Tag Archives: philippines

2010 election surprise: Binay leading Roxas

ROBERTO VERZOLA, Halalang Marangal (HALAL)

http://www.gmanews.tv/story/190631/2010-election-surprise-binay-leading-roxas

The most recent Comelec report (May 10, 2010, 11:30 p.m., 57% of all election returns canvassed) as of this writing suggests that the 2010 presidential election is an Aquino landslide.

Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III seems to be getting roughly three votes for every two votes for Joseph “Erap” Estrada and one vote for Manuel “Manny” Villar Jr., confirming late pre-election surveys that showed a widening lead by Aquino over his closest rivals, and a precipitate drop in Villar’s share of the votes.

The tight vice-presidential race is the surprise of the 2010 elections, with Jejomar “Jojo” Binay roughly getting 8-10% more votes than early survey front-runner Manuel “Mar” Roxas III. It also confirms late pre-election surveys of a come-from-behind surge by Binay and a collapse in Loren Legarda’s share.

The top ten in the senatorial race, based on the same Comelec partial report, are Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Franklin Drilon, Juan Ponce Enrile, Pilar Juliana “Pia” Cayetano, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., Ralph Recto, Vicente Sotto III, and Sergio Osmeña III.

Occupying the eleventh to the fourteenth slots – traditionally a very tight contest – are Manuel “Lito” Lapid, Teofisto “TG” Guingona III, Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, and Rozzano “Ruffy” Biazon.

Without a breakdown of the election returns received per region or province, it is hard to put the above reports into context. Whether the rankings can still change significantly depends on those regions which are most incomplete in terms of submitted election returns.

Where cheating happens

It is in the low-completion regions where the cheating usually happened in the past. Some municipalities or even provinces would purposely delay reporting their returns, to allow candidates to estimate how many votes they needed to win. They would then bargain with local officials who control the uncanvassed ERs to swing the results in their favor.

The incoming flow of electronic ERs will slow down when all precinct clusters whose voting machines worked, were able to produce a vote count and transmit their results to central servers have completed their transmissions.

Then the results will start coming in more slowly, from voting machines whose memory cards are being physically transported to municipal canvassing centers. These memory cards will be inserted into card readers of the municipal canvassing servers, and their contents “imported,” to be merged with the ERs that had been electronically transmitted.

Cheats and new technology

This is another danger area. Depending on how quickly cheats have mastered the new technology, some may have already acquired enough sophistication to configure false memory cards and attempt an operation to substitute memory cards, analogous to the old practice of ballot-box substitution.

Also, a still-to-be-determined percentage of precincts will still conduct a manual count, if no machine reached them in time, or the machine broke down and its replacement could not get there in time, or if the ballots or the replacement memory card did not get to the precinct in time.

Then manual methods of cheating can still occur. It is in fact much easier now to shade ovals than write names. Thousands can be marked without giving away the secret like handwriting would. Several million votes may still be at stake here.

In the past, the conclusion of precinct counting would just be the start of various cheating operations that occur at the municipal, provincial and national levels. It never mattered to cheats that their operations would create discrepancies between precinct-level data and higher-level data. As long as their candidate was proclaimed, the challenges, costs and delays that faced any post-proclamation protest was enough to deter all but the most determined victims of cheating. After all, they got away with it in 2004 and 2007.

Thus, cheats may still launch attempts at the municipal level and provincial levels, if they had already found ways to do so. One should not underestimate the creativity of cheats.

However, Aquino’s seeming landslide win will probably deter any attempt to cheat him in favor of the runner-up. Estrada’s huge lead in the 1998 presidential elections, and Obama’s huge lead in the U.S. elections in 2008, had made it extremely difficult for a cheating operation to succeed. Thus, the cheats did not even dare, even if the machinery to do so was already in place. Had they led by a much smaller margin, the outcomes might have been different.

If his landslide win insulates Aquino from any outcome-changing attempt at fraud, the same cannot be said in other contests.

The close vice-presidential contest may tempt one or both of the protagonists to tap operators to either strengthen one’s lead or overcome the opponent’s. Too many votes remain uncounted for either side to relax their guard. The drama of the 2010 elections remains to be played out over the vice-presidential contest.

The senatorial contest too has traditionally been marked by a very close contest between the 12th and the 13th placers. In 2007, Zubiri’s margin over Pimentel was only .07% of Pimentel’s votes and this was obtained through statistically impossible results from six municipalities in Maguindanao.

In such close contests, we will need the .005% or lower error rate from PCOS machines specified by the Comelec. Unfortunately, the accuracy rates of these machines remain a big question mark, especially after the fiasco just a few days before the elections.

Again, some of the protagonists in the senatorial contest may be tempted to mount an operation to ensure a 12th or higher position. Whether anyone actually will, remains to be seen.

Finally, given the recent fiasco of gross errors from the voting machines, will losers – especially local candidates – accept at face value the numbers reported by these machines, or will they question the results and demand a recount to double-check their accuracy?

Until these questions are settled, it is too early to declare the 2010 automated elections a complete success. – HS, GMANews.TV


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Smartmatic machines are not so smart after all

We are spending P7.2 billion to lease these “smart automatic” machines. It turns out that they are not so smart after all. In fact, they seem downright stupid.

They can’t recognize a check mark or a cross. They can’t recognize ballpen or pencil marks. They need full, dark shadings to be convinced that you want to mark an oval. Isn’t that stupid?

When the security marks were misaligned by a mere one to two millimeters, the machines had trouble finding them. They were making so many mistakes that Smartmatic decided to forget “smart automatic” and go back to manual instead. They will just give election inspectors ultraviolet lamps; the inspectors will shine the lamp on each ballot and decide after an ocular inspection if the ballot is authentic or not. Still better than a dumb machine that can’t find the security mark.

A few days before the May 10 elections, these “smart automatic” machines are supposed to be unsealed for a final test in the field by election inspectors. Reports are now flooding in that many can’t read some of the marks, and can’t count some of the votes. Read the reports:

For the sake of our elections, let us all hope and pray that these problems will be solved before May 10.

The issue: failure of automation, not failure of election

The issue is not a failure of election, but a failure of automation.

Failure of election” is a narrow legal term describing a rare situation. The Omnibus Election Code defines it as a situation in which “the election in any polling place has not been held on the date fixed, or had been suspended before the hour fixed by law”. The suspension may also occur “after the voting and during the preparation and the transmission of the election returns”. The definition further requires that the failure “would affect the result of the election”, or “results in a failure to elect”. It has occurred in barangays or towns but never on a national scale.

Although some have raised its possibility in 2010, they were probably using the term loosely and were not aware of its legal definition.

Thus, Chairman Melo could say, with a straight face, that failure of election was “pure fantasy”. He is using its narrow legalistic definition. If voters were able to cast their votes and Comelec proclaimed a winner, there was no failure of election.

The issue in 2010 is the high risk of a failure of automation. This is what was raised by Halalang Marangal, an election watchdog which includes former Senator Wigberto Tañada, former Comelec Commissioner Mehol Sadain, and retired General Francisco Gudani among its convenors. We had in fact estimated the probability of failure as of March 8 at 75%, and we have seen no reason to substantially revise that estimate. We still consider the risk of failure “unacceptably high”.

Let me define what we mean by a failure of automation.

Election automation is a failure if the time it takes to determine the winners in the election is not significantly shorter than the manual method, or if the fraud that has chronically attended our elections is not significantly reduced.

Let me review the basis of our assessment that the election automation had a 25% chance of success. (You can find the details in Jarius Bondoc’s April 5, 7 and 9 columns in this paper.)

A March 8 full-page ad by Smartmatic in major national dailies had claimed “a vote of confidence” on the election automation project it was implementing in the Philippines. Smartmatic had claimed substantial achievements in the five sub-systems that comprised the whole Automated Election System (AES).

But when we scrutinized carefully the Smartmatic ad, we found gaps, delays, problems and at least one glaring false claim (“successful field tests and mock elections”).

In the Hardware sub-system, Smartmatic claimed they have completed the delivery of the machines, but glaringly omitted reference to testing. Clearly they have not tested the machines thoroughly. Neither did they have the time to do so. Former Comelec commissioner Mehol Sadain tells us that in 2004, it had taken them three months to fully test 1,990 automated counting machines. If deployed, some of the partially-tested machines are bound to cause problems on election day. We also found that Smartmatic had bought 21% more memory cards than necessary. In the wrong hands, these could be loaded with false precinct results and substituted for authentic cards. Because of these and other problems, we estimated the probability of success of this sub-system at 80%.

In the Software sub-system, we noted that no local stakeholders had managed to conduct a proper review of the source code, because of the Comelec’s obstinate refusal to implement the clear intent and letter of the law. We also noted that the Comelec released no certification documents or full report that would support its Feb. 9 claim that Systest Labs had completed its audit/review of the AES. Since time had run short for a thorough review, we estimated the probability of success of this sub-system at 70%.

For the Logistics sub-system, we cited media findings about the questionable capacity of the forwarders chosen by Smartmatic to deliver election paraphernalia throughout the Philippines. We estimated the Logistics probability of success at 80%.

For the Transmission sub-system, we cited among other things the 70% signal coverage in the Philippines, as Smartmatic itself found out. Smartmatic had transmission problems even within Metro Manila, suggesting poor quality of transmission equipment. We gave it 70%.

For the Ballot Printing sub-system, we cited the confidential Comelec memo which warned that it was impossible to finish ballot printing on time, given the rate they were printing them. We gave it 80%. The Comelec subsequently brought in a fifth ballot printer, raising its capacity by 20%, and making it possible – if no further glitches happened and the printing went on non-stop – to meet its April 25 deadline.

To get the overall probability of success of the entire AES project, the sub-system probabilities of success must be multiplied together. Yes, multiplied together, not averaged. And not just the lowest figure – the weakest link – either. Check it with your calculator: .8 x .7 x .8 x .7 x .8 = .25 or 25%. Note that we see the glass as one-fourth full, not three-fourths empty. We are optimists to a fault, not doomsayers.

So many things can go wrong with the AES that Murphy’s Law is bound to kick in. Like a toss of two coins, Chairman Melo is betting that two heads will come up. He bet P7.2 billion of the taxpayer’s money. If you count the whole election budget, P11 billion, all in.

Chairman Melo’s bet will lose 75% of the time. That makes failure of automation the issue in 2010.

The time is very short, but we still have a possible solution. Details in subsequent posts.

SRI Pilipinas Song

This song is dedicated to all farmers who have successfully tried the System of RIce Intensification (SRI) and are now trying to convert their neighbors to the method. Sing to the tune of “Magtanim Ay Di Biro”.

Awit ng SRI-Pilipinas

isinulat ni Roberto Verzola
(sa himig ng Magtanim Ay Di Biro)

Refrain:

Halina, halina, mga kaliyag,
tayo’y magsipag-palay lahat.
Magbago tayo ng kaisipan;
S-Rr-I ang subukan. (Ending: S-Rr-I Pilipinas)

Contra-refrain: (kasabay ng Refrain)
Sa organic SRI, kalusuga’y gaganda;
gastos ay bababa, kabuha-ya’y sasagana.
Sa ingles, “system of rice intensification” sya;
tawaging Sipag-Palay sa mga magsasaka.

I.

Magtanim ay masaya,
maghapong kumakanta.
Uupo kung pagod na;
tatayo kung puwede pa.

II.

Inaamag na ka-nin,
sa pulot patatamisin.
Pitong araw ang hintayin,
I.M.O. ay gagawin.

Refrain/Contra-refrain

III.

Ang dayami’y ipunin,
sa I.M.O. ay diligin.
‘Sang buwan lang na bulukin,
isabog na sa bukirin.

IV.

Gawin mong uling ang ipa,
sa kama’y pampataba.
Sampung kilo’y ipunla,
isang ektarya kasya na.

Refrain/Contra-refrain

V.

Sampung araw na idad,
punla ay ililipat.
Puno ay isa-isa;
layo’y sampung pulgada

VI.

Ang tanim huwag ibabad;
mabubulok ang ugat.
Tatlong araw basain;
isang linggong patuyuin.

Refrain/Contra-refrain

VII.

Sa tuwing sampung araw,
weeder ipambubungkal.
Ang damo’y matatanggal;
ang ugat, mahahanginan.

VIII.

Gawa natin ay may saysay,
Kung suwi’y kumakapal.
Kung ito’y doble bilang,
Puwede nang ipagyabang!

Refrain/Contra-refrain

IX.

Kung namumulaklak na,
tubig papasukin na.
Saya natin ay ikanta;
asahang ani’y maganda.

X.

Kung SRI kabisado na,
tanim gawing iba-iba.
Palay, gulay, puno pa,
Pagkain at pambenta.

Tapos.

System of Rice Intensification (SRI): failure still counts as success

Last November 27, I was invited by SRI-Pilipinas trainor Aga Milagroso as guest speaker at the graduation ceremonies of 36 farmers of Alaminos, Pangasinan, whom he had trained over a whole season on the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), organic fertilizer making, indigenous microorganism (IMO) activators through rice fermentation, and other useful knowhow for the farm. SRI-Pilipinas national training coordinator Venancio Garde Jr. also made occasional trips to help handle some sessions. SRI-Pilipinas is the consortium of Philippine NGOs, academics and government researchers promoting SRI and organic farming in the Philippines.

The training was conducted over 16 weekly one-day sessions, spanning a whole planting season. It was a hectic schedule for Aga, who had to make the 4-5 hour trip by bus every week from his hometown in Malolos, Bulacan to Alaminos, Pangasinan. Aga says the enthusiastic response from the graduates made it all worth the effort.

Normally, due to funding limitations, SRI-Pilipinas squeezes all the SRI knowhow in a one-day session that includes a half-day of lectures and a half-day of hands-on training. This particular training program, which was funded by the city government of Alaminos, was quite intensive, giving Aga a chance to go into all kinds of details and to cover a lot more ground.

The graduation program itself was held at the village of Linmansangan in Alaminos, Pangasinan, where the 16 sessions of the season-long training were also held.

Official presence was impressive. The regional office of the Department of Agriculture Ilocos Region sent a representative, Wilfredo Pal-laya. Alaminos Mayor Hernani Braganza also sent a representative, city administrator Col. Wilmer Panabang. City councilor and Committee on Agriculture chair Earl James Aquino and fellow councilor Radoc were also there, as was city agriculturist Ernesto S. de Leon. They all exhorted the farmers to apply what they learned to raise their incomes and to take advantage of the emerging organic market.

Here’s the list of SRI graduates:

Women (9): Carmelita D. Foronda, Delia D. Babera, Delia F. Garcia, Febe B. de Ocampo, Generose V. Castro, Imelda O. Rabanal, Jessica V. Baillo (Secretary), Lorena B. Pamittan, and Rosalinda R. Corpuz. Men (27): Agapito B. Tugade, Alfredo R. Purganan, Alselmo O. Corpuz, Armando H. Bautista, Armando L. Laguisma, Boy Cristy Rosales (Treasurer), Eduardo A. Rabago, Fernald S. de Guzman (Sgt-at-arms), Ismael M. Laguisma (Sgt.-at-arms), Jaime P. Abarra, Jerry D. Ico (Public relations officer), Joel R. Zabala (Business manager), Joseph C. Estrada, Julio C. Abora, Lorenzo B. Laguisma Sr., Lyndon B. Baillo (Business manager), Mariano B. Quiam, Orlando Bernas, Oscar B. Duco, Osmar A. Mejia (President), Paulino R. Rabaya, Ramil G. Camba, Rogelio L. Laguisma Sr. (Vice-president), Rogelio R. Reyes (Public relations officer), Rolly B. Laguisma, Romel C. Purganan (Auditor), and Veronico B. Verzola.

I was all attention, when one of the graduates Osmar Mejia reported the results of the group’s SRI trial. The results were not really impressive. In fact, it looked definitely disappointing to me:

SRI

Conventional

Paddy rice yield (palay)

1,696 kg

4,033 kg

Polished rice (bigas)

1,159 kg

2,086 kg

Gross revenue (P40/kg)

P46,360

P83,448

Total production cost (P)

P43,770

P36,832

Net income (P)

P2,590

P46,616

Mejia explained why, despite the seemingly disappointing results, they felt encouraged and positive about SRI. He said the SRI plot had been ravaged by the dreaded tungro disease as well as the rice bug. But in the training, they learned how to control these through botanical preparations. They were especially awed by the anti-tungro concoction they learned from SRI-Pilipinas national trainor Jun Garde — ordinary cooking oil, onions and garlic ground on a pestle and sprayed on the rice plants. That the plants would actually recover and even give them a small net income was truly impressive, Mejia said. They also saw with their own eyes the high-tillering rates that distinguish SRI-grown plants from the conventionally-grown ones, and they understood what this meant in terms of higher yield, had their triat plot not been attacked by tungro and the rice bug. Thus, when Ilocos DA representative Wilfredo Pal-laya asked the graduates, “Was your trial successful?”, they enthusiastically chorused, “Yes!”

Mejia further explained that the high SRI production cost was mainly due to labor cost, which he attributed to the steep learning curve. Hired hands were not used to the unusual SRI practices and demanded higher wages, and they were slower at their tasks too. The labor costs will go down, he said, as people became more familiar with the method. Already, some graduates were saying that they would in fact save on labor costs, once they had mastered the method.

When it was my turn to talk, I basically told the graduates the following:

Graduation rites are often called “commencement exercises” because, they not only mark the end of one phase but also the beginning of the next phase of the learning process. You are done with the training, it is now time for action, to put into practice what you have learned in the past 16 weeks. Then, SRI-Pilipinas can tap you, like we have tapped Aga, to train your fellow farmers and help them learn how to improve their income, at the same time, creating a healthier environment for themselves and their families.

Actually, SRI-Pilipinas taps for its trainors farmers who have had at least two seasons of experience with SRI. You must try what you learned, learn from your mistakes as well as your successes, and acquire confidence in the method. Then you can teach others.

It doesn’t really take much to learn SRI. SRI-Pilipinas got a grant of a little bit more than eight hundred thousand pesos from the Department of Agriculture, and we were able to train nearly a thousand farmers in 48 provinces with that money, mostly through one-day trainings attended by 25-30 participants. Since you had 16 one-day sessions, you probably know by now sixteen times more than Aga does, who learned his SRI after he attended a one-day seminar conducted by my wife Flora in November 2006 in San Miguel, Bulacan. Aga brought home the primer he got from that seminar, tried SRI, and was immediately successful with it. Of course you learn more in 16 days than in one. When Aga himself trained the members of his Crop Growers Association in Malolos, Bulacan, he also used the farmers’ field school method of season-long training.

But I want to emphasize that for a farmer who is determined to learn, a one-day session is enough. In fact, the primer should be enough. We have farmers who simply wrote us to send them our free primer, and they learned SRI this way, supplemented with occasional text messages when they had questions that needed quick answers.

The Department of Agriculture has committed to convert 10% of the country’s nearly four million hectares of rice lands to organic/SRI production. At an average of one farmer per hectare, that’s around four hundred thousand farmers to train. When you are ready, after having accumulated some practical experience in using SRI, we will be asking you to train other farmers, as Aga has trained you, perhaps in this region, in your province or in your town.

Malolos sets a national example

I just learned from SRI-Pilipinas trainor Aga Milagroso of Malolos, Bulacan that Malolos mayor Danilo Domingo has adopted a city policy which, in my opinion, sets an example that every mayor in the country should follow.

Mayor Domingo has declared that Malolos residents are authorized to plant food crops on any idle piece of land in Malolos, public or private.

Aga Milagroso, who conducts trainings on the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) and organic planting methods in and out of his province of Bulacan, uses a piece of land that is not his own. His compadre, Ernesto de la Pena, an SRI-trainor like Aga, also works several hectares of land using SRI. The land is actually owned by Victory Liner, a Luzon-wide transportation company, which allowed Ernesto to work their land long before Mayor Domingo announced the measure.

Throughout the Philippines, thousands of hectares of land are idled and taken out of production by land speculators who buy agricultural land by the hectare, hoping to sell them several years later, when rapid urbanization eventually enables them to subdivide and sell these lands by the square meter. Often, these land speculators are also government officials, or cronies of government officials, who have advanced inside information where new highways, national roads or other government development projects would be built.

Mayor Domingo’s enlightened measure can help solve the apparent lack of land available to landless rural poor, and the declining rice output of Philippine farms. In 2008, the Philippines became, for the first time in its history, the world’s number one rice importer.

If we had more government officials like Mayor Domingo, this would never have happened.

Promoting SRI among rice farmers

I had written earlier about the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), a new method of growing rice that reduces costs, raises yields and minimizes the use of poisons in the farm. The method is being promoted in the Philippines by an NGO consortium which I coordinate, SRI-Pilipinas, as well as by other groups advocating sustainable agriculture.

Last November 7, I was invited by Aga Milagroso to his farm in Malolos, Bulacan, about 1 hour by bus north of Manila, to meet his 50 visitors from Alaminos, Pangasinan, which is in turn about 6 hours by bus north of Manila. Aga’s visitors from Alaminos were farmers, including 37 who were attending the weekly trainings on SRI and organic farming that Aga was conducting in Alaminos on the request of its mayor, Hernani Braganza.

It was heart-warming to hear Aga’s guests from Alaminos as well as some local farmers who had joined the visit, express their curiosity and their intention to try SRI. The seeds SRI-Pilipinas had been patiently planting throughout the country were now starting to bear fruit.

We have been promoting SRI in the Philippines since 2002. Before that I had been promoting it publicly since 2000, after my wife Flor, who comes from a farming family, successfully tried the method for two seasons in her upland village of Bgy. Casispalan in Tagkauayan, Quezon.

When SRI-Pilipinas received some eight hundred thousand pesos from the Department of Agriculture to promote SRI, we finally got some resources to do a nationwide training program. With this modest amount we have been able to do a one-day SRI training in around 48 provinces so far. We hope to reach 50 provinces before the fund is used up.

Aga’s example shows our approach in promoting SRI. In November 2006, I had been interviewed SRI in a DZMM radio program for farmers, which airs Saturdays and Sundays, 4:30-6:00 am. I always give out my cellphone number during these interviews, so that interested farmers can contact me if they want an SRI workshop.

One of the hosts, Ka Ben Laurente, asked me on the air if I could conduct a workshop in his town in San Miguel, Bulacan. We quickly agreed on the date (Nov. 22) and Ka Ben invited interested listeners to join the workshop.

It was my wife, Flora, who went. I avoid conducting farmers’ trainings myself as much as possible, because I don’t have enough farming experience. I rely for farming expertise on Flora, who spent her childhood and growing up years in her father’s homestead in Tagkauayan, Quezon. Around 50 people came, including some local officials and agriculture technicians.

As usual, many were skeptical. In my own experience, out of every ten in the audience, 8 or 9 would raise all kinds of problems why the method won’t work. They can’t control the water, they can’t control the snails, the can’t control the weeds, etc. But usually, one or two would be enthusiastic about trying it. They would pester you with detailed questions, buy the primer or the training CD and want to start the trial immediately. These are the farmers we are looking for, the innovators, who will go out of their way to try a new method and see if it works. We have gone at great lengths to put into our primer every detail that farmers may need to improve their chances of succeeding in their first trial.

Aga Milagroso was one of those who had attended Flora’s workshop, and one of those who were truly curious and interested. He brought home a copy of the primer, tried SRI on his farm, and got encouraging results. He tried again the next season, drawing into the trial other members of the crop growers’ association of which he was president. Aga wanted to learn more and contacted SRI-Pilipinas. So we sent another trainor, Jun Garde, to teach his group other organic methods, like the use of indigenous microorganisms (IMO), bokasi (fermented rice bran), carbonized rice hull, and so on.

Today, barely two years after he first heard about SRI in a radio program, Aga is himself an increasingly active SRI trainor.

Passed on from one farmer to another, heard on an early morning radio program, read on a photocopied primer, seen from a training video that has itself passed from hand to hand. This is how SRI is spreading itself among Filipino farmers, throughout the Philippines.

We already have at least one SRI farmer in most rice-producing provinces, at the modest cost of some eight hundred thousand pesos. Our next goal is an SRI farmer-trainor in every rice-producing town. I am hopeful the Department of Agriculture will also support this phase of our efforts.

Philippine commitment to organic production strikes fear among chemical/GMO pushers

Secretary Arthur Yap of the Department of Agriculture announced on Nov. 5 his commitment to expand organic production in the Philippines, starting with 400,000 hectares of rice lands.

Five years ago, I led a 30-day hunger strike of the Philippine Greens and other organizations against Secretary Yap’s predecessor, DA Secretary Cito Lorenzo, to ask him to halt the approval of the commercialization of Bt corn in the Philippines. Lorenzo ignored us.

Today, I salute Secretary Yap for making this bold commitment, despite the fact that such decision is bound to incur the ire of the chemical fertilizer industry and GMO proponents in the Philippines.

If there is one word that strikes fear in the hearts of the chemical-GMO industry, it is the word “organic”. The “O” word to the chemical/GMO industry is like daylight to the vampire, or holy water to the devil.

Organic production and organic processing have an unequivocal meaning based on a set of standards carefully defined and regularly reviewed by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). These standards reflect a balance between the interests of producers and of consumers. No corporate lobby, not even governments, can bend these standards any which way they like.

Organic standards are very clear and uncompromising about their prohibition against synthetic fertilizers and genetically-modified products, such as the Bt corn whose commercialization in the Philippines Lorenzo approved in 2003. There can be no ifs or buts about it: anyone who wants to be organic has stop using chemicals and GMO.

Organic products are not only good for our health, they also reduce farmers’ costs and therefore improve their income. They are likewise good for the health of the farmers and their families, because they don’t have to be exposed to toxic chemicals anymore. Organic production is good for the environment, not only because we are reducing the volume of poisons we introduce into the soil and our surroundings, but also because we are reducing our consumption of fossil fuels (yes, fertilizers come from oil) and therefore reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change and sea level rise.

There is no real reason why organic products should be expensive.

A major reason they are expensive today is the limited supply. As we start to realize the 400,000-hectare target set by Secretary Yap for organic rice production, we can expect the price of organic rice to go down to nearly the same level as chemically-grown rice.

Another reason organic rice is expensive today is that that the government subsidizes rice farming with toxic chemicals, but not organic rice farming. This is about to change, as Secretary Yap’s organic rice program takes off.

The third reason organic products are expensive is that they unfairly shoulder the burden of product monitoring, testing and labelling. This creates an economic system with a built-in bias against organic production. If the government followed the fairer “polluter pays” principle, then the burden of product monitoring, testing and labelling should be borne by chemically-grown products, not organically-grown products. This will create an economic system which will make chemically-grown, poison-laden products more expensive and organic products cheaper. And this is what we all want.

I encourage Secretary Yap and the Department of Agriculture to learn more about organic production and processing standards. They will have to master the nuances of this industry, if they want to break into the vast international market for organic products. Too many bureaucrats and technicians within the DA still think that the use of “organic” fertilizers or, worse, “balanced” (50-50) fertilization will already make a farmer “organic”.

We will all have to do better than this, if we want to become “organic” in the same sense that the rest of the world understands it.

Translating Philippine folk songs

I’ve gotten some encouraging comments about my English translations of Filipino folk songs. This is probably because my translations can be sung with the original tunes. So far, I’ve done four: Bahay kubo, Paru-parong bukid, Leron Leron sinta, and Sitsiritsit alibangbang. I think my most appreciative audience is elementary school students, who have to do their homework.

If you want your favorite folk song translated, please email me the lyrics (rverzola@gn.apc.org). If it’s a song I like, perhaps I’ll translate it sometime.

No promises, though. Translation is tough work.

Sitsiritsit, alibangbang (English translation)

Hey, hey, butterfly

English translation by Roberto Verzola

Sitsiritsit, alibangbang

Traditional Filipino folk song

Hey, hey, butterfly

beetle me, oh, beetle my.

Watch that girl on the block;

she poses like a fighting cock.

Blessed child of Pandacan,

Rice biscuits on a stall.

Why won’t you give me a loan?

The pesky ants will get you soon.

Miss, miss, with parasol,

keep this baby in the shade.

When you get to Malabon,

trade him for some fishy paste.

Sir, sir, on the boat,

take this child and go off.

In Manila, at the mall,

trade him for a nicer doll.

Sitsiritsit, alibangbang

salaginto, salagubang

Ang babae sa lansangan

kung gumiri parang tandang

Santo Niño sa Pandacan

Puto seko sa tindahan.

Ayaw mong magpautang?

Uubusin ka ng langgam.

Ale, ale namamayong,

pasukubin yaring sanggol

pagdating sa Malabon

ipagpalit ng bagoong.

Mama, mama, namamangka

pasakayin yaring bata

Pagdating sa Maynila

ipagpalit ng manika

System of Rice Intensification (SRI)

A new method of growing rice is now spreading in many rice-producing countries. It is called the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). The method was initially developed in Madagascar by a Jesuit agriculturist, Fr. Henri de Laulanie and continues to be refined by thousands of researchers and farmers all over the world.

In the Philippines, the promotion of SRI is being undertaken by SRI-Pilipinas, a consorium of NGOs which I coordinate. We have already conducted one-day trainings in at least 47 provinces in the Philippines. Now, we want to do trainings in every rice-producing municipality in the country. We need at least P25,000 (around $500) per municipality, and hope to gather donations from Filipinos abroad who may want to sponsor a training in their municipality. If you are interested in donating, please contact me privately (rverzola@gn.apc.org).

SRI involves a few simple but major changes in farmers’ methods. Not expensive, but challenging because it involves a major change in mindset.

  • Farmers are used to transplanting 3-week old rice seedlings or older. Under SRI, 8- to 12-day old seedlings are transplanted.
  • Farmers are used to flooding their fields. Under SRI, anything longer than a 3-day flooding is avoided. Wetting the soil, or intermittent flooding and drying, is instead encouraged.
  • Farmers are used to planting distances of 15 cm or closer. Under SRI, planting distances start at 25 cm and may even be greater.
  • Farmers are used to planting a bunch of seedlings per hill. Under SRI, one seedling per hill is encouraged. At most two is allowed.
  • Farmers are used to chemical fertilizers. Under SRI, the use of organic matter is encouraged.
  • Farmers are used to herbicides. Under SRI, a mechanical weeder is used instead, not only to control weeds but also to aerate the soil.

These simple changes in practices result in a very different kind (“phenotype” is the technical term) of rice plant. The plants produce much more tillers — 20 upwards, instead of the usual 5-10 tillers per plant. The tillers produce the grain, and the more tillers, the more grain, the greater the harvest. The loss of yield from wider spacing is more than offset by the bigger gain in yield from the greater number of tillers and the greater number of grains per tiller.

For details, please download this file: System of Rice Intensification: Practices and Results in the Philippines.

The benefits are many. The increase in yield, coupled with reduced cost, means greater income for the farmer. The health benefits should not be underestimated. Agricultural chemicals poison the soil, the food that comes from it, the drinking water and the surrounding fields. The environmental benefits are also considerable. Poisons are minimized and can be avoided altogether, giving common farm organisms (like mudfish, snails, crabs, frogs, etc.) a chance to return to the farm. Less flooding means less anaerobic decomposition of organic matter, which means less methane generation and therefore less greenhouse gases. Methane is actually worse than carbon dioxide in its greenhouse effect.

A mindset change among our farmers is bound to generate many positive consequences down the road. To accomplish this, we need a lot of support.

Paru-parong Bukid (English translation)

Butterfly from the field

English Translation by Roberto Verzola

Paru-parong Bukid

Traditional Filipino folk song

I just saw a butterfly,

flitting and floating by;

waiting by the main trail,

fluttering in the air.

Sari wrapped around her,

sleeves as wide as my palm,

Skirt’s a trifle oversized,

ends dragging on the ground.

Her hair held with a pin

Oh!

Her hand twirling a comb

Oh!

Decorated half-slip,

drawing others to peep.

Then she faces the stage,

ogling her own image,

She would come and tease us,

hips swaying like a duck.

Paru-parong bukid

na lilipad-lipad

Sa tabi ng daan

papaga-pagaspas

Isang bara ang tapis

Isang dangkal ang manggas

Ang sayang de kola

Isang piyesa ang sayad.

May payneta pa siya

Uy!

May suklay pa mandin

Uy!

Naguas de ojetes

ang palalabasin

Haharap sa altar

at mananalamin

At saka lalakad

nang pakendeng-kendeng.

Leron, Leron sinta (English translation)

Leron-leron my love

English translation by Roberto Verzola

Leron, Leron sinta

Traditional Filipino folk song

Leron, leron my love,

papaya seeds above.

He took a bamboo box

to keep the fruits he’d get.

Then as he neared the top,

the entire branch broke up.

“It’s not my lucky day;

I’ll find another way!”

I offer you my love,

my courage suits you fine.

I’ve got me seven knives,

I’m keeping nine more guns.

A journey, I will make

to distant parts beyond.

A plate of noodles is

the foe I will engage!

Leron, leron sinta

buto ng papaya

dala-dala’y buslo

sisidlan ng bunga

pagdating sa dulo

nabali ang sanga

kapos kapalaran

humanap ng iba!

Ako’y ibigin mo,

lalaking matapang

Ang sundang ko’y pito,

ang baril ko’y siyam.

Ang lalakarin ko’y

parte ng dinulang.

Isang pinggang pansit,

ang aking kalaban!

Sustainability through permanent agriculture

How does one design a farm so that it is environmentally-friendly and economically viable as well?

To many Filipino farmers, this question has not even occurred. Most tenants and farm workers have little say in running the farms they work in, much less in redesigning them. Even farmer-owners often simply take the existing farm set-up as given, preoccupied as they are in the day-to-day problems of keeping their farms afloat.

Yet, a farm’s design is a key factor in its survival and sustainability. In poorly-designed farms, farmers will always feel as if every day were an uphill climb, because the poor design makes the farmer work against the natural flow of matter and energy in the farm. In well-designed farms, farming will feel like a downhill joyride, as the natural forces and components in the farm themselves do most of the work that the farmer normally shoulders.

A sustainable approach to farm design called permaculture, first developed in Australia, is now proving its worth under Philippine conditions. In permaculture (from permanent agriculture), the farmer carefully lays out a system of water containment and channels within the farm, so that water naturally flows slowly, by gravity, from one containment to the next. Then, the farmer gradually “assembles”, following certain principles and guidelines, an increasing variety of plants and animals. These are laid out in a way that each additional farm component performs one or more functions or provides matter or energy which, in a conventional farm, have to be provided by the farmers themselves. After many years, a well-designed permaculture farm will look like a lush forest of food and cash crops. And this forest will essentially maintain itself. Then, the farmers’ job will consist mainly of tending the “forest” and regularly harvesting its products.

Successful permaculture farms in the Philippines include the Center for Ecozoic Living and Learning (CELL) in Silang, Cavite and Cabiokid in Cabiao, Nueva Ecija. Permaculture practitioners and advocates have set up the Philippine Permaculture Association (PPA), which conducts regular trainings and supports those who want to try permaculture in their own farms.

Worse than colonialism

According to most estimates, some 85% of the entire Philippine national budget now goes to debt payments – principal and interest. This is often cited as the reason more taxes, such as the VAT, the E-VAT, and now the R-VAT, have to be collected.

Consider the significance of this fact: it means that 85% of any income the government collects goes to banks, mainly to international financial institutions who are our biggest lenders. Of what remains, around half is further dissipated through corruption, going into the private pockets of politicians and bureaucrats. The little that is actually spent for social services, furthermore, may go to projects of questionable benefit to the people.

This means that every time government bureaucrats invoke the need to provide basic social services as the main reason for raising taxes, they are lying. The main reason is to pay off government creditors. Most of the tax collections will go to them, automatically appropriated.

In the 18th century, Filipinos were forced to pay the Spanish king, in one year, in cash and kind, tributes totalling around 250,000 for the entire Philippines. Of this, 187,229 pesos (74.9%) went to the local Catholic hierarchy, 59,303 pesos (23.7%) went to the local bureaucracy, and 3,467 pesos (1.4%) went to the royal treasury. Even assuming that all the Church’s share went to Spain or Rome, that plus the share of the royal treasury would still be a lower percentage of the total than the 85% that the government today hands over to our creditors.

In effect, we are in a financially worse situation today than during the Spanish era. The Spanish king has been replaced by the banks and other international lending institutions. The governor-general has been replaced by a president as their principal tax collector.

We are more exploited today than anytime in the past. The colonial period has returned, with a vengeance.

(Source: Francisco Leandro de Viana, Royal Fiscal, “Financial Affairs of the Philippine Islands”, 10 July 1766, from Zaide’s Documentary Sources of Philippine History, Vol. 6, p. 98).

Philippine environmental situationer

Although I wrote this situationer (download Philippine environmental situationer, 150kb) several years ago, much of what it says remains valid; and the situation is probably worse today.

What should be interesting about this situationer is that it reflects the unique analysis of the Philippine Greens, a political movement that I belong to. It is especially useful for its attempt to identify some of the roots of existing Philippine social and environmental problems, such as inappropriate technologies, population increase, overconsumption, historical reasons, etc.. As I often argue, a doctor that makes a wrong diagnosis is bound to prescribe the wrong treatment, one that may even worsen the disease.

Environmental and social activists should always do a deep analysis of the problems they see, and try to identify the deeper — and sometimes deeply hidden — causes of the problems they are trying to solve. Then the bulk of the efforts should be directed at the root causes, rather than the symptoms, of the problem.

I also introduce in this situationer a concept which I call the eco-pyramid. It is based on the social pyramid, but adds one layer on top (corporations) and another layer at the bottom (the rest of the living world).

Bahay Kubo, English translation

Translations of Paru-parong bukid and Leron, Leron sinta also available.

My Humble Hut

English translation by Roberto Verzola

My humble hut

may look tiny,

but the veggies around

it, sure are many.

Yam beans and eggplants,

wing’d beans and peanuts,

string, hyacinth and lima beans.

Winter melon and loofah,

bottl’ gourd, squash, et cetera.

There is more, amiga,

radish, mustard, yeah!

Onions, tomatoes

garlic and ginger.

If you look all around,

sesame seeds abound!

Bahay Kubo

Traditional Filipino folk song

Bahay kubo,

kahit munti,

ang halaman doon,

ay sari-sari.

Singkamas at talong,

sigarilyas at mani,

sitaw, bataw, patani.

Kundol, patola,

upo’t kalabasa,

at saka meron pa,

labanos, mustasa.

Sibuyas, kamatis,

bawang at luya.

Sa paligid-ligid

ay puno ng linga!

Translations of Paru-parong bukid and Leron, Leron sinta also available.