Friday, January 31, 2014

Chinese New Year events kaleidoscope

It’s the first day of the Chinese New Year of the Horse and the newspapers greet us with contrasts, comparisons and contradictions.

For appetizer, Columnist Dick Pascual of the Philippine Star wrote:

Customs Deputy Commissioner Agaton Teodoro Uvero told a Senate hearing in reply to a question of Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile that at the height of rice smuggling, as much as 50,000 tons is illegally brought in every week at 25 tons per 20-foot container.

And that is only rice. Overall data from the International Monetary Fund’s Direction of Trade Statistics indicate that smuggling under the Aquino administration has averaged $19.6 billion annually.

Compare that to the $3.1 billion and the $3.8 billion yearly during the Estrada and the Arroyo administrations, respectively. In the first two years of the Aquino administration, the value of smuggling totaled $39.2 billion, more than the $35.6 billion during the entire nine years of the previous Arroyo administration!

The Philippines’ most useless law

Tony Lopez of BizNewsAsia writes:

One of the most useless measures ever passed by our Congress and signed into law by the President is the “Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001” or Republic Act No. 9136.    

Epira is an utter failure. It was designed by an elitist Congress for the benefit of the business elite, namely, our eight largest conglomerates in the Philippines, most of them major power providers.   The Filipino consumer was never in the contemplation of the law. I will explain why.

Epira was supposed to:

1. Ensure and accelerate the total electrification of the country;

2. Ensure the quality, reliability, security and affordability of the supply of electric power;

Reasonable price’

3. Ensure transparent and reasonable prices of electricity in a regime of free and fair competition and full public accountability to achieve greater operational and economic efficiency and enhance the competitiveness of Philippine products in the global market;

4. Enhance the inflow of private capital and broaden the ownership base of the power generation, transmission and distribution sectors;

5. Ensure fair and non-discriminatory treatment of public and private sector entities in the process of restructuring the electric power industry;
‘Protect the public interest’

6. Protect the public interest as it is affected by the rates and services of electric utilities and other providers of electric power;

Green energy sources

7. Assure socially and environmentally compatible energy sources and infrastructure;

8. Promote the utilization of indigenous and new and renewable energy resources in power generation in order to reduce dependence on imported energy;

9. Provide for an orderly and transparent privatization of the assets and liabilities of the National Power Corporation (NPC);

‘Independent regulatory body’

10. Establish a strong and purely independent regulatory body and system to ensure consumer protection and enhance the competitive operation of the electricity market; and
11. Encourage the efficient use of energy and other modalities of demand side management.

Out of eleven objectives, Epira succeeded in meeting only one—No. 9, which is to provide for privatization of assets and liabilities of the state-owned National Power Corp.

Even then, the cost of the power industry’s privatization to the electricity consuming public was horrendous—in terms of hundreds of billions of pesos of so-called stranded costs which Meralco users have to amortize monthly in their electric bills. About P3 of every P100 of your electricity bill is what is called universal charges—the stranded costs.

Utter failure

In its ten other objectives, Epira was an absolute failure. More than ten percent of households in the Philippines, or two million out of 22 million, do not have access to electricity. The earliest the government can achieve 90 percent electrification is 2017, after the Aquino presidency. More than 12 years after Epira, there is no total electrification in the Philippines.

Neither is there quality, reliable, secure and affordable supply of electric power.     Philippine electricity is one of the highest-priced in the world. Over the next ten years, supply of electricity will remain short.   The shortage is equivalent to one to two hours a day of blackouts in many places in the Philippines.

Electricity now accounts for up to 30 percent of an average household’s income. Millions of families earn a living just to be able to pay their Meralco bill, denying themselves adequate food, adequate education, and the barest minimum level of decent lifestyle. An employee of a friend of mine has had no electricity in his house in the past ten years because he cannot afford it. This is an employee who makes P12,500 a month—your average wage earner.

‘Pipe dream’

As for transparent and reasonable prices of electricity in a regime of free and fair competition and full accountability, that remains a pipe dream. There is no way to know the real cost of electricity.

The Supreme Court itself, which is hearing cases against Meralco and the government for the 110-percent increase in electricity generation charges to P9.11 per kilowatt hour (the highest in history), has to employ experts to sort out the mess in electricity pricing and supply.   

The Epira is full of jargon and technospeak that it puts to shame the Rosetta stone which was written with four languages, ancient and modern.

The biggest failure of the Epira is Objective No. 6—protect the public interest as it is affected by the rates and services of electric utilities and other providers of electric power.

‘Fair and fanciful’

Meralco is a captive of the major power producers which command prices as much as the market can no longer bear. In turn, electric consumers are a captive of Meralco, which loads its monthly billings with all kinds of charges—both fair and fanciful.  
Did you know what   “system loss” is in your bill?   It is nothing more than guaranteed profit for Meralco, at the rate of five percent of gross revenue.This is on top of Meralco’s guaranteed distribution charge of 29 percent. In effect, Meralco makes P34 of profit for every P100 of gross revenue.   Only banks and bank robbers make more than that. 

In the 2012 BizNewsAsia Top 1000, Meralco is third largest in revenues, P286.8 billion, up 11 percent from 2011. Profits rose much faster in 2011, by 25 percent to P17.15 billion from 2011’s P13.72 billion which itself was an increase of 36 percent over 2010’s P10.11 billion. From 2010 to 2012, or in two years, Meralco profits climbed 70 percent. Average inflation during the period—3.93 percent.

Officially, Meralco claims an operating margin of seven percent.

‘Pure mockery’

At the same time, considering Epira’s Objective No. 10, which is “establish a strong and purely independent regulatory body and system to ensure consumer protection and enhance the competitive operation of the electricity market”, the present setup is pure mockery.

The Department of Energy is headed by a politician, Jericho Petilla, a former governor of Leyte.   The Energy Regulatory Commission is headed by a politician, Zenaida Ducut, a former congressman of Pampanga.   Both are neither strong nor independent. In fact, I doubt that they do any kind of regulation. [End of Lopez comments]

I wanted to cite more stories that greeted us on the first day of the Chinese New Year, but I will spare you more headaches. Already I feel like I’ve been kicked by a horse.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Mindanao conflict: Wage war to enforce peace?!

By Winston A. Marbella

The mind boggles at the turn of events:

Almost immediately after the government signed the final phases of a peace agreement in Mindanao, the military mounted an offensive against armed elements opposing it.

The French news agency, Agence France-Presse, filed this report:

MANILA, Philippines — President Benigno Aquino vowed Wednesday (Jan. 29) to crush militants opposed to an imminent deal aimed at ending a decades-long Muslim separatist insurgency, as the death toll from a military assault on them rose to 38.

The government wrapped up peace talks with the nation’s biggest Muslim rebel group on Saturday, then quickly deployed the military against a hardline splinter faction called the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

“The armed forces… (are) going on these operations to prevent lawless activities from inflicting harm on our population, and to seriously degrade their abilities to again act as (peace) spoilers,” Aquino told reporters in Manila.

150,000 killed

The main rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, has since the 1970s been fighting for independence or autonomy in the Muslim-populated south of the mainly Catholic Philippines.

About 150,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Under the planned peace accord, the MILF will have control over an autonomous Muslim region in the southern Philippines. Aquino is aiming for the peace plan to be finalized before he steps down in mid-2016.

The BIFF is a breakaway group of a few hundred militants which believes the 12,000-strong MILF has compromised too much in the peace process. It has carried out many deadly attacks in recent years to try to derail peace efforts.

Local military spokesman Colonel Dickson Hermoso said soldiers had recovered the bodies of 37 BIFF members who had been killed in three days of fighting in and around remote southern farming villages.

Fading resistance

One soldier was also killed and seven others wounded, Hermoso told reporters, as he described strong but fading resistance from the small number of BIFF fighters against about 1,500 soldiers.

“They (rebels) set off improvised explosive devices and directed mortar fire on our troops. But they have splintered into smaller groups and our troops are now clearing these areas,” Hermoso said.

Three civilians were also hurt in the violence, including two from a Tuesday bomb blast near a marketplace that the military blamed on the BIFF, according to Hermoso.

Hermoso said he expected the fighting to be over in about three days, although he made no mention of the military’s initially stated goals of capturing the BIFF’s top leaders.
[End of AFP story.]

Oxymoron: War to enforce peace

The mind boggles because one would have thought that the MILF should be able to convince its own people about the prospects for peace.  Failing that, the government could have let a decent amount of time to pass before mounting a military offensive.

But that’s just me: Waging war to enforce peace boggles my mind.

My search for rationality found some answers –- but not completely -- in the following story filed by Michael Lim Unac and Nikko Dizon of the Inquirer:

‘Failure not an option’

MANILA, Philippines—Failure is not an option for the government in implementing the peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), according to President Aquino’s peace adviser.

“There’s no Plan B. We can do it,” Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles told reporters on Tuesday night (Jan. 28).

Deles stressed that it was President Aquino himself who “shaped” the peace initiative with the MILF when he assumed office in 2010.

In his instructions to the government peace panel, Deles said, Aquino outlined the kind of peace agreement with the MILF that he wanted: It should be constitutional; it should have learned lessons from the past; everything should be deliverable; and it should be inclusive and transparent.

All that because if a peace deal is clinched, it will happen during Aquino’s presidency, Deles said.


“He wanted something he could deliver,” she added.

Deles was also confident that Congress would pass the Bangsamoro basic law that would be written by the Transition Commission and would be certified urgent by the President. […]

“We didn’t go through all of this if the President did not, was not that committed [to this agreement’s] implementation,” Deles said.

The proposed Bangsamoro basic law would establish a more powerful, better-funded and potentially bigger Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao.

To be called Bangsamoro, it would replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Although congressional leaders have pledged support for the administration’s peace efforts, President Aquino expects dissenters when he hands the Bangsamoro bill to Congress.

No surprises

Speaking to reporters in Alabang, Muntinlupa City, on Wednesday, Aquino denied that the Bangsamoro bill was a pretext for amending the Constitution. […]

He said he instructed the government negotiators to make the talks transparent, including concessions discussed in closed-door sessions, “so that there won’t be surprises.”

Government and MILF negotiators agreed on the fourth and last deal for a final peace agreement in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Jan. 25, with the MILF signing on to the deactivation of its 11,000-strong fighting force in exchange for an autonomous Bangsamoro region in Mindanao.

Last year, both sides signed agreements on power-sharing, wealth-sharing and transitional arrangements.

The four annexes to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro will be the basis for a final peace accord between the government and the MILF that they hope to sign in a few weeks.


The President appealed to critics to wait for the draft of the Bangsamoro basic law that would be written by the 15-member Transition Commission before making conclusions.

Aquino did not answer directly when asked if he expected the Bangsamoro basic law to be approved in a plebiscite in Mindanao, saying instead that he expected many to oppose the proposal “because of the many benefits that will be given to Bangsamoro.”

He was referring to the wealth-sharing agreement, which would give to the Bangsamoro government the larger share of revenues from taxes and natural resources, except for income from fossil fuels, which the government and Bangsamoro would split equally between themselves.


Explaining those concessions, Mr. Aquino said the ARMM had been neglected for so long.

“Now we want to be fair … to every Filipino. Those who have been left behind [in development] should perhaps be given [more] so that they could catch up with the other [regions],” Mr. Aquino said.

Ending the war

Government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said the MILF was also “serious about ending the war honorably and with their principles intact.”

“They have already done that shift from advocating armed struggle to really pushing for what can be achieved through peaceful means [and] that was already a big step that facilitated the success of the negotiations,” Ferrer said. [End of Inquirer story]

The mind boggles again: How can a military offensive so early in the process pave the way to peace?

Photo credit:

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Exhaust fumes can cause premature babies, asthma, angina, cancer, diabetes, dementia ...

Ed Modesto sent this eye-opener but heart-pounding breath-stopper: 


As soon as he stands at the bus stop, Eddie Connor can feel his chest start to tighten - the tell-tale signs of an asthma attack.

'The traffic is usually gridlocked at rush hour and the air is choked with diesel fumes,' says Eddie, 40, an actor who is single and lives in Hackney, East London.

'There are so many diesel-fuelled buses, lorries and cars on the roads these days. The pollution seems much worse. In the summer, you can almost taste the diesel fumes.'

Severe asthma

Asthma affects 5.4 million people in the UK - 5 per cent have symptoms so severe they can't be controlled by medication. Eddie suffers from severe 'brittle' asthma, which means he has recurrent severe attacks. 

Asthma most commonly starts in childhood, but Eddie was 22 when he had his first attack after moving from his parents' house - which had a garden and green space around it - to his flat on a busy road. He is convinced the polluted atmosphere triggered it. 

'The traffic roars outside my flat morning, noon and night. I once woke at 3amcoughing and wheezing and none of my medication worked - I thought I was going to die. I called 999 and luckily unbolted my front door before I passed out, as the ambulance crew said I was minutes from death when they arrived. I fear it will happen again.'

‘Feel old’

Eddie used to run three times a week but gave up because his breathing became tight and wheezy, particularly along roads. 'I feel old before my time. Sometimes, I just stay inside - I'm becoming a prisoner of my own illness,' he says.

Whenever he travels outside London, away from busy roads, his symptoms ease and he doesn't need his inhaler.

'I'd love to live somewhere with cleaner air,' says Eddie. 'But my work is in London and I don't drive.'
Respiratory illnesses including asthma are just some of the health problems increasingly associated with air pollution. With some, poor air quality is a known cause. In others, it triggers new symptoms or exacerbates existing ones.

Heart attack risk

Last week, a new study revealed that long-term exposure to traffic pollution is associated with a 13 per cent increase in the risk of heart attacks and angina - even when air pollution levels are way below the upper limit set by the European Union.

Air pollution is estimated to be responsible for a shocking 29,000 premature deaths a year in the UK - ten times the number of people killed in road accidents, according to the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution, an advisory committee to the Government.

Frank Kelly, professor of environmental health at King's College, London, says air pollution is now a major public health hazard in the UK. 

'In my view, because we all need to breathe, air pollution is second only to smoking in terms of hazards to public health,' he says.

Although there are many types of air pollution - including gases such as sulphur and nitrogen dioxide - it's the invisible particulates causing the most concern, particularly those with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres, which in urban areas come primarily from traffic sources.

Microscopic peril

Particulates are microscopic particles made of carbon and other materials. Some are emitted by vehicles and industrial sources, or formed by chemical reactions. 
They are tiny - a particle with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres is around 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

Any particle smaller than 10 micrometres - invisible to the naked eye - can enter the lungs. Worryingly, the very small ones may even pass into the bloodstream, which is what makes them so dangerous.

The World Health Organisation has recommended the upper limit for particulate matter with a 2.5 micrometre diameter should be 10 micrograms per cubic metre of air, but the EU upper limit is 25.


'Gases are invisible at low levels but become visible at high concentrations, as in Beijing. The issue is that even on days when you cannot see any pollution, it's still present and doing you harm,' explains Professor Kelly.

'There's also increasing evidence from animal studies that particulate matter from diesel fumes, for example, may pass into the bloodstream and damage blood vessels, contributing to cardiovascular disease,' says Professor Kelly. 
'These particles are very small and produced in higher concentrations compared to petrol.' 

He adds: 'Diesel-powered vehicles are often wrongly perceived as more environment-friendly because they have lower carbon dioxide emissions. But many petrol engines now have low CO2 emissions - and diesel has higher levels of particulate matter pollution.'

Sales of diesel cars have rocketed in the UK, from one in ten new car sales in 2000 to one in six in 2012.

‘No more smog’

'A major challenge of raising public awareness is that this type of pollution is not visible - most people are under the impression we have sorted out pollution in cities as we don't have the smog of the Fifties,' says Professor Kelly.

'That problem was solved by moving power stations to the countryside, and regulating coal burning in domestic homes - but there's still a big problem with pollution, particularly in cities - we just can't see it.'

Professor Kelly stresses that although people who live in cities or beside main roads are most at risk, pollutants can travel many miles via winds. 

And he says that wearing a mask - as some cyclists do - doesn't offer enough protection, as the most damaging particles are too small to be filtered out.
Here, we identify the potential risks of pollution - and how you can minimise your exposure. 

Angina and heart attacks

A major study has linked even 'safe' levels of particulate pollution to a raised risk of angina and heart attacks - where blood supply to heart muscles is restricted. 

The seven-year study, published last week in the BMJ, followed the health of 100,000 people with no history of heart disease for an average of 11 and a half years living in Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Italy. 

The researchers found a greater risk of heart disease and angina even when levels of particulate pollution were lower than the supposedly safe limit set by the EU.

Particulate matter readings can vary widely, but are generally highest by busy main roads - for example, a typical London street may have 16 mcg of particulates; while in the countryside, away from a main road, it could be around 10 mcg. 

‘Pervasive health issue’

The British Heart Foundation funded a study last year that showed air pollution not only leads to a higher incidence of heart attacks, but also to worsening of heart failure. Professor David Newby, at Edinburgh University, who conducted the study, concluded that air pollution was a 'pervasive public health issue with major cardiovascular consequences'.

Cardiologists are seeing this in their clinics. Dr Carl Shakespeare, consultant cardiologist at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich, says he practises in some of the worst places for pollution  in London. 

'At certain times of the year, when there is a combination of heat, pollution and pollen trapped in the air, we see an increase in  heart attack admissions,' he says.

‘Toxic to heart’

It's thought that pollutants may trigger inflammation in the body, activating chemicals that are toxic to the heart.

'Pollutants will also cause you to breathe faster and your heart rate and blood pressure will increase,' explains Dr Shakespeare. 'I believe pollution is the next universal contaminant after smoking.'

Particulate matter may also be linked to stroke. A University of Michigan study last year suggests high exposure to particulate pollution (smaller than 2.5 micrometres in diameter) from diesel fumes was linked to thickening of the carotid arteries in the neck, which take blood to the brain. 

Asthma and bronchitis

Doctors believe air pollution not only triggers asthma attacks - and increases their severity and frequency - but may cause the condition.

Last year, a research paper published in the European Respiratory Journal found 14 per cent of cases of chronic childhood asthma are attributable to traffic pollution.

Debby Waddell, a nurse specialist at the charity Asthma UK, says the charity believes pollution plays a role in causing asthma. 

'There's also emerging evidence that diesel pollution in particular may be implicated in adult-onset asthma.' She adds: 'Lots of asthma sufferers also contact us over concerns about traffic fumes. They tell us pollution makes their symptoms worse.'


Pollution is also thought to worsen symptoms in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis and cystic fibrosis. Three million Britons have COPD, although only 900,000 are diagnosed.

A 2011 Danish study concluded that long-term exposure to pollutants may contribute to the development of COPD and that people with diabetes and asthma were possibly more susceptible.

'It seems microscopic particles of tar in polluted air penetrate deep into the lungs and their tiny blood vessels cause inflammation and scarring,' explains Professor Sir Malcolm Green, founder of the British Lung Foundation.

'They also pass into the blood and can cause inflammation elsewhere, including the arteries supplying the heart. Vehicle exhaust gases, including ozone, nitrous oxide and sulphur dioxide, can also act as irritants, making lung tubes tighten and narrow, causing wheezing and breathlessness.' 

Type 2 diabetes

Air pollution may also be linked to insulin resistance, where the body's cells are less responsive to insulin, the hormone secreted by the pancreas to help regulate blood sugar levels. 

Insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes. A study published last year by the German Centre for Disease Research concluded that children's exposure to traffic pollution was associated with an increased risk of developing insulin resistance. 

'The researchers measured blood samples from ten-year-olds and recorded pollution at their birth addresses. Rates of insulin resistance increased the higher the concentration of particulate matter.

Professor Kelly suggests this may be because particulates pass into the bloodstream, causing oxidative stress that damages receptors, which help insulin enter cells. 

Dr Gerry Rayman, a diabetes and endocrinology specialist at Ipswich Hospital, says that while this research is interesting, further investigation is needed. 'Cause and effect has not been established yet,' he adds. 

Premature babies

Women living in urban areas with high levels of petrol-based pollution are at a 30 per cent increased risk of giving birth prematurely, according to a University of California study. Diesel fumes increased the risk by another 10 per cent.
Professor Martin Bobak, chairman of epidemiology at University College London, says: 'There is consistent evidence of an association between air pollution and low birth weight, growth problems and prematurity. 
'Further studies are needed of the biological mechanisms.' 


In a landmark move last autumn, the World Health Organisation's International Agency on Cancer Research declared air pollution was a carcinogen. It concluded that there were 223,000 deaths from lung cancer worldwide resulting from air pollution and also evidence of it causing an increased risk of bladder cancer.

Professor Kelly says that the lung is the primary destination for particles entering the body.

'Particulate matter can carry toxic components into the  deep areas of the lung and  then pass into the blood,'  he says.

One theory is that particulate matter also ends up in the urine, and is stored in the bladder, which may explain the bladder cancer link. 


The nose is well connected to the brain through large nerves, and it's possible that fine particulate matter could travel up this route after being breathed in and enter the brain, says Professor Kelly. 

A study of post-mortem brain examinations following accidents in Mexico City - ranked as having some of the worst air quality in the world - suggests exposure to air pollution causes changes in the brain similar to those seen in Alzheimer's patients. 

More than half the brains showed signs of amyloid- B plaques, proteins linked  to Alzheimer's. 

However, this research is far from conclusive and it's not clear if this would affect memory.

Studies have also found there are associations between air pollution and Parkinson's disease, and cognitive problems including a lower IQ. 

5 ways to cut your risk

Walk along back streets rather than main roads, which have higher emissions due to vehicles in jams and sheer volume of traffic. ‘If you have to travel during rush hour, try to pick a less polluted route by using side roads,' says Professor Kelly.

Avoid cycling or running to work on main roads during peak traffic-flow hours as you will breathe in two to three times more air containing fumes than if you are in a car or bus.

Avoid the kerb side of the pavement: particulate levels will be higher.
Don't sit near the engine on a bus.

Photo credit:

Ex-Marlboro man dies from smoking-related disease

Ed Modesto sent this sad story:

By John Rogers
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — When it came to portraying the rugged western outdoorsman who helped transform a pack of filtered cigarettes into the world's most popular brand, Marlboro Man Eric Lawson was the real deal.

Ruggedly handsome, the actor could ride a horse through the wide-open spaces of the Southwest, from Texas to Colorado to Arizona or wherever else the Phillip Morris tobacco company sent him to light up while representing a true American icon, the cowboy. And he really did smoke Marlboro cigarettes, as many as three packs a day.

Lawson was still smoking in 2006 when he was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He died of the disease at his home in San Luis Obispo on Jan. 10. He was 72.

Pop culture icon

For three years in the late 1970s and early '80s, Lawson portrayed one of the most iconic figures in both advertising and popular culture.

And for the past several years, Lawson had spoken out fiercely about the hazards of smoking, doing a public service announcement for the American Cancer Society in the 1990s, years before he was able to bring himself to quit.

"He tried to speak to the kids, telling them don't start smoking," his wife, Susan Lawson, told The Associated Press. "He already knew cigarettes had a hold on him."

Rugged He-men

Exactly how many rugged he-man types portrayed the Marlboro Man over the years isn't clear, although Lawson was one of dozens.

His wife said Monday he was friendly with some of the others, including Wayne McLaren, a former rodeo rider who died in 1992 of lung cancer that he blamed on his lifelong smoking habit.

Like Lawson, McLaren spent his final years advocating against smoking. So did David McLean, who died in 1995 of lung cancer that he also blamed on smoking. He was 73.

American machismo

As the Marlboro Man, Lawson and the others helped turn a brand that had once been marketed as a mild women's cigarette into the ultimate symbol of American machismo.

Not every Marlboro Man was a cowboy — there were also pilots, hunters, weight lifters, miners and other macho characters. But cowboys were clearly the most popular and the most often used.

"The most powerful — and in some quarters, most hated — brand image of the century, the Marlboro Man stands worldwide as the ultimate American cowboy and masculine trademark, helping establish Marlboro as the best-selling cigarette in the world," the industry publication Advertising Age declared in 1999.

Real cowboys

Part of the reason for the brand's success was that Phillip Morris' ad agency went to great pains to track down real cowboys, who not only looked rugged but could really do things like rope and ride.

"He had to go out and ride, he needed to prove himself as a cowboy," Lawson's wife recalled of her husband's audition to become a Marlboro Man.
By the time he got the job in 1978, cigarette advertising was no longer allowed on U.S. television, so Lawson appeared in print and billboard ads. His wife still has one from Time magazine.

The ads, often filmed in stunning, picturesque settings in the West, always emphasized that it was a real man, not in any way a wimp, who smoked a Marlboro.

Lawson was perfect for the part. The veteran actor had appeared in such Western films and TV shows as "The Shooter," ''Walker, Texas Ranger," ''Tall Tale," ''Bonanza: Under Attack" and "The A Team."

Role model

Later, he also became a perfect role model who made a difference in the lives of the people he kept from smoking simply by pointing out what it did to him, said John Seffrin, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society.

"That's important," Seffrin said, "because people stop and think if that happens to Eric Lawson it could happen to me."

In addition to his wife, Lawson is survived by six children, 18 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pork Barrel, the Movie, the Sequel, the Prequel

By Winston A. Marbella                                     Senator Revilla as movie hero

Thanks to the creativity of Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla, both blockbuster movie actors, we are being treated to the pork barrel saga as a continuing movie sequel with no end in sight.

Both have been linked to the pork-barrel scam being investigated by the Ombudsman.

In his defense, Estrada delivered a scathing privilege speech saying P50-million in pork-barrel funds were given to senators by President Aquino after the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012.

For his part, Revilla said President Aquino talked to him about the Corona impeachment and then released his pork barrel.


In the impeachment trial of the Chief Justice, the first witness presented by the defense was Navotas Rep. Tobias Tiangco, who narrated in grisly detail how President Aquino and his cohorts in the House of Representatives railroaded the impeachment of Mr. Corona via an hours-long PowerPoint presentation that excluded any form of parliamentary debate.
In the gripping account of Congressman Tiangco,   House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales brushed aside all debate on the “blitzkrieg” impeachment vote by the dismissive admonition: “If you sign, you are with P-Noy. If you don't, you are against him.”

In Congressman Tiangco's mind, it was clear what his choices were: stay with the ruling majority or uphold the independence of the Supreme Court from the heavy hand of a vindictive President marshalling his political clout in the House.  Tiangco resigned from the majority the next day and gave up his committee chairmanship.

Hero or heel?

The hypertensive Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, now as cool as a cucumber without the legal ineptitude of the prosecution to torment her, took the floor on the second day of the defense to pay tribute to Congessman Tiangco's singular act of political courage. 

Now he will either be hailed as a hero for standing up for the Rule of Law and the independence of the judiciary from intimidation  by the executive and legislative branches -- or be condemned by his colleagues in the House as a heel or a traitor for spilling the beans on the unholy alliance between the President and the congressmen predicated solely on the juicy pork barrel money distributed by Malacanang.

Senator Santiago paid Tiangco the ultimate compliment by calling him an iconoclast.  He gallantly indulged her by asking for a definition.  An iconoclast, she said, is one who seeks to attack or destroy popular ideas or institutions.  Such as the pork barrel system or the conspiracy of silence in the House.

The exchange between two iconoclasts and fiercely independent solons was as soothing as rain on a summer's day.  But several senators were not amused.  They asked, What is the relevance of all this to the matter at hand, which is the impeachment of the Chief Justice?

On the surface, nothing.  Until one remembers a stinging mini-lecture that Senator Santiago had delivered on the prosecution on the second week of the trial.

The storyline

“Don't you have a trial brief?” she asked as she dressed down the prosecutors.  For the uninitiated, a trial brief is not a piece of legal undergarment.  Rather, it is an outline of the case the prosecutors intended to prove. 

“What is your story?” Senator Santiago pressed on, seeking to make some sense of the prosecutors' legal meandering.  “What is the narrative you want us to believe?”

Senator Santiago was actually trying to help the prosecutors by reminding them of basic trial technique.   

But what was she talking about?  The story?  The narrative they want us to believe? What is this, a class in creative writing? 

Back to school

A court case, my lawyer friends tell me, is like our favorite novels, movies or teleserye.  The reason we love them is because they have a storyline that grips our imagination.

A trial is a metaphor of life, a distilled rendition of life's joys and tragedies, and everything else in between.  This is why we love watching those gripping television serials.  
A good lawyer, whether for the prosecution or defense, constructs his theory of the case in similar vein to grip the audience and judges: The story unfolds -- there are flesh and blood characters -- their lives intertwine -- complications build -- a crisis erupts -- then a climax and resolution.

Beyond the intricacies of the plot, the characters, both lovable and despicable, lend texture, tone and tint to the story.  Raw human emotions explode before our very eyes, consuming us, transfixing us, transforming us in the end together with the protagonists.

The motive

On the weekend before the opening day of the defense in the Senate trial, the Chief Justice supplied the flesh-and-blood texture to the conflict. Why is Mr. Aquino out to impeach him? 

It's not because of some high-fallutin' objective like cleaning up the judiciary. It's plain and simple vendetta against the Supreme Court for breaking apart the vast Hacienda Luisita, the crown jewel of the Cojuangco-Aquino feudal power and wealth.

The all-important human element of the story -- the motivation, as we call it in creative-writing class -- has to be supplied to the audience, otherwise the story will be incomplete, not make sense, and sound incredible, even unbelievable.

President Aquino has ridiculed Senator Revilla for making a metaphorical movie out of this morality play. One of them is smarter.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The best and worst of times await these babies

(UPDATED Feb. 9) - Kristin Bernabe of the Philippine Daily Inquirer marks the transition of an icon in health care for poor mothers and babies. She writes:

Time is ticking for changes in the Philippines’ “baby factory”—for better or for worse.

Aging, decrepit, grimy and dark, Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital is set to be transferred from the old Bilibid compound on Lope de Vega to the San Lazaro headquarters of the Department of Health (DOH) on Rizal Avenue a few kilometers to the north.

The prospective home will be the third time the hospital, which started as a six-bed clinic in 1920 named after the chair of the public welfare board, will move.

It will happen once Health Secretary Enrique Ona decides to implement a P743-million contract awarded to J.D. Legaspi Construction, which won the right to design and build the hospital in a bidding last year. 

The private contractor has filed a petition in the Makati Regional Trial Court to compel Ona to honor the deal.

When it is built—under a public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement—what is regarded as the world’s busiest maternity hospital will no doubt provide modern  delivery services in place of the less-than-decent circumstances the mostly indigent patients get now. […]

The 7-billionth baby

 By Winston A. Marbella

Sometime on October 31st 2011, the world's 7-billionth baby was “born into a world of contradiction,” according to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

“Plenty of food, but still a billion people going to bed hungry every night.  Many people enjoy luxurious lifestyles, but still many people are impoverished,” he told Time magazine.

UN demographers said the 7-billionth baby was more likely to be born in the Asia Pacific Region, where some 60 percent of the world's population lives.  If so, the baby was also more likely to be a boy, because of regional cultural preferences.

Because of advances in modern medicine, the baby is also more likely to live beyond the life expectancies of its parents or grandparents.

'Not about numbers but people'

But “this is not a story about numbers,” the UN leader told a school in New York.  “This is a story about people.

“Seven billion people who need enough food.  Enough energy.  Good opportunities in life for jobs and education.  Rights and freedoms. The freedom to speak.  The freedom to raise their own children in peace and security.

The 6th-billionth baby was born more 14 years ago on Oct. 12, 1999.  Two more babies are born every second, and the world's population will reach 10 billion by 2100 at this pace

The UN predicts that by 2025 India will overtake China as the world's most populous nation, when its population reaches 1.5 billion.

Experts say the world's major challenges will be poverty and saving the environment, not population growth, the favorite topic in the Sixties.

The population bogey man has fallen into disfavor.  China's and India's coercive policies to limit population growth have backfired. 

China is now lacking manpower to propel the wheels of its industries.  And both countries have shown that their massive populations have not hindered their rise as world economic powers; in fact their manpower fueled their surging economies.

Enough for all – and more 

Reflecting the shift in focus, Brian Walsh wrote in Time that you could fit seven billion people in the state of Texas and its population density will only be like that of New York City, which isn't bad

In fact, writes Joel Cohen of Rockefeller University in the New York Times, between 1820, at the dawn of the Industrial Age, and 2008, when the world went into recession, the economic output per person increased eleven-fold.

Life expectancy has risen to almost 70 years on the average worldwide.  Fertility rates have dropped to 2.5 children per woman from 5 in 1950.  Population growth has fallen to 1.1 percent, half of what it was in 1960.

A billion people go hungry every night not because there is not enough food to eat but because half of the world's agricultural output rots in warehouses for lack of farm-to-market roads, or spoils in the refrigerators of the rich in the First World countries.

'A new Asian Silk Road'

Stephen King, chief economist of the transnational bank HSBC, says trade and capital flows among emerging countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America can increase tenfold in the next 40 years.  He foresees that a “21st-century version of the original Asian Silk Road” that controlled the flow of goods from China to Europe “will revolutionize the global economy.”

A new phrase has joined the economic lexicon to reflect this reality – “borderline manufacturing” – whereby parts are manufactured in many countries and sent to a central assembly point like China to put together the finished goods.  This is now the norm in high-tech consumer devices.

“We're heading toward a multi-polar world,” says  Ganeshan Wignaraja of the Asian Development Bank based in Manila.

In A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Dickens wrote of a world in turmoil, of London and Paris with the French Revolution hovering beyond the horizon:  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times....we had everything before us, we had nothing before us … the period was so much like the present period.”

This is the world awaiting the babies being born every day at the Fabella Memorial Hospital.

Photo credit: Richard A. Reyes,

Sunday, January 26, 2014

It's the stupid, electricity!

By Winston A. Marbella

During Bill Clinton's campaign for the American presidency, his staff never removed from the bulletin board this daily reminder of their battle-cry, to remind them never to stray from the path to victory: "It's the economy, stupid!" It worked. Good lessons there for 2016.

The ongoing congressional investigation into the high cost of power is likely to produce its first ceremonial public execution.

Several senators have asked for the head of the chairperson of the Energy Regulatory Council, which approved the last round of cost increases by Meralco, the electric retailer.  

The senators seem likely to get their wish.  A Palace spokesperson has shown the chairperson the door: Resign now or face suspension when administrative charges are filed. She refuses to budge, saying she won’t leave her people behind.

This episode may be the easy part. The congressional probers still have to sort out many electrical short circuits.  

Already there are accusations of collusion between government regulators and power producers.  

A new oxymoron has emerged to stump the dictionary makers: “regulatory capture,” meaning the regulators have been captured by the people they were supposed to regulate.

Several legislators have suggested radical amendments to the Epira law, which governs the intricacies of power cost too complicated for the space we have in this blog.

It is simpler to understand the effects of this law.

The death of industries

Several years ago, in sheer frustration, Philippine exporters started exploring China and Vietnam as alternative sites because the high cost of power, reputedly the highest in Asia and among the highest in the world, is driving their costs to uncompetitive levels.  If their plans push through, an immediate effect is that we will lose more jobs to Chinese or Vietnamese factory workers.

Nora Halili Lao, holiday and gifts sector trustee of the Philippine Exporters Confederation, said exporters had lost sales because power costs have driven their products to uncompetitive levels.  She made the comments in a statement posted at the PhilExport website.

She said electricity now accounted for 40 to 50 percent of costs: “Producers and manufacturers suffer. They said they are no longer competitive.”  Several furniture exporters have moved to Vietnam and buying agents have set up offices there.

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry had submitted a wish list to President Aquino seeking a five-year electric power industry road map.   

The gridlock

Meralco, the main electricity retailer in Luzon, has broken down what customers pay to assign responsibility where it belongs for power generation, transmission, exchange rate fluctuations and other charges. This is called “unbundling” in industry jargon.

The Meralco bills consumers get indicate the major costs are in power generation and transmission, all handled by government entities. Despite their high charges, they lose billions of pesos every year.

In a Senate investigation many years back, senators were shocked to discover that the cost of fuel drove the costs up, on top of the inefficiencies expected from government-run corporations. It seems it is now an accepted fact that governments rarely make a profit on their operations, unlike private businesses.

The supply and demand 

It was pointed out at the Senate hearings that there was not much anybody could do about the cost of fuel oil.  But what shocked the senators was the finding that for the coal-fired plants, the government bureaucrats were not able to take advantage of a basic law of economics: the law of supply and demand.

Coal being a commodity, its price fluctuates depending on the push and pull of the forces of supply and demand. The senators found that our bureaucrats seemed to be buying coal when prices were high.  

The pat answer was that the country needed to keep the power plants running, no matter the costs. So why not buy stocks when prices are low? Hard to explain – even harder to understand.
The result is that our electricity costs are driving our industries to uncompetitive levels. The furniture exporters are just the latest casualties. Every consumer who uses electricity is a victim.

The chambers of industry of most of the known world have told us in no uncertain terms that foreign investors are reluctant to put up manufacturing plants here because of the high cost of power.  That should be easy enough to understand, much easier than the law of supply and demand.

The roll of the dice

No foreign investments, no additional jobs. Now, we will even lose more jobs if Flipino exporters move their factories elsewhere. That's how the dominoes fall.

But we can reverse the way the dominoes fall.

Reduce the cost of power and more investors may come in, assuming all the other things needed to attract them are equal to what the rest of the world offers.  At least, that puts us on a level playing field, to use a business phrase borrowed from sports.

When the dominoes start falling one way, the solution seems to be to set them upright again and trigger the last domino to start falling the other way. That seems simple enough.  

Unfortunately, in our beloved country, the laws of governance can defy even the basic economic law of supply and demand.

Photo credit: 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Senator Nene comments on rehab constraints

By Winston A. Marbella

In a previous blog, I invited readers to suggest solutions to the apparent constraints in Sen. Panfilo (Ping) Lacson’s new job as Rehabilitation Secretary in the typhoon-ravaged areas. Sen. Aquilino (Nene) Pimentel Jr. sent these insightful comments:


Good observations about Ping's problems.

That's how the government operates: through departments that have their own organizations and allocated budgets to carry out their missions.

Department organizations and missions are defined by law.

Which cannot be modified even by presidential executive orders.

Looks like Ping has to contend with that reality.

However, with some Department Secretaries under fire, he probably won't have to wait for long before he can get real power in his hands to do something concrete for the rehab of calamity victims in various parts of the country.


Following are excerpts from the earlier blog, where I invited readers to suggest solutions: 

Lacson’s lament: Not enough powers to do the job?

Indonesian Senior Minister Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, who led the rebuilding of Aceh (Indonesia) after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, in contrast had “near absolute authority,” Lacson told Rappler, the online news portal.  

Lacson said Kuntoro's powers had been “spelled out in a decree issued by his president to make sure that he succeeded in his gargantuan task.”

Lacson said, “I keep on wondering how I will handle my own version of coordination, while armed only with a presidential memorandum order. […]

“If I was given that kind of a power, perhaps we would see more houses and schools rising. We would see more municipal halls. Because if you're given enough authority, as long as you're well intentioned and you will not abuse the authority given to you, you can accomplish more,” he explained.

Lacson, however, said a wider range of powers “entails legislation.”

In a subsequent blog, I wrote:

Lacson’s solution: Tap private sector, not gov’t

Saying that the private sector was easier to talk to, Rehabilitation Secretary Panfilo Lacson told reconstruction experts at a forum in Makati that he wanted to engage the private sector more. Government should be a fallback, he said.

Those blogs are available on this site for easy reference.  Your comments are welcome at 

Pitch in!

Photo credit:

Friday, January 24, 2014

For rehab, Lacson sees more hope in private firms

(UPDATED March 11) - Saying that the private sector was easier to talk to, Rehabilitation Secretary Panfilo Lacson told reconstruction experts at a forum in Makati that he wanted to engage the private sector more. Government should be a fallback, he said.

The full report by Rappler’s Paterno Esmaquel II:  

MANILA, Philippines – Banking on the private sector for the long-term task of rebuilding, Rehabilitation Secretary Panfilo Lacson announced on Thursday, January 23, that 9 giant companies promised to lead rehabilitation in most of the areas damaged by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

In a forum in Makati City, Lacson said the following companies pledged to “adopt” at least two thirds of the typhoon-hit local government units (LGUs):

Lopez Group of Companies
Ayala Corporation
Aboitiz Foundation
SM Group of Companies
International Container Terminal Services Incorporated
Jollibee-Mang Inasal
Robinsons Land Corporation


Lacson described these 9 companies as “development sponsors.” Their job, he said, is “to shepherd or take the lead in the reconstruction and rehabilitation.”

These companies divided among themselves 16 out of 24 “development areas,” or clusters of Yolanda-affected towns and cities.

Lacson explained the government is “concentrating more on engaging the private sector,” which is easier to talk to.

“It is my personal belief that government...should not be the only option to bring back central Philippines to its feet. In fact, I keep telling myself, government should be the fallback,” Lacson explained.

Earlier, he said these companies will adopt Yolanda-hit communities with “no strings attached.”  Their sole incentive is the “business potential” in these areas.

More donations accepted

In his speech on Thursday, Lacson also said 10 “sectoral sponsors” promised to support needs in education, health, housing, and livelihood.

The government, Lacson added, has put up a Yolanda “multi-donor fund” to accept donations from smaller groups.

Trustees of the multi-donor fund include the following:

Globe Telecom
Washington Sycip

Transparent trustees

“We'll make it very, very transparent. That's why we chose some very reputable personalities to compose the board of trustees,” he said in an interview with reporters after his speech.

In line with this multi-donor fund, Lacson said the government is “about to set up a map-based website that will make sure that all donations can be tracked every step of the way.”

Lacson said he adheres, after all, to a “policy of inclusion.” Despite this, he said he will not “hesitate to go after people, regardless of political affiliations, who will put their personal interest and greed” over rehabilitation.  

One problem, however, is the scope of his authority. On Thursday, Lacson said his weak powers “exacerbate” the job of rehabilitation. 

Lacson's appointment, after all, has no “legal weight.”  It also leaves him powerless over the budget. –

Photo credit: