goals. 

Intrepid teachers

The Limketkai healthy nutrition program was inspired by a Department of Education project to support  a low-cost but effective way to fight malnutrition among schoolchildren.  The DepEd is turning small patches of idle land into gardens for growing vegetables.  

Then, some enterprising teachers take over.  They make healthy vegetable soup for the children in makeshift soup kitchens.  

With a pinch of salt and pepper, a dash of ingenuity, and a splash of love, they may yet win the battle against hunger much faster than the Departments of Health and Social Welfare combined.

Taking special interest in the subject, CNN featured the intiative in a recent documentary: Vegetable growing and feeding is now happening in half of the DepEd’s 42,000 schools, CNN reported. 

Healthy oil

To support the war on malnutrition, Limketkai is also  conducting an educational campaign to reduce unhealthy fats in the diets of school children to cut the risk of high cholesterol,  hypertension and heart disease in adulthood.

Limketkai promotes corn oil as a healthy alternative to bad fats.  .
Corn oil is naturally rich in beta carotene, vitamin E, niacin and lecithin, all needed for good health.

Corn oil also has only 13% saturated fat, compared to olive oil, 15%,  palm oil, 51%, and coconut oil, 91%.  Corn oil thus can control and not add to the total cholesterol in the body.  It is also rich in Omega 3 and Omega 6 for good health.

Corn oil is rich in nutrients which protect the body from certain types of cancer such as prostrate, breast and colon. It is also free of trans fats associated with hypertension according to  medical studies.

The  educational campaign aims to reduce the increasing consumption of harmful fats in junk food, especially among children.    

Many school kids are so severely malnourished their fragile minds have been impaired by poor diets forever.
Hidden hunger
Senator Ed Angara notes that  

“The World Health Organization and the United Nations Children Fund have classified hidden hunger in the Philippines as severe, the second worst category (globally).

“Our own National Nutrition Survey found that 2.9 million children of primary school age were underweight, while 3.41 million had stunted growth,” Angara said.  

(The author is chief executive of a think tank specializing in responsible public policy and business strategy;  e-mail 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Battle of the bulge

October 26, 2012

By Winston A. Marbella

A leading cooking oil company  has launched an information campaign as part of a global effort to reduce the increasing consumption of harmful fats, especially among children.  

As part of its corporate social responsibility program, Limketkai Manufacturing, makers of Marca Leon corn oil, is conducting an educational campaign to educate  parents about the dangers of  bad fats in the diet.

The World Bank has urged third-world countries to enact laws to encourage good food processing practices and control trans-fats content in food in the global fight against rising non-communicable diseases (NCD) like high blood pressure.

“These efforts, such as more effective legislation on the use of trans-fats and tobacco as well as public education to reduce salt intake would help delay the onset of these diseases,” the bank said in a report in Sri Lanka recently.

2 epidemics

Two epidemics are currently raging in poor countries---the all-too-familiar hunger and malnutrition and a more pernicious one, obesity.  Overweight afflicts 42 million children under the age of five, 35 million of whom live in third-world countries like the Philippines.

Alarmed, the World Health Organization is calling for action to end the epidemic of child obesity by reducing marketing of unhealthy foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children.

NYC bans trans-fats

The government of New York City has banned the use of trans-fats in all restaurants.

WHO says children worldwide are exposed to marketing of foods high in fat, sugar or salt. And this increases the potential of younger generations developing non-communicable diseases during their lives.

The WHO report says non-communicable diseases already account for 60 percent of deaths worldwide, or more than 35 million people, with a majority of these deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries.

WHO officials cite poor diet as one of the four common causes of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and chronic lung diseases, leading to more than nine million premature deaths. 

Good oil 
According to the  the Marca Leon corn oil website (, heart disease remains the biggest killer in the Philippines.

Other health factoids from the  information website:

---You can control cholesterol levels through diet and exercise. Corn oil boosts “good” cholesterol (HDL).  Saturated fats boost “bad” cholesterol (LDL).

---Regular exercise lowers bad LDL cholesterol levels and boosts HDL good cholesterol. No more than 35 percent of your daily calories shouild come from fats.

---Polyunsaturated fats are good fats. Corn oil contains 85 percent unsaturated fatty acid, 59% polyunsaturated acid (Omega 3 and 6), 24% monounsaturated fatty acid (Omega 9), and only nine to 13% saturated fatty acid.

---The right combinarion of fatty acids in corn oil leads to a healthy heart. Corn oil is rich in Betacarotene and Vitamin E, good for the skin and growth, and Thiamine, Niacin, Lecithin and Folic Acid for good health.

---Corn oil is rich in good minerals like phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, iron and copper.

Good taste
Because corn oil has a neutral taste, it imparts no harmful flavors to the food, thus making food taste better.   

Corn oil is rich in plant nutrients which lower cholesterol and protect the body from certain types of cancer such is prostrate, breast and colon. It is also free of transfats associated with hypertension in certain medical studies.

TV ads to blame

WHO blames television advertising largely for the marketing of unhealthy foods. It says there is evidence advertisements influence children’s food preferences, purchase requests and consumption patterns.

In the United States, a mother---with the support of an advocacy group---has filed a class-action suit against a fast-food chain for  a sales promotion which invites children to collect a new toy every so often. 

Clinton example

The legal arguments can go either way.  In earlier cases involving the use by food manufacturers of potentially harmful trans-fats, a standard cooking ingredient in fast-food kitchens, the companies settled out of court.

Former US President Bill Clinton is a celebrated example of how fast-food addiction can lead to heart problems.  Clinton underwent multiple heart bypass surgery after leaving office, adopted a healthy-eating lifestyle, and now appears to be in the pink of health.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Street art for the masses

People's Tonight
October 23, 2012

By Winston A. Marbella 

Nakakain ba ang art? Does art really improve our quality of life?”  With these words Prof. Acel German begins her lecture at the good governance class for barangay officials of the Pimentel Institute for Local Governance, which Mayor Alfredo Lim invited to Manila.

The institute, named for former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., has been training barangay officials in the craft of good governance.  The class on barangay art is one of its innovative approaches. 

Professor German continues, “Many Filipinos share the belief that “Art is the monopoly of the elite and that one can never appreciate art when the stomach is empty.

“But, there are studies proving that art engagement improves individual health, psychological well-being, skills and creativity.”
Professor German adds, “Art regenerates the community … the people involved feel an increased sense of pride and appreciation of their town.”

Key concerns

She cautions that “Sustainability of art projects depends to a great extent on the sense of local ownership. Involving the community in the art projects gives them a sense of ownership of the project. They begin to care for it and values its sustainability.”


To ensure success, she advises the communities to explore available talents, manpower, materials and art spaces.

“Art programmers must be sensitive in spotting raw talent from among a group of fishermen, drivers, mothers,” she says.

Multi-sectoral collaboration is also essential: “Involve the church, youth organizations, women’s groups, local associations,” she advices.


“Partnership with the business sector is encouraged,” she says. “Arts attract investments. By improving a community’s image, people may feel more confident about investing in the community.”

She suggests several barangay art ideas that would be easy to implement:


“Planners can explore community values creatively through storytelling,” she says.

“Storytelling allows people to present ideas about place and experience and to define their roles in those contexts.” 

She adds: “As a creative tool, storytelling helps planners understand how people in the community are seeing, have seen, and would like to see their location.”

Mural art

“Mural art as an engagement technique can be applied in settings such as celebrations of history, commemorations, and educational events. Community members can paint in small groups, perhaps with the guidance of an artist or planner,” she suggests.

“Sketching or art contests can involve the public in urban design,” she says. 

“Urban design can encompass a broad range of elements (e.g. street furniture, waiting shed, signage, entryways, parks, and plazas) It can be helpful to call for sketches and art ideas from the public for a specific project type.”

Sari-sari stores

“Instead of lewd posters promoting liquors, barangay leaders can encourage store owners to beautify their stores,” she says.

She also suggests creative signage for doors and gates in the community, and using art for environmental advocacy like recycling. 

As creative examples of local art galleries, she cites the following: the Enigmata Treehouse, Camiguin Island, and Fundacion Pacita Natures Lodge in
Basco, Batanes, a tribute to international artist Pacita Abad, who hails from Batanes.

Enigmata Treehouse Gallery

For easy-to-manage art programs, she suggests kite flying, a paper lantern festival, and a sand art festival.

Even the Internet can be mobilized for art programs:  “Optimize the use of the new media,” she urged the participants. “Join  the Google Earth sketch-up project.”

Institute of integrity

The Piimentel Institute was established two years ago to make available programs that promote good governance down to the barangay level.  Mayor Lim has engaged Pimentel to conduct a series of seminars for Manila barangay officials

Pimentel, who authored the landmark Local Government Code while still a senator, is the institute's guiding light. 

(The author is chief executive of a think tank consultancy specializing in transforming social and cultural trends into effective business strategy and public policy; e-mail

Monday, September 10, 2012

Giant leap of faith from fast food to health care

Business Feature
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Sept. 9, 2012

By Winston A. Marbella

Robert Kuan, 65, is having the time of his life navigating a second career after a highly successful foray into fast food, Chinese-style. After cashing in his 50 percent equity in ChowKing for a reported half a billion pesos, Robert is now chair of St. Luke’s Medical Center.

He works for free, but the psychic rewards are plentiful, because he’s doing it for his church.

Tea for two

I was fascinated by this veritable leap of faith, so I called him up for coffee. He invited me for tea instead.

Robert welcomed me to his high-rise residence overlooking the great enclaves of the rich and their meticulously manicured golf courses and polo grounds. The view would have been breathtaking had it been a sunny day. But the rainy season had come early—it wasn’t even the middle of May—and a grey pallor hung over the city like lead weights. Still, through the mist, you could see where development was heading—and a rosy future beckoned Robert Kuan.

To the north you could barely discern the old suburb of Quezon City, where St. Luke’s Medical Center stood, of which Robert Kuan, founder of ChowKing, was now chair of the board of trustees.
To the east stood a new St. Luke’s at the Fort in Taguig, all 150,000 square meters of it, ready to minister to the health needs of an expanding metropolis.

To the south lay the communities of the future, and this early St. Luke’s has staked out a property for a third medical center: “landbanking,” Robert Kuan calls it.

But first, St. Luke’s in Taguig.

As planned, the building would have cost P6.5 billion to construct. It will eventually house P2.7 billion worth of state-of-the-art medical equipment powered by technology that will boggle the minds of most everyone except the medical technologists and cyber physicians that will operate them.

Robert’s vision

Robert began to verbalize his vision for St. Luke’s:

“You know a vision can be achieved in 10, 20, or 30 years. But to reach it, you have to do a lot of preparatory things.  To accurately predict where the health care market will be, you have to look at the trend of development—where the movement of commercial, industrial, and residential development is headed.”

The way Robert looked out into the future you’d think things were just beginning for him. After earning his Master of Business Management degree at the Asian Institute of Management in 1975 (his bachelor’s degree in business administration came from the University of the Philippines), Robert put up Ling Nam with his siblings in 1976:

“After eight and a half years running it I left Ling Nam, on October 16, 1984. I talked to Tony (Tan Caktiong) of Jollibee, who by this time was on his sixth year after founding Jollibee, and I invited him to partner with me in my concept of a Chinese fast-food restaurant.

“We agreed exactly one month later, on November 16th.  On March 18, 1985, we opened the first ChowKing store.”

And then came the moment that would truly change his life:

“After five years, in 1989, we had ten stores.  (The dates punctuate his story like the day he was baptized, or the day he was married. Similarly defining moments.)  My little success came to the notice of the members of the St. Luke’s board. One of them was the president of Cosmos, William Padua, who was a very active member of the Episcopal Church, which owned St. Luke’s.

“William had served in the St. Luke’s board since 1975, but in 1989 he decided to migrate to the US to be with his children. We knew each other well since we were both active in the Church.  He recommended me to Bill Quasha, the lawyer, chair of the St. Luke’s board of trustees, who welcomed me to help them run the non stock, nonprofit hospital.

Call to serve

“From 1989-1996 (he remembers the dates without hesitation), I was just an unassuming member of the board, supporting the vision of Bill Quasha to transform St. Luke’s from a church-run charity hospital to a world-class medical center.

“But this would require a complete change of structure, a lot of new people, and a reorientation of attitudes to care for the medical needs of people in a nonstock, nonprofit organization.

“The board had set the example for servant-leadership starting with Bill Quasha, who had dedicated his life to transforming a hospital dependent on annual subsidies and a budget set aside by the Church, to a self-supporting, revenue-generating institution that could set aside an annual surplus for building centers of excellence within the hospital and making it a world-class medical center.

“Involvement in a hospital is a calling. This calling became more evident with the passing of Bill Quasha in 1996.  The board invited me to fill his shoes. I said that I did not make a good figurehead and that there were many others better qualified than me.

“But if the board wanted me to provide a visionary leadership towards lifting St. Luke’s to a higher level, it would have to be a vision shared by all members of the board. The board agreed, and I accepted the challenge of becoming their chairman.”

Tough job

“In 1996, it seemed like a very difficult vision to achieve.  We needed a lot of capital.  At that time it cost only between five to seven million pesos to put up a ChowKing store.  We needed more than one BILLION pesos to modernize St. Luke’s to world-class standards.

“Now as we look back, we are happy to provide for the needs of the Church that started St. Luke’s some 100 years ago.  We have an outreach ministry that identifies the needs of the Church.  Some of the old churches the American missionaries built are now in need of repair, and we are happy to provide funds for them.

“We have a mission in Sagada that also operates a hospital to serve the communities there.  It is now called the Church of the Igorots, for many of our priests come from there.

“When the Episcopal missionaries came, they made it a point to minister to the minorities because they did not want to compete head on with the Catholic Church.  That is why we have two churches in Chinatown—St. Peter’s for the Cantonese and St. Stephen’s for the Fookienese.”

The Episcopal priests knew market segmentation 100 years ago, I mused.

One lucky guy

“You know, Henry Sy once told me,  ‘Robert, you are very lucky.  Most people your age (he was 59) still continue to make money.  But here you are giving back to society.’

“I am very thankful God called me to serve.  I get a lot of fulfillment in what I am doing today—and the example I am allowed to share with an organization like this—the concept of servant-leadership.  I never asked what’s in it for me. As trustees we do not receive compensation.”

Rewards do come in many forms, I said to myself. But I did not pursue the point. I had stayed long enough for tea.

(The author is president of a management consulting think tank; comments are welcome at e-mail:

Story location: Robert Kuan

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Why MVP is targeting GMA 7

Sept. 5, 2012

By Winston A. Marbella

To understand why business tycoon Manuel V. Pangilinan is targeting TV network GMA 7 for acquisition, we have to go back in time.

In a classic leap of imagination, the Canadian media visionary Marshall McLuhan took a look at our digital future and predicted that the impact of mass communication technologies would be so pervasive that the “medium (will be) the message.”

Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co (PLDT) Chairman Pangilinan (a.k.a. MVP) has got the future of his conglomerates all sorted out, including what fits where.  In fact, he already knows where to slot in GMA-7 when he completes its buyout by December.  They are now just talking how much and how many shares.  Minor details for MVP.  He's got bigger things on his mind, and he gave his shareholders a peek into their future at their annual meeting this year. 

"The fact is," he said, "telcos (telephone companies) will become obsolete."  Then he painted the future for them.

"PLDT has a choice of staying as a utility, as a delivery system, as an infrastructure system… simply being that, like a Meralco,” he told stockholders. “That's an option for us.” 

The next frontier

“The future of that is uncertain," he continued. "We have to be something more than that. The next frontier lies in the media space." 

MVP envisions a future where his companies supply not only the power people use to charge their phones, but also the network they use to go online, and the content they access into their devices.  PLDT will be – as the song goes – here, there and everywhere.

"Social media will eventually merge with us and us with them," he said.  And boldly going where no one has gone before, MVP said PLDT must “move firmly into the social media, social networking and Internet space before they move into ours and eat our lunch." 

Competitive space

Where does GMA-7 fit in this bold vision of the future?

"You need to understand why a telco needs to move into the media space,” MVP rold reporters at the sidelines.  “Traditional media, television, radio, print, but also social media--Google, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube – these two spaces are converging." 

 "It is possible that the Googles of the world--I'm not saying it's Google--the social networks could get into the telco space… for them to offer and deliver their own services." 

 "We're seeing how [PLDT] margins are getting depressed by staying purely as a distribution company,” MVP said. “Our shareholders don't like to see that."

Compelling vision

"Telcos have user-generated content but they also need the content of others,” MVP said. “ Your television content is not user-generated. Somebody else produces content: your tele-drama, your news, even your radio commentaries." 

"We need to move into that space so that there is eventually some form of a combination between telco as a utility and social media as providing the sort of content that a telco needs to deliver," he said. “The whole industry will change."  

Radical change 

Three powerful communication technologies are radically reshaping the news, changing both its format and content, and morphing it unto a form and shape that  the Canadian media visionary Marshall McLuhan foresaw decades ago but few of us thought we would see in our lifetime.
Very recently, a worldwide study showed that the digital medium has overtaken radio and print.  Another  international study last year found that more people got their news from the Internet than from television. 

The driving forces of this communication revolution are the Internet and the social phenomenon it spawned, the social media, which  transformed the way people transmit and consume the news.

McLuhan's world

In turn, the news itself has evolved in form and substance, making true the prediction of futurist visionary McLuhan that, in simple terms, “the medium is the message.”

The way the social media and the Internet have transformed the news, in fact, has turned the new  technological processes of transmitting the news into powerful tools of radical social and political change.

The new arsenal of revolutionary change now includes social networking as its most potent weapon, evident in the radical changes that transformed the Islamic world since the Arab Spring of 2011.  

The social media replaced television news as the dominant tool of political change.  Only decades ago, television news was unchallenged in mobilizing American public opinion against the war in Vietnam.  

But  it took years for public opinion to jell political action.  Today it happens in months, weeks, or even days.   
Boundaries blurring 

Today the confluence of technology and socio-political change is transforming even the news itself as commonly understood.

In the interactive world of the Internet and social media networks, the traditional boundaries between news and opinion have been obliterated, with netizens  conveying news and opinion in an odd mixture of digital chatter.

In many cases, news is now only used as a medium for conveying the more important opinions that crisscross the digital universe  hundreds of millions of times per second.  

News has become the carrying medium of opinion in a sudden reversal of roles, with content in turn transforming the media that carry them.  

This is the future that MVP sees and it animates him.


Ramon Ang's bull run

By Winston A. Marbella

Ramon Ang's gung-ho stewardship of San Miguel Corporation deserves deeper study because it defies conventional management thinking.

The first semester surge of 31 percent in  SMC's profit proves the soundness of its bold diversification strategy which defied traditional management approaches.

 SMC chair and CEO Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. has announced that the conglomerate grew its first semester profit by 31 percent year-on-year to P14.1 billion -- on the strength of higher operating income from its beer, power and packaging businesses.

The operating income growth was posted by San Miguel Brewery, San Miguel Global Power and San Miguel Packaging.  The three units made up for the operating profit declines of San Miguel PureFoods Co. and Petron Corp., and the net loss posted by the hard liquor unit, Ginebra San Miguel.

“Our first semester financial results provide a glimpse of the importance of a diversified portfolio and the continuing value of our core businesses to the overall stability of the group,” Cojuangco said.

Transformed SMC

In an interview before Cojuangco turned over the reins to him, SMC President Ramon S. Ang described the state of the group's diversification strategy: In 2007, 45.3 percent of revenues came from the beverage sector, another 42.3 percent from the food business, while 12.4 percent came from packaging.

After diversification, excluding the recent acquisition of Philippine Air Lines, 50.1 percent of revenues cane from the fuels business, 13.1 percent from the power sector, 16.4 percent from beverage, another 16 percent from food, and 4.4 percent from the packaging businesses.

  All told, the food and beverage businesses have shrunk to only about a third of SMC’s diversified revenue steams.

Ang said, “Tell me—looking at where we were then and where we are now—do you believe our transformation was a success?”  

“I think we should be able to hit $30 billion in total sales by 2017,” he said. “We should surpass that again earlier.”

Entrepreneurial drive

Now, the food and beverage giant (mostly beer) is into everything else where money is to be made: energy, power generation and distribution (power plants), 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. SMC’s resurgent fortunes now depend more and more on new businesses.

Whence derives this entrepreneurial energy?

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 liveable cash flow.

The shifting political sands changed all that.  Buffeted initially by shareholder demands for more transparency, SMC management sought predictability 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 drivers

The landmark study, which analyzed 47 companies in the Fortune 500 list, found eight themes that the authors believed accounted for the companies’ excellence.   These are:

  1. A bias for action.
  2. Staying close to the customer.
  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   competitive strength.
  5. A hands-on, values-driven management philosophy that guides everyday practice.  
  6. “Sticking to the knitting,” or staying with the business that you know.
  7. Simple organization, lean 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.

Bold tack

Defying conventional wisdom, Ang and Cojuangco took a bold tack and sailed into the wind, and have been amply rewarded, to the delight of shareholders.   
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.  
Enter Hamel

In the mid 1990s, the best-selling strategist Gary Hamel was invited by San Miguel as a resource in its annual strategic planning review.   

Among Hamel's classic management precepts was: “(Innovative companies) not only reinvented their companies; they reinvented their industries, regenerated new core strategies, and defined new business models for global markets.”

The idea that shook conventional management logic was  “Strategy has to subversive!”

“If it is not challenging internal company rules or industry rules, it is NOT strategy.”

Hamel provides a revolutionary road map:  “The goal is to cause earthquakes.”

Inventing the future

To find the future, Hamel prescribes the following: Create new core competencies by creating revolutionary strategies.  Imagination, not cash, is a scarce resource.

Then Hamel asks the inevitable questions:  “Are you building a legacy or living off a legacy?  

“Who is setting the transformation agenda in your Company today?”

When Hamel lectured at San Miguel, it was under a different management, so Ramon Ang was not in the audience.  But considering how he has run San Miguel since 1998, it would seem like he did not have to be there.  He and Hamel just seem to think along parallel lines.  And that is probably the happiest coincidence to have hit San Miguel in a long, long time.

 (The author is president of a management think tank; e-mail 

Friday, August 10, 2012

A planet tottering on the brink

By Winston A. Marbella

In the land where God made man, one can already see the Earth beginning to die. 

The famous snows of Kilimanjaro in Ernest Hemingway’s stories are all but gone---and the waters of Lake Chad have shrunk to one-fifth their original size.

Unless we are able to keep global warming below the predicted tipping point of 2,5 degrees Celsius over the next few years, scientists warned, rising sea levels from melting ice will swamp 60 percent of Philippine coastal towns, where more than half the population lives. 

On the eve of the opening of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun in December 2010, scientists updated a report that small island states situated in the oceans could go under water earlier than predicted because of rapidly warming climes. 

Freakish weather

A year before that, freakish summer floods wrought havoc in China and Pakistan, while a massive summer heat wave ignited roaring forest fires in Russia, causing damage in the billions of dollars. 
A massive chunk of ice has broken away from Iceland, while the southern continent, Antarctica, continues to lose rapidly warming frozen land to the oceans. 

These are some of the drastic effects of climate change -- and unless we are able to turn back the tide of global warming, loss of habitat and mass extinction of species may be irreversible, United Nations scientists have warned.

Ironically, the UN scientists noted, the world has the resources and the technology to avert climate catastrophes.  It’s the political will that’s missing, observed the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UNIPCC), co-winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, together with environmental advocate Al Gore.

Manila early warnings

Long before Gore’s Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” became fashionable among environmentalists, the Philippines had been sounding warnings on climate change and global warming. 
In February of 1995, the first Asia Pacific Leaders Conference on Climate Change, (ASPAC-LCCC) convened in Manila.  Some of its findings were prophetic.

The Manila conference declared: “Small island nations like the Philippines are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and sea level rise, with added impact on agriculture, biological diversity, peoples and cultures, so that they must be given special status because of the imminent threat of climate change.”

In 2007, a conference of Filipino and foreign scientists in Manila warned that “the Philippines could lose about 6,000 of its 7,100 islands to the sea -- if predictions by global scientists of the catastrophic rise in sea levels and floods” came true. 
Climate refugees

Growing international awareness of global warming has spawned new phrases like “climate refugees” and “forced migrations.” 

Experts say the number of people affected could double in seven years and reach as high as 200 million once the global warming tipping point is reached. 

The numbers could swell as refugees flee flooded homes, parched lands, typhoon-ravaged areas, and disaster-prone countries in Africa and Pacific island nations including the Philippines.
Water shortages

The UN climate panel estimated that from one billion to three billion people would suffer drinking water shortages by 2080 and between 200 million and 600 million would go hungry.  

The exhaustive study by some 2,500 scientists from 100 countries found that the Earth was indeed growing warmer from human-caused emissions of so-called greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide, from the burning of fossil fuels like oil and coal. 

These gases form a cover around the globe like a giant greenhouse, trapping the sun’s heat and increasing surface temperatures.
Snowballing events

The UN study warned of an uncontrollable snowballing of events arising from global warming.  

Rising ocean temperatures in the Atlantic already have caused lower rainfall levels in the Amazon tropical rain forest, ravaging 30 percent of the tree cover. 

Farmers along the equator will suffer decreasing crop yields due to drought.  Hundreds of millions of people living in more than three dozen river deltas -- like the Nile in Egypt, the Red River in Vietnam, and the Ganges-Brahmaputra in Bangladesh -- are likely to find themselves literally caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, between rising sea levels and more frequent floods inland.

Mass extinctions

The UN scientists see 20 to 30 percent of species under threat of mass extinctions if temperatures rise from 1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius.  At a rise of 4 degrees C, they said, “few ecosystems will be able to adapt.” 

“We are talking about a potentially catastrophic set of developments,” said the former head of the UN Environment Program, Achim Steiner.  “Even a half-meter rise in sea levels can have catastrophic effects in Bangladesh and some island states.” 

Those include the Philippines.  

But there is hope.  Experts say the dire effects of global warming could cost the world close to $7 trillion, but the world needs to spend only one percent of its annual gross domestic product, or roughly $300 billion, to stem climate change. 

In Cancun, a $100-billion climate fund was approved to get the ball rolling. It came not a day too soon.  

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Weather wild

By Winston A. Marbella

In the face of a climate gone wild globally, many are asking: If the planet is warming, why are winters getting colder while many parts of the globe including the Philippines are suffering killer landslides and flooding caused by torrential rains?

In the Philippines early last year, torrential rains triggered massive flooding and killer landslides in the Bicol Region, eastern and central Visayas, and four regions in Mindanao.  

2-M climate refugees

Almost 2,000,000 people  were displaced by the floods, government agencies reported, the result of warm temperatures colliding with the tail-end of a cold front blowing from Siberia.  The seasonal northeast monsoon also cause the cooler weather in Baguio and Luzon, including Metro Manila, early this year.

The weather agency, PAGASA, said more flooding was expected from the monsoon and the La Nina phenomenon which would dump more rains on the eastern parts of the country until the normally dry season till May.  Stronger typhoons carrying more rains will follow during the wet season beginning June, it said.

Temperatures plunged in the Cordilleras, destroying crops and causing a rise in vegetable prices. The Siberian winds also dropped temperatures in Metro Manila in the mornings.

Disasters waiting

Late in 2010, a study done by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) warned that the Philippines was an environmental disaster waiting to happen.

An Asia-Pacific-focused US think tank also warned that government agencies were under-equipped and ill-prepared to cope with harsh environmental disasters.

The dire warnings have come true, even as hundreds of scientists, bureaucrats and business leaders from close to 200 countries gathered last December in Durban, South Africa. to continue efforts to forge a binding accord to curb climate change.

Sinking towns 

Scientists have warned that unless we are able to keep global warming below the estimated tipping point of 2,5 degrees Celsius over the next few years, rising sea levels from melting ice will swamp 60 percent of Philippine coastal towns, where more than half the population lives.

Scientists believe that small island states situated in the oceans could go under water earlier than expected because of rapidly warming climes. 

In Australia, a 30-foot rise in three river systems created an inland sea the size of Germany and France, flooding 40 cities and towns and displacing some 200,000 people.

Summer floods

In 2010, freakish summer floods wrought havoc in China and Pakistan, while a massive summer heat wave ignited roaring forest fires in Russia, causing damage in the billions of dollars. 

These are some of the drastic effects of climate change, UN scientists warned, and unless we are able to turn back the tide of global warming, loss of habitat and mass extinction of species may be irreversible.

Ironically, the UN scientists noted, the world has the resources and the technology to avert climate catastrophes.  It’s the political will that’s missing, observed the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UNIPCC), co-winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, together with environmental advocate Al Gore. 

Experts say the number of people affected could double in seven years and reach as high as 200 million once the global warming tipping point is breached. 

The numbers could swell as refugees flee flooded homes, parched lands, typhoon-ravaged areas, and disaster-prone countries in Africa and Pacific island nations including the Philippines.

The UN climate panel estimated that from one billion to three billion people would suffer drinking water shortages by 2080 and between 200 million and 600 million would go hungry.  

The exhaustive study by some 2,500 scientists from 100 countries found that the Earth was indeed growing warmer from human-caused emissions of so-called greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide, from the burning of fossil fuels like oil and coal. 

These gases form a cover around the globe like a giant greenhouse, trapping the sun’s heat and increasing surface temperatures.
Bad crops

Farmers along the equator will suffer decreasing crop yields due to drought.  Hundreds of millions of people living in more than three dozen river deltas---in Egypt, Vietnam, and Bangladesh—are likely to find themselves literally caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, between rising sea levels and more frequent floods inland.

The UN scientists saw 20 to 30 percent of species under threat of mass extinctions if temperatures rise from 1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius.  At a rise of 4 degrees C, they said, “few ecosystems will be able to adapt.” 

A recent international biodiversity survey found that the Philippines has among the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet.

That makes the Philippines also most at risk of losing one of the rarest things on Earth: life in all its abundance.

(The author is chief executive of a think tank specializing in transforming social, political, environmental and technological trends into public policy, e-mail:  

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Disaster waiting to happen is happening now

By Winston A. Marbella

As close to 200 countries began in November 2010 a two-week meeting in Cancun, Mexico, to try to forge an agreement to curb climate change, several international agencies warned that the Philippines remained a disaster waiting to happen—with Metro Manila possibly going under water after just a heavy downpour.  

That disaster is happening now.

As in earlier meetings in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Bali, Indonesia, a legally binding international agreement is not expected in Cancun to put a cap on carbon emissions scientists believe to be causing global warming and worsening natural disasters. But at least a preliminary road map is expected to be drawn up to replace the aging Kyoto agreement expiring in 2012.

As 15,000 government delegates, environmentalists, business leaders and journalists gathered in the Mexican resort, the Philippine government appeared to be moving heaven and earth to avert more catastrophes from impending natural disasters in a desperate race against time in a dangerously warming planet.

On the eve of the Cancun conference, President Benigno Aquino III declared a Global Warming and Climate Change Consciousness Week, calling on the people to adjust their lifestyles to prevent further degrading the environment as temperatures climb, ice melts, seas rise and the climate that nurtured man shifts in unpredictable ways.

Mr. Aquino also ordered the scrapping of the P18.7-billion Laguna Lake rehabilitation project in order to include additional features to remove centuries-old silt, save the watershed, install global positioning mapping, relocate illegal settlers, and provide livelihood programs for displaced fishermen.

The President’s order came not a day too soon: Some 70,000 fishermen live in 170 coastal villages around the lake area covering 90,000 hectares.

A triple-agency international study has found Metro Manila, together with three other Asian coastal mega cities, in grave danger of killer floods that could devastate them anytime now unless steps are taken fast. An average of 20 typhoons strikes the country yearly.

The government-run Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) issued a similar warning after Typhoon “Ondoy” (international name: Ketsana) unleashed killer floods a year ago that kept parts of Metro Manila underwater for many months.

The state-owned water regulatory agency, Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), has reported that many more parts of Metro Manila have slid below sea level because of sinking water tables. It said massive siltation had also greatly reduced the Pasig River’s capacity to drain flood waters into Manila Bay, threatening to swamp the capital after even just a heavy thunderstorm.

An Asian-focused US think tank, Pacific Strategies and Assessments, recently accused the Aquino administration of underestimating the threat of natural disasters on the “most vulnerable” part of the country—Metro Manila—and overestimating government preparedness to cope with natural disasters like typhoons, floods and earthquakes in many parts of the country.

A series of international conferences over the past two years—in Bali, Indonesia, in 2008, Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009, and now in Cancun—is expected to produce scant progress in reaching an enforceable agreement to cut pollution by the world’s leading industrial economies, notably China, India, the European Community, and the United States.

Silver lining

Happily, the gathering storm clouds have produced a silver lining: Filipino scientists are close to finding a breakthrough solution to environmental problems caused by fossil fuel. They are growing a species of algae suitable to large-scale biofuel production, an alternative energy source discussed in a new documentary film.

The film, “Cool It,” is heating up the global warming controversy first raised by the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” and a disturbing UN report warning of imminent environmental disasters caused by climate change.

The earlier documentary won an Academy Award that catapulted former US Vice President Al Gore to the world stage and a new career as environmentalist. For their work in raising global-warming awareness, Gore shared a Nobel Peace Prize with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.


“Cool It” is making enough waves to rock the boat carrying Gore’s brand of environmental activists. The film questions the scientific bases of the climate change effects predicted by Gore and some 2,500 scientists comprising the UN panel.

“Cool It” is based on lectures and a book of the same title by Bjorn Lomborg, controversial author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist.” Lomborg founded the Copenhagen Consensus Center, a think tank that puts forward the views of the world’s leading economists on major global problems.

The award-winning filmmaker, Ondi Timoner, traveled the warming globe together with Lomborg to document climate change and find the most practical solutions to environmental problems.

Scare tactics

Lomborg says that Gore “oversold the message” of climate change and that Gore’s film was designed to scare people “witless.” He says it “works very well as a scary way to get everyone’s attention” but is an “incredibly poor way to make good decisions” about climate solutions.

Lomborg does not deny climate change but questions the scientific bases of the UN panel’s predicted environmental consequences. He also contests the cost effectiveness of proposed ways to fight global warming.

“There’s a lot of amazing ideas,” says Lomborg. “Solar and wind, of course, but we also look at growing your own oil fields through algae in the ocean, making artificial photosynthesis …”

Lomborg says current efforts to cut carbon emissions would reduce global temperatures only minimally, while much lower amounts spent for research could radically cut the costs of improving existing alternative energy sources and developing new ones.


In one such effort, Philippine scientists have identified a species of algae capable of producing commercial quantities of oil for fuel.

Teresita Perez, chair of Ateneo de Manila University’s Department of Environmental Science, has isolated species of algae that can yield 40 to 50 percent oil when grown in a medium containing nutrients that increase production.

The Ateneo scientists are looking at growing algae without using chemical fertilizers. They are experimenting with chicken manure, hog waste, and even fresh water lakes as alternative growth media.

Zero emissions

To preserve the environment, the researchers are testing a closed carbon-loop method to grow the algae, meaning the carbon dioxide by-product of aerobic decomposition is fed back to enrich the growth medium, thus avoiding releasing CO2 into the atmosphere.

After the oil is extracted, the algae become a rich source of protein and carbohydrates for feeding fish and livestock, completing the cycle.

An advantage of producing fuel oil from algae is that the process does not displace croplands that are better used for growing food like corn, soybean and sugar cane, thus keeping prices stable. Algae are 150 times more efficient than soybean in using arable land.

Boeing, the airplane manufacturer, estimates that growing enough soybeans to supply the fuel needs of the aviation industry for a year would require fields as big as Europe, but algae would need only 30,500 square kilometers of ponds, the size of Belgium. 


The World Bank joint study released recently found Metro Manila—together with Asia’s biggest mega cities, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City—in grave danger of natural calamities triggered by climate change.

The country is already suffering the quadruple-whammy effects of global warming identified by UN climate scientists: rising sea levels, floods triggered by killer typhoons, dwindling drinking water supplies induced by drought, and shrinking food crops from parched agricultural lands.

A one-meter rise in sea level resulting from melting polar ice caps could put 64 of the country’s 81 provinces—a full 80 percent—in harm’s way, according to the environmental group Greenpeace.

That’s equivalent to 700 million square meters of coastal lands covering half of the country’s 1,610 municipalities, where half of the population depends on seafood as the main source of protein.

In 2006 alone, 3 million Filipinos were directly affected by natural disasters, according to the non government Citizen Disaster Response Center. The number is expected to rise with rising temperatures and sea levels.

Waiting to happen

A World Bank study done after Typhoons “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” (Parma) struck in 2009, titled “Post Disaster Needs Assessment,” recommended “immediate changes in land-use planning, housing, water management, and environmental protection.”

Another World Bank study, done with the Asian Development Bank and the Japan International Cooperation Agency, titled “Climate Risks and Adaptation in Asian Coastal Mega cities,” warned of climate-induced disasters in Metro Manila unless major steps were taken fast.

The study recommended constructing the Marikina Dam and embankments in the Pasig-Marikina river basin, and improving two major pumping stations serving Metro Manila, located beside the Manggahan River and in the Camanava area (Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas and Valenzuela).

Manila sinking

After Ondoy struck, the LLDA disclosed that the lake’s capacity to hold flood waters had been cut drastically by silt dumped by 24 river tributaries from denuded watersheds.

The MWSS has disclosed that many more sections of Metro Manila have slid several feet below sea level because of sinking water tables being rapidly depleted by deep wells.

The agency also reported that massive siltation of the Pasig River has dangerously reduced its capacity to drain Metro Manila of flood waters caused by even minor thunderstorms.

In the northern Luzon provinces devastated by Super typhoon “Juan” (international code name: Megi) in October 2010, the work of rebuilding broken lives and ravaged communities continues outside the peripheral vision of Manila—until the next environmental disaster strikes.

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

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Pacquiao's zest for life

By Winston A. Marbella 

Rep. Manny Pacquiao has found himself in the middle of a controversy completely alien to his comfort zone in the ring.  His unyielding opposition to the mislabelled Reproductive Health Bill, purported to pass Congress with the open support of Malacanang, has unleashed a barrage of criticism ranging from the personal to the absurd. 

In so many words, usually sober legislators have cried foul that Pacquiao’s popularity will detract from a dispassionate discussion of the bill.  Others have gone so far as to suggest that Pacquiao is not equipped to debate the intricate labyrinths of the bill because the congressman from Sarangani is not schooled in the concepts of law or craft of legislation.

Crusty old editors have always counselled cub reporters that the best way to expose the shady inner workings of government is to shine the light on them for all the world to see.  This is exactly what Pacquiao has done: by boiling down the debate to his simple statement that if this bill had been in place before he was conceived, he might not be around.

Pacquio’s logic is crystal clear and cuts to the bone like a laser beam:  Shorn of its adornments, the RH Bill is as basic as black or white, true or false, right or wrong, life or death.  And this is because this is the language he understands when he walks inside that ring to face his foe.

Moment of truth

In the moment of truth, he leaves behind all his trainers and staff, all the trappings of wealth and power, and the rich and famous who form his entourage.  He is alone against his opponent, just he and his God to whom he prays in full view of millions of fans worldwide.

By excelling in his craft, Pacquiao has learned to extract the essence from non-essentials.  In his sport, he is no less noble than the protagonists in the classical literary dramas: Man against nature, man against man, man against himself.  When all is said and done, the issue is boiled down to its core. The words of King Arthur in the legend of Camelot sum it all up, “Was I brave, and strong, and true?  Did I fill the world with love my whole life through?”

Peel away the layers of onions from eight world titles and what you get at the core is a man who values life more than anything else.  That is what makes him invincible.  What you see is what you get: A man in love with life and loves to champion it.

To be alive is better than not to be alive---even if life is mired in miserable poverty.  His own life is proof of this truth:  Succeeding in extricating one’s self from poverty is a result of one’s conviction, the courage of one’s indomitable will.


For far too long, runaway population growth has been foisted by scaremongers as the root cause of economic problems in the developing world, despite historical evidence to the contrary.  The issue has resurfaced in light of the hysterical debate over the deliberately misleading Reproductive Health Bill.

Shorn of histrionics, the economic argument for population control flies in the face of reality and may actually be counterproductive to economic growth.
The world’s richest economies have not found huge populations a hindrance to economic prosperity: the United States, Russia, India, Brazil, Indonesia, and now China.  Thirty years ago, China misguidedly promoted a one-child policy and is now regretfully reaping the fruits of that folly.

Chinese demographers are finding they have too few people in some areas and a critical shortage of workers and wives, threatening the very foundations of the economy that the government thought it was protecting. 

Ruthless, barbaric

The one-child policy, one of the most ruthless and barbaric social experiments of the 20th century, is estimated to have prevented the birth of 400 million babies, the population of Europe.  But like all drastic social experiments, it had unpredicted surprises. 

With too few workers and a rapidly aging population, China now finds itself caught in the horns of a dilemma.

In an extremely beastly example of a population policy gone berserk, officials in Xiamen, a city in southern China where many Chinese Filipinos trace their roots, forced a mother to abort an eight-month-old fetus by lethal injection.

Bill’s surprise

On a visit here recently, former US President Bill Clinton raised a few eyebrows when he said the country’s population was a strategic resource.  He was referring to the millions of Overseas Filipino Workers, whose family remittances of almost US$20 billion yearly have saved the economy.

Population is not our problem.  Government incompetence is.  It is time to put the blame squarely where it belongs: right at the doorstep of policy makers who think they can continue to raise the population bogeyman as a deterrent to economic growth.

When they sought public office, nobody promised them a rose garden.  In fact they should expect that the career that they chose would require all of their blood, tears, toil and sweat.  Feeding, clothing, sheltering, educating, rearing and caring for our children---all are part of the human condition and their mandate to serve.  

It’s tough.  But killing babies and stifling life is not a solution.  It’s bloody murder.  Pacquiao’s success celebrates a proactive life over a passive acceptance of poverty and death.