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Monday, June 30, 2008

Mizuno Run 2: Doing It Right This Time...Almost


As Nadal and Federer advanced at Wimbeldon, Spain finally beat Germany to emerge as Euro 2008 Champions and Pacquiao knocked out David Diaz in Las Vegas, I ran 15K at the Mizuno Rush to Infinity Part 2 at the Fort. OK, this run isn't exactly in that same league, but you get the drift.

Mizuno decided to hold this second fun run to make up for the disastrous one held last March where most runners ended up dehydrated. This one was seamlessly organized, except perhaps for the long queue at the Finish line. Water was plentiful, in fact mineral water and Rush were generously given out to the runners, not just some water taken from buckets.

My main complaint is that some runners had the audacity to take short cuts. I saw several cross the greens at the Heritage Park while others didn't bother entering the Park at all; some didn't turn right towards the treacherous McKinley hill which has the infamous 45-degree incline at the turn-around. Why bother signing up for the 15k if you have no intention of completing the route?

My "training" generated some dividends, I didn't feel as tired out as before, and I didn't feel the need to walk at some of the more sloping stretches. I didn't bother looking at the time, I always had problems with speed, I may have endurance but I do not have the speed.

And so my legs now look like a construction worker's. Jun called from Iloilo to inquire about the Mizuno Run. He ended by saying that their two bitches at home seem to be copulating. I told him the dogs might be lesbians.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

China's Growing Might

I think that the general economic boom experienced by the BRIC economies led by China partly caused the current mayhem in oil and commodity prices. When China finally saw the light and embraced industrialization via the capitalist model, you have 1.3 billion people pursuing that objective. Even if only 20% of the population were really productive, that is still a massive 260 million people. China, I believe, is a US$4 trillion economy (in purchasing power parity terms) and it has registered an average 10% annual growth over the past years-- which is an additional US$400 billion added to the gross domestic output every year-- almost the size of the entire Philippine economy.

The sheer size of the Chinese labor force plus rising productivity levels have caused demand for just about everything-- from oil to food stuffs-- to spike drastically, putting pressure on supply stocks everywhere. The huge oil and steel requirements of the Chinese, for example, have crowded out other smaller countries' requirements. Frodo says that he doesn't have enough roofing material supplies for his clients because everything has been gobbled up by the Chinese. The end result is rising prices because of supply constraints: production capacities are just not enough to service China's massive requirements.

This is just China. Add Brazil, Russia and India into the picture. China's boon is the rest of the world's bane.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Suman Fit

It's a just a few more days before the 15K Mizuno run at the Fort. I've been "training" the past few days, running a full hour at the Marikina track & field oval. I planned to run two hours but I couldn't get past the one-hour mark, it's difficult especially when you're running around in circles, at some point you'd want to just drop and lie down on the verdant soccer field. A lot of runners sporting uniforms from various races (Adidas, La Salle, Sta. Lucia, among others) were probably training for the longish run this Sunday as well.

When I got my race singlet last Friday, the organizers already ran out of medium sizes. The "large" ones were just too large for my frame, so I decided to get the smallest size. The fabric happens to be stretchable, so I can still force-fit myself into the uniform-- by inhaling deeply and holding my breath for like, forever. I probably looked like suman but I figured I could still lose a few pounds from all this running anyway. It means there's a helluva lot good chance that I could fit snugly into the small-sized race shirt come Sunday.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Cinematic

On my way home after my early evening jog, I was walking along the pavement outside the Marikina Sports Centre when I saw a girl striding on the opposite direction bump into a light post. I know you'd say that I'm probably imagining these things but she was looking in my direction (maybe she can see hairs sticking out of my nose--Gross, oh snap!) I'm not kidding! If you prefer a pleasant imagery then imagine a Pond's TV commercial where the guy bumps into a post when a beautiful girl passes by, now switch the roles. (Friends, you may now hide under the covers).

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Political Theatre

The day after Drilon and company were released, Sen. Loren Legarda was interviewed live on 24 Oras with Mike Enriquez and Mel Tiangco. She was clearly intent on hogging the limelight, always comparing Drilon's ordeal with Arlene de la Cruz's whom she claims, "napalaya ko." Obviously, she wants to make it appear that Drilon was released mostly through her efforts without paying a single cent to the Abus. She preceded Drilon upon stepping out of the plane and was always beside her during press conferences, wearing white to symbolize peace (she could've held a white dove in her lap as well, to be released a few minutes later).

Problem is, it has been clearly established that Drilon and her cameramen were not released through her efforts, no matter how well-meaning these may be, but through ransom payment. It only makes the lady Senator look stupid. Really. She's been ostensibly kept in the dark as to the real negotiations taking place. Her naivete led her to make statements that only lent credibility to the earlier claims of the government and the Isnajis.

To a certain extent, the Isnajis and the well-dressed lady Senator have something in common: they're all opportunists. The Isnajis saw the perfect opportunity to make some millions (whether or not the elder Isnaji was really the head of the bandits) while Legarda used the hostage situation to boost her career in politics.

Pathetic, no?

As for the Lady Vice Governor who acted as the Drilon family's negotiator, she had the good sense to have a picture of her and the Isnajis counting the bundles of cash taken and handed this over to the police. She claims she didn't want to be "double-crossed" later. In contrast to Legarda's political theatrics, that was a smart, tactical move.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Pan de Cielo

At the Market! Market! in Taguig, I stopped by a kiosk selling bread and pastry. An odd-looking, yellowing bread loaf caught my attention.

"What's the difference between this bread and the rest?" I asked the sales girl.

"That's an egg loaf, it's more delicious so you need not use a spread," she replied.

So I bought one and brought it home. I opened it and gingerly took a bite, expecting a heady rush and shouts of Hallelujah just like when I first tasted the über delicious 'pastel' from Camiguin.

It tasted exactly like...uhm, bread...sans the stars and the Hallelujahs.

Damn those sales people.

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Twists and Turns

Suspicions of ransom payment have been confirmed. The "board & lodging" fee paid for the initial release of the assistant cameraman wasn't PhP100,000, but a whopping PhP5 million (according to police, only PhP2 million were given to the bandits, the rest were kept by the Isnajis). The ugly details of the negotiations are starting to come to light. Which means I was right when I speculated that the amount only served as a down payment, and that the two duffel bags seen being loaded onto a military pickup delivered par avion by a special SEA Air flight MOST LIKELY contained the balance of say, PhP10 million, leading to the release of the captives.

I guess the government had to allow Drilon's family (confirmed no less than Drilon's uncle, former Finance Secretary Edgardo Espiritu) to pay the ransom despite its no-ransom policy because it is now giving the Abu Sayyaf bandits a dose of their own medicine. The government's response involves (1) detaining the Isnajis who the police claim were part of the abduction and (2) launching a full-scale military offensive and manhunt in Sulu.

It is less clear to me whether the Isnajis were involved in the planning of the abduction from the beginning or whether the elder Isnaji was really the bandits' leader all along, although Drilon herself wondered why the Isnajis were making decisions FOR the bandits during the negotiations. Both father and son may simply have seen an opportunity to make a fast buck, a kickback from the ransom payment. Whatever the case, the fact that the bandits trusted the Isnajis enough to designate them as their negotiators means that these Abus probably know the Isnajis very well. They may have worked together in the not-so-distant past.

Enter Misuari. He helped to identify the suspects from police sketches and he even provided the alias of the elder Isnaji, "Larin-larin", who according to the police, was the Abu Sayyaf leader's name. Misuari seems to be distancing himself from his former MNLF colleague who may have formed a loose, friendly alliance with the bandits. After all, the elder is the current Indanan Mayor where Abu Sayyaf elements obviously roam and operate freely. Misuari's information has pushed the Isnajis deeper in trouble.

The Isnajis actions' were clearly highly suspicious and not above-board at all. If it can be proven that they kept PhP3 million out of the PhP5 million initial ransom payment from Drilon's family for themselves, then this fact alone should seal their fate behind bars.




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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Pay Now, Bomb Later

The release of Ces Drilon and her cameraman after 10 harrowing days in captivity has triggered a lot of questions whether or not ransom was paid in exchange for the hostages' freedom.There's no doubt anymore that money did exchange hands, albeit in small amounts, since according to Secretary Ermita, a "token amount" ranging from PhP2,000 to PhP10,000 may have been given to the kidnappers. Earlier, the Isnaji father and son tandem who acted as negotiators and emissary FOR the bandits admitted paying PhP100,000 to cover "board & lodging" expenses of the kidnapped crew.

This board & lodging explanation by the younger Isnaji is ridiculous. There's no hot water and air conditioning in the jungle. The more plausible explanation is that the amount served as down payment, a gesture of reassurance that ransom will certainly be paid. (This is only my view, so don't arrest me.)

And there's one item that really struck me as strange: the Isnajis were negotiating ON BEHALF of the Abu Sayyaf. They were appointed by the bandits to act as negotiators. True enough, both are now tagged as suspects. I have mentioned in a previous entry that bandits, extremists, local officials and law enforcers are kith and kin in these areas. I mean, Indanan town near Jolo has a small population, everybody knew everyone else. The Abu Sayyaf probably even helped the local officials win their posts. So yeah, the Isnajis have a lot of explaining to do.

While police and the Palace deny claims that ransom was paid, an unscheduled commercial airline flight of SEA Air was spotted by a GMA TV camera taxiing on the tarmac of Jolo's airport. The lone passenger was reported to be a lawyer carrying two duffel bags which was immediately handed over to a military official and loaded onto a pick up. What was so "special" about the contents of those bags that a special flight had to be arranged so that it can be delivered "express?"

Your guess is as good as mine. If the bags contained the ransom money, then the government's strategy in dealing with this ordeal becomes very clear: securing the safety of the hostages first by paying ransom and pursuing the manhunt shortly thereafter, sort of a Pay Now, Bomb Later policy.

Given the military's dismal track record in tracking down and subduing the bandits who know the terrain and the sea around them very well (they can easily escape to Malaysia), the end doesn't seem to be in sight.


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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Rants

I wish some bloggers will stop putting music on automatic playback on their sites and profiles. You know, when loud rock music blasts from your PC's speakers immediately upon entering the site, prompting you to spill the barako coffee on your keyboard while trying to locate the tiny "stop playing" button somewhere, if that button widget is visible at all. The owner thinks the song happens to be sooo cool he or she just had to share it with everybody else.

I have plenty of music clips on my blog as well, but at least you're given the choice whether or not to listen to the audio file or watch the video.

Also, commuters on overhead trains who play mp3 music or watch TV from their phones without headsets obviously think everyone else cannot possibly dislike their choice of music or channel. It only proves that: (1) OK you have a gadget that doesn't play polyphonic ring tones and everybody on the train envies you; (2) your music makes you look kewl, never mind that it is disco; but (3) you have no respect for other people's private space and that (4) you are just a pompous, pretentious ass.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Madame Butterfly: Un bel di vedremo

Long before the US bases were established in Central Luzon, the image of the Ugly American knocking up local women and leaving behind countless Amerasian children had already been captured by playwrights and opera composers at the turn of the twentieth century.

Puccini's Madame Butterfly (1904) chronicles the story of a young Japanese girl in Nagasaki, Cio-cio San, who got wed to an American serviceman, Pinkerton, who married her for fun. He subsequently went back to America but promised to take her with him for a new life in America upon his next return to Japan.

In the meantime, she bore his child, got shunned by society and her relations for being a single mother, while slowly sinking into poverty and constantly looking forward for the husband to return.

When he did in fact return to Japan, he brought with him his American wife. This forced her to give up her son to Pinkerton and his wife so that he can have a better life in America. Realizing there's nothing left for her, Cio-cio san took her own life.

West End and Broadway remade this Puccini opera via the Lea Salonga starrer, Miss Saigon, updated to seventies-era Vietnam, in the same way that another Puccini opera, La Boheme has been remade as Rent in Broadway.

Here's a solid interpretation from the Chinese soprano Ying Huang singing "Un bel di vedremo...", a scene where the anguish and the yearning of waiting mixes with anxious joy.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Board and Lodging

The big news this past week was the kidnapping of Channel 2 reporter Ces Drilon and her two cameramen in Sulu. Obviously, the fact that journalists, foreign and local, had been the favorite kidnap targets of Abu bandits did not deter her from doing a story in such a dangerous place where separatist rebels, Muslim extremists, homegrown bandits, local officials and police are kith and kin. Remember Arlene de la Cruz who also got kidnapped many years ago? Drilon knew fully well the risks of doing stories in these areas as well as the obvious fact that the government doesn't have the resources to stand up to the kidnappers. In her personal drive to carve a name for herself, she ends up being the headline banner story instead.

ABS-CBN says it is sticking to its "no-ransom" policy. Curiously, one of the cameramen was released reportedly after payment of a US$45,000 fee to the rebels for "board and lodging." Is this true? I mean
  • Ces and company didn't exactly camp out in Abu Sayyaf territory voluntarily, they were held against their will;
  • Lodging probably meant underground bunkers or cave dwellings, while being served with saba bananas and ripe jackfruit;
  • Even Oprah wouldn't pay close to US$10,000 per day for fun and adventure in the jungle of Sulu, especially without mosquiteros and arinolas (chamber pots).
Management may wish to call it by any other name, but it is still ransom. It allows them to actually pay ransom while declaring to all and sundry that it is not ransom.

Acceding to the bandits' request is self-defeating: giving them huge amounts of money means they can recruit more young people into their fold and buy more weapons to advance their terrorism and banditry agenda. Paying board and lodging, er, ransom may provide a momentary relief by giving freedom to the kidnap victims, but will ensure that future kidnapping and terrorist activities will continue to take place in that forsaken part of the world.

UPDATE: Board & lodging paid for the release of the assistant cameraman was PhP100,000, an initiative of the local government in Sulu and not the station's. The group has been released close to midnight last night.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Slammed

After paying my phone, internet, cable and electricity bills this afternoon, a giant sledgehammer fell from the sky and slammed on me.

After regaining my consciousness, I reached for my pockets and felt really, really poor.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Back to School

Jun the scientist is taking his Masters degree and he's been required to take one undergraduate subject. When he entered the classroom on the first day of classes, the entire class fell silent: the students thought he was the professor.

Which reminds of Marc who kept on ditching his swimming lessons before because he couldn't get over the fact that his classmates were mostly children.

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Monday, June 9, 2008

Carpalism

It's been a week already since I did that pianist impression while taking a bath and my left wrist still bothers me. Jun the scientist says that I may have a condition called the Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

"Carpal whaaat?"

I know, carpal rhymes with scalpel, and the words 'tunnel' and 'syndrome' put together make the whole thing serious.

It is a condition common among concert pianists (at least I have something in common with them) and those in professions that require repetitive movement in the hands, causing the median nerve in the wrist to be compressed when the canal where it passes through decreases in size. Which results in a numbing and burning sensation, or what Jen calls a 'shooting pain'.

Bending the hand 90 degrees is painful, so is lifting heavy objects. The pain and the discomfort have subsided but I can still feel that it's there.

I've been massaging the area everyday and I used all frozen food in my ref already as cold compresses.

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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Verdi: Requiem Finale- Libera me

Much has been said about Karajan's association with the Nazis, and this fact has blighted his legacy ever since. It was like a scarlet letter hanging around his neck. But paradoxically, he was instrumental in pushing the careers of professional black singers in opera as well: Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman, Grace Bumbry and Cole Porter (that is as far as I know). Perhaps this was his way of making amends with the past, in the same manner that the heirs of Richard Wagner make it a point to invite Jewish conductors to perform at Bayreuth. Maybe so, but it seems to me that he did this out of artistic integrity rather than personal magnanimity. The artists mentioned are of supreme excellence, you can hardly fault Karajan for his choices.

Here's an example of that, Karajan conducting at La Scala, with Leontyne Price singing the finale, "Libera me (Deliver us O Lord)" from Verdi's Manzoni Requiem. Price fearfully paints a fiery picture of The Last Judgment, her voice scales the depths of hell with terrifying reality, and ascends the heavens with angelic, sustained pianissimi that floats above the the turmoil and violence in the chorus and the orchestra. Her interpretation remains unmatched.



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Friday, June 6, 2008

Friends

Gloria finally signed the Cheaper Medicines Act into law. This allows for parallel importation as well as overriding MNC patents over critical drugs.

The Joint Foreign Chamber of Commerce got a drubbing from the Senate for releasing a statement criticizing government's moves that will amend the still-flawed EPIRA and fast-track the privatization of NAPOCOR assets, opening the generation sector to even more competition. It claims this will only drive away foreign investors.

Yeah, right. The current EPIRA contains questionable provisions allowing for cross-ownership between generation and distribution companies. The main reason we have high power rates is because Meralco buys a huge chunk of its electricity supply from its sister companies which charges higher rates.

In a nutshell, this business group wants the government to take its hands off Meralco. The motive? They stand to benefit from the status quo (such as the take-or-pay provisions with IPPs) because they have substantial interests in these IPPs. From Senator Miriam's probing, one member apparently IS a First Gen partner/investor. See? Apparently, the Lopezes have "friends".

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Takeshi Moments

As if passing through a hanging bridge made of slabs of driftwood and rotting abaca ropes weren't enough, you had to duck and dodge rocks pelted at your direction and avoid a hail of arrows raining down on you. And then you realize that the other side really begins with a road paved with hot coals.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Limits

In an attempt to diffuse the brewing tension over Meralco's passing its system losses to customers, it launched a publicity campaign starring Judy Ann Santos which tried to justify this policy. Curiously, the ad was paid for--if I'm not mistaken-- by First Gen, a Lopez-owned holding company that owns the IPPs that Meralco gets a substantial, more expensive generated power from.

Unfortunately, the ad won't erase the fact that system losses reflect Meralco's operational inefficiencies and not the consumers'. The consumers should not be penalized for something that they have nothing to do with.

Previously when the controversial PPA (Power Purchase Adjustment) was still in force, system loss charges along with franchise taxes and the adjustments attributed to the take-or-pay provisions entered into with Independent Power Producers or IPPs, were all bundled and forced down the throats of consumers. Bundling effectively allowed Meralco to pass on system losses to its costumers discreetly. With the GRAM (Generation Rate Adjustment Mechanism) replacing the PPA, system loss charges are not included anymore, and so Meralco was forced to state it separately in the electric bill. Thus, it has only been recently that this unfair policy has come to the attention of consumers.

The computation of the allowable RORB (rate on return base) remains a bone of contention. Meralco claims that including income taxes (and perhaps, even employee pensions) as part of the operating costs that have to recovered is a standard practice among utility firms around the world. I totally disagree. The company should shoulder the tax payments. It is part of THEIR cost of doing business, NOT the consumers. No wonder that the country has the second most expensive power rates in Asia.

The ERC should act in behalf of the consumers, and not on the behest of the Lopezes. It seems that the monopolistic behaviour of Meralco is testing everybody's limits.

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Monday, June 2, 2008

Muscle Pain

As I type this, I can hardly move my left fingers. The area around my wrist is painful, I must have pulled a muscle. You see, yesterday I did an impression of a concert pianist in the throes of a grand allegro-- while taking a bath, of course-- when I felt something in my wrist snap.

Ayan kasi.

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Utilities

Manolo Quezon quoted me yet again in his blog regarding the Meralco-GSIS brouhaha. click here

If you notice, our phone and water bills aren't going the same way as Meralco's. They stayed largely the same. Here are the possible reasons:
  • The Foreign Currency Adjustment: water and phone utilities can adjust rates based on wildly fluctuating exchange rates. The peso has strengthened considerably, which means dollar-denominated debts can be serviced adequately and additional benefits are supposed to trickle down to consumers. In other words, despite soaring gas prices, the strong currency mitigates the negative impact somewhat;
  • In the case of the telecomms sector, competition is in full force. That is, the Service Area Scheme has long been abandoned, and phone companies can put up lines as long as there is demand. As it is, there is an excess landline capacity in the country, given that the preferred mode of telecomms service nowadays is wireless.
  • In other words, landline service is no longer the bread-and-butter of phone companies. In fact, Smart is now bigger than its parent company, PLDT, and that data services (i.e., texting) accounts for roughly 60% of the PLDT Group's total revenues. PLDT is in fact bundling landline with broadband internet service, just to fill in the idle capacity. Same with Globe. And so, increasing landline rates may only jeopardize these companies' broadband efforts. It seems even to me, that given the cost structure, landline services are being subsidized by cellular phone services. And the biggest source of growth after data services is broadband. Contribution from long distance calls remains significant, but it is not the same as before;
  • Curiously, the water utilities show mixed results: the East Zone managed by the Ayalas seem to be better managed than the West Zone, which is being run by...the Lopezes! It has something to do with the management, isn't it? With the exception of ABS-CBN, all other Lopez entities are highly-leveraged behemoths.

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