Archive for the ‘Power and energy’ category

Resilient Partners

August 10, 2014

Last August 6, NEA and the electric coops celebrated the 45ht anniversary of rural electrification int he Philippines.

We launched three books about rural electrification, including one I wrote – Resilient Partners. I am posting the introductory chapter;

The story of a resilient partnership

 In 2009, the Philippine rural electrification program celebrated its 40th anniversary. That was also the year when the program reached a major milestone – the energization of all but a few barangays in the countryside. To tell the story of what has been called the most successful development program in our country, I wrote a book, Electric Dreams.

Many leaders of the electric cooperatives and advocates of rural electrification have expressed appreciation for Electric Dreams. They have recommended it as a useful introduction for those who want to know more about rural electrification and electric cooperatives.

Stories for a sequel

Last year, NEA Administrator Edith Bueno suggested: “You should consider writing a sequel for our 45th anniversary in 2014.”

I took up her suggestion, but not only to celebrate the 45th anniversary. There is at least one important story worth telling in a sequel – President Aquino’s commitment to rural electrification, and his goal of achieving the next milestone of energizing all remaining sitios by the end of his term. It is the logical next milestone after barangay electrification.

There is a second story worth telling in a sequel – the recent rapid response of the electric cooperatives and NEA to restore the electricity distribution systems in all the places that were hard hit by supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan), especially on the island of Leyte.

To accomplish this formidable task, they drew on their previous experiences of organizing various Task Force Kapatid in responding to other disasters.

 Beyond sitios and supertyphoons

As I was doing my research into sitio electrification and the work of Task Force Kapatid, I realized that there is a third and even more important story worth telling: The partnership itself of NEA, the National Electrification Administration, and the 119 electric cooperatives.

This is the partnership that has delivered electricity to all the barangays, and is now delivering electricity to the sitios. It is the partnership that has restored electricity to communities devastated by Yolanda and other calamities.

The recent achievements of this partnership are the more immediately interesting stories. But I think that the story of the partnership itself is even more interesting. Its 45-year history offers valuable lessons related to larger contemporary themes – rural development and inclusive growth, governance and public-private partnership, and the hypothesis of building a “democratic developmental state.”

The history of this partnership is not a straight path of smooth and steady progress. There have been many dramatic achievements, but also setbacks, with various twists and turns.

Separately, NEA and individual electric coops have gone through a number of crisis moments. Together, their partnership has weathered many challenges.

They have survived, separately and together. And they have learned. The partnership is more mature, better prepared for new challenges. That is why I call them resilient partners.

Change and resilience

The idea of resilience has become central in our current development discourse. Climate change, or “climate crisis” as Atty. Antonio Oposa prefers to call it, is definitely upon us, and the “new normal” includes many hitherto abnormal and rare events. There is no room for complacency, and what was good enough in the past, is not good enough for the future.

But climate change is not the only reason for needing to be resilient. There are also market changes whose impact on programs like rural electrification are both immediate and long-term. In addition, there are political and policy changes that have affected and will affect the partners and their shared mission.

When I first got involved in rural electrification in 2001 through the invitation of Fr. Francisco Silva, the electric power industry reform act or EPIRA was just about to be implemented.

A dozen years have passed, and the electric coops and NEA are still dealing with its impact. Various voices are calling to amend EPIRA or scrap it. The debates continue to escalate, and can only reinforce the need for the partnership to be resilient.

Recently, a law was passed amending the charter of NEA. It is an expression of the administration’s trust in NEA’s capacity to perform both its developmental role and its regulatory role ín relation to the electric coops. Again, both partners need to adjust. One sensitive issue is how to relate to those electric coops who have registered with the CDA or Cooperative Development Authority.

Clearly, these are chapters of a story that continues to unfold as we move toward the 50th anniversary of the rural electrification program. As they say at the end of an episode in a TV series, “Abangan ang susunod na kabanata.”

Partnership for resilience

The tandem of NEA and the ECs offers useful lessons on public-private partnership as a way to achieve inclusive growth, which is the declared goal of the Aquino administration.

Given the challenges of climate change, market changes, and policy changes, it must aim to become also a partnership for resilience.

I did not immediately appreciate the issue of resilience when I was asked to be part of the program. Fr. Paking Silva pitched rural electrification to me mainly as an issue of social justice and rural development.

His point was that social justice, which he knew was my main concern, is not only about the redistribution of assets, as in agrarian reform. It is also about providing essential public goods to all, especially to the unreached and underserved.

Electricity is as basic an infrastructure as the roads and bridges. Rural communities need to be electrified so that they are not left behind by urban communities.

NEA and the ECs have the mandate and the mission to implement rural electrification. But since the passage of EPIRA, they had to do this in the changed environment brought about by major policy changes.

The over-all intent of EPIRA is to promote competition and use market mechanisms to attract private investments, to improve efficiency, and to lower the cost of power. Even the non-stock non-profit electric cooperatives are subjected to the same policies.

And yet they are supposed to work with NEA to fulfill their original mission of total rural electrification. This means that they must electrify barangays and sitios even if they are not yet viable economically. And with calamities increasing in frequency and intensity, their plans and budgets need to include the quick rebuilding of the distribution systems destroyed by calamities.

How will they do these and still become competitive in a post-EPIRA system? They need to become resilient, but also advocate the necessary role of public investments.

Resilience and the developmental state

In the course of my research, I was invited to a meeting at the Development Academy of the Philippines, to inform me that I have been nominated to be an eminent fellow in the field of rural development.

I shared with them my insights into the role of rural electrification in rural development, and the work of NEA and the ECs as a useful example of public-private partnership. As we pursued our conversation, I brought up another topic for us to explore – the concept of a “developmental state.”

The idea of a developmental state is a useful counterfoil to the premise of EPIRA which seeks to minimize the role of the public sector and public investments, and maximize the role of the markets and the private sector.

In countries where the private sector, both domestic and foreign, is not able or willing to provide essential goods, the state has to exercise not only its regulatory role, but also a proactive developmental role. Hence the term “developmental state.”

At a lecture he gave at the University of the Philippines, James Putzel observed that in Asia, the developmental states that have succeeded are authoritarian, as in Korea. That led someone to ask him: “Are you proposing that for the Philippine state to be developmental, it must be authoritarian?”

His diplomatic answer drew laughter: “If the Philippine state does succeed, it will be the first democratic developmental state in Asia.”

This started out as an anniversary book about the rural electrification program. It has developed into a story of public-private partnership and governance, and poses the question:

What does the story of NEA and the ECs tell us about the limits and possibilities of a democratic developmental state?

Fortunately, I found some initial answers from the early years of the partnership.

Learning from the pioneers

While writing the early draft of this book, I was able to read an advance copy of a book, The Philippine Rural Electrification Program: The Early Years. In it, General Pedro Dumol narrates the strategic choices they made in laying the foundations and over-all structure of the rural electrification program.

He provides instructive information about the travails and triumphs of the NEA-ECs partnership which he led from 1969 to 1986. Without directly addressing the theme, he offers valuable insights into the issue of a developmental state.

The book also spells out his ideas on management and leadership. As I read the passages, I appreciate what is meant by those who call themselves proudly “Dumol boys and girls.” I have heard many of his ideas and seen them practiced in my encounters with Fr. Paking Silva, Edith Bueno, Ed Piamonte, Naning Cuenco, Bert Bassig, Diana San Luis and other NEA and EC leaders.

It is also from General Dumol that I got the idea for the closing chapter of this book. He wrote that policies may be there, together with the organizational structures, but at the heart of them we need people who share a commitment to the mandate and mission, and who are prepared to acquire and upgrade their competencies to match the needs of the changing industry.

Resilient Partners ends with a chapter on how the people of the rural electrification movement can respond to the need to be resilient, by becoming lifelong learners.

I offer this book as a learning resource for people in the rural electrification movement, past, present and future – board members, general managers, department heads, the workforce and leader-advocates of the electric cooperatives, and especially the people of NEA.

General Dumol

 

 

Winston Churchill and Rural Electrification

August 4, 2012

What connection exists between Winston Churchill and rural electrification in the Philippines?

No, I haven’t discovered some little-known historical connection. I was just struck by this seldom-cited quotation from Churchill, which I have made into an e-poster:

Last July 31, when I dropped by the office of the National Electrification Administration, Administrator Edith Bueno expressed her concern about the spate of attacks on the electric coops and NEA, coming from some party-list representatives, and another government agency.

“They seem to be well-funded,” she said. “The electric coops can’t get their side heard.” And NEA, as a government agency, can’t engage in a tit-for-tat media battle with members of congress.

Ironically, the attacks come just when the work of NEA and the electric coops have caught the favorable attention of President Noynoy Aquino. Last year the NEA-EC partnership delivered the 90-day targets for sitio electrification. And not just delivered; they delivered more than the target numbers, and below budget.

Exceptional performance can have its downside. This year, they have been given even more ambitious targets, with budgets adjusted to what they spent last year.

Great expectations

While waiting for PNoy’s arrival last August 2, I warned the NEA senior officials: “When PNoy gets impressed by an agency’s performance, he will make hirit, and ask you to deliver earlier than the original schedule.”

I based this on the experience of Sec. Procy Alcala and the Department of Agriculture. When he took over the leadership of the DA in July 2010, he promised to achieve rice self-sufficiency by the end of 2013. There were many skeptics, of course, even in the cabinet. But when the DA delivered on its scheduled targets last year despite the destructive typhoons, PNoy was persuaded that the ambitious target is attainable. And soon after, on more than one occasion, he would ask Sec. Alcala: “Could you not achieve it earlier, before the end of 2013?”

After PNoy delivered his message, the NEA officials smiled knowingly at me. Sure enough, PNoy pledged to complete sitio electrification by the end of his term. Then. after praising the performance of NEA, Edith, and the electric coops, he added: “And if possible, they may even finish this by the beginning of 2016.”

What to do about barking dogs?

Churchill’s quote is simple common sense. Stopping to throw stones at every barking dog can prevent us from reaching our destination. Better focus on our goals and tasks, and not dissipate our energy and time answering critics, much less trying to persuade them. Let the dogs bark.

But there is the all-too-human need to answer criticism, especially unfair criticism. Leaving these unanswered also dissipates energy.

Besides not all dogs limit themselves to barking. There are dogs whose bark is followed by their bite.

Electric Dreams, Embattled Dreams

August 2, 2012

In August 2009, NEA (National Electrification Administration) and the electric cooperatives celebrated the 40th anniversary of rural electrification in the Philippines.

Girlie and I wrote Electric Dreams to tell the story of those 40 years. The book was launched during the International Conference on Rural Electrification which was held at the SMX from August 3 to 5.

On the last day of the conference, I remember that we rushed from the SMX to the corner of Magallanes so we could catch the funeral cortege of Cory Aquino.

Memories from that day crossed my mind as I waited at the PTTC  for the arrival of President Noynoy Aquino.

PNoy on sitio electrification

PNoy was invited by NEA and the electric coops to be the keynote speaker at the annual conference of PHILRECA, the association of 119 electric coops. But up to the last minute, some vested interests and political groups hostile to NEA and the electric coops lobbied against Pnoy’s attending the event, arguing that he should not signal his support for NEA and the electric coops.

Imagine their relief when told that PNoy decided to attend. In addition to his presence, the message he delivered was clear and unmistakable. He pledged his administrations commitment to complete the electrification of the remaining 30,000-plus unenergized sitios by 2016. He expressed support for the pending bill that amends the NEA charter, so that electric coops can be shielded from political interference.

Before his speech, he led the ceremonial switch-on of the first 2000-plus sitios that have been energized under his administration. At the end of his speech, he repeated his earlier appreciation of what the NEA-EC partnership did in the last quarter of 2011:

Toward the end of September 2011, he challenged NEA to energize 1,300 sitios in 90 days, with a budget of 1.3 billion pesos or one million pesos per sitio. By the end of December 2011, NEA submitted a documented report – 1,500 sitios energized at the cost of just over 800 million pesos!

Critique of past claims

Consistent with his SONA, his speech included a critique of the GMA administration. He said that its  claimed achievement of having energized all barangays by 2010 was overstated, since it included barangays that had a minimal single electric line to barangay center.

Hence the need for sitio electrification.

The criticism is not without basis. But it should be tempered and understood in perspective. The definition of total electrification is “on an area coverage basis.” This means that the electric line should reach every barangay, but not necessarily every household. This depends on the willingness and capacity of the household to pay for a connection.

In addition to bringing electricity to every barangay, NEA and the ECs have also extended electric lines to many sitios by 2010. In fact, they undertook the task of drawing up their own list of sitios, since the DILG has no record of sitios, only of the 42,000 barangays. The NEA-EC list has 130,000 sitios.

Embattled dreams

In the first year of the PNoy presidency, there was no expressed appreciation and support for rural electrification. In fact, there was no budget allocated to NEA to continue electrification of sitios.

Some high government officials were even quoted as criticizing electric coops, calling them the “weakest link” in the energy sector. There were moves to forcibly convert the service oriented non-stock, non-profit electric coops into stock-for profit cooperatives, making them vulnerable to eventual take-over by corporations.

Into the 10th year of EPIRA, its negative effects were felt most by electric coops. EPIRA promised cheaper power as privatization and deregulated competition bring in more investments in power generation, resulting in more available supply compared to demand. For reasons we cannot go into, this did not happen. There is still not enough supply and prices are even higher than before. This has been most dramatically experienced in Mindanao.

Fortunately, into the second year of the Aquino presidency, both the DOE Secretary and PNoy  appear to have arrived at a better appreciation of the important role of the electric coops and NEA. And to their credit, I have been informed that the annual budget allocated bto rural electrification is much bigger than it has ever been in all previous administrations.

Some battles have been won. But others still have to be fought, with no certain outcomes.

Seven Questions after Reading the SONA

July 25, 2012

Just before midnight, I finally get to read the full text of yesterday’s SONA.

Girlie asks me: “Why are you scribbling notes?” I tell her it’s to help me analyze the structure and main messages of the speech.

I wind up with 7 pages of notes, using the TN-MN method: TN is taking notes – writing the outline and key points. MN is making notes – writing my comments and questions.

Here are seven questions, and comments, after reading and re-reading the SONA.

1.  What messages did PNoy emphasize and highlight?

I have only the Filipino text, 18 pages on my computer, as basis. I wish I had the chance to watch and listen, and catch his ad libs.

If we go by the principle that the main messages of a speech are what is at the beginning and at the end, this is what I picked up:

From his opening greetings to the closing lines, he reprised his mantra: Kayo ang Boss ko.

Humaharap po ako sa inyo bilang mukha ng isang gobyernong kayo ang boss at kayo pa rin ang lakas. Inuulat ko lamang ang mga pagbabagong ginawa ninyong posible.

Hence the inspirational ending: Inuulit ko: posible na ang dating imposible. Humaharap po ako sa inyo ngayon, at sinasabing: hindi ko SONA ito. Kayo ang gumawa nito. SONA ito ng sambayanang Pilipino. Maraming, maraming salamat po.

It’s a message in the spirit of Lao Tzu’s saying about leaders, that after accomplishing a task, the people should say “We did it ourselves.”

This message has very positive resonance. I wonder how it comes across to those whose expectation is different – that leaders should do things for the people.

2.  How did PNoy respond to the pre-SONA commentaries that he should stop blaming the past administration and focus on what he has delivered about his promises?

I don’t want to read too much into the structure of the speech, since the final text of the SONA is partly “negotiated” and is reported as having undergone repeated revisions.

But I think the SONA reflects what has been reported as PNoy’s sensibility and stand. His message is about change that has happened despite formidable “legacy” problems. Hence throughout the speech, there is a running structure of contrast and comparison, of numbers and timeframes.

This is highlighted towards the end by his response to those who call on him “to forgive and forget.”

3.  What programs did he emphasize?

Going by the number of paragraphs and level of details, I’d say health, up to the vision of  “universal health care.” This is closely followed by education, from basic education to technical-vocational education, to higher education.

He discussed these at length after citing economic growth, as indicators of a key concept of the new Philippine Development Plan – inclusive growth. I sense that health and education are given greater emphasis compared to earlier explanations of the CCT as a poverty reduction program.

4. Should we read anything into who of the cabinet secretaries were mentioned by name and who were not?

This is the stuff of juicy political gossip and speculation.

But just for fun, I listed the names of cabinet secretaries as they were mentioned and commended by Pnoy: Sec. Ona of DOH and Sec. Montejo of DOST, Sec. Luistro of DepEd, Sec. Villanueva of TESDA, Sec. Roxas of DOTC, Sec. Singson of DPWH, Sec. Jimenez of DOT, Sec. Alcala of DA, Sec. Almendras of DOE.

Other senior officials mentioned are ARMM OIC Hataman and Ombudsman Carpio-Morales.

These names were mentioned in the context of the programs and achievements cited positively by PNoy.

What should we make of  those officials who were not named even though programs within their sphere of responsibility were also cited positively? To mention some, there are lengthy passages on environment-related issues, but the only name mentioned is an LGU official, not the DENR secretary. The president vows to finish CARP, but does not mention the DAR secretary. We could even ask why CCT is discussed at some length without mentioning the DSWD secretary.

Maybe there is nothing to this, since defense, foreign relations, and economic growth are also discussed at length without mentioning the DND and DFA secretaries or the economic managers.

But then again, being mentioned in the SONA is a major concern of competitive government officials.

5.  What glaring silences and absences caught my attention?

Obviously, even a lengthy hour and a half SONA cannot mention very issue and sector. Still, I am quite disappointed that some “favorite” concerns of mine didn’t get mentioned at all.

The indigenous people and their issues are invisible. A few days before the SONA, I posted in our Aeta Coordination group my hope that IPs would get even a few lines. Sorry.

Since I work as a consultant to the Secretary of Agriculture, I know that the fisheries sector often complain that though “agriculture” includes fisheries, it is usually only the farmers who get mentioned, and not the fisherfolk. There were efforts to have their issues and achievements mentioned. But, sorry.

There was a mention of the OFW in the closing paragraphs, but no substantial discussion of their contribution and their concerns. Again, sorry.

6. Since both Enrile and Belmonte have brought up the issue of charter change, did PNoy have any response in the SONA?

Can we read this passage as a subtle reference?

Ngunit huwag po nating kalimutan ang pinag-ugatan ng Batas Militar: Kinasangkapan ng diktador ang Saligang Batas upang manatili sa kapangyarihan. At hanggang ngayon, tuloy pa rin ang banggaan sa pagitan ng gusto ng sistemang parehas, laban sa mga nagnanais magpatuloy ng panlalamang.

As the late Inday Badiday would say: “Careful…”

7.  Political commentators say that this year’s SONA is an “electoral” SONA, given the coming May 2013 elections and the October 2012 filing of candidacies. What is PNoy’s campaign message? 

Paparating na naman po ang halalan. Kayo po, ang aming mga boss, ang tangi naming susundan. Ang tanong ko sa inyo, “Boss, saan tayo tatahak? Tuloy ba ang biyahe natin sa tuwid na landas, o magmamaniobra ba tayo’t aatras, pabalik sa daan na baluktot at walang patutunguhan?”

The opening salvo can’t be any clearer.

The challenge will be how to handle the “cognitive dissonance” that will ensue as realpolitik determines some choices of who will be projected as the pro-administration candidates.

Wang-wang and the SONA

July 25, 2011

President Noynoy chose the “wang-wang” as an opening and central metaphor in his SONA.

It’s a good choice, since this is an inaugural promise that he has consistently kept: “Walang wang-wang sa ating administrasyon.

As an educator, I especially like his shift from wang-wang on the streets to wang-wang in the mind of those in power.

Naging hudyat at sagisag po ito ng pagbabago, hindi lamang sa kalsada, kundi pati na rin sa kaisipan sa lipunan… Sa matagal na panahon, naging simbolo ng pang-aabuso ang wang-wang…  Ang mga dapat naglilingkod ang siya pang nang-aapi. Ang panlalamang matapos mangakong maglingkod—iyan po ang utak wang-wang.

I am quoting from the published text, since I wasn’t able to listen to the live delivery.

When the SONA started, I was still in the midst of a meeting at the Development Academy of the Philippines about a training program for electric cooperatives. I managed to catch the the tail end of the SONA on my way to the Department of Agriculture for a brief meeting on the food staples self-sufficiency program.

Because of the two meetings, I took a special interest in the SONA passages on energy and agriculture.

The first wang-wang reference to energy is OK with me: Because of greater confidence in government, there are more investors in the energy sector. But the next two references disturb me , not because of what is said, but because of what is left unsaid.

Kapag sinabi nating liwanag ng pagbabago, titiyakin nating may liwanag na tatanglaw sa mga pamayanang dati ay nangangapa sa aandap-andap na gasera, gaya ng ginawa natin sa Barangay San Marcos, sa Bunawan, Agusan del Sur. 

This reference to rural electrification is good, since over 40 years, the partnership of electric cooperatives and the National Electrification Administration (NEA) has succeeded in bringing electricity to practically all the rural barangays.

What is unsaid is that the Department of Energy (DOE) has not recommended a budget for the electrification of sitios. This is consistent with the DOE Secretary’s preferred vision statement. Instead of “Electricity for All” he has settled for “Electricity for More.”

If that were not reason enough for worry, during the DAP meeting, I was shown the draft bill from the DOE for changing the charter of NEA.

The SONA’s statement about this sounds well-intentioned:  Kabilang din po sa ating agenda ang pagpapalakas ng BuCor, ng NBI, ng NEA, at ng PTV 4, upang sa halip na mapag-iwanan ng kaalaman at panahon, mas maayos nilang magagampanan ang kanilang pagbibigay-serbisyo sa publiko.

Who can disagree with moves “to strengthen and modernize?” But the DOE draft bill includes a provision to terminate all NEA employees, though with possibility of re-applying.

After EPIRA was passed, NEA was subjected to a similar termination, but NEA successfully renewed itself and got the highest recognition for public service from the Institute for Solidarity in Asia.

Why a second death?  Is it for a second, presumably better, resurrection?

Or is this connected to another provision in the draft bill that makes it mandatory for all electric cooperatives supervised by NEA to shift, within one year,  from being non-stock non-profit service-oriented cooperatives to profit-oriented corporations?

I can’t help thinking that there is more than one wang-wang involved here, involving both public and private power.

Fortunately,  the SONA passages on agriculture prevent me from descending into a deep funk.

Kahit po sa mga bukirin, may mga nagwawang-wang din. Bago tayo maupo noong 2010, nag-angkat ang bansa ng 2.3 million metric tons ng bigas. 1.3 million metric tons lamang ang kailangan nating angkatin, ngunit pinasobrahan pa nila ito ng isang milyon. Dahil nga sobra-sobra ang inangkat, kinailangan pa nating gumastos muli sa mga bodegang pagtatambakan lang naman ng barko-barkong bigas.

In addition to corruption, there is a deeper impact of this wang-wang: Dahil dito, umiral ang pag-iisip na habambuhay na tayong aangkat ng bigas. Ang akala ng marami, wala na talaga tayong magagawa.

And yet, contrary to this self-doubt, the Philippines has registered an unprecedented 15.6% increase in palay harvest:  At hindi po buwenas lang ang nangyaring pag-angat ng ating rice productivity. Bunga po ito ng matinong pamamalakad: ng paggamit ng maiinam na klase ng binhi, at masusi at epektibong paggastos para sa irigasyon. Nito nga pong nakaraang taon, 11,611 bagong ektarya ng bukirin ang napatubigan natin. Dagdag pa iyan sa halos 212,000 ektarya na nakumpuni o nabigyang muli ng irigasyon matapos ang panahon ng pagkakatiwangwang.

The passage ends in a rousing tone: Ang gusto nating mangyari: Una, hindi tayo aangkat ng hindi kailangan, para lang punan ang bulsa ng mga gustong magsariling-diskarte ng kita sa agrikultura. Ikalawa: Ayaw na nating umasa sa pag-angkat; ang isasaing ni Juan dela Cruz, dito ipupunla, dito aanihin, dito bibilhin.

The call to believe in our capacity for self-reliance is reinforced in other passage of the SONA that talk about innovative solutions developed by Pinoy scientists, engineers, and development workers.

I think that the SONA message is not only against the wang-wang in our minds,  or more precisely, the wang-wang in the minds of those in a position of power (public or private).

Equally important is the message to change the mindset which reinforces the wang-wang in their minds: Walang tiwala sa sarili. Walang paki.

Breaking news: While reflecting on the SONA, I got a text from the secretary of the PUP Board of Regents. The judge has granted the ex-president’s petition for a continuing injunction against my being interim OIC during the search for a new president. Furthermore, the judge’s injunction extends to stopping the search committee from doing its work.

To borrow from Pnoy’s SONA: Naman…

24 Hours

May 11, 2010

Exactly 24 hours ago, Girlie, Ayen, and I cast our vote at the polling center inside Claret School in Quezon City.

Today, 24 hours later, what can I say about the May 10 elections?

Are the elections sufficiently credible?

In the weeks immediately preceding election day, Girlie and I were drawn into the campaign for credible elections. We took seriously the criticisms of IT experts and election watch groups about the flaws in the automated election system, especially the logistical problems. The COMELEC’s cavalier stance did not help, even though one of its members, Rene Sarmiento, is a good person and trusted friend.

Up to the eve of the elections, I shared the fears of those who worried that the combination of system vulnerabilities and the special ops of competing camps would result in less than credible elections.

Well, our worst fears did not happen. There are many reports of long lines, disenfranchised voters, and malfunctioning PCOS. But the COMELEC’s “partial but official” tally of 30 million votes from 80% of the PCOS after 24 hours is impressive.

At today’s noon press conference, Chairman Melo allowed himself to joke that this count is “faster than Garci.” For his sake, I hope the results of the random manual audit do not feed lingering doubts about the integrity of the PCOS transmissions.

Are the national election results as expected?

Days before election day, our expanded household was a microcosm of the electorate.

We had different preferences for president – Noynoy, Erap, Gibo, even Gordon. For vice president, Mar, Binay, and Loren. We had more unity on the senators – we did not want the old names, even if they were predicted to win. We agreed on some new faces, especially Danny Lim and Alex Lacson.

For party list, almost all agreed to support 1 CARE because of my work in rural electrification. But Girlie voted for AMIN because Ayi Hernandez is her “adopted son,” and because AMIN has been unfairly attacked by self-proclaimed progressives. Of course we campaigned for Larraine Sarmiento as QC councilor, though our hopes were not sanguine.

Did Noynoy Aquino’s victory come as a surprise? No, I expected him to win, since his campaign had managed to capture the general sentiments for change, against corruption. What surprised me is the landslide lead. I expected his margin over Erap to be narrower.

What about Binay’s lead over Mar Roxas? This definitely surprised me. When the Binay camp talked about overtaking Loren, it made sense since Loren’s campaign was on the decline. But to catch up with the Mar campaign and to overtake it? I thought it presumptious. As usual, hindsight gives some explanations. My best information is that the Mar Roxas focused too much on Loren and matched her preference for “air war,” did not do enough “ground war,” and was blindsided by the Binay ground campaign which was “below the radar.”

The Senate results are predictable and uninspiring. I don’t recall the original French, but it applies: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

Frank Sinatra and the party list elections. Since 2001, I have worked  with the rural electric cooperatives, particularly in the education of member-consumers. This year, they decided to form the 1st Consumer Alliance for Rural Energy (1 CARE) and sought the support of the electric coops and the member-consumers. The “courtship” took a while, since the coops and consumers had not yet gotten over their disappointment with the party list that they had previously supported. I teased them that their theme song should be Frank Sinatra’s “Let Me Try Again.”

Last time I checked the GMA TV count, the party list 1 CARE is number 8 in the winning list.

Understand, then act? Act, then understand?

January 15, 2010

Yesterday at the  workshop of the National Electrification Administration, I was asked to share reflections on their theme for 2010 – “Riding the wave while preserving the legacy,” and also on the idea of “strategic thinking.”

I took off from a sign board I had seen near a river in Zamboanga City: “Activists do not merely complain that the river is dirty. Activists clean up the river.” I had just landed that morning from Zamboanga City and had been driven straight from NAIA 3 to the venue in Tagaytay City.

The message, I told them, reminded me of the “Noah principle.” Some people worry that a flood is coming. Other people warn that a flood is coming. Still others explain why a flood is coming. Noah builds an ark.

The same emphasis on activism is in Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach: “Philosophers have sought to interpret the world. The point is to change it.”

So why spend three full days, just “thinking”?

Well, activists may spend a day to clean up the river of debris, yet need to return a few days later to clean it up again. They decide to mobilize more people to join the clean up. Then they realize that their efforts are better directed at stopping the sources of solid and liquid waste further upstream.

In the bible story, Noah was following orders when he started building an ark. Instead of ridicule, would he not have received resources if there were also people who warned that a flood was coming, and explained why?

And during many  heated activist debates about “What is to be done?” I think that Marx’s famous call to activism could benefit from an ironic reversal: “Activists have sought to change the world. Perhaps they should try to really understand it.”

But there is also a possible riposte from Mao Zedong’s  essay On Practice. He wrote that we can try to understand a pear by holding it, smelling it, analyzing it etc. We understand a pear fully when we eat it.

This morning, a similar question about acting and understanding came up.

I took part in the second planning meeting of the Earth Day Network for this year’s Earth Day celebrations on April 22. At the previous meeting, we had decided on Climate Change as the focus, and took up Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Tony Oposa’s 10 million signatures campaign, but reframed it as a call for “10 million solutions.”

Toward the end of the meeting, someone proposed a formulation whose main part got unanimous approval: Hamon ng Panahon: Climate Change. 10 Milyong Solusyon.

But the next and final line took longer to agree on, and needed a debate and a vote. The initial proposal was Kasama ka ba? I suggested a more direct call, rather than a question: Sama ka na! A flurry of other suggestions followed, emphasizing action. We agreed on Kilos na!

Someone added that we should underline the sense of urgency. We almost settled for Now na! But it was pointed out that the Noynoy campaign had already appropriated that Taglish expression. Eventually we settled on Ngayon na!

After lunch, a small group met to brainstorm further on the communications plan. We agreed that the main content would be a list of actions, big and small: 1001 Ways to Save Mother Earth, eventually pared down to 101 Ways.

Then someone pointed out that Climate Change is not yet really understood by the general public. Should we not start with explaining what it is and how it affects us? Perhaps our list should be along the lines of Did You Know?

That started another discussion. It’s true that there is still so much to explain and learn about climate change. So much, in fact, that our efforts to understand may leave us little time and energy for action.

We eventually agreed on our original focus on a list of actions, big and small.

Anyway, people will ask the reason for the proposed actions, including how they impact on climate change. The list of actions will trigger the explanation.


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