Thursday, 30 June 2011

Crime In (and outside) the News: Who holds the responsibility to protect?


I arrived in Tagbilaran after three weeks of academic theorizing on development and inequality at Brown University.  Several news, unpleasant ones, greeted me, over a breakfast of corned beef and rice.  There was new case of burglary with arson at Paz Pharmacy, located along Gallares Streets. The Bohol Chronicle reported, on its Wednesday edition (June 22), that the pattern was similar to what happened to B and J Computer in May this year.

As I am writing this, I am facilitating a workshop in Naic, Cavite.  My wife called me, a few minutes ago that two of our neighbours experienced attempted cases of burglary, resulting to a loss of P1,000 to one of them. I shudder at the thought that Tagbilaran is no longer safe, as I still want to cling to the memory of a not so distant past when roaming the streets was not a problem at all, and robbery and burglary of this scale were never heard of.

In 2011 alone, several alarming cases happened. In January, the church of Loboc was burglarized were suspects took a priceless silver antique plate. In April, one of the barristas at Bo’s Coffee-Plaza Rizal was stabbed to death along CPG Avenue, right at the very heart of the city. In May, robbery was done at Tagbilaran Bombay Bazaar in broad daylight, resulting to a loss of approximately P200,000 to its owner Roma Navani. 

These facts are alarming. What is more alarming though is the steep increase in crimes in the city, from a total of 663 in 2009, to 1318 in 2010.  But what about 2011?

Indeed, whose business is it to ensure that we, as citizens are safe? To whose hands lie the responsibility to protect? If it is the government’s business to ensure that peace and security is afforded to every resident, why have all these things happened?

It is always convenient to blame administrative deficiencies (lack of patrol cars, poor street lighting) or human resource problems (low police to citizen ratio) as the cause of the government’s failure to protect the lives of its citizens.  It is also convenient to say that every citizen has the responsibility to assist the government in the maintenance of peace and order and their failure to do so adversely affect community protection.  But when you see politicians tailed by several men with long guns and driving through the streets with accompanying patrol cars, you wonder whether an ordinary citizen is not worthy of such a high degree of protection.  You wonder whether everyone has the right to live a safe life.

Those who do not trust governments anymore erect high walls and install home protection devices.  Others hire their own security guards and protective agents that they tag along with them wherever they go.  At the end of the day, it is the poor whose life is always at stake because not only do they lack the money to buy food to eat, they also have to grapple with the fact that their government cannot protect them.

Cases of physical violence, those that threaten people’s lives and their properties, occur almost every day in the Philippines in the lives of both rich and poor. The only difference is that those that affect the rich reach the papers and deserve the attention of our local governments and the concern of our law enforcers. Those that affect the poor are oftentimes unheard.

Now I understand why Manong Titing, a good friend of mine, sleeps with a bolo under his head.  When government fails to protect, the poor tricycle driver, father of three adorable daughters, has to take the responsibility of  protecting himself and his family to his own hands.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Bohol is still poor: is it good news or bad?

For the last three to five years we were made to believe that Bohol indeed leaped out of the poorest provinces. But a new presentation of NSCB, posted in their website in Feb 2011, showed that Bohol, along with Maguindanao, Masbate, Agusan del Sur, Zambo del Norte, Surigao del Norte, is consistently included in the bottom cluster of provinces in 2003, 2006, and 2009. How come this does not make it to the headlines?

When I posted the above opening statement in Facebook and when I brought it up with my friends, I got different reactions, from the lyrical to the absurd.  Atty. John Titus Vistal of the Provincial Planning and Development Office called me up to say that this was a result of methods revision on the part of NSCB. PRMF Provincial Director Rosalinda Paredes emailed me and other interested parties regarding the need to bring the discussion up to the table again. One friend however, told me that this is good for Bohol as this becomes a justification for project proposals on anti-poverty programs.

Honestly, I feel cheated. In the papers I wrote for the last 2 to 3 years, I couched some of my arguments in the context that Bohol was able to reduce its poverty incidence phenomenally (especially when you consider the time frame of achievement). In several conference presentations, in Belgium, in Ireland, among others, I questioned these achievements and put forth counter arguments....only to realize now that we are still, like the conflict-prone provinces in the South, in the bottom 20 of laggards in terms of poverty reduction achievements.

Consider for example, the table below which I presented in the conference in Singapore;
1997
2000
2003
2006
Sulu
Masbate
Zamboanga del Norte
Tawitawi
Masbate
Sulu
Maguindanao
Zamboanga del Norte
Eastern Samar
Romblon
Masbate
Maguindanao
Ifugao
Ifugao
Surigao del Norte
Apayao
Mt. Province
Lanao del Sur
Agusan del Sur
Surigao del Norte
Lanao del Sur
Sultan Kudarat
Surigao del Sur
Lanao del Sur
Romblon
Maguindanao
Misamis Occidental
Northern Samar
Abra
Tawi-tawi
Mt. Province
Masbate
North Cotabato
Abra
Biliran
Abra
Camarines Norte
Agusan del Sur
Lanao del Norte
Misamis Occidental
Davao Oriental
Mt. Province
Camarines Norte
Agusan del Sur
Northern Samar
Capiz
Kalinga
Occidental Mindoro
Agusan del Sur
Camarines Norte
Sulu
Oriental Mindoro
Antique
Eastern Samar
Sarangani
Sulu
Marinduque
Camiguin
Antique
Kalinga
Surigao Del Norte
Marinduque
Palawan
Surigao del Sur
Surigao Del Sur
Lanao del Norte
Sultan Kudarat
Mountain Province
Camarines Sur
Bohol
Abra
Sarangani
Caraga
Catanduanes
Occidental Mindoro
Lanao del Norte
Siquijor
Zamboanga del Norte
Zamboanga Sibugay
Negros Oriental
Table 1. Ranking of Poorest Provinces in the Country – 1997-2006 (Source: NSCB 2006)
(Red – present in list for 4 periods;  Orange – present in list for 3 periods; Rust – present in list for 2 periods)

In the above table, Bohol only registered a place in one year. But in the recent presentation of NSCB, the figure below surfaces:

  
  Table 2. Poverty Ranking Of Provinces Over time (NSCB 2011)

So what does this tell us?


While it is apparent that there is a revision of methodology, Dr. Virola in his presentation contended that


       "In general, poverty estimates using both the old and refined methodologies showed similar trend/pattern. In terms of levels, estimates based on the old methodology were higher than those of the refined methodology."



Why should we bother?



In a paper I wrote in 2007, I argued the following:



"Despite deficiencies in methodology, poverty statistics in the Philippines has recently become not only as a means of identifying the most deprived regions or provinces and the needed interventions, but also as an evaluation tool of the performance of local government units (LGUs).  Thus, it does not only direct attention to what particular areas of the country require intervention, but it also highlights the ability or the failure of certain LGUs to serve the interests of poor people.  When the NSCB releases provincial poverty statistics and ranking of top twenty poorest provinces, this normally becomes a hot media commodity to which LGU leaders are most sensitive.  Thus, inclusion into what is infamously called as the Club 20 (the term that refers to the twenty poorest provinces of the country), is already a cause of alarm to LGU officials who are concerned of their prominence in the political sphere or the support of their constituents."

Is it a good thing or a bad thing?

I realize that the implications are circular rather than linear.  Also, the data assuming its veracity, may affect different stakeholders in different ways.  But as a province concerned with making our communities progressive and our constituents endowed with capabilities to realize their dreams, this is a cause of worry and concern. 





Friday, 29 April 2011

Questioning Again the Gains of Privatizing Water and Electricity Provision in Bohol


In one book that I recommend to be read by all development workers in the world (Deconstructing Development Discourse: Buzzwords and Fuzzwords), much has been said about privatization. Below are some of those noteworthy passages:


“The words ‘privatisation’ and ‘social protection’ have come together with increasing ease. In the early 1990s, in developing countries and in the newly defined ‘transition countries’, the main reform promoted by the international
financial institutions was the privatisation of pen sions, with dreams of privatising health care and other aspects of social protection soon afterwards.” (Standing, 2010, pg. 73).


“Thus the wave of privatisation, denationalisation,elimination of subsidies of all sorts, budgetary austerity, devaluation,and trade liberalisation initiated a deep social desperation throughout the Third World.”(Leal, 2010, pg. 90).

Bohol had its share of this buzzword, especially in the context of utilities, when in December 2000, the Provincial Government of Bohol turned over what was once publicly managed service providers, the Provincial Water System and the Provincial Electric System to two special purpose companies, the Bohol Water Utilities, Inc. and the Bohol Light Company, Inc. In this essay, I focus on the former, as this is a basic commodity that affects widely health outcomes of people. I reprint below what were then the findings of a study that my mentor, Cynthia Reyes-Ayco and I did, with technical input from Atty. Cambangay, then Provincial Planning and Development Coordinator.

Water supply in Tagbilaran, from the 60’s till mid 1995, went from bad to worse. At its worse time (between the late 80’s till mid 90’s)), the residents had to find on their own, alternatives to solve the water crisis. The residents along Remolador and Gallares Streets in Poblacion 2 and those of Graham Avenue in Cogon were the most affected and had been most vocal in terms of expressing their concerns. Cogon and Poblacion 2 are the two densely populated urban barangays of the city. Most residences in the area no longer had faucets in their houses even when Tagbilaran was on Level III (with faucets inside the house). It became an ordinary sight to see people out on the sidewalk, waiting for their turn to get their pails or containers slowly filled up with the tiny drop of water coming out from a common faucet. People were willing to wait even during the wee hours of the night.

This was when the “Water boy” business of a private entrepreneur started and flourished. “Water boy” started its business in 1990 with one truck and delivered water by containers (20-liter capacity) or by drums (about 10 20-liter container capacity) to the residents of Tagbilaran and Dauis. One truckload had a capacity of 6,000 liters or equivalent to 300 20-liter containers. Service was available 24-hours. The owner added another truck to its business one year after initial operation, At its peak, it delivered 5- 10 truckloads a day. Its only limitation to its service capacity was time. Loading and unloading of one truckload took about 2 hours. Its services could even hardly satisfy the needs of the residents of Graham Avenue and Remolador and Gallares Streets alone.

The residents paid P1.00 per container. This supply was largely for cooking, washing, and bathing and does not include drinking water. Residents lined up, as they did while waiting for water to come out from their common faucets. Despite the cost, the “Water boy” was the best option. Three other water delivery service businesses also opened following the successful venture of “Water Boy”.(note: I can still remember, when I was studying accountancy at HNU, that there were days that I failed to take a shower because the Water Boy did not deliver water in the boarding house where I stayed along Hontanosas St.)

The provincial government commissioned a study for the rehabilitation of the Provincial Electric System (PES) and the Provincial Waterworks System (PWS). The study yielded out challenging results. It was found out that to fully capacitate PWS to meet demands of consumers, the province needs 967 million pesos in 1998 to establish two water treatment plants in Uhan and Loboc, lay main and transmission lines and establish several reservoirs to facilitate the distribution of water to municipalities. In the case of the PES, the province needs 212 million pesos in the same year to purchase and install additional transformers and substations, replace rotten electric posts, purchase and install reconductoring lines and equipments. (PES Capital Expansion Program)

Obviously, the financial requirements are way above the capabilities of the provincial government because of its limited resources and its thwarted capacity to enter into borrowing agreements due to the propensity of financing needs. It was estimated that the provincial government would need around P175 million pesos to fund the rehabilitation plan. The LGU through donations and pledges of national and local politicians had only around P100million as ready funds. Thus, the provincial government decided to proactively respond to the challenge by exploring other options that may help realize the plan. (PES Expansion Plan)

A Technical Working Group (TWG) was organized by the province to conduct the study. The local team consisted of the technical staff from the Governor’s office and the Provincial Planning and Development Office (PPDO), in close coordination with the chiefs of the PES and PWS. The consultants from the Associates for Rural Development (based in Manila) provided the local team with technical assistance including legal and financial consultants.

The Provincial Government of Bohol, after a review of its options decided to privatize the water and electric services through a joint venture agreement. The province entered into a contract with the private sector represented by the Consortium of Salcon International, Inc., Salcon Limited and Salcon Philippines. The parties entered not into a pure joint venture (governed by Rules of Partnership) but one characterized by a rehabilitate-own-operate- and-maintain scheme. In this agreement, the JV is set to rehabilitate first the power and water facilities of the defunct Provincial Water System and Provincial Electric System before it shall purchase the latter and subsequently operate and maintain the facilities under newly created special purpose companies. Consequently, the Provincial Government of Bohol shall maintain its stake in the utility companies to protect the interests of the local citizens and consumers (The Bohol Privatization Initiatives, 2000).

But the move was not without social costs. There was heavy rejection of the move, for different reasons, primary of which was the loss of control of the utilities and the fear that people would no longer have a control of the price of water and electricity. The privatization became an election issue and was believed to be one of the causes of the defeat of then Gov. Relampagos (now Congressman) in his bid for another term.

Gov. Rene Relampagos stepped down from office on June 30, 2001, which happened to be the end of the transition period of the special purpose companies. The fuss about the privatization plan died down almost as quick as the election fever died down. Business went on as usual at the provincial capitol and at the BWUI and the BLCI.

With certainty, the water services had improved especially in terms of (longer) hours of service. “Water Boy” went out of business and its competitors had shifted to providing services to ships, hospitals and hotels. There continued to be complaints about the services of the two companies but this is relatively lesser than what the government normally got from the public during the PPUD days. However, this was not contingent to the JV since the rehabilitation of the water services was already in place long before the JV was to take effect.

While there are claims of improved water quality, BWUI staff themselves admit that it remains to be below the national standards set by the World Health Organizations. There is no tangible indicator that water is “safer and cleaner”. There are still reported cases of water-borne diseases, which however, had notably reduced since 1999. There had to be increased efforts in setting this condition in place.

The effect of the JV to poverty reduction is the most difficult thing to measure up at this point. Firstly, if verified against cost for the consumer, both BLCI and BWUI claim that there has been no increase in the rates so far, owing to the fact that this is part of the stipulation of the MOA. It is unrealistic for the consumers to insist that the rate will not be changed but the best hope is that the new rate will be set at reasonable level.

Secondly, how the revenues or would be revenues from the JV shall be used is still unclear as there are no guidelines provided. In the last few months, the local news carried the information on the query about the P155M which was received by the current administration from the JV partners. The provincial accountant has stated that it remains in the provincial coffer and has not been used. As to how the government intend to spend the money and to which activities or expenditures it shall go, it has not been decided yet. For now, a utilization plan of the amounts that the provincial government received and will receive as a consequence of the JV project, is not yet drafted.

Thirdly, the gain in terms of revenue is not in place yet. There is no profit sharing since the JV companies claim that they still incur losses due to high investments on facilities.

However, the potential benefits from savings and revenues remains but there has to be a proper monitoring of the budget and expenses to effectively establish cost and benefit analysis. Otherwise, it will always be mere speculations.

The only way by which the government can exercise control over the JV is on its representation in the two companies. The manner by which the representatives were to be selected is critical to the protection of government interests. Till now, there has been no direct mechanism implemented to guide representatives in the exercise of their stake in the company. No guidelines were drafted on how the selection process shall be undertaken and on how these representatives are to decide on major issues affecting the project. Currently, no tangible evidence is available on how these representatives are accountable not only to the provincial government but to the Boholanos. Interestingly, politicians of old cornered the seats in the Board. Whether or not this has an effect on how province’s stake is protected, much is still to be seen.


I am reprinting the above to bring again into the table a very important question. What have we gained from the privatization? If we did gain something, how has it benefitted the provincial government in particular, and the Boholano community in general. It seemed that the concerns highlighted in a research paper written 8 years back are still valid up to now and these concerns bring up questions that still remain unanswered.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Mangool Mother's Association: A Tribute on the Occassion of Women's Month


The town of Baclayon in Bohol is famous in the local tourism industry as the home of one of the Philippine’s oldest churches. Both foreign and local tourists stop at its age-old church and the nearby museum that showcase the rich culture and history of the Boholano as a people. Little do they know that a few kilometers from this tourist attraction lies a community whose dream of having safe and accessible potable water has been so elusive in the past years.

The sitio of Mangool is part of the rural barangay of San Isidro, located 4 kilometers from the town center. The sitio sits on top of a hill 90 meters above sea level and is the home to 112 residents. It is only accessible through a rough access road that gets very muddy and slippery during rainy days. Livelihood opportunities were so scarce in the sitio with farming as an only option. But farming did not bring in the profits, primarily because crops were dependent on rain and whatever was left of the limited water source.

Indeed, if there was one household problem shared by all residents in the sitio, it was water – water for the kitchen, water to drink, water to wash clothes, water for almost anything and everything. Water, at the very faucet inside the house, or just even very near it, was every person’s dream ever since.

Residents tried on their own ways to cope up with the situation. Some would go down to the Poblacion, the town proper, to fetch water or do laundry while others would ask their children who were then studying in the town to bring with them a container or two that they had to fill and bring home. There was even a time that some would go to the nearby town of Sikatuna, riding on a dump truck with their husbands who were then working in a road construction project, to buy water at P1 per container.

In 1998, things changed. With the help of Mayor Ben Uy, the main source of water was rehabilitated and an electric submersible pump was installed. People were assured of a stable water source and they no longer had to travel far just so that they would be able to have water in their homes. “Pero magbaktas gihapon mi ug layolayo” (But we still have to walk a considerable distance), Rosalinda Jayo, the sitio’s day care worker said.. She said that her students, though how very young, were already trained to carry a gallon of water. “Mao siguro nga mga mugbo na sila kay naanad na sa trabahong bug-at” (Maybe that’s the reason why they are shorter than the average child because they were already accustomed to hard work.), she added.

The community heard of Peace and Equity Foundation from PROCESS – Bohol in 2004 and learned that it would assist community-based water development projects. PROCESS-Bohol is the sitio’s long-time development partner. Joy Bucia, supervising community development facilitator of PROCESS, helped the Mangool Active Mothers Association (MAMA) draft their water development proposal and facilitated the passing of the document to PEF. “Sus, grabe jud sila ka-excited”. (They were very excited), Joy recalled. MAMA is the sitio’s only active community organization that has done different projects in the past – from feeding children to solve the growing problem on malnutrition, to the construction of the sitio’s only consumer store. MAMA used to be an all-women organization but now, its current membership totaled 35, with 19 female and 16 male members. With this new development, the organization’s leadership saw it fit to change its name very soon.

In August 2005, the project proposal – Construction of a Water Tank and Installation of Pipelines – was approved with grant funds amounting to P441,160. To fulfill the conditions of the grant agreement, people were very cooperative. The donors of the lot where the water source was located, the owner of the lots where the water tank and the tap stands were to be constructed, and those whose agricultural land will be disturbed by the pipelines, yielded to sign the necessary documents very easily. Even the mayor (now on his third term) and the barangay captain committed to release P50,000 and P20,000 , respectively. To have the funds released from PEF, they had to secure a bank account under their name and experience a great deal of difficulty because they do not have valid IDs and the local bank will not accept postal ID as alternative. With the help of Joy, they were able to finally open a bank account to use and the first tranche came in.

Construction and the laying down of pipelines happened thereafter. One major feature of the project was the use of ferrocement technology in constructing the water tank. With the help of PEF’s Development Associate, Engr. Petronio Muring, the technical specifications that were designed and analyzed during project appraisal were implemented. People did volunteer work – from purchasing, to construction, to bookkeeping. The community spirit was animated by the new development that for the past years was so elusive and was promised on repetitively by politicians. Very recently, the trial run of the whole design was conducted, and to the happiness of every member of the community, the tap stands started to flow water from the source.

What makes the assistance of PEF unique and distinct from other water assistance that Mangool received in the past was its comprehensive grant package that does not include only money for construction but technical support as well. PEF provided funds for institutional support (salaries for project officer) as well as capability building activities (project orientation, organizational management, legislation and administration training-workshops) to ensure that the proponent organization MAMA will be ready to assume water systems management after project turn-over. What was most appreciated by the community, however, was the presence of Engr. Muring to help them in every step of the process.

The project also engaged various stakeholders. While PEF provided funds and technical support, NGO partner PROCESS assisted the community organization in building their capacities to manage their own development. The Local Government Unit also supported the project by providing portion of the local counterpart. More importantly, the community was actively involved in the project, from construction to drafting the policies that would govern them.

“Para namo, usa jud ni ka mahinungdanong panghitabo.” (For us, this is a very important event.), says Salome Miculob, MAMA’s BOD Chair. She said that while they encountered hardships in the process of drafting the proposal and later implementing it, they persisted because they knew of the tremendous effect that the project would bring to the lives of people. The older people said they never thought that something like this could happen in their lifetime. The donor of the lot where the water source was located , Gabriel Mancha, was heard to say that he would do everything within his means just so that they would be able to experience having water, if not within their house, just within their neighborhood. It was just unfortunate though, that he never lived to see the realization of his dream. Months before the water tank was constructed, he died of old age.

With the help of PEF and PROCESS, the officers of MAMA were able to visit a water system project site of Ramon Aboitiz Foundation in Cebu and learned from their experience. As a result, tapstand policies and procedures were already drafted and signed by tapstand members. Consumer rates were already agreed on and validated by water users (at P1 per container). Books of accounts were already updated and turnover of records and funds from the water brigade to MAMA, the new custodian, was already done. Somehow, all things are set for the inauguration and blessing of the community’s first ever water system.

“Sinugdanan pa lang ni. (This is just the beginning), says Felipe Hayo, one of the members of the barangay’s Sanggunian in 2006 and a resident of Mango-ol. He, together with his neighbors, still dreamed of a level 3 water system, just like their neighboring barangays. But before they would be able to enjoy that, they knew that they have to contend with the big challenge of sustainability. They knew they have to look for ways to ensure sustainability of water source or tap alternative sources. They need to make certain that their collections are prompt and can pay not only the electricity bills and the required minimal maintenance, but also provide for a depreciation fund to take care of major replacements in the future. They knew that they just can’t rely on PEF to do it for them, or from the chief executive of the town, whose priorities may change at every election time. MAMA, in this case, is committed to plan, together with the community, activities that would answer these critical concerns.

Since 2006, Mangool residents started to enjoy the benefits of a level 2 water system; 30 households, 142 individuals, and 54 children enjoyed the convenience of having water just within a short reach. People had more hours to spend for livelihood and children have more hours to spend for school work. “Basta diay jud maningkamot, naa diay juy maani.” (If there is hardwork, there is good harvest), Honorata Iyog, MAMA’s treasurer said, happy and thankful of the people and institutions that helped them put up their water system.

I visited MAMA again in 2009, when my students and I helped it improve its accounting practices and policies. One of the forerunners of the organizations, Salome Miculob was still there, running the daily affairs, and ensuring that their consumer store, a source of affordable goods needed by households is profitably operating and that the water systems, a product of their efforts, is sustainably maintained and able to provide the water service to households. It takes more or less twenty courageous women to make these things possible.

This piece is a toast to MAMA, and to the other women in the countryside who do not only nurture children but communities as well. This is a tribute to my women friends who have made a tremendous difference in the development landscape of Bohol. This also is dedicated to my mother, teacher, and friend, who has been a courageous fighter of all odds with two weapons at this hands - perseverance and prayer. This also goes to my wife of seven years, who effortlessly made this world a beautiful place for myself and our kids.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Impress me, Convince me: A Call to Those Opposing the RH Bill


Two friends of mine sipped coffee at Bo’s after what to them was a disappointing forum on the RH bill sponsored by the local Catholic Church. They were amazed by the lack of information, the drought of reason, and the argumentum ad misericordiam employed by those who said that the RH bill should be junked. The lady, mother of two, asked, “Why should an intellectual forum on a bill be reduced to an attack to our conscience? Why does the church have to repeat all over and over again that to kill is bad?” His companion replied, “I do not really see the point. I have not seen a provision there that says that the bill can be made responsible for deaths of unborn children. I do not really know what they are objecting about.”

“Impress me, convince me.”

These were the words that echoed in my mind when I heard the conversation. I heard it first in a reality show looking for fresh new talents, shouted by one of the three judges at a contestant doing an interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Knocks me off my feet”. The same words I think are hurled at those opposing the RH bill, more particularly to the vocal Catholic Church.

Reproductive health, or more specifically, population control is not a new issue. Every time it surfaces as a government program or a proposed law, the Catholic Church is always at the forefront in opposing it. So the issuance of the CBCP letter, read recently in Catholic churches across the archipelago, is not altogether new. The increased vigour of the church in holding public information campaigns, oftentimes in friendly venues, is not new. And the arguments are also not new, sad to say.

CBCP said that the RH Bill does not promote reproductive health because of the word “contraceptive”. Contraceptives kill....they cause cancer. This is not new.

CBCP said that the RH Bill contraceptives increase abortion rates. Again, this is not new.

CBCP said that that the RH Bill will increase instead the incidence of HIV AIDS. Again, this is not new.

CBCP said that the RH Bill does not empower women with ownership of their own bodies.

These recycled arguments, wanting of proof and evidence, are not new. To argue on the basis of “contraceptives are hazardous to a woman’s health” is not convincing when it comes from a male-led and composed Church organization. To say that “scientists have known for a long time that contraceptives may cause cancer” or that “scientists have noted numerous cases of contraceptive failure” without any reference to whoever was the scientist sound too unscientific and preposterous. To argue that “In some countries where condom use is prevalent, HIV/AIDS continues to spread“ is an utter disregard of evidence-based policy research on sexually transmitted diseases and contraceptive use.

My greatest disappointment in the pastoral letter (and those homilies of our priests), is the way it was written. It was written as if you do not have people in the audience who may want to question its assumptions. It was written as if the reader or the listener will take it as infallible truth. It was written without necessarily putting in proof, convincing proof that would impress all of us and sing and sway “No to the RH Bill”.

And here comes the Church again saying that the problem of this country is not overpopulation and that poverty is not caused by more people, but by “flawed philosophies of development, misguided economic policies, greed, corruption, social inequities, lack of access to education, poor economic and social services, poor infrastructures” (CBCP, 2011). I absolutely agree.

But I also know that having two children now requires more resources than the time me and my wife only had one. I also know that I my take home pay is bigger than my co-teacher (in the same salary bracket as I am) who has 6 kids. Population matters, this is an argument that is hard to ignore. The church may be able to argue the weak link of population and poverty in a macro-economic scale, but not in a household economy. One does not have to get married to know these things.

I also know that my church has wealth but its social action programs are wanting. A church for the poor is a hollow promise in this part of the globe, save for those who are really actively implementing programs that intend to lift "believers" from their poverty and not just appease them of the thought of an "afterlife". I also know that my church is only active in holding responsible parenthood forums only when a new reproductive health program is introduced, or when a bill is about to be passed.

A friend told me, that I am saying all these because I am not a real Catholic, because a real Catholic values life. Maybe, this will be the reaction of the others who will come to read this paper. I need not defend whether or not I value life. But before I will be able to say that I will reject the RH Bill, I should be made to understand how it does not value life and why it needs to be opposed.

Fr. Joaquin Bernas of the Society of Jesus said “that a shot-gun approach to the RH Bill will not succeed. You don’t burn an entire house to make lechon. Nor will a Tahrir Square type of a demonstration stop it. Such an approach can be a manifestation of intellectual bankruptcy. One must challenge each specific objectionable part and argue it out” (PDI 14 February 2011). Well written, well said, from somebody who incidentally comes from the church but nevertheless believes that the RH bill do not flunk standards of a law.

Indeed, what does the Church really object about in the RH bill? What particular provisions does it challenge? Is there nothing good about the law that it needs to be junked outright? What really is objectionable about it?

Come on. Impress me, convince me. Don’t tell me I need to junk the bill because it is my moral obligation. Better still; do not tell me that my questioning your stand makes me less of a member of this Church that Christ built.

Monday, 31 January 2011

"The Idea of Justice"


In 2009, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen published his philosophical enquiry on the need for a theory of justice entitled “The Idea of Justice”. Deviating from the famous Rawls document in 1971 “A Theory of Justice”, the book proposes ‘comparative realization’ as an alternative approach to John Rawls’ ‘transcendental institutionalism’.

Sen’s conceptualization, as reviewed by Osmani (2010), requires at least 8 elements. In this essay, however, I will focus on at least one element, the process by which we judge how just or unjust our society is. Sen contends that we evaluate the justness of a society, not by the justness of its institutions but by the “justness of the realization of a social state as determined by the interaction of institutions with social norms and the behaviour pattern of individuals living in a particular society” (Osmani, 2010; 604).

In his book, Sen argues that it is very difficult to define a perfectly just society. The plurality in the conception of the term is immense. John Bromme (2010), for example asks whether not reducing gas emissions today is unjust to the future generation despite the fact that the future generation is still inexistent, and thus, the answer to this justice question is doubtful for metaphysical reasons.

I too have several questions. If people are enjoying material prosperity today, are they unjustly depriving others of the right to enjoy theirs when the former laboured so hard to gather wealth? If a businessman only pays minimum wages to its employees while he earned 200% more of his investments every year, is this unjust? If a ticketing office entertains a customer that just walked in because he is a friend of the vessel’s owner while a long queue of 30 people were waiting, is this injustice?

The word justice really appeals, despite its vague connotations. They say that a cry for justice is indeed better than a cry for love, for mercy, for retribution. Love, apart from being vague is too melodramatic. Mercy is for the undeserving. Retribution does not sound well for those who read the bible every day.

I remember one time when my son needed anti-rabies shots. Around 3 of the required are free at the provincial hospital. At one time when we were about to claim the free shot, we were told that the free shots were no longer available because all were used for the priests of the diocese of Tagbilaran, as these were requested by the bishop. There were a few of the people queuing at the out-patient counter that were dismayed. They had to pay the shots on their own. Undoubtedly, the diocese of Tagbilaran could pay for the shots but probably some of those in the queue could not. To say that the situation was unjust is appealing. But definitely, we cannot claim an injustice against a church that preaches it, can we?

Sen, in his argument, insightfully said that a just society is not necessarily a product of just institutions but more. This brings to me a realization that a just society is too utopian, an idea that resides only in the minds of those like Rawls and Sen and all others who would like to see a better world than the one we currently live in. I do not think that a society where hunger persists, where unemployment is an everyday reality, where children are not in school because they do work elsewhere, while a few are enjoying everything that life has to offer, is a just society. But since the time I was born, society has been like this.

I wonder why. In a time and age when governments profess to be bastions of justice, when church proclaims a preferential option for the poor, when leaders of nations vowed to make things better for the bottom billion, the idea of an equitable, much more a just society seems far and remote. Maybe, just maybe, until now, like the title of Sen’s book, justice is just an idea, or like Rawls’, still a theory.

And maybe, just maybe, thinking about this idea, this theory, and all its possibilities is a worthwhile preoccupation for those of us who would like to, theoretically help others, and a meaningful consolation for those of us, who for many years have lived in abject poverty.