Friday, May 30, 2014

Remembrances of my Late Father

                                                          Amadeo R. Neri

To preclude people from misunderstanding  my attitudes toward my father, let me say I am truly grateful for both of my parents.  After all, without both of them, I would not be around.  Albeit my life could still be judged simply as a whiff of smoke for its triteness and lack of importance.

So on my own behalf, and on the heavy behalf of all my other siblings numbering over a dozen, I push tentative hands to write about what I remember about my father.  For the benefit of all and sundry, and just maybe for the benefit of siblings and their issues confused about the realities of their own father and/or grandfather.

My father was a lawyer by profession and a scion of a very prominent local family who even to this day can count on many close relatives who are considered important and of consequence in the city.  He practically lived his life based on his own rules and perceptions, unfettered by the many social standards and conventions that defined his own generation.  Conventions that would definitely be considered very constricting compared with current standards.  Whether rightly or wrongly, they indeed were limiting to a man desiring to give rein to his free spirit.

But giving free rein to his free spirit he did, in most things he did in his short life of 56 years old

How he started life as a young kid is still sketchy to those of us who knew him.  He was practically an absentee father to all of us children of Milagros Velez Neri.  And on the scant occasions we were together as family, he barely spoke and was a great disciple of the old truism that kids were to be seen but not spoken to or heard.  But from notes and books he left behind, one could weave a tale of whole cloth about his life and the things that were important to him.   If anything he was an inveterate note-taker, leaving behind copious notes about a lot of things.

For one and to illustrate, he had an avid liking for cars and gadgets in general.  He kept records of all vehicles that went through him, keeping manuals of instructions, pictures, and writing notes on their margins.  He even left behind a list of all vehicles of his family, starting with his own father, giving details of the vehicles, the years purchased or owned and dates disposed. 

On a side note, over time, I was beneficiary of several vehicles coming from him – two motorbikes that I converted for the motorela business, a VW buggy, and even a small Toyota sports car that I eventually passed on  to an older brother who was leaving for the US.

He was quite unconventional in many of his ways.  Which included even his perception of what family life was all about.

This veering away from custom and culture manifested in many other ways.  Coming from a very patriarchal family, his father we gathered wanted him to be a doctor.  So this he followed finishing pre-med, probably from some exclusive school in Manila like the Ateneo de Manila where he spent college years before the last war.   This was something not to be taken special notice of since he came from a family with very great financial resources and could well afford to indulge their children with the best their milieu could offer.

Then we learned he shifted to Law which got sidetracked when war broke out.  And in the meantime, his own family had grown.  So after the war he resumed his law studies and reviewed for the bar in a then unlikely place, in Cebu at the University of San Carlos which just started its law department.  Instead of losing himself in Manila where he would have benefited greatly because his family had many acquaintances and relatives steeped in the law profession.  At the very least, he could have gotten critical pointers or “leaks” that would have helped his ratings in his bar exams.  But he decided otherwise, and instead buried himself in the serenity of faraway Cebu, the land of my mother.

He still placed 4th in the bar exams, garnering a grade of over 91%, which to this day is the highest rating any local topnotcher has gotten, including those who topped the bar.  No doubt he was a very intelligent person, his academic records and people around him were quite unanimous on this.  And I add this native gift may have been greatly enhanced by dogged diligence and dedication that knew no bounds.

In his practice of law, he took on the hardest and most complicated cases and he rarely considered the remuneration he could derived from them.  His legal interests trumped any other considerations, whether in monetary kind, or for social approbation.   He was just passionate about law, spending many days and nights laboring and preparing for his cases.  He lost himself in this pursuit that he probably neglected other equally important responsibilities – like his family.  And coming from such a financially secure background, his knowledge about income and expense was at best rudimentary.  No, let me take that back, his knowledge, about almost any subject of current interest then was very keen and extensive, the notes and books he left behind tell us that.  But his practice of  these things did not typically match his knowledge of them  And his very consequential inheritance from his own parents may have spoiled him even more, since he could always rely on them to extricate him from any problems of a monetary nature.  Until the well ran dry. 

And for all these sacrifices and show of altruism, he became quite a darling of the local legal profession, earning a very laudable and enviable legal track record that could have been easily parlayed into politics.  Many still claim that at his peak, he had not lost a single legal case.

He did dabble a bit in politics, but with dismal results in all his tries.  He himself from some of his past actions and words had declared that he was not good at politics.  And thus, may not even have liked it.

Of no surprise then, he died in public in the local amphitheatre, during a speech he was giving in his bid to become vice-mayor of the city.  He just collapsed and my cousin, a doctor who attended to him afterwards, said he was dead before he reached the stage floor due to massive thrombosis.

Thus ended at 56 years of age the short life of a person who wanted to give free rein to his  spirit.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Walking Tour: Barangay 4 of Cagayan de Oro


First of all, Barangay 4 is composed of just four city blocks, defined and bounded by the following streets:  T. Chaves St. in the north, Hayes St in the south, N. Capistrano in the West, and Pabayo St. in the East.  During the last barangay elections it had a total of 280 registered voters, which by the way in no way reflects the total number of actual residents of the barangay.

In spite of the insignificance of its size, it is a very critical barangay because of its location and the amount of traffic that daily uses its constricted streets and jammed intersections.  Consisting of a combination of vehicular and pedestrian traffic from both private and public utility sectors.

This morning at 6am, I took a quick walking tour around our smallish barangay to highlight its size and its many intersections, a total of 10, which are heavily trafficked during the day.  After all, busy Divisoria Park is only a block away going north.  As noticed, at this early hour, we may think it is a section of a sleepy town.  But do not be deceived.  During peak hours it is a beehive of frenzied activities.

What stood out in observation was the stark absence of pedestrian lanes or crosswalks, except for one very faded and almost completely-erased one across A. Velez Street in its intersection with Hayes.

While Divisoria Park gets most of the current attention for the city drive to bring law and order in our streets, hardly any is given to the surrounding areas.  At least that is what we noticed, apart from the retinue of RTA personnel during critical hours during the day.

This to me is a big travesty, or less harshly, a big oversight, or maybe a very glaring sign of the shallowness of the city drive for orderly traffic.  It is earnestly hoped that this is not likened to a PR stunt or that this administration is just going through the motions of showing nodding compliance with certain election promises, as others would allege.

We expect pedestrians to follow a few simple rules in the use of our streets, like making use of pedestrian lanes, while at the same time we blatantly neglect to provide simple pedestrian lanes in streets around this park.  This results in total confusion, as we are wont to see in these streets.  To the point that penalty-averse pedestrians have to ask RTA personnel where to cross in the absence of lanes.  And yet we emphatically bring forth the notion of and law about jaywalking.    Talk about conflicting or confusing messages.

Thus, on the positive side, wouldn’t it be nice if the city in cooperation and coordination with the affected barangays in the area, could address the issue of absence of pedestrian lanes in these crucial intersections?

For one, our barangay eagerly waits for any inspiration and guidance from our city administrators.   We eagerly await for their first move and I am confident that we are ready to assist.  Please show us the way.

To supplement the above video, here is a picture gallery below as the walking tour continued to complete the roundabout walking tour:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Election Vote-buying, Philippines style


To lump together any transfer of money from candidate/politician and/or his leaders/henchmen to voters as collectively and simply vote-buying I believe misses some finer points that may be unique to politics, Philippines style.  Yes, Philippines style, especially taking into account culture and the pervasiveness of poverty.

Consider the following wrinkles, or nuances, or refinements, or however one may call it, uniquely common in maybe many underdeveloped countries exercising democratic rule.

Money changes hands and given to a candidate/politician’s committed voters/supporters whether for services rendered or simply because it is election time and everyone expects money to be dispersed.  Would that technically be called vote-buying?  And how does one buy something it already owns? For many the services to be rendered would be that as poll watchers, errand boys, or other menial jobs.  And the issue is not whether or not these are redundant or unnecessary jobs. Or whether we can even truly call these real jobs.  But these are paid employment created during election time. In many instances, money transfers hands after the election and counting has been completed.

The conventional wisdom around town and elsewhere is that because of extreme and pervasive poverty, a good sure-fire enticement to vote is financial.  Thus it is not uncommon for voters to receive money not just from one candidate but usually from two or more.  In our logical mind, the differences in the amounts given would determine where the votes would go.  But this is not necessarily the case.  We have often heard political purists say that voters especially those in penury ought to accept the money and vote with their conscience.   And this may be true in many cases.  Of course, also true is the scheme where opposite parties will pay committed supporters of other parties, for them to stay away from voting. Thus, paying for non-votes clearly equals vote-buying.  Ironic?

The proof of this pudding?  Consider the very high voter turnout even during barangay elections. Small barangays in the last election registered as high as 81% turnout.   What galvanizes a citizenry already carrying the heavy onus of privation to come together and attend to a cumbersome exercise?   Money.

High elective officials may also choose to take the role of patrons for lower-level candidates and dispense money not directly tied to any particular vote, but simply as assistance or goodwill money expressly intended for the recipients either for their own particular campaigns, or different advocacies, or other commendable causes, etc.  The politician himself may not even be in any ballot. Again, would this be technically characterized as vote-buying?

The greater moral thorn of course is where the big money is coming from and/or how the generous dispensers of largesse expect to recover the big expenditure?  Every thinking man has the answer. 

But does he have the solution?  Realistic one(s).

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Not Trashing the Garbage Problem

It is no smellathon that we are having here in Cagayan de Oro, except that the stinking garbage uncollected in some areas on days at end has caught our collective noses.

We know what happened.  For some reasons or other, the then garbage collector just stopped collecting, leaving the city high, dry, but stinky with the mounting piles of rotten refuse.  To stave off impending disaster, the city has had to resort to stop-gap measures – like using some of its vehicles for garbage collection, engaging third parties to collect garbage, and what have you. Despite these, garbage collection has been unsatisfactory.

Invariably local pundits wasted no time rehashing and exhuming the entire waste disposal process.  Questions and proffered possible solutions were not wanting.

Why did the then current collection just summarily rescind its contract with the city?

Shouldn’t solid waste disposal be given to the barangays?

Why go for privatization of garbage collection?

Why not let the government handle that since as a basic service it is tasked to do just that?

Why should waste collection and disposal not follow strictly the stringent environmental standards we read being discussed incessantly throughout the world?  Instead of just indiscriminately dumping on open landfill sites?

To all these questions and more, why and why not, indeed?

Except please consider the following first.

We understand that two of the major issues the current administration has over the garbage contract hastily renewed long-term by the previous occupant are the absence of required public bidding prior to the award and secondly, the current administration finds the billings submitted as over the top. 

Such being the case, a new contract ought to be drawn following the required process of going through public bidding, which should not preclude the subject garbage collector from participating.  This ought to fairly address the issue of fair price, or any cost-benefit issue obtaining with regard to this specific issue.  Problem solved.  Or is it?

BTW, the government being not for profit, driving it to understand and apply strict cost-benefit analyses will be a difficult task.  Look anywhere, locally and abroad, and one finds that government waste is the daily fare, in most anything government does.

We have traditionally looked to government to provide us with “basic services” required with living as a community.  And the barangay is the most basic unit of governance we find in our current political system.  But our experiences have consistently shown to us that government has always fallen short of our expectations.  At this time, we will all be hard-pressed to name and recommend any important government-owned and –operated entity that has delivered to its citizens some important “basic service” with some satisfaction.  Water service? Think COWD.  Phone service?  Think MisOrTel.  Power?  Oops, Cepalco is privately-owned.  But we do have in our midst two electric cooperatives, Moresco and Buseco.  But they would be considered at least non-governmental, right? Roads and infrastructures?  But most jobs are contracted out to private firms.  What else.

But for garbage collection and disposal, barangays should be able to do that.  How?  How do you prepare, equip, and expect the 80 barangays of this city alone to handle seamlessly, without fail, and without running into each other tons of garbage on a daily basis?  That’s a gargantuan task.  Maybe one or two, or even more barangays can handle their own specialized collection and disposal.  But an entire city with 80 barangays?

Whether we like or think so or not, privatization is now the marked trend. Limited government is now the cry of those eternally frustrated by governments which slavishly attempt to co-opt more power and control over the citizenry. Research most developed countries in the world and you will find the sure shift toward privatization.  Why, in some cities in the US, collection of traffic tickets has been privatized. This is obviously naked acceptance of the failure of government to be trusted with many of the tasks traditionally bestowed to it.  Will ours be any different?

Okay, assuming we will continue going to the private sector for our garbage collection and disposal, why can’t we follow stringent environmental standards on waste disposal in general?

And why not, indeed.

But which issue should the government attend to first, given its limited resources, very unalterable time constraints, and overall lethargy and inattention of our public servants?

For the entire country, we have in our midst teeming millions of our own people living in inarguably sub-human conditions.  Reference is made to the countless squatter areas in probably all our cities.  People living in hovels, with no indoor plumbing much less proper human waste disposal system, crowding in slimy conditions under bridges, over esteros, over clogged creeks, etc.  In such a state, proper garbage disposal is the least of their concerns.

So we can aim and engage scarce resources to build ourselves a nice waste disposal system, away from where we live and enjoy our life free from noxious fumes or far from sources of diseases associated with improper disposal.

But in our midst, we will still have the more urgent and hazardous problems created by our own people living in very dire conditions.

These are our dilemmas.  Created by looking at hard and harsh facts, rather than enviable ideals that we think we should all aspire for.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Evolution of the Motorela Business in Cagayan de Oro


I have always had an ardent love affair with motorbikes, owning and driving several motorbikes of different makes and models commencing in my youthful years. To this day, I own a heavy China-made bike that resembles the looks of the sport bikes of the 60’s.  

But more relevantly as one who had engaged in the rela business during its infancy, which would be toward the end of the 60’s, I feel that I have some critical insights about the business that in this day and age has taken the city by storm and upended the peace and quiet of its once tranquil streets. A business that is now leered at as having grown uncontrollably to such unwieldiness as to be considered unruly and a woeful bane to local traffic. Thus in the process it has courted serious attention and derision from both the government and citizenry, questioning its role in the local public transport system and eager to drastically rein it in.

Prior to the introduction of the motorela, which many may know was started by a local family here in Cagayan de Oro, the use of motorbikes as public transport had been ongoing from the early 60’s when pioneering Honda locally introduced the motorbike as an appropriate alternate mode of transport for the locals.   In reality it commenced as an alternate mode of transport for those rich enough to own motor vehicles.  A very conveniently different and light vehicle for those who found using four-wheeled vehicles a bit cumbersome especially for quick short trips around the city. Though others found the bike a good and convenient vehicle for tackling narrow trails or other off-road places.  Plus its novelty struck a chord in a lot of local fans, allowing them to open up their purse strings.   Honda was also quite good enticing traditionally nonplussed consumers to try their very smart-looking models which soon appealed to the daring spirits of young folks eager to pursue adventure or simply to give expression to their latent wanderlust via a vehicle that appeared to be apt extensions of their limbs.

Before long this romance blossomed out into something more. The entrepreneurial urges of the locals were piqued and awakened, especially for those that did not want to view its purchase as simply one of consumption but rather for something productive. So motorbikes as a tool to make money became the next purpose for its purchase.  It was viewed primarily as a light vehicle to ferry passengers around town, in lieu of the much-slower means which was the slow-poke tartanilla.

But how to do it? Culling and copying from the not so distant past, the idea of using a sidecar became an easy choice.  Local artisans started tooling around in their small shops and before long came up with a sidecar that could be attached to the motorbike models then in the market.  It became known as the motorcab.

With profit as the driving motive the motorbike of choice was the 90cc bike which was the default size for the smallest bikes then. But at times more robust twin-cylinder bikes were also used, typically in the 125cc and 150cc categories.  During those early times, Honda had the slight edge in the market with their bike models, coming out with pure 4-stroke gas engines, while other companies like Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Suzuki had deferred to the mixed models or 2-stroke engines.  The 2-stroke engines gave the operators a leg up with better fuel mileage, thus many also opted for them.  Since then the sale of two-stroke engines had been stopped by our government, so now only a few hold-overs can be found in our streets.

Before long noisy motorbikes with side-cars were plying the streets of CDO displacing almost overnight the long-regarded tartanillas.

And just as quickly a serious upheaval was soon to ensue because of the propensity of the designed sidecar to turn turtle causing serious accidents on the roads.  It just was not a well-balanced vehicle and was also quite challenging for the hapless drivers to handle safely.

So after many accidents later, people started questioning the continued lifespan of this upstart vehicle.

Creative innovators always tend to fill in vacuums, whether already in existence or still impending.  And the onset of the motorela is one of those instances, filling an impending vacuum that was surely to come.

The early versions of the rela were quite crude and simple.  It could accommodate 3 passengers with passenger access on either side.  The middle passenger making do with quite cramped space made so by the enclosure of the rear end of the motorbike.

BTW, since the inception of the motorbike being used as public transport, a rather uneasy and rather unresolved relationship of regulatory bodies, particularly the motor vehicles agency, with vehicle owner has always dogged it. Unable to fit in any of the categories deigned as authorized motor vehicles subject to licensing, the motorcabs and motorelas have always existed in some kind of licensing limbo.  The motor vehicle agency could only license the motorbike as a two-wheel vehicle subject to licensing.  But the contraptions attached to them whether as sidecars or relas do not fall under any of the categories and thus they ply our streets with no license and no effective oversight from those officially tasked by the government and thus from an agency with the necessary expertise on matters of safety and roadworthiness.

And to make matters worse, many enterprising locals eager to go completely under the licensing radar have fabricated a public transport that completely eliminates licensing from the motor vehicles agency, by putting together a vehicle that runs on a marine engine used on pumpboats.  Since that kind of marine engine does not require licensing, these intrepid road-hoggers have found a way to operate without any regulation and supervision, other than within their fiefdoms called the barangays.  These land-based pumpboats now cruise our highways adding to the traffic turmoil already experienced.

Taken together, over the years the clamor to regulate or all together remove the rela has been building to a crescendo.  The exasperated citizens are slowly letting their voices heard, condemning the relas and their step brothers as the bane in our traffic mess.

Some revealing facts we cite here all conspire to lend more credibility and loudness to the voices of change or removal of the ugly monster the rela transport has become.

Over the years but more so in the unlamented administration of the previous mayor, the rela business had suddenly gained the unseemly notice of the public not only for its numbers but also for the reckless traffic behavior of their drivers, known more for their utter and reckless disregard of basic traffic rules, regulations, and courtesies.

Initially allowed to continue its operations in spite of the inability to license its cab from the motor vehicle agency, the city had preempted that agency by taking upon itself the licensing authority for such transport.  Thus while LTC licenses the bike used, the cab and thus the business are all regulated by the city, initially as benevolent accommodation for some local families who pleaded from city authorities to allow them to earn income by operating a rela business.  Thus, you may have noticed that each rela unit carries the complete name of the owner/operator, conspicuously painted on both sides, as assurance to the city that indeed the family authorized to operate truly does.  Now, we learn that many owner/operators own multiple units, many of these may not even be licensed by the city.  One previous councilor grudgingly admitted that many relas plying our streets are not licensed or authorized by the city.  How many?  Said councilor admitted that there may be as many as 3,000 licensed relas, but that twice that number may be running in our streets.   So who knows really how many relas are clogging our streets.

Trisikads are of course even worse.  Licensing is done solely by the barangays and controls are at best minimal, or worse, none at all.  That goes for those land-based pumpboats operated in the eastern section of the city toward Puerto.

Over the years operators of relas, or sikads, or whatever, have formed themselves into politically strong associations, throwing around their weights in the political arena for political favors.  The previous administration is a glaring example of how policies detrimental to the public good are shunted aside in response to complaints from said associations.  And this has contributed to our overall problematic situation.