Friday, March 18, 2011

Some Observations on FICCO’s 56th General Assembly March 2011

This year’s overriding theme for another promised historic general assembly was “Blazing the Trail for One Coop, One Vision, and One Nation”. And indeed FICCO has been all that and more. But certain incidents leading up to the assembly date also promised to mark the event as another boisterous event. Chief among them were the now open enmity between certain members of the board resulting in reported shouting matches, laced with serious charges and countercharges; and the falling out of the credit union from the supported partylist, Ating Koop, culminating in the board’s resolution to break away completely from it in spite of the millions of pesos of credit union funds sunk into the effort. And this latter issue has splintered the board into two warring factions, making things look like we are witnessing fierce proponents in some private for-profit enterprise rather than in a credit union famed for its noble purposes of service and volunteerism. Thus, the date came with great anticipation for many members, especially those belonging to the main office.

This is a personal assessment of the whole affair, if only to tie together all the disparate parts. Only this time this will be less about the performance of the credit union which continues to score historic points, but more about the troublesome pressure points rocking the management level of the organization which have patently distracted the elected officers from their primary tasks of steering our huge ship in a singularly focused manner.

This is no technical analysis, or any serious treatise, but rather a randomly compiled narrative depicting how an observant layman member perceived the whole process and had then decided to reduce the experience into print.

To begin thus, this member observed the registration process with a general nod of approval. Attendance was very inspiring. Even with my early arrival of 15 minutes before 10am which was the scheduled start of registration, a sizable number of members of the main office were already in a bit of frenzy jockeying for positions in the many lines assigned. The actual assembly was scheduled for 12 noon but this member had decided to register early expecting an easy sailing and then just come back for the assembly itself. There were 3 lines for senior members bursting with grey-haired members eager to register and receive their package. The only damper was the realization that even for those clearly advanced in age crowding in lines was still in vogue. People still pushed with their bodies and blurred lines like there was a life-threatening emergency that they wanted to get out of in a hurry. Missing was the deference and orderliness that one expected from those more experienced in life.

Anyway, when my turn came it went fast and easy. With package in hand, I was out of there in a jiffy, drove out quickly to do some shopping, and then went through the material given at home. Now, the thick booklet that comprised as the main document of the package, loaded with all the financial statements and tons of critical information which compressed an entire year operation, ought to be given earlier so serious members get ample opportunities to pore over them, rather than cram during the harried time they can scarcely allocate after registration and before actual deliberations. Only a well-informed body can be expected to participate seriously in deliberations of this serious nature. And of course, a well-informed body makes for a more efficient and expeditious discharge of the many businesses attendant to an annual assembly.

Anyway, I was back inside the assembly site at past 12 noon half-expecting an assembly already underway. Thus quickened my pace to the cavernous auditorium to find an amply filled place, though the bleachers looked mostly vacant. But an assembly nowhere near being started. After a quick query from a staff member, I was told it could start any time. It eventually started before 2pm. Being on time has always been a problem with Filipinos and this event was no exception.

While the electric atmosphere commenced early during the readings of the various minutes of the previous assembly, the heat really elevated when the various resolutions were brought to the floor. Thus when the fireworks started was when one had fertile ground to mine for commentary.

And that was when the noise pollution was ramped up, where speakers using highly-sensitive microphones already turned up to full volume, bellowed with their speeches in very high decibels filling the entire place with what could be judged as like noise pollution. With impassioned speakers sounding like self-justified aggrieved parties, throwing both charges and ad hominems against their perceived tormentors. One was made to believe that there was a private confrontation between two factions, unmindful not only of their high calling as elected officers of a credit union but also of the fact that the general membership had little to do with the private wars being waged. Matters that would be better served if discussed and resolved privately, or within the confines of a smaller group like say in a board meeting.

And the irony in this was that recurrent mention was made of both democracy and representation. Justification was made for all this washing of dirty laundry in public as sterling signs of a democratic process and of representative democracy. But in my humble judgment it was neither democratic nor representative.

While granting that the democratic process can be messy and chaotic, the greater issue to remember is that while people can and will always disagree on issues, they need not be disagreeable in the process. We should always defer to ethical standards and show circumspection as a sign of respect to the subject of our tirades and especially to those ears that cannot help but to grudgingly listen to them being captive audience.

And it cannot be truly representative if discussions are hogged by a very select and small number of members and officers. But that was what happened, when turns at the microphones and the floor were exchanged only between the same people over and over again. It should be the task of the moderator to spread around the discussions to as many members as possible. That’s one way of assuring that brainstormed ideas are truly representative of the entire assemblage and not just of a small vocal group who cannot help themselves from speaking out at every occasion that turns up.

But in spite of all the bluster, this corner feels that certain issues which should have deserved more exposure were skirted and glossed over because maybe they did not advance the self interests of those concerned. I refer specifically to the attempted politicization of the organization as epitomized by the officers’ devoted attention to and avid encouragement of the partylist participation which ended in a most disappointing and expensive lesson for the credit union. Though a “timeline” was detailed in a newsletter that resulted in disbursements that totaled over 11 million pesos, this corner did not hear any more clarification from any of those board members who took great pains and efforts to push this agenda to the general membership, a general membership that looks to them for guidance, knowledge, and especially wisdom in the conduct of union affairs. Albeit the millions in losses, the preferred treatment had been that of silence from those directly involved. Where is the owning up and taking responsibility part for those who presented themselves as honorable and transparent guardians of union funds and affairs? I left during the waning moments of the assembly, which was past 5:30pm. Was this issue inserted during those moments? Like the typical late Friday afternoon press releases resorted to by scheming political administrations bent on going under the radar regarding some issues?

First of all, where is the wisdom in having the credit union engage actively in partisan politics, in a reality where politics is inherently judged to be corrupt and divisive? In a series of moves toward this end, one sensed that the union was not only designing itself in order to curry political favors, but to position itself to create a political base purportedly to serve its noble goals and interests. At the start, it was an endeavor that was deigned to fail, and fail it did.

Another misstep not given proper due was the recording of a paper loss of over four million pesos, all because some officers needed to declare income on the investment. And the solution rendered was to redeem the instrument while at the same time re-investing the same amount in the same instrument. Because it was not done on a timely manner, a paper loss ensued. But what was not even mentioned was whether the redemption process involved the payment of fees and commissions which is typical. Never mind the paper loss because it could be recovered by registering a paper gain when the performance of the investment improves.

What is sorely construed in all this is the apparent nonchalance by the parties concerned in owning up and taking responsibility for errant acts done in the discharge of positions of trust and of a fiduciary nature. Is it just invincible cluelessness or deliberate attempts at sweeping things under the rug?

An assembly that was scheduled to end at 5pm may have gone way past the time, and I could not tell since I could not muster enough free time to stay past 5:30pm. And I personally attribute this to a lack of good time management, a task primarily lodged on the moderator of the event. The moderator has to be proactive in making sure time is not wasted on endless discussions with no or scant bearing on the issues at hand, or on rambling speeches by those so inclined. Attention to political correctness or too much sensitivity on people’s feelings has to be curbed for far greater purposes. Like that precious manhours should never be wasted on loopy pursuits.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Was the FICCO Board Had?

Picked up yesterday the latest FICCO Newsletter dated February 2011 and was immediately riveted to an item in the back page that detailed our credit union’s ill-fated relationship with the Ating Koop movement. It was written by former BOD member Gani Daba.

Any layman reading it unaware of any of the inside scoops other than what had been publicly divulged could easily come to the reflexive conclusion that our credit union has become one big and deep-pocketed political action group that was HAD to the tune of over 11 million pesos. Or in a more benign manner, was treated like a wide-eyed suitor who was sent on a fool’s errand.

Reading and re-reading the explosive itemization one is easily led to believe that this whole affair was one deliberately conscious series of actions by all parties involved which spanned two years and which resulted in a series of very substantial disbursements of credit union funds. One has to confess that one is not privy to or conversant with the nature of all the disbursements, whether they were all in fact outright expense disbursements or whether some funds are recoverable.

But what is true is that any cautious person can not help but be amazed at the amounts involved purportedly to “buy” support for our credit union’s goals and interests from a decidedly political and very politicized group.

But as outlined in the news item all these happened.

Thus, at the very least, all members of the board who participated in the process need to have a lot of explaining to do – to reveal what their roles were in the planning and decision-making, and to own up and take responsibility for these huge losses.

And laying in detail what these “continuing threats of lawsuits” are.

The total amount involved is nothing to gloss over, even granting that FICCO has become a multi-billion enterprise. Because it is still made up individually of more than 140,000 members holding on to precious little resources and trying to make ends meet.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

The Wonders of Life

Even in the ripeness of time, I find I still am not quite immuned to or saved from the many “wonders” so common and prevalent during innocent youth.

Everyday as I continue to expend the time allotted me on this slowly ebbing mortal coil I continue to wonder about many things I witness in the scenic vistas unraveling before my most acutely inquisitive mind. I cannot be content as passive witness to the march of events as they unfold. I have to know more. It is almost like an addiction to a kind of curiosity that could be bordering on morbidity. It does not compute like it is natural for a person to be so in rapt with such mundane preoccupations. But much though I want to get rid of it or not accept its reality, it is cravenly still there. As big as life, and twice as demanding for attention.

Thus, alone with my thoughts during unencumbered moments watching the busy intersection defining the little neighborhood where our little building is, I absentmindedly observe the gaggle of people and vehicles at almost perpetual near collision in the streets and sidewalks that comprise the cross-road. And my thoughts start racing with the usual wonder-ment.

This lady has a brisk gait tethering a bit in her high heels, with neatly-pressed and mini-skirted rust-color uniform revealing a well-toned body, and long wet hair waffling as she strides. I wonder where she works since I see her quite often walking toward the same direction. I wonder where, since she is heading south and away from where the offices would typically be located – in the poblacion. I wonder if she maybe works in a small office tucked away in some big building located in that area.

Along the intersection where many jeepneys tarry to create an illegal terminal, there is always a boisterous group of shabbily dressed kids, crowding around jeepneys and almost manhandling passersby into riding a particular jeepney. They are called dispatchers, who for a pittance will assist jeepney drivers get people to ride their jeepneys. I wonder where these truant kids come from since they do not look like they come from the neighborhood. I wonder what they make each day and whether it is enough to sustain their daily living.

Observing the parade of people each day, especially women, one wonders if one is inside a big candy shop bursting full with all kinds of goodies. You see all sorts of ladies pass by, and I admit I tend to notice more the nubile variety. All tightly wrapped up in curvaceous packages of assorted clothes wear, and typically all looking fresh having just come out of a shower or bath as evidenced by still wet long flowing hair. I wonder why Filipinas always appear to take baths or showers in the mornings before venturing out of the house. I wonder if they realize that they can be cleaner for a longer period if they instead took baths or showers in the late afternoon or night after returning from work or running chores. I wonder if many do take two showers/baths a day, the second one at night. But then why bathe in the morning before leaving? Does not make sense, you wonder.

And I definitely wonder aloud if these women realize that the common thread (nice pun, eh?) in what they wear is so apparent – they all seem partial to tight almost second-skin type of jeans leaving no living space between body and clothes. I wonder if many have to literally force themselves into those body-hugging attire. The struggle seems to continue all day this time with gravity since the pants sit not on the hips but under where body anatomy starts to taper off. And this coupled with equally tight blouses or t-shirts that almost always never meet up with the uppermost part of the pants. Thus, even for the remotely modest there is the constant tug and pull to keep a moving body covered when sitting down, stooping to pick stuff up, or doing any upper body movement that requires some stretching. And I wonder why the womenfolk have to go to such lengths when there are readily available more functionally logical clothing. And I do not mean those abbreviated shorts which could be considered as appropriate wear only inside the privacy of one’s abode or in a picnic event.

Having described it thus, I curiously wonder how these women now purchase their clothes wear. I can just imagine the Herculean task involved in fitting tightly all these women who come in a dizzying array of different sizes and dimensions. It can’t be simply off the rack material. I wonder what happened to the standard sizing so common during our youth – one was either a small, or a medium, or a large, or if none of those, an extra-large. I was dismissively told that most jeans are now stretchable. Yeah, right. Stretchable but definitely up to a certain point. Unless many of them are pushing tightness in clothing to unequaled heights. Or maybe, all these women make their own personalized alterations to store-bought jeans having learned how to hand- or machine-sew from their doting mothers. Yeah, right. And Cagayan de Oro has very good traffic. Anyway, what happened to the familiar sight of ladies in skirt and blouse? Now one has to be inside an office to see it. Or in school. Maybe at home women still wear “duster” to ease up on the day’s tug and pull, err, hustle and bustle? Don’t see any.

And wonder of wonders, I wonder if we can still say that men wear the pants in the family.

But there is no wondering that humor is still the best medicine.

Ah, the wonders of life!