Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Not Accepting The Status Quo, Transforming Our Country

 My barber and I had the privilege of attending very recently the Filipino community gathering with President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino.
Souvenir from PNoy
PNoy who spoke in Tagalog and English, gave a brief State of the Nation Address (SONA) to the Fil-Am community by letting numbers deliver the message to a responsive audience.

He started by reporting the good news - budget surplus for the month of August was P9 billion. Then the downside - his administration failed to reach the Program Budget Deficit target because it “underspent”. Kulang daw ang gastos. “Kailangan daw gumastos para lumago ang ekonomiya.” We need to spend more to grow our economy.

Unemployment rate in the Philippines was 8% when he took over. Now, it is 7.2%.

I could feel the envy of President Barack Obama!

On Education: 66,000 classrooms for children were lacking; of the children that go to school, only 50% finish high school, and worse, only 14% finish college.

In the first year, the PNoy Administration built 11,000 additional classrooms and 45,000 more will be built in 2012. Most of the uneducated are below the poverty line, so he allocated about P23 billion a year under the Conditional Cash Transfer Program to assist these families in sending their children to school. Beneficiaries were 2.3 million so far. The number is expected to reach 4.6 million by 2015.

Increased funding for these programs as well as budget surpluses are also due to the cancellation of certain projects that are sources of rampant corruption. He cited as an example the project of dredging Laguna de Bay to increase the water of the lake. It was going to be dredging from one portion of the lake and transferring to another portion of the lake. 

The government would save P80.7 billion. This could almost quadruple the number of beneficiaries who are below the poverty line under the Conditional Cash Transfer Program.

He also mentioned the case of the police officers who spent 1/3 of their household income for housing, 1/3 for food, and 1/3 for health and medicine, education, clothing, etc. To assist them in their needs, the government has a special housing program for them which has already built 4,000 homes, and expect to build 21,000 more this year. This would substantially reduce the housing expense for each police family from P4,000-5000/month to a measly mortgage of P200 monthly.

We also gathered separately, that the number of government officials and employees found guilty and imprisoned for corruption went up from 38 in 2009 to 2053 in 2010. That’s a 5,300% increase. The wheels of justice are moving a little faster.

PNoy came to Washington, D.C. and New York to attend the launching of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) of which he is a powerful member of the International Steering Committee. Meeting with the Filipino-American communities to render even a brief report is consistent with the elements of OGP, which are Transparency, Accountability, and Participation of, by and for the people.

PNoy claimed to have been surprised by the enormous problems confronting him and the country when he took over. According to him, surprising even more were the challenges and the opportunities in offering solutions to them.

In an appeal to the community, he said he could not do it alone. Neither could his Cabinet members do it alone. He wanted all of us to do it with him.

“We are not accepting the status quo. We will transform our country,” he ended.

Cory and Ninoy must be proud! He makes us proud!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

P-Noy, POGI, Pinoys

I was telling my barber the other day that I am attending a reception for President Aquino (P-Noy). I explained to him the main reasons the President came to Washington, D.C., and New York. I also mentioned to him my involvement with a group called POGI (People’s Open Government Initiative). To which he immediately expressed great interest in joining after hearing its goals and that it allows both individual and organizational membership or partnership. He wants to be an individual POGI.

P-Noy came to the United States upon the invitation of President Obama and Brazil President Dilma Rousseff, co-chairs of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), to attend the launch of the OGP in New York on September 20, 2011.

He was invited because the Philippines, under his leadership, has been chosen as one of the eight members of the International Steering Committee of OGP. As Presidents Obama and Rousseff wrote: “We appreciate the active engagement and leadership of your government in developing this effort, and look forward to standing with you as we launch this initiative in September.”

P-Noy also delivered the keynote remarks at an OGP-related forum entitled “The Power Open: a Global Discussion” in New York City. The distinct honor of being the only head of state to address the forum was indeed his.

Of course, he also took advantage of this newfound reputation of honest and good governance conducive to investments by meeting with the US–ASEAN Business Council, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Philippine-American Chamber of Commerce in New York, and with the Filipino-American community in Washington, D.C.

Indeed, Pinoys should be proud that P-Noy’s government is internationally recognized for its efforts to fight corruption and to institutionalize People Power. Determined to eliminate poverty, he believes that it would be a lot easier if corruption were licked first. “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.”

Membership in the OGP is not automatic. Any country that is interested in participating is required to submit an Action Plan acceptable to the group, which is currently steered by a committee co-chaired by Presidents Obama and Rousseff of the United States and Brazil, respectively. The other members outside of the two and the Philippines are: the United Kingdom, Mexico, Norway, South Africa, and Indonesia.

I read the draft of the Action Plan of the Philippines.  Overall it is acceptable. I particularly like the fact that the Official Gazette is now online. It allows not just members of the judiciary and lawyers but any interested citizen to access the entire corpus of Laws and Supreme Court decisions since 1901, Presidential issuances since 1935, as well as daily updates from government agencies. After all, “ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

I also like the transparency in local governance whereby the Department of Interior and Local Government has required all Local Government Units (LGUs) to post on local bulletin boards, in newspapers and on websites information about their utilization of funds and implementation of projects.

Citizens are also encouraged to participate in the budgetary process whereby civil society organizations (CSOs) are consulted in the budget preparation.

The key factors in a successful open government are Transparency, Accountability, and Participation in Governance. In all these factors, access to information is a key element. In the case of Transparency, information must be made accessible and available openly and publicly. The public must be informed of the tasks and responsibilities of officials, who should be held accountable.

Most importantly, since ours is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, full participation by an informed and vigilant citizenry is encouraged. Participation by the people here means not just being informed but also in turn informing government officials, the press, and the social media of their concerns, suggestions, ideas, and even proposed solutions. This explains POGI’s existence.

As expected, P-Noy’s draft has some critics. The latter criticize the not-so-firm commitment to the passage of the Freedom of Information bill in the draft. 

Indeed many countries, including the United States have a Freedom of Information Act. This mandates any government agency to provide any information upon written request by any group and/individual citizen.

Is it necessary to have such a law for P-Noy to implement the necessary Action Plan that he commits under the Open Government Partnership?

My answer is NO. There are sufficient laws currently in place to support an effective implementation. 

One, Article III, Section 7 of the Constitution, states: “The right of the people to information of matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records and documents, papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law.”

Two, Article II, Section 28 of the Constitution, provides: “Subject to reasonable conditions prescribed by law, the State adopts and implements a policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest.”

Three, the Supreme Court itself has ruled in 1987 that the right of access to information could be applied directly without the need for an additional act.

Fourth, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees requires disclosure of public transactions and guarantees access to official information, records, or documents. The Act sets a policy of “full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest.”

The involvement of P-Noy, POGI, and Pinoys in Open Government must be encouraged and given top priority. It is our ticket to instituting real social, political and economic reforms in order to achieve a richer and more progressive Philippines. The active and meaningful participation of Pinoys in honest and good governance would, as the Action Plan says, “operationalize and institutionalize People Power” and realize P-Noy’s vision of Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


I was about to write my column with a different theme when I heard the news that Maria Mabilangan Haley suddenly passed away due to an aneurysm. I immediately changed the topic and decided to pay tribute to her instead.

I never knew her until she made a surprising call one day. She introduced herself on the phone as she described her involvement with the presidential campaign of then Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas. She invited me to an event in New York and even guaranteed a photo-op with the Governor. She also asked me to join the campaign and asked for names in the Filipino community whom she should call to help.

I remember mentioning David Valderrama who was then the first elected Filipino State Delegate (Assemblyman) in Mainland, U.S.A.; Gloria Caoile who was the assistant to the President of AFSCME (Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees); and Belen Macaranas de la Pena, President of PACAS (Philippine American Culture and Arts Society). I told her why they were the right leaders to contact.

David Valderrama later on became one of the campaign managers targeting Asian Americans. Of course, he had to coordinate with Marilou (as many friends called her). Although the Table of Organization did not show, Marilou was indeed high up there in the Table of Power as far as the Clinton campaign and Presidency is concerned. I learned this later as the campaign was in progress.

Meanwhile, there was also a presidential election in the Philippines. Then Secretary of National Defense Fidel Ramos who was endorsed by President Cory Aquino just got elected and was going to be inaugurated on June 30, 1992.

Helping Dave in his duties, I came up with an idea that I thought would endear Clinton to the Filipino-American voters and automatically elevate him to an almost Presidential status. The idea was for Presidential Nominee Clinton to send a message to the new Philippine President Fidel Ramos, appoint Dave as his Ambassador to the Inauguration and to hand carry Clinton’s message.

Dave presented it to Maria Haley who liked it and referred it to Tony Blake, Clinton’s foreign and national security affairs adviser. The latter, who became President Clinton’s National Security Adviser, immediately arranged for his deputy to meet with Dave and me at the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C. where we discussed the plan.

Maria Haley was a woman of action, a team player who knew how to leverage power or influence in achieving specific goals as shown in later years.

The fact that the incumbent Secretary of Foreign Affairs was Raul S. Manglapus at the time of the Presidential Inauguration was of course, a big bonus to our plan. He was already a friend of David Valderrama. Ramos ran and won under the banner of Manglapus’ political party, NUCD. But most importantly, it turned out that Maria Haley and Secretary Manglapus were already friends’ even years earlier. The fact was, the latter had introduced her to her husband.

I accompanied Dave to the Philippines. With the help of our friends there, Dave was treated Ambassador-like both at the Inauguration where we were seated at the stage and at the Inaugural Ball where Dave personally handed over Clinton’s message which was drafted by Tony Blake with the help of Maria Haley. Cabinet Secretary Elaine Chao headed the delegation representing President George H.W. Bush.

This happening got substantial publicity both in the Philippines and in the United States especially in areas where many Filipinos reside. We attained our goals and eventually, Clinton became President.

Upon hearing the news of Maria Haley’s death, Former President Bill Clinton was the first to release a statement related to Haley’s death. Clinton noted:

“Maria Haley was a great public servant, a wonderful person, and my friend for more than thirty years.

“When I was Governor of Arkansas, Maria was invaluable in opening foreign markets to our products, recruiting foreign investment in our state, and supporting my work in the National Governors Association. After I became President, I nominated her to the board of the Export Import Bank of the United States. During her service, from 1994 to 1999, the Export Import Bank doubled financing for small business exports.

“Before and after her time at the Export Import Bank, she served as Special Assistant to the President and as Deputy Director of the Presidential Personnel Office, helping other qualified and dedicated people serve in important positions.

“Maria was really a world citizen, who never lost contact with her native nation, the Philippines, where she served as an adviser to President Gloria Arroyo. Thousands of people in Arkansas, throughout the United States, and in the Philippines, benefited from Maria Haley’s life-long commitment to bring economic opportunities to more people. As we mourn her passing, we also must be very grateful for her life.”

Marilou was known for being an educated and smart Karilagan Fashion Model in the Philippines before getting established in Arkansas. A successful exponent of Free and Fair Trade as proven in her stint in Arkansas and in the U.S. EXIMBANK, and never forgetting her Philippine roots, she has become a Model for Filipinas in particular, and hardworking women in general.

Gov. Mike Beebe who appointed her as Executive Director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDCO) said it best: “Maria Haley did more for the State of Arkansas than most people will ever know. Her tireless mission to create and keep jobs in Arkansas was a primary factor in our ability to ride out the recession as well as we have. After living all over the world, Maria made Arkansas her adopted home, and dedicated herself to its betterment for more than 30 years. She was one of the first people I wanted on my team when I became governor, and she will be dearly missed as a friend and colleague.”

Born in the Philippines and daughter of a Philippine diplomat, she was educated in India, Pakistan, France and Spain. She was multi-lingual.

Marilou was awarded the Ron Brown Award for Advancing Trade Opportunities by the U.S. Small Business Exporters Association, and the Philippine Presidential Award by the Commission on Filipinos Overseas. She was the recipient of the 2000 Stan Suyat Memorial Leadership Award from the Asian American Government Executives Network and received the 2006 Corporate Leadership Award from Filipinas Magazine.

She made us proud!

Our condolences to her family, and we offer our prayers as she enters the Pearly Gates of Heaven.

Friday, September 9, 2011

GBU: Goal To Have A Good GOAL

Sometime at the turn of the century, I was invited to speak at a national conference of public colleges and universities in the Philippines. The topic was, “The eBook Technology, E-Learning and Online Education.” I was asked because I just introduced in the country the eBookMan, which we were licensed to manufacture in the Philippines and for creating the electronic libraries that were downloaded into it. The device and its software applications were eventually bought by who came up with what we now call KINDLE.

Indeed eBooks or digital books have been made so easily accessible, available, and affordable both online and offline that local knowledge could now be globalized and global knowledge localized. Electronic libraries are downloadable not just in desktop computers, laptops and tablets but more so in handheld devices or smart phones. We used the slogan, “Library in Your Pocket, Knowledge at Your Finger tips.” To the lawyers who installed our e-libraries of Laws and Cases in their handheld devices, we told them, “You can now take the law into your own hands.”

As predicted in that national conference, the Digital Natives (born in 1980 and after) as well as the Digital Immigrants (born before 1980), would find it necessary and beneficial to have what I call a Global Online Academic Life (GOAL).

In a recent study on online education conducted by SRI International for the U.S. Department of Education, it concluded that: “On average, students in online learning conditions performed better that those in face-to-face instruction.” The 93-page report examined the comparative research on online versus traditional classroom teaching from 1996 to 2008. Over the 12-year span, the report found 99 studies in which there were quantitative comparisons of online and classroom performance for the same courses.

Based on the analysis, “on average, students doing some or all of the course online would rank in the 59th percentile in tested performance, compared with the average classroom student scoring in the 50th percentile.”

While online education as a method has been proven to be as effective if not more in imparting knowledge, it must also offer and deliver the right contents to have a good, joyful and satisfactory Global Online Academic Life (GOAL).

That’s why I was not surprised that when my friend, Francisco de Paula Leon Olea, an alumnus of American University’s Masters Program in International Service  came up with a vision to set-up an online university.  He named it Giordano Bruno University (GBU), after an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer whose theories and freethinking ideas got him charged with heresy and burned.

Francisco envisioned the development of the philosophical and pedagogical model of education that he fully discussed in his book, “The Awakening of the Humankind”.

As Dr. Louis W. Goodman, Dean of School of International Service, American University in Washington, D.C. commented, “Francisco de Paula Leon’s vision in understanding human political behavior through the use of a bio-epistemological methodology parallel to the evolution of the brain and of civilization was truly evocative. This essay provides an insight to mankind’s potential in the XXI century…As Francisco writes in his conclusion; it is true that as human beings the potential to solve the problems of our times is in our hands. The real question is whether we have the ability to work towards the establishment of solutions or the creation of disaster.  The Human Awakening clarifies this alternative by showing that having this option is consistent not only with our History, but also with our Biology.”

His goal to offer academic excellence is further reinforced by entering into a partnership with the Club of Budapest whose “philosophy is based on the realization that the enormous challenges that humanity is currently facing can only be overcome through the development of a global cultural consciousness.”

For online delivery, he contracted the services of the leading provider for online learning management systems, Blackboard International. Working with the firm, a special attention was placed on unique software focusing on the “Whole Life development as the bedrock of our educational system to promote our transcultural, transdisciplinary and stereotypical cognitive values.” He excitingly calls it, “Facebook of Education.”

A Mexican native, he has invited the participation of a couple of corporate investors in his country to help him finance the first stage of the Project.  The Fabio C. Group joined the Project earlier and some are expected to participate especially because of the successful launching of the Giordano Bruno University (GBU) in Budapest, Hungary.

Francisco de Paula Leon Olea is a man of vision, a man with a mission, and one who has a very practical ambition. He has effectively and efficiently avoided turning it into an obsession thus experiencing no frustration.

I am proud to have been one of the instruments in the attainment of this goal to have a good GOAL (Global Online Academic Life) for GBU. I incorporated the Giordano Bruno University Foundation, Inc., which owns the university and the Giordano Bruno University, Inc., its profit company in the District of Columbia.