Thursday, February 25, 2010

Life Force

I've read somewhere that as one ages, his life force diminishes. The theory is that you start with a full bar just like a cell phone's or for video game enthusiasts the life indicator associated with a character. As we take this journey called life, the various trials, sicknesses and other events tend to decrease this life force. The more difficult trials and the more serious illnesses are supposed to take its toll on your life force. So I take it that if one plays safe enough, then you can conserve your life force and probably live a longer life.

What I haven't read about much in relation to the life force proposition is about how one can recharge his life force. In this case, I turn to my Catholic upbringing for an explanation. There are similar thoughts on this, actually reflections, that are not at all related to age but usually associated with sin. Now before I delve into lessons in Christian Living, I would like to clarify that I do embrace this concept but along more softer lines. I do believe that Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. This is the foundation of my faith and it is the teachings about love that we have learned while I was in Lourdes that influenced my views regarding the life force.

I have this belief that I draw my strength, my energy from those around me whether these be people, places or pets. The concept is also similar to that adopted by believers of zen, nature lovers and perhaps even druids. I used to do my annual recharging in Iloilo where I have so many happy memories and where the air I breathed was enough to make me relaxed and strong enough to face another year of challenges. While there, I also draw energy from loved ones - their love, after all, has nurtured me since childhood especially my cousins Rebecca and Rhodora who took care of me during my formative years.

When I was in Japan, the recharging process was somewhat interrupted and I had to find a way to re-energize. That included finding a place where I can re-energize myself in a land far from home. I actually found two sanctuaries - the Yamate Cathedral and Kamakura. Yamate Catholic Church was where I heard Mass on Sundays. I made many friends there and the parish priest at the time, Fr. Alfred Burke, provide my spirit with the nourishment it needed during my three-year stint at YNU. I served in that parish and would like to believe I did pretty well in readings during the Mass. I even took it upon myself to be ready in cases when volunteer readers were no-shows or when that time of year comes when many of the foreign parishioners were on vacation in their home countries. I was happy being part of that community and looked forward to Sundays with friends and acquaintances at Yamate.

Kamakura is a different story. Though I could, I didn't really go there often except maybe at least once every two months when I felt like it or when I took friends on tour to appreciate "old" Japan without going to Kyoto. My first trip to Kamakura was with my batchmates at YNU and we went there at a time it was quite crowded with tourists. After learning how to get there and how to get around the place, I started visiting Kamakura during times I knew there weren't so many people. I came to appreciate the old capital with its temples and shrines where you can just sit or stroll quietly.

I found peace and tranquility of different forms in Yamate and Kamakura. The experience in a foreign land had taught me how to adapt. That learning I used when I returned to the Philippines and have applied it since. I have enjoyed traveling partly because the new places and the beautiful sights have partly contributed to my re-charging and it has kept me healthy as well as giving me a healthier perspective in life. I do reserve much of of the credit for re-energizing to loved ones especially the Clairvoyant, through whom I believe I derive God's love. Love being the best way to strengthening oneself, bracing against life's ups and downs.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sustainable transport for energy security

I post below an essay written for the UPD Academic Congress under the session on Energy Security:


Dependence on fossil fuels is part of a vicious cycle that stems from rapid urban development. As cities keep growing in size and population, there is also increasing motorization that has led to traffic congestion, worsening air pollution and an alarming increase in the number of road traffic accidents. All these indicate deterioration in the quality of life for Filipinos and are regarded as manifestations of unsustainable transport.

The transport sector represents more than 40% of the total demand for energy. This share is larger than the shares of the industrial and residential sectors and is expected to increase further. From 1980 to 2008, transport energy use increased steadily from 1.9 million tons equivalent of oil (MTOE) to 10.9 MTOE – an average of 6.4% per year. Over 80% of the share of transport is attributed to road transport, which is overwhelmingly dependent on fossil fuels. Most private transport use gasoline while most public and freight transport utilize diesel.

There is also a strong correlation between inefficient fuel consumption and air pollution. A 2007 national emission inventory conducted by the DENR revealed that mobile sources account for 65.13% of total emissions. Such information dispels perceptions that stationary sources such as factories contribute more to air pollution. Clearly, addressing fuel efficiency concerns will have far-reaching impacts including potential curbing of air pollution in our cities.


The dependence of transport on fossil fuels has led to varied and usually negative reactions to fluctuations, particularly the increase, of crude oil prices. In fact, fuel price increases have always affected our lives as they trigger a chain reaction in the rising prices of commodities; fuel price increases are felt most in urban areas where consumers absorb the high cost of transporting goods. The high prices of food items especially fruits and vegetables are attributed to transport costs that are passed on to the consumers.

The commuting public is affected by fuel price increases as transport groups lobby for fare rate adjustments whenever there are gas price hikes. Such requests are articulated as demands that are accompanied by threats of transport strikes. In cases where transport strikes do push through, cities are often crippled by the limited availability of transport services leaving people to ponder what life would be like if there were other transit options.

In the interest of coming up with a clear picture of transport services in the Philippines, we must examine the characteristics of the three most dominant modes of public transport in relation to fuel efficiency. These modes are the tricycle, bus and jeepney. Tricycles are motorcycles with sidecars. Motorcycles were designed to carry at most 2 persons. Engines are forced to work harder with the additional load of the sidecar, passengers and in many instances even freight. Such have led to more emissions and higher fuel consumption when compared to normal motorcycle operations.

Many buses in the country are poorly maintained. In small cities served by few buses (mostly provincial operations), buses are often overloaded not just with passengers but with freight as well. Overloading leads to higher fuel consumption and is manifested in more emissions as engines are forced to work harder due to the loads they carry.

Jeepneys use surplus or second-hand engines originally designed for trucks. A study conducted by the U.P. National Center for Transportation Studies in 2008 revealed that jeepneys’ average fuel consumption is less than 6 kilometers per liter. Most efficient are short routes (coverage distance of 5 kilometers or less) consuming 6.0 km/L and about 11 L/day. Meanwhile, least efficient are medium routes (coverage distance of 6 to 9 kilometers) with about 5.5 km/L on 20 L/day.

It is easy to see that fuel inefficiency translate to higher costs borne by users even for private transport users. Prospective buyers of cars take note of mileage especially for used cars and are presently more aware of the implications of having gas guzzlers on their budgets. This is perhaps due to their experiencing first-hand the cost of travel based on fuel and maintenance costs.

The inefficiencies of public transport are often passed on to the commuters while service providers do little to ensure that their vehicles are well-maintained and therefore efficient in fuel consumption. Meanwhile, the commuting public is not at all aware of such and their implications on their wallets as they absorb rising fares that are partly due to high fuel consumptions.

Sustainable Transport

Sustainable transport is the response of the transport sector to the challenge of attaining sustainable development. The EST approach adopts the pro-active integration of environmental consideration in the planning process itself. Thus, negative impacts are minimized and environmental sustainability is achieved. On the other hand, the traditional planning framework considers the environmental impacts after planning and thus mitigation measures are formulated after the implementation of the project.

When the concept of EST was first presented to the DOTC and the DENR, it was unclear how the agencies would work towards incorporating sustainable transport in their plans and programs. It was proposed and eventually decided that a national strategy was needed to have a practical framework to guide the development of plans and programs. The overall goals for the formulation of an EST strategy are the reduction of the annual growth rates of energy consumption and green house gas emissions, and mainstreaming EST through the promotion of low carbon transport systems and a shift towards sustainable transport modes.

Sustainable transport incorporates all aspects of transport including social and economic The EST thematic areas as defined by the Aichi Statement of 2005 are as follows:
1. Public Health
2. Strengthening Roadside Air Quality Monitoring and Assessment
3. Traffic Noise Management
4. Vehicle Emission Control, Standards, and Inspection and Maintenance
5. Cleaner Fuels
6. Public Transport Planning and Travel Demand Management (TDM)
7. Non-Motorized Transport (NMT)
8. Environment and People Friendly Infrastructure Development
9. Social Equity and Gender Perspectives
10. Road Safety and Maintenance
11. Knowledge Base, Awareness and Public Participation
12. Land-Use Planning

All thematic areas are related to efforts toward energy efficiency in the transport sector. Some are more strongly connected, like cleaner fuels, public transport planning and travel demand management, non-motorized transport, and land use planning. These thematic areas directly address the question of efficiency in the sense that initiatives under them deal with travel. Promoting public transportation and non-motorized transport over private transport, for example, results in significant fuel savings. Meanwhile, TDM focuses on interventions influencing trip making behavior. Cleaner fuels include CNG, LPG and biofuels and the use of renewable energy to power vehicles.

It is important to note at this point that the objective should be towards the efficient movement of people and goods rather than vehicles. There are principles of equity that allow us to understand that individuals driving cars should have less priority compared to a jeepney load or busload of passengers especially given the limited road space available.

Emissions and noise are by-products of fuel inefficiency. As such air quality monitoring, noise management and vehicle inspection and emission control go together in addressing the symptoms of fuel inefficiency. Meanwhile, proper road design and maintenance ensures safe and smooth flow of traffic that is also fuel efficient as vehicles are able to run on higher gear.

The interaction between land use and transportation has been the subject of much discussion in both academic and planning circles. There is a close relationship between the two since land use patterns have implications on the transport system and vice versa. Unfortunately, land use and transport are often planned separately. Dense areas are associated with shorter trips and require efficient public transport to move people and smaller vehicles for goods movement. Meanwhile, urban sprawl involves longer trips that, with the absence of a good transit system, encourage car ownership not to mention larger and often overloaded trucks to carry freight. While there are proponents for transit-oriented development, the reality in the Philippines is that land development will come before transport enters the picture. The type of transportation that evolves is usually reactionary and most likely informal. Therefore, there is a need to optimize land use planning in relation to sustainable transport.

Barriers to sustainability

Technology and its costs have always been the top concerns when it comes to providing the best solutions to problems. Technical feasibility is usually constrained by the availability of funds. There are also prevailing perceptions that effective solutions need to be “high tech” and that such solutions are expensive when measures such as TDM do not require significant capital outlay or operational costs. In fact, schemes like MMDA’s number coding was successful for some time until rapid motorization eventually caught up and rendered it marginally effective.

Transport groups have been successful in blocking efforts to improve transport, citing social and economic implications including unemployment. As such, the positive traffic impacts introduction of more efficient modes including rail and bus services where these mass transit systems are already required are diminished as conventional transport remain, increase in numbers and compete with them. Social and economic implications of rationalizing transport services have always led to friction with a sector that has been, from one perspective, coddled or pampered. On a number of occasions, government has acquiesced to the demands of the transport sector, which have used the threat of public transport strikes as a powerful instrument to bring government to the negotiating table.

There are also efforts involving the upgrading of conventional transport. Among these are proposals to replace old inefficient engines with new ones using CNG, LPG or diesel. Transport groups have resisted these, citing the costs of acquiring a new engine or conversion, lobbying instead for quick fixes such as devices claiming to reduce emissions and improve fuel efficiency. These quick fixes are not validated and approved by the Department of Science and Technology. Instead, they reflect the mindset of transport service providers while exposing the government’s inability to deal with a problem that has worsened as transport groups have become more aggressive in pushing for their sector’s agenda, including seeking representation by way of the party list system.

Bus companies have threatened to withdraw from the Natural Gas Vehicle Program for Public Transport (NGVPPT) over the government’s alleged failure to address the issues plaguing the program. There is a single daughter station for CNG in Mamplasan but this has been operated on a very limited basis, rendering CNG buses acquired through the program to be unused while continuously depreciating. This example can be seen as proof of government’s failure to provide the necessary infrastructure to support EST.

Initiatives towards energy efficiency

A study conducted by the Korea Transport Institute in 2009 shows the way towards energy efficiency for the transport sector by identifying the most effective initiatives. These initiatives are the following:
 Expansion of energy efficient transportation facilities
 Creation of public transportation-centered cities
 Enhancement of traffic demand management
 Establishment of incentives for energy-saving
 Utilization of new energy technologies
 Establishment of an energy saving cooperation system
 Establishment of an execution system for efficient energy consumption

Example applications of these initiatives are already found in the Philippines and are identified as good practices. Makati City has a system of pedestrian walkways interconnecting office buildings and malls that encourage walking as mode as opposed to using cars or motorized public transport for short trips. This has effectively decongested the city’s streets from cars previously being used for such short trips as office workers taking their lunch in Glorietta or Greenbelt.

Marikina City has a bikeways network that was constructed with assistance from the World Bank. The network serves as a good example for the promotion of non-motorized transport (NMT) in cities or municipalities seeking to provide energy efficient modes that are suitable for short trips. In this case, it is quite obvious that NMT’s do not require fuel and have zero emissions.

Cebu City is currently exploring public transport options via a strategic plan study being conducted in the Metro Cebu area. Such a study is envisioned to provide the city with a blueprint for establishing a suitable mass transit system for a city that is already comparable to Metro Manila in terms of urbanization and experience of traffic congestion. A pre-feasibility study is also underway for a proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system for the city. BRT systems are currently popular and favored by many cities that have budget constrains that prevent them from investing in expensive rail systems. The cities of Bogota in Colombia and Curitiba in Brazil have demonstrated the effectiveness of bus systems when combined with a strong effort in rationalizing conventional transport to complement mass transit.

San Fernando City in La Union has successfully implemented a program to upgrade tricycles from 2-stroke to 4-stroke while enforcing a limit on the number of tricycles in that city. The program incorporated a health awareness campaign that sought to educate tricycle drivers and the general public about the hazards of emissions through check-ups and sputum tests for drivers. Such programs address concerns (i.e., health) that are easily understood by the public. Limiting the number of tricycles employed a criteria that included residence (previously, many tricycles were operated by residents of neighboring towns) and compliance with the motorcycle conversion program. Moreover, an information campaign was also conducted to show drivers that more tricycles meant less income for them as they compete with others for the same market of passengers.

Puerto Princesa City is well on its way towards completing a green cycle that involves waste management, energy generation and sustainable transport. The concept for this is very simple in that energy is produced from waste and is used to charge the batteries of electric vehicles including e-jeepneys and e-tricycles. Fossil fuels are not utilized and zero emissions are achieved through the use of renewable energy.


Road public transport in the Philippines is comprised mainly of paratransit modes like the jeepney and the tricycle. These modes are perceived to be inefficient in terms of fuel consumption and impose costs on the general public by way of eating into our finances, air pollution and other externalities. In truth, many of our vehicles, whether private or public modes of transport, collectively contribute to the continuing rise in the share of energy attributed to the transport sector and consequently, the deterioration of our environment. We have to realize that the externalities brought about by the transport sector are strongly related to inefficiencies that have plagued the sector due to mismanagement on the side of transport service providers and a lack of planning foresight and political will on the side of national and local governments.

The need for extensive social marketing, employing a participatory approach in awareness building and the need for incentives and creative mechanisms to encourage engine replacement or upgrading of transport services cannot be overstated or underestimated. Indeed, there is a need to have a clear vision of the future and EST presents a framework for the vision to become reality. The traditional approach of forecasting scenarios and the mitigation measures for potential problems is set aside in favor of backcasting approach. That is, a future vision is set and we go back to the present to examine what steps must be done from now on to realize the vision.

In the end, leadership at both national and local levels is required to effect the changes necessary to ensure sustainable transport and sustainable development. The next administration must provide an enabling environment for national agencies like the DOTC and the LTFRB to succeed in rationalizing (read: overhauling) a transportation system that is seen as inefficient, ineffective and unsustainable. The same leadership must also be able to convince local governments to do their part in transforming their transport systems with proper guidance from national agencies. Policy formulation must be followed by a firm and consistent implementation of plans and programs consistent with the principles of sustainability. A strong commitment to sustainable transport will go a long way into ensuring the transport sector’s contribution to energy security. Security in this context, after all, is synonymous to sustainability.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine's Day memories

The day of hearts has always been a curious one for me. Falling on my birth month, it is supposedly part of what I consider my luckiest days and I have my share of stories for this day. I still remember that during grade school (and I attended an exclusive school) we had an activity in arts class where we each made a Valentine's card for our mothers. Our teachers from different grades had us bring a variety of materials including art and oslo papers, crayons, cray-pas, water color, paste/glue or whatever was available back then that allowed us to create cards by which we were to express our love to our mothers. A standard exercise in early grade school was to cut paper in the shape of hearts and to write a short message inside stating why we loved our mothers. It's not difficult to believe that many of us took these exercises quite seriously. After all, it was graded before we even got to take our projects home to give to our mothers.

High school was quite different considering our transition to puberty and adolescence had significantly affected the way we behaved, the way we thought. Valentine's Day would never be the same as those during grade school when the innocence of youth and the concept of puppy love seemed to blend in quite nicely. Crushes during grade school were quite "harmless" in that they were partly dismissed as a feeling associated with our limited exposure to the opposite sex. After all, it was still a time when 5th and 6th graders did not have girlfriends, in a manner of speaking. In high school there were so many changes including our better appreciation of girls and the female form. (Of course, there were some in our batch who adapted the female form but that's another story.)

I have fond memories of Valentine's Day parties (not the underground soirees that I have yet to write about - as soon as I could put my mind into it) in our village. Our first crushes after all were neighborhood girls, many of whom were childhood friends and were even school bus mates. I must admit that I had my share of crushes back then and have the same people as friends to this day though I have lost contact with many of them (thank you Facebook for renewing some contacts). I don't remember though that I composed Valentine's greetings or wrote to these neighborhood crushes. For me, back then it was so awkward to express something in an environment where everybody seemed to know everybody else. It was a small subdivision where we lived in Cainta and my crushes' mothers were probably my mother's friends. More "terrifying" for a young man in those days were the thought of facing a crush's father (who probably played tennis or served at the chapel with my father).

These days when I read about people as young as I were back in the day getting into tough situations (e.g., getting pregnant, eloping, etc.) I have difficulty understanding what big changes have been effected in our lives. Has our values system really changed? Is the innocence we knew back then already gone today?

Monday, February 1, 2010


In the 1990's I've wondered how Titanic grossed so much and had beaten favorites like Star Wars, ET and Indiana Jones (which were personal favorites by the way). Columnists have lauded Titanic's mass appeal and I must admit that it had the combination of excellent film-making and great acting. It had a good story to tell, never mind that there were other Titanics preceding it and for some the romantic angle seemed to be just another one of those attempts to come up with a mushy movie.

I was in Japan when the film was screened in the Philippines and in Japan (surprisingly it was one of a few films at the time to screen in Japan at the same time it was being shown in the US - films usually screened a month or two after even in Tokyo)and was only able to watch portions of the film on a long bus ride back from Laguna in 1999. I was only able to watch it in full thanks to cable TV in my hotel room during one field project. This despite a copy in VHS sitting at my parents' home just waiting to be loaded and viewed. I guess I just was not into such movies though I could sit through it if the conditions were right (just like I could listen to different types of music including heavy metal given the right conditions).

A lot of films that I was excited about came and I really thought some of them could have challenged Titanic. The Lord of the Rings trilogy were among the most awaited films and did quite well at the box office but just couldn't budge Titanic from the top spot whether in the US Box Office or internationally. And then Avatar happened...

I began learning about Avatar from the Clairvoyant and first read about it from a copy of Wired magazine I purchased at Changi airport. Maybe because Avatar was a project of the same director of Titanic, James Cameron, probably was a factor in making it the highest grossing (without considering price/inflation and otehr adjustments) film ever. It had appeal across a wide audience given that it has as its ingredients SciFi, environment, romance, action and even comedy. Most important I think is that it represents a landmark in movie-making, what with the state of the art 3D filming that is best experienced in the IMAX theaters. I truly look forward to more 3D films in the future when perhaps other directors and producers will take the art to a higher level.