Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pacita Abad's Boston and Batanes

Philippine Daily Inquirer
Lifestyle Home/Entertaining
June 27, 2012

By Winston A. Marbella

BOSTON, MA. - Pacita Abad, the international artist from Batanes, was in Boston with husband Jack Garrity when we came visiting for the summer.  But first, Pacita and my wife, Noreen, schoolmates at the University of the Philippines, had a lot of catching up to do.

Pacita insisted that no less than a weekend would suffice.  So when in Boston, we did what proper Bostonians do: a walking tour of Boston Common, a side trip to the museums, and, of course, an obligatory visit to the Kennedy Library, which was a delightful surprise for a bookworm like me.

By this time, Pacita had earned a name in the art world with themes influenced bywherever her economist-husband's bank employer assigned him in Asia and Africa.  And she was right; we had a lot of catching up to do.  But wherever in the world Pacita might be, her thoughts always turned to her favorite topic: her home province of Batanes.

I had been to Batanes once, and had delighted in taking pictures of the Ivatan stone houses.  They were also Pacita's favorite spots, especially their restoration and preservation as historical sites.  She would have been glad to know that it is happening now; the Ivatan stone houses have been designated cultural heritage sites.

Rising from the rubble

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, Pacita's brother, 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.

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 derring-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.

Governance lessons

Thus was born an experiment in local governance management that was presented recently 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 was 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 U/Mak’s School of Public Policy and Governance, the Pimentel Institute of Local Governance, and the UP.  If fund-raising efforts were successful, the barangay officials and graduate students were to visit Singapore to look at urban development projects considered state of the art.  The joint project was headed by architect Raymond Chin of UP and Prof. Raymund Rosuelo of U/Mak.

Indigenous resources

The Ivatan conservation project became a model for mobilizing indigenous resources in projects of this kind.  The conservation team was headed by architects Joven Ignacio and included UP's 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 a similar dialect.

Rare heritage

To withstand typhoons, the Ivatan stone houses sported six-foot-wide walls on the side facing the wind.  Thatched roofing was built up to three-feet thick to resist rain.

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 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.  

Fundacion Pacita, a vacation lodge that was formerly Pacita Abad's home studio, was lovingly refurbished by Butch Abad in honor of her memory. (See attached photos.)

Hemingway at JFK

During the visit to the Kennedy Library, Pacita took us to where the Kennedys had made room for Ernest Hemingway's memorabilia.  The late President Kennedy was a Hemingway fan, and loved to quote the writer's definition of courage in his speeches: “Grace under pressure.”

Our whirlwind weekend was capped by a Sunday brunch at Boston Harbor for the mandatory clam chowder.  You have not tasted clam chowder until you have tasted the original in Boston.  

To make room for heaping servings of the chowder, we opted for a light salad and soft shell crab, which was in season.  Our Bostonian friends said there is only a 48-hour window when these crabs molt (shed their shell to grow bigger) and the new one hardens.  We were lucky to have a taste of this seasonal New England delicacy.

Recreating memories

As we are wont to do, we try to preserve these warm memories with friends by recreating the dishes back home in our kitchen.  Then we share the memories with friends who come over for intimate dinners.  

We call this Pacita's Bostonian Brunch:  Ivatan salad, Boston Clam Chowder, and Steamed Crabs a la Batanes.

When crabs are hard to find, prawns capture the flavors of the sea just as well.  As with fresh green salad, we make a dressing of corn oil and the juice from a whole lemon to perk up the palate.   

For side dishes, we sautee potato wedges that have been seasoned with salt, pepper and dried basil.  We fry till golden brown in corn oil, which gives the potatoes more flavor.  Sautéed carrots, whole corn kernels and beans add color, crunchiness and texture.

Whenever we have Boston clam chowder, our thoughts turn to Pacita.  We never forget that weekend in Boston, her immense talent, and her enduring friendship.  We will never forget Pacita's Boston and Batanes.   

(Editor's Note: The author is an itinerant gourmand and inveterate wine taster.)

Story location: Pacita Abad's Boston and Batanes

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

No homework for kids–it will happen sooner than you think

Philippine Daily Inquirer
June 27, 2012

By Winston A. Marbella

If ongoing pilot classes succeed, the Department of Education may soon be sending home kids with no homework and plenty of time for parental bonding.

I was raised by parents who were trained to be public school teachers by the American Thomasites, those pioneering educators who volunteered to toil in the Philippines to educate the Filipinos to fulfill Anerica's “Manifest Destiny,” a doctrine crafted by President William McKinley.

A favorite nursery rhyme I learned growing up with American-educated parents is this nifty little ditty:

Have a peach, have a plum, have a stick of bubble gum 
Teacher, teacher, don't be dumb, give me back my bubble gum 
If she takes it don't you cry, pack your books and say goodbye. 
No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers' dirty looks.

I was reminded of this rhyme as we transitioned last month to the DepEd's contoversial K to 12 program, designed to boldly thrust us into the modern world of educated nations who have adopted the 12-year basic curriculum in contrast to our 10-year cycle.

The nursery rhyme were ignited from recollections of early childhood by an innovation being tested by a husband-and-wife team of educators, which has already won for them the prestigious Magsaysay Award.

Bernido system

Proponents say the teaching innovation, called Dynamic Learning Program (DLP), is not only an answer to endemic problems like lack of public school teachers and textbooks.  It is a 21st-century teaching method that ironically does not rely on high technology.
Its surprising basic methodology: More seatwork, short lectures, and, best of all, no homework. The new teaching technique has actually produced savvy students.

At least 157 public high schools in the  provinces of Basilan, Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental have adopted DLP, an innovative teaching methodology developed by Christopher and Ma. Victoria Bernido, both physicist s who earned the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2010 for a dramatic career change.

Local government units and education officials joined hands with the Bernidos and Smart Communications to pilot-test DLP in Cagayan de Oro last year and earlier in the Bernidos’ Central Visayan Institute Foundation (CVIF) in Jagna, Bohol province.

Bohol success 
After a successful test run in Bohol,  Gov. Edgar Chatto has received DepEd’s permission toadopt the Bernido DLP in all public high schools in the province this year. 

This partnership between DepEd and a local government unit could serve as a template for similar ventures. The additional resource requirement is   shouldered by the province itself.  If the learning outcomes are achieved, a nationwide rollout may yet save the day for the resource-starved K to 12 program.  

“It’s not a curriculum, it’s a way of teaching,” says Stephanie Orlino, a community partnerships officer at Smart.  “The traditional way is that the teacher will lecture for most of the time and then students participate in recitation, quiz and homework.” 

“This time around, students learn on their own 80 percent of the time, (and) the teacher only needs to be in class 20 percent of the time,” Orlino says.

Using DLP, students spend much time answering questions on worksheets based on the lesson that their teachers discussed for only 15 to 20 minutes.

'Plain hard work'

No textbooks, notebooks or  computers are needed – just pen and paper.  Students may even write on the back of old notebooks. “It’s plain hard work,” says Smart public affairs chief Mon Isberto. 

“And these self-driven students are the kind of students we need in the 21st century, students who can acquire new skills on their own,” Isberto says.  DLP is “a no-tech but 21st-century method” that can work even “without textbooks or classrooms.”  It may be the cost-saving innovation that K to 12 needs.

Interactive learning

At the heart of DLP is a technique called parallel learning: teachers spend only a fifth   of class hours lecturing to students.  The rest of the time is for interactive learning, answering questions.  

By the end of a school year, DLP students would have answered up to 6,000 questions in science, math, economics, history and other subjects.

Because so much work is done in class, the  students have less assignments to do at home. The program also gives students a “strategic break” every Wednesday to focus on physical education, music and arts classes.

An additional DLP feature suited to the K to 12 progrm is that teachers can plan and prepare the activity sheets for the whole year before classes start in June, using DLP modules. Even those who teach multiple classes may find it easy to follow the program.

High performers

Smart community officer Orlino says the 9,000 Cagayan de Oro high school students who tried the DLP showed a “highly significant” improvement in their English, math and science tests in March 2012 compared to their test scores in June 2011.

These results replicated the CVIF experience in Bphol, where the Bernidos first introduced the method.  Since adopting the program in 2002, the school has consistently produced successful examinees in the University of the Philippines College Admission Test (Upcat), considered one of the toughest college entrance exams in the country.

“It’s very encouraging,” Orlino says.

Learning to fly

Smart is supporting the Bernidos by reproducing DLP materials and training more school heads and teachers via teleconferencing and other high-tech methods.

Isberto says spreading DLP is Smart’s first step in developing a generation of students best suited for e-learning. “Once you have these self-learning students gradually introduced to e-learning tools on top of the [DLP] system, these students will fly,” he said. That is why Smart is investing in their future.

 'Contact time'

Accompanied by other officials on opening of classes last month, Education Secretary Armin Luistro  observed in classrooms, checked the toilets,  and gave short lectures DLP-style as he made the rounds at Ilugin Elementary School, Pinagbuhatan High School and Rizal National High School in Pasig City.

Rizalino Rosales, DepEd officer in charge  in Metro Manila, gave the good news that the number of congested schools which were forced to go on triple shifts had declined from 20 to 9 this year.

“By the time the construction of classrooms in these schools is complete, they no longer need to resort to having triple shifts,” he said, resulting in teachers and students having more “contact time.”


A veteran preschool teacher, Baby Dimapawi, 62, expressed fears that the integrated curriculum and the additional hour of school may be too much for the students, 5 years old on the average,  to be able to grasp the concepts well.

In the past years, students in  her kindergarten class came at 7:30 a.m. and left two hours later. Classes now start at 6 a.m. and end three hours later.  

“When I learned that [authorities] were placing another hour into the kinder class, I asked myself ‘what am I going to do with another hour?’” she said, smiling.

“From my experience, a child usually is attentive in class for one-and-a-half hours,” she  said. “After recess, they usually ask if it’s time to go home.”  

Under the DLP system, that is exactly what it's all about: More time at home with no homework.

(The author is president of a management think tank that specializes in transforming socio-economic and technological  trends into public policy and business strategy; e-mail 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Very rich man, very poor man

By Winston A. Marbella

The announcement by Forbes Magazine of the richest of the rich Filipinos brings to mind this concersation between Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald of The Great Gatsby fame.

SCOTT: You know, Ernest, the rich are different from us.

ERNEST:  Yes, I know.  They have more money than we do.  

The Forbes story about the richest of our rich and the Hemingway/Fitzferald conversation ignites a memory of a document circulated at a recent “Summit on Poverty, Inequality and Social Reform” attended by some 200 farm workers, labor groups, fishermen, indigenous peoples, Church volunteer workers, urban dwellers and civil society groups. In other words, the poorest of our poor.
 Rich man, poor man.  Statistics circulated at the conference showed that the Filipino middle class had virtually vanished.  The top one percent of families (185,000) earn an income equal to that of the bottom 30 percent of poor families numbering 5.5 million.

Christian Monsod, legal-aid lawyer to farmers and peasants, member of the 1987 Constitutional Commission that wrote our basic law, and former chairman of the Comission on Elections, was keynote speaker.  He used the  forum to open our eyes to the shocking issues of poverty, economic inequality, and the immediate need for social reform in a speech he titled, “Poverrty Kills.”

“The inequality of income has not changed,” Monsod said.  “It is not only guns that kill.  Poverty kills.  It is slow death from hunger, from diseases that we thought no longer existed, from the loneliness of a life with an empty future.  It is also the dying of dignity.”

'Explosive.' A Catholic prelate, Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro, told the conference:  “Our nation is in an explosive situation. Poverty is mounting, streets all over the coumtry are teeming with beggars and dislocated indiginous peoples.”

“The children of the poor wake up to poverty, eat poverty for breakfast, lunch and dinner, without understanding why they are such,” the Roman Catholic prelate said.  

“There is a proliferation of household erected right on the (sidewalks), above (drainage canals), under bridges, in (pushcarts), on the hillsides, and even in the cemeteries.... Overcoming poverty requires the decisive reform leadership from the center.” 

Define poor. The conference used government statisrics to tell the  gripping story of poverty: By “poor” we mean a per capita income of less than P46 a day.  

And of these 23.9 million (people), 9.4 million were “food poor” who live on P32 a day, not even enough to meet the minimum 2,000 calories a day.

Real per capita income has increased 20 percent over the past 20 years.  In contrast, our neighbors' per capita incomes have grown 400 percent (Malaysia), 500 percent (Thailand), 1,100 percent (China), in the process eradicating absolute poverrty. 
Agenda for change. “Every development plan is an agenda for change – growth with equity, inclusive growth.  But, so far, none of the plans have produced the desired results,” Monsod said.

“The poor ask: If the programs are not reaching us, or improving our lives, are our leaders prepared to discard discredited paradigms?  Such as the notion that it is possible to address poverty without addressing inequality and that it is enough to provide 'equality of opportunity' or a 'fair process' without being too concerned about outcomes.'

“And they also ask: Are the rich and the powerful willing to accept the challenges of change?”

Business 'tokenism.'  The conference defined the challlenhes that lay ahead: 

– The challenge for the buisness community to give a big share of its resources because massive expenditures are needed for social programs: “The channeling by some 270 corporations of about P8 billion over 40 years in the Philippine Business for Social Proogress is tokenism when it takes P100 billion a year to put 5.5 million families over the poverty threshold.  With some exceptions, corporate social responsibility projects have achieved very little by way of real change.”

– The challenge to the government to disallow projects that, in the words of Paul Krugman, socialize costs and privatize benefits, such as mining, the biggest problem cited  – in Surigao, Albay, the Cordillera Administrative Region, Palawan, Samar, Caraga and Zamboanga provinces.

-The challenge to Church, business and political leaders to commit their social power and political capital to promote the agenda of the poor, even when it is against their own interests, or those of their benefactors and campaign contributors.

Voluntary reduction. “These are difficult demands they ask of those who have the wealth and the power – to reduce themselves for the comon good,” Monsod said.

In a groundbreaking book, “Imagined Communities,” the eminent historian Benedict Anderson defined a nation as “an imagined political community” that is different from an actual community because the members hold in their minds only an image of their community.

As he observed with a historian’s trained eye, a nation is “imagined because the members of even the smallest nations will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives an image of their communion.”

We still do not know if we are such a nation.
(Winston A. Marbella is president of  a management consulting firm that transforms social, political and economic trends into public policy and business strategy.)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Heroic teachers save K to 12

By Winston A. Marbella

Not everything was ready -- nothing ever really is ready, especially in our educational system.  If we waited for everything to be picture-perfect ready, we would never open classes on time.

We would still be preparing:  Not enough teachers, not enough books, not enough classrooms, too many students.

Teachers who have been around long enough know this at heart: They know education in this country is a game of Russian roulette played in a Las Vegas casino.

So what do they do?  They bite the bullet, place their bets, roll the dice – and pray.

For the launch this year of the K to 12 curriculum that would put us at par with the rest of the educated world, Northern Luzon  teachers were trained in “creative tutoring” to enable them to cope with the new curriculum.

Annie Walang, Mt. Province division supervisor, knew that teaching materials for the new grade level and teacher’s guides would not be available for the first two weeks, but this  did not bother her.  

“In case the materials get delayed, teachers can be very resourceful,” she said. “There will be alternatives which we can use. We can use the existing textbooks.” 


“Yes, it’s difficult. But it’s always our job to innovate and improve our way of teaching,” said Maria Luz Cruz, a Grade 7 teacher of Rizal National High School in Pasig City.

She said that despite the lack of teaching materials she had already written her own lesson plans for the new curriculum.

These teachers are among the 150,000 who will be working the year round on the new curriculum for Grade 1 and Grade 7 as part of the Department of Education’s  phased implementation of the K to 12 program, replacing the old 10-year system.

They are expected to teach the new curriculum to Grade 1 and 7 students this school year even if they were trained only for the lessons intended to be taught in the first and second quarters.

Plus two years

The K to 12 program adds two years to the elementary and high school curriculum to give students needed job skills, should they opt not go on to college.

The program is being implemented in the kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 7 levels this year. Grades 11 and 12, or senior high school, will be done in 2016.

The DepEd started institutionalizing kindergarten for 5-year-olds under K to 12 last schoolyear. This year, the DepEd is introducing new curricula for Grades 1 and 7 (the new first year high school).

Grade 7 students, estimated to reach 1.66 million, are in the first year of the four-year junior high and will be the first batch of students to enter the additional two-year senior high school by 2016.

New curricula for other grade levels will be introduced in the succeeding years so that by June 2016, the DepEd can start implementing senior high school.

Classrooms short 

Benjo Basas, chair of Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC), reported a classroom shortage in public schools offering kindergarten.

At Longos Elementary School, the surge in kindergarten enrollment amid a lack of classrooms forced the school to hold classes in five shifts.

Idled buildings and abandoned offices owned by the government may soon be used to address the classroom shortages, says DepEd Assistant Secretary Jesus Mateo.

He said the department was looking at daycare centers, village centers and barangay halls which were not being “maximized to [their] fullest.”  

With the K to 12 system the Philippines leaves behind its reputation as Asia’s only nation with a 10-year basic education cycle.
The DepEd estimated 21.49 million students in public schools this year, a figure much higher than last year’s 20.48 million.  Of these, 5.76 million are in the high school, 14 million in elementary, and 1.73 million in kindergarten, in over 45,000 public schools nationwide, it said.

Rosalinda Tavara, Cordillera supervisor for Filipino, said, “K to 12 is challenging, pero maganda siya (but it is good),” she said.

(The author is president of a management think tank that specializes in transforming social, economic and political trends into public policy and business strategy; e-mail

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Making a 'Breakout Nation' can be P-Noy's historic legacy

Philippine Daily Inquirer
June 24, 2012
(First of two parts)

By Winston A. Marbella

As President Aquino closes his first 700 days in office and begins his last 1,400 days, it has been the best of times and the worst of times.

Going by Ruchir Sharma's economic metrics, the Philippines is on the verge of joining the ranks of the elite group of “breakout nations,” newly emerging economies that might make it in a turbulent world.  This must have been topmost in the mind of President Aquino after a whirlwind week long trip to the United States and the United Kingdom that included 42 hours on the wing. 

President  Aquino brought home the bacon worth $2.5 billion, or P100 billion, in British and American investments in the country that would mean more jobs and more food on the table.

The President came home to a country upbeat over a resurgent 6.4% first quarter growth rate that outpaced our ASEAN neighbors and was second only to China's. The good news reinforces the country's  potential  membership in “breakout nations,” a select group of high potential countries touted to become the new economic miracles.

After slowing down to a 3.7% laggardly growth rate in 2011, the economy surged to a 6.4% GDP growth in Q1 that put us ahead of our ASEAN neighbors, which had consistently set the pace for us.

The normally conservative Wall Street Journal gushed that the Q1 surge “defied most forecasts as well as the mood in the global economy.”  Enthused the WSJ: “Filipinos have reasons to smile. Asia’s perennial underachiever is outperforming.”   

Postcards from the edge

Like most Filipinos, I have friends who toil in distant lands for various reasons. Some of them followed closely President Aquino's talks before Filipino communities in the United States and United Kingdom.  They sent me back “snapshots” of their impressions, not in pictures but in words.

In London, the President talked mostly about the government's moral crusade and the removal of Renato Corona as Chief Justice. The UK-based Filipinos watch the Filipino channels almost daily, and they know all about the impeachment.  What they expected to hear was how the government was addressing their specific concerns as OFWs, and, beyond that, the big picture of the Philippine situation.

In Los Angeles, his last stop before boarding the homeward-bound plane, Mr. Aquino was full of details: the first quarter economic surge, the massive infrastructure spending, housing, rice, all the sundry details, and, of course, Mr. Corona.  As with the London crowd, the LA audience a reference to  the specific problems of overseas Filipino Americans, and the big picture about their country's future.

In these are picture postcards from the edge,
the people expect the President to provide the big-picture context.  In short, the meaning of the details.  

Mr. Aquino has an excellent opportunity to do this in his forthcoming State of the Nation Address  (SONA).  But only if his speechwriters don't clutter him with the obvious details that can sufffocate his message.  And then there is the obvious temptation of gloating over the removal of Chief Justice Artiro Corona.

Historical marker

This SONA will be his third.  But it is historic in more ways than one – not only because the President will be summing up his first 700 days and crafting his next 1400 days.  It will be historic because never before in our recent history is the nation on the cusp of a political and – if we are lucky – an economic breakthrough.

At the time Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino III was growing in his mother's womb, the Philippine economy was second only to Japan in the whole of Asia.   Ruchir Sharma's notable book, Breakout Nations: In Pursuit of the New Economic Miracles by, marks this historical episode.

Sharma recalls the good old days “back in the 1960s when the Philippines had the second highest per capita income in Asia, behind only Japan...”  He  believes we have the sound economic fundamentals to get back on track    if our politicians get it right this time.

BRIC a brac

In a 2001 paper published in 2005, Jim O'Neill popularized the acronym BRIC (for Brazil, Russia, India, China) to represent the rising new economies at the time. Sharma, head of the emerging markets division at Morgan Stanley, names the Philippines as among the emerging economies he calls the Breakout Nations, the sequel to the BRIC.

With Turkey and Indonesia, we make up TIP,  poised to upstage BRIC.  BRICs are losing steam, and the breakout nations (including Nigeria and Thailand) will speed ahead.  

To Sharma, President Aquino is a good leader who is “delegating power to competent technocrats and seems to understand what needs to be done to get the lights back on.”

 But becoming a breakout nation does not come automatically. Breaking out into sustainable growth must be “inclusive,”   economic jargon for growth that reaches the poorest of the poor.  Sharma notes that the country’s stagnant  economy had  resulted from a few family-owned conglomerates dominating the markets.

Powered by revolution

“To understand which nations will thrive and which will falter in a world reshaped by slower growth,” Sharma stresses that we must abandon our current obsession with global macro trends and all-embracing theories. He offers instead a more discerning, nuanced view, identifying specific factors - economic, political, social - which will make for slow or fast growth.

Sharma believes the Philippines is ready to exceed expectations in a world where the leading emerging nations (the BRIC) are starting to flounder with Europe and the United States.

Sharma's thesis banks heavily on President  Aquino's success: “Filipinos saw him as an honest figure who could deliver on the Aquino mandate for change, and they were desperate after nine years of drift and decay.”  

Becoming a breakout nation “could be made to happen if the third Aquino can get the people power revolution right,” Sharma says.  

How nations succeed 

Another big-picture context book making the rounds is Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty.  It is an intriguing read -- for it seeks to answer a question that has fascinated scholars for centuries: Why are some nations rich and others poor?

Co-authors Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson (Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard) demonstrate by historical sweep and anecdotal evidence that man-made political and economic institutions  underlie economic success. 

The book is an ambitious attempt to explain why 1.29 billion people in the developing world subsist on less than $1.25 a day. That includes the Philippines.  How to explain such gaping disparities?

The bottom line, assert the authors, is: To get our economics right, we must get our politics right.  To illustrate this central point, the authors take us through the events that led to the “Arab Spring” of discontent that is sweeping the Middle East.

Those of us who lived through our People Power Revolution in 1986 will be overwhelmed by a great sense of pride and a poignant deja vu feeling.  But to reap the fruits of our own revolution we must contextualize what happened at Edsa and  apply it to breakout tasks that remain in Mr. Aquino's agenda in the remaining four years of his presidency.

(Next: Why Nations Fail: Arab Spring and People Power compared.)

Story location: Making a breakout nation can be Aquino's historic legacy

Saturday, June 23, 2012

City sleepless over proposed ban on large sugary drinks

Philipine Daily Inquirer
June 23, 2012

By Winston A. Marbella

Resident New Yorkers proudly attest that there is truly only one city that never sleeps – and that's the Big Apple.  Now they are sleepless over a proposal to ban the sale of large sodas which their mayor calls “sugary drinks.”

Meanwhile, the world's population is growing more obese, including Filipino kids, health studies show,

The proudly insomniac “City That Never Sleeps” already bans smoking in public parks in the interest of public health.   

More recently, it barred the use of artificial trans fats from food served in restaurants  .  Now Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to stop sales of large sodas and other sugary drinks     to fight America's battle of the bulge. 

But in a country that passionately values individual freedom, Bloomberg’s plan does not  taste sweet.  
The most infamous example was Prohibition, which barred the manufacture and sale of alcohol from 1919 to 1933.   
But Mayor Bloomberg's plan has some scientific backing.

Fat Pinoy kids

In Manila, the 7th National Nutrition Survey (NNS) by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (FNRI-DOST) showed that 4.3 percent (or about 4 in every 100) of children (newborns to five-year-old) are overweight for their age.

A child is overweight-for-height if the weight is much greater than that of normal children of the same height.

Although the prevalence of overweight children belonging to this age group is still low, it has been steadily increasing since 1989, the study found.

The regions with the highest prevalence of overweight children aged five years and below include Ilocos (or Region 1) with 6.3 percent, the National Capital Region (NCR) with 6.2 percent and Calabarzon (or Region IV-A) with 5.9 percent.

Lifestyle diseases

Unused calories from excessive eating and sedentary lifestyle result in being overweight. Overweight is one of the leading causes of lifestyle-related diseases such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus, strokes, muscle and bone disorders, and certain cancers.

A study published in the American Journal of Nutrition in 2010 showed that 43 million children, 35 million of whom are in developing countries, were estimated to be overweight and obese, while 92 million more were at risk of being overweight.

Worldwide prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity increased from 4.2 percent in 1990 to 6.7 percent in 2010.

The  Nutritional Guidelines for Filipinos (NGF) encourage adults and children to engage in physical activities like brisk walking, jogging and sports, and to turn away from unhealthy vices such as smoking and excessive alcoholic beverage consumption.

'Nanny nayor'

Understandably. the soft drink industry is fighting back.  It ran a full-page ad in the New York Times with an image of the mayor as a nanny.

The ad said, “Bye Bye Venti: Nanny Bloomberg has taken his strange obsession with what you eat one step further. He now wants to make it illegal to serve ‘sugary drinks’ bigger than 16 oz. What’s next? Limits on the width of a pizza slice, size of a hamburger or amount of cream cheese on your bagel?”

The Center for Consumer Freedom,which    ran the ad, calls Bloomberg as the “Great Dictator” on its website.

Bloomberg’s plan, part of an effort to fight obesity, would make it illegal for food service establishments such as restaurants, street vendors, sports venues and movie theaters to serve sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces.

The ban would apply to both bottled soda and fountain drinks containing more than 25 calories per eight ounces. It would not include alcohol, fruit juices, diet soda or any beverage that is at least half milk. Grocery stores and convenience stores would be exempt.

'Obesity kills'

Bloomberg argues that New York City spends $4 billion a year on health care for overweight residents, and sugary drinks are the most significant factor in the increasing number of overweight New Yorkers.

“In New York City, smoking deaths are down to 7,000 a year from something in the 20s. Obesity deaths are at 5,000 and skyrocketing,” Bloomberg said in an interview with ABC’s “World News” anchor Diane Sawyer. “Obesity will kill more people than smoking in the next couple of years.”

The New York City Beverage Association says banning soda will not change much the city’s obesity rate.

'Purely education'

Bloomberg argues that his proposal is not a government prohibition, but  a public awareness campaign.

“It’s purely education. It forces you to see the difference, in the case of the two different sized cups,” Bloomberg said. “The public does act when they get the information. And all we’re doing here is saying, ‘If you want to order 32 ounces of soda, in a restaurant that we supervise, this restaurant must give you two 16-ounce glasses.’”

Both Coca-Cola and McDonald’s came out against the proposal. Coke called the plan an “arbitrary mandate” and encouraged New Yorkers to “loudly voice their disapproval.” McDonald’s labeled it “misguided” and said that solving the obesity epidemic “requires a more collaborative and comprehensive approach.”

Bloomberg has a history of enacting legislation to try to make New Yorkers healthier. Since becoming mayor, he has banned smoking in many public places, outlawed trans-fats in the city’s restaurants and required chain restaurants to post calorie counts. 

The author is president of a management think tank that specializes in formulating public policy and business strategy from social and economic trends; e-mail 


Friday, June 22, 2012

CJ search a la American Idol

By Winston A. Marbella

Sen. Ralph Recto approves of opening to the public the selection process for the replacement of deposed Chief Justice Renato Corona, but worries that it might become a popularity contest like “American Idol” or, worse, a beauty contest.

“We’re not choosing another Jessica Sanchez but the best and the brightest to lead the judiciary,” the senator said.

“My only concern is that you don’t want it to be a Mutya ng Pilipinas or The Next CJ Idol.  That’s all I’m talking about. We don’t want lobbying that is too excessive.  But if (the JBC) decides to do it that way, then it’s fine with me. I am in favor of transparency.”

The eight-man Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) screens nominees for the judiciary from which the President selects.  For the first time since its inception 25 years ago, it has allowed full media coverage of the screening process previously open to reporters armed only with pen and paper, not tape recorders or cameras.

Recto worries that sectors would aggressively lobby for certain candidates and undermine the critical process of selection.  He
Recto it is possible that with live coverage JBC members w ill be “guarded” and “not speak their mind under the glare of the cameras.”  

                                            Wisdom of Solomon    

The Constitution requires that judicial appointees have “independence, probity and competence.”  But Sen. Francis Escudero, a JBC member, says the appointee should also  have the wisdom of Solomon, the Jewish ruler in the Old Testament noted for his wise judgment.

“The closest definition of wisdom that I can look or find would be Solomon. But how do you put these applicants to the test?  Buti kung may mga anak yan. Hindi naman lahat mga nanay yan. Hahatiin mo yung bata para patunayan kung sino talaga nagmamahal sa bata,” he said at an ANC TV interview.

“(Wisdom) is  difficult to gauge,” he said. 

“It’s something that will manifest itself once a situation is presented. How exactly do you gauge? How do you look for, how do you identify whether a person has wisdom?”    

He said the next Chief Justice should also be a good administrator since he is the head of an entire branch of government. “Ang pinagkaiba ng Chief Justice sa Supreme Court justices is - he is the administrative head of the SC. Maybe we should ask them about their administrative experience, if they have ever run an office or if they know how,”  

Lower court 

Escudero said the President may appoint a Chief Justice from the lower courts, but udges from lower courts usually apply for the position of Supreme Court justice but never for Chief Justice. 

Lower court judges do not want to be seen as getting ahead of their superiors., he said.  “Ang nag-apply lang for Chief Justice within the organization puro incumbent magistrates lang kasi tatalunan nga naman nila yung mga bossing nila sa Supreme Court. But to me, that is not sacred,” he said. 

“Why inhibit himself? Why think he is being arrogant or stepping on the shoes of his bosses in the SC? It should not be a disqualification whether he is a Sandiganbayan, Court of Tax Appeals or Court of Appeals justice? If the material is there, there is no distortion. No wage distortion or organizational distortion.” 

Escudero said he has proposed a law that will ensure a “ladderized judiciary” where  judges for higher courts should come from the lower courts. This means that regional trial court (RTC) judges should come from the metropolitan trial courts, while the Sandiganbayan, Court of Tax Appeals and Court of Appeals justices will come from RTC.

He said a ladderized justice system would inspire lower court justices that they could be appointed to a higher position. “We have to inspire these judges. We have to bet on them. If they can’t see the possibility of moving up the ranks, then they will do whatever they want,” he said. 

The measure has met opposition from those who say appointments in the judiciary would be straitjacketed or restricted.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Suu Kyi's unfinished people's revolution

By Winston A. Marbella

The frail figure with flowers in her hair addressing the world stage about her people's continuing struggle for freedom easily evoked memories of our own unfinished revolution.

Like ours, Aung San Suu Kyi's struggle for freedom is still in progress. Like ours, Suu Kyi's work, recognized with a Nobel Peace Prize 21 years ago, has miles to go before her people can sleep in peace and economic prosperity.

In finally accepting the Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway last weekend because she was under arrest 21 years ago in Myanmar, Suu Kyi said    she realized that the Burmese people “were not going to be forgotten.”

She said in her traditional Nobel lecture the Prize was recognition that “the oppressed and the isolated in Burma were also a part of the world,” and that the Nobel Committee was    “recognizing the oneness of humanity.” But “it did not seem quite real, because in a sense I did not feel myself to be quite real at that time,” she said.

“The Nobel Peace Prize opened up a door in my heart,” she said.  It “had made me real once again; it had drawn me back into the wider human community.”   

“To be forgotten is to die a little.”  She asked the world not to forget other political prisoners and refugees around the world who may be suffering from oppression and   “compassion fatigue.”

Suu Kyi, who turns 67 next week, is now a member of Parliament and the leader of the  opposition. She adorned her hair with flowers,  a gesture she makes in honor of her father, Gen. Aung San, an independence hero who was assassinated in 1947 when she was 2. He liked   to put flowers in her hair.

The audience in Oslo’s City Hall, traditional venue of the Prize, included the Norwegian royal family. They listened to her appeal  for practical ways to reduce the suffering of the world: “Suffering degrades, embitters and enrages.”  

“War is not the only arena where peace is done to death,”she said. “But...we must continue to journey (toward peace), our eyes fixed on it as a traveler in a desert fixes his eyes on the one guiding star that will lead him to salvation.”

In her long years of  detention and arrest, Suu Kyi said she had time to contemplate on the Buddhist idea of “dukkha,” or suffering, “If suffering were an unavoidable part of our existence, we should try to alleviate it as far as possible in practical, earthly ways.”

One way is through kindness. “Of the sweets of adversity, and let me say that those are not numerous, I have found the sweetest, the most precious of all, is the lesson I learned on the value of kindness,” she said. “Every kindness I received, small or big, convinced me that there could never be enough of it in the world.”  It “can change the lives of people.”

Suu Kyi was married to Michael Aris, a professor of Tibetan and Himalayan Studies at Oxford, England, and they had two children, Alexander and Kim, who grew up largely without her. Myanmar’s former military government  refused to grant them visas to visit her – even when Aris grew deathly sick with prostate cancer –  in the hope that she would voluntarily leave Myanmar to visit them.

She refused,  believing that the government would not allow her back into the country. After Suu Kyi’s initial house arrest in 1989, Aris was allowed to visit only five times, the last time during Christmas in 1995. He died in March 1999, on his 53rd birthday.  

She had returned to Myanmar from  the United Kingdom in March 1988 to nurse her  sick mother, Khin Kyi, and got caught up in the  protests against years of military rule.  

Suu Kyi's  continuing struggle reminds us all that our own work for  political   emancipation must go on because we have not yet reaped the economic and social fruits of the harvest.  That is the relevance of Suu Kyi's story to us.

(Winston A. Marbella is president of a management think tank that analyzes social, political and economic trends for formulating public policy and business strategy; e-mail  

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

3 cheers and a tea for Senator Miriam

By Winston A. Marbella

The fiery and controversial Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago evokes passion: You either love her or hate her.

She has been roundly criticized for taking a minority position (3-20) to acquit Chief Justice Renato Corona in his impeachment trial in the Senate.   Last week, in the unlikeliest of places, she got a standing ovation from an audience of  some 1,300 who watched the “World Stars of Ballet” at the Aliw Theater in Pasay City.
The feisty senator is an avid fan of Liza Macuja-Elizalde, the prima ballerina.  When she walked into the fully packed theater a few minutes late, the audience stood and mobbed her for cell phone photos until the security personnel intervened and asked everyone to return to their seats.


Santiago was overwhelmed, thinking her popularity as a public official had gone down  after she did not find Corona guilty of betrayal of public trust and culpable violations of the Constitution.

She, along with Senators Joker Arroyo and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos,  had found Mr. Corona innocent of the charges. Twenty senators voted for Corona’s conviction and removal from office.

“I am usually applauded when I am guest speaker or when I am featured in a campaign rally. But this is the first time that I have been given an ovation when I was simply a member of the audience. It was a thrill,” Santiago said.

A day before the ballet, the senator was mobbed by hundreds of people at a bazaar in Greenhills, San Juan.  When she moved across from the fresh food section, the adoring crowd followed her.  

Santiago admitted that  although she was used to public applause and photo sessions, she did not expect her popularity to remain this high after the Corona trial.

Her continued high public acceptance, she said, is one of the best gifts ever.  She celebrated  her 67th birthday last week. 

Tea for her    

Being hypertensive myself, I am happy to share this bit of news with the good senator: Drinking up to eight cups of tea a day lowers blood pressure and could prevent heart disease, Australian scientists have found. 

Researchers at the University of Western Australia gave black leaf tea, such as Earl Grey or English breakfast to volunteers with normal to high blood pressure, the Times of India reported.

They were given drinks containing 429 milligrams of the plant chemical polyphenols -- or the equivalent of eight and a half cups of tea a day. A second group was given a tea-flavoured placebo without the chemical. 


After six months, the blood pressure of the tea-drinking group had fallen by between two and three mmHg, the measurement of pressure used in medicine. 

A blood pressure fluctuating with the heartbeat between 112 and 63 mmHg is considered healthy, while a reading fluctuating between 140 and 90 is deemed high. 

If the experiment was followed by the general population, the number of people with high blood pressure would be cut by 10 percent and the risk of heart disease would fall by between seven and 10 percent, the researchers said.

"Our study has demonstrated for the first time to our knowledge that long-term regular consumption of black tea can result in significantly lower blood pressures in individuals with normal to high-normal range blood pressures," the team, led by Jonathan Hodgson, wrote in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine. 

Add milk, too

Adding milk to tea also does not affect the body's ability to absorb polyphenols, earlier studies have suggested. 

Green tea is believed to have many health benefits as it is high in antioxidants. It is said to help in weight loss, prevent glaucoma and reduce risk of cancer. 

During the Corona trial, Senator Santiago's blood pressure rose to a dangerous 180 while she was castigating prosecutors for their sloppy work.    Her doctors sent her home.

Soon, she will assume a well-deserved post as a judge at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, Netherlands.  After receiving the standing ovation at the ballet last week, Santiago said she was “shocked right out of my skin” by the warm reception.

Not to worry, Senator Santiago.  We've got you right under our skin.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Rich nation, poor nation: Where are we?

By Winston A. Marbella

President Aquino returned from state and working visits to the United Kingdom and the United States with P100-billion worth of “done deals.”  

For President Aquino, it has been the worst of times, the best of times.

After slowing down to a 3.7% laggardly growth rate in 2011, the economy surged to a 6.4% GDP growth in the first quarter of this year.  That put us second only to China and ahead of our ASEAN neighbors, which had consistently set the pace for us.

The normally conservative Wall Street Journal effused that the Q1 surge “defied most forecasts as well as the mood in the global economy.” 

Bloomberg Businessweek observed: “President Benigno Aquino’s government has made progress getting the Philippines’ fiscal problems under control....”   

Enthused the Wall Street Journal: “Filipinos have reasons to smile. Asia’s perennial underachiever is outperforming.”   

Breakout nations 

All told, the country's economic managers finally seem to have their jobs cut out for them.  

Beyond that, it will take deft moves to get the right blend of political and economic reforms -- powered by the right amount of political will -- to get a largely feudal economy controlled by a few family conglomerates to join the ranks of the newly emerging economies.  These are popularly called “breakout nations” – and we are potentially one of them, if we get our politics and economics right.

But getting the people-powered revolution behind the breakout effort will still take some doing. It will take the entire government machinery's coordinated efforts for the rest of  Mr. Aquino's term.  And even then, a healthy  dose of elbow grease will still need a lot of help – and a lot of luck -- from the recovery efforts of the world's leading economies.

Why we're poor  

Serious students of governance and developmental economics will find the book Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty, an intriguing read -- for it seeks to answer a question that has fascinated scholars for centuries: Why are some nations rich and others poor?

Co-authors Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson demonstrate by historical sweep and anecdotal evidence that man-made political and economic institutions underlie economic success. 

Intended for a general audience, Why Nations Fail starts matter-of-factly: “This book is about the huge differences in incomes and standards of living that separate the rich countries of the world, such as the United States, Great Britain, and Germany, from the poor, such as those in sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, and South Asia.”

The book is an ambitious attempt to explain why 1.29 billion people in the developing world subsist on less than $1.25 a day. That includes the Philippines. 

The average American, on the other hand, is 7 times more prosperous than the average Mexican, 10 times more than the average Peruvian, about 20 times more than the average inhabitant of sub-Saharan Africa, and about 40 times more than the average citizen of impoverished Africa.  How to explain such gaping disparities?


The story of the two Koreas is particularly inspiring because it offers precious insights to our own experience.  

Korea is a remarkably homogeneous nation, yet the people of North Korea are among the poorest on earth while their countrymen in South Korea are among the richest.

According to the authors, the south created a society that offered incentives, rewarded innovation, and allowed everyone to participate in economic opportunities. The economic success that this spurred was sustained because the government became accountable and responsive to citizens and the great mass of people. 

In contrast, the people of the north have suffered decades of famine, political persecution, and vastly different economic institutions. The differences between the Korea's stemmed from politics that created these completely divergent institutional trajectories, say the authors.

The bottom line is: To get our economy on the right path, we must first get our politics right. But the right political institutions do not guarantee good economics. We still have to think and  work our way through.  Tough.

(Winston A. Marbella is president of a management think tank that transforms social, political and economic trends into public policy and business strategy.)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Why we are on the verge of takeoff

By Winston A. Marbella

Two books recently published deserve more than a cursory browse from students of governance and developmental economics.  The first, Why Nations Fail, answers a question that has fascinated experts for centuries: Why are some nations rich and others poor?

Is it culture, the weather, geography? Perhaps corrupt governments or ignorance of the right economic policies, or both?

The simple answer is, no.  None of these factors is either defining or destiny, according to co-authors Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson.  Otherwise, how to explain why Botswana has become one of the fastest-growing countries in the world, while other African nations, such as Zimbabwe, the Congo, and Sierra Leone, are mired in grinding poverty and endemic political violence?

Academicians Acemoglu and Robinson  (Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard)  demonstrate by historical sweep and anecdotal evidence that man-made political and economic institutions determine  economic success. 

Two Koreas

The story of the two Koreas is fascinating because it offers precious insights to our own experience.
Korea is a remarkably homogeneous nation, yet the people of North Korea are among the poorest on earth while their brothers and sisters in South Korea are among the richest.

According to the authors, the south created a society that offered incentives, rewarded innovation, and allowed everyone to participate in economic opportunities. The economic success that this spurred was sustained because the government became accountable and responsive to citizens and the great mass of people. 

In contrast, the people of the north have suffered decades of famine, political persecution, and vastly different economic institutions. The differences between the Koreas stemmed from politics that created these completely different institutional trajectories, say the authors.

15 years' research

They claim 15 years of original research,  analyzing extraordinary historical evidence from the Roman Empire, the Mayan city-states, medieval Venice, the Soviet Union, Latin America, England, Europe, the United States, and Africa,  to build a new theory of political economy.  

The ponderous questions the authors explore include the following: 

 China has built an authoritarian growth machine. Will it continue to grow at such high speed and overwhelm the West? 

 Are America’s best days behind it? Are we moving from a virtuous circle in which efforts by elites to aggrandize power are resisted to a vicious one that enriches and empowers a small minority?

 What is the most effective way to help move billions of poor people from wretched poverty to prosperity? More philanthropy from the wealthy nations of the West? Or learning the hard lessons on the interplay between political and economic institutions? 

Breakout nations

To better appreciate Why Nations Fail, it is best to read it in tandem with Ruchir Sharma's Breakout Nations.  Sharma shows why it is wrong to stick to the economic “mania” of the 21st century, with its unshakable faith in the power of emerging markets - especially China - to continue growing at the astoundingly rapid and uniform pace of the last decade.  

He surprises us by saying that the next economic success stories will come not from where we think they will. 

Sharma examines why the basic laws of economic gravity (such as the law of large numbers, which says that the richer you are the harder it is to grow your wealth at a rapid pace) are already pulling China, Russia, Brazil and other vast emerging markets back to earth. To understand which nations will thrive and which will falter in a world reshaped by slower growth, it is time to start looking at the emerging markets as individual cases, he says.

Sharma argues that we must abandon our current obsession with global macro trends and all-embracing theories. He offers instead a more discerning view, identifying specific factors - economic, political, social - which will determine slow or fast growth.

PH one of them

Sharma spent much of his professional life travelling in these countries as Head of Emerging Markets at Morgan Stanley.  He  presents a first-hand insider's view of these new markets and the changes they are undergoing. 

As the years of unbelievably swift growth draw to their close, Sharma suggests why it is time for both investors and economists to halt their blind thrust towards an impossible future.

He includes the Philippines as part of these emerging economies with a bright future.  It is worth reading why.