Saturday, 30 December 2006

A very Filipino Christmas

IT started as normally as many Filipino parties often do—a few “fashionably late” minutes later than scheduled.

The food was great, with an eclectic regional and international culinary selection that only Filipinos can pull off so well. Bicol express, Chinese yang chow fried rice made from Indian Basmati, Italian spaghetti and other favorites from around the country and the world over graced the table, way in overabundance for all the partygoers to consume twice over.

Oh, and there were the favorite Filipino games alright, both for the kids and the adults to enjoy. There was even a special edition of “Deal or No Deal,” complete with the Kris Aquino mannerisms and expressions that we all love so much. Prizes aplenty too for the winners, with some even for the losers as well.

And what gathering can be complete without the dancing — to the beat of Gary Valenciano and VST & Co. no less. With happy couples swinging away until the small hours, it was a Christmas party truly worthy of being called Filipino. For few can really enjoy a party as we do — just ask the occasional foreigner lucky enough to be invited to one of these soirees, and I am sure they would all wholeheartedly agree.

Typical of so many of our gatherings at this time of the year, this one could have been held anywhere in the country. The only give-away was the freezing cold and damp outside the hall, something not really typical of the Philippines at this time of the year, or the whole year for that matter.

The celebration I speak of was held in Cheshire, in the suburb of Cheadle — home to a good number of Filipino migrant families here in the United Kingdom. Many of them engaged in nursing and allied health professions, the Filipinos here are a vibrant group, proud members of a community that they call their own, at least for now.

Like a good number of Western countries today, the United Kingdom relies on foreign workers to take care of its healthcare needs, and our Filipino brothers and sisters were only too happy to respond to the challenge. As a result, most of the hospitals in the area are staffed with familiar faces, not unlike the wards of our hospitals back home.

Badly needed though their services may be, however, our brothers and sisters here face uncertain times ahead. Some in the United Kingdom (UK) medical community have voiced concerns over the fact that too many foreign workers have come, at the expense of UK and European Union (EU) nationals.

With many Eastern European countries already in the Union, their workers will soon have equal rights with UK citizens to work in the country. In the case of the health industry, this will come at the expense of non-EU nationals, including Filipinos.

With so much agitation over the issue of migration (especially the connection with the sensitive subject of foreign-sponsored terrorism), controls over immigration are only bound to get tighter.

This will not be helped by the planned exit of Tony Blair in May, and the expected strengthening of the Conservative Party— whose immigration policies can only be described as less-than-friendly to foreign workers.

And still, we party on.

Looking around the dance hall that night, no threat of immigration clampdowns or foreign worker restrictions seem to be imminent.

In terms of resiliency and stoic resolve, we Filipinos are legendary. Perhaps due to our happy go lucky nature, and certainly because of our faith in Divine Providence — adversity or not — we simply continue to live as we normally do, and party as much as we have always done.

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, December 30, 2006 (

Saturday, 23 December 2006

The gift of time

MURDER. The investigation into the murder of five young girls in England has taken on a dramatic new turn.

This week two men were arrested and formally questioned for the killings, and just this morning one of them was released without charges. The other has been charged with the crimes, bringing with it the promise that finally the killer will be brought to justice.

Sun.Star Network Online's 12th Asean Summit watch

And yet, even with the capture and possible indictment of the suspected murderer, the case seems to ask even more questions than have already been answered. More so because the crimes took place during a season of celebration that is so close to all our hearts.

At the heart of the matter is the extent to which the bond of family relations has deteriorated in the West, and the attendant problems and difficulties that this brings into the society at large. Both the victims and the suspected killers seem to have been affected by this ominous development—this shared misfortune bringing them together into a destructive end.

Hearing the relatives of the young girls speak, almost to a family they echoed the same regret—that their daughters had already been “lost” to them long before they had actually died.

Most had no more contact with their kin, and all had very difficult relationships with their immediate family.

Lost because all had succumbed to the temptation of hard drugs—a habit so insidious that they seem to have surrendered all their humanity and self-respect, resorting to whatever means to fund their addiction, including selling their own bodies to virtual strangers for cash. In the end they traded even their lives for a craving too strong to resist, even potential harm mattered little in the equation.

The suspects seem to have suffered the same sad fate as the victims. From the little that we have been informed about their circumstances, it seems that they led pretty isolated lives themselves, either divorced or without loving relationships to speak of. In the end it seems that this took a heavy toll on their sanity, leading them to act in the way they did.

Victims and suspects alike were “victimized” by a phenomenon that now seems to consume most of the West, and spreading fast in our part of the world – the destruction of the family as a solid social unit, reinforcing positive behaviour on its members, and acting as a rock-solid support in terms of personal crises.

How has this happened when Christmas is as busy as it has ever been, with everyone engaged in a frenzied rush to get their loved ones the fanciest and most expensive presents? How can this be possible when it has been estimated that more and more people now go into debt every holiday season, their shopping sprees taking them a good part of the next year to pay off?

The answer, I fear, is lost in our orgy of spending—buried beneath the Playstations and Ipods, masked by the scent of Armani and Gucci perfume, and thrown away like the tons of tinsel and wrapping paper that we discard at the end of it all.

As my wife reminds me every now and then, there are three gifts we can give to one another—our time, our talent, and our treasure.

And we know of course which one is the easiest to part with, and which is the most difficult to give away.
But we need to give of our precious time.

We need time to listen to our children’s worries, address their anxieties and allay their fears.

We need to take time to praise their work and celebrate their accomplishments. And difficult as it may be to do at times, we need to spend time in firmly reminding them of the error of their ways, so they may walk on the right path again.

Our time is the most precious gift we could ever give our loved ones this Christmas.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!

Published in Sun Star Daily, Saturday, December 23, 2006 (

Saturday, 16 December 2006

When Progress Is Not

WHILE Christmas should normally be a time of merrymaking for most families, sadly it will not be to five families in England this year. In a gruesome tale of murderous frenzy, not seen since the time of the infamous London killer Jack the Ripper, five women have turned up dead, killed in similar circumstances by what is most likely a single individual.

All women had one thing in common — they were all “working girls” — the term euphemistically given to females who are in the business of exchanging sexual favors with clients, for a fee.

Prostitution is technically not legal in the United Kingdom, but its existence is tolerated by the authorities. Overall estimates vary but there are thousands and thousands of females and males — often young and vulnerable individuals — who are in the trade.

Invariably, their circumstances will have certain similarities—broken homes, sexual abuse as children, and more often than not substance and alcohol abuse as adolescents and teenagers. Selling their bodies for cash is often their only means to finance the dire circumstances they are under.

The trade normally operates “under the radar” of the police. When things are under control and no crimes are committed, normally law enforcement officials look the other way and leave the workers and their customers on their own.

However, when killings of the sort that just took place occur, things really start happening.

Not since the height of the London terror bombings has such well covered police activity taken place in the country. Forensic teams from all over the UK have been brought in to bring their expertise into the case, in an effort to catch the daring murderer before he could strike again.

Such was the bravado of this individual that even when the police had already started with their investigation a week ago, he still had the audacity to kill two more women under their noses.

The irony, of course, is that with only a fraction of the resources now at the disposal of the police to solve this murder mystery, these tragedies may not have happened at all.

Men and women in the flesh trade are perhaps the most vulnerable to this kind of tragedy. Though their activities are generally tolerated, they are shunned by the communities where they live and work, and are not really given priority by the police in terms of protection.

Intervention to get them out of the trade they are in is often ineffective — by the time they go into the profession, their problems will have been too complicated to solve.

Their stories are not unlike what we have at home in the Philippines — of young children left to fend for themselves or look after others, young people led into crime and drug addiction by the misery of their circumstances, and a society too apathetic to heed their cries for help, until it is too late.

Despite the progress many societies have made, especially over the last few years of expanding globalization, many of our young people are still as vulnerable as ever to neglect and abuse.

Left on the margins of progress, there is no hope for them in terms of social mobility, and the only recourse is to crime, drugs and prostitution.

It is a very serious problem that needs to be addressed, whether in Europe, or here at home in the Philippines. For no progress can really be considered as true advancement if it leaves the weakest and most vulnerable members of society behind.

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, December 16, 2006 (

Saturday, 11 November 2006

Fare Thee Well

THERE seems to be no reason to it at all.

Which is perhaps what prompted Billy Joel to sing “only the good die young.”

My cousin, Ethel Larosa Klemens, who passed away on Oct. 26, was surely the latest proof that our departure from this world — or at least the order in which each of us must face it — does not make a great deal of sense.

Ethel Pauline Banzon Larosa Klemens was an extraordinarily gifted individual, whose brief presence in this world touched the lives of countless others. A loving daughter, a dedicated sister, a devoted wife, a talented singer and musician, and a skillful physician — she meant many things to many people — and her loss leaves an aching void in people’s hearts that cannot soon be healed.

In her mid-30s, she was at the prime of her life when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Only a few years back, she married another successful doctor, Jim Klemens, and both of them were just embarking on the exciting journey of starting a family together. She literally had everything in life that one could possibly wish for.

Blessed as she was in life, Ethel dedicated as much of herself so that others may live theirs better. She was a specialist in rehabilitation medicine, with particular focus on the care of injured and physically challenged children.

Working at the Frazier Rehabilitation Institute in Louisville, Kentucky’s Jewish Hospital and St. Mary’s HealthCare, she had a reputation for excellence that was well known in the city’s medical community.

The children, whose injuries and handicap she helped to overcome, had a huge devotion for her. Even during the days of her illness, they continued to show their love for her by sending her cards, flowers and cheerful works of art.

As a fitting tribute to her exceptional contribution to pediatric rehabilitation medicine, the children’s recreation facility at the hospital has been named The Larosa Lounge, in honor of her memory.

At her bereavement in her hometown of Louisville, I was overwhelmed by the number of people who showed up to pay their respects to my departed cousin. Apart from her close family and friends, there were her peers and colleagues in the medical community, who commiserated with her family in their time of sorrow. A large number of those she treated of their ailments also came and paid their respects.

Even relative strangers came calling and expressed their sorrow at her passing.

Which brings me back to my point — death does not make sense. Otherwise, why would it come so early for one so young, so needed and so loved?

And then it hit me — we cannot make sense of death, it is death that makes sense of us.

For it is only when one is not anymore with us, that their real meaning in our lives can truly be appreciated. A meteor’s brief brilliant dance across the sky only really begins to take on its full majesty when the heavens are pitch black once more.

The genius of Mozart and the talent of Van Gogh inspire us more today in their absence, than it did when they still walked among us. The blessing of a fierce thunderstorm can only really be felt once it has passed, and the earth is green and fresh once more. Similarly, Ethel’s passing has a uniquely divine message for all of us left in her fiery wake.

To her youthful handicapped patients, she will be always be an inspiration that make them realize they are special. To her colleagues and fellow professionals, she was a perfect example that in this day and age — when the practice of medicine has become so commercialized and dehumanized — one can be a successful physician and still remain a truly caring and compassionate human being.

To her family and friends, she showed us that there need not be any trade-offs between a demanding career and a fulfilling family life. And to all of us — she will always be a reminder that it is not how long we walk this earth, but the legacy we leave behind when we are gone — with which the fullness of our lives will eventually be measured.

Fare thee well, cousin Ethel, and may the good Lord take you into His loving and eternal embrace.

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, November 11, 2006 (

Saturday, 15 July 2006

Business of sport

The ancient Greeks perhaps never imagined what sports would be like, almost 3,000 years since they made it an important public institution.

Today of course, sport has become even more of an institution than they could ever have imagined. By the time their modern descendants won soccer’s European Cup 2,780 years since the first games were staged in Ancient Olympus, it has become a billion dollar industry from which hundreds of corporations profit, and most of the world lives and breathes by.

Perhaps no better example of this phenomenon was the just concluded FIFA World Cup, where probably the actual games themselves were only the sideshow to the real competition between Adidas and Nike, Mastercard and the other purveyors of plastic money, as well as other rival corporate pairings for whom the event meant their share prices either going through the roof, or plummeting to the floor.

Nothing in sports today is devoid of monetary value. How much was it worth to the Italians winning the World Cup? Well, 0.5 percent of their GDP, to be exact.

According to their own economic experts, this is how much their economy would be buoyed by the victory. That’s $80.5 billion, for those who can grasp money better than GDP percentages. Yes—that much more in pizza and pasta eaten, Chianti and Lambrusco imbibed, and Gucci and Prada bought from snazzy Milanese boutiques, because of the heady exuberance sweeping the Italian nation when their Azzurri came back with the golden trophy.

And what about FIFA, football’s international governing body, whose politics attract more interest than most nations ever would? Well, they supposedly profited a whopping $1.4 Billion from the month-long enterprise.

No wonder its president, Joseph Blatter, has the temerity to suggest that England ought to have played a more “attacking” kind of football during their matches! His organization has more resources at its disposal than even some of the countries whose teams were represented in the tournament.

Purists will bemoan sports’ loss of its nobility of purpose. And who can blame them? Seeing Portugal’s players dive to the turf time and again, just to ensure that their team secured victory at all costs was probably no different from witnessing Ancient Olympia being bulldozed to the ground, and replaced by a giant shopping mall.

And what to make of NBA superstars and their cribs on MTV? Or the same superstars insisting on staying in five-star hotels while playing in the modern equivalent of the Olympic Games?

Where have all the athletes gone? “Gone to their investment bankers, everyone” would seem to be the appropriately plaintive reply.

Modern sports is no longer simply the noble pursuit of physical excellence that the ancient Greeks wished it to be, and Baron de Coubertin tried in vain to preserve. Winning is now everything, and whatever it takes to gain financially from the undertaking is fair game – whether this means steroids, game fixing or outright crime.

Even as the Italian public celebrate their victory, the clubs with whom their players earn their living are being investigated for rigging the results of matches, all in the pursuit of illegitimate financial gains.

Only the most quixotic of sportsmen now play their game for the sake of it. But even just in our dreams, wouldn’t it be nice to imagine a time when athletes could still compete for the sheer enjoyment of it, when the brand of one’s uniform mattered little, and when conscience rather than corporate sponsors dictated appropriate sporting behavior?

Yes, it would be nice. And yes, it can only now happen in our dreams.
I would like to wish my mother, Carmencita Banzon Batuhan, a belated Happy Birthday!

Published in Sun Star Daily, Saturday, July 15, 2006 (

Saturday, 8 July 2006

What price victory?

The current World Cup—now on its final stage with the epic clash between footballing titans Italy and France this weekend—has by and large been a very exciting sporting event.

More perhaps in the earlier stages than the latter, the participating nations have been quite keen to observe the fair play and sportsmanship that FIFA have taken great pains to stress over and over again in the game.

More than just lip service and token gestures however, the emphasis on fair play and good behavior is critically important in the sport of soccer. Watched by billions of fans around the world and supported by billions of dollars in corporate sponsorships, it is not only the biggest show on earth, but quite literally the biggest sporting business in the planet.

Its stalwarts are worth millions in advertising revenue, with the likes of David Beckham and Ronaldinho easily eclipsing big name American sports stars in terms of advertising income. No wonder it is difficult to play fair and square when it comes down to one’s passbook.

It is therefore no coincidence that the knockout stages— that make or break time when the outcome of a single game determines whether a team goes further in the tournament or goes home—departs from the earlier atmosphere of fair play.

One of the best examples, perhaps, of the change in mood from “gentlemanly” to “take no prisoners” was the contest between The Netherlands and Portugal. In all, the referee showed sixteen yellow cards and sent off three players amidst one of the worst scenes of cheating and dirty tactics ever seen in a major tournament.

Portugal particularly has developed a nasty reputation in this competition for all-around dirty play and rule-breaking. This reached sickening heights in the semi-final contest with France, when Portuguese players would just mysteriously fall to the ground without being tackled, in the hope of getting free kicks or penalties from the referee. Unfortunately, like the boy who cried wolf once too often, the referee never paid any attention to their protestations, even if in some instances it did look like some real fouls were being committed against them.

And of course, such is the irony of life and sport that those who live by cheating are bound to get a dose of their medicine.

Portugal’s exit was by virtue of a penalty kick awarded to France, in what looked to be a questionable foul committed on Thiery Henry while in a scoring opportunity. Appropriate comeuppance for the cheats indeed, if ever one was needed.

It is doubtful, however, if any of this will restore the game to a pristine state of chivalric purity. Too much is at stake, and too much stand to be lost. For the players the World Cup is the chance to sell their wares to prospective clubs and corporate sponsors. In the space of a month millions of dollars in potential transfer deals and advertising clout have been lost by erstwhile top class players who failed to perform to their ability, while millions more were gained by those who have patiently waited on the sidelines, and then used the occasion to show how good their skills were. Exit David Beckham and Roberto Carlos. Enter Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.

And yet the pure football fan, wishing only to be mesmerized and entertained by the magicians of the sport, is the one being shortchanged in all this. But thankfully there is still a lesson to be learned here further down the road – fans buy the products that football players advertise. Who wants to buy from a cheat?

Indeed, in the end it may be up to us to teach these cheats a lesson in Business 101.

Published in Sun Star Daily, Saturday, July 08, 2006 (

Monday, 29 May 2006

Leonardo Inc.

NO doubt, one of the biggest moneymaking schemes of recent years has been the success of the novel The Da Vinci Code. Written by American novelist Dan Brown, the book has sold millions of copies worldwide, and has been made into an action movie boasting a cast and crew of Hollywood’s elite.

I will not attempt a theological or even historical critique of the book here, for so much academic material has been written about it by experts and scholars who were not amused by the many liberties that the author took in embellishing his story to assure its bankability (in the literal sense). More importantly, I am an expert in neither field.

I would rather like to see the book as a symptom of what now seems to be an enduring sign of our times—the money syndrome. In the name of making money and amassing a lot of it, we are allowed to do whatever it takes.

Even amateur writers like ourselves are always observant of the cardinal tenet of our craft—intellectual honesty. We do not knowingly write with intent to deceive, and if inadvertently we have declared something to be true and later discover it not to be so, we immediately and unconditionally apologize for our mistake.

The now millionaire author of the best selling book, unfortunately, can hardly be described as being intellectually honest.

Writers are allowed to express their opinion, in whatever fashion they choose to, without having to be censured or censored for their views. Free speech is a sacred right, and should be enjoyed by everyone, without exception. But no one has the privilege to willingly distort facts and established knowledge, and pass it off as “the truth.” Anyone who does so is not being honest to one’s readers, and especially to one’s self.

I am not a conservative Christian by any means, but as a writer, I find Brown’s arrogance in appropriating historical fact, erroneously twisting them to suit his agenda, and passing them off as “truths” to be indefensible.

Many people have come to the writer’s defense, saying that what he has written is fiction, but Brown himself has lost his own case. In a brazen declaration of either intellectual bankruptcy, hubris, or both he claims as fact (in the opening pages of his book) many historical events that even amateur historians can readily see as being inaccurately portrayed.

But not to worry, he is simply writing fiction.

It is easy to dismiss the furor as much ado about nothing. However, it is a sad social commentary of the times we live in—when morality and truth have become relative instead of being absolute standards, and when we are forced to respect each individual’s interpretation of the truth and their own version of reality. Welcome to The Matrix.

The problem with this is that every charlatan with a sensational idea now feels it is within his right to spin it into millions of dollars in book rights and movie royalties. No matter if the materials on which the fortune is made distorts historical facts and misrepresents established institutions.

What riles me most with the book and the author is not that it attacks religion and religious institutions. For me everything is open to criticism, without exception. What I cannot forgive, however, is the author’s blatant intellectual dishonesty and his arrogant attempts to defend his “facts” on their own merit.

Dan Brown, in writing about something he considers so sacred, has, in fact, committed the biggest sacrilege against his own profession.

Published in Sun Star Daily, Monday, May 29, 2006 (

Saturday, 20 May 2006

Lost in translation

Common. Cost-saving projects are now common in most business organizations. In all probability, a number will be running in one form or another—within a typical business—at any point in time.

The reasons for these are evident. In a global marketplace where information flows freely across borders, pressures on corporate earnings are greater than ever before.

Once sheltered industries operating in near monopolistic situations are finding themselves more and more vulnerable to foreign competition, not only from within their region but also from far-flung locations.

The rise of China as a low-cost source for almost anything to anywhere has changed the configuration of many industries forever. Today when designing new products or looking at the cost of getting products to markets, China almost always has to figure in the equation. No business anywhere today can operate without consideration to what its competitors in various parts of the world are doing.

Hence cost-saving projects have become even more important components of any company’s commercial strategies.

Realizing that profits cannot just now be met by growing the top line, companies have increasingly looked to the middle to ensure a sustainably healthy bottom line.

To be fair, the Japanese had already realized this inevitability some time back, hence many of the processes and practices employed in this area today are borrowed from them.

As with all change management programs, not all cost saving projects are equally effective in their delivery of the desired results. Most probably never live up to the initial expectations. Clearly, this is not the most motivating outcome for both management and project implementers alike, and is only bound to cause even more stress and friction within an organization.

But what distinguishes a successful cost-saving project from the next failed one? Has anyone ever nailed down a failsafe formula that delivers every time? Is there a tried and tested Holy Grail out there that all businesses should latch on to and model all their efforts after?

Unfortunately not, is probably a more likely answer.

Systems like kaizen and 5S, borrowed from the Japanese, have produced fairly good results for those who have tried it. But lifted from a foreign culture and originally tailored for that culture’s business mentality, their implementation has sometimes been “lost in translation” and produced less than the ideal outcomes.

Having come through a lot of these projects of late in my own organization, my observation has been that although structured systems and processes, such as those of the Japanese, can and do work in many situations, there is still a very important element that in the end determines whether a project succeeds or falls down, and that is all to do with people.

As cliché as it may sound, people and their total involvement in any organizational commitment is still the good old difference between success and failure in any organizational undertaking. Japanese or German, Asian or American, any process of change will only be as successful if the people working for it are committed for success to happen.

More on this next week.

Published in Sun Star Daily, Saturday, May 20, 2006 (

Saturday, 13 May 2006

Need to know

In military organizations, the principle of “need to know basis” is widely operative. Soldiers and officers are told as little as possible of details of any plans or operations, and just enough to enable them to carry out a task as planned.

The primary consideration, of course, is security and secrecy. One way or another, word about an operation may reach the enemy and compromise its success. In recent times, this has become a very real threat with the increasing proliferation of information outlets like Internet blogs and chatrooms. So-called “military bloggers” have been known to have wittingly or unwittingly compromised the safety and security of military personnel by revealing details of what and where their colleagues were doing in the battlefield.

Another consideration is the minimization of dissension within the ranks.

“Ours is not to question why, Ours is but to do or die.” Military mantras like these exemplify what rigid organizations prefer in terms of how their personnel follow orders and commands—unquestioning obedience and loyalty.

Understandably, this is to be expected. Military operations involve not only the lives of soldiers and servicemen, but also the security and safety of whole communities and nations. Security, therefore, is paramount above all else, and that includes whether or not soldiers are actually 100 percent happy about being asked to do a certain job or not.

Most organizations operate like rigid military outfits. Everything seems to be clandestine and hush-hush, with only a select coterie of individuals being “in the know” about things. Employees are only informed of things that they “need to know” to be able to do their jobs. Their opinions are not solicited and they are not consulted at all even on matters that may have a direct impact on their jobs.

Sounds familiar about your own organization? Well, that’s because most are run in this fashion. Consultation down the ranks on major decision of significant impact to the business is not a commonplace practice, except in very few progressive companies. Usually, the chief executive officer only consults the senior management and his assistant, senior managers confide with their subordinates, and so on down the line.

As a result, decisions become a bit predictable, and lose their creativity and innovation. This is logical because they all come from the same group or groups of individuals always acting in concert.

Imagine if many others were involved in the process. Or, at the very least, if there was a way by which the ideas of many others can be incorporated in the decision making process. Would this not give more alternatives and, therefore, ensure more relevant and effective decisions to be taken?

There was a time when managers held a monopoly on business wisdom. In the olden days, employees did not have as much education and training as their bosses, who were therefore held in very high regard.

These days are past—the acquisition of knowledge is now a more level playing field. The increasing accessibility of fora like the Internet, improvement of general education and the increasing mobility of the workforce has meant that there is a lot of potential in any organization to gather innovative and creative ideas, if only we knew how to get them.

Published in Sun Star Daily, Saturday, May 13, 2006 (

Saturday, 22 April 2006

Doing Better

In many organizations today, the biggest challenge is assimilating new ideas and practices, and making them work effectively.

So what’s the big deal, we may ask? Is this even a problem?

For individuals like ourselves, when we see something we think is better, we go ahead and do it. If we read in a newspaper or magazine article somewhere that says it is much cheaper and quicker to shop for certain items through the Internet, we go ahead and try it out for ourselves. And when we are satisfied that it is indeed the better way, we go ahead and do it.

Even within our families, there are usually no second thoughts about changing the way we do things. When mom goes around her neighborhood friends and finds out that in a certain supermarket, groceries are selling for less than where she currently shops, then she’s off to the new one on her next shopping trip.

So why can’t companies do as individuals and families do? Are they not anyway a collection of individuals, the same as a family? Why when they are presented with a better way of doing things do they still find it very difficult to change their old ways?

There are a number of reasons for this, but surprisingly enough, it is the fact that organizations are composed of individuals that makes change extremely difficult.

Say that again? We just said that as individuals, it is very easy for us to assimilate better ways of doing things. Why is it difficult then for an organization that contains many of “us” individuals to do the same?

Well, for a start, not all individuals have the same tastes and preferences. For every one that would switch supermarkets because of price, there is probably another switching the other way because the more expensive one is cleaner, friendlier and closer to their home.

For both individuals switching from one to the other, they have made the right choice, according to their own criteria. One was looking for economy, the other for convenience and accessibility. In their own assessment of their situation, both have won big time.

When those same two individuals work for, say the supply chain function of an organization, they may very well bring their same perceptions to influence their personal judgment; so one may look for suppliers based purely on pricing economies, and the other on service levels. One’s better way of doing things is not necessarily the other’s.

Multiply these individual preferences and selection criteria over so many individuals and you get a sense for just how complex the challenge becomes to let them all agree that things can be done better, and ensure that they go about improving them.

This will not happen without an effective process for doing so. Think of an instance where a subordinate may have a fantastic idea that his superior does not necessarily share. How on earth would the subordinate even contemplate making his idea known to the wider world without risking upsetting his boss?

What will probably end up happening is he goes along halfheartedly with his boss, knowing all along that if he had been invited to share his thoughts, things could have been better.

How then can a process like this be institutionalized and sustained in an organization?

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, April 22, 2006 (

Monday, 27 February 2006

38 years

THIS year marks the 38th year of the founding of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), the Philippine-based school of management in the Asia Pacific. Throughout this time, AIM has produced leaders and visionaries in Asia who have made an indelible mark on their own societies, transforming them into global economic giants.

The institute has clearly cemented its reputation as being among the world’s elite. To date, it is one of the very few in Asia and in the rest of the world to belong to the elite company of top American and European business schools.

There is today not a major organization in the Asia Pacific region without an alumnus from AIM in a responsible management position.

And yet, throughout this time AIM may have had the least impact on where we would assume its presence would be felt the most, here in the land of its birth — the Philippines. Having said that, I would not attribute the failings of our economy singularly to the institute. In fact, what is probably fair to say is that without its major positive contributions to Philippine society, the latter would probably be in a much worse shape than it is at the moment.

But from the success of AIM to the failure of the Philippines — all in the same span of 38 years — where have we, as a country, gone wrong? Sure we can write off 18 of those years as a total waste, having spent all of them under the curse of a draconian dictatorship, but what of the other 20 that were under the liberties of free speech, free press and human rights for all? How have we managed to squander our chances under them as well?

Today, whenever I travel around the region, it is difficult not to feel just a little tinge of jealousy in seeing the progress our Asian neighbors have made ahead of ourselves. One of my direct reports is an Indonesian national who graduated from AIM some 10 years after me. The very first thing he asked me when we got to talking about our common experience was — what is happening to the Philippines?

Behind that one line of a question is a host of others that need asking — to our leaders in government, to the captains of our industry and to us as a people. Where have we been all this time when Malaysian rice fields were being transformed into the multimedia corridor that is now Cyber Jaya.

When Thailand was busy rebuilding its economy after its ignominious fall in 1997, where were our attentions turned? What are our educators doing turning out medical and health workers for export to foreign lands when our own people cannot even get decent medical attention?

The past 38 years -—while they have been kind to the fortunes of one of our esteemed institutions — have been cruel to our economy and our people. We can only learn from this past and use it to shape a hopefully better future.

Failing that, and 38 years from now, we would still be talking about what could have been.

Published in Sun Star Daily, Monday, February 27, 2006 (

Saturday, 28 January 2006

Has media overstepped its bounds?

In the last few weeks in the United Kingdom, the reading public has been treated to a raft of sensational stories, all purporting to be in the interests of the public good.

First, there was the sting involving the England football coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, who was invited by a reporter from the “News of the World” tabloid to come to Dubai, on the pretext that the latter was a “sheikh” who was interested in opening a football academy in the emirate, and wanted Eriksson’s advice on managing it. The Swedish coach, thinking this was a legitimate business opportunity for him, went along for the ride.

And boy, what a ride it turned out to be!

The coach was wined and dined by the fake sheikh, during which he was asked “private” questions on various things - from his plans after the World Cup, his thoughts on his players and his views on the English football scene. All along his responses were videotaped and recorded, and were then sensationally “revealed” to the British public in typical tabloid style.

The resulting fallout was toxic.

Eriksson was baited into thinking that the sheikh was interested in buying an existing English club (Aston Villa) and asked if he might be interested in managing it if offered the job after the World Cup was over. Sensing an opportunity in the hypothetical query, he answered positively to the overture, i.e. he would consider it. This was not the end of his woes yet.

When asked what he thought of his team, he remarked that some of them were less hardworking than others, etc. As a final blow, when asked about the state of English football, his reply was that he thought it was rampant with corruption, with managers and agents involved in huge kickbacks and payoffs with players moves and transfers.When all these revelations came out in the papers, the man was crucified. Many called for his head to be on the chopping block, notwithstanding the fact that in five months’ time, the tournament that this whole nation has been waiting for will kick-off in Germany, with Eriksson’s team among the early favorites to come home with the crown.

POLITICS. On the political front, Britain’s third largest political party, the Liberal Democrats, was marooned in a press storm of its own. First its leader Charles Kennedy was forced to resign due to revelations that he was a recovering (yes, recovering!) alcoholic. As if this was not enough, one of the frontrunners to replace him in the party leadership was exposed as being gay and associating with male consorts. Of course, tragedy always strikes in threes because what happened next was that another senior frontrunner was also revealed to be gay, and sadly, also happily married with children.

In both instances, the tabloid media has been instrumental in revealing the salacious details to a news-hungry public. In fact in one case, it went out of its way to create the news, rather than just report it.

All these of course are justified on the bases that it is “in the interest of the public” that these stories are published.

But what public good is conceivably being served here? If anything, Eriksson’s men may feel that much less motivated now, after hearing from third party sources what he has supposedly said about them. And the fact that their coach is now definitely leaving after the World Cup is over may not make him work as hard as he would otherwise have, to win the crown. After all, he may still be bitter after being betrayed by the English press.

(More on this next week)
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 28, 2006.

Wednesday, 4 January 2006

A day without a Filipino

In 2004, the movie, “A Day Without A Mexican,” was shown in the United States. The film’s plot dealt with a hypothetical situation that many Americans cannot even contemplate happening today - what would it be like in the state of California if all the Mexican-Americans living in the state today (all one-third of the state’s population) suddenly disappeared. Without a trace and without any explanation.

One day, all the nannies, gardeners, pool cleaners, storekeepers and, of course, professionals of all careers and fields of endeavor that have helped the state run smoothly all these years were nowhere to be found. Of course, the result was total chaos and dysfunction.

The film was meant to be humorous and tongue-in-cheek, but underneath the comedy was a very serious reality — the economy of the state of California, and indeed many states in the US, was being run by immigrant labor. From California in the east to New York in the west, the American economic machine would cease to function if there were no immigrant workers to do the critical jobs necessary to make it run.

One can easily substitute the world “Mexican” in the film to “Filipino” and no one would probably notice the switch. For that matter we can extend the state of California to include most of the Middle East, many countries in Europe and majority of the United States — and the hypothesis of the movie would still stand.

Quietly, but efficiently and with total dedication and commitment, we Filipinos can be very proud of the role we play in today’s global economy. In airport duty free shops, massive oil tankers and containers ships, inside blue chip corporations, working in schools and universities and, of course, running hospitals and critical health care facilities — we Filipinos are everywhere doing critical and value-adding roles that make the world run smoothly.

In our little corner of Stockport in northwest England, in our own small way, we carry on the role that so many of our brothers and sisters perform in most parts of the world. Health care professionals, most of us, we keep the folk of the Northwest hale and healthy that they may themselves perform the various roles that they do in the community.

We are in information technology too, designing websites that help businesses in the area advertise their products and services to the world. We are even in management, looking after markets and territories far beyond the confines of English shores.

Whatever it is that we do — whether assisting in an operating theatre, designing a state of the art website, developing strategies for a global organization, whipping up fantastic culinary creations or working in a learning institution — we do so with the same enthusiasm and dedication that have made us favorites the world over, including here in our corner of the United Kingdom.

This much-admired work ethic is due to our faith and spirituality as a people.

Whether it is Hong Kong, Geneva or Stockport the best place to meet and greet fellow Filipinos is in the Church. Wherever we are in the world we always strive to preserve our faith — and in keeping with its teachings — express it with the example and witness of our own lives.

Small wonder then that one day without a Filipino — wherever it may be in the world — will be one day nobody would like to experience.

GREETINGS: Warmest greetings to the Parish of St. Chad’s in Cheadle, Cheshire (United Kingdom) on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of its founding.

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, April 01, 2006 (