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HE said — SHE said

Three years into his term, it is not much of a wonder that Mr. Duterte would have aged much, too. The presidency is not an easy job. Only the most courageous would thrive and survive in that seat in Malacañang.

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Present/ future

By Aldrin Cardona

It was a serious matter when President Duterte, without much coaxing, discussed his health with his audience in the presence of some members of the media last week.

The Chief Executive has been giving hints about his state of health for much longer already. He has given glimpses of his ailments, but Malacañang was always ensuring his fitness to govern.

Also the week prior, Mr. Duterte had expressed a desire to go on a three-day leave, supposedly on the advice of his physician and several other friends, supporters and Palace workmates.

That announcement was quickly doused with another statement from presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, who assured the President remains in top shape and was only to take a three-day work-from-home status, that he suddenly became the envy of many, including this writer.

Who would not want that arrangement?

But the President could not be the busiest government official there should be without a reason. He was seen going about other duties soon after that announcement, among them were visits to injured and wounded soldiers and paying respect to a business leader who recently died.

He could not rest. That is part of the rigors of the presidency.

Panelo described the President’s schedules as exhausting. Mr. Duterte had expected that.

But last week, the President admitted he is not in the best of health.

He said his health was catching up on him.

The former Davao City mayor was 71 years old when he won the presidency in 2016. He was the oldest president sworn in since Ferdinand Marcos’ ouster in 1986.

Mr. Duterte is 74 years old at present. He will complete his mandate from the people at 77. That is way advanced to seniority, his experience and wisdom vast.

But 74 is no 40. The President is dealing with many health issues and it is understandable as it comes with age.

Cory Aquino took over Marcos at 53 years old. She left Malacañang at 59, but she battled cancer until she died at 76. Mrs. Aquino should have been 86 years old had she lived to the present.

Her successor Fidel V. Ramos was 64 when he was elected as president in 1992. He was 70 on retirement and is 91-years old now. He is now seldom seen in public events, including the last EDSA rites in which he used to be an annual fixture.

Joseph “Erap” Estrada was 61 when he became president. He was ousted two years later. He reinvented himself as a Manila mayor and was just recently defeated in his attempt for a third term at 82.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was 54 when she took over Erap and led the country until she was 63. Mrs. Arroyo served last as Speaker of the House of Representatives and is now 72.

Noynoy Aquino was the youngest elected president of the post-Marcos era at 50. He left the Palace at 56. At 59, Noynoy no longer look as the youthful “Golden Boy” of 2010.

Like Erap, he walks with a limp (due to a gunshot wound sustained during one of the power grab attempts against his mother) and has aged so much.

Three years into his term, it is not much of a wonder that Mr. Duterte would have aged much, too.

The presidency is not an easy job. Only the most courageous would thrive and survive in that seat in Malacañang.

He has to deal with many issues — food, traffic, jobs, health, education, water, security and more and more.

At his age, Mr. Duterte could not complain. He has the best of what politics could have offered.

“Is the President okay? Are you in the best of health? I know you would ask me those question,” Duterte told his audience last week in Eastern Samar. “Of course not. I am old, life has begun to take its toll on my health.”

“And if you will tell me that I am sick, I am. You name it, I have it. Let’s skip the debate on my health,” the President added.

During a visit to Russia, the Chief Executive revealed he was suffering from “myasthenia gravis.” That statement was a confirmation of earlier claims that he has the disease that causes muscle weakness.

He also said the illness was affecting the movement of his eyes.

We were not listening earlier, Mr. Duterte had told several of his audience about them in the past.

He also previously said he has Buerger’s disease. His addiction to nicotine had caused constriction of his blood vessels.

Then he said he has Barrett’s esophagus, a disease involving the tissue in the esophagus. He admitted to being subjected to blood tests almost every other day.

These are serious concerns. The President and his closest circle know it.

His critics view them as signs that the President is dying.

Hold your horses. He is not.

Anyone over 40 is living precariously on the edge.

It is almost always the start of the “maintenance years.”

The President, like you and me, could be taking medications by the volume. He is as normal as we are.

Having admitted that he is being slowed down by many symptoms should prepare all those who dream of succeeding the most popular president this country had after Cory and Marcos.

Many of those lining up are far younger than he is. But age is no guarantee of good governance.

 

Rx: Rest

By Dinah S. Ventura

The President’s health has been the subject of much speculation lately, especially after he cut a trip short because of pains in his hip.

President Rodrigo Duterte is known for being hardworking and very much present when issues of the day arise. That people have the confidence in his strength of mind and will is certain, but lately his physical condition has been a cause for worry.

It is not new for us to wonder about the health of our Chief Executive. During the time of Ferdinand Marcos, people were kept in the dark about his lupus condition.

His hold to power was getting more precarious at the time as the winds of change had begun to blow in. Rumors of a serious ailment fueled opposition members to bat for a successor. It was ugly and relentless.

After all, Marcos was on his third term. In a few more years, the 1986 debacle would unfold, reversing the Marcos power and putting in place the opposite spectrum.

When Cory Aquino came to power, the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which states that “in case of serious illness of the President, the public shall be informed of the state of his health,” came to be.

She may not have known it at the time, but Cory would also have a bout with a serious illness — one that manifested after her presidency.

Fidel Ramos is probably considered the healthiest of past presidents in recent memory. His exercise clips were famous during his early years in Malacañang. He urged people to stay active and healthy, which was quite in keeping with the air of economic optimism at the time. Then again, he suffered from a carotid block for which he underwent surgery. He was fine soon afterwards and kept the public informed with health bulletins throughout his term.

Former Presidents Joseph Estrada and Noynoy Aquino weren’t hounded by health controversies too much — Erap because his stint was short, and Noynoy because he didn’t fall sick much.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, for her part, had a serious ailment that put her neck in braces. Though there were comments about her health condition, these were usually overshadowed by talks on the allegations that may have caused the stress that aggravated her illness instead. At one point, she also had surgeries done to remove lumps in her breast.

In the case of Duterte, the public has been curious whether any of the rumors of a serious illness is true.

The President has been in and out of hospitals. The Palace has been open about his feelings of fatigue. It cannot be helped, however, that such news would fuel speculations — especially since the conditions mentioned sound pretty grim: Buerger’s disease, Barrett’s esophagus and gastroesophageal reflux disease are among those mentioned.

Then last month, it was confirmed he was suffering from “myasthenia gravis (a rare condition that causes muscle weakness),” a report says.

Naturally, the opposition would jump in with the possibility of Vice President Leni Robredo replacing him in case Duterte’s health does fail.

Some have even gone as far as to say that in case that happens, international investors would welcome it.

According to one news item, a London-based think tank observed in a report, “Since Duterte took office, approved foreign investments have been much lower than previous years.”

Gareth Leather, Capital Economics senior Asia economist, added, “That is not to say, however, that Duterte’s presidency has been a disaster for the economy. His massive popularity has enabled him to pass reforms that might not have otherwise made it through Congress.”

It is this same immense popularity that is causing ripples of concern when talk goes to the state of his health.

I mean, if someone as strong as he is can suffer physically, assuming it’s from the mammoth troubles of this nation and the daily load and stresses of the job — then who else can carry such a burden without caving in?

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Commentary

Not again

During the lull caused by the bickering over pork, the government was run using a reenacted budget resulting to a slowdown in the momentum of the economy.

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It is budget season, and pandemic or not, the haggling for pork allocations had started at the House of Representatives. This may again spell trouble for the government’s target of having the 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA) approved before the end of the year.

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano also has an October pact with Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco that was even brokered by President Rodrigo Duterte, but uncertainty grows over it by the day.

The incumbent only needed to satisfy the cravings for lump sums in the chamber to remain on the saddle despite the past agreement.

Confrontations over allocations from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the agency which is the usual source of kickbacks, have been happening at the House in shameless regularity.

Negros Oriental 3rd District Rep. Arnolfo Teves Jr. and Deputy Speaker Rep. LRay Villafuerte, for instance, got into each other’s nerves regarding the DPWH allocations. Apparently the Nacionalista Party House members who now dominate the chamber are getting the lion’s share of next year’s infrastructure allocations.

Teves raised a question to DPWH Secretary Mark Villar during a budget hearing last week about Camarines Sur and Taguig getting P20 billion worth of projects in both districts, while those communities in regions that are in most need received far less.

Taguig, of course, is Cayetano’s bulwark, which has his wife, Lani Cayetano, as a House representative, while Villafuerte is Camarines Sur’s 2nd District representative.

Teves said if the allocations were based on absorptive capacity or the ability of a particular community to effectively use the funds allocated to it on a particular year, his district should have received a better allocation than the P2 billion that it received.

Teves’ point is valid since under the “use it or lose it” principle that guides the national budgeting system, the productive application of the yearly allotment is rewarded with an equal amount if not bigger in the GAA the following year.

This is not the first time that House members were embroiled in controversies during budget deliberations, since similar bitter exchanges happened in 2018 that delayed the approval of the 2019 budget by almost four months.

During the lull caused by the bickering over pork, the government was run using a reenacted budget resulting to a slowdown in the momentum of the economy.

The House of Representatives and the Senate blamed each other for the delay as legislators traded allegations of pork insertions.

The public perception, however, was that members of Congress periodically tear at each other to get a slice of kickbacks and commissions from project allocations in the budget.

After days of acrimonious debates, the Bicameral Conference Committee made up of senators and members of the House of Representatives passed the final version of the General Appropriations Bill.

To the disappointment of the opportunists, the President, however, thoroughly reviewed the final version of the budget and weeded out the carefully inserted pork.

Through his veto power, Mr. Duterte removed P95.3 billion worth of items in the 2019 national budget, which were considered in conflict with the Supreme Court 2013 ruling that outlawed the Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel.

Among the vetoed items were P75 billion in insertions made by the House to the final version of the budget bill that were not part of the program by the DPWH, which are against provisions of the Constitution, since these are considered “unprogrammed” funds.

Now it is happening again as legislators hope that this time, the President will overlook the insertions, which is not likely to happen.

To the elected representatives, stop wasting the time of Congress and get on with your mandated jobs.

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Commentary

No puny leader

Villars, Cayetano and Villafuerte are key figures in the Nacionalista Party. Now, figure that out.

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Controversies always seem to shadow Alan Peter Cayetano, the House Speaker who is in yet another maelstrom.

Not a few of his peers have observed that it’s almost always that issues dealing with finances had broken out where his shadow had passed.

Not that Cayetano is corrupt, nobody is accusing him of such. But there is always that tinge of anomaly — however unfounded at times — wherever he lays his leadership expertise.

So young and so experienced is Cayetano that he had clinched the House Speakership with relative ease despite a bloody battle.

Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez were no match to Cayetano’s political adroitness.

He was an expert, learned from the masters of the trade when he joined the House of Representatives as almost a young boy and the Senate as still a young man.

His attempt at the vice presidency was commendable. It must have been really tough facing a well-funded administration bet and a Marcos heir. But he did well, really.

Early into his stint as House Speaker, Cayetano took control of the organization of the 30th Southeast Asian Games, which the country hosted in 2019.

Yet early on, controversy had marked its start.

Cayetano had to form two organizing committees both named Phisgoc.

Each, however, had a separate yet interweaving personalities.

In the end, Cayetano used the one which did not require him to sign papers despite being its chairman.

The SEA Games, a gift to President Rodrigo Duterte as it was its 30th edition, needed billions of pesos to be held.

The government gave Cayetano’s Phisgoc some P8 billion for it to run the spectacle.

He asked for more. The private sector chipped in.

From its kick off, overpriced uniforms and gears were noted by the athletes themselves.

Then snafus came in the welcoming of delegates, many of the foreign athletes and coaches subjected to what Filipino hospitality was totally not, making them sleep on hotel floors and some on chairs.

Food was bad. Even the Filipino athletes were served kikiam, a street food.

The cauldron built at the New Clark City was not without controversy.

Its design was taken directly from that of an unbuilt tower earlier meant for the Philippine Centennial celebration.

Some VIP had to spend for their fuel needs despite the Games being sponsored by a big oil firm. It turned out the release of the gas vouchers was badly handled.

Yet there were more.

Now, Cayetano is hounded with billions more of issues.

His peers in Congress are complaining that it is only Cayetano’s Taguig City which receives far more allocations from the country’s annual budget.

It is no secret that Taguig City is Cayetanowood. He and his wife Lani have split its congressional district.

The city is ruled by his brother as mayor.

Then consider his ally, Camarines Sur’s LRay Villafuerte, a very lucky lawmaker.

He enjoys what the Cayetanos have in project fund share.

The projects are coming from the Department of Public Works and Highways. It is led by Mark Villar, son of Manny and Senator Cynthia Villar.

The Villars, Cayetano and Villafuerte are key figures in the Nacionalista Party. Now, figure that out.

The rest of the lawmakers are saying they’re only getting P2 billion-worth of projects annually.

Some of them even less.

This is where the controversies get deeper.

The Viber groups of these congressmen are interesting to read.

It shows how low they have become.

All of it happened under Cayetano’s watch.

But he’s an experienced leader. Of course.

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Next Gen

Navigating ‘adulting’ in quarantine

There is a profound loneliness brought about by the pandemic, where the norm of social distancing is essential in saving lives. The palpable feeling of quiet isolation has affected even the most introverted homebodies.

Katarina Lopez

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The world was not meant to move and function only through synchronous everything, but since we’ve officially passed the six-month mark of the Luzon-wide quarantine with no end in sight — it’s all we can really do to keep up. As the government fumbles to find concrete solutions to the pandemic, many employees and students have been forced to grapple with the new work from home reality.

There is a profound loneliness brought about by the pandemic, where the norm of social distancing is essential to saving lives. The palpable feeling of quiet isolation has affected even the most introverted homebodies. The truth is, the work from home set-up is unkind to one’s mental health. Hours are spent working on a screen daily, while robotically waiting for the next online meeting.

Submit deliverables, edit and discuss. Rinse and repeat.

In practice, the work-life balance is nowhere to be found. This partly has to do with the merging of spaces once reserved specifically for unwinding. Now, one’s place of work is commonly also one’s bedroom and dining room. The latter is inevitable especially when meetings extend into what feels like infinity. These days, going overtime at work seems to be part and parcel of life in the age of COVID-19. It’s hard to mentally log-off now.

Distance learning is now being implemented in many schools. / PHOTOGRAPH courtesy of Kuow

Part of me wonders if this fixation on some vague idea of success is but a generational quirk. Are we a generation that measures self-worth in terms of productivity? Or have we grown jaded in the process of becoming part of the workaday world? It’s hard to tell the difference. After all, these are times when productivity is the most-prized commodity of all.

It’s all too easy to get caught up in the false belief that, “I’ll be happy when I get x, or once I’ve done y.” This repetitive narrative is as mendacious as it is never-ending. All we want is to get busy.

Better and more successful, regardless of the cost. The most frightening realization of all is this: chasing after the token picket fence future causes nothing but burnout.

We’re all yearning for a return to some semblance of normalcy, but most of this is wishful thinking. There’s no dictating how long life will go on this way, particularly in a country where rampant corruption precedes over the needs of the people. But here’s hoping for better days.

If you haven’t done it, please register to vote. Registration is again open to the public, provided that one takes the necessary precautions of wearing a face mask and a face shield. Voting is our ticket to a less bleak future.

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Commentary

Are you okay?

It got me thinking of people I know and wondered how they’re coping with this half-a-year and counting shelter-at-home way of life. Are they okay?

Lia Andanar Yu

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As early as the end of February this year, I understood from health experts that it would take from one year to 18 months to find a vaccine for COVID-19. As we know, scientists have been doing their crucial work for the past seven months, and progress is being made.

In the meantime, my nuclear family or household bubble and I have been conscientiously following stay-at-home precautionary measures for over six months.

It hasn’t been easy as I’m sure some, if not all, of you will agree. If I am to be optimistic that a vaccine will be ready and widely available in a year’s time, then we are pretty much over the half-year mark of this long wait. I’m careful not to be overly optimistic though. I don’t want to set myself up for disappointment. The push and pull of being pragmatic and being hopeful is real.

Some months back, a friend of mine shared something on her social media account which struck me — we are all in the same storm, but on different boats. I am told this is an excerpt from a Twitter post, which went viral last April.

We, the world over, are all facing this storm of a virus. There will be as many different ways of coping, experiences, strategies, struggles and attitudes toward this COVID-19 storm as there are people in this great big world of ours.

Some days have been agonizingly slow. There are those who feel like they are languishing in the very places they once saw as safe refuge. So, seek a different route to safety they must.

Like a long journey with many twists and turns, ups and downs, hungry tummies and headaches of varying degrees, and everyone is either thinking or asking, are we there yet? News items and statistics of COVID-active cases then give us the answer — no, not yet.

If you feel well and are able to, supporting others may be something that motivates you to navigate through this storm. In the midst of these trying pandemic times, click that send button to say a line or two to that person you’ve been meaning to get in touch with but never got around to before. Perhaps it’s to ask, how are you? Are you okay? Or “thinking of you, hope you’re keeping safe.” Say whatever feels right. Whatever comes from the heart. Get the conversation going. Be ready to listen with an open mind and heart. Sometimes, hardly any words need to be spoken. A listening ear and your sharing of your time may be exactly what the situation calls for.

Many people are longing for that sincere and genuine connection these days. My hunch is that long after this pandemic is over, they’ll remember exactly how special you made them feel these long stay-at-home days.

They may not respond; that’s okay, too. Goodwill, concern, a genuine reaching out and kindness are never frivolous and definitely never a waste.

This Wednesday was one of those hump days for me. It was a gray and rainy afternoon. A sense of melancholy was hovering, and I refused to allow it to set in. I am grateful I was able to keep it at bay by counting little daily blessings or things that made me smile, no matter how seemingly trivial, these past few months. I know full well that there are those who find it extremely difficult to get past feelings of melancholy.

It got me thinking of people I know and wondered how they’re coping with this half-a-year and counting shelter-at-home way of life. Are they okay? The question that crossed my mind is an advocacy in Australia, my other home.

This year, the “R U OK?” charitable organization is encouraging people to learn what to say if someone in their life says they are not okay. Their website ruok.org.au is full of helpful tips if you or someone you know is not feeling okay. Their national day of action was on the 10th of this month. They reminded Australians that every day is the day to ask these three words, “Are you okay?”

It is a reminder that we could all use wherever we may be in the world, most especially during these uniquely challenging pandemic times.

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Commentary

Prosecutors’ woe over survivorship benefits

I am not saying public prosecutors are angels. Far from it. Human as they are, some must have lost their moral mooring to succumb to the temptation of get-rich-quick schemes.

Macabangkit B. Lanto

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Public prosecutors are in mute protest. They feel that their role in the criminal justice system and the overall operation of government is not appreciated. They are essential cogs in the wheels of justice, yet they are not getting their worth. It’s an irony that while they are part of the justice system, they are victims of injustice, so they claim.

I refer to the decision of former Secretary Benjamin Diokno of the Department of Budget Management (DBM) disallowing payment of survivorship benefits to spouses of deceased prosecutors. Diokno has resorted to hermeneutics with a confused interpretation of the law and convoluted logic to frustrate the spirit and intention of the policy. Prosecutors maintained the interpretation of Diokno is way off the mark. The black letter of the law is crystal clear and not susceptible to DBM’s twisted interpretation.

In a well-researched seven-page exposition presented by the Prosecutors’ League of the Philippines (PLP) to DBM, they advanced three arguments, which DBM will be hard-pressed to outweigh. One, the denial earlier by Diokno based on Section 3, Republic Act (RA) 910 doesn’t apply to prosecutors. Said law was already amended and superseded by RA 9946 and likewise by RA 10071, Section 25, the pertinent and prevailing law which mandates: “ALL BENEFITS extended under RA 910… shall likewise be given to prosecutors.” Second, the principle that a new law prevails over an old law covering the same subject matter, with RA 10071 becoming effective on 28 May 2010. Thirdly, the principle that social legislations like the ones in issue shall be interpreted liberally in favor of the beneficiaries. The PLP’s letter is loaded with leading jurisprudence supporting its position.

What baffles the PLP is that “after RA 10071 took effect, (DBM) has been paying all claims by prosecutors or… spouses for gratuity, annuity, death and disability benefits under RA 9946, all except survivorship.” The law speaks of payment of “all benefits,” and exclusion of one benefit defies logic.

I stand by my bias. My past kinship with the Department of Justice (DoJ) family may have blurred my objectivity. But still and all, I have a very strong feeling that PLP’s position could stand any objective vetting.

There is a sheer hope offered by the new leadership of DBM. The latest twist in this more than a decade tussle is an information allegedly from DBM Secretary Wendel Avisado that instead of the PLP instituting an arbitration proceeding, they write him first to provide him an opportunity to do something about it.

I had a front seat view of the travails and tribulations of public prosecutors. During my stint as DoJ Undersecretary I have observed how they toiled, burning a candle at both ends, ferreting out the truth and validity of complaints; collating evidence in a case buildup to support the theory of the case before filing the information in court; of being censured by judges during hearings for the absence of a witness, and their superiors breathing down their necks to resolve a case within the deadline. But the most disheartening is the suspicion by party-litigant that a prosecutor has succumbed to the lure of money for his ruling. Compounding these is the statistics that about 20 of them were ambushed, with many killed and one dying of COVID-19.

I am not saying public prosecutors are angels. Far from it. Human as they are, some must have lost their moral mooring to succumb to the temptation of get-rich-quick schemes. But I daresay that a considerable number has kept their moral values untainted. And the latter far outnumber the former.

The President must have some disheartening memories of the life of a public prosecutor being once a prosecutor himself. At no time in our history has there been so many appointments made in the prosecutorial service of our government as during his term. He could help relieve the prosecutors’ woes.

A civil law aphorism deeply ingrained in our jurisprudence says “justice must be tempered with mercy.” A plethora of cases decided by the High Tribunal used this doctrine as a guidepost. The DBM can do no less in resolving the issue.

 

Email: [email protected]

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Living Spaces

Supply, demand, and price

Now, if a hydroponics or aquaponics farm uses grow lights, there are, indeed, advantages, especially regarding controlling the environment where the crops will grow, particularly the amount of available light per day that the plants need for optimal growth.

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Basil and mint used to cost P650 to P700 per kg (grocery price). A few months into the pandemic, that has changed. A lot. Now, they’re priced at P476 and P403 per kg, respectively.

From a high of around P700 to a low of P403, that’s a loss of roughly 42 percent of value. From a financial statement perspective, imagine the projected revenue fall by that much. If the projection is P1,000,000 per year, then it drops to P580,000.

How will this affect the balance sheet and the cash flow? How will obligations be paid? And if there is leverage involved, and the debt is substantial, how high is the likelihood of default? What is the effect on the collateral and credit standing? What is the legal risk?

Going back to economics, low demand creates oversupply, and because the market wants to get rid of the surplus (especially the perishable kind), the price is adjusted downwards to attract buyers because consumers respond to price.

The pandemic, which has shut down many businesses in the food industry, has pulled demand to significant low. Because of oversupply, the price has naturally followed the downward trend.

Price of basil per kg has dropped during the pandemic.

Now, if a hydroponics or aquaponics farm uses grow lights, there are, indeed, advantages especially regarding controlling the environment where the crops will grow, particularly the amount of available light per day that the plants need for optimal growth. And if you use LED, the light required per day is covered without having to worry about producing so much heat that is no longer healthy for the crops.

But there is also a downside to using grow lights instead of relying on sunlight which, in the Philippines, we already have a lot of. Just imagine the cost of those lights (including depreciation, meaning you have to replace them after “x” number of years), as well as electricity consumption (remember that some were charged by Meralco several times more, based on an “average” consumption rate during the lockdown period), etc.

If one intends to shift a hobby to a fully operational commercial farm, how will the enterprise cover for these costs? What more if the revenue, because of sudden decline in demand for the product that has also reduced the price per kg, drops by as much as 42 percent? How will this affect the viability of the company?

And these overhead costs of systems that use artificial light is reflected in the price per kg of herbs, for example, which were grown indoors.

I have seen hydroponically grown basil that use artificial lights sold at around P2,000 per kg. Even if it is marketed as clean, fresh, pesticide free, naturally grown, etc., it’s still very expensive.

But assuming that the enterprise caters to a niche market that’s willing to pay a premium for fresh products, then all would seem fine. Yes, during ordinary times, there are niches in the market that has buyers willing to pay that price despite the presence of cheaper alternatives.

However, how did spending habits change as we entered an economic crisis due to the pandemic? Will consumption of premium produce survive this plight?

Basil grown at the backyard aquaponics farm. / PHOTOGRAPHS by VINCENT NOEL AUREUS FOR THE DAILY TRIBUNE

Assuming that sound business practice means selling at three times the cost, or for every peso spent sell at P3 (otherwise hindi na sulit, nakakapagod lang) then, conservatively, it’s safe to assume that the cost of production of that P2,000 per kg basil is P666 (derived by dividing P2,000 by 3). That’s the breakeven price.

Competitors are selling the same (or similar) product at around P476 (for the basil). That’s a 28 percent difference. Which enterprise will flourish or, at the very least, survive the economic downturn and which one will be in for a really, really difficult time? Which one will have the competitive advantage?

And what’s the key takeaway here regarding overhead costs and growing indoors using artificial lights as a business enterprise?

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Opinion

How human is your hospital?

In other words, the workplace must enable people to think, to manage their egos and emotions, to listen and to emotionally engage with others in positive ways that result in high-quality collaboration.

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About 80 percent of medical executives say improving the patient experience is a top priority. And yet, many hospitals focus on the latest programs or initiatives that may produce short-term boosts that don’t last very long.

But as healthcare organizations face new challenges, more find they need to make a cultural transformation to improve performance and enhance the patient experience.

Patient centeredness must not be just a program or an initiative. It is the heart of a hospital’s operations, a culture of intention where every employee, from the front lines to the back offices, is aligned toward the same goals and can say with assurance this is how we do things here.

It’s more than just telling employees to be nicer to patients and to each other, particularly during this pandemic.

As the digital age advances and technology takes over more jobs, workers must get better at those “human” skills computers can’t do. They must excel at critical thinking, innovative thinking, collaborating and emotionally engaging with others in the creation and delivery of products and services.

Most of all, one must excel at continuously learning… and unlearning… and relearning.

In other words, the workplace must enable people to think, to manage their egos and emotions, to listen and to emotionally engage with others in positive ways that result in high-quality collaboration. In the digital age, people need to bring their “best selves” to work.

This shift requires people to engage in constant learning. And that means your workplace must mitigate the two big individual inhibitors of learning: ego and fear. This can be highly challenging in healthcare.

Unfortunately, most workplaces are relics of the Industrial Revolution. The leadership model is command and control, and they achieve compliance through fear.

If your company is to survive, you’re going to have to humanize it. The old, fear- and ego-based ways of working and leading won’t survive in the digital age amid a pandemic that magnifies every kind of emotion particularly in the healthcare setting.

Research by cognitive, social and positive psychologists shows that positive emotions enable and enhance innovative thinking, learning and creativity, and they lead to better judgments and decision-making. Negative emotions like fear and anxiety squelch them.

There are simple things you can do at the start of a meeting to help people be in a positive mood. Just asking people to smile at each other or make eye contact makes a big difference. So does asking people questions that indicate you care about them as individuals. Truly listening to people is mission critical.

People will feel positive when they feel cared about as unique human beings, and when they trust their colleagues and managers or leaders. Work environments that make people feel like a machine or a cog in a giant wheel will not enable the needed human performance in the digital age.

For companies to survive the digital age, they need to ‘humanize’ themselves by fostering positive emotions in the workplace. / PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY UNSPLASH/JAVIER MATHEU

Studies show that without psychological safety, people will not fully embrace the hard parts of thinking and innovating: giving and receiving constructive feedback; challenging the status quo; asking and being asked the hard questions; being non-defensive, open-minded and intellectually courageous; and having the courage to try new things and fail.

Google has studied what makes certain teams effective in the search for the “secret sauce” of high performance. The most important factor it discovered was psychological safety. The study further states that the precondition for feeling safe is trust — and while nobody is “against” trust, many leaders worry about the time it takes to build it.

Another study indicates that intrinsic motivation occurs when three innate human needs are met: empowerment or autonomy, relatedness and competence. People feel empowered when they are given the opportunity to have input into how they do their job. Mutual respect for and reliance with others means an individual is connected or is related to another person or persons in the organization. Giving staff the tools and training for skillsets to be able to deliver excellence at optimally challenging tasks instills pride at their own competence to succeed. If employees feel that they have autonomy, relatedness and competence at work, they’re more likely to be highly engaged and thus more likely to perform at high levels.

It’s not easy to transform an organization. You can’t transform a workplace unless its leaders actually lead in transforming how they lead. They must behave in ways that enable the new desired behaviors, and they must role-model those behaviors. Leaders must be enablers, not commanders. They must liberate their employees to perform at their highest levels — cognitively, emotionally and behaviorally.

If your company is to survive, you’re going to have to humanize it. The old, fear- and ego-based ways of working and leading won’t survive in the digital age amidst a pandemic which magnifies every kind of emotion particularly in the healthcare setting.

When people are able to play to their strengths and develop themselves, they don’t just go through the motions or wish away the day. This is the kind of work we all long for.

By involving every team member, across all lines of the patient experience, and making them the architects responsible for developing a new organizational culture, they’ve not only created it, they own it. This authorship and ownership lead to mutual accountability, which means your team will police it every day at all levels … even when you’re not around.

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Do we now have a mutant COVID-19 strain?

Rapid mutations can also render newly achieved vaccines, which take years to make and more years to mass produce, to be obsolete by the time they get out to the patients.

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A “medical consultant” posted this in social media: “My med classmates and I had an online meeting last night. We’re all from different specialties, and most of them are still working in hospitals (MMC, TMC, St Luke’s Global, UE). They talked about their first-hand experiences, and I just learned the following bad news….”

“What’s more troubling is that the consultants are stumped, because the medications and medical management that used to work during the first wave are no longer as effective in this second wave. Due to rapid and uncontrolled transmission in the past months, the virus has clearly had enough opportunity to mutate into a more dangerous strain here in the Philippines. If this strain spreads to other countries, then the Philippine government’s failed handling of the pandemic will have definitively put the rest of the world in danger.”

Before discussing this, because of the prevalence of fake news in social media, it is important to verify first the source of the post, clarify and qualify the statements made, and, if it is impossible to verify, talk to a reliable source who is an authority on the matter, such as Department of Health (DoH).

From the above post, we gather the following premises — first, the post, if true, is coming from a group of “medical consultants” with different specializations and staying in various hospitals. It is not known if these “consultants” are doctors. However, it is important to consider their statements, even if unverified, because they report a warning of a very dangerous situation, namely a deadlier mutant virus, no longer the original COVID-19, that may now be present in the Philippines. The “consultants,” however, presumably have first-hand field data, as opposed to secondary data from surveys or statistics.

Second, the post says “the virus has clearly had opportunity to mutate into a more dangerous strain.” This is an inconclusive assumption rather than a fact. It also states that “the new strain has been targeting even young adults. Doctors have noticed that there have been a lot of victims from the 20-to-40 age range recently.” First, is it really a “new” strain? Second, this again may be coincidence rather than the presence of a new mutant strain, while it has been established by experts that the original COVID-19 relatively does not infect younger groups.

Third, the post states “the medications and medical management that used to work during the first wave are no longer as effective in this second wave.” This needs further study and verification. It needs more scientific data. After playing devil’s advocate to the post and demolishing it into more of opinion rather than fact, let us now hear from the DoH.

DoH immediately gave a reply that the report was not true, that there is no such mutant strain in the Philippines. Playing devil’s advocate to the DoH statement, my question is: How does DoH know? Did it do field research to verify this before issuing that sweeping statement? Why is it quick to reply? Did it have comprehensive field data? Is it possible DoH issued the statement just to prevent panic, at the expense of the truth? Instead of a sweeping unfounded denial, DoH could have first simply said it will investigate the matter and give a report later, rather than give a knee-jerk reply which aroused suspicion.

There have been talks on the Internet of different mutations, categorized simply as “A” or “B” in different geographic locations. These mutants may be different from each other and their distinct effects are still not yet fully known. While we study these mutants, which may take long, other new mutants may emerge, rendering these studies obsolete.

Rapid mutations can also render newly achieved vaccines, which take years to make and more years to mass produce, to be obsolete by the time they get out to patients. Finally, if different mutant strains somehow “cross-breed,” they may produce “monsters” beyond our comprehension. This is the reality of rapid mutations scientists are being challenged to respond to. We must pray hard, if we are helpless to intervene.

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Wages of greed

Charges are being prepared against the PhilHealth crooks, but no concrete plan has been laid out regarding the resumption of the stalled law.

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Had greed in government not intervened, the Philippines would have started this year a social scheme that is now globally being pushed as a necessity amid the pandemic, which is the universal health coverage that has even been made into a law in the country.

Filipinos are banking on the Universal Health Care (UHC) law to liberate them from the high cost of hospital services that had resulted to the culture of alternative or self-medication that proves fatal to those with serious illnesses.

At the 53rd annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Board of Governors meeting, the UHC was the hottest topic as finance and health ministers rack their brains for tighter collaboration in mobilizing financing to help countries survive the contagion.

ADB president Masatsugu Asakawa stressed that UHC is indispensable as a foundation of strong health systems.

“We have to build health systems where people from all walks of life, including the elderly, the poor and the vulnerable, can access health services at an affordable cost while maintaining these health systems’ financial sustainability — even in aging societies that many countries in Asia and the Pacific are heading toward,” Asakawa said.

“In this regard, close collaboration between finance and health ministers is crucial for our member economies to provide cost-effective, inclusive and high-quality health interventions, underpinned by sustainable finance,” he added.

According to the ADB, each year, the cost of health care drives tens of millions of people in Asia and the Pacific into poverty.

It noted that during the pandemic, countries that have achieved UHC, or are close to it, have been able to mobilize critical disease prevention and control measures, such as risk communication, testing, contact tracing and isolation.

The UHC law was exactly the recommended formula but which failed to take off, since its funding fell victim to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) scandal in which huge amounts were diverted straight to the pockets of overstaying officials.

The law seeks to do more since it also provides for the distribution of outpatient or basic drugs to all Filipinos for free.

It also seeks to provide the entire population with preventive, promotive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative care.

The landmark law would have offered immediate assistance to Filipinos afflicted with the coronavirus disease. Even with PhilHealth assistance, infected individuals needed to spend an average of P300,000 in case of a severe attack.

The law also provides for a special health fund that will be created and managed by province-wide or city-wide health systems. All resources intended for health services sought to be pooled to finance health services. Such will also be used to cover operating costs, capital investments and remuneration and incentives for all health workers.

Charges are being prepared against the PhilHealth crooks, but no concrete plan has been laid out regarding the resumption of the stalled law.

What happens to PhilHealth also determines the fate of the UHC, since under the law, the health insurance agency would be its implementor.

For the law to be effective, it also needs an estimated P257 billion yearly, which will be sourced from sin tax collections and partly from income generated by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

Legislators are expectedly reluctant to release huge amounts to the graft-ridden health agency.

A swift resolution of the mess in PhilHealth is needed to remove the hurdles to the implementation of the UHC law, which is delayed during a crisis when Filipinos needed it most.

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