Friday, August 24, 2012

Of Bananas, Tourists, and Finance: The Philippine Story
When the dispute between the Philippines and China on Scarborough Shoal erupted in April this year, the Philippines has been on the receiving end of China's political and economic might. It was like a "boxing match" between a lightweight and a heavyweight.

Well, it is a standoff; and there is no knockdown yet. But the Philippines has been hit and hurt several times, and there is no sight that it will easily give up.

There is a prayer from the Philippines to send the dispute to a third-party arbitration such as the International Court of Justice, but China, being true to being communist, did not heed the prayer. Hence, the boxing match continues.

Consequently, the heavyweight has been toying with the lightweight. China seizes the moment to assert its global power to what it considers its own backyard and turf, Asia and its seas. A barrage of actions from China was unleashed, with bad intentions, to intimidate and make the Philippines push its own claims based on international laws

Actually, it is about bananas.

China rejected and restricted the shipment of the Philippine second-biggest cash crop export, banana, reportedly due to infestation. For months, the banana growers and exporters have seen their bananas rot in containers stranded in ports. And then, the restrictions were reported to have been expanded to  include pineapples and papayas. As a result, the Philippines lost so much money.

And tourism too.

Chinese travel agencies allegedly following instructions from their government suspended tour packages to the Philippines. China is the fourth biggest source of tourists for the Philippines.

And now, the Philippines unleashes its own. It will ship its banana produce to US Marshall Island, Hawaii, Marianas, Guam, and Saipan. The Philippine bananas have passed the Japanese strictest standards, so they are very much welcome to other countries. In tourism, the Philippine government launched its latest campaign, It's more fun in the Philippines, to attract foreign tourists to the Philippines. The latest data show that the foreign tourist arrivals from other countries such as Australia, Germany, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, United Kingdom, South Korea, Japan, and the US have increased to fill in the loss of Chinese tourists.

In the end, it is China's loss to deprive its citizens of the mineral- and vitamin-rich bananas and the natural beauty and wonder of tropical beaches and sceneries, only to be found in the Philippines.

And of course, it's also about finance.

The Philippines has decided not to proceed with the loan from China to finance its planned infrastructure projects. It is now looking at a South Korean bank to source the funding. This is on top of the decision by the Philippine government to use its own money to improve and rehabilitate its infrastructures. The Philippines has US$79 Billion (and growing) as foreign exchange reserves.

For the meantime, the West Philippine Sea is being watched by China from the other side. And the South China Sea continues to send waters back and forth to the Philippines. The problem is not on the seas. It is not by the peoples. It is not with the military vessels. It is not against laws.

It is about bananas, tourists, finance, and more. China will tell us more.

Sunday, August 5, 2012


You may wonder why I am writing you, but I believe it is time that you hear from me. I am tired of other people using my situation for their political agenda. Thus, I put in writing a description of my situation and an appeal that you reflect and vote with your conscience. As my representative in Congress, you ought to put my voice in your vote on the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill.

I am a mother of five children. My husband is a construction worker who earns P6,500 (US$150) per month. I am a simple housewife who attends and looks after my children aged 12, 9, 6, 3 years old, and 10-month old baby. I delivered them all through an experienced "hilot" or "parteria." She is now the godmother of my fourth child; that's why I delivered my fifth child without a cost. She lives next door and is fond of her goddaughter.

We stay in a rented house. It is small, but we try to make it our home for the past 13 years. I know my neighbors and we help each other when we can.

Life is difficult here in Manila. I came from the province. After finishing high school, I ventured in Manila seeking for a better future. I met my husband, also a provinciano, and we fell in love. We formally got married only last year. Thanks to the generosity of our mayor who sponsored the mass wedding.

Honestly, we struggle to send our children to schools, but we try hardest to send them. My eldest will be in high school next year. I am thankful that he supports partially his schooling by collecting plastic bottles and old newspapers from our neighbors and other sari-sari stores. My eldest daughter sells some "chitchiria" or snack foods to her classmates in school to add to our income.

Oh, to augment my husband's income, I have put up a small sari-sari store that provides for our basic needs such as rice, milk, and other household necessities.

I am a member of a women's group that received a loan from a microfinancing NGO. I used my loan to put up our sari-sari store. My eldest son and daughter assist in manning the store while I am attending to my 10-month old baby.

At times, during weekends, my husband is asked to do some repairs in other houses. He knows how to repair electrical appliances and furnitures.

In our own capacities and efforts, we are trying to survive and live decently. We do not need your pity and generosity. We need your sincere commitment to help us. If you truly commit as you promise every election, this is how and what you can do to help us:

- expand free education coverage to include books, school supplies, uniforms, and other fees.
- increase the minimum wage by P100 per day to cope with the inflation and rising commodity prices.
- build more schools so that my children will not be cramped together with 50 of their classmates.
- hire more teachers so that my children's teachers can focus on their specializations.

These four things can go a long way to extend our sights to a better future in our lifetime with my children.

One more thing though. Please, oh please, do not look at my children as liabilities or burdens to society. They are my joys in my life. They are my jewels in this world. I am very thankful that I have been blessed with five children. Many in my neighborhood including my "kumareng hilot" has discouraged me to have a new child. Yeah, I and my husband have agreed that our youngest will be the last. Both of us have come from big families. I have seven siblings and my husband has nine siblings. And now, we have five children. That's it for us.

Please, do not give up on us by asking us to give up our children. They are my everything.

Sincerely yours,

Ina Bayani