Monday, October 5, 2009

How to give God a hard time

1. Ketsana

IN the immediate aftermath of the flash flood wrought by typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana), Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chairman Bayani Fernando had the media-perceived strategic gumption to pin the blame on everyone, including himself. His take was wisely leveled against himself primarily—for failing to convince developers and "informal settlers" (squatters) to get out of the waterways and relocate in what he deemed a necessary move for his department's flood control mission to work. Unwittingly, or so he made it appear, he had actually backhandedly leveled the primary blame on these very developers (who had acquired permits to build real estate subdivisions on wetlands from the government). Fernando also implied these projects' having in turn bred squatter zones at the subdivision's sides as parallel developments in their own right, with these squatter developments often starting as a few construction workers' shacks cropping up during the construction of the subdivisions. It was as if Fernando was saying, I know how to work this, but the government that I work for doesn't have the intelligence to address the problems and solutions that I see.

     The subdivisions and squatters Fernando was referring to were those placed right smack in the middle of erstwhile esteros or waterways (natural and man-made), incursions he says he had always known to prevent the unobstructed flow of such flashflood water as what poured from the mountains of Luzon's Sierra Madre on the night of September 26. To his credit, Fernando did mention in passing the logging in those mountains (which have also acquired permits, legal and not; the legal from the government and the illegal from the protection of corrupt government people that Fernando is either working for or with). In short, while Fernando is the kind of disciplinarian that believes there is no society that disciplines itself, this time he points his finger at our lack of self-discipline, as party to the blame, otherwise—by subtle implication—to the lack of intellectual discipline in the government that he works for or discipline among the corrupted government officials he works with.
     The populace, meanwhile, looked somewhere else. Many pointed to the dams of La Mesa, Angat and Ipo as the culprits in the flashfloods that visited Quezon City, Marikina City, Pateros, the Pasig River-side parts of Makati City and many towns of Bulacan province. And although Angat Dam was quick to deny having released water of such catastrophic volume, it released two meters of water a day after the flood to prevent "a similar occurrence" in case the anticipated new typhoon Pepeng (Parma)—expected landfall, October 3 or 4—brought in a similar mass of rain cloud cover.
     Then there were the government-controlled channels. National Broadcasting Network Channel 4, RPN 9 and IBC 13 kept on harping on typhoon Ondoy's rain cloud cover as a manifestation of nothing but climate change, the sole gist of their lip service being that everyone should be informed of these effects and—by implication—should henceforth participate in the fight to turn back the climate change momentum. Putting aside the absence of other factors that could have minimized the scale of the catastrophe, the message was noble. Except that this was being pushed even as the very same government the channels were paying lip service for have also been sparing no effort to advertise the nation's need to add more coal power plants to the national energy grid as well as to further the fossil fuel industry in Palawan, all this side by side nothing in the direction of a renewable energy program apart perhaps from a desire to resuscitate a nuclear power plant near a rising sea level.
     Now, all of the above dams do merit mention as real culprits. However, it eludes the imagination of Fernando—a presidential or vice-presidential aspirant for the 2010 elections—as it does the government channels' climate-change lip-service spinners to examine the root of the evils they so readily point their fingers at. Failing to do so brings us back to the habit of stoning criminals whose crimes may have been nurtured by the very systems we have for so long accepted as natural and defensible.

LET us start with climate change.
     It is now common wisdom that climate change was processed by two things: industry and consumption. But, putting aside the fact that the conservatives of the world are denying it ever exists or that industry and consumption have nothing to do with it, it's still a common belief that's been taken for granted. Here's looking at it again:
     The majority of economic planners agree that a good economy is propelled by consumption which in turn oils the machines of production. The vicious cycle is not declared vicious at all but is in fact regarded as the very stuff that makes the world go round, the absence of which could stop the planet or threaten the momentum of its orbit around the sun. Likened to nationalist-cum-protectionist economics that defies globalization, holistic economics of austerity teaching "buying only what's necessary," along with other like-minded Thoreau-esque libertarian economic utopias, are seen as either too Middle Ages-y or New Age-y, thus anti-industry, anti-trade, anti-production, and in the long run anti-consumer, too. As if anti-consumerism is equal to anti-consumer. Yet the economics of the vicious cycle is the very economics that churns out more private cars for space-poor roadways, more fossil fuel barrels, more styrofoam on the fastfood table, more plastic bags in kitchens and the garbage bins, and so on. It is this very economics that, while encouraging some governments to look for alternative energy, also cannot argue against overproduction's (surplus production's) imposing its philosophy on the advertising industry to promote further consumption, being itself a product of such a philosophy. And the machine wheels of consumption-driven economics have been turning faster and faster since the Industrial Revolution, a philosophy no different from the Catholic Church's mission to increase and multiply the population in its orphanages.
     But the economics that manufactured—is continuing to manufacture—climate change is not the sole social science at odds with its prayers for a better natural environment. There is also the long-standing (since the beginning of time) human proclivity to create population centers.

SINCE the beginning of time, the human propensity to centralize further and further all aspects of societal living has spiraled ever faster as well. Sucking everything center-wards like a whirlpool, as a matter of course, cities created the metropolis that created the cosmopolitan megalopolis, and around these the suburbs and "urban fringes" or "surrounding provinces" as their unofficial extensions that make up what is now known as the urban agglomeration. We know megalopolises as those composites having overly-populated towns and cities within its embrace and "on its outskirts."
     Apart from being the facilitator of cultural exchanges, our center-moving proclivity has proven itself to be healthy fodder for industries, the very reason why it has survived urban citizens' impatience with their daily urban struggles. As long as a citizen has for himself an industry, it makes no sense to remove himself from the more populated areas of the world where the bigger market is. And the industries that have blossomed out since the time of Eridu, Uruk and Ur have become so various and sophisticated.
     In our time, suburbs have proposed semi-private short-distance railway systems for the transportation industry. And, undoubtedly, the megalopolis has saved a lot of money for the manufacturing industry, an industry wont to gather around a port-of-call center, thereafter mapping a spider web of delivery routes for its trucks, ships, or air cargo expenses; the nearer a population is to the point of manufacture, the lower the shipping cost. And where's the biggest market? Almost always it's in the megalopolis, the point of manufacture.
     Industries also benefit from the population center's populace of strugglers in competition. Seeing these strugglers as denied of the comforts of provincial contentment, city industries can haggle with the cost of their labor.
     Other industries, such as government profit-making ones, have also invented projects that grew from metropolitan necessities. One of these products is … the dam. When there are millions and humongous industries to be fed water and provided electricity, there is the industry to be made in the supply of that water and the harnessing of electricity from the pressure in the dam structures. It is even possible for the control of dam sites to lead to another industry altogether—the control of the forests near a watershed or mountain lake can be managed to harness forest farming activities better known as "logging concessions."
     In short, the economics of agribusiness and manufacturing or creating domino effects of consumption has a lot in common with the sociology of spiraling inwards towards a population center. The two long-standing concepts have been feeding each other since the time of Alulim. The economist Paul Krugman has amply demonstrated this further in his theory on economies of scale which, combined with lower transport costs, create processes whereby "regions become divided into a high-technology urbanized core and a less developed 'periphery'." It was for these "discoveries" that he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2008.
     Now, of course this partnership between the sociology of upward and inward mobility was seen as an ideal for Thackeray's London, and continue to be for a progressive European Union or an ever-expanding Metro Manila. But not anymore if we're to stop blabbering about geographic inequities (e.g. Manilacentrism), or—now—about turning back climate change to previous ideal levels and conditions. This dual mobility should be okay if we're not constantly gabbing about minimizing casualties from either "acts of God," man-made catastrophes (such as dam breakage and explosions or oil-depot-within-a-city accidents), or urban epidemics.

IS it possible to create a new millennium that would reverse the above human proclivity, towards real decentralization? In the age of the Internet and a "global community," in the age of Skype conferences and Facebook bulletins, is it possible?
     Let us consider examples from the present.
     A California ad agency operates an office center rarely visited by its employees, most of whom meet each other and clients everyday via the Internet. Another ad agency, based in Portland, Oregon proves that it is possible to be one of the country's leading creative shops without locating its offices in Manhattan. More recently, not a few companies all over the world have realized that it is possible to base its customer service call center in Manila or Bombay, its main factory in Shenzhen, and its main office somewhere in London's outskirts. So, why not a Makati office with departments scattered all over the Philippines? Why this supposedly-obsolete habit of creating more business centers, terrorist-friendly shopping centers, factory rows beside a river ditch, or flood-prone university belts? Why transport thousands of employees each day to the Makati financial district and Ortigas Center, with a lot of these workers waking up as early as 4:00 a.m. to be able to reach office (through traffic and the Metro Rail Transit's skin-to-sweating-skin horde) by nine, when work and efficiency can be achieved otherwise, without the obsolete bundy clock's standard of measure? If the aborted NBN-ZTE broadband project of Gloria Arroyo had to have a believable philosophy behind it that might have convinced all senators, it could have been this: that a company (private or government) need not operate its departments from around the esteros/arroyos/waterways of Pandacan alone.
     But what would be gained from such a scheme? What would be lost? Decongesting megalopolises to create a scattering of mini-cities—at best a scattering of mere towns—may have to do away with the necessity of building new metropolis-bound elevated roads, for instance, or the necessity of humongous dams. Or if giant dams have to remain, it would be easier to manage the towns below the dam's spillways considering that these would be mere small towns and not an unmanageable, irreversible mini-metropolis growth like eastern Bulacan. At present, should a 7.5 earthquake hit Angat Dam and crack it, the casualty toll within the province from the flashflood will be in the hundreds of thousands.
     What would be gained? For every loss is a corresponding gain, goes some common belief, and so with the loss of manufacturing centers and a corresponding dispersal of operations there shall be created a redistribution of employment opportunities. There shall result a de-saturation of land, nay, properties' liberation from the former distinction cutting between industrial hectares and agricultural ones; a farm can now be seen beside an LCD TV factory, and—besides—factories getting dispersed thus would be easier for the populace to monitor for abuses including lack of water treatment facilities and other pollution law offenses. It would also be hard for factories to recruit and import cheap non-unionized labor from the provinces since the concept of a "province" would already have been passé. The concept of urban and rural would have gone away, since everywhere would be urban as well as rural.
     As for the benefits of de-saturating the country's city areas, it must be noted here that not a few flood victims inhabiting unlivable areas of Metro Manila or its outskirts who got interviewed on TV in the aftermath of the typhoon Ondoy calamity had provincial twangs or accents. It was not hard to imagine or directly hear Tagalog viewers commenting like Nazis that very day: "go back to your provinces, don't squat in the city's idle lands and you’ll be spared from another typhoon Ondoy." This city-bred view, of course, would be coming from a lack of an understanding of the whole complex system that encourages such migrations (or, in some cases, such subtle importations) of cheap labor and, oh yes, electorate votes [my churchworker friend M- was quick to remind me—see his comment below]. The assumption of those voicings is that life in the provinces is so okay, that there's much idle or development or converted land by, say, a senator or pretty famous billionaire where the provincials could still plant sweet potato on for their daily meals. These Nazi-like critics should try, along with their professional practice, living in the provinces today.
     Sure, it is high time we create revolutions and reverse man's city-prone movement hand in hand with his reversing his habit of creating environmental decline. But it would not be as easy and simple as the government's present Balik-Probinsiya placebo program thinks it is. Such a program must guarantee relative non-returns to points of congestion. Therefore, the dispersal must happen naturally; that is to say, not through a Maoist conscription of individuals transported to new points for acculturation but by the sowing of investments that will lead the way out of Egypt, coupled with a comprehensive environmental management plan as well as a sound population control policy. I am not talking about federalism, but simply about giving everyone an elbow room and about discouraging everyone from congregating in special points of concentration. I'm talking about scattering the prey to scatter the predation.
     Nor am I talking about the annihilation of city culture, as the cities will simply be pushed outwards while the rural areas are being pushed inwards to meet the cities halfway. Nor should I be talking, as per my friend economist P-'s advise, about urbanizing all the squares in the archipelagic map to create another Los Angeles-like sprawl. I am talking about spreading the population in the archipelago while controlling the population so it wouldn't turn the new territories into metropolises themselves. I may even be talking about everyone being required to plant subsistence food if they can help it.
     Are these impossible dreams? Is it true that Marcos, too, dreamed of this? Or are these simple products of a present need to find long-lasting solutions? Simple-minded? Perhaps, but wary of status quo. If Fidel Castro was successful in instituting urban farming in Havana, is it possible that we could be, too?

WHAT would be gained? What would be lost?
     I leave these questions for social scientists and government planners to better mull over. All I can leave my reader with is an imagined utopia wherein during moments of catastrophe, be that catastrophe due to climate change (with its unpredictable thick raincloud cover resulting in dams' brimming to scatter their water load), estero/creek/waterway asphyxiation and lack of metropolitan drainage efficiency, some officials' or (who knows?) a senator's unguarded logging concessions uptown, viral epidemics, or whatever else or a combination of some or all of the above, casualties would be relatively minimal and/or manageable. And with such a distribution of the population's numbers, God's "wrath" (through typhoon Ondoys) would have to cover the entire country to effectively depopulate it.

Photo from

2. Parma (added October 20)

TYPHOON Pepeng's (Parma's) rainclouds wreak havoc: in Benguet with landslides, in Pangasinan with broad strokes of flashfloods reaching a depth of 14 feet in certain towns, and in various other provinces with more of the same. It is a state of calamity and disaster all over, and I don't mean in bureaucratic state terms, which take hours or days to declare.

     Some would say it was a different issue here. Sure, it was by the thick rainclouds of new typhoons by climate change, but—wait, who else is to blame? It wasn't a matter concerning squatters and subdivisions impeding the flow of water from the cities' over-exploited mountains overlooking the metropolitan sprawl. Sure, it may be by the relentless enthusiasm of unchecked logging, but—wait, who else to blame? It wasn't a matter to be solved by either looking for invisible loggers. Or sending squatters back to their provinces—after all, these were the provinces. Sure, the rains were a result of climate change, but climate change is just too academic for even mayors (who have been refusing any form of change for far too long) to comprehend.
     In Baguio, many say it was more a matter of the age-old physics concerning water mixing with soil and rocks, nothing more. In Pangasinan, many say it was more a matter of a dam. Nothing more.
     In fact, everything was a matter of more. And because of this more matter, more is to come. The more I think about it, the more I feel its certainty.

MORE. In her essay "In Paradigm Shift 1: A Long Look Back," the columnist Sylvia Mayuga wrote about the history of local government corruption and the national government's leaning towards the time-proven (read: old) solutions to 20th-century problems. In "Diary of Revolution V: Another Strange Column," she wrote about government's dismissal of NGO pleas to keep Mt. Banahaw out of South Luzon Expressway's tentacles. Also, in "Paradigm Shift 2: New Vision in Government," about government's ignoring then-DENR secretary Fulgencio Factoran's Ancestral Domain Law bill in favor of the Congress-favored IES bill mandating popular consent to such projects as the coal-powered Hopewell power plant in Pagbilao, Quezon. And today in the Philippine Star, columnist Jarius Bondoc's essay "Corruption: Direct Cause of Storm Ruin" chalked up more corruption data that led to the catastrophe ("The purchase of seven brand-new radars took so long because an admin congressman had tried to block it when he was eased out as secret supplier").
     More. Alexander Martin Remollino of—an online magazine—in "Dam Nation: A Bloody History of Struggle Against Dams" waxed nostalgic and defiant towards the struggles of such martyrs as Macliing Dulag and the Dumagats in the futile fight against the construction of the World Bank-funded Chico River Dam, implying the enormity of such revolts, since one is running against such respected institutions including the Japan Bank for International Cooperation and the Asian Development Bank.
     And all this history comes back to us now, in the present hunger of the citizenry not just for somebody to hang (the dam engineer who made supposed misjudgments, for one) but for solutions to prevent a similar occurrence, or otherwise to prevent similar results in case the return of the same occurrence cannot be mitigated.
     And so we rejoice as when, on October 9, 2009, an American cinema actor and philanthropist named Brad Pitt is reported about on the Net to have unveiled in New Orleans his flood-surviving float house for the Make It Right Foundation. We happily rejoice at the criticisms and proposals of the Filipino architect and urban planner Felino Palafox, who is no sooner on our TV screens, interviewed left and right for free TV's explanation-hungry angry citizenry.

     I, too, posted Pitt's house's picture on Facebook.
     To which posting my friend copywriter A- made a not-so-satisfied comment, providing ample ideas in his wake, to wit: "The idea of working on designs for the real world I like, but those two designs for floating houses are downright ugly. Ugh. Our squatters have more design aesthetics than those architects who couldn't even show some modicum of respect for the people they envision living in those ugly houses. In my opinion, a houseboat on a barge has more charm and design aesthetics. And that's a floating property, not just a house. The barge the house is on is one's land area. And the house of course is the floor area. And if everyone in ... say, a small community had the same idea, they could moor their 'land areas', their barges, together; and when the floods come, they all rise (of course they have to be anchored to land with a slack of 15 feet), and when the flood waters recede, they're landlocked again. Nasa lupa lang at kalsada ang kalat, wala sa mga bahay-bahay.
     "Hey Jo," he added, "why don't we look for a student architect to partner with and build one? For energy we'll use solar. For food, they can go hydro for veggies and raise doves and bantam chix for meat. There's rain water, but that will have to go through some filtration because of what might be in the atmosphere."
     To which great ideas I replied, thusly: "This is adaptation. This is Darwinian adaptation. Hereon in, typhoons will be bringing in tremendous cloud cover the likes of which we have never seen before. It happened in Bombay in 2005 that got featured on Discovery Channel and still the oil industry-backed Right is saying climate change is a myth, even as Bombay reacted with dikes and better drainage. The same thing with the conservative Republican-American TV network Fox News: in early 2008, where one female anchor even expressed something like, if Arizona is to have ice and snow the whole year she'd welcome it, and if North Dakota is to have melting ice, fine, great. Then her co-anchors went on about the virtues of an extensive US offshore oil drilling, echoing John McCain's going against Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton's championing the need to tap sustainable and renewable energy.
     "In our country, with the typhoon's evolution, dams filled to the brim should begin to see their obsolescence, except in the possible drought of summers. Each barangay has to shift to mini-dams and barangay waterworks systems of this kind both for drinking and irrigation. But I was also talking to my Bulacan neighbors in the flood of August 2007 about Badjao houses and how we should adapt with houses on concrete or iron stilts, and everyone just smiled at me, a crazy Waray, saying, 'hindi iyan uso rito.' And yes, even floating houses, with moorings to fight the current; I was talking about these like a crazy drunk at a streetcorner birthday party. Or, people looked at me like I was a crazy drunk.
     "And Pitt's prototype for New Orleans—not exactly a houseboat like the ones we see on HGTV's show on strange houses and great vacation homes and hideaways—may be a tad better than the houseboats of Hong Kong, but henceforth the floating house must be a new genre in 21st-century architecture. We must launch design contests for floating houses.
     "If we fail to adapt and we die," I aimed for a closing, "good riddance! Let's make room for a better species."
     Great exchange, it was. But, like this essay's Part One's pleas with an unknown readership, is this to be read as just another literary banter with the ghosts of reform? After all, who—among businessmen with resources, or leaders with clout—would even initiate such adaptations that dare go against the old contractor's specifications?

THE main headline in today's (October 20's) Philippine Daily Inquirer front page reads: Mayors damn the dam. The headline news item references a PHIVOLCS report saying the dam in question rests near a fault line, which fact alone would truly bring back visions of Noah's flood into the Pangasinense landscape. The mayors are crying for a decommissioning of the dam. But.
     Knowing government, that will never happen.
     Oh, me, a cynic? No. More. A student of history. To appropriate Mayuga's essay, I dare attach the reading that almost all governments around the world today have leaderships sponsored—directly or indirectly—by corporate interests, by big business, by local and international banking systems. Governments will always side with big business, and if we are to follow the philosophy of the 2009 Nobel Economics laureate Oliver Williamson, big business can in fact resolve a conflict by dealing with another big business, and if I may add, even topple the other big business' interests. So, to bastardize or bawdlerize Williamson by a converse reading of his thesis, only big business can successfully sponsor opposition to the interests of the other big business, and thus instigate change. That seems to be the only possible fight in times present, then—windmill and solar energy corporations sponsoring a new government to topple the centuries-old oil and coal and hydroelectric power plant parties.
     Sure, there have been triumphs of civil society against big corporations, but those have always proven to be short-lived or temporary. The monster manages to come back everytime. Thus the Williamson thesis' significance.
     For even if such entities as mayors or even mayors' leagues are to clamor for change, such clamor will—corruptibility aside—often be devoid of alternatives. For instance, who among the mayors of Pangasinan would now promise to do away with the benefits of big hydroelectric power plants in favor of small barangay-level hydroelectric plants, micro-windmills, solar power cooperatives?
     Who would want to arm themselves with the argument that solar power is only expensive today because it has a lot in common with twenty political posters from a printing press that could decidedly be costed way, way lower if produced in bulk by the twenty-thousands? None, I suppose.
     My friend the UN consultant Lila Shahani talks about solar energy in Cuba. My friend the church worker M- talks about village impoundments. "I’m still an advocate of small-scale water impoundment projects," he writes on a Facebook thread. "If every community in the nation had its own small lake or pond (size depending on population), a certain amount of land would be lost, but the benefits, in the reduction of soil erosion, improved groundwater levels for deep wells and even small scale power generation, would more than make up for the loss. It’s no substitute for forests as a mitigator of runoff, but in cases where the forest is already gone, it can be a helpful alternative. But no one even talks about it." In his Oct. 6 comment to Part One of this essay (see below), M- mentions the hydro plant of Villa Escudero Plantations resort farm, and the little power plants of the Sierras in California.
     But who among the mayors of Pangasinan is ready to counter the giant San Roque Dam hydroelectric power plant's argument that closing the dam now might mean selling un-irrigated farms to land developers? None, I suppose.
     In short, we are all like my Bulacan neighbors. We will continue to lean on the tried-and-tested convenient slogan, "hindi iyan uso rito e."

AND so, I promise you: a year from now we will not see a President Noynoy Aquino or Gibo Teodoro or born-again Erap Estrada or Manny Villar (estate development stalwart) or a Vice President Loren Legarda (claiming to be a proponent of environmentalism) making any difference in the area of doing away with the dams in favor of micro-electrification and micro-water systems and micro-irrigation systems that have been proposed by many a genius from Africa to England to Texas to Luzon on the moving pages of CNN and ABS-CBN and GMA Network, geniuses we've refused to listen to because of big business' charm.
     Is it hard for us to imagine such refusal among our leaders, us being faithful followers of certain candidates' supposed competence? Well, such refusal is present in our very selves. How many of us would want to give up our cars in favor of public transport, for instance? None. Who among us would be willing to boycott McDonald's pancakes served in styrofoam? None. Who among us would be willing to give up beef and rice for chicken and sweet potato so as not to contribute to the atmosphere's warming with the methane coming from cows' farts and shit and from the rice paddies' evaporting water? None.
     Tilt the camera up. Now, imagine yourselves as those leaders up there. Who among those politicians would work hard and work fast at improving public transport systems so even CEOs would want to ride on trains? Who among them might work hard at pushing for (or at least encouraging) alternative sustainable energy sources that may render fossil fuel use obsolete in, say, ten years? Work hard and fast to spread the population, control population growth, even render giant dams for urban areas and farm zones obsolete? Equally none.
     Meanwhile, the planet's atmosphere is working twenty-four hours a day at melting the polar ice to produce warmer oceans that produce more efficient typhoons for a disposable humanity that refuses to evolve (many still even refusing to believe in the "theory" of evolving) after Darwin and the dams' increasing damnations.

SO, what am I proposing? Equally none. Because I know that nothing will be done, nothing much will be created or demolished to service the fight against climate change, dam threats, uncontrolled logging.
     More. We will continue to build foreign bank-funded corporate dams, which are actually fourth floors of all our houses serving as water storage tanks. If you think that's bad architecture, don't say a word. Even if you say "no, I don't think that's good at all," still we all latently approve of it. Nobody would want to give up the benefits that the dam brings, because no one would want to be bothered with the adjustments that micro-electrification and micro-water systems and micro-irrigation demand. We are all reliant on big business to do our water-fetching for us, along with our farming, our gardening, our cooking, and so on and so forth. Everybody latently thinks a fourth floor serving as water storage tank is good architecture, in the final analysis.
     What am I proposing? None. If I am to propose anything at all, it would be to say, let's teach our kids how to ride it out. Make them learn how to swim. Let's not bother making it hard for God to depopulate the planet of human dinosaurs. None of Williamson's firms are going to do anything about it for us.
     And besides, at the back of our minds we knew this was coming. More now—we know it's what we'll continue to get. [END]

Acknowledgment: Sylvia Mayuga featured this blog essay as a "guest column" in her Philippine Star Online column Only One World of October 25, 2009. It was a tremendous honor, Sylv.