No Comments 08 September 2010

Amid the grim education scenario in the Philippines, a bright light shines from the remote town of Jagna in Bohol province.  There, husband and wife Christopher Bernido and Ma. Victoria Carpio-Bernido, both physicists, introduced a way of teaching and learning that has produced amazing results. READ FULL STORY




No Comments 04 September 2010

By Tonette T. Orejas

Fr. Eddie Panlilio trailblazed a difficult if not dangerous path in 2007 when he, a Catholic priest, answered calls for him to run as governor and end corruption and bad governance in Pampanga. His three-year term is over and his re-election bid last May was unsuccessful. His bishops and the Pope have yet to allow him to return to the active priesthood.

Planet Philippines caught up with the activist-priest recently for this exclusive interview. Among Ed just returned from three spiritual retreats since June determined and committed as ever to continue serving God and country.

What are your contributions or legacy to Pampanga?

I believe I brought back the original challenge of political leadership, that it is not self-service but it is a service to the community. We could have opted to work just lightly with a monthly salary of P31,000 but we really worked hard we did not mind about the salary. We did not mind about the perks and temptations to enrich ourselves. So it is possible to empower the people and not to be corrupt.

How did you manage not to be corrupt?

By leadership by example, by living simply and I told people that I would like to live simply and I would like to expect them to work and not to demand or receive bribes.

Weren’t you tempted because your salary is only P31,000?

No, because our work ethic has been this way for many years. Coming from the private sector, coming from the social action work, it’s just a matter of doing it again but in a different context so for me it wasn’t that difficult. The only time that I was offered money was the one that happened in Malacanang (in October 2007 right after the meeting of local officials with then President Arroyo) One of my priest-friends told me, ‘Ed you will be passing through two tests. One is about money. One is about women.’ I said where is the other one? It did not come along. (Laughs)

Did you realize how much money you “lost” because you were straight enough not to accept bribes, commissions?

I don’t usually ask that. I ask, ‘how much would the people lose if I subject myself to that culture?’

You must be a very tempered man. . .

It was not extraordinary for me because yun ang nakagawian eh. That’s what we have been doing.

Other legacies?

I exercised principled leadership. On the question of the Christmas bonus, I requested a budget of P10,000 each but then the SP approved P20,000. I could have given away P20,000 each just to please the people but I didn’t believe it was really helping the staff because we talked over this. In 2008 I agreed to the request that they would get that amount. But we agreed that in 2009, a portion of the bonus would be based on performance. The union leaders said they know that and they said they remembered that. But they were swayed by the politics of SP especially by the vice governor who put me in a very precarious situation of having to make it appear that I was to give in to them.

Aren’t you being too legalistic, making it hard on people?

There’s palabra de honor or being true to what we have discussed. Those who work harder should receive more and the others who did not work that hard would receive less. Also if we gave all, that’s like taking from the people’s money.  P20,000 is P40 million, because we have 2,000 workers, If you give in to them, if that’s rightfully theirs, it’s no problem explaining to the people.

Why didn’t you just accommodate so you won’t have headaches?

(Laughs) That’s the problem we have in Philippine politics. It has lots of accommodations and compromises. I don’t believe in that. I was even willing to lose the elections.

But did you realize you isolated many people with that kind of politics?

I know. But to me, I might be mistaken but I don’t think I’m mistaken, in the long run what is really important is to get the message across to them that we mean business here in politics.

Some say you lack administrative skills?

Could a person without administrative skills pursue and effect the elimination of corruption? But that was not my work alone. We worked collectively in the capitol.

You were not commanding.

I don’t. I worked within the context of a team.

Were there occasions when you got angry?

At one point I did. This was when an official of the Philippine National Bank did not want to honor the signatures of Attorneys Vivian Dabu and Aiza Velez because the SP did not want to recognize their appointments as provincial administrator and legal officer respectively. We could not take out money for the salaries of capitol workers or for projects. I ordered P300 million pulled out from PNB and transferred to the Land Bank of the Philippines because in the first place, the PNP was no more the government depository bank.

Your critics portrayed you as a bad person and bad leader. Did these cause regrets in you?

No kasi pag ginawa ko ang isang bagay na pinaniniwalaan kong tama, kahit mali sa iba at kahit nagbunga ng masama. I don’t regret because I was well-intentioned. I could have committed mistakes here and there. In reality, I think this will be my first time to say this to anybody. Although I lost, I am being drawn more and more to like politics and to pursue a political career. I’m enjoying it. (Laughs) I’m enjoying it because I believe I am able to contribute something to the real growth of politics in the Philippines. Everywhere I go I meet some people who tell me that you’re giving us hope. What I do in Pampanga is being affirmed and people see the value of it.

Did you have any regret that you joined politics?

No. None. But I could have reached out more to my inner circle. I could have spent more time to dialogue with other politicians in Pampanga.

Does that mean you will enter politics again?

No, no, no. (Laughs) Ten days after the elections, I went on a personal retreat. I just stayed in my room for two days and before the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel. I went back to the reason why I entered politics and it is very clear to me that I promised the Lord I will be here on a temporary basis, that my original intent was only to be here because nobody wanted to go into politics in 2007 in Pampanga to provide hope. And all the time, after 30 years of being a priest, I realized that my real vocation is for the priesthood, not for politics. For priesthood in the service of politics for social transformation but not as politician and I said I promised the Lord and to me my electoral loss meant for me a message from the Lord to call me back to priesthood.

Would you say that politics tested your priesthood?

Yes. Napatunayan ko na yung values ng priesthood, yung values nang pagka-Kristyano natin ay puedeng gamitin at dapat gamitin sa larangan ng pulitika.

Does the church see it that way?

The church doesn’t see it that way.

What are your frustrations?

I don’t have any of that. But frustrations in terms of what I expected to do and outcome that I should have had, a lot. Like the plunder case I filed at the Ombudsman against Bong Pineda which hadn’t move in two years’ time. That’s a frustration in that sense na yung kinagalit o isang bagay na sayang hindi nangyari, yeah in that sense frustrations. Like in the plunder case against the Lapids. Yung SP who played politics in terms of the quarry, SP making an ordinance of the quarry that is not in consonance with national laws.

What about programs that you would have wanted to continue but didn’t?

I felt helpless in terms of eliminating jueteng in the province. Helpless because I didn’t get the support that I needed like the police director that I wanted. The police were in cahoots with politicians. I felt they did not want me to succeed in this crusade. Not only was I not given the police director that I needed but also binaboy yung sistema nang pagtatalaga ng provincial director. Kaya sabi ko galit ako kay Noynoy (President Aquino), kaming dalawa ni Padaca (former Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca ) na nandito si Verzosa (Police Director General Jesus Verzosa)  na binaboy o kasangkot sa pagbabababoy sa pagtatatalaga ng senior officer ng PNP na hindi man nanindigan against Interior Secretary Ronnie Puno. Hindi pina-experienced sa akin na umabot sa akin yung prosesong tama.

Bakit ka galit kay President Noynoy?
Because he retained Verzosa. To me that’s giving a wrong signal to the PNP leadership.

Can priests make good politicians?

(Laughs) To be blunt about it, do politics and religion mix? They should influence one another in a positive way. But in our present context, hindi nagbe-blend at this point in time. Like what we did in Pampanga. We didn’t ask for SOP (illegal commissions for government projects), jueteng money, illegal drugs trade money, and you fight the whole system and you’re fired up by your religious convictions. Since this is the kind of world of almost everybody in politics so they flush you out of the system.

Or is it that you failed to gel the two?

I think I was able to gel them. Yung alisin naming ang corruption sa paggawa ng mga kalsada at mga infra, hindi ba napaka-makatao nun, napaka-makaKristiyano nun? Siguro we can say values in politics do not mix with bad politicians. As Jesse Robredo (former Naga City mayor and now secretary of interior and local governments) say, we may be good public servants but bad politicians.

Was your victory in 2007 due to luck or because you were a novelty?

It’s a novelty with a confluence of factors. We were three candidates in 2007. Kung tatlo kaming lumaban ngayonng 2010 baka nanalo na naman ako kasi tumaas yung boto. Tapos yun nga novelty plus sawang-sawa na ang mga tao sa bad governance plus the priest factor, nakatulong yun. Yung track record din. People in Lubao voted for me not because they knew me but they know TPKI (a non-government group in re-lending projects) and Sacop (the social action hand of the archdiocese of San Fernando, Pampanga).

Why did you lose in 2010?

I lost for a lot of factors. One is napaghandaan kami. I should really give it to the other camp. They really prepared and they really spent. I was told they might have spent P6 billion to P7 billion. Sabi ni Jesse (Robredo), we should be good in politics and also as public servants. Sabi ko baka Jess kung ikaw ang tumakbong gobernador sa Pampanga at ginawa mo sa Pampanga ang ginawa mo sa Naga baka matatalo ka rin. You know six months to one year before election the staff of Lilia Pineda was in every barrio. Walang ginawa kundi maghanap ng maysakit, pinagamot. Hindi ko alam kong matatalo mo ang ganoon.

What about the factors in your group?

I was taking my time. I was busy in governance and thinking perhaps that I can pull it through again. Everywhere we went, people were still excited about us. The enthusiasm was still there. And then, there’s a perception that we didn’t communicate to the people that we really did so much. We were ill-prepared.

As you saw Philippine politics through Pampanga, do you think this is beyond redemption? Do you think we are not going to change even with Noynoy?

I feel that vote-buying and cheating in Pampanga have ruined our society, our soul so much that it could be difficult to rise from but with Noynoy, two things: The hopes of the people are so high, nag-express ng pag-asa ang mga tao. People were very highly spirited and oozing with a lot of hope. Expectations are high too. Aalisin ang corruption. We really have to help him.

But as a former governor, do you think it is easy to remove corruption?

He can do something about it. Magsisimula siya at pipili siya ng tao sa Gabinite na hindi lang magaling at mahusay kundi tapat at matino. Dito lang sa Pampanga, this is a mirror of the country. We have a reform constituency, those who voted for me and for Noynoy. Hindi binayaran eh. So if that is about one-third of the electorate, we can start with those people.

Looking back, was it worth the sacrifice?

Yes, the main fact that I was besmirched I take it to mean I was good. Modesty aside, because if I were like them, they would not have done that. Like my expose on the P500,000 cash dole out in Malacanang, I just told what happened. But (Vice Governor) Yeng Guiao, pulitiko at mayor dito, sinisiraan ko raw si Gloria. Tignan mo ang dalawang anggulong iyon? Hindi ba kabaliwan yun. Hindi raw ako nagsasabi ng totoo.

Where do you go from here?

The return to priesthood is my target but that depends on the bishop and the Pope if they allow me in. But whether I go back or whether I am not accepted back, what I can contribute to nation building, to civil society building, I am willing to share.




1 Comment 24 January 2010

A young Filipino educator who set up the “Kariton Klasroom” to bring education to poor children has been named CNN ‘Hero of the Year.’

Efren Peñaflorida was declared winner over nine other nominees from around the world in ceremonies at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles, California, last Nov. 21.

Anderson Cooper, one of the top anchors of Cable News Network (CNN), presented the award to the 28-year-old teacher from Cavite City. Peñaflorida was selected after getting the highest number of online votes, which reached 2.75 million in seven weeks.

Peñaflorida received $100,000 cash to continue his work with his group, Dynamic Teen Company. The cash prize is on top of the $25,000 bonus that Peñaflorida received after he was included in the top 10 CNN Heroes.

He said 90 percent of his prize will go to his group while 10 percent will be donated to his church.

“Nothing for me. I was here to represent the poor children (of the Philippines),” Peñaflorida said. For him, seeing the smiles of the children who rush to meet him when they see his pushcart is enough reward for his efforts.

He said the real heroes are the 10,000 volunteers of Kariton Klassroom who are now helping in educating more than 1,500 kids in depressed areas in Cavite.

“Our planet is filled with heroes, young and old, rich and poor, man, woman of different colors, shapes and sizes. We are one great tapestry,” Peñaflorida said in his acceptance speech before an audience of about 3,000.

Peñaflorida urged the crowd to “be the hero to the next one in need” and called on them to “serve well, serve others above yourself and be happy to serve.”

“As I always tell to my co-volunteers… you are the change that you dream as I am the change that I dream and collectively we are the change that this world needs to be,” he said.

Peñaflorida vowed to continue his work and offer himself as an example of an underprivileged kid who fell victim to violence driven by poverty and yet found a way to lift himself up.

Upon his return from the United States, Peñaflorida was conferred the Order of Lakandula by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in Malacañang. The Order of Lakandula, one of the highest honors given by the Republic of the Philippines, is conferred on those who dedicate themselves to the welfare of society, perform meritorious political and civic service, and lead lives worthy of emulation.

Peñaflorida’s triumph came exactly one week after boxing champion Manny Pacquaio made boxing history by knocking out Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto to become the first boxer to win seven titles in seven weight divisions.

When CNN early this year announced its annual search for Heroes, Peñaflorida was nominated by Club 8586, a youth group in Cavite that financed his elementary and high school education.

CNN’s Blue Ribbon Panel sifted through 9,000 nominees from over 100 countries, and soon narrowed down its choices to 28. On Oct. 1, CNN announced its top 10 finalists for its Hero of the Year. Peñaflorida made it. The finalists were selected by a panel that included former US Secretary of State Colin Powell, philanthropist and CNN founder Ted Turner, actress Whoopi Goldberg and singers Shakira and Sir Elton John. The winner was chosen online by the public, with nearly 3 million votes cast.

Peñaflorida said his inclusion in CNN’s Top 10 “gave Filipinos a breath of fresh air, a brief moment to cheer and celebrate,” since the Philippines was still reeling from the floods and devastation wrought by storms “Ondoy” and “Pepeng.”

As a child, Penaflorida chose education over gang life in Cavite City and vowed to create a way for other children to make the same choice. He was occasionally bullied and beaten by street gangs, which prompted him to decide to come to the aid of street children and rescue them from poverty and neglect through education.

Peñaflorida created a program that brought books to children in slums and on the streets, and the 10,000 members of his Dynamic Teen Company have brought reading, writing and hygiene to 1,500 youngsters. (See related story.)

“My message to children of all races, please, to embrace learning and love it for it will embrace and love you back and enable you to change your world,” Peñaflorida said.

Peñaflorida’s group was first recognized after it won the Bayaning Pilipino award for its heroic work in bringing education to poor children in Cavite.

Since 1997, more than 10,000 volunteers are now helping in educating more than 1,500 kids in depressed areas in Cavite.

The group later launched the “Kariton Klassroom,” an innovative way of bringing the classroom to the children in the depressed areas.

The pushcart classroom is now complete with teaching aids, blackboards and even folding tables and chairs to allow children to sit and read materials provided in a mini-library – a far cry from the humble effort of loading the books and school supplies in large plastic bags.

Peñaflorida now earns a living as a public school teacher in Cavite but still continues his pushcart classrooms on weekends where volunteers have started teaching the street urchins of Manila.

Peñaflorida recalled that he and other volunteers had to endure discrimination and even being branded as “trash collectors” with their pushcarts whenever they carry out their noble mission.

Emanuel Bagual, DTC chief executive officer, said the group’s newfound international fame had brought it many positive changes. Before, DTC members had to sell old bottles and newspapers to earn money and sustain operations. But after DTC was featured in the media, the group started receiving private donations, enabling it to increase the number of its pushcart classrooms from two to four.

The sweetest recognition, however, came in the form of replication: Other youth groups in Davao, Metro Manila and Zamboanga approached DTC, asking permission to implement the project in their own areas, Bagual said.

One group put up a pushcart classroom in Kenya. The DTC willingly gave the groups its modules, Bagual said.




1 Comment 23 January 2010

By Pepper Marcelo

A new star on the Internet is born. Though not quite on the same level as British singer Susan Boyle or local sensation Charice Pempengco, a new heroine, Juana Change, has emerged on the video site YouTube. Juana’s growing popularity among Filipinos stems from her vocal criticism of our political leaders and biting commentary on current issues.

With her rotund physique, colorful personality and in-your-face humor, Juana Change is spewing her forthright opinion on a number of topics in a dozen videos (and counting); from the always controversial subject of Charter-Change, the upcoming 2010 elections, as well as the plight and sacrifice of the overseas Filipino workers, among others. In “Christmas Offering”, for example, Juana rattles off the personalities involved in anomalies and controversies – from Virgilio Garcillano to Jose Pidal and Benjamin Abalos.

The woman behind the Juana Change character is Mae Paner, an accomplished commercial director, theater actress and comedienne. In an interview with Planet Philippines, she explained the impetus for the creation of Juana Change stemmed from a profound concern over what is happening in today’s scandal-ridden political environment and the desire to do something about the situation.

“One of my friends said, ‘Why don’t we come up with video materials where we use you as the actress?’” she recalled. “We can do that, but we don’t have money.”

To cut cost, Paner volunteered to play different roles and characters. “That way, we didn’t have to pay other talents, we only have to deal with me. So we did.”

A talented group of writers and directors from advertising, lawyers, students, and a gifted pool of theater actors make up the Convergence Team, which produces and uploads the videos.

The first Juana Change scripts, written by screenwriter Rody Vera, were more daring than what Paner had originally intended, but now says that was the key.

“Rody said, ‘Mae, this is the only way we can have the edge. There are a billion people doing something on YouTube. They will not know what we’re doing unless we give it an edge.’ That’s the edge – the truth, the boldness, the humor.”

Paner describes Juana Change as a one-of-a-kind, very daring figure. “She speaks her mind, she doesn’t mince words. She says exactly what she feels. I think that’s what’s very good about the character, and the use of humor to make it more interesting, I think it’s something that makes this Juana Change have its own advocacy.”

There are many layers to Juana beyond her outrageous physical appearance and mannerisms. Even the name “Juana Change” could be interpreted two ways: To “want a change” (calling for action), or “wala nang change” (to give in and resign to what’s happening).

So far, Paner and the Convergence Team have produced a dozen videos, with their most popular one, “Fixer”, which touched upon corruption and bribery, gaining more than 60,000 (and rising) viewer hits.

“We were shocked that people were responding,” she said. “We were hoping that people were watching, but we didn’t realize that it would be this fast.”

Juana Change’s popularity is nearly phenomenal. Paner has she been featured on the local news and gets invited regularly to symposia, school events and other gatherings. A crew from Germany had traveled to Manila to interview and feature her for a German news program.

“We realized, wow, this change thing is something so needed and responding to the soul of every Filipino,” said Paner. “You’re able to say what they want to say. Or like the way it’s said because it’s funny or the boldness of it. There’s something about Juana that they can relate to.”

Another Juana Change video which Paner cites as being the most effective is “Bayani”, which features Juana as an OFW and Jose Rizal, both of whom are portrayed as heroes in their own right. “There’s not one Filipino who is not related to an OFW. The way the dramaturgy was done with a hero, who is the OFW, and the hero who is Jose Rizal. How Rody weaved the two together was genius. Everyone could really relate to it.”

Despite Juana’s ever-increasing notoriety, not all the responses have been positive. One need not look further than the comments section on YouTube to read comments like, “Who do you think you are? You think you can change the country?” or “We like the message, but you’re ugly.”

Most of the negative feedback has been superficial and harmless. With Juana’s oftentimes biting critique and her penchant for alluding to well-known political figures, some have raised concern about the possibility of irate quarters pouncing on Paner.

“Knock on wood, so far there’s none,” she said. “These are people that could have me (makes a screeching sound)…at any time. It’s part of the game.”

Paner, Vera and the Convergence team plan to produce 30 videos, covering a wide variety of important themes. One which she hopes to do in the near future is a tribute to former President Cory Aquino. “Tita Cory passed away, and what she has passed on to us in terms of our democratic institutions has to be kept alive in all of us. We want to show that although she moved on, she taught us well how to love this country and take care of our democracy.”

In essence, Paner hopes that Juana Change, besides entertaining people and making them laugh, could move them from their apathy and be active participants in the affairs of the country.

“Really loving and loving the connection with yourself and the country,” Paner pointed put. “That’s what’s most difficult, being able to take responsibility for yourself.”

One of the groups Paner aspires to mobilize is the youth. From her constant bookings and appearances in various schools – with some of the students even planning to have Juana Change as the subject of their college — she hopes to inspire them to rise to the occasion. “They comprise half the vote in 2010. They could be the tipping point if they show up and vote wisely. We can change the face of politics. That’s why I spend so much time with them. If my schedule allows it, I go to them. They will be a major player.”

In the future, Paner wants to take Juana Change abroad to entertain and educate Filipino audiences and workers; bringing the message that even though they’re far away, they can still be involved in Philippine affairs.

In parting, Paner said, “They’re very far away from the Philippines, and the distance makes it harder to connect. But I hope that even if the OFWs have many other concerns, they would continue to maintain their connection to their country, and to make sure the Filipino in them and in their children is alive – in the way they think, the way they relate to each other, so that they could contribute to the betterment of their country.”




No Comments 23 January 2010

By Howard Chua-Eoan

News Director, Time Magazine

The arc of Corazon Aquino’s life lent itself to maxims, but two hard-nosed ones seem particularly worth pointing out. First, political sainthood is a gift from heaven with a Cinderella deadline — once past midnight, you are a pumpkin. Read full story.


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