Catching up!

I hadn’t had the chance to update this space in the last month, for one reason or another. Sadly enough, it does take a torrential downpour to make one pause and take a different writing route. Or a brain break.

So much has happened in the past few weeks, and I always think work should be a matter of thriving, not just surviving. That said, I am sharing the output from my latest trip in Sulu: Pathways to Peace. Quite excited for a couple of projects being cooked under the TEN Moves banner—and we should be able to see it come October or November. Glad to be in a space that allows me to do both profit and non-profit work—is there a graduate degree for this?

Ah, graduate degrees, you are a different plan altogether.

***

The new football season has started, and I’m glad my teams secured opening day wins. Liverpool won 1-0 over Stoke, thanks to a Daniel Sturridge goal (I take back everything I said about this guy when he was in Chelsea—he is all red now), but the real opening day hero was Simon Mignolet, who saved a penalty and a rebound to keep Stoke scoreless. I must admit it feels different not to have Pepe Reina on goal anymore, but hey, we need to move forward and upward from a dismal season.

Who do I love watching in red though? Philippe Coutinho. Absolute class during the pre-season, and he just moves silkily. Plus points for not being afraid to take on someone NOT his own size.

coutinho

On another Premier League note, it sucks big time that FOX Sports/Star Sports lost the bid to air the matches here in the Philippines (hello guys, how about trying harder on your bid?!). The network that won the rights to air in the Philippines is beIN Sport, which—ta-da!—is not even carried by any local cable provider. Yeah, that’s so smart.

On the La Liga front, Real Madrid opened their campaign with a 2-1 win over Real Betis, with goals from Karim Benzema and my new favorite, Isco. Kid is just a smart player. Here he is, man-loving with Alvaro Morata:

isco

 

Coutinho, Isco—I am sensing a pattern here.

***

Rains still not letting up, which means:

1) We are still inadequately prepared for these calamities.

2) We need to demand from government proper allocation of their funding for public welfare and development.

3) We need to hold accountable all lowest forms of crocodiles and pigs masking as legislators for funds channeled to personal gain.

***

Clear Dream Match 2 on Saturday—so, are we letting Fabio Cannavaro play on a lake?!

 

Advertisements

Defiance.

Defiance.

Defiance does not always equate to an armed struggle or to cause destruction to prove a point or rally support for an anti-establishmentarian cause. Defiance does not always equate to a state of conflict and terror.

The opposite is just as true.

In many ways, defiance is found in the quiet smiles of children, which break into gales of laughter when taught a funny dance or when shown what they look like in the LCD display of a camera.

Defiance is the rebuilding of classrooms, which were previously burned down by separatists rebels for no apparent reason (which illustrates a point: how dare they claim to be fighting for ideology when it is the future of their own children that they compromise?).

Defiance is found in the word for “peace” in the vernacular, painted brightly and boldly on the walls of the school. It is the silent roar of every child, that which they yearn for in this remote village.

Defiance is the handprint of each child in the school, pressed firmly on the walls, a sign of ownership on their future—a future marked with possibilities and opportunities, rooted firmly in education.

Defiance is a song of love, one that calls for the world to think of loving each other before anything else. It is the song from the mouths of the children, sang in unison, loudly and clearly.

Defiance is fighting for a life of peace and a future full of promise. These are what we fight for, together with the children of Tuup Elementary School in Patikul, Sulu.

Tuup

Multiple Faces of Sulu, Multiple Dimensions of Peace

Peace.

It is such a simple word, the kind we take for granted. We take it for granted, because it is easy to define, yet our definitions are limited by own experiences and understanding.

People easily define peace as the state where there is no conflict. But really, how many of us truly understand what it means to achieve this—and the harder question of maintaining it.

My latest trip to Sulu did not come without more than a few concerns, particularly from my dad. “Haven’t you been reading the news? They just had an encounter with the Marines and people were killed!” he said.

I just shrugged, “My ticket has been booked already,” conveniently forgetting to mention to him that I was headed to Patikul.

I could be branded reckless and insane, but Sulu has a pull to me that I struggle to explain to those who could only see it for the conflicts reported in the news. Perhaps I can explain it through the kids that I’ve been privileged to meet in the province.

 

At the Start, Classrooms for Hope

The main reason why I have been traveling to Sulu is for TEN Moves, a public fundraising campaign for the construction of 10,000 classrooms nationwide. TEN Moves builds schools not only in areas were overcrowding persists, but also in areas that have been largely underserved.

Brgy. Buhanginan in Patikul, Sulu is one of these areas, and Kaunayan Elementary School is located about three kilometers from the recent fighting between the Marines and the Abu Sayyaf Group. The school was almost forced to close down in 2004 for one reason or another, and vestiges of being forgotten were evident in the old school building.

The school is getting a new lease on life, with the unveiling of five new classrooms and a library. Prior to the turnover ceremonies, I met up with some “old friends”—Kaunayan’s football team, who I met earlier in Manila when they participated in the Football for Peace tournament.

They were all eagerly waving Philippine flags and gamely posing for the camera, recounting their experience in Manila in between. Little did I know that the boys were to perform during the turnover ceremonies with a couple of dance numbers. Talk about being the darlings of the show.

IMG_8321

The teachers also told me the boys had been performing better in school, with at least three team members belonging to the top five of their classes.

This becomes an interesting counterpoint to the recent armed encounter—I’ve been told two of the Abu Sayyaf guys killed were dropouts of Kaunayan Elementary School itself.

I look at photos Nirhun Arbani and his teammates, and I really hope they have a brighter future, with football and new classrooms just being the start.

 

A Reminder of Sacrifices Made

We made a quick trip to Kan-Ague Elementary School, which could have well been a homecoming of sorts to my friends, Tops, who wrote the screenplay of “Patikul”, a movie that shares the story of Kan-Ague Elementary School’s beloved principal, Gabriel Canizares, who was beheaded by rebels in 2009.

A solitary marker sits in the middle of the school, to me a reminder of the great risks and sacrifices that teachers make just to provide kids in seemingly forgotten places with an education.

There was a little girl in the school with a smile I cannot forget. I hope she won’t be forgotten.

IMG_8449

 

What Little and What Overflows

Brgy. Danag sits high up in Patikul, and we went there to witness the graduation ceremonies of the community’s summer school, with the Marines doubling up as teachers.

As the vehicle approached the site of the ceremonies, the kids were lined up on the side of the road, waving flags that bore the words, “I ❤ MBLT-6”, in reference to Marine Battalion Landing Team 6, whose men serve as their teachers. I got out of the vehicle to take photos of the kids, but the next thing I knew, they started handing me freshly picked flowers—more than a load that I could possibly carry, but there was no way you could refuse.

IMG_8506IMG_8533

I honestly wanted to cry—perhaps the only time I’d ever consider crying over flowers given to me. There is no sweeter gesture than it. It becomes even sweeter when I learned that the kids had their parents help them pick out the best flowers.

It is humbling to realize what little they could offer, yet the offer what is possibly the best. The heart overflows.

 

The Little Team that Could

Indanan’s football teams from a couple of schools regularly visit Camp Bud Datu to play football, and their trek up the mountains where the camp is located is made easier by the Marine trucks that serve as school buses to ferry them between school and the best available football field.

These were boys that considered every game the biggest game of their lives, especially as they have seen what football could bring to them. The boys say that football has taught them discipline, friendship, and teamwork (they also like Phil Younghusband, “kasi magaling… at guapo!”). This, plus the honing of their skills, helped the boys finish third overall in the Football for Peace tournament.

IMG_2712

They asked me if I could visit their school, I smiled and said I would the next time I visit Sulu. They also also asked me where they could watch more football games, since the only channel they could view didn’t air such.

I said I’ll try and send them some football matches to watch—after all, there’s no harm in fueling aspirations of representing the country in the international stage. (Any help in supplying videos of must-watch football games is also welcome.)

 

Revisiting What Has Been Put Up

Hadji Hassiman Elementary School sits on a crowded and bustling neighborhood in Sulu, and if not for the vibrant peace mural on the school’s wall, its existence may be easily forgotten. I visited the place to give Principal Bakil the books that his students have requested for their library.

Unlike the first time I visited the school, there were only a few kids present, on account of the summer break, but one familiar face was there—Alyannah, the girl who wrote to the community elders about the school’s need for classrooms, the girl who graduated valedictorian of her batch. She is now set to attend a high school that is just separated from Hadji Hassiman ES by a cement wall. One thing hasn’t changed, however—that bright, bright face.

IMG_8556

One would be glad to know that Principal Bakil and the teachers have secured and maintained the new classrooms, even as these were used as voting centers during the recent elections.

There’s a newfound energy in Hadji Hassiman ES, and I felt it with the enthusiasm of the teachers geared up for the next school year.

It’s a brighter road ahead.

 

Postscripts

There is infinitely so much more to Sulu than what many people think it is. Yes, the reality is that it is not a safe place where you and I could roam freely (and this is probably the only time I get to have an armed security escort)—but if one dares, there are stories that need to be shared.

Someone once said I must love what I do to even dare do it—and I do. Not only that, I’ve learned to love Sulu and its people.

This is why the work is not yet done, and this is why I will return.

You can also read more about Sulu’s young football players here: In war-torn Sulu, football brings hope for peace and a better future.

The Kids of Sulu

There are travels that leave you richer in your catalogue of reasons why the world is wonderful, and then there are travels that change you.

My trip to Sulu earlier this March fell could be filed under the latter. My purpose for that trip was to witness the turnover of new classrooms in Hadji Hassiman Elementary School in Jolo, Sulu. While I understood that my role for the trip was to share the story of this TEN Moves beneficiary community, little did I know that the kids I met are making me tell more stories about them—and how they have profoundly impacted upon me.

I admit to jumping at the thought of traveling to a place where social conflict is real and tangible. I admit to mentally freaking out upon landing at the Jolo airport (simply an uneven runway and a shack with an arch that welcomes travellers), with the sight of a battalion of Marines waiting. I admit to silently praying the most number of Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and Glory Bes since grade school, while I was sitting on the flatbed of a Marines truck, praying that nothing involving bullets would occur.

Beyond these initial fears and apprehensions, I once again understood what it meant to open up oneself to life experiences—and I had been reminded of this through the kids of Sulu.

My first memorable encounter of these kids was during a medical mission in Indanan, a town next to Jolo, where one had to ride through dense forest areas before reaching Pasil Elementary School (and yes, we were wearing bright yellow shirts—moving targets, anyone?). Since I didn’t really have a role in the medical mission (Lord knows that while I take my medicines liberally, giving them to other people is a different story altogether!), I did what I knew best—take photos of and with the kids, and play with them.

The perspective does change when you see these kids getting curious over commonplace gadgets like a camera, or a tablet, or an iPhone. The simple act of teaching them how to use these devices is quite a magical experience—it was as if you were witnessing their worlds open up. They were very good at framing their subjects. I told one of the girls that was fascinated with the camera to study hard, so she can study Film in UP—and I meant it. I don’t know if I will ever see that little girl again, but I do hope that she could create magic, somehow, someday.

As we were about to leave the school and head back to Camp Bud Datu, I was surprised by the affection that the girls showed, giving me hugs and kisses. I don’t know if I will ever see them again, but if anything, I have hopes and dreams for them. How could one ever forget those smiles?

Then there were the kids of Hadji Hassiman Elementary School, whose school burned down back in August 2012. Five classrooms were rebuilt through TEN Moves, but this is simply the start of their rebuilding process.

In a town where many adults look at you with suspicion, since they know you are an outsider, it was refreshing to see the kids smile and treat you with so much warmth. It was a Sunday morning, when we were jointly conducting Help-Portrait sessions and having the kids write Thank You notes to the donors. I see them gamely smiling for the camera and taking turns at the limited number of crayons I bought—they were grateful, even if what they have was next to none compared to the schools in Metro Manila.

I spoke with Principal Bakil, and he said that the next thing to be built would be the school library. Even the kids were looking forward to it, as I could read that many of them had asked for books in their Thank You cards.

This is my next project. I don’t know how soon I can go back to Sulu, but I will find a way to get books through to Hadji Hassiman Elementary School. I’ll be collecting books throughout April 2013, so if anyone has anything to share with these kids, please do let me know.

I wrote in my Manila Bulletin article that no child gets left behind, and I sincerely mean it. Let’s not forget these kids who live in a place where there is so much volatility and yes, violence. They deserve so much more.

Coming to Sulu, I had no expectations, just a bit of faith that I’ll be safe and secure. If anything, this trip made me understand that there was so much to the place than just security. There’s so much that needs to be done, to bridge social divides.

Of celebrity encounters and getting over the hump of sorts.

One of the causes closest to my heart is TEN Moves, which aims to raise funds for the construction of 10,000 classrooms all over the Philippines. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit several parts of the country and witness for myself the transformative power that a structure can have to the life of a student and to the community as a whole.

TEN Moves kicked off 2013 with a bang, staging “Run for 10”, a fun run aimed to ramp up the fundraising, especially as Typhoon Bopha (Pablo) devastated a number of classrooms in Mindanao, affecting over 200,000 schoolchildren. I’m glad that we were able to raise a significant amount of funds to contribute, and I look forward to visiting more communities this year.

While I was slightly bummed I wasn’t able to run (hazards of being part of the organizing team), I was lucky enough to get to meet some of TEN Moves’ celebrity advocates (and no, they aren’t earning a single cent from this advocacy work)—Derek Ramsay, Dingdong Dantes, and apl.de.ap. The guys nailed the messages when they went onstage.

Dingdong noticed my Spain NT shirt, and randomly commented, “Nice shirt,” while I was briefing them. And after I has my photo taken with the guys, Derek gets my iPhone, shows off the Union Jack skin to Dingdong and says, “This is so British!” “Between the two of you, I really am pandering to celebrities this morning,” I wryly say. Meanwhile, I got to interview apl.de.ap separately. He said he’s supporting TEN Moves because he wants other kids to be given a better start in their lives, like what was given to him—he definitely wants to inspire more kids.

Here’s a photo of Eunice and myself with the guys. I know some of you will be placing your own watermark on this, and I really don’t care anymore. Just make sure to spread the TEN Moves advocacy!

Runfor10celebs

***

I was able to catch the PFF-Smart National Club Championship Quarterfinals at the Rizal Memorial Stadium yesterday. Put it this way—it has been a day of getting over the hump of sorts.

Ceres is fast becoming the giant killers of this tournament. After beating UFL Cup champions Stallion the week earlier, it edged out Global, 1-0, much to my part-Ilongga self’s delight. I missed the early goal, but with what I saw, Ceres was generally stifling on defense. Global had a couple of good chances at the second half, including a shot from Carli de Murga that went just over the bar—seems like lady luck wasn’t on their side? Ceres could have made it 2-0, but they squandered a perfectly good chance to edge Global further.

But really, I was there for the second game between Kaya and Loyola. So they may be two big clubs, Loyola had a psychological advantage, given that Kaya hasn’t been able to beat them since Loyola came from behind to beat Kaya 5-3 in the 2011 edition of the UFL Cup. That said, this was an interesting match for a team that defends generally well (Kaya, albeit without Aly Borromeo and Anton del Rosario) and a high-scoring team.

Loyola was testing Kaya early on, but neither side failed to score in the first half. Loyola experimented with James Younghusband in the center midfield, Phil Younghusband coming from the left, and Chad Gould up front. I thought that while introducing Freddy Gonzalez in the second half added much-needed firepower (and seriously, only Freddy G really tested Saba), his entry came at the expense of Loyola’s defense—and OJ Porteria capitalized on that, from a cross by Jonah Romero—giving Kaya the lone goal of the game, enough to see them through the semifinals against Ceres.

As for me, I was just all too happy to see Chris Greatwich play. He’s doing well in the role of Kaya’s midfield general, and it may be his presence plus the new coach and all, but I haven’t seen Kaya this organized in quite a while. Naysayers can prove me wrong, but I really think this Greatwich may just prove to be all too influential for this club. Gotta appreciate the quality he brings on the pitch.

That said, I just may have had that moment of finally realizing a semblance of emotional investment in a local club. Uh-oh.

***

P.S. It’s so awesome we get Henderson, Suarez, Sturridge, and Gerard on the scoresheet versus Norwich City. Now that’s the Liverpool I need to see more of.

***

P.P.S. Real Madrid thrashed Valencia 5-0 as well. I’ve been spoiled with this weekend’s football results.

Renewable Energy: Not just about pesos and centavos

One of the causes closest to my heart is renewable energy. Prior to my current capacity, I’ve been working full-time in advocating for a worthy cause that is meant to create a more sustainable world. While I may no longer be doing advocacy work full-time, I know that I can never fully separate myself from pushing for the cause.

This blog is not just about football, but other matters that are important to me as well. I know I do have a small regular readership, and I am doing a tiny bit to spread the word on the importance of developing and utilizing the Philippines’ renewable energy resources.

***

Renewable energy advocates, in a roundtable discussion that featured two of the 2011 Ramon Magsaysay awardees, called on government to match its renewable energy commitments and targets with firm action and deliverables.

Citing the divergent views of government agencies, the participants underscored the need for government to come up with a harmonized set of policies and actions on renewable energy.

“No less than the President said that ‘Renewable energy will fuel our future and that it is a vital cornerstone that will crown our people’s commitment to change.’  We hope to see that commitment transformed into action as mandated by the RE law.    If the cause of providing electricity to 20 million people is not compelling enough, what could be?” said Catherine Maceda, Managing Director of the Center for Clean and Renewable Energy Development.

She further added that “we cannot be pulled toward opposite directions by the divergent views of government agencies,” in reaction to the call of Undersecretary Cristino Panlilio of the Board of Investments for the suspension in the implementation of the RE Law. “RE is clearly not the impediment.  It is the solution, which, based on the UNDP-DOE Capacity Building to Remove Barriers to Renewable Energy Development (CBRED) study, can generate as much as USD1.2 billion in net benefits if we develop and use 2,500 MW of additional RE capacities.  RE is not about pesos and cents, for even the poor, through the right programs, can afford RE,” Maceda added.

Jointly organized by Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation and The Center for Clean and Renewable Energy Development, the discussions recognized the need for innovative leadership that can deliver sustainable electricity in underserved communities. Taking off from the instructive experiences of Harish Hande of India and Tri Mumpuni of Indonesia, two of this year’s Magsaysay Awardees, the discussants explored how the innovative leadership of these laureates has made sustainable electricity in underserved areas a powerful equalizer in the communities they serve. Hande and Mumpuni are renewable energy champions that have helped poor communities gain access to clean sources of energy.

“The experiences of our Magsaysay Laureates send a powerful message that the poor can also afford renewable energy,” said Fr. Conegundo Garganda, Executive Secretary of the CBCP-ECY. “We heralded the passage of the Renewable Energy Law in 2008 only to be stifled by so-called threats of higher electricity rates. For many years, we have been paying for electricity we did not even use and for other items in our electric bills many of us do not even understand.    Today, we get the chance to make a real investment for our future and we hesitate.  How can investing in clean energy be wrong, and paying for electricity we did not even use be right?” asks Fr. Garganta.

Hande shared his program in India which is anchored on a three-fold strategy – customizing products, doorstep financing, and doorstep service, Hande designed and installed solar technology applications based on the specific needs of each customer. He did not only give them access to technology, but he also served as their link with credit institutions for financing. Consequently, these poor communities were empowered by turning them to asset creators.

“We must capitalize on our countries’ natural resources through government-business-community joint ventures which will harness our renewable energy sources,” said Mumpuni.  She established IBEKA, a social enterprise that built 60 micro hydropower plants that provided electricity to half a million people in rural Indonesia.

The Philippines is much like Indonesia and India, with huge potentials for both solar and hydro energy development. While the Philippines has a solid policy framework in the form of the RE Law and a National Renewable Energy Program (NREP), the implementation of RE projects seem to be encountering some delays in the wake of concerns that RE would increase the cost of electricity.  The insights shared during the RTD, however, debunked the myth that RE is beyond the reach of the poor and would only impose additional burden to the consumers in the form of additional electricity tariffs.

“Do people even remember to ask what the youth thinks about the on-going discussions on RE?” asked Emily Dy of the World Youth Alliance.  “Non-indigenous forms of energy are not cheap at all if we factor in health implications to future generations,” she added.  The UNDP CBRED study estimated that P15.8 billion in avoided health and environmental impacts will be realized by developing additional capacity of 2500 MW of RE.

The Philippines passed the RE Law in December 2008.  The President launched on June 14, 2011, the National Renewable Energy Program that aims to triple the country’s RE-based capacity from around 5,400MW in 2010 to 15,300 MW in 2030.  The Energy Regulatory Commission has yet to act on the Feed-in-Tariff applications for emerging RE technologies.  In the meantime, government has yet to come up with specific plans and guidelines for the application of RE for missionary electrification, as well as the guidelines for the establishment of the RE Trust Fund which is intended to develop local capacities and promote home-grown RE technologies.

Much of the greenfield projects that are expected to come on stream in the next 3 to 5 years are mostly coal-powered fleets.

***

If you’re interested in making a difference in the energy sector, please contact Alicia de Sagun, Advocacy Manager of the Center for Clean and Renewable Energy Development, at (632) 622-8448 or 553-0830.