Uber, the Game-Changer, not?

The Philippines has a way of messing things up not only for itself but for what should be a good thing.

Take Uber for example. While it faces its own troubles for failing to comply with legal regulations, its business model was supposed to be an improvement from the current arrangements followed by local taxi companies. In the Philippines, taxis are usually owned by a person who leases the cars to drivers. Compensation is set at a certain amount (the “boundary”) and anything earned by the driver above that boundary is his. It’s not that easy because the driver will have to pay for the gas and other minor expenses. Add to that the fact that taxi meters are based on distance traveled; so, if they get into heavy traffic, they lose big time.

Enter Uber. Now, drivers can own their cars and keep all the profits; well, after Uber gets its cut. The cut is less than a boundary and there are bonuses that Uber gives to allow the driver to earn more if he is willing to work more. All good, yes?

Enter the Philippines. When Uber first landed here, it was basically, well, illegal. There was no law or regulation covering their new “ride-sharing” model. They didn’t care, and when the government finally came up with a regulation for them, they didn’t follow it. Everyone knows that Uber delights in its “disruptor” label but operating illegally is putting that label on a whole new level. These days, Uber is facing multiple troubles in various countries where it operates. In some, it has decided to shut down, while in others, it is fighting in courts or regulators for its place in the sun.

To the riding public, especially in the Philippines, Uber has been a god-send. To drivers, however, things might not be that great. Aside from getting caught in the legal battle between Uber and its regulator, some have not made the transition to what should be a better life. While some have managed to get new cars under financing, and the earnings appear to be sufficient to make the monthly amortization, there are others who have been hired merely as drivers and, again, fall under the boundary system. There are those who have bought cars and hired drivers to drive them under the Uber brand, and while some drivers are used to that — they used to be taxi drivers — it has been harder. It appears that the “operators” make a cut on everything including the bonuses and other monetary incentives given by Uber to drivers.

So, in the end, even as Filipinos accuse local taxi companies of opposing Uber, and other ride-sharing companies, in order to protect their niche, it appears that “they” found a way to subvert Uber by making it like any other local taxi company. Sad. Of course, there will be those who will drive for Uber using their own cars and keep all the profits for themselves, how much I still have to figure out, but how many may soon change. I once had my car serviced in my casa and I found out they were partnered with Uber and there were drivers there applying to drive. Based on the interviews I overheard, Uber reps ask the drivers if they were driving for themselves or for another and there were some who said they were driving for the car owners. It seems that while the Philippines may not be good at start-ups, it does excel in innovation. Whether that’s good or bad is another matter altogether. In this case, it is definitely bad.


The Consulting Blogger

The Philippine Senate is trying to address the issue of fake news. It called together a number of resource persons from both the public and private sectors to participate in a hearing with an end in view of crafting a law to curb the proliferation of fake news. One of those participating is a blogger, RJ Nieto, writing under the pseudonym the Thinking Pinoy. The thing about the Thinking Pinoy is that he is both a blogger and a consultant for the Department of Foreign Affairs although that is not a singular trait to him as Mocha Uson shares the same distinction of privately blogging while holding the position of Assistant Secretary in the Presidential Communications Operations Office, the office of the Philippine President’s spokesperson, who was also in the same Senate hearing with the Thinking Pinoy. Understandably, some senators were concerned that they are straddling the two worlds of public (as in government service) and private life and were taken to task.

While Ms Uson invoked her right to self-discri…incrimination (her words), the Thinking Pinoy came out swinging. He complained that what he was getting from the DFA was a pittance (P12,000/month) not even enough for taxi fare, that the DFA needs him more than he needs them, and that he was just there to help the government be successful…and he made the point that he was not bragging. Wow. Ikaw na (You the man)!

Admittedly, P12,000 from a single employer is small. However, he was able to go to Russia (for a presidential state visit that had to be cut short because of the Marawi incident) and the US (for the UN General Assembly) at the government’s expense; again, with Ms Uson but while we can imagine an Assec like Mocha from the PCOO having some justifiable reason to be there, the presence of a DFA consultant in those meetings boggles the mind. What exactly is he a consultant for? A consultant according to Merriam-Webster, is an expert. One who gives professional advice. What exactly is he a pro on? According to the Bases Conversion Development Authority, it offered the Thinking Pinoy a consultancy contract to promote awareness and generate support for its projects but it was rejected by the Thinking Pinoy. His contract with the DFA says he would lend his platform (as a blogger) to reach more overseas Filipino workers. He is supposed to be the head of strategic communications for the DFA Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs. So, he is supposed to help OFWs by giving them an additional way of reaching the DFA with their concerns. Okay. How does that connect with his stints in Russia and New York?

He says he is like a slave at the DFA but if his work is just to provide his platform to bridge OFWs to the DFA, something that does not seem to even need his presence at the DFA (and, therefore, no need for taxis to get from here to there and back), and occasionally join government officials in official trips overseas (all at the government’s expense), then P12,000 isn’t bad at all. We seem to be stretching the term consultant here but what else are we supposed to call him I wonder.

He says that the DFA needs him more than he needs the DFA, which, I suppose, comes from the fact that he has thousands of followers. I can see how that can be relevant for the BCDA had he accepted the contract because communications in that case would have been outward: from BCDA using his platform to people everywhere. In the case of the DFA, however, communication is inward: from the people to the DFA, in which case, his platform is just a steppingstone to the DFA. I don’t think he would be directly answering OFW’s questions for the DFA. Is he? Is he a foreign service officer? Is he an expert on what the DFA does? Is he an expert on OFW affairs/concerns? Did he work for the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration at any time, or affiliated with an NGO dealing with OFWs? By every indication, it seems he is a communications man not an OFW advocate. We already stretched the term consultant to accommodate him in the DFA. I think it’s an even bigger stretch to try to imagine how the DFA would need him more than he, the DFA. As a friend pointed out in a Facebook post, the truth is neither of them needs the other, and suggests that perhaps they should part ways.

The thing is that we understand why you are there in the same way we understand how Ms Uson became an Assec. You are very supportive of the current administration. That’s fine. If you were a former supporter of the past administration and switched over to the new one, then that is also fine. That is normal in the Philippines: political butterflies. No judgements from me there. Just don’t think too highly of yourself. Not bragging? Maybe but it certainly comes across as arrogance. No one is indispensable in government. Political appointees are co-terminus with the power that appointed them. Contracts are for a given period, renewable by agreement of the parties to the contract. Whether or not you do provide an invaluable service to the DFA, we leave to the DFA to determine; however, do not ever think your persona as a blogger, or your connections to the powers that be, shields you from criticism or, worse, sanctions. All of that can only go so far. As the country’s only consulting blogger (that I know of anyway), you are in a position to do great service. Use it well for you are also in a position to do great harm. May that never be what we remember you for when you finally rejoin us in obscurity.


We, the People

No administration is ever perfect: the Marcos dictatorship; the Aquino different-faces-same-problems; the Ramos money-making machine; the Estrada alcohol-induced-policy-making parties; the Macapagal-Arroyo corruption; the younger Aquino’s no-action-is-an-action attitude (and when they did act, it was a disaster); and the current “kill them all, let God sort ‘em out” policy.

We, the People were right in calling them out every time they failed us. There are those who would become silent whenever the person involved is their candidate or choice as president but someone has to keep calling them out to keep them in line. We have to treat every one of them in the same way not because we don’t like them — well, maybe to a certain degree — but because we care about our country. We scream not because we like screaming but because we have to call attention to their wrongful acts in the hope that they will correct it and avoid repeating it.

Being silent will not help. Our blind loyalty will doom us. We have to act when we need to in order to keep our leaders in line, and where necessary, hold them accountable.

We do it regardless of who sits in Malacañang because we, the people, need to. For love of our country and the generations that come after us. We owe it to them.

We are the Philippines.


Power of the Word

There was a time when every single word that comes from a world leader bore meaning. He or she wouldn’t say something unless he or she understood its implications. There was always a target audience and sound bites were designed or calculated to reach them whether they were the enemy, their countrymen, or simply the world at large.

In the days of Twitter and Facebook, and populism in general, all that has gone out the window. Populist leaders would say what they want, when they want, without regard for how it will impact their country, or just the office in which he sits. You have an American President tweeting to his heart’s delight much to the chagrin of the White House’s communication staff. When they try to do damage control, he comes out and reinforces his original tweet. In fact, he is so tweeter-happy that he even tweets about state secrets. A case of too much truth.

Not only that, he is a believer and/or propagator of conspiracy theories and alternate facts. He will hammer on something as the truth when facts show otherwise. Credibility be damned.

Over at the other side of the Pacific, you have a Philippine President who speaks in public and later tells everyone it was just a joke or a lie. Parenthetically, when people think he was joking, he comes out to assure us that he wasn’t. That makes it difficult for Filipinos, and other nations as well, to read what he is really trying to say and act accordingly.

In both countries, there is now a need for government officials to “explain” what the head of state meant, and where the latter insists on his own interpretation of what he said, then some officials would simply contradict him. That’s a problem for cabinet secretaries who are supposed to be alter egos of the president. They are extensions of the president, and while this is not a problem for some, others soon find themselves out of the government.

To this we can add a tendency towards historical revisionism. No administration is perfect but when the wrongs say of the Marcos regime during the martial law years appear to be glorified, then it tends to belittle the sacrifices and lives lost by a generation who fought those same ills. Of course, this could be expected even as political affiliations swing one way or the other; eventually, a friend of the old regime will surface as president and attempt to rehabilitate them.

We ask: how much of the drug war is real? What about the anti-corruption drive? Can we rely on what they are saying, or is it a lie or just a joke? How is our economy doing? Whose data or what sources can we rely on? What is really going on?

All this reflects badly on their leadership. With people now uncertain of what they mean, or what is real, how are they expected to plan and move forward if they cannot read what their government is trying to do or accomplish? That’s a problem not just for individuals but more so for businesses, investors and other countries. It certainly creates a lot of uncertainty and with it, loss of confidence. While some die-hard believers will carry on regardless, the rest will certainly be a lot more cautious. That caution could hurt the economy and our relationships with our allies, trading partners and neighboring states.

People and nations also tend to dismiss them and their governments. It is strange to see an American president ignored in a meeting of nations but there it was. World leaders have now turned to others for leadership even as the US focuses in on its self. Too much it seems. No one is so naive to think that any of the past US administrations have acted without considering its consequences first on the US yet they have not failed to lead the rest of the world. The current administration is not inclined to do so. It chooses to build a wall both literally and figuratively around it and live in its bubble safe from what it believes to be a climate change hoax. Coaxing it out of its shell and rehabilitating its confidence to lead will take time. Lots of it.

In the end, the victim to all of this is the truth. It’s bad enough that we have to contend with fake news and alternate facts but when leaders consciously actively engage in them, their citizens suffer and the world bears the consequences of their actions. There have been past administrations that have lied but none have done so openly and flagrantly.

Borrowing from the X Files, the truth is now just out there. We cannot trust our own governments. That’s a terrible thing to have to say.


Fire and Ice

*Spoilers Ahead*

Season 7 of The Game of Thrones is where the show tried to tie up loose ends and set up the final season. With limited number of episodes, the entire season felt rushed. Season 8 too has limited episodes; so, it can be fairly said that plot development makes leaps and bounds compared to past seasons.

The season began killing off second and third tier characters whose stories could no longer be developed further given the limited episodes available. While we, the audience, may have hoped for the gathering of two giant sized armies that will duke it out to see who in the end will sit on the Iron Throne, then face the White Walkers, we instead are told there is one great war to fight and that is between the living and the dead.

We are also finally told — rather than us just guessing — that Jon is neither a bastard, nor the son of Ned Stark. He is, in fact, fire and ice. Most would think that the two refers to Dany, the mother of dragons (fire), and Jon, the King in the North (ice). However, it more likely refers to Jon who traces his lineage from both the Targaryens (fire) and Starks (ice). Whether or not he is also the prince who was promised is another matter but after all that he has been through for all seven seasons, one hopes that at the very least, he survives the show and manages to live happily ever after.

This might prove difficult with him bending the knee to Dany — in more ways than one (wink wink) — and having a bastard son of the late King Robert Baratheon, Gendry, roaming about. Of course, being a bastard might diminish his chances to sit on the Iron Throne. That and the fact that he appears to have no ambitions to rule might make him less of a threat to Jon but this is Westeros after all where anything can happen, including The Wall falling. People thought that the White Walkers would just walk around it when the seas freeze with winter on hand but when you have an ice-fire breathing zombie dragon, magic walls are not a problem.

Then there are the Starks. As I guessed, Littlefinger was outplayed by the Starks. Honestly, he never had a chance with Bran being the Three-Eyed Raven. The thing is, Jon may have bent the knee to Dany but the Starks have not. The Wolf Pack might just hail a new King in the North, maybe Sansa, the lady of Winterfell, as Queen in the north especially with the revelation of his lineage. In other words, being a Targaryan, he may not be so welcome in the North, not as King anyway.

Finally, there’s Cersei. Current occupant of the Iron Throne and chess master extraordinaire. Thinking three moves ahead of her rivals, she hopes to outsmart even Death. She has sent Greyjoy to recruit a mercenary army with gold from the Iron Bank. She hopes that Dany’s Dothraki hoard and the Unsullied foot soldiers will be depleted after the war with the White Walkers that they will be in no shape to fight what remains of her army and the mercenaries.

The only problem here is Theon found his balls and decided to take on his uncle to free his sister. Cersei’s plans might get upended. Gendry too, who we did not see in the finale, might try to make it difficult for Cersei to rule peacefully, that is until the wites invade Kings Landing.

We also see that soft side to this woman who can just be as brutal as any man in Westeros: for all her talk of killing her brothers, she could not bring herself to do so regardless of whatever betrayal or treason they commit, or she believes they committed, against her.

So, here’s my prediction for the final season of GoT: first, Theon is successful in saving his sister. He may die in the process but his effort will complicate matters for Cersei.

Second, Cersei will eventually march her armies to the north to join the battle against the wites. Jon did say that there is only one battle and it will be between the living and the dead, not among the living. Whether this is because of the loss of her mercenaries and, with that, a humungous debt to the Iron Bank she may no longer be able to pay, or, or maybe and, her love for her siblings, I think she will. She is with child, or so it seems, so it is difficult to imagine that the show runners will kill her off but, again, Westeros can be a cruel world.

The White Walkers can be killed by fire and we know she has a way with fire…wildfire that is, if she still has some in store that is. It took a lot to kill the Sparrow and everyone with him.

Third, it was hoped that Dany, Jon and Tyrion will ride the three dragons into battle. They are one less dragon now; so, it is highly unlikely. Tyrion too appears to be on the fence now that he had seen Dany and Jon together. He did not look happy. Tyrion, whose lineage may also be far different from the Lannisters and might be more Targaryan may likewise lay a claim to the Iron Throne. My guess: he will sit on the Iron Throne with Jamie as his Hand. If Bronn survives, then he would likely be there as well. Cersei? Not likely. How she goes is hard to see now but I don’t see her living through season 8.

Last, what about Jon and Dany? It is no secret that I have been rooting for Jon to do one thing: survive to live quietly somewhere. I hope it is not too much to ask. He will lead the armies against the White Walkers. The King Slayer himself will fight by his side. Two dragons versus one gives them an advantage. They have dragon glass and, if I am right, all of Westeros on their side but, after all that, this man who lives for one thing only — defeat the undead — has no desire for power. He is willing to bend the knee to Dany. He is the reluctant leader. He even joined the Night Watch.

As for Dany. Her children are her dragons. It remains to be seen if she will have any left after the great war with the dead but I would like to think that she too might be inclined to live in peace away from all the troubles of ruling, something Tyrion might be more suited for. If she bears a child by Jon, then she might have more reason to retire.

They may not end up together but I hope they live out the rest of their lives in peace. Fire and Ice might be Dany and Jon respectively but, if I am right, then Jon is himself both fire and ice, which simply means that they have or he has done their/his part and it is time to leave. He is destined for greatness for sure but their future is difficult to see clearly. Westeros is really quite unpredictable when it comes to nice guys. Separated from the wolf pack, he may not be so safe. Together though, he may have a chance.

A year to wait if all this comes to be. Until then, we speculate, we debate, we play our own Game of Thrones…


Living in Fear

In the past week, the Philippines saw a number of anti-drug operations carried out by the police in various locations. Around 80 people were killed during those operations. One stood out: a young boy of 17. The police say he shot at them with a .45 and was killed when they returned fire. However, CCTV footage allegedly shows that the boy was accosted by two police officers and followed by a third who took him to a secluded spot. Witnesses allege that the boy was intimidated, given a gun, told to run, and shot. The death has caused an uproar on social media. A rally has been scheduled on the 21st of August, the day when the country recalls the death of Sen. Benigno Aquino, Jr. The event that spelled the beginning of the end of the Marcos regime.

However, there are two sides to every story and the truth, they say, is somewhere in the middle. One side has the boy as an innocent victim of police abuse in the War on Drugs; while another view says that the boy is far from innocent and was in fact involved with illegal drugs. Some versions of the latter story has his father as the dealer and the boy, a runner for his illegal drugs business. Some say he is, himself, a dealer, while others have him as a mere user. Even if this story is true, whatever version it may be, does that fact prove the alleged CCTV and eyewitness accounts wrong? Hardly. At most, it only shows that he was not the innocent people think he was but how does that change the whole thing?

Even if someone, anyone, is known to be a pusher, runner, dealer or user of illegal drugs, does it make it right to bring him to an isolated spot, give him a gun, order him to run and shoot him? Even assuming he is guilty, is it necessary to kill him? What’s the point?

In the first place, if he is actually known to be involved in illegal drugs, then wouldn’t it be easier to find witnesses and other evidence against him, prosecute him, and send him to jail?

Further, if they want us to believe that he was armed with a .45 and took a shot at them, then they first have to convince us where in the world he hid it considering the way he was dressed at the time. If they will also insist on such an out of this world idea, then we will have to question their ability to comply with police procedures because we have to ask: didn’t they search the boy before they walked away with him? There were two with him followed by another. Three cops who failed to observe simple police procedures? It is easier to believe that they were in fact intentionally disregarding police procedures taking the boy away as they did that night. That’s the suspicion anyway.

Finally, did they think that killing one person will put the fear of God in other pushers, dealers, runners or users? I think not. They live with that fear every single day of their lives and in all probability have accepted it. So, who actually fears such unnecessary killing? It is the innocents. Now they fear the police who they see as out of control, picking people off the streets and shooting them to add another statistic to the War on Drugs. Reuters, the BBC and Al Jazeera all posted articles showing how police officers (and gun for hires) are getting paid for every kill in the War on Drugs. Scratch one more to the tally.

Was that the whole point of the killing then? When the president says that if they kill 32 a day, they solve the drug problem in the country, was this their contribution to the 32 required? Was the boy killed for a scorecard? Was he killed just for a few pesos?

Here’s the thing: somehow, somewhere, someone is going to say enough is enough and take action. That action can be as simple as a non-violent protest march to, God forbid, violent revolution. What it will be depends largely on how much more the country can take. An article on the Internet says that to eradicate inequality, you need large scale famine or pestilence to kill off large swaths of the population. That, or violent revolution of the Russia or China kind. We don’t have pestilence anywhere. Violent revolution though may just be around the corner.

Something else to be fearful of…


The Vow

One distinction that the Philippines holds is that it's the last country where divorce is not allowed. A lot of people think that it should not be so but I for one believe that it should be so and, yes, my being a Catholic has everything to do with it.

The long and short of it is how much importance do we give our marriage vows? I would like to think that before we go through such a life-changing decision, we have given it more than a just passing thought. When we speak of marriage vows, it is something from which a whole lot of other commitments spring. We think of the family that we are about to start, the children you will raise, and all the responsibilities of being a spouse and/or parent of another human being. Before we promise to love and hold someone for the rest of our lives, we should think about who we are marrying, our readiness to begin a life with that person, and our available and possible future resources. That's a lot of thinking required. Unfortunately, some people simply marry out of hope that one or the other is their perfect match, or they will change along the way to be the right person for you. That is a recipe for disaster of the highest magnitude. Just picking a boyfriend can be as easy as a date and we fail to consider everything else out there. For example, you do not have to immediately commit your self to just one person to try him or her out as if they were some car you're trying to buy. Dating is not promiscuity. Dating, when carried out in a mature manner, opens your eyes to possibilities and empowers you with the ability to choose responsibly.

As a Catholic, the moment I choose to make a marriage vow is the moment I decide that there will be no other partner-for-life for me other than my spouse. That's big. That means I renounce all my rights to be with any other person other than my spouse. 'Till death do us part. It is a life-long commitment. You are intended to die with it. I do not think many people realize just how heavy a burden that vow really is. They treat it lightly, fail to appreciate all of its consequences, and seek a quick fix if it doesn't meet their expectations. It is, if you'll forgive me, an irresponsible and cowardly way to live one's life. When we marry on a whim — just for fun as it were — or are "forced into it" or just desperate to be in a relationship, the responsibility for entering into marriage is ours, especially, when we should understand that we don't even have to get married under such circumstances no matter what. It is truly our life and we live it. If we choose to marry, then man up and live with it.

Granted, people can make mistakes. They may cause their spouses harm. The current state of Philippine law does not leave them without recourse. Under the Family Code, a spouse can file for legal separation or annulment. The main difference between the two is that in legal separation, the marriage bond is not dissolved such that the spouses remain to be man and wife of each other, while in annulment, one of the parties is deemed psychologically incapacitated to enter into marriage, or his or her consent is vitiated that there is no marriage at all to begin with. To be sure, it is a lengthy and expensive process but that is the price we have to pay in order to dissolve something that shouldn't be dissolved in the first place.

In the Philippines where a majority of the population still consider themselves Catholic, it means a lot considering that if you want to remarry in a church, then you need an annulment of your previous marriage from the State and the Church but, for the most part, getting one from the State will do. Still, the Vatican, the only other state not to have divorce for obvious reasons, has endeavored to make Church annulments more accessible to Catholics. Those steps, however, will never amount to a quickie divorce some sectors would want to see in the Philippines. The Vatican will never give you that.

People, however, want a quick fix to their apparent problems. Divorce, they say, solves a lot of problems but fails to see all the other problems it may give rise to. The latter don't matter for as long as they have their means of escape.

That's the thing, isn't it? It's an escape. Instead of people working to resolve an issue, they want an exit mechanism to jettison all manner of responsibility for their failed relationships. It takes too much to try to work it out so it's better that we just abandon the whole thing and try to start over; hopefully, we do better the next time around. No responsibility whatsoever.

The Catholic Church does not see it that way. Not to my knowledge anyway considering that I am no priest but if you ever wonder why the Church cannot go against it's teaching against abortion, then you are really missing the point. We are free agents. We can do as we please but our choices have consequences. Therefore, before making a choice, think of all the possible consequences. Abortion, like divorce, is a quick way out. A chance to escape responsibility. An out for a messy situation we find our selves in. Yes, there are other factors involved and one in particular stands out: life! Whether it be abortion or divorce, there will always be an impact on life and how we live. In the end, that's where the interest of the Church lies: in our life. A life worth saving. How we live it tells if we get saved or not. Jesus already did the hardest part about human salvation: He lived, died and rose from the dead. Everything else is now up to us.

Nobody said life, or making a life, was easy. We always have to act responsibly just like in making our marriage vows. Quick fixes are often messy affairs. You can't fix life like that. Never like that. When you make a marriage vow it is meant to be forever and any problems you experience along the way, take the time to fix it. It will be worth it. Life's like that.