Saturday, December 30, 2006

Happy Rizal Day

When I googled "Dr. Jose Rizal celebration" on the Internet, I was surprised to find a large number of entries of Philippine embassies and consulates hosting official events on December 30, with programs featuring the obligatory recitation of Rizal's classic poem, My Last Farewell ('Mi Ultimo Adios').

The Philippine entries involved perfunctory wreath-laying ceremonies at the Rizal Park in Manila and other places of interest around the country. There were also references that this year President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, through Administrative Order No. 166, had directed embassies and government offices to commemorate the martyrdom of Dr. Jose P. Rizal with the theme "Rizal: the Nationalist in Thought, Word and Deed."

The scheduled Rizal Day events seemed mechanical and routine, with virtually no celebrations exalting Rizal's life, at least not in the Philippines. It seemed, as retired Justice Isagani A. Cruz observed, "Remembrance of Rizal is fast disappearing when it ought to be cherished and honored by all Filipinos."

Why should Rizal be honored? Because, as Justice Cruz noted in his column, "it was he who, more effectively than any one else among his compatriots, unified the disparate inhabitants of our archipelago into one nation. It was he who made them share a common rage against the foreign intruder and a common aspiration for the freedom of their land."

"Without him," Justice Cruz added, "our people may still be under the yoke of some alien ruler. Consider that we were oppressed by Spain for more than three centuries and it was only when Rizal protested its villainies that Bonifacio's armed revolution began to smolder. It was the execution of Gomburza, to whom Rizal dedicated the 'Noli Me Tangere', that ignited the spark of resistance against the Spanish government. But it was Rizal who fanned the flames into a bright conflagration."

What was conspicuous by their absence in the googled events I reviewed was the participation of the schools. There were none because there aren't any classes during the Christmas break. This is such a pity because it is the students who would have the most to learn from the life and death of Dr. Jose Rizal.

Students could read Rizal's essay, "The Philippines a Century Hence," and realize that he is just as relevant today as he was more than a century ago. Read Rizal's words: "All the petty insurrections that have occurred in the Philippines were the work of a few fanatics or discontented soldiers, who had to deceive and humbug the people or avail themselves of their powers over their subordinates to gain their ends. So they all failed." Do they not also refer to the attempted coups that have destabilized the country for the last 20 years?

How should we celebrate Rizal Day? The immediate solution is actually quite simple. We should move Rizal Day from celebrating it on the date of his execution, December 30, to the date of his birth, June 19. This would be perfect timing as it would occur just as the Philippine school year begins in the first week of June. Instead of laying ritualistic wreaths, there should be programs celebrating Rizal's life.

There should be new ways to give meaning to the Rizal Law, Republic Act No. 1425, enacted on June 12, 1956, which required that courses on the life, works and writings of Rizal, particularly his novels, the Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, be included in the curricula of all schools, colleges and universities.

In celebrating Rizal's life on June 19, instead of his death on December 30, students could do what the prescribed college curriculum expects its Rizal course students to accomplish:

1. Understand the life, works and writings of Rizal particularly his moral and intellectual legacies to the Filipino youth.

2. Know the relevance of Rizal's teachings to contemporary situations.

3. Gain inspiration and insight from the experience of Rizal as a son, student, patriot and nationalist.

4. Imbibe the spirit of patriotism and nationalism.

We should urge the Philippine Congress and President Arroyo to enact a new law moving Rizal Day to June 19.

As to what should happen on December 30, we should follow the decree of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, the first president of the Philippine Republic, which was enacted in Bulacan on December 20, 1898, which stated as follows:

"Article 1. In memory of the Filipino patriots, Dr. Jose Rizal and the other victims of the past Spanish domination, I declare the 30th of December as a national day of mourning.
Article 2. On account of this, all national flags shall be hoisted at half-mast from 12:00 noon on December 29, as a sign of mourning.
Article 3. All offices of the Revolutionary Government shall be closed during the whole day of December 30."

Complying with a decree of the Philippine Revolutionary Government connects our present Republic back to the founding of the first Philippine Republic on June 12, 1898.

Before the Philippine Revolution, before the American occupation, before the Japanese invasion, before the declaration of martial law by Ferdinand Marcos, Dr. Jose Rizal wrote in 1889 in his essay, the Philippines: A Century Hence:

"Very likely the Philippines will defend with inexpressible valor the liberty secured at the price of so much blood and sacrifice. With the new people that will spring from their soil and with the recollection of their past, they will perhaps strive to enter freely upon the wide road of progress, and all will labor together to strengthen their Motherland, both internally and externally, with the same enthusiasm, with which a youth falls again to tilling the land of his ancestors who long wasted and abandoned through the neglect of those who have withheld it from him."

Happy Rizal Day to you.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The ConCon to ChaCha

The Catholic bishops who congregated at the Luneta grandstand on December 17 proclaimed as gospel truth that before there can be "charter change" in the Philippines, there must first be "character change." The obvious question is: who decides when the Filipinos have sufficiently changed their character that they are then ready for charter change? Of course, if Filipinos have already changed their character by then, what would be the need for charter change?

In a forum in San Francisco early this year, Prof. Jose Abueva, the chair of the consultative commission that proposed changes to the charter, explained that laws can be used to change or modify the behavior of people. A heavy tax on cigarettes and barring smoking in public places, for example, can discourage people from smoking. Changing the charter, in Abueva's view, can change the character of the system and the people, even if only incrementally.

In the current bicameral/presidential system of government in the Philippines, for example, candidates for president have had to raise anywhere from P2-B to P5-B pesos ($40-M to $100-M) just to have a chance of winning. Where did all the money come from? The president has the resources of the government (the "equity of the incumbent") at his or her command while challengers have had to obtain the support of powerful business interests, who have sought to be properly "compensated" when their candidates assume office.

Even senatorial candidates have to raise about P500-M pesos ($10-M) just to win a senate seat. Their financial patrons also need to be compensated in some way, and the victorious senators find ways and means to do so, usually by corruption. After all, wealthy benefactors did not become wealthy because of idealistic support for their candidates. They expect and obtain returns on their investments.

When the present bicameral/presidential system has shown time and again that it is hopelessly corrupt, largely because of the high costs of acquiring and retaining office, then simple logic dictates that the system must be changed.

But how sure are we that an alternative unicameral/parliamentary system will be better?

Lawyer Ted Laguatan cites the example of two brothers who were petitioned by a parent to immigrate to the US. Both considered their options: Will life in the US be better than what they had in the Philippines? Will they be able to find a job? Will they face racism and discrimination from white Americans who may look down on them because of their brown skins or mock them because of their Filipino accents?

They did not know the answers, Ted recounts. But one brother decided that because life was so difficult for them in the Philippines, he and his family deserved to find a better life for themselves in the US. The other brother chose to stay because he feared the unknown. Ted narrates that 20 years later, the brother who stayed in the Philippines deeply regretted his decision and wished that he had joined his sibling in the US where he now enjoys a comfortable life for himself and his family.

The point of Ted's story is not that everyone should immigrate to the US, but rather that we should not fear the unknown. If we know the presidential system is hopelessly corrupt, then we owe it to ourselves to change it, not to keep it just because we don't know for sure if a parliamentary system will be better.

For one thing, candidates for a parliamentary seat will not need to spend obscene amounts of money just to win as they will be elected in smaller parliamentary districts, where congressional candidates currently spend about P20 to P50 million pesos ($400,000-$1-M) to win election. While these are still obscene amounts for a country as poor as the Philippines, they are on a much smaller scale compared to the current senatorial or presidential levels. There may thus be less corruption because less money would be needed to obtain a return on the "investments".

It is also less likely that members of Parliament will elect popular but intellectually deficient entertainers or sports stars to lead them as their Prime Minister. Among themselves, nurses will elect the best nurses to lead them, lawyers the best lawyers, physicians the best physicians, and politicians the best, and most effective, among them.

If the Prime Minister commits a major political blunder, or is involved in a corruption scandal, then a simple vote of "no confidence" will be sufficient to bring the government down. Under the current presidential system, such a scandal or blunder will require that articles of impeachment be filed in the lower House where a vote of a third of its members will be needed to impeach the president. Then the Senate sits as a jury to hear the evidence in a trial that may take as long as six (6) months to a year. During this period, the government grounds to a halt, with businesses, foreign and local, fleeing the country in droves because of the uncertain political crisis.

But how do we change to a parliamentary system?

The 1987 Constitution presents three methods of changing it: a People's Initiative, a Constituent Assembly or a Constitutional Convention. The first two were tried and rejected by the courts, the first by the Supreme Court, the second by the Court of Public Opinion.

So now all that is left is the third alternative, which is problematic because of its enormous cost. If each congressional district elects 2 or 3 ConCon delegates and their terms last three years, and each delegate will require an office, a staff and housing and transportation expenses, it will likely cost about P10-B ($200-M) to fund the convention. Where will all this money come from?

If concon is the only way to change the system, then perhaps people should consider the proposal of Rep. Baham Mitra who calls for one delegate to be elected per district, where the candidates must renounce any political affiliation, and waive the right to elective or appointive office up to three years after the convention.

Mitra's proposal includes closely-monitored spending limits for the candidates, who would be required to disclose their tax returns to show their true financial wealth to guard against dummying for vested interests. The thought behind Baham's proposal is to make holding a concon seat unpalatable for politicos.

The delegates would have a stringent budget, and the convention would be given a reasonable deadline within which to complete the proposed constitution that would then be submitted to a national plebiscite.

While the cost for this modified concon will be a fraction of the current estimates for a larger concon, Baham Mitra's proposal has not received the support of either the majority or the minority politicos who have united in opposition to it. That's the reason right there to support it.

Happy New ChaCha Year!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Hope for the Philippines

All the hoopla about changing the Philippine Constitution made little sense to me when I was in Manila even as I sat through four hours of Batasan (lower house) deliberations over whether convening a Constituent Assembly ("ConAss") was the best means of pursuing Charter Change ("ChaCha"). After the House move was denounced by the Philippine Catholic hierarchy as "scandalously immoral," attention shifted to a Constitutional Convention ("ConCon") as the means to ChaCha. It would be composed of some 450 elected delegates (2 from each congressional district) and funded at a staggering cost of approximately P10-B pesos ($200-M).

And for what? So that the Constitution can be changed to truly benefit the people? Let's recall the 1987 Constitution, which was considered revolutionary at the time for containing the following provision: "The State shall guarantee equal access to public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law." (Section 26, Article II).

After leaving the Batasan Hall at 3AM on December 6 while deliberations were still on-going, I found myself in the Batasan lobby scanning through the names and faces of House members displayed in two giant billboards there. I noted that the political dynasties were well-represented: the Dys by Connie and Jun, the Aquinos by Butz and Noynoy, the Cojuangcos by Charlie and Mark, the Arroyos by Iggy and Mikey, the Marcoses by Imee, the Barbers and the Duranos by representatives named Ace, the Biazons by Rozzano, the Cayetanos by Alan Peter, etc. etc.

During their deliberations, I heard many of the young House members speak English with an impeccable American accent reflecting their American education (from elementary school to college). After obtaining their US college degrees, many of them returned to the Philippines to run for their fathers' termed-out congressional seats with only the family name, wealth and influence as modest qualifications. What do they really know of the miserable lives of the people of their provinces?

In the 10 billion peso ConCon, the delegates elected to frame the new constitution will come from the same dynasties that populate the Congress now, so no provision challenging their rule can ever be expected to come from them. Even if it did, as the 1987 anti-dynasty provision showed, it can be ignored. After all, who can con the cons?

The day after my Batasan visit, I had lunch with my high school classmate, Hermo Esperon. I had kept in touch with him through years as he rose through the ranks of the Philippine military. Hermo grew up in a small farm in Asingan, Pangasinan with a father who was a public school teacher. He told me once that he did not see running water inside a home until he moved into a dorm after receiving a high school government scholarship. Hermo raised his five children by himself after his wife died in a car accident in her hometown.

Hermo was now the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). More importantly, after nine years as a single parent, Hermo had met and married Dr. Lorna Valenzuela, and they now have two young kids to go with his five grown ones.

Another Philippine Science High School classmate, Rogie Calunsag from Bohol, had also gone to the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) and, like Hermo, had a father who was a poor farmer. Rogie hooked up with the Philippine Navy after the PMA because he lived in the home of a retired admiral while in high school. As classmate Vince Ragay also notes, an anagram of his name spells out "our egg can sail".

I learned that Rogie had married Melly Benavides, the younger sister of my friend, Richie, whom I corresponded with even after I left for the US in 1971. I learned over the years that she had married, had four kids, and had separated. Tragically, Richie died in 1987 in a helicopter crash in Camarines Sur. Without hesitation, Melly and Rogie took care of all of Richie's kids, raising them as their own.

A few months ago, Rogie's modest navy quarters accidentally burned down, causing the family to lose all their clothes and other valuable possessions. Our high school batch passed the hat around to raise money to help Rogie's family. Even though he was Inspector General of the Philippine Navy, Rogie provided for his large family only within his means.

On the day I met them, Rogie was under consideration for promotion to Navy Chief as the incumbent was set to mandatorily retire the next day, when he turned 56. If Rogie was chosen, Melly did not know what to wear as all her clothes had gone up in smoke. She had some money but she did not want to buy a dress that afternoon just yet as "it would be such a waste naman if Rogie wasn't chosen, she said. And it seemed iffy, as Rogie's competitors for the top navy post were formidable, with powerful political connections.

When I woke up the next day, I received a text message on my cell phone informing me that Rogie had been selected by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as "Flag Officer In Command" of the Philippine Navy and that I was invited to attend his swearing-in that afternoon.

When I got to the Navy HQ ("Hukbong Dagat ng Pilipinas") on Roxas Blvd, I spotted Melly in the modest red dress she had purchased earlier in the day with the money she had saved for such an occasion. As Rogie assumed command of the Philippine Navy, Melly and her children stood there with tears welling in their eyes.

Somehow, I also sensed my friend Richie was there too, proud of the man who took care of her kids after she died and who raised them as his own.

My visit to the Batasan showed me an institution filled with people who had enriched themselves in office and who were the dynastic products of privilege. On the other hand, my experience with the Philippine military officers I met during my visit filled me with hope.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Last Rites for Cha Cha

MANILA - While the attention of the world was focused on the havoc wrought on the people of Bicol by Typhoon Reming, Manila was strangely preoccupied with what the newspapers called "Con Ass," short for Constituent Assembly. Critics of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) publicly accused her and the House majority of attempting to "con our ass" with this congressional maneuver.

"Con Ass" or Constituent Assembly was the last remaining constitutional option for those supporting "Cha Cha" or Charter Change. A Constitutional Convention or "Con Con", the first option, was out of the question because it would require the consent of the Philippine Senate which was not about to commit political suicide as "Cha Cha" would likely result in a unicameral parliamentary system eliminating the Senate, a body composed primarily of presidential wannabes.

The second option, a "People's Initiative," required that the signatures of 10% of the electorate be obtained, including a certain percentage from each congressional district in the country. Although 6.5-M signatures were obtained by Sigaw ng Bayan, a pro-government coalition, the Philippine Supreme Court recently ruled in an 8-7 vote that the explanation to the signatories of the proposed change was woefully insufficient and was therefore unconstitutional.

"Con Ass" was therefore the last option open to House Speaker Jose "Joe" De Venecia, the most outspoken supporter of a change of the charter from a bicameral/presidential to a unicameral/parliamentary system. Critics claim this was his power ploy to be elected prime minister.

This option's premise is found in Article 17 of the Philippine Constitution which provides that "Any amendment, or revision, of this Constitution may be proposed by the Congress upon a vote of three-fourths of its members."

Speaker Joe's gambit is what American football fans would refer to as a "Hail Mary" pass as it would call for a number of unlikely events to occur to make it happen. First, the House would convene a Constituent Assembly where members of the entire Congress would be invited to participate -- the 225 House Members and the 23 Senators (for a total of 248). If the senators do not show up, as likely would happen, the "Constituent Assembly" could still pass proposals for a "Cha Cha" if Speaker Joe obtained the vote and support of 195 House members as that would constitute three-fourths of the total number of the members of Congress.

Once that happens, the next step would be a certain Supreme Court challenge to the constitutionality of the House interpretation of Article 17.

In the unlikely event the Supreme Court upholds it, then the really tricky third stage would be getting the people to approve it in a national plebiscite where polls show a decisive majority in opposition to "Cha Cha." Hail Mary, indeed.

Against seemingly insurmountable odds, the Speaker stubbornly pushed through with his gambit on December 5 even as opposition House members raised various legal and political objections to what they considered to be a railroading of the "Con Ass Express".

After watching the proceedings on TV the first night, I decided to go to the Batasan the next night to watch the conclusion of the debate LIVE. I thought the place would be packed as the controversial issue was the premier topic of discussion in the media, which hardly paid attention to the Bicol mudslide disaster. To my surprise when I got there, less than a quarter of the gallery seats were occupied.

Prominent among those who did show up in the center gallery were members of the "Hyatt 10", GMA's former cabinet members who tendered their resignations on July 8, 2005 and who called on the president to resign because, they believe, she had lost her ability to govern. As Batasan rules prohibited open cheering or jeering, they wore head bands with red horns that collectively lit up when they supported a point. (These Xmas gadgets were sold in Cubao).

While I was listening to the speakers, a young congressman (Robert "Dodot" Jaworski Jr.) invited me to the "members only" congressional lounge to join him for mami and siopao snacks. While in the lounge, I noticed that House members were warmly collegial to each other even as they hotly disagreed on the issues.

Dodot told me that he had previously supported the impeachment of GMA but, after going through it the first time, he realized that it was "not good for the country" to subject the president to constant impeachment, as the government would simply ground to a halt during the process. A parliamentary system, he explained, would avoid that governmental paralysis as all it would take would be a vote of "no confidence" to bring down a government.

When I returned to watch the debate, I saw Rep. Luis Villafuerte, Jr., the 70-year old Congressman from Albay (the province most devastated by Typhoon Reming) and the principal sponsor of the "Con Ass" resolution, still standing on one podium while patiently answering all the questions from opposition members lined up to speak in the other podium. I was told the debates would end by 2AM but when the marathon session continued past 3AM, and I couldn't keep my eyes open, I decided to leave, along with most of the gallery. The final vote of 161 ayes and 25 nays occurred at 5:45AM. By then, I was sound asleep.

Bishop Angel Lagdameo, the President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), immediately branded the House move "fraudulently illegitimate" and "scandalously immoral". Many critics denounced it as a "rape" of the Constitution likening it to what Private Daniel Smith was convicted the previous week of doing to "Nicole". Anti-government groups vowed to hold massive nationwide rallies on December 15 to protest Con Ass.

By Saturday, December 9, public sentiment against Con Ass had become so overwhelming that President GMA had to dissociate herself from the House move. Speaker Joe then called a press conference at the Dusit Hotel in Makati to announce that he would not proceed with Con Ass if the Senate would agree to convene a Con Con by next year, which the Senate has already announced it will not do.

I was having lunch with friends at the Shanghai Court in Makati that day when Speaker Joe and a coterie of House members entered the restaurant to have their lunch there (of all the thousands of restaurants in Metro Manila to choose from). Although I could not hear their conversation, I could see that they were clearly not happy campers. It was like attending a funeral wake.

Make no mistake about it, I concluded, Charter change is dead.

As my friend, Jarius Bondoc, wrote: "It was dead the minute politicos hijacked it for their self-interest. They debased the essence of reforms and foisted on the public only self-serving changes. Forgotten was the need to completely free the economy in turn for full employment and against hunger. Lost in the political din was the idea of genuine people's autonomy via federalism. Chatter centered solely on shifting to unicameral parliament, a political stabilizer under normal times, but also a perilous centralizing of authority if not counterbalanced by federal rule."

I came to Manila with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom for a baptism and confirmation of sister city ties between our two cities and I left as the last rites for charter change were being performed. It was a sacramental visit.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Before Reming

MANILA - We arrived at dawn on the Sunday following Thanksgiving, about 140 San Franciscans, members of a sister city delegation of private individuals and city officials led by Mayor Gavin Newsom, on a cultural and trade mission to Manila. This was the largest San Francisco contingent to ever visit Manila since a sister city relationship was established in 1961.

It took a year of meticulous planning by sister city chair Dennis Normandy (and his wife, Lynda) to iron out all the myriad details involved in carting three busloads of San Franciscans from Punta Fuego in Batangas to the museums of Intramuros, to a Cultural Center philharmonic concert, to a Malacanang Palace banquet, and to a half-dozen other events.

There were official functions. Mayor Newsom received an honorary PhD from the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (City University of Manila) where we signed a new memorandum of agreement between Pamantasan and City Colege of San Francisco to strenghten ties and relations between the two educational institutions. Mayor Newsom also signed a new MOA with Manila Mayor Lito Atienza at City Hall. But these events occurred between lunches and dinners hosted by the City of Manila, the Department of Tourism, Philippine Airlines, the Concepcion group, Citigroup and the ABS-CBN media conglomerate.

Our visit was to be highlighted by a sentimental journey to Corregidor. For years, Mayor Newsom had expressed a private wish to travel to the Philippines to visit the site where his maternal grandfather, Arthur Menzies, fought during World War II. A botanist when he enlisted, Menzies was in Corregidor with the Battery K Artillery unit when the Japanese invaded and captured the last allied stronghold in the Philippines in May of 1941. Menzies physically survived the Bataan Death March and went on to become America's leading expert on California wildflowers but he never mentally survived the trauma of the war as it drove him to eventually commit suicide.

We learned the poignant story of Menzie's life and death from Gavin's father, retired California Appellate Court Justice Bill Newsom, who accepted a plaque of appreciation for Menzies from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the Malacanang banquet tendered in our honor. Bill Newsom knew the mental anguish of his father-in-law and he had always wanted to personally visit the battlefield where Menzies fought.

While we all had looked forward to the Corregidor visit, it just was not to be. The ship Dennis had leased to ferry us from Manila to Corregidor could not traverse the choppy waters caused by Typhoon Reming which was barreling towards Manila with high winds of 225 kilometers per hour.

When he heard that our trip to Corregidor had been cancelled, Filipino Chinese (Tsinoy) Taipan Lucio Tan, the richest man in the Philippines, personally offered his private helicopter to fly us to Corregidor with him. Due to space limitations, unfortunately, only a few select members of our group were able to make it and I wasn't one of them.

The members of our delegation who didn't go to Corregidor were grateful for the off day as it gave them the chance to shop at Greenhills ("Tiange"), the Green Belt, the Mall of Asia and the Glorietta Mall.

One of the museums we visited in Intramuros was the Bahay Tsinoy (House of the Filipino Chinese), where we learned that during the Spanish colonial period (1565-1898), the Chinese were confined to the enclave of Parian just outside the Walled City. They could not receive permission to leave their quarters unless they married local Filipino women, a colonial policy which resulted in mass intermarriage of Chinese and Filipinos, creating the new class of Tsinoy illustrados who then politically and economically challenged the governing Peninsulares (Spanish elite).

On our first day in Manila, I spoke with our Punta Fuego host, Jose Tambunting, at his impressive beachside chalet. He recounted how in the 1960s he led a group of Tsinoy "young Turks" to successfully wrest control of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce from the Kastila (Spanish) establishment led by Don Aurelio Periquet. To learn that this power shift occurred only in the 1960s after it had been initiated by Tsinoy national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, a century before, is to realize how truly young the Philippine nation is.

While the trip had a serious purpose, it was not without humor. When a member of our delegation inquired about the source of our host's fabulous wealth, she repeated the answer as "pornshops" instead of "pawnshops". The same lady was impressed with how liberated Manila was with the presence of so many S & M shops.

SM doesn't stand for Sado Masochism, it's the initials for Shoe Mart and they don't just sell shoes there either. The omnipresent SM malls are owned by Tsinoy billionaire Henry Sy, who is seeking to further expand his financial empire by opening SM malls all over China. A third Tsinoy billionaire, John Gokongwei, also owns a string of Robinson malls throughout the country.

Tsinoy Power is evident not only in economics but also in politics with the two most prominent Tsinoys in the Philippine Senate, Alfredo Lim and Panfilo Lacson, running for mayor of Manila in next May's elections. Popular incumbent Mayor Lito Atienza is termed out and cannot run for re-election but his son, Ali Atienza, is set to run to succeed him, a common practice in the Philippines.

Mayor Atienza was bracing his city for the expected onslaught of Typhoon Reming, with his city crews cutting down trees and securing roofs to prevent a repeat of the deadly Typhoon Millenyo which struck in late September.

But cold winds from the north pushed Reming south, away from Manila towards the Bicol Peninsula. Reming's heavy rains caused heavy mudslides which killed more than 1,000 people.

In the Philippines, even Nature favors the rich. While the poor people of Bicol were suffering the wrath of Reming, the Metro Manilan elite were enjoying a gloriously sunny weather, shopping and eating away, oblivious to what was happening everywhere else.

Our delegation never got to see how the Filipino poor survive amidst incredible poverty. Perhaps next time.