Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: January 2019
Wednesday, 16 January 2019 15:45

Travelers’ travails

AS of this writing, we have been home in Davao for almost two weeks now and taking a vacation from a vacation. Flying coach on PAL is stressful enough, but with three grandchildren (3 to 7 years) in tow, it is almost unbearable except for the expertise of the parents who are themselves globetrotters. For one, Matt had the foresight to download to two IPads and two cellphones 12 hours’ worth of the kids’ favorite cartoons, games and movies. And with Philippine Airlines’ (PAL) on-seat chargers, batteries never run out. Max was surfing the inter-flight movie channels for his favorite “Star Wars” episodes. Lara had all the back-up toys, the teddy bears (named “Loveys”), bottles of milk, assorted snacks and diapers in color-coded satchels, bags and small luggage; all reachable at arm’s length.

In a four-seat configuration, two kids are seated anchored by nanny Belen beside the youngest on one end and the other by Matt with Sylvie. On the next row are Lara and Momsie putting Max in between them. And “Lolo” book-ending the row ,hoping all along that PAL would upgrade my Premier-Elite status to business class for at least having sired the next generation of Capitan Lucio Tan’s next generation of PAL travelers. Fat chance! This septuagenarian had to suffer the 11 ½ hours flight Manila (MNL)-San Francisco (SFO) and 14 ½ hours SFO to MNL in the sardine-like confines of a plane seat which has diminished in size (or has my bulk grown?).

The SFO immigration area was a breeze, particularly for the eight of us allowed to go through the US passport-holders line, as my grandkids and their parents are US citizens. Lolo, “Lola” and the nanny who are Pinoy just had extra questions to answer from a Korean-American officer, like: “…what is the purpose of your visit,” among others. This stern line of questioning possesses an undertone, not blatant, of course, of a slight suspicion of Lolo, Lola and nanny looking for temporary jobs, hinting on the possibility of being “TNT” (Tago nang Tago) in America. To that question, I was tempted to reply “…to spend my money to help the American economy.” I didn’t come through with that tongue-in-cheek response as my grandson Max was fidgeting to run to the nearest restroom. And, for all we know, this federal immigration employee may be one of Trump’s shutdown victims and was a brave volunteer — without pay.

Overall, our holiday was fantastic. First, my fears were unfounded. And my grandson Max could be right after all that the clash of the Pacific and North Atlantic tectonic plates along the San Andreas fault will not occur for the next 10,000 years or so. But we had our own little tectonic shifts when three tykes ages 6 ½, 4 ½ and 3 are packed into a Chevy Suburban with the two younger ones allowed their impedimenta keeping them occupied for any land trip; to the museums, toy stores or to the skiing areas, and even to Ghirardelli for hot cocoa and mini-golf, the Golden Gate Bridge for sightseeing or the grocery at Target stores; with a ‘devil-may-care’ of a driver of a son-in-law, Matt, who almost gave Momsie a heart attack. Frankly, he did well to chauffeur us safely all throughout — except I prefer my daughter Lara to handle the wheels from time to time.

Driving along American roads, either interstate highways or local roads and even mountain roads, is safe. This is because the roads are basically well-structured, superbly engineered, highly maintained, well-lighted with clear signs and directions. More importantly, traffic rules, regulations and the laws are applied strictly, evenly and fairly. Therefore, drivers are disciplined to drive safely. There are exceptions that could produce tragic results – drunk driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), overtaking, crossing solid painted lines, going through red lights and ignoring protocols on four-way STOP signs. I have been driving in American roads for decades and I drive safely and well with an American driver’s license – and no accidents.

But in Manila, for years I no longer drive. It is one of the most chaotic road systems in major cities with population of 10 million. With PRRD’s ‘build-build-build’ program, he needs to redo our road and traffic systems, especially in the megacities; more public transport, phaseout of jeepneys and ancient vehicles, more skyways, more feeder roads but more importantly, the forced education of drivers and the enforcement of the rule of law.

This program of the Deegong will effectively open resort areas, encourage visits to provinces and develop internal tourism and perhaps declog cities and eliminate environmental blight. DU30 with his proven political will to do things right has four years to do this. This is in fact more revolutionary than a revgov — at least to start with.

Our flight back, PR 115, was not entirely uneventful as the US immigration inspection areas were manned with a skeletal force — thanks to the shutdown. But the lone incident that got my goat happened at the NAIA airport upon arrival. With eight in our party (and three grandkids), we had 16 pieces of luggage, including car seats between us, inclusive of four balikbayan boxes of assorted pasalubong and clothing. Each of us had to hand-carry on board priority bags for the kids to survive the trip. This was where my fiasco with PAL began. On the ground past NAIA immigration, I remember leaving my black leather jacket at the overhead luggage compartment on row 65F. The ground PAL personnel were informed. As Sylvia and I were to board PR 2813 for Davao within two hours (without the kids) we were asked to proceed to the domestic part of Terminal 2. The PAL personnel were courteous and mindful of my complaint about by jacket informing them of my wallet of credit cards in the left inner pocket and a money-clip with $200 on the right pocket. At the domestic PAL lounge, two gentlemen from PAL security returned my black leather jacket, with my wallet of credit cards minus the $200 cash. My wife was more than happy to have my more expensive jacket returned. But I thought I should complain about the lost cash; which was also the advice of my classmate Sammy’s wife, Rose Lutz – a retired ground PAL supervisor. Thus, my letter to PAL president Jimmy Bautista today.

Overall, this incident did not mar my vacation with my grandchildren – courtesy of my son-in-law Matt and daughter Lara. But after this two-week interlude, I long to be back with my septuagenarian classmates who have been planning to go on breaks like this. Such type of trips is heavy on the pocketbook. On the other hand, septuagenarians have more compelling reasons; to go on the move as a herd as we take comfort in our dwindling numbers, our days are short and the possibility that many will not last the years we allot for ourselves; or illness will overtake our tired bodies leaving only the indomitable souls. But souls don’t travel well as a pack. So, here’s to the AdeDU class 1960’s romp to Coron, Palawan on February 14 — the day for lovers.
Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 09 January 2019 11:46

Postcard from America

I NEVER did leave my heart in San Francisco. In fact, I never did leave my heart anywhere in America. But San Francisco was the first American city that I visited in the spring of 1980. I was privileged to have been an awardee of the Group Study Exchange Program (GSE) of the Rotary International and spent several weeks in the 4-State Rotary District 6110 of Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Since my first trip to America 39 years ago, I have been in and out of the country countless times. Although in terms of endearment, Cambridge and Boston are where I accumulated my baggage of nostalgia, having spent my sabbatical year for studies there. New York City should come next as my daughter and my grandchildren resided there.

But San Francisco has always filled me with dread as the San Andreas fault hangs as a Damocles sword over the place. It has triggered several earthquakes over the past century — from the 7.9 magnitude in 1857 that claimed one fatality, to the 1906, 1989 and 2004 quakes that destroyed great swathes of the city by fire and infrastructure collapse, reducing them to rubble, with thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in property damage.

I am a moviegoer and the flick “San Andreas,” although a fictional depiction of the end of times for California, could be what scientists have been predicting all along; the splitting of the state from the mainland along the San Andreas Fault, the boundary between the Pacific and the North American tectonic plates. And there are perhaps a million kababayan residents, not to count my relatives living the American dream. That’s why I feel a certain trepidation every time I visit San Francisco or Los Angeles.

We are now in Yosemite, at least farther away from this part of the earth’s lithosphere; as if that were really a consolation if ever the “big one” comes. My seven-year-old grandson, Max, assured me that this catastrophe is at least 10,000 years in the future.

My grandkids miss the snow since they relocated to Manila and the closest to a snowman they can construct is the artificial snow at SM Megamall. Also, skiing is part of their DNA having been sired by an American father from St. Cloud, Minnesota, where snow cover during winter is abundant.

The park itself is generally open for tourists and visitors despite the President Trump-induced shutdown, which is now on its third week. With a reported close to 800,000 unfunded federal employees, certain sites are closed. Packed like sardines in a Chevy Suburban, we breezed through unstaffed but open entrance stations. The park service-provided information and orientation are somewhat available as there are a few and unpaid volunteers bravely manning the park, in effect keeping some visitor centers open, although the Yosemite museum was closed. Some campgrounds and hiking trails remain open and free public shuttle service around the valley is available. Thank God my son-in-law got a VRBO cabin at Redwood Parks on Wawona, about an hour from the Badger Pass ski area where a fresh powder of snow allows skiing lifts and runs open despite the shutdown.

And we did ski with the three kids, coached by Matt and Lara, down the “turtle run,” the slope reserved for beginners ages 3 to the teens. As a skiing tyro for 30 years, I still must brave the “green and black” runs, earmarked for accomplished skiers, which I did not attempt this time. But I have bragging rights as “master of the kiddie slopes.”

The National Park Service (NPS) that is responsible for managing all national parks is an agency under the US Department of the Interior. It is mandated “…to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. Yosemite National Park covers an area of 747,956 acres and designated a World Heritage site; and famous for its granite cliffs, waterfalls, glaciers and biological diversity. Ninety-five percent of the park is designated wilderness.” (Wikipedia)

I can’t help comparing our national parks in the Philippines. The Mount Apo Natural Park (MANP) for one, was established as a protected area and acknowledged as an Asean Heritage Site, with an area of 54,974.87 hectares. Upon its designation as a protected area, 30 percent of the land area, or approximately 14,900 has., had forest cover. However, negligent government policy allowed conversion of the areas into agricultural use and for human settlements, degrading the forest and wildlife habitat. Illegal tree cutting has been prevalent and charcoal making for household use resulted in forest cover loss of 1,400 has. yearly.

Popular as a mountain climbing and trekking site, being the highest mountain in the country, hundreds visit the park yearly and a few climb the summit. But policing of the area is minimal. Toilet facilities and half-way cottages are practically absent, with climbers and tourists littering the trails with garbage and human waste. These could be the reasons why the park was taken out of the Unesco list of heritage sites.

What President Duterte did in Boracay could be a template in saving national parks and resort areas for Filipino and foreign tourists, but more importantly, for the enjoyment of the present generation and future ones. The internationally famous beach resort had deteriorated since the early 1970s-1980s prompting the Deegong to declare the whole resort as a cesspool, an environmental blight. He used the full powers of government to close the resort to tourists for half a year and clean the area, putting in a sewage system connecting 200 hotels and establishments to the sewerage lines instead of these effluents being discharged directly to the sea. He has forcibly dismantled structures that illegally encroached upon the shoreline, and has directed the widening of the streets to ease traffic. More importantly, he has closed businesses that are non-compliant with Philippine laws and local ordinances. There are still flaws in the management of the area which are under several government departments that include tourism, environment and natural resources and local government. But things are beginning to improve, restoring the resort to world class status.

But the local population is supportive of PRRD and the success of the rehabilitation of Boracay could be the impetus for similar initiatives for other resorts and national parks and could even extend to the cleaning of esteros and slum area development in the inner cities. Palawan resorts outside of El Nido and Amanpulo may be targeted next. These drastic measures have never been attempted before by any of our political leaders since the birth of the Republic, except for this oft-vilified President Duterte. Love him or hate him, this is what political will is all about. And this is what the country needs.
Published in LML Polettiques