An open letter to CNN

For the past week, the Philippines has caught international media attention, and why wouldn’t it?  The strongest typhoon of the year Haiyan (local name:  Yolanda) hit Eastern Visayas with winds 3.5 times stronger than that of Hurricane Katrina.  If you’ve seen the photos from Day 1, everything is just flattened out.  It was a heartbreaking sight.  What used to be a slowly progressing town was reduced to clutter.

Someone even said it was as if a hand flattened Tacloban.

So since then, and it’s been Day 8 now, journalists and foreign aid have been constantly pouring in.  With all those eyes tuned in to our country, it is not a wonder that criticism of the Philippine government would rise.  It came to the point that noted journalist Anderson Cooper of CNN had to explain his style of reporting just because local diva (hehe) Korina Sanchez openly criticized his commentary on her radio show.

And I get the frustration.  It is taking long to reach everyone.  The Philippines is an archipelago, which by definition is an intensive group of islands.  As much as the Filipinos are together in this one, the geography of our country literally divides us.

But the defense of our country cannot be better encapsulated than this open letter I chanced upon while browsing things to retweet and echo back on Twitter.  You will love this, I promise.

Dear Sirs:

I just wanted to make some comments on the reporting of the CNN International crew here in Manila, regarding the relief efforts for the victims of super-typhoon Haiyan (which we locally call typhoon Yolanda).
First, full disclosure: I am a retired Filipino executive and computer person. I was born in the Philippines and spent all my life here (save for some very short overseas stints connected with my career). I have worked with a large local Philippine utility, started up several entrepreneurial offshore software service companies (when outsourcing was not yet in vogue), and also served as the Philippine country head for a multi-billion dollar Japanese computer company. This diverse work background allows me to always see both the local and global point of view, and to see things from the very different standpoints of a third-world citizen, and a person familiar with first-world mindsets and lifestyles.

I appreciate CNN’s reporting, as it brings this sad news to all corners of the world, and in turn, that helps bring in much needed charity and aid. The tenor and tone of CNN’s reporting has not been very palatable for a local person like me (the focus seems to be on the country’s incompetence). But I shrug that aside, as there is probably some truth to that angle. And in reality, what counts now is that help arrives for the people who need them most; recriminations and blame can come later. Last night, I listened to a CNN reporter wondering about the absence of night flights in Tacloban, in the context of the government not doing enough to bring in relief goods. It was like listening to newbie executives from Tokyo, London or the USA with no real international experience, yet assuming that their country’s rules and circumstances applied equally to the rest of the world. That was the proverbial last straw: I knew I had to react and call your attention to a few things (with some risk, since these topics are not my area of competence):

1. The airport in Tacloban is a small provincial airport: when you get two commercial Airbus flights arriving simultaneously, you are already close to straining that airport’s capacity. Even under normal operations, the last flights arrive in Tacloban at around 6pm, partly because of daylight limitations. Considering that the typhoon wiped out the airport and the air traffic gear, and killed most of the airport staff, you basically have nothing but an unlit runway which can handle only smaller turbo-prop planes. You can only do so much with that. I would assume that our Air Force pilots are already taking risks by doing landings at dusk. Take note that in the absence of any working infrastructure, the cargo will have to be off-loaded from the plane manually, while it sits in the tarmac. If you do the math, I wonder how aircraft turnarounds can be done in a day? How many tons of supplies could theoretically be handled in one day?

2. The Philippine air force has only three C130 cargo planes (I am not sure if there is a fourth one). This is supposedly the best locally-available plane that is suited for this mission: large enough to carry major cargo load, but not too large to exceed the runway limitations. We do not have any large helicopters that can effectively move substantial cargo. I am happy to read in the newspapers that the USA is lending another eight C130 planes. I am not the expert, but I would suspect that even with more planes, the bottleneck would be in capacity of the airport to allow more planes to land and be offloaded, as discussed above.

3. A major portion of the road from the Airport to Tacloban City is a narrow cement road of one lane in each direction. With debris, fallen trees, toppled electric poles, and even corpses littering the road, it took time to clear the airport itself, so that they could airlift heavy equipment needed to clear the roads. Then it took even more time to make the roads passable. Listening to our Interior Secretary on CNN, he disclosed that the Army was able to bring in 20 military trucks to Leyte. Half of them were allocated to transport relief goods to the different villages in the city, and the rest were assigned for clearing, rescue and other tasks. With very little local cargo trucks surviving the typhoon, I guess this would be another bottleneck. Again, I assume that if I do the math, there is only so much volume that can be moved daily from the airport to the city.

4. The Philippines is an archipelago. Tacloban City is in Leyte island, which has no road link with the other major cities/islands. The only external land link (the San Juanico bridge) is with the neighboring island of Samar, which was equally hard hit by the typhoon, and which is just like Leyte (in terms of limited transportation infrastructure). The logistics of getting relief, supplies and equipment to Tacloban is daunting. Not too long ago, my company put up a large chunk of the communication backbone infrastructure in Leyte province. It was already a challenge to get equipment onto the ground then. This has always been the challenge of our geography and topography. What more now, when the transportation/communication systems are effectively wiped out in Tacloban?

5. There is an alternate land/sea route from Manila to Leyte: down 600 kilometers through the Pan-Philippine highway to the small southern province of Sorsogon, taking a ferry to the island of Samar, and then 200+ kilometers of bad roads to Tacloban City. I was told that some private (non-government) donations are being transported by large trucks through this route. So many trucks are now idle in Matnog town down in Sorsogon, waiting for the lone ferry which can carry them across the very rough San Bernardino Straits to the town of Allen in Samar island. The sheer volume probably is over-whelming. Again I do not have the exact numbers, but my educated guess is that the low-volume Matnog ferry needs to transport in a few days what they would normally do over one or two months.

6. The government administrative organization in Tacloban is gone. Most local government employees are victims themselves. This adds to the problems of organizing relief efforts locally. Even if augmented with external staff, the local knowledge and the local relationships are hard to replace. In some other smaller towns (where the death toll and/or damage has not been as bad), local governments are still somehow functioning and coping. They are able to bury their dead, set up temporary makeshift shelters, organize and police themselves. Short term, they need food, water and medical supplies to arrive; medium term, they need assistance in clean-up, reconstruction and rebuilding. But Tacloban is in a really bad condition. What can you expect from a city that has lost practically everything?

I am told of the comparison with the Fukushima earthquake/tsunami, where relief supplies arrived promptly, efficiently, and in volume. I think there is one major backgrounder that CNN staff fail to mention: that Tacloban is not Fukushima, that it is not Atlanta. And the Philippines is not Japan, and certainly not the USA. Even before the typhoon, this region was one of the less developed in the country, with limited infrastructure. There was only a small airport, limited trucking capacity, a limited road system, and a small seaport servicing limited inter-island shipping. And with the damage from the typhoon, that limited infrastructure has been severely downgraded. It is easy to blame the typhoon. But the truth is: Tacloban is a small city in a third-world country. If you had to bring in that volume of cargo in that short window of time in pre-typhoon Tacloban, it would already have been a challenge. It is easy for a first-world person to take everything for granted. The reality (or sometimes, the advantage?) of growing up in a third-world country is that you do not assume anything, you take nothing for granted, you are grateful for what little you have (and you do not cry over what you do not have).

I understand and sympathize with the desperate needs of the victims. Every little bit counts. The smallest food or water package can make the difference between life and death. I think every Filipino knows that. And that is why I am very happy with the national display of compassion and civic duty. Everyone, even the poorest, even the prison inmates, is donating food and money. People are volunteering their time. All the local corporations are helping. In the Philippines, Christmas is the most important holiday, and the annual company Christmas Party is probably the most important company event for most employees. Yet in very many companies in Manila, employees have decided to forego their Christmas party, and instead divert the party budget to relief/aid.

From what I see on TV, the situation on the ground is not pretty. I do accept that efficiency needs to be improved, that service levels have to go up. I do acknowledge that our country’s resources are limited, that our internal delivery capabilities may not be world-class. I do understand that there may be ineffective policies/processes and even wrong decisions made by government. But what I cannot understand is the negative tenor of CNN reporting. I suspect that CNN reporters are viewing this through the eyes of a first-world citizen, with an assumed framework of infrastructure and an expectation of certain service levels. I suspect these are expectations that we would have never met, even in the pre-typhoon days.

Or perhaps it is a question of attitude: a half-empty glass rather than a half-full glass. At my age, I have experienced and lived through earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and at least twenty really bad typhoons (but admittedly, none as bad as Yolanda). From my experience, what we have now is not just a half-filled glass, I personally view it as probably at least 75% full (meaning, I think this is a big improvement over past efforts in past calamities). But please do not fault us for being a third-world country. Please do not explicitly or implicitly attribute everything to our incompetence, what might be due to other factors (such as those that result from limited resources or infrastructure, or those conditions that God or nature seems to have chosen for us). Our people are doing what they can, so let’s give them a break. More so in these difficult times, when suffering is high, emotions are feverish, and tempers are frayed.

It breaks my heart to see my countrymen suffering so much. I will do my share, whatever I can do to help. I will bear insults and harsh words, if this is the price for my people to receive the aid we need. I make no excuses for my country’s shortcomings, but I just wish that some positive slant (the many small tales of heroism, the hard work of our soldiers, the volunteerism and compassion of the typical citizen, etc) would also be mentioned equally. I just needed to let you know how this particular Filipino reacts to your reporting, and I suspect there are many, many other folks who feel the same way that I do.

For whatever the limitations, I still sincerely thank you for your coverage, and the benefits that it will bring my countrymen.

I don’t know who the author is, but this just made me tear up.

Nothing left to say here, that pretty much sums it up.  To end this post, let’s hashtag this bitch.

UPDATE 11/17/2013:
We have the original post!  Thank you very much. 

This letter has driven my stats crazy, and a lot of opinions have been thrown in every now and then.  Le Beau already told me to close the comments section as people are becoming a little too passionate about their opinion.  But, as a fellow commenter on stuff that pushes my buttons, I don’t think I would want to close the comments box.  Please please please though abide by one rule:  YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE SMART TO GIVE YOUR OPINION, BUT YOU HAVE TO BE POLITE.

Salamat.

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Monsoon survivor!

I have been meaning to blog about my emotional instability (chos) but the past days I’ve only been stuck in water.  Literally.

Flood

It’s storm season again in the Philippines, and this has to be the worst flooding our home has ever experienced.  Actually, this is just knee deep.  Some time within the day, it even reached up to my thighs.

I wonder though if it was the rain or the width of my legs that made the water rise.  Eureka! Hahaha.

This is our first regular day for the week, the first day we’re actually experiencing power.  Since Monday till about 4 hours ago, we’ve been living in black and white, and I’ve had much to ponder, not to mention finished four books in a row.  I’m waiting for the jubilant feeling to die down a bit (LIGHT!  THERE’S LIGHT!) just so I can be in the right state of mind to share with you my insights.

Not that you’re eager to hear me moping, but you get what I mean.

The books that I finished in the 80 hour non-powered days were:

  • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
  • Paper Towns by John Green
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  • South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami

It’s like I saved the best for last.

For now, please continue praying for the ones who are yet to regain power and are still flooded here in the Philippines.  I can tell this is the first of many, so vigilance is key.

But then again there’s nothing unusual here.  After all, the Filipino spirit is unsinkable.

Chos.

 

If the world were 100

Most infographics that I post are about fitness as I constantly struggle to make running a regular thing for me.

But I chanced upon this infographic on Pinterest and I knew I can’t unnotice it.

Inhale, then spread the knowledge.
20130815-130407.jpg Now doesn’t that give you a strong urge to be more grateful and make a bigger impact to the world?

Supporting the RH Bill

I very rarely post something personal or heartwarming or gag inducing in this blog because I want this to be a constant channel for all things simple and nice and pretty.

But upon reading Beth Angsioco’s article at Manila Standard, I can’t help feeling injustice and anger.

I am 26 years old. Most of you will say that is a fairly young age and I will most likely fight my inner sociopath and agree with you. But at age 26, I am now a grandmother. Kill me.

My 15-year-old niece gave birth just recently to a bouncing baby boy. As much as I appreciate and value the blessing that is life, I cannot find in me the joy that often sets in when a baby is brought in this world.

I feel angry. I feel my niece was deprived of so many things. 2012 is supposed to be her first year in college, but instead she will be massaging her nipples and making sure her breastmilk is in constant supply. Instead of signing up for orgs and classes and meeting inspiring professors and lecturers, she will be changing diapers and tuning in to elders how to properly burp a baby. Instead of sleepless nights brought about by cramming for book reports and term papers, it’ll be because he can’t find the sweet spot in his crib or he’s hungry or he can’t sleep and she has to cradle him till the wee hours of the morning.

Please don’t get me wrong; I am not demeaning the process and life of being a mother. I know nothing can match the joy of having your baby smile at you for the first time. Or that intoxicating baby smell atop their heads. Or that cute fart that sounds more like a dysfunctional whopee cushion. Or those little fingers holding your thumb. I have witnessed the joys of being a mother.

It’s just that, at 15, it’s not really the life I imagined for her.

And she’s not a unique case. When Dylan worked for a secondary government hospital a few years ago, I can barely keep up with the number of times he said a 14-year-old gave birth today. It didn’t break my heart then, only slightly sad, but now that my family is one of those cases, I am just torn.

My niece is a smart girl. She has constantly performed well in school. Whenever we get together, her parents are boastful of her accomplishments. They reward her well, they developed a business to better sustain them, they’re a closely knit working family unit. So when they announced that she got pregnant, I knew that there are conversations that remain taboo even in the most progressive Filipino households.

If only they talked to her about sex and self-preservation. If only the school is more open and less mocking of reproductive health. If only we as a family looked out for each other better. If only topics on sexuality and sensuality are not viewed with malice. Maybe — just maybe — by this time, I could have been helping her choose between Sylia Plath and Jane Austen.

I am excited to meet my grandson. He looks like his uncle, age 5. I’m sure he’s going to be amazing and smart and funny, just like his mother. I also know that the entire family will raise this child. And they will love him more than themselves.

And I will badger my niece to go back to school and kick ass.

To all RH Bill advocates and sponsors, please please please do not ever waver, do not get tired! Health information and education is not just a necessity; it is a RIGHT. Please keep fighting for our rights. I promise you I have your back. I will fight for you in turn.

Pass the RH Bill NOW. We don’t need another batch of 15-year-old mothers. PASS THE RH BILL NOW.

20121124-121345.jpg

A crudely disguised gag order

Yeah, you read that right.  That’s how I see the Cyber Crime Law.

Last September 12, the President of the Republic of the Philippines signed into law Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act.  Now don’t get me wrong; the Philippines is in obvious need of this law to prevent child pornography, theft and all other what nots and shenanigans one can easily run over the vast virtual free space of the Web.  But what I didn’t really see coming — actually, I think no one saw this coming, even though a senator whined about it some unforgettable moment before — is this:  the provision for cyberlibel.

Yep, you read that right.  The nation who was brought to fame and infamy because of a peaceful, non-violent revolution led by the mother of the incumbent president has a provision for cyberlibel.  It still exists even though the UN has constantly frowned upon the existence of libel clauses in the Penal Code.  And the punishment for cyberlibel is far harsher than libel of traditional media.

Sen. Teofisto “TG” Guingona III said it best.  And here’s the gist of what he said:

 

For the entire piece, click here.

And my opinion comes right about…. now.

I like the Internet.  I like the world wide web.  Since 2004, it has given me ample space to air out my frustrations, goals and unsolicited criticisms.  It is so inviting.  It does not discriminate.  Anyone can take a piece, plop down and call it their space.  I’ve hopped from tBlog to LiveJournal to WordPress with ease and comfort.  This is my living room.

To tell me I can’t put my feet up when I’m in my own living room is just complete utter bull.

If his mother was still alive now, he should expect a disapproving tone to come from her.  This virtual space may have brought out the most scheming and alluring of criminals, but it has also brought out inquisitive and critical minds.  With anonymity, opinions are freely aired and remain as such:  just opinions.  This virtual space allows every individual to find a comfortable outlet to vent, to speak up.

There’s a reason why celebrities, government officials and other personalities eventually planted their ground on the Web:  because they reach people there.  They get to talk to them, find their fans and their critics, see the things they don’t (or not get to) see, peel their eyes to the realities that their eyes cannot seem to cover.  The people — though mostly loud, incoherent and at times offensive — give their thoughts and views on issues FOR FREE.  You don’t even have to pay a survey facility to conduct a quick census, a free online poll  latched to a frequently visited blogger can easily solve that.

So I don’t get it.  Why silence the tens of millions who have created their space?  This is their living room.  Not yours.  And just because they called your interior decor crappy and overdone doesn’t mean they don’t merit to have a living room of their own.

<vent over>

At present, editorials, activists, and lawyers continually question this law and how its supposed to be implemented.  A senator recently admitted to not having seen the provision for cyberlibel and just agreed to the law in general.  Now they’re saying they’re revising the law since the implementing rules and regulations will not sufficiently qualify the depth of the said provision.

You see, ladies and gentlemen, this is what happens when you railroad the process to favor your own intentions.  It backfires.  Splatters.  Like shit hitting the fan.  Like crimson mist.

Get it done.  Get it right.  Set it straight.  You owe the people that much.

To know more about the Cybercrime Prevention Law, read the full text here.