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The Great Isolation

First, there was the Great War, or the First World War, that ran from 1914 to 1918. Then, there was the Great Depression, or the worldwide economic recession that started in the United States in 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s. And prior to these, there was the Great Plague or the “Great Mortality” of 1347-1351, deemed the most devastating plague pandemic in history.

Life in a plastic bubble

As I started to write this weekly column, my third in “quarantine,” a Paul Williams song titled, “What Would They Say,” came to mind. For those who may not remember that 44-year-old song, or were not yet alive at the time, I share with you below some of its lyrics. I recall the song was used in the 1976 TV movie The Boy in a Plastic Bubble, which got four Emmy nominations.

Living a quarantined life

I spent some time outside the house yesterday, sitting in the driveway to get some sun. I have not done that for a long time. It was pleasant to enjoy a slight breeze, and hear birds chirping. And from where I sat, which was about 50 meters from the main road just outside our community’s main gate, I could see a few cars and motorcycles, and pedestrians passing by.

Only the lonely

It is perhaps the loneliest and not the fittest, that are most likely to avoid COVID-19. “Lockdowns,” social distancing, and “independent” living are nothing new to people who live isolated, hermit-like lives. They live off-grid, away from crowds, and keep to themselves. They put a premium on privacy, and rarely use the internet or social media accounts.

Spies in our midst

Intelligence collection and intelligence analysis are key components of the intelligence-gathering discipline. But, gathering intelligence is not always clandestine, does not necessarily entail espionage, or employ subterfuge. At times, in fact, information is freely given or divulged with consent, either through human source, or research in open publication.

Media and politics

One media giant is now under fire from the government for alleged violations of its legislative franchise to broadcast. And while the concerns of ABS-CBN are now headlines, it is not really unusual for media companies -- or personalities -- to be in the sights of politicians at one time or the other. After all, news media have significant influence on Philippine political dynamics.

Going cashless

I am sure many people have shifted to cashless payments a long time ago, starting with doing credit card bill payments online. And then there came bills for household utilities like electric, telephone, water, cable TV and/or Internet service. In my case, in the last 20 years, I have found electronic and online payment to be a convenient and efficient mode of paying for personal bills.

A new privileged class

Any idea or initiative, no matter how good or useful, can be prone to abuse. And this is on the part of either the people proposing or implementing the initiative, or the people that are intended to benefit from it. Worse, the negative consequences of such an initiative at times outweigh its benefits, or have unintended economic or social costs.

Sense of others

I worry that we are leaving our children, and their children, a world far worse than what we inherited from our predecessors. There is no doubt in my mind that there will be a tipping point at some time. When, where, and how, no one can predict. But, going by what is currently happening around us, it seems that point is nearing.

Deadly as a virus

As of this writing, there were about 4,600 reported cases of Novel Corona Virus worldwide, and with about 100 deaths attributed to it specifically in China, where it all started. The world is worried, perhaps even more worried than when SARS or MERS wrought havoc years back. Incidentally, all these deadly viral infections started to occur only in the last 20 years.

No to ERP

ERP or Electronic Road Pricing is a mechanism presently used in a number of countries that charge motorists a certain amount for passing a particular road at a particular hour. It is similar to a toll fee, but pricing is determined primarily by “congestion” and time of use. The fee is higher when one chooses to pass a main road at “peak” hours.

Boom and bust, repeat

The Tagaytay City of today is not the same sleepy town I knew 25 years ago when my family started frequenting the place on weekends and holidays. Back then, there were still lots of open spaces, clearings, green grass, trees, and pineapple plants. And, one could easily view Taal Lake and the volcano from anywhere on the ridge, along the main highway to Nasugbu.

Are we Good As Gone?

If some of our people have little regard for their own safety, can we still expect them to have any regard for the safety of the rest of us? Self-preservation is a natural instinct. And yet, with the way some of us conduct ourselves, this does not seem evident. And with this being the case, then maybe little to nothing can be expected from us with respect to the preservation of others.

The impersonal age

As I wrote this on Christmas Day, I couldn’t help but think about how technological advances particularly in communication have changed many of us, socially. I went simply by the number of Christmas greetings I had received these past few days: no greetings via telephone call or via e-mail; and, only one Christmas card via regular post/mail.

Taxing plastic bags

The House Committee on Ways and Means has approved the proposed “Single-Use Plastic Bag Tax Act,” which will impose a P20 per kilogram tax on single-use plastic shopping bags. The bill is estimated to raise about P4.8 billion annually for the government -- money that will finance activities under the Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.

Smoke Easy

During the Prohibition Era (1920--1933) in the United States, when the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcoholic beverages was illegal throughout that country, illicit or hidden establishments emerged to illegally sell or serve liquor. Such a club or bar, called a speakeasy (or a blind pig or a blind tiger) became very popular among both the rich and poor.

Retired and rehired

Kudos to McDonald’s Philippines for giving senior citizens, presumably retirees, a “second” chance. Golden Arches Development Corp. (which operates McDonald’s Philippines) has said it has signed agreements with the Manila and Pasay City governments for the employment of senior citizens and persons with disabilities (PWDs) in McDonald’s branches in these cities.

From City Hall to Malacañang

If memory serves me, only two city mayors so far have become presidents of the republic: Joseph “Erap” Estrada and Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte. But Erap, from mayor of San Juan, first became a senator, and then the vice-president (1992-1998). Digong, on the other hand, was mayor of Davao City when he resigned to run -- successfully -- for the presidency.

Spatial delivery

“Build it and they will come,” was the old paradigm for retail. Without a physical store, a retailer could not expect to sell much. It was an imperative that to put a store with shelves fully stocked with products in high traffic areas. And thus, the management emphasis on “location, location, location.” Being at the right place was key or central to business success.

Burned

Investors in the “vaping” industry may soon get burned and find their money going up in smoke. Pardon the pun, but that is precisely what will happen if the Executive or Congress -- or both -- make good the Department of Health (DoH) threat recently to completely ban the sale, importation, distribution, and use of electronic or e-cigarettes and other vaping instruments.

Philippine Swine Fever

The spread of African Swine Fever (ASF) among local pigs is already wreaking havoc on the local food production chain. As hog producers face losses due to dropping farm gate prices, as a result of a declining demand for pork, food processors are also now calling for a temporary ban on the use of local pork for canned and processed meat production.

Planning for Bic-tory

I was at a 7-Eleven one early morning, having breakfast. From where I sat, I saw the display shelves behind the counter. They were full of various brands of cigarettes. And this, to me, indicated that despite the increase in taxes on tobacco products, the ban on smoking in public places as well as tobacco advertising, and the big and bold graphic health warnings on cigarette packs, many people still continue to smoke.

Over a cup of entitlement

With over 30,000 stores globally, Starbucks is now the world’s largest “coffee” store chain. And while it is present in over 70 countries, in reality, however, only four big markets account for more than half of those stores: the United States, China, Japan, and Canada. In the Philippines, it reportedly has around 250 stores nationwide.

Waste-to-energy merits consideration

More than a year ago I wrote about a commentary in The World Post regarding new Dutch technology that was looking into incineration as a “clean” alternative to garbage disposal. And while we have existing laws on promoting solid waste management and banning incineration, I believe this matter deserves a second-look by our policy makers.

PPP: Public-Private (Parking) Partnership

About a couple of years ago, a big parking lot was put up at the corner of Yakal St. and Chino Roces Ave. in Brgy. San Antonio, Makati City. At the start, very few cars could be seen parked there. But now, it is usually full. The lot appears privately owned, and the parking privately managed. But the benefit is to the public, particularly the San Antonio community.

University parking

When I went to UP Diliman, parking was not a problem. Far more students stayed in dormitories or commuted to and from school in those days. And of the few who drove to school, many of them were in car pools. In my case, I was lucky enough to be in such a pool, and there were five to six of us regularly taking the same ride going home to the south.

Surviving the 21st century

Change is inevitable, in anything. Nothing can forever remain constant. And change coming is just as sure as all living things die, eventually. But change doesn’t always mean moving forward. Sometimes, out of necessity, change means going back to the way things were. Again, not necessarily by choice, but as a matter of need.

No ID, No Entry

A newspaper report quoted NEDA Secretary Ernesto Pernia as claiming that a National ID System -- which in our case, rolls out this month -- will help curb leakages in the government’s cash transfer programs as it can help better identify “deserving beneficiaries” and also correct the “lag between the need of the citizens who merit assistance, and the provision of the budget.”

Tray return

I had breakfast at a 7-Eleven yesterday. I had a hot meal with hot coffee. It was a satisfying, and inexpensive, experience. The sad part, however, is that no matter how much a store tries to maintain order and cleanliness, its effort will always fall flat when up against customers who have little regard for the store itself and their fellow customers.

Social media

About two weeks ago, I had lunch at a culinary school in Makati City. I was seated somewhere between the main door and the buffet table. From where I sat, I could clearly see the main bar and the staff behind it -- as well as the school computer, which was, the whole time I was there for lunch, logged on to the social media application Facebook.

More ways than one

Southern Leyte has declared itself to be in a “state of calamity,” the fourth province to do so in recent weeks, because of the spread of the mosquito-borne tropical disease dengue. Such a declaration allows the provincial government to access funds set aside for disasters or calamities, and use them to pay for interventions that can help address the epidemic.

Government relocation to Central Luzon

Should we relocate the National Government and its agencies outside of Metro Manila to decongest the metropolis? Should we take note of the claim of the state-run Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) that its New Clark City in Tarlac -- about 100 kilometers outside of Metro Manila -- is ready to become the new government center by 2030?

Agriculture needs help

Farmers and economists alike see the urgent need to improve the agriculture sector, mainly with the aim of ensuring food security, and one hopes that 66-year-old William Dollente Dar of Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur may just be the man to get the job done. He is no stranger to the Agriculture portfolio, having once served as Secretary of the Department of Agriculture during the Estrada Administration.

Producing the best teachers

Business groups came together early this month to discuss what they perceived to be the immediate needs of the economy to sustain long-term growth. And among these, they said through the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was the need to refine the K-12 basic education program by improving the skills of instructors and teaching in-demand skills.

Technology has its downside

Airbnb is an online marketplace or brokerage that people use to book or offer lodgings. It is popular among internet-savvy travelers and short-term renters. I have used the service myself a number of times looking for places to stay in while on vacation, and, to be honest, I have been quite happy with it. And, I am sure many others are happy with it, or else Airbnb’s global business couldn’t have made $2.6 billion in gross commissions in 2017.

Why buck what works?

In some cases, people get away with doing questionable things because they cannot be made accountable for them. And knowing that they can get away with it, they wreak havoc with impunity. They are emboldened by the fact that, at the end of the day, the rewards for their misdeed far outweigh the potential risks or penalties -- if there will be any at all.

Regulating Vaping

The Department of Health (DoH) is moving ahead of Congress to further guide the “vaping” industry by putting it practically at par with the cigarettes and tobacco industry. While imposing a tax on electronic cigarettes is still off the table, with Congress adjourning before a bill on this matter was passed, the use of e-cigarettes is being further regulated through executive fiat.

Yellow Box and counterflow

A report, citing records from the Land Transportation Office (LTO), noted that in 2017, the top traffic violations nationwide were the following: Not wearing seatbelt; Failure to wear helmet; No OR/CR on hand; Driving without license; Unregistered/invalid motor vehicle registration; Reckless driving; Obstruction; No spare tire; Axle overloading; Student driver operation motor vehicle without accompanying licensed driver.

Right tool for the job

If you have car engine troubles, do you bring it to a vulcanizing shop? If you have leaky plumbing, do you call a mason to “cement” the job? Or, if you need to tighten a screw, do you get a hammer? I guess the answers to these questions are pretty obvious, right? Common sense dictates that you use the right tool for the work required.

The self-serving Filipino

In the mall the other day, I couldn’t help but observe a middle-aged woman hogging a bench good for three. She was fiddling with her phone, with her hand bag and her shopping bags all seated comfortably beside her. She and her bags occupied the entire bench. She was oblivious to what was happening around her, completely taken by what she was doing on her phone.

Fighting fire with fire

More than a year ago, I took a position in favor of taxing “vaping” or the use of electronic cigarettes, in addition to raising taxes on regular cigarettes and other tobacco products. Since then, some initiatives were started in Congress to regulate and tax the vaping industry. However, no actual regulation materialized by the time Congress adjourned for the May 2019 elections.

Live fast, die faster

I believe that safety should be everybody’s concern. Thus, ensuring public safety should always take priority over individual rights with respect to matters like mode of transportation. Much like smoking, people can choose to smoke, there is no law against that. But that smoking privilege is limited – or regulated by government – mainly to protect public health.

Meniong

Herminio “Meniong” Guivelondo Teves, born April 25, 1920, former governor and former congressman of his beloved Negros Oriental, passed away yesterday at the age of 99. If he had his way, I am sure he would have preferred to make it an even 100. However, fate chose to intervene. It robbed him of a year. But what is a year compared to a long and fruitful life.

Driving on plastic

Our oceans are dying partly because of plastic waste, and I used to think that limiting plastic production as well as banning single use would be the more effective remedies particularly against marine plastics. But I have started to see things in a different light, especially after I attended a forum co-hosted by the World Bank and the Norwegian Embassy in Manila.

Pedal to the future

The inevitable future, in my opinion, will involve some form of pedaling. The bicycle was invented about 200 years ago, and their makers later made motorcycles and cars. But cars and motorbikes -- those running on fossil fuel, at least -- may soon be things of the past as economic, environmental, and social concerns push people toward electric and, well, back to pedal power.