Monthly Archives: April 2017

AT THE WAKE OF A FALLEN FRIEND

dvd wake B

April 19, 2017.  As soon as I arrived in Mindanao, I immediately traveled northward from Davao City to Davao Penal colony, a 56 kilometer stretch cruising on good roads by land for less of an hour.  I intended to attend the wake of a fallen former colleague, the organization finance officer, accountant James Davide..

I was taken aback hearing that he was gunned down in broad daylight while on the way for a family outing at a very spiritual period Easter Sunday at that.  At a glorious time celebrated by the faithful on the risen Christ, here was an instance where a non-violent person also, but on the contrary, would go down through a treacherous attack.  While innocence was shattered and faith was equally challenged, there was of course no comparison except for the coincidence of the day.  The Lord died in the hands of Romans; James at the hands of non-entities.  The Lord through Jewish tradition; James through treachery.

From our vantage point as friends, we do not see any threats at all for James since he has been a civilian worker for decades after entering the prison service as guard years ago.  He is at present the Chief Accountant of an institution, purely a swivel chair occupant in a non-controversial, non-confrontational work atmosphere.  If there is any argument he would have gotten into, it was more on who deserves to be the Champion in the NBA games!

He has business concerns but the most that he would merit if at all he gets into trouble would be a case in court, perhaps a day in the hospital for a broken nose, a jittery  week in the police investigation for a burned farm.  There is no scenario that would endanger his health or life at all.  If he would fall as what his fate would declare, it would be more on sickness or accident.

James was already medicating for high blood pressure.  There were times when he could no longer drive for long distance.  A few months ago, he was hospitalized when capillaries in his eyes burst as a consequence of high blood, it could lead to trauma and stroke.  He was lucky to have evaded the effects of his ailment.

Nonetheless, he wanted to retire already because of the stress of work and enterprise.  But he dawdled.  In two years he would have reached the compulsory age of retirement, the waiting would not be that difficult considering that time moves fast because of technology.  He could just coast along.

It was during this lull that the sword of fate would lower down on him.  And it is fearful for those around him especially his friends.  If it could happen to a non-violent, non-warrior, non-controversial, non-aggressive figure like James, it could virtually happen on anyone.

James is a good husband, an upright neighbor, a respectable worker, a decent entrepreneur, a thoughtful friend, an assiduous subordinate, a diligent supervisor, a generous relative and a fair customer.  I have never heard anything adverse about him.  He was just a very, very ordinary man.

For James to fall from a hail of bullets, all directed at him, was just too terrifying to note.  On that fateful day, I do not see reality; I could not grasp sanity at all.  Something was very wrong!

That day at the wake, I was a picture of confusion.

 

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JAMES DAVIDE: a former staff, memories

vjt and james

James Davide served as Davao Penal colony’s chief accountant.  And despite the fact that I have an off-and-on assignment in that penal colony, he was always that finance officer I would oftentimes meet through and through.  There was nothing personal in our relationship and there was no affection either.  Everything that we do was always to be objective, like computing or calculating numbers.  We were very careful with government funds because those were entrusted by government for us to be strict and regular about its expenditures.

While I relish with a lot of jokes and sharing it to my subordinate officers, my interaction with James was full of seriousness and solemnity.  I had a different facial expression when James was in front of me.  Both of us looked like robots!

I am closer to Nora,  wife of James, because her mother who, I think , was the first entrepreneur of Dapecol community , would pamper me with attention.  I felt her motherly concern when she would assign her favorite transport for my use and safety.  She would oblige her children, Nora, included to prime me on Davao’s environs.  She would also send over food that would enliven my dreary days as head of the penal colony.  This was in 1994 when Dapecol was dimly lit, dusty and treacherous.

When I returned to Dapecol in 2001, and later in 2007,  James was already a member of the command staff as Chief Accountant and Nora was assigned in the supply office.  Nora’s mother was still there checking on my reassignment.  Probably checking also whether I am provided with things that I needed.  I was happy for James that he had a great mother in law.

James entered the Correctional service as prison guard.   He studied and completed a course in Commerce major in Accounting.  After graduation, he took the CPA Board and passed it.  He never looked for another job after receiving his professional calling like most passers in the organization.  He went about performing as prison guard just the same until he was directed to join the Accounting Office.  Years later, he would change his item from custodial to administrative as DPPF’s Chief Accountant.

During my incumbency in Davao Penal colony, he was my finance adviser, fund reviewer, fiduciary manager, treasurer and auditor all at the same time.  He handled institutional budget like a wizard and my organizational confidence emanated from his competencies.  He was also my economist, analyst and fund forecaster.  All the successful programs that Dapecol ventured during my term came directly from how he managed the appropriation of the institution.  He was already at the peak of his career and almost an institution when I retired in 2014.

We were both born in the year 1954 but I retired earlier.  He was also planning to follow suit and intended to retire and join his kids in USA.  There was still a full 2 years more before reaching the mandatory age of retirement and he probably intend to spend it to assist Nora in her task as head of Supply Office.  Nora is younger than us and she is doing fine as a logistic officer. James would just coast along instead.

But fate had another agenda.  Early morning of Easter,  this day, the same day (although different date), 10 years ago, Dapecol would be raided by rebels and its armory emptied; and 10 years later, James ,together with his family en route to an outing, was waylaid by armed groups and his car fired upon.  James was hit on the face and breast.  He reached the hospital DOA.

I got shocked upon hearing of Jame’s violent departure.  James in my years at Dapecol was very fair.  I never knew if he figured in any altercation.    He would be the last person I would imagine to fight on anything.  His principal weapon is abstract thinking and the calculator, nothing more.  Whenever he would visit me in my retirement home, it was never to talk about problems but more on sharing the harvest of his sideline in farming.  Whenever his mango farm would yield a bounty, he would thoughtfully bring in a big boxful of ripened mangoes right at my doorstep.  His entrepreneurial skill would extend even on selling ice cream!

The man lived a full life.  He had a prodigious career;  had a good wife and all children are professionals; had good businesses; had great friends.  The only flaw is his sudden departure.

By now, he must be in Heaven smiling with fulfilment.

 

GOIN’ BANANAS OVER BUCOR-TADECO CONTRACT

vjt davao

It is a fact, and let’s not forget,  that :

Bananas are rich in antioxidants and several nutrients. A medium-sized banana contains about 105 calories.

Bananas are fairly rich in fiber too and resistant starch, which may feed the friendly gut bacteria and help protect against colon cancer.

Bananas are a good dietary source of potassium and magnesium, two nutrients that are essential for heart health.

Eating a banana several times a week may reduce the risk of kidney disease by up to 50%.

Bananas may help relieve muscle cramps caused by exercise. They also provide excellent fuel for endurance exercise.

Bananas are incredibly easy to eat and transport.  They are the cheapest snack in the universe which contains everything the body needs to stay healthy.   They are usually well-tolerated and easily digested, and simply have to be peeled and eaten.

It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Now, let’s move on to the tackier side.

Panabo city is the Banana capital of the Philippines.  But of course, it is still a part of Davao Province, hence it is to the glory of the province to be recognized as such.  How it became the banana center of the country goes back to the early 60s when the area was still backwater, pure jungle and virtually a rain forest where the likes of Tarzan can survive bar none.  A local migrant from Luzon explored on the possibility of planting bananas and from there, he never looked back.  The local weather is ideal for cultivar farming and it bloomed.  Until recently, not only agricultural challenges are noted in terms of plant disease, there is also a technical malady brought about by political questions.

Planted on the vast farm is banana specie known in science as Cavendish.  Its origin is from Latin America.  It is one of the most sensitive fruit and could not tolerate any soil defect.  It withers as soon as it gets contact with fungi.  That explains why banana plantation in Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Taiwan collapsed as a result of the so called Panama disease.  Panama disease is a plant infection of the roots of banana plants. It is a type of Fusarium wilt, caused by the fungal pathogen Fusarium oxysporum. The pathogen is resistant to fungicide and cannot be controlled chemically.

In the Philippines, the plant disease has become endemic that a large swath of land in Davao has been contaminated already.  Worst, once the soil has been determined infected with such industry killer as Panama disease, the land is useless for life and can no longer be planted with bananas anymore. New strains of Panama disease currently threaten the production of today’s most popular cultivar, Cavendish. However, other crops like cacao, coffee, fruit trees can still be planted except for succulent varieties.

In the province of Davao del Norte, there are noticeable sites where Panama disease has been noted.  Indeed, the industry pestilence is just around the corner.  Like in other South East Asian countries, the banana industry is almost on its terminal phase.  If that happens to the country, it would lose the third largest dollar revenue to the government.  Only those areas which are technically managed by the Tagum Agricultural Development Corporation (TADECO) through the Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) remained clear from the incursion of the plant disease.  While there were small areas in the vicinity, where the boundaries are, which has been infected, there was immediate quarantine procedures and security built up around the area.

Outside of the JVA, the farms have dried up as a consequence of the fungal disease.  For life, it could no longer be negotiated to be utilized as a banana farm.

On hindsight

Earlier on before Tadeco introduced banana, the vast hectares maintained by Davao Penal Colony (Dapecol) was splattering with abaca plants until it became a serial window for Presidential magnanimity for farm groups.  Almost all Presidents issued Proclamations handing over a portion of Dapecol’s reservation to farmers until ¼ of the original size remained.  What remained were land immersed in muddy waters, an estuary and swampy estate where inmates waded through in waist deep mud when moving from one transit camp to another.  No farming group would get interested in such challenging and almost useless area.

Tadeco farm was adjacent the area and it offered a proposition to Dapecol authorities to jointly explore the development of the swampy area into an agricultural producing farm.  Dapecol referred the matter to the Bureau of Corrections (then Bureau of Prisons) authorities and in turn, was submitted to the Department of Justice for review and eventual formulation of a contract for department approval.

As the saying goes, the rest is history.

And then, success becomes a magnet for intrigues.  There were charges and complaints by those who wanted to get into the picture of a successful program.  And of course there are those who doubt and those who believe that in the Philippines, fairness is nowhere and that crime pays.  And so, anything that is good is suspect and anything better is all the more to be indicted.

The Joint Venture Agreement between the BuCor and TADECO which was approved by the Department of Justice was a stunning success.  It gave the world its biggest banana plantation.  It gave the country the third biggest dollar earner next to OFW and coconut.  It sustained a pillar of criminal justice administration not only in Davao Penal colony but on all penal establishments all over the country.  The program not only provided life skills lessons to inmates but assured an entire province its economic lifeblood through employment and shared taxes.

There were doubters claiming that Tadeco prejudiced government when it received a consideration to use Dapecol land at the annual rate below the amount of  Php 25k per hectare ,the going rate in the area.   While the proposed amount had been spelled out in the provision, DOJ made not only a cursory study but a survey on lands adjacent the area.  Aside from the fact that price of lease contract is prohibitive because it is acreage previously proclaimed and could no longer be conveyed for commercial purposes.  Other estates available have been totally developed while others have reached overdevelopment and therefore the soil unsuitable for agricultural purposes.

Furthermore, the theme is a joint venture and not a leasehold relationship.  Both Bucor and Tadeco are working on the farm.  Bucor has not relinquished its role like a landlord.  The Joint Venture Agreement is different from Leasehold.  It is like comparing apples with oysters.

I was an accidental observer of two parties when they forged the renewal of their contract way back in 2004.  I was then the outgoing Superintendent of Davao Penal Colony.   TADECO offered an increase in the Guaranteed Production Share with 10% increment every five years, this on top of profit sharing per box basis.  The GPS is a mandatory commitment to government even if a conflagration happens to the entire farm maintained through JVA.   Tadeco must have to remit the amount as stipulated.

Although the contractual relationship is not based principally on commerce, the corporate party bound itself  to be obligated to share its resources as part of its social responsibility.  It accommodates workers from the ranks of released prisoners, promotes agricultural exchanges with penal administration and extends security consideration as far as guarding penal boundaries are concerned.  Without this vigilant aspect in the institutional affiliation, the penal reservation would have been taken over by informal settlers and like its counterpart penal establishments in Palawan, Mindoro, Zamboanga and Leyte, a large portion of their respective penal reservation were invaded by squatters, squandered and like previous land proclamations, became barren, unproductive and rendered without revenue.

Tadeco’s HR practitioners are among the most competent in the country and this is shown with the efficient way the labor force fulfills its mandated tasks or work quota.  Staff development courses and related professional upgrading and awareness on safety are regular features in their daily exposures.  Their efficiency is contagious and has affected the way a government prison facility conducts its daily performance.  For a number of years, their corporate approach to personnel welfare has been considered one of the best practices in the corporate setting.

The JVA contract may not be seen to be made in Heaven but definitely, it is one which can be construed as beneficial given the realities of our times.

I have retired from government service since and have been a witness to an active public-private partnership done though the JVA.  The JVA experience could have been replicated in most penal establishment in the country.

 Had it been done, Corrections would not have suffered a debacle of unconscionable proportion.

 

 

CLIMATE CHANGE

vjt open sea

Truly, there is indeed climate change.  In 1972, while I was still in college, I oftentimes would stop by to check the lighted temperature bulletin above the building of the National Press Club, just across Letran College.  It was my barometer whether to feel fresh or humid.  Always, the hottest record would be 32 degrees centigrade.

A few days ago while watching news; the reporter nonchalantly issued a weather update on Manila having a regular temperature of 39 degree Celsius.  There is an increase of 6 degrees.  That could only mean that for the last 45 years, the country got hotter.

After I retired, I transferred to a remote town of Davao Province and decided to live under an air of contemplation.  Yes, Davao, the de facto capital of Mindanao.  Mindanao in ancient dialect means “under the wind.”  That explains why Mindanao was never visited by local hurricane or storms on the magnitude of a howling typhoon.  Well, not anymore.

Months later I have settled in, happy on the belief that my senior years would be spent in tranquility, a howler passed by, dubbed typhoon Pablo.  It virtually combed the countryside, tearing down houses, blowing down trees and toppling mountain sides.  After a day of natural rage, the entire eastern side of Mindanao lay in shambles.  According to elderly folks, that was the first time they experienced a storm of that scale.  Clearly, it was the first in Mindanao.  Climate change?

When I went to Palawan last week and dined at my favorite bistro the Badjao Seafront restaurant, I noticed that there was already a high wooden flank, some kind of a bridge, where diners use to reach the restaurant dining area.  I was in Palawan 10 years ago and whenever I would take my lunch in said place, I would just walk on the shoreline.  Water was at that time several meters off the shore.  Not anymore.  In a decade, water has risen.  Another sign of climate change perhaps.

It takes a full generation for weather to change in a negative manner and it would also take another generation for the healing process if there would be a planet wide awareness on global warming.  Arctic ice could be melting.  The dwindling forest that protects the atmosphere from a heating universe could no longer contain the pressure.  Nature could only take so much.  Reduce nature by deforestation and poison its environment through industrial waste, then humanity will eventually be affected.  Inability to read the times, mankind may evolve into another frightening specie not to his liking.

Worst, the planet may breed viruses and deadly bacteria that could wipe out the entire animal kingdom, man included.

There is one simple way of restoring the natural balance and heal the degradation wrought by man’s greed which led to climate change.  Plant trees.

Years ago, I met a philanthropist, the venerable Dr. Cecilio Halili Penson, who offered much of his time teaching life skills to prisoners.  He was the founder of the Philippine Greening Movement.  Whatever that is, the greening part made an intriguing connotation.  Dr. Penson was already in a crusade on environmental protection and climate change long before American Al Gore made a pinch on this regard.  Only a few reckoned his teachings but in the prison community, he was the fountain of insight.

I remember some time ago, a prisoner, former Batangas governor Antonio Leviste , organized a project “Billion Tree” movement, probably lifted from UN Environmental program on Billion Tree campaign.  It was instantly supported by former Chief Justice Renato Puno.  I think the good Justice encashed half of his retirement gratuity in favor of the project.  When the Billion Tree program was gaining headway, media questioned the integrity of the platform.  In no time when others joined in bashing the program just because it was pursued by a prisoner.  The project was able to occupy a number of hectares with thousands of bagged seedlings about to be planted.  All of it got withered and poor prisoner who initiated the environmental plan along with benefactors, they were left without recognition.  Worst, the inmate was even suspected of conducting a scam!

In Japan, there is forest bathing.  In Latin America, there is mountain climbing.  In dessert areas of the Middle East, monarchies are building structures that mimic nature complete with forest and gardens.  Singapore has Garden by the Bay, an awesome project that promotes environmental consciousness.   There is an organized environmental protection scheme by a strong lobby group composed of celebrities, tycoons, scientist, and those from the academe.

In the Philippines, the Duterte administration through its DENR Secretary Gina Lopez has shown the only way towards protecting the environment is through regulating if not suspending those firms involved in the exploration and exploitation of natural resources without regard to safety, health and welfare of communities in the area.

For ordinary folks, a simple way of planting a tree, or just a sapling, or maintaining any flora for that matter, can make a great difference.  We need not be rocket scientists to make this happen.

Planting protects our planet (well, birds and other forest animals do it regularly through their pooh) and yes, in the process save the succeeding generation from calamities that may bring forth physical degradation, fatal diseases and related mayhem.  We do not want our future grandchildren to look like mutants with abbreviated lifespan.

There is still hope to remedy our situation.  Again, let’s plant and make some greenery, if allowable, around our place.  That is how simple the solution is.

Saving the planet from climate change means stability and strength for the succeeding generation.  Our forefathers may have given us civilization, comfort, technology and wealth.  This time around, we must give express wisdom, discipline and awareness and restore nature back to how it was before exploitation.

TIME AFTER TIME

vjt with boy elmo and oca

We were all classmates in the elementary and we all graduated in 1966.  Elmo Abad became a lawyer, Boy Tabayoyong became a US Federal postal officer and Oscar Carreon a sales advisor.  In my case, I became a functionary in an agency in the national government.  We never knew what kind of wind we would be inhaling during our grade school years although from a safe distance, we could see an active kid, brilliant and dynamic not only in academics but also in extracurricular activities.  We believed in him and we subscribed to the idea that one day, he would help us from the morass of unemployment.  We knew that Elmo would become somebody in the future.  Indeed, he became a lawyer but we were nowhere near him.

All of us have scattered around.  We never moved as a batch but rather crawled in various directions.

I do not know what happened to the rest of the boys in our batch though.  Only the four of us, boys, left for the virtual interaction in Facebook.  The rest are nowhere.  Well, with Elmo’s demise, there is only the three of us—-Boy, Oscar and I—left to guard the ramparts of our respective turf in cyberspace.  Oooops, I am sorry.  There are also handful of classmates who are netizens—Art Galindez, Sonny  Salvador, Palos Matinez and Rod Espanol.  I knew a little about them though except for some abstract backgrounder.  Art is in the advertising field, Sonny has a big farm in Luzon although he shuttles to and fro his residence in US, Palos is a successful entrepreneur with a chain of restaurant and a vast agricultural farm and Rod, a resident of Singapore and an engineer.  That is the most that I could gather.  I do not know if they have retired.  Suffice it to say that they are alive, hale and healthy.

For the girls in our batch, there is no problem.  Almost all of them, save for a handful, are very active in the FB front.   They have a group chat and everybody could be heard.  They are almost reachable and they pamper me with ”likes”, more so I have a regular blog and status posting.

On the whole, we were a bunch of elderly netizens in their early 60s  and had stopped counting.  We would rather freeze time and continue our youthful thoughts.  Let time fade away after all it is only an invention of man and never a part of nature.  There is no such thing as time after time.

We are always on the move.

Boy Tabayoyong decided to stay in the Philippines after retiring as a US Federal Postal officer.  He would rather spend his dollar pension in the country, not only as a sign of nationalism but for practical reasons.  For every buck he receives from Mother America it is multiplied 50 times when converted in local currency.  Now, that’s not only business but it is tantamount already to robbery!

Boy loves to see the country side.  For starters, right after organizing his dwelling place in Baguio City, he decided to take the south road.  It led him to appreciate almost all provinces he would pass through.   He would also take selfie in every spot he would take fancy.  From Luzon to the Visayas and eventually to Mindanao.  He would rather spend his time traveling and if at all he must stop to stretch, he would rather chill in an appartele.  In his estimation, expending a dollar for meals and less than 10 bucks for lodging lead toward economic pragmatism.  That means handing out $300 for the whole month, and it is but loose change compared with that which he is receiving as dollar pension.  He can even afford to have his own version of philanthropy if his mood allows it.  He is already a made man.

Oca Carreon on the other hand remained in the country  and worked in the private sector.  Although he is a dutiful son of a military colonel, the most that he could follow his father was the hobby of practice shooting of live bullets in the target range.   He was a confirmed marksman for a number of years.  He never bothered to enter the Armed Forces.  There was disappointment in the military when his father, a bemedalled soldier, feared wherever assigned, would be held and suspected of attacking a member of the judiciary.

Oca almost hated the criminal justice system because of that and instead stayed the course.  He stayed home after work and as a consequence, he had a number of children, all of them by now are established and professionals already.  They were nurtured not only by the mother but the fatherly Oca.  He would even shower his children’s children with warm attention and parental concern.  He loves domestic life.  He is an ideal parent.

I could only appreciate my peers, Boy and Oca.   We were the only ones left in the field of cyberspace to interact and exchange thoughts, ideals, even suspicions and comic responses.  Boy may have culturally evangelized a big sector through his traveling; Oca may have convinced future parents that parenting is next to godliness.  In my case, observing people, more so my friends, I could discern lessons which may be shared.  Lessons that make life truly stimulating and worth spreading.

 

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