Friday, March 30, 2007

What This Blog Is All About

Quoting from a much appreciated invite received from Editor Cheri of the Tracy Press, the main community paper of the City of Tracy, of which I am glad to be a resident:

“If you send me something like that (the name of the blog and your name and town) along with a 50-word-or-less description of your blog, I’ll add it to the page.”

Somehow, my initial attempts at complying have been stymied by a stubborn inability to reduce to 50 words or less what this blog is all about.

In starting the blog, I had initially declared that I suffered from a deep-seated urge to cram and savor as much of life as I could in a short lifetime, dipping my puny fingers in much anything that caught my fancy, and in matters that I could decently understand, and that in turn I could tolerably gather together and maybe imaginatively write about.

And true to form, my harried attempts at writing have been all over the place, at times defying any logic at archive classification.

And I say that much like real life, the disparate parts go beyond being capable of any neat and easily understood categorizing. And that much like real life, it will always appear as messy and much clutter.

But attempt I should, based on the parameters laid down.

Finally, I came up with this:

The Ignatian Perspective

While its title may betray the impression of writings adhering strictly to the admirable tenets of the Jesuits founder, the reality has been one of free-wheeling musings on varied subjects that hopefully people value and want to read about – family life, immigrant perspectives, spirituality, and some politics and economics.

And the spin-off blog, Hobbies and Pastimes
A little menagerie of revealing and at times, amusing, bits and pieces of activities that litter and lend a bit of color and interest to any typical life. And along the way, a little bit of self-discovery.

Some Somber Uninvited Thoughts

During moments of quiet introspection, I unerringly am guided to plan for another expectant trip back to the old homeland, strongly prodded by some kind of homing device pointing my wander-struck ken toward that familiar destination.

While every trip provides revealing and refreshingly new insights about the ever-changing old homeland, especially with regard to how sadly different it is from a first-world country like the US, many other things remain static and unchanged over time making the requisite adaptation to local conditions easy and trouble free.

However, certain uncontrollable issues like the weather and the environment continue to be irksome challenges that grudgingly have to be seriously dealt with each time, unfortunately needing for one to expend the self-same vigor and dedication in sufficiently jousting with these fortuitous vagaries.

On the more unpleasant negative side, however, I am personally experiencing an unsettling sense that has stubbornly bothered me and which rears its ugly head every time I begin to seriously interact with the local people and unobtrusively observing how they go about doing their workaday mundane business.

It is not a pretty picture and does not bespeak kindly of a serious part of the pervasive attitudes of the local citizenry. This attitude is revealed more in personal interaction rather than in media.

No doubt the typical Filipino looks up to the US kindly in more ways than typically imagined. The US is not only regarded as a possible source of economic salvation for many, but its social and political institutions are typically adulated with respect and deference, regardless of how the vocal local minority may prognosticate otherwise.

Many serious discussions about politics, society, education, and even entertainment, are more likely premised on how things are done or regarded in the US, and then how the local milieu has adapted and/or deviated from such “standards”. Filipinos would like to see their kids being educated in American schools, their employment with American companies where the dollar’s exponentially higher purchasing capabilities badly overhaul those of the dismally meager local peso.

In a manner of speaking, in a country that is now terribly debauched with pernicious economic hardships, many dream of finding themselves in the US, should the first available opportunity unexpectedly shows up allowing them passage.

But what many, in my personal estimation, possessing such attitudes and dreams may fail to comprehend and take into account is that there are consequent duties and responsibilities associated in turning these hopeful plans into realities. That, for example, going to America and living there to earn a living requires more than just being able to physically transport oneself to the place and start earning and availing of its perceived bounties. Important considerations requiring essential changes in attitudes and behavior, like being earnest about learning and obeying laws and acceding to the demands of culture of the host country, whether with regard to petty traffic rules, immigration requirements, or social demeanor expectations; where in the old homeland unfortunately many of these are renowned for their being mindlessly disregarded rather than their being adhered to by its ordinary citizenry. While no country can boast of having all their citizenry strictly comply with its laws, the US does distinguish itself from a country like the Philippines for its earnest commitment and regard in the application of the rule of law, regardless of station, race, status, etc.

Another critical issue that appears prevalent is the typical Filipino’s limited grasp of the bigger picture, learning to think beyond the tight circle of one’s family’s dreams and interests, and extending that to the health and well-being of an entire country.

The typical Filipino with dreams of immigration, especially to the US, finds it easy to imagine himself or herself immersed in hard and at times back-breaking work when he/she finds that doing so promotes the narrow interests and welfare of the family. But rarely does that solicitude, for example, extend beyond, into thoughts like how one’s actions, multiplied by many, may adversely affect the general welfare and interests of the host country.

To illustrate, a prospective Filipino visitor may not hesitate to hide his real intentions about going to the US, most especially with regard those that may be in contravention with the restrictions imposed by a visitor’s visa; like that the stay is only for a very limited period, and that employment is not allowed while under the auspices of such a visa. But once on board, many will not be burdened much in soliciting and accepting employment or even overstay if doing so works for the family’s welfare. Thus this justification trumps other equally critical considerations and makes the violator feel personally justified. After all the family’s welfare is being ameliorated, they would advance.

May we be able to find the answer to all these in how the typical Filipino views the oft-resorted one-world concept? That the entire globe is one big borderless place where everybody is free to fluidly move about and pursue his and his family’s welfare? After all, many citizens of other countries feel justified espousing such causes – one government and one world for all.

Unfortunately, these hopes are expressed by those who ordinarily come from beleaguered countries which cannot provide adequately, whether in job opportunities or good living standards, for many of their own citizens. Their hapless citizens are then compelled to seek their fortunes outside the confines of their own homelands.

While many may be fiercely nationalistic and ethnically patriotic about a homeland that has essentially failed them, they express no qualms laboring under a foreign country with a foreign government. Neither are there honest desires to integrate and assimilate in societies where, in a some real sense, they are said to be parasitically exploiting for their personal ends. Since they are not really invested in working toward insuring the economic and/or political health of the host country.

Like drowning men flailing and desperately clutching to each shred of life-giving buoyant straw, one must learn that sooner than later an entire country can only carry so much inert weight before it too begins to be weighed down to the level of the distressed countries from whence these new residents came from.

And then nobody will be any better.

Let the light be on each one of us.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Illustrating The Indomitable Human Spirit

For many years, Vicky C. toiled tirelessly to keep a family fed and sheltered, doing odd jobs as they were made available to her. Cooking for other families, cleaning houses, and caring for the disabled or the elderly, using skills and expertise borne out of many years of trying to keep pace with the almost-unending needs of a growing family of several children. While the grueling years may show unmistakable signs of wear and tear in Vicky’s physical looks, still it cannot be denied that she has kept her family together and sufficiently cared for.

But the persistent urge to succeed in life and to try to give her still struggling family more in life than it has been used to, Vicky thought and tried of every possible way to bring this uplift about. In the process, she had to have realized that her depleting ability to care for her family, converting essentially manual labor in exchange for resources for her family, would not last for long. So she started focusing on economic endeavors that would generate revenue that would more than keep her family’s soul together. Entrepreneurship that has proved for many to be key to improving one’s lot under a capitalist system.

She had reminisced about the times the family had when they were settled in another city and both husband and wife were employed in a thriving bakery shop. The husband had worked as baker while Vicky tended to cashiering; and they had thought then that the family was on its way to some real progress. But as fate would have it, the bakery burned down and with it, the family’s hopes were also dashed to cinders.

Before long, the family found itself in a another city in Mindanao, in Cagayan de Oro City, with the family trying to parlay what experiences it had collectively acquired to support the family. But as expected when one’s enterprising efforts are bereft of the main lifeblood, capital, Vicky and her penurious family did not garner much headway, consigning Vicky to taking on whatever jobs were available.

Vicky came to our lives as a caregiver for my disabled mom who had spent over a decade in the US with us. Realizing too late the disastrous effects drastic change in climate may have especially on the elderly, one of my mom’s legs had to be amputated due to problems of circulation. Thus, she was back to the old homeland for proper caring. Vicky stayed on with the family till my mom died several years ago, taking on miscellaneous odd jobs. As a cook for which she had special skills, cleaning house, and taking an 8-hour shift caring for my mom who had given up on moving about on her own.

It was then that we learned of Vicky’s commendable plan for her family. While the odd jobs did provide some measure of care for her family, they offered no long term benefit and their ability to provide was inversely proportional to her ability to do tedious physical work.

While compassion and good wishes could ease a bit another person’s lament and problems, nothing beats real concrete assistance to start a needy but motivated person on his way toward resolution. And we know the one direst lack of the needy is the ability to raise capital funds, beyond just to spend to keep family alive. And we also know that mainstream institutions designed to provide assistance for such persons have practically closed their doors, arguing about bad risks and the absence of proper collaterals.

Sensing the noteworthiness of Vicky’s dreams and believing in her integrity and resoluteness, we started helping her out, at the same time that we also did with the two other caregivers who lost jobs when my mom died. And in the ensuing several years, Vicky would prove that she was made of sterner stuff, as the two others simply made themselves rare and never once getting back to us to explain how the “loaned” funds did for their little endeavors. We have come to accept their failures and continue to have compassion and good wishes for them.

Over time, Vicky, her husband, and a couple of her kids, having eventually “borrowed” 70,000 pesos, started crystallizing their bakery business. Humbly starting with a home-made oven with the husband cooking and making deliveries and Vicky helping out in the sales, their entire house has become a beehive of activity. From the funds provided, the business was able to purchase a good-size professionally made oven, construct a little store shed to display bakery products and complemented with a meager selection of her own cooking and some soda products, and even rent the neighboring unoccupied building now in turn leased out to roomers and housing her bakers now numbering six.

Can we consider Vicky’s plight as more than just a turn for the better, like a success?

Well, the acquired high standards of polite society may squirm a bit in judging her strides. After all, their house premises which are also the bakery’s place of business are still dark, dilapidated, hot and humid, and would be considered dirty by most health standards; though improvements are slowly being introduced. Some walls are now hollow-blocked and the floor having being upgraded from simply being made of dirt.

But one must feel in this case that the greater, more enduring and laudable changes and/or manifestations have been inside the persons involved. Documented solely by a signed hand-written piece of paper, the “loan” with no interest is slowly being retired, commencing from the middle of last year. The installments have reduced the total amount to 80%.

Though far from liquidation, there is earnest optimism that eventually the borrowed funds will be completely retired, giving credence to the experience-proved truism that the needy by and large only need to be given the opportunity; and that outright charity or pure dole-out is typically not the answer.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

CREATING A REAL DIFFERENCE

That noble message in bold prominent letters was etched on the annual General Assembly reports as the dominant theme for 2007 of the industry’s number one and biggest open-community type multi-purpose cooperative. A quite bold and rightfully-deserved theme for a once insignificant credit union that now celebrates its 52nd year of existence.

How surprisingly refreshing to chance upon a little bright bloom from the current grisly mire of negativism pervading the social and political landscape of a beleaguered country teeming with punditry that caters in wholesale unproductive rhetoric about what is wrong with the country in particular, and with the rest of the world in general. Abundant postulations, prognostications, detailed analytical dismantling of most anything and everything seen, but with hardly any constructive prognoses and actuations that will begin to address the gargantuan concerns besetting the citizenry, on a case by each case, one person at a time basis.

Yet from very inauspicious beginnings in July 8, 1954, birthed as the ACCU (Ateneo Cooperative Credit Union) in the then idyllic city of Cagayan de Oro, located in Northern Mindanao, and commencing with share capital of only 26.30 pesos, this community uplift undertaking has blossomed into something that will stagger even the most vocal and virulent among those who peddle negativism daily in the local blogosphere.

This multipurpose cooperative, now famously known as FICCO (First Community Cooperative, and now designed and registered to serve the entire country) has metamorphosed in to an almost 2 billion peso organization, with about 90,000 members at the end of 2006; and forecasted to register in 2007 2.5 billion in assets and 110,333 members, with increases at 32% and 24% respectively.

And to illustrate the redoubtable clout and deep community penetration of this undertaking, it carried in its books total loans of 1.5 billion pesos at the end of 2006, and projected at about 2 billion pesos for 2007. It is good to note that for 2006 loan releases amounted to 2.1 billion pesos.

But is it profitable? Can regular folks – teachers, drivers, market vendors, small entrepreneurs, etc, be trusted not only to faithfully follow a savings regimen, but also be counted upon to make good on loan accommodations?

Suffice it to say that the cooperative has always been stellarly profitable, and the last year was no exception.

For 2006, it registered net surplus for distribution to the tune of 118 million pesos, 70% of which were distributed to members as interests for deposit accounts, dividends on share capital, and patronage refunds to loan clients. Typically, 95% of the 70% are devoted to interests and dividends, while 5% for patronage refunds.

It was therefore with eager anticipation that I had my passbooks updated after an absence and dormancy of accounts for over a year. Needless to state, the increments were rather substantial, definitely better than what one would get for funds invested in other private financial institutions.

As an active member of FICCO since the 70’s, one finds some difficulty being quiet and reticent about the effectiveness and feasibility of this collective effort in its avowed purposes aimed at poverty alleviation, with emphasis on both development of a propensity to save and the integrity and mature commitment in discharging responsibilities with regard to credit accommodations.

As an equivalent shout at the rooftops, one cannot imagine the cluelessness and seeming ignorance of many pundits, government technocrats, and even in your typical highly-intelligent but dismally reality-aware pundits who ceaselessly harangue the blogosphere with endless rhetoric about what is wrong with the country and what should be done according to their idealized analyses.

Duh! Slow down and smell the coffee. You, too, may be able to participate in something constructive however puny or powerless one may feel about the overwhelmingly pervasive poverty conditions of the country. It is never that utterly hopeless. Most times meaningful solutions are within arm’s length of most everybody.

It does require great humility, and some real sweat equity, to climb down from one’s high perch of empty rhetoric, down to the levels of real actions, sometimes dirty, or insignificant or inconsequential, and do not derive much public notice to stoke one’s egotistical designs.

My exhortation? Contribute toward creating a real difference. In your own little ways.

UPDATE

The weekend dated March 11th witnessed the 11th and final general assembly comprising the members of the cooperative banking with the main office, held in a cavernous gym in the city’s polytechnic school. It was a rather well-attended affair which proudly reflected the over 10,000 main office clients.

For the sake of convenience and to accommodate the over 90,000 members scattered throughout many areas of Mindanao, it has been deemed proper after all these many years to hold different general assembly meetings in different locations. A truly admirable concept to bring cooperativism wherever it is needed.

Democracy being a rather unpredictable and at times messy affair, the assembly which was scheduled from 8 am to 12 noon went way passed schedule; and though the gym felt like it was filled to the rafters, scores of people milled outside. The much-awaited climax for the affair was the distribution of dividends which was purposely left as the last item for the agenda. And getting almost 11% p.a. for one’s investments was well worth the wait.