March 2014

Returning to face the challenge

To the regular followers and commentators at Propinoy,

I wish to take leave from my regular column here as I have recently been appointed to manage a project funded by an international aid organisation in the Philippines. This will prevent me from commenting on current affairs in the Philippines, at least for the duration of my engagement.

The last three and a half years that I have spent blogging in this space have truly helped me hone my thinking regarding the development challenges facing the country. I am glad to now have the opportunity to put some of the things that I have been espousing into practice (fingers crossed!).

Although this is but a temporary hiatus, I know that I shall miss the interaction, the feedback and the lively, thoughtful discussions I have come to expect from you over the years. I know that my fellow bloggers here at Propinoy are more than capable of keeping the flame alive, so that when I return, we can continue this conversation.

Yours truly,

Doy Santos aka “The Cusp”

The myth of Filipinos being “matulungin”

Hand Reaching

I was in Megamall earlier when I stopped by Chris Sports to look at their exercise bikes. After canvasing the prices, I began walking out of the store but then suddenly fell from an approximately 3-inch platform. I was on all fours wincing in pain for about a minute then stood up shakily. I have week knees and I’m prone to such accidents. This particular accident however disgusted me. There were quite a number of people in the store and not one single person offered any help nor asked if I was okay when I stood up. Even the salesperson who earlier assisted me just stood silently as I told him that they should put warning signs about the platform lest it cause more accidents. After telling him that, I left the store sorely and procedeed to do my errands.

As I was walking, I began thinking why nobody offered any help or showed even the remotest sign of concern. Are Filipinos so cold now that they only help others when it affects them personally or there’s a major disaster. I’ve heard of mugging cases when there were witnesses but they were just that, witnesses. Filipinos are known for being “matulungin,” right? Or is that just a myth? Guiltily, when I help other people, it’s usually coursed through charity work but when there are signs of danger, I freeze up and become one of those mute witnesses. Why is this? What happened to us? Is our sense of self preservation hindering us from helping our fellowmen?

When I tripped and fell in Europe, so many strangers were concerned about me. They even wanted to call an ambulance. Here I’m lucky if someone offers a hand so I can stand up. I hope I am wrong about how I see our helpfulness. I don’t want to think badly about our race but my experiences say otherwise.

The BIR and Doctors

The Bureau of Internal Revenue embarked on a shame campaign to force doctors to pay their taxes. The ad campaign compares doctors to teachers. Not only does the ad campaign shame doctors, they try to compare two professions that have distinct training and suggests that the medical profession rides on the backs of other professions or people. The ad suggests one is better than the other. Which is a false assumption, and even false comparison.

The practice of medicine is an exacting one. It has to be because you have to take human life seriously. It is training that not only goes beyond the four years of collage, four years of proper, a year of internship, another four years of residency, four years of specialty training and pretty soon you find yourself an old person, with nary money in your wallet to show for it. That’s also not counting the thousands of hours in loss sleep, loss of friendship, partnership, because the medical profession is an exacting one that demands you think on your feet when you’re sleep deprived. That’s the whole point of going on duty. You can see why many from the medical profession find the whole ad— insulting.

To compare this to the teaching profession for example, is not only comparing apples to oranges but inflicts an insult to both profession. There is without doubt that teachers are important. They shape young minds. People who grow up to be doctors, to be exact. Yes, they spend the traditional four years of collage, and non of the bootcamp like conditions required of the practice of medicine, but again— to compare the level of training between two professions is a false comparison. Teachers too have to prepare lesson plans, find ways to captivate young minds, go through days filled with kids of all sort of personality that is certain to test the greatest of resolve, and deepest of patience. And with nary money to show for it.

It is like comparing two different lives, and the troubles they encounter. It is like saying the person to your right had it better, and his life is greener than yours when you haven’t walked on the other’s shoes.

The practice of medicine in the Philippines— to set up your own clinic— has more in common with the calling of small businesses, or a small law firm or design studio. Even when the clinic is attached to a hospital, this is how doctors make their bread and cheese. Profit rises and falls depending on how many people get sick, or how hard the doctor works. A surgeon gets pay with how many people he cuts open. An anesthesiologist gets paid depending how many operations happen. A psychiatrist gets paid with how many crazy people there are. So it is a mom and pop operation. And yes, like in every profession there are those who do skip in paying their taxes or those who don’t declare their income.

For the teacher, as an example— they have no choice. The same goes with the office grunt, the secretary, the mailman, the police and so many other people whose lives depend on an assured salary, no matter how much the school, the business, the government makes money. They get paid no matter what. (Well, most of the time, anyway). So the revenue collector has already cut of the monies from the teacher long before the teacher gets it. There is a clear cut revenue stream.

A doctor can teach, and many do since that profession requires some doctors to be teachers and lecturers too, but a teacher can’t be a doctor without first going through the extensive training processes. So there is already a specialization.

So again, to compare one over the other is a false comparison. It is apples or oranges and the required training, and subsequent pay bracket are different.

Hence, why it is both insulting to medical profession, and sets a different, and rather false tone. Why incite jealousy and differentiation between different people? Obviously they choose different path.

Yes, there is a connotation that doctors are rich. They drive expensive cars, take fancy trips. There is without doubt that there are rich doctors. And there is without doubt doctors who slave away like grunts especially in far flung areas. Obviously the training and required degree of labor while different in each, is no less hard on both. Don’t teachers slave away? Don’t surgeons spend hours and hours on the operating table?

There is no doubt that the government needs its fair share of the revenue. How else to pay for all the social service and infrastructure needs of the people. That’s why income is taxed. That’s why we have VAT and so many other taxes.

If we stared to blame doctors for not paying their taxes pretty soon people are going to ask, oh, hey, why single us out when the Philippine underground economy averaged 34.8% of GDP? How nearly 4 billion dollars were lost due to smuggling in 2011 alone. Pretty soon the blame game will descend to the lost of income due to the alleged wastes of the Pork Barrel scam. How many billions of pesos were lost in ghost projects.

The doctors and lawyers and other professions will ask: why us when you got all this waste that you can’t patch up? Do that first, then we’ll pay taxes. Don’t you think it is a chicken and egg problem? One does not preclude the other, after all doesn’t it?

Just because others aren’t good, why should you be good?

Why us, Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla, and Juan Ponce Enrile asked too in the Senate for all the persecution they get from the pork barrel scam. Guess, the doctors have been singled out simply because the BIR can’t get Manny Pacquiao to pay. Or Janet Napoles. Or politicians involved in scam after scam. Why us, the doctors and lawyers and other professions ask? Well, because it doesn’t take much to screw you over, just like the teachers, policemen, soldiers, office grunts, you’re easy prey to be screwed over. Because the real thieves and abusers are unpunished by society that feeds on the small. Because when the taxman comes, if you don’t pay, you go to jail. Do you want to go to jail? Well, except if you are richer than doctors, and powerful swimming in wealth. Except when you’re old, handsome, or sexy. Tough luck. That’s the real shame campaign. Whoever said that life was fair?

Rock Supremo: Heroes are human too

I came to the Silliman Luce Auditorium with hardly any expectation except that I will be watching something about the life of Andres Bonifacio. When I exited, I had goosebumps all over and pining for a chance to watch it again.

Rock Supremo is a joint project of RockEd Philippines, Ballet Philippines, and the National Historic Commission of the Philippines. RockEd tapped local musicians to come up with songs with Ka Andres in mind, musicians such as SandwichPeryodikoEbe Dancel, and Gloc-9  among others. Since not much is known about the facts of the Supremo‘s life, the bands created songs as how they imagined Andres was when he was still alive. They presented Andres as human and not just a hero. He fell in love, was betrayed by his best friend, had moments of cowardice, etc. just someone as human as we are.

The songs the artists created were put into choreography and a cohesive stage performance by Ballet Philippines. I don’t think this has ever been attempted before in the history of Ballet Philippines. The approach to the choreography is modern. Raw even. It’s as far from classical as I’ve ever seen with the dancers changing costumes on stage, pirouettes and other moves not perfectly in synch, and there’s a big video screen as part of the backdrop. The overall effect was four-dimensional with the whole audio-visual modern approach and the presentation of the facets of Andres Bonifacio’s humanity.

It is my wish to watch Rock Supremo again, this time with the bands performing live. I regret not watching when that happened at CCP. It’s a blessing that I was to catch it in Dumaguete. I’ve grown to appreciate even more our OPM, ballet, and our heroes. Somehow, I can now relate more to Andres Bonifacio and I “know” more about his life, imagined it may be.