Sunday, February 27, 2011


Whenever I am in a new place, I usually take a walk around the area where I am residing or staying. My walks usually take me around the neighborhood, allowing for some exploration of sorts. I usually look for interesting features like shops, restaurants, or some other tourist attraction like maybe a temple or park. Some areas have a history and would have markers in certain locations where something important happened in the past.

In the Philippines, I would surely be going to the local market and try to check out the town's products. Shops in or near the local markets would usually be my source of souvenirs. Also, in the Philippines, I would usually go to the church, or cathedral in the case of the larger cities or towns, where, if the church structure happened to be old enough or had a distinct architecture about it, I would probably take a few photos for my collection. If it were safe to go around at night, I would usually explore the city. Unfortunately, it wasn't always safe to go around after dark even in the bigger cities.

While in Japan, I would try to walk along the main street where many things of interest would usually be present. It was this way that I found some nice shops or restaurants and souvenir shops that featured local products. If I happened to be in another city on a Sunday, I would also search for the local Catholic Church. Unlike today when information is usually readily available from the internet and the search can be facilitated by tools such as Google or Yahoo Maps, I would try to get my hand at a local tourist map. I also usually asked my parish priest, Fr. Burke if he knew about a church with an English Mass in its Sunday schedule. I remember he had a directory with him by which he was able to give me an address and a phone number of the local church. This way, I was able to hear Mass whenever I was out of Yokohama or Tokyo. I will be writing more about my adventures in Japan in future posts.

Since we're practically new in Singapore, even though the Clairvoyant has been here for almost two months, we have been exploring the city state in our free time. This afternoon, we finally got to walk around our neighborhood near Lorong Chuan Station. Our walk took us along Serangoon Avenue where we found other residential developments including HDBs (government housing) and new buildings in exclusive enclaves. There are many schools in our area and some of the schools seem to be the top-notch kinds given the kind of neighborhood we are residing in. We also discovered that we were a 10 to 15-minute walk from the NEX mall as we were able to trace the origin of fellow walkers whom we saw carried the distinctive grocery bags of Fair Price. Near the junction of Serangoon Avenue, the HDBs featured shops including a Seven Eleven, and restaurants and eateries filled with customers. These were usually families or friends or both having their dinners out instead of at their homes. The Clairvoyant tells me this is quite common in Singapore and not just during the weekends but especially the weekdays when people even bought dinners from the many shops you'll find around in malls, transit stations or the neighborhood.

I look forward to exploring this city-state when I am in Singapore. Perhaps I will be maximizing the coverage of the city's transit system much like what I did when I was in Japan. I was also able to do the same thing in Bangkok and San Francisco, adventures that I still haven't gotten to write about. This time though, I am sure that I have more time for exploration and familiarization. After all, this city will be a second home for us for the next months or years.

Sacred Heart

When I was a student in Japan from 1996 - 1999, I was introduced to this beautiful cathedral in Yamate in the Naka District of Yokohama. I don't exactly remember if I wrote about the Yamate Catholic Church, but is also known by its other name - Sacred Heart. I attended Sunday Mass at Sacred Heart and eventually became involved in the parish. I started out by volunteering to read at the Mass. There was a clipboard at the main door of the church and parishioners were encouraged to sign-up to read at Mass. The choices were quite easy as there were only two readings during High Mass. The one assigned to the First Reading, however, had to speak at the start of the Mass by introducing the celebrant priest and also had to read the Responsorial Psalm. The response was usually sung by the choir. The second reader was also assigned to read the Prayers of the Faithful.

At first, I was very nervous but I tried my best not to show it and I think I did pretty well my first time. This was the start of a long and rewarding experience as an active member of the parish and the Sacred Heart Guild that invited me to help out more in the activities of the church. My work with the Guild deserves its own write-up and I shall do so soon if only to reminisce about the bazaars and picnics we helped organize and hold successfully. Indeed, as people say, those were the days.

When I read at Mass, I always started by first reading the introduction. I had observed that this part was usually omitted by other readers but that the content was valuable in setting the tone for reflecting on a reading. Eventually, other readers adopted what I practiced including my friends at the Guild who were among the first who appreciated what I did. In fact, this was encouraged by the parish priest at the time, Fr. Alfred Burke, OSA, who was always there to guide us. I always have fond memories of Sacred Heart in Yamate and have always returned to hear Mass there whenever I could like when I was in Japan for stints at Saitama University when I was visiting researcher under the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS).

It is a pleasant coincidence that as we settle at our second home in Singapore, we found and have started attending Mass at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Singapore. It is an old church and the congregation seems warm. There are also similarities with Yamate since many or most in attendance for the English Masses are Filipinos. I shall write in detail about my experiences in Yamate as it is the people and not the structure which compose a church. And there are just so many stories told and that need to be related again about life in Japan back in the 90's that still seem to be so relevant today even in another setting.

Friday, February 25, 2011


I practically have two choices when shuttling between Manila and Singapore. One is Philippine Airlines and the other is Cebu Pacific, both Philippine flag carriers. I say practically because there are other alternatives including Tiger and Air Philippines. Both have many daily flights allowing for flexibility in the schedule. Ceb Pac is usually cheaper as it is classified as a budget airline and has many promos. However, this difference is only marginal since PAL has responded to the competition with their own promos. There is also PAL's advantage of being able to field larger planes as they have a more diverse fleet of aircraft that includes wide-bodied Boeing and Airbus planes.

Perhaps an odd and unexpected consideration is also the in-flight meal, which, despite the bad take on airline food, is still a decent meal. The choices, of course, are usually limited unless one happens to be in business class, Mabuhay Class in PAL's case. I say it is a consideration because if one was to purchase a meal at the airport or in flight, like in Ceb Pac's case, one would end up shelling out the equivalent of price of the same meal or even more depending on the purchase. This because of the typical jacked up prices of food and drinks at airports and on the airplane.

It is my first time to use Ceb Pac for an international flight. PAL I have flown on many times including long haul, non-stop flights to and from the United States, so I have a very good idea of their quality of service and I use it as my benchmark for when I take other airlines. The flight via Ceb Pac would allow me to assess future travel using the airline not just between Manila and Singapore but possibly for other international destinations as well. For domestic flights that are usually 45 (Roxas City) to 90 (Davao) minutes long, I don't mind the no frills approach but for longer flights, I do mind a little more comfort even if it appears to be marginal to some people. I am considering taking Ceb Pac for traveling to Japan, for example, and in the future maybe even to the U.S. in the remote possibility that restrictions imposed by the FAA on Philippine carriers are lifted and Ceb Pac is allowed to fly long haul to U.S. destinations. In that same case, PAL would probably also increase the number of U.S. cities that it will be serving including Chicago and New York where there are substantial Filipino populations translating into sufficient demand for flights.

The verdict from last night's flight is a satisfactory rating. It is basically a passing grade but not pasang awa as we usually refer to hurdling something by the skin of one's teeth. I was satisfied with the service but wasn't particularly impressed given that there was no in-flight entertainment (even some music could have helped) and I couldn't help but notice that we and other flights had to shift from one gate to another at NAIA3. This is something that should probably be on the airport and not the airline but given the set-up at Terminal 3 where Ceb Pac is the dominant airline, I believe that they could do better with coordinating gates with the airport authorities. Finally, it was also my first time to use the budget terminal of Changi and I would have to say that though I was impressed by the terminal's design, it is something that is ideal for domestic airports like what should be for trunkline domestic airports in the Philippines. I would prefer to use the main airports anytime. And the next time will be on April when I will again be taking PAL.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


It seems so appropriate that I'd be writing about an experience from almost 12 years ago on the eve of my birthday. It was October 1999 and I had just met the love of my life in late September. I had just returned from a three-year study leave in Yokohama, Japan where I was successful in earning my doctorate. It was a fresh start for me considering there was a lot of things going for me including a pending promotion from the University were I worked. I remember I still had some free time as I arrived towards the end of the first semester and a 2-week break was coming up before I resumed work in the second semester of the same academic year.

The wiring in my brain told me to spend the time wisely and among others that I wanted to do at the time was to visit my high school and particularly have some time at the church of St. Francis of Assisi. I only went to two churches for some quiet time, brief personal retreats I call it. One is the U.P. Chapel and the other was St. Francis. I was quite familiar with the schedule at St. Francis since I attended Grade School and High School at Lourdes Mandaluyong. I was also quite comfortable with the atmosphere since I practically grew up in that area and have so many fond memories associated with St. Francis including milestones like graduations, first communion and Sunday masses with family even when we already lived in Cainta at the time. Well, at the time (1970's to 1980') it was actually no hassle to come to the area since there were few buildings, and there were no malls that now attracted so much traffic. In short, the Ortigas area was still a pleasant area, traffic-wise.

I don't really remember what I was thinking when I went to St. Francis but it was the first time in more than 3 years since I left for Japan. It was always nice to reconnect with places I called haunts and maybe chance upon some old faces including teachers and priests I knew and who knew me. I do remember that as I sat quietly in what was practically an empty church (it was a weekday), the confessional box caught my attention. I believe it was a morning there might have been a few other people there considering Mass was celebrated in the chapel located at a room at the corner of the Church. A light was on indicating there was a priest who administered the sacrament of Penance. The idea of receiving the sacrament suddenly came to my mind, my last confession being prior to Easter that year at Sacred Heart in Yamate. It was also a good idea, I thought at the time, as I wanted to start with a clean slate and that included cleansing myself spiritually through the holy sacrament.

I waited for my turn and was quite anxious not knowing who the priest was. I knew many of the Capuchins at St. Francis as the Rector, Vice Rector and other administrators of Lourdes were also my teachers. The Rector during my grade school and high school days was the same person who celebrated Mass during my wedding. There were also Spanish and Italian priests at St. Francis including one Spaniard who was managed the school's finances for a long time. In fact, I was baptized at St. Francis by its Spanish parish priest in 1972. So it is easy to understand my affinity to St. Francis and why it felt so comfortable for me to return from time to time even for short breathers.

After some minutes of anxious waiting it was finally my turn and I entered the box. I caught a glimpse of the priest on the other side thanks to the holes that allowed for our words to pass through the cubicles. My training at Lourdes kicked in and I remember greeting the priest and automatically reciting the introductory statements prior to pouring my heart out and trying to relieve myself of sins including those I typically consider as petty that they didn't need to be stated every time. I didn't expect the response of the priest on the other side. I only remember now that I received what others may refer to as a tongue-lashing. The priest admonished me and interrogated me about my faith and what I wanted to do with my life. In the process, I thought I felt being exorcised and I poured more of myself in that confessional than in any other time I remember. I ended up crying, perhaps weeping as the priest continued to bombard me with challenges and reminding me how Christ sacrificed himself for the salvation of my soul. In the end, his voice shifted from its angry tone to a more soothing one, reminding me of my responsibilities and how I should live my life from then. In the end, he told me that God had forgiven my sins and that my tears have shown my sincerity for reconciliation. I received my penance though unlike the usual confessions, the priest blessed me but did not tell me to recite any specific prayer or the number of times these should be recited.

I left the confessional feeling fresh and I have not felt that way for a long while. Perhaps that was the feeling of a thorough cleansing that I experienced after receiving the sacrament of reconciliation. Perhaps this was the aftermath of the manner I received the sacrament from a priest I didn't know but who had a heavy accent that I thought was either Italian or Spanish. He sounded like one of the foreign priests assigned to St. Francis but I knew he was not the school treasurer. I caught a glimpse of his long white beard when a ray of light happened to hit us while inside the confessional.

I remember afterwards that I decided to visit the parish office, curious about the identity of the priest. I was told that there were no Spanish or Italian priests at the church at the time and that the school treasurer was away in Spain. This came as a surprise to me and I didn't know what to think or to believe as I knew there was someone there who had a foreign accent and who had just administered reconciliation to me. On my way out, I saw in the corner of the parking lot a statue. It was a bronze representation of a man, a Capuchin priest who is best known as Padre Pio. Padre Pio is well known for the gift of stigmata, the wounds of Christ as He was crucified. His image fit the person who was in the confessional with me. Later, I read about his style of giving confession and came to believe that I had experienced a miracle, a blessing to have received the sacrament from what could have been the person who was to be canonized a few years later.

Such is my experience that made my faith stronger despite all the challenges or obstacles that I have come across since that confession. It is part of the foundation of my belief that indeed there is a God and that He has His ways of connecting to us including sending His servants to remind us of our responsibilities and prepare us for what is to come. Prepare me He did through that priest and to this day I am grateful for that wonderful experience and pray always that I may be true to what the priest had told me that fateful morning. I guess we should always open ourselves to receive such graces from God and that we should be so because we cannot tell when or where we are to receive His graces. One thing we should remember is to be humble so that we can readily surrender to His will and He is sure to take our burdens away just as when He sacrificed His own Son for our salvation.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Signing on

I have made it a habit to tune in to one radio station as I drove from home to the university every weekday morning. As I regularly left for the office before 6:00 A.M., I discovered that if I started early enough, I would catch the station signing on. The sequence for this begins even before the 5:45 A.M. formality as the station warms up with easy listening music that I think is quite appropriate for one starting out the day. At 5:45 A.M. the station plays the Philippine national anthem, and followed by the mandatory identification of licensed personnel (ECEs and radio operators) and the broadcasting power and location of the station. It is a fitting introduction that I imagine myself to be somewhat like the station when I do my own "signing on" ceremony.

When I sign on in the mornings, I make it a point to start with a prayer - a panata of sorts since my days in Yokohama. The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi is a most suitable prayer to start the day and I do recommend it to anyone who would want to start the day with a simple yet powerful reflection on what one needs rather than wants to accomplish. I believe the prayer is a very personal guide on how I should live my life everyday if I were to follow God's will. I just hope I could carry on and live the essence of the prayer despite all the temptations to do otherwise. For when I sign off for the day, I am also reminded of a song taught to us in grade school where we ask ourselves in the "evening of our lives" if we were brave, and strong, and true, and if we were able to fill the world with love during our lifetime.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Proper Attire

We often attend Sunday Mass on mornings at the U.P. Chapel, the Parish of the Holy Sacrifice. A common sight would be churchgoers wearing sportswear, indicating they might have jogged or walked that morning at campus, probably taking advantage of the "car-less" oval scheme that's implemented every Sunday around the Academic Oval of U.P. Diliman. The priests or lay ministers giving communion do not refuse giving the Host to people dressed to run or play rather than to worship or pray. I assume that their tolerance is consistent with the open environment at the university. The Oblation, after all, symbolizes this openness and what greater oblation is there than Christ's offering His own life for our salvation.

I brought up this topic because I am reminded that in my childhood days, my parents and my school teachers taught us to dress appropriately for church. I observed that my parents, uncles and aunts usually dressed well whenever we went to church and my cousins, nephews and nieces would also be in "proper" attire as they were also taught the same thing by their parents and teachers. "Proper" attire here meant a collared shirt and long pants, usually slacks, for the males (although the boys may wear shorts), and a dress or blouse and skirt for the females (the girls usually wore a dress). Through the years, these have been relaxed with slacks replaced by khakis or denims, the collared shirts replaced by regular t-shirts, and dresses and skirts by jeans and shorts. These days, it seems to me that many people just take going to church for granted and just wear anything that we would also wear on any other day.

This may be comfortable for many of us but it seems inappropriate considering the purpose of going to church in the first place. That is, assuming that one went to church to pray or praise God, maybe thank Him for all the blessings one received, or to ask Him for something as is usually the case for many of us. Given such assortment of purposes, it still seems improper to dress too casually or, as in the examples at the U.P. Chapel, or inappropriately.

I still practice a personal tradition of first wearing any new clothing or shoes to church. Ipinangsisimba ko muna. It is my way of thanksgiving for such blessings that we often regard as a common thing that we forget to thank the One who granted such to us in the first place. Another personal tradition is to be presentable everytime I go to Mass. It is actually a way of acknowledging that I am a guest at the house of a very important Person. I often remind myself about what our Rector at my High School told us: "If you were to visit Malacanang or the White House, won't you be dressing up? What more if you were to visit the house of God Who is of higher stature than these persons?"

It's really quite simple when one thinks of these things in that regard. Problem is that we have become to casual and practically do not care about such things as dressing up for the Mass. We don't care. But frankly, if we didn't care, why should the other person (in this case God) care about us? Isn't that too much of an expectation when we can't even package ourselves as presentable to Him when we do come to His temple? I'll leave it up to the philosophers to answer these questions.

Monday, February 14, 2011

No greetings day

The Clairvoyant and I have an agreement to not exchange greetings on this day of hearts. To some it may come as an unusual practice but it is one that we opt not to expound on. It is a mutual agreement that we observe even now when we are physically apart but still one in essence. There are, of course, challenges but as a saying goes, "love overcomes all."

We celebrate our love everyday and manifest this in the simplest and most inconspicuous ways. When before there was IRC and ICQ, now we have Google, Skype and BlackBerry Messenger. And I have scheduled and secured my trips to Singapore until middle of this year, thanks to the generous promos of Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific. Such conveniences weren't possible in the early part of our relationship when airfares were prohibitively high and telecommunications were limited to long distance calls. There were promos then but these were not as substantial as the ones in these days of cut-throat airline competitions and the advent of high speed internet services. Our acquisition of high speed services in both our homes made life more comfortable. We are no stranger to the requirements of long distance relationships and ours is an enduring one, with very firm foundations.

Indeed it is difficult set-up that we have at present and there are probably more challenging times ahead. But I like the message in the lyrics of one popular tune, "love will keep us alive." It is mush at its best and will sound corny for a couple of professionals but we can attest to the truth in those lyrics and have lived our lives with love at its foundation. I believe that our faith in God translates to our faith in each other and it is His love that binds us no matter where we are. This is my firm belief as certain circumstances, of which I shall relate soon in another post, have led me to her. It is a mystery at best but a mystery that despite being difficult to explain, actually brings clarity to how we define love and faith.

My only greeting to the Clairvoyant today is a virtual hug and a virtual kiss. She knows their meaning. I know their meaning. They are enough for a day when we do not greet as everyone else does on this day of hearts. Enough until virtual becomes reality - later at the end of the month.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Flood control

It's only February but it already seemed a good time to write about flooding and flood control in light of the rains that drenched and ravaged many areas around the world including Surigao and Agusan in the southern Philippines. In other countries like Australia, cyclones or typhoons caused floods that were unprecedented in that country's history, providing images of a first world nation experiencing third world misery. The images from Queensland particularly caught my attention as it brought back memories of typhoon Ondoy (international name Ketsana) in September 2009. Closer to home and freshly related by a close friend were floods in Surigao that were worse than what they usually experienced this time of year. There were no typhoons as the season for these weather systems were usually from June to November but the heavy rains resulted in chest-high floods in areas where they usually experienced knee-high inundation.

The floods in Australia and Eastern Mindanao serve as reminders of the impacts of climate change and of what can be experienced later in Metro Manila and the Marikina Valley should La Nina hold tru to its reputation during the coming wet season. The floods should serve as warnings to the general public about the need to be prepared. The floods should serve as reminders for our leaders like those in the front-line government agencies like the DPWH and the MMDA, and particularly for local governments to make the necessary preparationsto ensure that another Ondoy does not happen.

Last year was a lucky one in that we were spared from Ondoy-like floods. Lucky because there were very few preparations for the possibility of flooding. Both national and local governments seemed to have been distracted by the elections and the transitions that immediately followed. Nevermind that one issue during election campaigns were government response to the floods of the previous year. Nevermind that many flood control projects were shelved or delayed due to the election bans. Of course, those who were managing the dams continued to be under close scrutiny of a public wary of the damage brought about by the alleged irregularity in the release of floodwaters in 2009 that led to the unprecedented floods in Luzon. But the responsibility for flood control is not theirs alone and are primarily in the hands of infrastructure agencies and local governments.

I am so far satisfied with the efforts in the vicinity of my residence. The drainage along Marcos Highway went underway late last year and continued this year with the construction of larger capacity drainage systems and the clearing and dredging of existing canals from Masinag down to Santolan where the system connects to the Marikina River. From the looks of the works along both sides of Marcos Highway, I am at least confident that the drainage system will be able to resist the stronger typhoons expected later this year. I am realistic when it comes to this things considering I've had enough experiences of floods in my lifetime. Like what a previous MMDA Chair who was also mayor of Marikina said, it may not necessarily mean that floods won't occur but at least it will be less serious in the sense that instead of waste-high floods, there will only be knee-deep water. Perhaps, instead of having floods over 3 days, it will only be over 1 day or maybe even in a matter of a few hours.

This evening, as I was walking my dog, I took the opportunity to inspect the creek near our home. I saw earlier in the day when I passed the area that dredging works that started in late January were already completed. This evening, I saw for myself that the embankments that collapsed around the time of Ondoy have already been rebuilt and that the creek has been cleaned and cleared of debris that could hamper the flow of water when the rains finally come. I just hope that the same efforts were exerted in other sections of the creek, which I knew extended to other subdivisions in Antipolo, Cainta and Marikina.

We, too must be actively involved in efforts to prevent another Ondoy. Of course, such efforts include lobbying for programs and projects like the construction and maintenance of flood control and drainage systems. But on the more basic level there is also a need to pitch-in in terms of waste management. We already know that garbage contributes a lot to the clogging of our waterways. The amount of plastic collected everytime there are waterway clearing operations remind us of the amount of waste that are irresponsibly thrown away. We only hope that the renewed campaign for segregation and the proper disposal of wastes or garbage will not go the way of previous programs that were typical examples now of ningas cogon.

So far, so good. I just hope the flood control and drainage systems will hold come wet season. I know I am ready for the coming rains. But I am at least more confident of our chances given the improvements I've seen for myself. It also helps that the Clairvoyant is safely away in our second home in Singapore, a city-state that also had flooding experience in the past and have solved these thanks to massive investments in a comprehensive drainage system.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Farewell Berenika

As I was exchanging news with the Clairvoyant this afternoon, she surprised me with the late word she got about the passing of a friend. She met Berenika in one of the IP conferences she attended abroad. Berenika was an associate of their firm's branch in Poland and was also specializing in IP. She was a jolly person and the Clairvoyant quickly warmed up to her, exchanging stories about work, travel, cultures and other interests. Poland, after all, seemed to have a close affinity with our country including its beloved John Paul 2, who was also Archbishop of Krakow.

I remember Berenika visiting Manila a few years ago. The Clairvoyant toured her around Tagaytay and Manila, and discovered that she was the adventurous type. Joining them for dinner, I found her very likable and her stories very interesting. She enjoyed trying out food despite her being a vegetarian and she is probably the only one I knew personally who has been to Nepal and Machu Picchu as well as other exotic places on this earth.

Berenika hosted the Clairvoyant when the latter went on a tour of Eastern Europe almost 3 years ago. As a gift, the Clairvoyant brought her a replica santo that she saw at Tiendesitas that wanted to have but could not because of baggage limitations for her flight. In turn, she gifted us with items on Poland including what I consider to be the best book on the Polish uprising during World War 2.

She resigned from their firm a couple of years ago after not getting a promotion for partner and decided to put up her own practice. Yet she continued to keep in touch with the Clairvoyant; friendships, after all, go beyond being officemates. That was the last time I heard about her although I occasionally ask the Clairvoyant about her being among the unforgettable acquaintances I've had.

And then I learned only now about her passing in August of last year. I must admit I felt sadness despite my limited knowledge of her. She was by all accounts a kind person. She was raised a Catholic but elected to be agnostic. In fact, she suspected that she had a Jewish heritage and had a theory that her family became Catholic out of necessity - at a time when Jews were being persecuted in Europe. And yet she knew a lot about Poland's history including the struggles of her people and the Church during those difficult times when Eastern Europe was shrouded under the Iron Curtain.

Here's to you Berenika! A toast to the life you lived and the friendship you shared with us. May your kind soul rest in peace.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Corruption in our midst

I finally got DSL connection today after what seemed like decades of not being able to get the service despite so many applications and follow-up efforts. The solution apparently involved doing away with the old line and having a new one that was compatible with DSL. The explanations before were either our line was not compatible to DSL or that there were no available capacity for DSL in our area. This afternoon, the technician explained that the service provider increased capacity in our area, recognizing the demand that was unmet.

I am not really writing about our new DSL connection nor the journey towards having the service in the first place. I am actually writing about a pet peeve, and one that is so pervasive in our society that I just had to write about it while it was still a fresh experience. The technician, you see, unabashedly offered to double the speed of my DSL service. This offer came up when I was asking whether the speed of the service I was getting was according to my request - up to 1Mbps. His reply was somewhat indirect, resorting to telling me about the range I would typically get with this subscription and also saying that during peak periods, I might not get the top speeds as listed by his employer. It was kind of funny considering I was quite knowledgeable in these things being previously the head of our office's computer division and having similar services at my parents' home in Cainta, my in-laws in Novaliches and our home in Singapore.

Then he dropped the offer, casually mentioning that he had not yet finalized the installation and that there was time to make some changes. He claimed that he had a friend in their company who can double the speed of my connection and that he can make it happen without the additional fee for my current plan. Only, he hinted about a one-time payment. He didn't mention the exact amount and I already cut his sales talk by calmly saying that the speed with the plan I was getting was sufficient for my purposes. I just laughed it off when he repeated the offer and countered by offering him a glass of softdrink to change the topic.

My initial reaction was disgust but I managed to hide any reaction and proceeded with the business at hand until the technician finally left, unsuccessful with his attempt to cash in. I can only wonder how many offers he had made that day and how many took the offer to be able to get high speed internet service at a price lower than what they had to pay. Certainly the service provider loses a lot from these kinds of activities by their employees. And though I also believe that the service can be cheaper, I couldn't put myself in a position where I would have to contend with my principles and my conscience.

I'm sure there will be other temptations like this, maybe when I pursue again cable TV service some time in the future. But I am sure that I will have the same response and that I will maintain my integrity and my principles intact. I will continue to sustain this effort against the very basic things I abhor and those are the very things pervasive in our society that continue to erode whatever good we attempt to establish.

Corruption is clearly in our midst. It is everywhere and can be found at different levels and different aspects. We encounter it everyday and experience its impact on our lives. I believe we should make a stand in whatever way we could. For it could very well be our last stand and we should treat it that way.


The Filipino or Tagalog translation of the words greedy or selfish seems much more appropriate to use as a term to describe what is arguably the most basic reason why our country is in a rut. It can also be used to describe why our transport systems and traffic is what it is at present. The term suwapang easily and comprehensively defines the way we drive vehicles, ride motorcycles, commute, operate transport services, and enforce or manage traffic. It is also applicable to the way we plan and build infrastructure.

Public utility vehicle drivers are suwapang when they cheat on fares for students and senior citizens, refusing to give the discounts mandated by law. The are suwapang when they race to overtake fellow drivers in order to get to passengers waiting along the roadside. They never mind the safety of their passengers or those in other vehicles around them. To them, the most important thing is to get ahead of everyone else even if in the end those waiting along the roadside or the stop weren’t even heading their way. PUV drivers are suwapang, too, when they cut trips, making it difficult for passengers to get a ride home, to school or to their workplace. Suwapang is also the word appropriate for those refusing passengers for one reason or another. Public transport is, after all and definitely above its business aspect, a service.

Motorcycle riders are suwapang when they disregard traffic rules and regulations and weave in traffic, placing themselves and others at risk of getting involved in a road crash. They are suwapang when they carry more than one other rider (angkas) as what we commonly observe along many roads and with children sandwiched between their parents who seem to not understand the risk they are exposing their children and themselves to.

Tricycle drivers are suwapang when they travel along national roads or highways, fully aware that they are prohibited from doing so. They are suwapang when they charge exorbitant fare for “special” rides. The word also applies when they clog streets due to their numbers, many probably even illegal or colorum units. There are actually too many of them in many areas but they are still steadily increasing as newer tricycles are accommodated or tolerated by the ones supposed to be regulating them.

Transport operators are suwapang when they cheat on vehicle maintenance and place passengers at risk of being involved in a road crash. Poorly maintained vehicles also lead to higher fuel consumption and would definitely have a significant impact on operational costs that is part of the basis for setting fare rates. Suwapang is the word for those who operate gas guzzlers while claiming that it is wholly the rising fuel prices that are to blame for their rising fuel costs. These operators unfairly lobby for increasing fare rates while not doing their part on maintaining their vehicles, effectively imposing the fuel inefficiencies of the vehicles on the riding public.

Commuters are suwapang when they pressure drivers to stop where public transport are restricted from loading and unloading passengers. They do not care about the driver being apprehended and probably paying up for the violation. Commuters are also suwapang when cheating the driver for fares like when they choose or insist to hang on to jeepneys and not pay fares or pretend that they have paid when they have not. They are also suwapang for waiting on the road rather than the road side. They cause congestion because they occupy space intended for vehicles and in effect reduce the capacity of these roads.

Private vehicle drivers are suwapang when they overspeed and weave aggressively in traffic. They do not care about the safety of others nor about rules and regulations that are in place for everyone’s well-being. They are suwapang for demanding more road space when the collective volume of private vehicles are the real cause of congestion, especially when one realizes most vehicles carry only 1 or 2 passengers including the driver. It is inefficient use of road space at best aside from being a waste of fuel and unfriendly to the environment due to the emissions they produce. There are also those who are suwapang when they are turning at an intersection but take instead lanes intended for through vehicles, often causing congestion as they block other vehicles. They are also suwapang when they do not have off-street parking where they reside and leave their vehicles to occupy precious road space, reducing capacity and contributing to traffic congestion in the process. Also suwapang are those who still have sirens (wang-wang) installed on their vehicles for their convenient use, despite the no wang-wang policy being implemented.

Traffic enforcers are suwapang when they extort money from drivers instead of issuing them the traffic ticket for legitimate violations of traffic rules. They are more suwapang when they unscrupulously apprehend motorists for what the former claim were violations by the latter but are actually not, in order to eventually extort money from them. These are quite awkward situations since either or both parties may not even be knowledgeable of the rule or rules that were violated in the first place, if any. Enforcers are also suwapang for extorting money or tong from drivers of goods or freight vehicles. Their activities only lead to an increase in the prices of commodities such as rice and vegetables.

Our government leaders, planners and engineers are suwapang for poorly planned, designed and prioritized infrastructure. Perhaps some are more concerned with their cuts in the budget for transport infrastructure than the quality of a project and its overall benefit to the public. They are suwapang because they choose to benefit themselves (sarili) over the good of their country (bayan), securing their pockets and their own futures when they should be securing the future of the nation as is required of those in public service. They are suwapang because they hinder the nation’s development and deprive people of an efficient transport system for both mobility and accessibility.

Some in the private sector are considered suwapang for collaborating with politicians, planners and engineers described previously. They can also be considered suwapang for pushing for projects that should not be prioritized but are assessed to be so due to their connections with people in power. They, too, hinder this country’s development and deprive people of the efficient system they deserve.

So the inevitable question is – Are you swapang?

Thursday, February 3, 2011


It was more than a year ago when I again traveled to Singapore after more than 2 years. We were recovering from the typhoon Ondoy, which brought what hydrologists estimated were 50 (or 100?) year floods that laid waste to Metro Manila and its adjacent areas. My recollection back then was more about relief and searching for stability if not sanity. We lost a lot to Ondoy and the visit to stable Singapore was like a breath of fresh air replacing the stench and stink of floodwaters that contained who knows what. Two trips to Singapore in 2009 that were only 2 weeks apart certainly allowed for my personal recovery as well as for opportunities to network with researchers and city planners.

Last year, I also traveled to Singapore to present in a conference. It was a short stay but given the option to select the hotel where I stayed, I took that opportunity to be billeted at a hotel along Orchard Road. I must admit that last year was the first time I ever set foot on Orchard Road and just had to see for myself what it was all about. After all, that road has been featured in a lot of articles and seemed to me as a good example of what an urban street should be given the pressures of transport and traffic. Despite the humidity at the time, I found Orchard to be pleasant to walk along and around. As is my practice every time I visit a place new to me, I explore the environs and check out the shops. These offer me a peek into life in that place as well as a feel for how people live.

Forward to the present or maybe the very recent past. I again found myself in Singapore in late January. This time though, it was not for a conference as the past visits were about. I was in Singapore to check out a place that I will be calling home, maybe for the next few years.

The Clairvoyant transfered to their Singapore office early this year. I, hopefully, will follow later; but at a date to be determined based on my commitments. I felt a mixture of excitement and sadness, mostly the latter as the circumstances would mean that physically the Clairvoyant and I would be separated. The excitement was mainly about living in another country, and one that is practically the most stable in the region. Singapore is not like Bangkok with all its attractions nor is it like Tokyo whose cosmopolitan flavor mixes quite well with their culture and its treasures. I would know since I lived in Japan for 3 years and have gone to many places of interest among which were Kyoto, Kamakura and Nikko. Yet Singapore offers a secure and safe environment to live in, and where one can flourish in the workplace and be compensated fairly and accordingly, much like what attracts people to go to first world cities to work.

Last weekend, we signed a lease for the unit that we will be calling our home away from home. It is on the fourth floor of a walk-up and will soon be the object of the Clairvoyant's interior designing skills. The development is just beside the Lorong Chuan Station of the Circle Line (Orange Line) and is just 22 minutes from her office. This is a vast improvement from the 1.5 to 2 hours of driving she usually endures from our home in Antipolo to her former office in Taguig. In Singapore, she will be very mobile and she already is as I must admit I was impressed (and proud) by her familiarity of the MRT/LRT network. And what an efficient public transport system Singapore has!

Our set-up now would mean that we will be travelling often between Manila and Singapore. I guess it would mostly be me flying over during weekends at least once a month. I treat it as a welcome change of pace and I am optimistic and upbeat as I also treat each time I travel as an opportunity to de-toxify. I must admit that I am already entertaining thoughts of transplanting myself to that city-state. Maybe not this year given my commitments and responsibilities, but certainly in the future and perhaps near enough in relative terms.