Saturday, January 18, 2014

War and hope

Are you driving me?
Yes.
What’s your name again, brother?
Hossain.
Were you the one who is studying at the university? [A year ago to the day, I was in this same office in Kabul.]
Yes.
What course?
I am studying law.

Wow! What year?
I have finished my second year.
Wha..what made you choose this course?
I finished nursing and worked with the government. I cannot provide for my family from the government’s salary.  I have a wife and five children (three daughters and two boys), and my brother and sister are staying with me.
How old are you?
Forty-one.
So you work with us. How do you manage to study and work at the same time?
I am a night driver. I study in the morning.  I [sometimes only get to] spend one hour with my family.
It’s [Friday] afternoon, how come you are driving now?
Oh, I filled in for another for today. I started working for NDI in 2006.
Do you remember GH?
Yes. She was with us.
She now teaches law at the Kabul university.
(Gleamed).
What do you think will happen when the ISAF leaves [Afghanistan] at the end of this year?
I don’t know.  I was in Kabul during the fighting; before Russia, before Taliban. I did not leave Kabul.
Has the government said which candidate it will support?
No. There is Zalmay Rasul, Ashraf Ghani, Qayum [Karzai], Sayyaf. This [presidential] election has to be good.
Most important than ever.
Yes.

While working in Afghanistan for almost two years, I arrived in early 2003 and stayed until late 2005, it occurred early on to me that we internationals carry much of the possibilities to help realize the dream of the Afghan people of peace, stability and development.  We undoubtedly shared it with them and we were going to work together for it.

I am back in Kabul after ten years.  Hossain just starkly reminded me of the strength of the reason why I am here. I hope much that I could help him keep and hold on to his hope.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Good hearts, good deeds

Two strangers are brought together, through no other explanation, but God.

Six years ago she was in Kathmandu; he roamed the tourist district begging for money when not sniffing glue.  Walking in Thamel one night a boy no more than nine hugged her tightly never to let go until she would fork up a few rupees.  Instead, she offered to take him to a restaurant for daal bhat, of which he, with 15 street friends who invited themselves, gladly partook.  She saw him again days after, stoned.  Shocked, she yelled, "Kumar! What are you doing? You promised me that you will stop sniffing glue!"  "And you, what do you do to send me to school?" Off-guarded she replied, "Do you really want to study?"  "Yes."

Today in one of her weekend visits, Amandine, with Najia and son Mael, and I came to see Kumar.  He is now 15, bespectacled (after a cataract operation), of frail frame but with a sharp mind and pretty good english.  He fetched for us his two favorite books while we were in the library, in a spacious compound which he shares with 200 other children, and boys and girls of varying ages.  Einstein's Miraculous Years and Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poppypants were his top picks.  Before that he showed the coffee table book on Nelson Mandela and the autobiography of MK Gandhi, which he is reading, and quick to respond when asked who these persons were and why he is reading them.


The story of Kumar is heartbreaking. He lost his parents at one-and-a-half years old, only to be turned over to an abusive uncle when the orphanage could no longer support itself and had to close.  At seven, he braved the two-day bus from Biratnagar to Kathmandu, accepting food from fellow passengers.  The story of Kumar and Amandine is moving.  He said to her that before their chance second meeting that he had just gone to church to pray for a mum.  Yes, he believes in Jesus, but "I am secular", his own words at our chat today.  Amandine beams and wells up hearing him so unexpectedly articulate about a lot of things -- transformed.  I see in her eyes and expressions the immeasurable feeling of deep joy and gratitude of her own transformation through Kumar.

Last week he gave mum a handwritten poem after he had read a book about Plato. The fourth stanza goes, "Greatness of mind is hard to achieve without a bit of madness. A successful life is harder to live without the mixture of failure and sadness".

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A congressman's and a senator's ditty?

I owe, I owe, so off to work I go.”

That is a bumper sticker, a parody of “Heigh Ho” made famous in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. What has this got to do with the (Philippine) pork barrel scam? Perhaps this is just the congressmen' and senators' ditty?

In a regional election in the mid-90s, we were told that lenders were ready for anyone who wanted funds. Back then the post for mayor in very rural Mindanao cost as much as 6 million pesos. This would be paid back through the internal revenue allotment (IRA). Monthly tranches, shares to the local government from the national coffers, would first go to the financier until the debt and interest are fully paid. The IRA formed part of the local pork barrel.

The cost of getting elected has gone up since.  It is higher when the rivalry is strong, and even higher in densely populated areas, and when size of the constituency is broader.

Perhaps the biggest expense is on patronage.  These are the monies used to secure support, among which are for buying individual votes or manipulating the results.  In a recent article in the Philippine Star, Rep Lani Mercado Revilla (Cavite 2) elaborated some of the other costs for us. [http://bit.ly/1aEKsc9]

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism reports that in 2012 among the "33 candidates for senator and the 12 political parties that nominated them, a total of P2.28 billion was spent on the campaign, 90 percent of which went to political advertising on television, radio, newspapers, and online media during the official 90-day campaign period. [http://bit.ly/1aEKsc9]  I believe that patronage dwarfs these costs and are, unfortunately, not well tracked as the advertising expenses.

With the huge amounts advanced on getting elected, there must be a number of recovery mechanisms somewhere, don't you think?

Luneta here we come!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Playing for Him

To be in the company of esteemed and renowned artists, and with upcoming ones, was no happenstance.  It was planned albeit I was just a mere player in it.

Pianist Katherine Fernandez-Asis occasioned her visit yesterday to the Philippine High School for the Arts for the Alumnayan.  It is a monthly event where alumni share their experiences before current students, parents and faculty.  She and Jay Gomez were classmates there and went to the UP Conservatory together (seen here together playing Claude Bolling's "Baroque and Blue", with self-effacing page turner Rubylee Valente-Gomez).  I had the privilege to listen to her inspiring story of dedication, passion and commitment to excellence.  She is good.

Katherine (center) is surrounded by budding talent.  Behind her are (tall)
PHSA director Vim Nadera, and music instructor and flutist Jay Gomez.
Jay is my flute mentor.  He is good. (Watch him here at TED X Diliman.)

The flute in prayer always moves me. It creates a wholesome sensation in the melodic internalization and elevation of self to God.  So I picked up a flute during my posting in Port Moresby for NDI last year.  With me were copies of the flute and guitar ensemble from Vespers 2 "If I Could Touch You" and Vespers 5 "Day is Done".

The last time I was face-to-face with a sheet music was in Grade 2 with my piano teacher -- eons ago!  I needed instruction.

So I had Jay Gomez, the flutist listed on one of the albums, looked up.  Impatient, I asked if we could do classes on Skype.  (Nina Perlove does.)  He refused.  We eventually met up and luckily for me, he accepted to mentor.  I said I will only learn to play prayer and he was all fine with it.

The drive to Los Banos, Laguna, with Mt Makiling first looming from afar, and then slowly enclosing you as if in an embrace as you draw near, is interesting.  Somewhere in the foothills and close to her bossom is the PHSA, a nest and incubator of talent. The school is surrounded with dark green lush vegetation and pure air and serene silence.  We were to have our 12th and last lesson here.

He picked the place where we could play for Him, and I could only marvel in awe and in gratitude.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Incomplete reporting by the Comelec

At this link you will find the National Board of Canvassers' resolution 10-13 of June 5, 2013 officially proclaiming the results of the senatorial race: http://www.comelec.gov.ph/uploads/Elections/2013natloc/res/nboc_res_001013.pdf

A few questions begged to be asked:
1.  How many established and clustered precincts did these results come from?
2.  What is the total number of voters who voted?
3.  Of this number (in 2), how many voted for senators?
4.  What is the average number of candidates voted?
5.  How many over-voted for senators?
6.  How many ballots were spoiled or uncounted (this is referred to as a spoiled ballot rate)?

In this day and age of technology and electronics in elections, the figures would certainly help:
1) enhance the credibility of the election by making the results audit-able;
2) inform the political parties, candidates, academe, and voter outreach programs about how might voters view the candidates and why voters do not (historically) vote for 12 senators; and
3) guide candidates who wish to lodge a protest if results could be overturned if over-voted, blank votes or undervoted, and rejected or spoiled ballots are reviewed.

For the May polls, there were 52,014,846 [http://bit.ly/ZEd52D, Comelec] voters, and 39,898,992 voted (turnout of 75.72 percent) [http://bit.ly/15W1D7D, Rappler]. The Comelec tallied the total valid votes  for senators at 298,625,797. So the fill up rate is 7.6.


How would all the other contests -- party-list, district representatives to Congress, provincial governors, vice-governors, provincial councilors, mayors, vice-mayors, and local councilors -- look like if all the figures above were reported alongside the results of the voting?

Comelec is remiss in their duty in reporting election results.  Seriously, I think the Comelec needs to just be serious about their work.  What do you think?