Infrastructure is the key: Lessons from Iloilo City’s Bike Lanes

In the Philippine mobility landscape, people have been reliant on motorized transport. This may be evident as in the long-term vision (Ambisyon Natin 2040) formulated by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) where a typical Filipino would want to have a car of their own. The Land Transportation Office (LTO), in addition, noted that over the past years, motorized vehicles have continued to rise in number. This increase has direct implications for road congestion. To combat traffic problems in Metro Manila and to be proactive in other metropolitan and developing centers, the government through its various instrumentalities including the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) invested in infrastructure through road widening programs and construction of new roads and bridges. At present, infrastructure spending at nominal values reached as high as PhP1.05 trillion in 2019, thrice the annual average of the immediate past administration.

With this amount of investment in roads, there is an impending threat of induced demand. Several studies have shown that new road capacity would be fully absorbed or utilized by induced traffic at 50 to 100 percent in as early as three years. Considering the direct relationship between motorized vehicles and road capacity, congestion may reach a point where it could no longer be solvable. Thus, alternative transport modes fostered by specific infrastructure should be considered. Notwithstanding, motorized transport with the current types of vehicles in the Philippines generates greenhouse gases. It means that the development aspect of transport at the moment is contrary to the direction of its peers in achieving environmental and urban development indicators in the Sustainable Development Goals.

Iloilo City has been regarded as the Most Bike-Friendly City in the PhilBike Awards 2018. These were attributed primarily to the completion of the first and the longest dedicated and traffic-segregated bike lane in the country as early as 2014 coupled with local policies to support its use. Iloilo City has two bike-related ordinances: one which requires government and non-government buildings with existing parking spaces to provide a safe bicycle parking zone and one specific to bike lanes. Just recently it also won back-to-back as Bike-Friendly City by the Mobility Awards and the Bike Friendly City Awards.

In my independent study, I found that there is a direct link on how infrastructure for cycling has influenced the increase of cyclists in Iloilo City. Through historical data review and stakeholder surveys, I structured how the cycling culture developed in Iloilo City. These were then subjected to several analyses by introducing cycling infrastructure expenditure and GIS data to verify how the infrastructure component has influenced bike use over time and its potentials.

Similar to the evidence found on increasing road capacity which induces traffic, results have shown that a significant investment in cycling infrastructure fortified by local policies and legislation would directly influence the increase of bike use in Iloilo City. Through a timeline analysis, it showed that the number of cyclists rose at increasing rates as the city nearly completes its cycling infrastructure network.

Infrastructure, indeed, attracts. What we build for people, they use it. I guess it is time for the government to take extra caution in their infrastructure priorities. If we build more roads, there will be more cars and congestion is just around the corner. If we build more cycling infrastructure, we can influence people to use their bikes more – be it for work, for school or for leisure.

The Covid-19 pandemic also catalyzed the preference for bike use. Data has shown that most cyclist respondents have started using bikes on a regular basis in 2020 and 2021. In 2020 alone, the cyclist number increased by 41.89 percent. From this annual figure, it further increased by 12.38 percent in the first four months of 2021.

The pandemic was a catalyst. However, we do not expect the habit of cyclists to decline. The pandemic was primarily a motivational factor and since they invested in their bikes and we have the infrastructure, they will stay.

The cyclists share optimism in the cycling infrastructure with 97.46 percent of them being certain of continuing their bike habit in the post-pandemic world. They, however, also closed by rating the current infrastructure for cycling a 3.49 out of 5 which means they are slightly satisfied with what Iloilo City has provided for them but there must be some areas they can improve on.

While the bike lane network of the city continues to grow, cyclists also need protection. This includes complementing policies on road sharing not only with motorized vehicles but also pedestrians. They should be in harmony and policies can definitely foster that.

The case of Iloilo City tells a story of how public spending on infrastructure can greatly influence how people choose their mode of transport – the one which increases carbon footprint, the one which temporarily eases congestion but induces demand over time, and the one that is new, at least for a developing city. While several facts dictate the laws of nature such as the ongoing climate crisis, the government is highly instrumental in dictating what people can do next, what people can contribute, and how they can be part of the change.

Does ‘Build Build Build’ really exist?

If you haven’t heard of Build Build Build, then at a high rate, you must be missing out. The Build Build Build (BBB) Program is just the most ambitious infrastructure spending spree of the current administration. As economic managers of the Philippines suggest, it fosters big promises in the overall development of the country in achieving its target of becoming a high-middle income country. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, infrastructure still was at the altar, worshiped as one of the country’s hope toward economic recovery.

In a news item of the state-managed Philippine News Agency, the BBB program listed 212 airport projects, 446 seaport projects, 10,376 flood mitigation structures, 26,494 kilometers of road, and 5,555 bridges being among the completed projects. Meanwhile, a total of 102 airport projects, 117 seaport projects, 1,090.30 kilometers of railway, 2,587 flood mitigation structures, 2,515 kilometers of road, and 1,020 bridges are currently under construction.

On a fiscal sense, infrastructure disbursement amounted to PhP869.5 billion last year, equivalent to 4.8 percent of GDP, despite construction delays due to Covid-19. While lower than PHP1 trillion worth of infrastructure disbursements in 2019, it is highly comparable to the PhP100 billion average spending (based on obligations) per year from 2001 to 2010 (1.6 percent of GDP).

While the spending part has been fulfilled, it begs us to question. What next? One of the highlights of the BBB program is to generate jobs. In fact, even in pandemic time, it is expected to provide opportunities to Filipinos both from within and those displaced overseas. In the latest labor force survey of the Philippine Statistics Authority, current estimates indicate that unemployment is 7.7 percent (as of May 2021) or a one percent improvement from 8.7 in the previous month. Much of the jobs have been recovered as the country is easing its quarantine restrictions. Last year, unemployment dove to 17.7 percent in April and improved in July to only 10.0 percent. Figures also show that pre-BBB program, unemployment was at 6.5 percent in the same period in 2015; by 2019, annual figures showed 5.1 percent unemployment. So it seems, whether directly or indirectly, the program has generated jobs.

The BBB program has created a brand of its own. It is true to its promise to increase public investment on infrastructure and generate jobs. However, is it really the program that did this? Or is it just a label for something.

In a report by Philippine Institute for Development Studies Research Fellow Janet S. Cuenca last December 2020, the BBB program seemed to be lost in translation. Cuenca pointed out that the program lacked information on what it really is and what it covers. The National Economic and Development Authority said it covers priority infrastructure programs, projects and activities in the public investment program as well as infrastructure flagship programs which include major capital project undertakings. One major finding of the report actually called out that the full potential of the economic benefits of the BBB program has not been realized quoting the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF ultimately meant that our country needs to improve on efficiency in public investment and making sure returns outweigh the capital investment.

The program could be just a fancy name of where we are spending all of our money. It goes with several nicknames, including “The Golden Age of Infrastructure”.

The program could be just a fancy name of where we are spending all of our money. It goes with several nicknames, including “The Golden Age of Infrastructure”. But with the turn of events, it can actually be the country maxing out all of its credit cards and not being able to be back in a good financial position.

Popping the bubble of the promises of the BBB program, why does it have to exist with this label when it is in deep identity crisis?

Browsing over social media, the BBB seems synonymous to the name of a cabinet secretary. From his controversial “Ang ganda mo, Pilipinas” post which drew flak among transport planners and sustainability advocates to many other posts glorifying and taking credit of the country’s infrastructure boom, it seemed that the name of the program is being used for a political aspiration.

People have become creative in finding their own spotlight; sometimes at the public’s expense including our hard-earned taxes. The country could have done away with the branding and just do its thing with “priority projects under the public investment program” and “infrastructure flagship projects” which are perfectly the same. Without the fancy name, who could take credit of it? After all, it is our money, not just theirs.

At this point, what is BBB anyway? It probably is a multi-year plan or a bunch of infrastructure projects or it can be something that solemnizes a candidacy of a would-be politician as his name became almost synonymous to the infrastructure program of the government. I just thought that as public servants we should do things not to get noticed but rather do things because these were the right things to do. While the BBB is there, I just wonder how necessary it is to also flash ones face in all the project billboards with some getting 50 percent of the space for the face and the other half for a list of projects you can barely read.

Giving civil service a chance

President Benigno S. Aquino III receives a copy of a framed ISO 9001:2008 Registration Certificate of DPWH’s Quality Management System (QMS) presented by Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson during the 117th anniversary of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) at the DPWH Quadrangle of the Central Office in Bonifacio Drive Port Area, Manila City on Monday (June 22, 2015). This year’s theme: “DPWH: Sa Daang Matuwid, Para Sa Diyos at Bayan”. (Photo by Lauro Montellano, Jr. / Malacañang Photo Bureau)

Who is embarrassed of the government? I guess we all had a fair share ever since our lives began of how terrible the government is. Sharing a few memorable moments, I could remember my first time to vote when I registered in a Commission on Elections office where I literally threw a tantrum because more than 1,000 people are piled up in a narrow alley of Iloilo Terminal Market. It was chaos. Nobody was really helping at all. It was a disappointment. Come 2014, I became a civil engineer and I had to endure a not so systematic process in the Professional Regulations Commission.

Today, things are not as terrible. There has been a lot of improvement. Voter’s registration can be done online and so are some numerous transactions in the government. I remember renewing my professional license in a brief 15 minutes.

As someone who had several traumatic experiences with the services of the government, I always had the idea of entering civil service myself at the back of my head. But never did I expect that I am now in service for more than six years with the dream of becoming a cabinet secretary someday. I never knew that someone like the late President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino would be that enabler. I never attributed him as a reason of my being in the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) where my story all began. But it was really him who started it all.

While I already had a handful of companies in mind, a little opportunity came which I was very much ready to decline – a job order position in DPWH. I did not like the idea to join the organization. As some folks would call it in Hiligaynon, DPWH is synonymous to “Damo Project, Wala Human” (Many projects, nothing completed). I considered what other people would say if I joined DPWH. I did not want to be judged prematurely. But I gave it a chance.

Months have passed and I began to enjoy the job. But the salary and the employment status has kept me hanging. I became part of the organization in February and by May, I was tempted of a teaching position with a scholarship in Manila. Then, here came the announcement which gave me some hope. Thousands of permanent positions in DPWH were approved nationwide. This was part of P-Noy’s unsung efforts in upgrading the DPWH as a competitive and corruption-free organization. Through his appointed Secretary Rogelio Singson, 1,391 positions were created. This effectively increased DPWH’s capital outlay by 202 percent from a mere ₱90.8 Billion in 2011 to ₱273.9 Billion in 2015. I settled as a part-time junior instructor when June came. And come October 2015, I’m officially a civil servant with an Engineer II permanent position in the Planning and Design Division of DPWH Regional Office VI. I thanked my superiors for their trust but I failed to realize that it was all possible because of the people up there – P-Noy and his highly committed Secretary of Public Works and Highways.

Rumors even had it that those with endorsements from congressmen and other influential people were automatically rejected and to some point, blacklisted. It was really a “cleansing” for the organization.

Interestingly, these newly created positions were not for everyone. It gave the younger generation an advantage and a chance of a lifetime. It was only open to engineers aged 30 and below. Considerations were made for highly exceptional job order employees who did not fit the minimum criteria but had been an asset in the organization. Selections did not have a “padrino system”. It was purely based on merit and scholastic achievement. Rumors even had it that those with endorsements from congressmen and other influential people were automatically rejected and to some point, blacklisted. It was really a “cleansing” for the organization.

Prior to this, several hardworking people also leveled up with their career in DPWH in the time of Sec. Singson. He assured the top management and the middle-managers who got promoted (based on merit) that he has their back. All that he wants from them is to uphold the quality policy of the Department – to implement the RIGHT PROJECTS at the RIGHT COST determined through transparent and competitive bidding; with the RIGHT QUALITY, according to international standards; delivered RIGHT ON TIME through close monitoring of project implementation; and carried out by the RIGHT PEOPLE who are competent and committed to uphold the values of public service, integrity, professionalism, excellence, and teamwork.

So if I am to think of the bigger picture, it is not just the people I got acquainted with who are the reasons behind my career and my passion as an Ilonggo engineer. I can safely say that it came from P-Noy’s minute, under-praised, somehow forgotten and unsung effort and support in appointing a very driven, passionate and steadfast DPWH Secretary in the person of Sec. Singson that we, young engineers, have become catalysts in the overall direction of the infrastructure boom that this country is experiencing now. I may not be in the same organization at present but my heart to civil service was able to grow because I was given the chance. Thank you, P-Noy.

If I were to earn a cabinet position someday, I will leave a space for your name in my speech – not for political interests but simply because you were the enabler for many of us young Filipinos to become civil servants and to be the change we want our country to be. Thank you for making me realize that I can give civil service a chance.

Goodbye, GetGo: What happens next?

Update: My not-so-good GetGo to GoRewards experience

Who else would not want to travel for free? For the longest time, the loyalty program of Cebu Pacific was able to convince me to always choose the airline in almost all of my flights. I did pay for most of my travel while I was collecting these GetGo points with the hope of getting free flights. I even endured the longest flight of my life from Manila (MNL) to Dubai (DXB) eyeing for more points. That was probably my worst flight experience that some travelers would also agree but it is also one of the world’s cheapest flights in terms of cost per distance traveled.

Back in 2019, I banked up nearly 40,000 points. I spent all of it for my traveling plans the following year (2020). I laid out a trip to Baguio (via MNL) in February, a birthday gift tour for my sister to Singapore (SIN) in June and finally a birthday trip for myself together with my best friends to Korea (ICN)where we will meet halfway with another best friend from Canada. It was all so exciting. I was able to see the Summer Capital of the Philippines and then the rest… pandemic.

The air transport industry is probably the worst hit industry in mobility. Although flights still exist, passenger flights took the largest blow as an effect of lockdowns, heavy regulation for travel and behavioral shift due to the dangers of the coronavirus disease. Each carrier have been pulled back to their drawing board and went back to their business models which took years to perfect. This includes of course, Cebu Pacific.

Unfortunately, last May 27th I received an email from them that the program will be replaced by a rewards program for retail sales. Starting July 26, 2021, the GetGo Program will be integrated into the new Go Rewards Program. This offers its members access to rewards and benefits through its partners like Cebu Pacific, Robinsons Retail stores, Caltex, and a growing roster of your favorite lifestyle brands.

As GetGo transitions into Go Rewards, the following adjustments will be made on your membership. Your GetGo points will remain yours but will be converted based on the following guidelines:

Points Issuance PeriodNew Currency/Account
Points earned before January 1, 2020Cebu Pacific Travel Fund at PHP0.30 per GetGo point
Points earned from January 1, 2020 onwardsGo Rewards Account at 0.3 Go Rewards points per GetGo point

For example, if a member has 3,378 GetGo points as of July 25, 2021 and 2123 of these points were earned before January 1, 2020, the points will be converted as follows:

GetGo Points for Conversion:Amount credited to Cebu Pacific Travel Fund:Amount credited to Go Rewards Account:
3,378PHP636.90376.5 Go Rewards points

You may continue to earn GetGo points from Cebu Pacific and other GetGo partners which will follow their respective mechanics and earn rates according to the schedule below:

Allowed until June 13, 2021Allowed until June 30, 2021Allowed until July 25, 2021
Robinsons Supermarket
Robinsons Easymart
Robinsons Department Store

Bank of Commerce
Go Hotels
Security Bank
Summit Hotels
Cebu Pacific
Dusit Hotels and Resorts
EastWest Bank

The GetGo points issued to you from January 1, 2020 to July 25, 2021, will be converted to their equivalent Go Rewards points balance on July 26, 2021. Redemption of points through Cebu Pacific and other partners will be until June 30, 2021, to give way to system transfer and preparations for the new program.  Redemption of Go Rewards points will be available by July 26, 2021.

Starting July 26, 2021, you will start earning Go Rewards points. The new earn rate will be as follows:

Card TypeVisa/Bancnet Spend in Cebu PacificOther Visa/Bancnet Spend
Credit CardPHP100 = 1 Go Rewards pointPHP200 = 1 Go Rewards point
Debit CardPHP400 = 1 Go Rewards pointPHP400 = 1 Go Rewards point
Prepaid CardPHP400 = 1 Go Rewards pointPHP400 = 1 Go Rewards point

As the program transitions, issuance of points earned from your monthly transactions using the CEB GetGo Visa Card will be adjusted based on the following:

Transaction date
Points to be issued to memberDate of points issuance
June 1 to 30, 2021
GetGo points
Debit/Prepaid: 1st week of July
Credit: 2-3 days after cutoff date
July 1 to 25, 2021
GetGo points
Debit/Prepaid: 1st week of August
Credit: 2-3 days after cutoff date
July 26 to 31, 2021
Go Rewards points
Debit/Prepaid: 1st week of August
Credit: 2-3 days after cutoff date
August 1 to 30, 2021
Go Rewards points
Debit/Prepaid: 1st week of September
Credit: 2-3 days after cutoff date

Apparently, what they failed to mention is that the Cebu Pacific Travel Fund expires. It will most likely compel its members to spend the travel fund until it gets voided out due to the many circumstances brought about by the pandemic. It will also force you to travel if the flight is not canceled because you have no valid reason to get a refund.

Whether we like it or not, the new rewards program will never be as good as the old one. I personally looked forward to spending my points when the pandemic is over. But I guess the complexity of loyalty programs mean that it is either the loyal patrons or the company itself who will shoulder the effect of the pandemic. Cebu Pacific chose its loyal customers to make their business elsewhere.

While we are still waiting for the actual effect to the customers who banked points, only time will tell if Cebu Pacific will remain afloat as the country’s homegrown budget airline. One acceptable option that I hope Cebu Pacific considers is the full conversion of the GetGo points to Go Reward points so that our hard earned points would not go to waste and become free passes for Cebu Pacific to fulfill its promise that GetGo points will not expire for life.

Streets for Life: Where are we heading?

The United Nations Global Road Safety Week happens once every two years since 2007. Now on its 6th commemoration, this year’s theme is centered on speeding entitled, “Streets for Life” which targets urban areas to have low speed streets where pedestrians including non-motorized vehicle users interact with motorized vehicles. Low speed streets would require vehicles to have a maximum speed of 30 kilometers per hour.

Moreover, the speed solution to prevent road crashes links to the attainment of several targets in the Sustainable Development Goals such as in health, education, infrastructure, sustainable cities, climate action and partnerships.

#Love30 (#Love20 for countries using the imperial system of measurement) trended over social media the past week as the celebration came by from 17th to 23rd. On a very wide and diverse Filipino context, when you talk to certain groups about speeding and sharing the roads, you will get good smiles from some and handful of smirks.

Speed limits are either established by law or by local legislations in the Philippines. As simple as it may sound, private groups have appealed several measures to ensure road safety but barely a spoonful of proposals made its way to get our lawmakers’ nods. This include the highly controversial child seats which, for me, is a first world solution which needed further study on its flexibility considering the modes of transportation that we have. The anti-distracted driving act provided promising measures and was quite doable on a personal level. However, it failed because erring individuals were more concerned of getting caught using their phones than keeping their eyes on the road. A very low number of enforcers keep the window big for violations and in unfortunate moments, road crashes.

As an engineer with several technical trainings, I learned that road crashes can happen anytime. Although preventable, the human factor could never be controlled. Our behaviors and habits like drinking alcoholic beverage, distracted driving and other contributing factors may lead us into a crash. The solution for this range from the safest which keep the driver alert such as rumble strips, to the most forgiving such as guardrails which prevent a vehicle that is out of control from falling, say for example, into a ravine.

How did 30 kilometers per hour become a potential solution to curbing road crash fatalities? The World Health Organization (WHO), through a study of Pasanen in 1991, have found that speed is highly contributory to the probability of death in a road crash. In fact, more than 60 kilometers per hour of speed almost guarantees the death of a pedestrian if hit by a car. Hitting at 80, the pedestrian is surely dead. The WHO also notes that a 30 kilometer per hour impact speed in a collision has a 90 percent survival rate on the part of the pedestrian.

The question is if it is really doable in the Philippines. I am used to riding jeepneys, taxis and even private vehicles which sometimes hit an 80 in Iloilo City especially on Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Avenue and Luna Street. There are sometimes people who run to cross these extremely wide streets like the former. We cannot simply deny the fact that despite the best looking roads and infrastructure at par from other developing cities, we designed it for cars and trucks. We have to be highly inclusive.

It is a big challenge for our community and a big challenge for the Philippines in general.

This is a challenge for our lawmakers in the local level as well as the national level to put into heart “Streets for Life”. We have been well-funded over the past five years in infrastructure and what we really lack is the policy direction to make use of our roads in a more efficient and safe manner. Wider roads need to be reallocated for shared use to encourage safe active transport. More trees should also be planted to provide shade in our bike lanes which are almost useless at midday. Speed on streets with painted bike lanes as well as school zones should be designated as low speed streets where speeds of motorized vehicles are maxed at 30 kilometers per hour. A simple ordinance for this is preferred but some good enforcement support mechanisms such as well-educated and uncorrupted enforcers are vital for the success of its implementation.

This is also a challenge for road users. Share the road! Nobody owns it but all of us. The only priority use of roads lies with emergency response. For general use, we all share it. No cyclist or pickup truck driver has the right to shout for their priority. No power tripping should foster. If we cannot do it this way, then we most certainly have a long way to go.

PICE-Iloilo to hold first virtual CPD seminar

The Iloilo Chapter of the Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers (PICE) will hold its first-ever virtual seminar this May 29, 2021 that will provide eligible participants with continuing professional development (CPD) credits.

This seminar will feature software trends in civil engineering particularly discussions on current software applications essential in the structural engineering and construction specialization such as building information modeling (BIM), Tekla Structures, and Visual Basic Applications for Excel (Macro-Programming) in Construction Estimating.

The PICE Iloilo Chapter invited industry-leading Filipino professionals here and abroad namely, former PICE Singapore Chapter President Romualdo Lex S. Garcia, Marvin Josol Gracia and Felemual D. Bullos, Jr.

Meet the Speakers

R. Garcia is currently the BIM Manager of Asia Projects Engineering Pte Ltd, a 40-year old company in Singapore catering international infrastructure developments including some of the largest energy suppliers in Singapore and Indonesia in its stable of clients. He was named as Most Outstanding Graduate from the University of San Agustin in Iloilo City where he earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering back in 2005. He will be discussing the first session entitled, “BIM for Contractors: Value Added on Design and Engineering Projects”.

Meanwhile, M. Garcia is currently a technical specialist of Trimble Solutions, the maker of the highly sought after software for structural engineers, Tekla. He will be the resource speaker for the second session entitled, “Integrated Digital Delivery with Tekla Constructible BIM”.

The final session entitled, “Estimating Automation using Excel VBA Macro Programming” will be delivered by F. Bullos, Director for Engineering and Technology in RV Architecture + Engineering + Technology. He is a veteran in the civil engineering industry particularly in the private and academic sectors. He topped the August 2010 Master Plumber board examination in the Philippines in 2010 and also placed 19th in the November 2001 Civil Engineering board examination.

Attendees who fulfill all the requirements in the webinar are eligible to earn three CPD credits essential for the renewal of their professional licenses with the Professional Regulation Commission.

For a fee of PhP400.00, members of the PICE Iloilo Chapter may begin registering online for the webinar as of this writing and until slots last.

Members of PICE from other chapters may start availing remaining slots by May 22, 2021. This activity is organized by the PICE Iloilo Chapter with the generous support of Davies Paints and co-presented by Ace+ Review Center and Ilonggo Engineer Blog.

PLDT is frustrating, a scam

For over 20 years, our home is very loyal to PLDT and we have seen the company evolve from its logo, the telephone directories that come for free annually, to its tech upgrades when it began internet services to fiber optic technology as it is now. Amazing how this company grew and I am sure this company is worth billions. They might have gotten the right recipe for their business model.

Everyday my newsfeed will have one or two advertisements from PLDT. This is usually inviting more subscribers in to their ecosystem as they have a wide variety of services such as internet, phone, cable service bundled on their internet and all that. Exciting as the price and the “unlimited” fast and reliable service, you begin to wonder why most of their sponsored ads would have angry emojis.

I am now in the brink of disconnecting from their service. Not because I haven’t paid my bills but rather the company has not given what I paid for.

I can easily recall a few years back when I was already having stable income and wanted to upgrade our internet services. This was under the name of my father and he is not able to transact given his paralyzed medical condition. I was young then and I am usually impatient with too much paperwork so I resorted to having mobile data on my smart phone in case I needed extra speed.

Then 2020 came, my father died in June. This time, I really had to request for transfer of ownership. So I called up their hotline and followed all the instructions. They required me the death certificate, the customer information sheet for my updated information and valid ID. These would then be emailed to their applications email account. After that, no more. As in, no more. Nothing happened. No calls. No emails. No texts. I let it pass although I already did some research and yes, their customer service has been frustrating not only me but thousands of subscribers. Hurray for monopoly, I guess.

I tried again recently. This time I did it on a weekly basis this February. I tried emailing. I tried their hotline again. But nothing happened. I had to rant for many times on Twitter just to get their attention and when I got their attention, all I got was a chatbot response from Salesforce. I am quite impressed by how they have invested so much on their customer service portal and yet the actual people to do the job did not do anything to solve the problem.

After many, many, many frustrating attempts, one human finally told me that I send them the requirements again. So I resent my email on their portal. Amusing as it is, it had several layers on indention already because yes, I’ve been forwarding it for several times already. Guess what, I didn’t get anything. Wala pa ring nangyayari.

Still, I extended my patience. Then another human came in. I had to settle my balance. I regularly pay and it is on time. For sure, the 20 years of consistent and never getting disconnected service is enough proof. But no, PLDT rejected my appeal. Like, wow. I’m impressed with the level of capitalism. But since, I cannot get an internet connection right away, so be it. I paid. I emailed my requirements again. No response still! And I’m already getting used to it. I mean, sure. PLDT would want dead people as their subscribers probably.

Finally, I still had the guts to be dumbfounded by their excellent customer service. So another rant on Twitter, another comment by their caring robot. This time, the human got into her senses and told me that I have to send the files through the Twitter messaging feature. So I had to prepare a shared folder and it contained the documents they needed. And yes, my personal information went all around their network several times. Towards midnight, I finally own the account of our PLDT service.

But wait, there’s more.

I would not really call PLDT a scam just yet until I finally decided to look for new providers. Now that I am excited to upgrade our internet, I called up their hotline. I admire my patience and confidence. I got my application for migration to fiber so fast. Nice.

Day in and day out, I counted the guaranteed five calendar days of my migration from DSL to fiber. These days I had my internet connection slowed down to horrific levels. It felt like the dial up connection in the 90s was faster. It was not in Mbps and was barely hanging to kbps – 0.9 kbps, I guess. I had to call again. The agent clarified that this was the case for accounts with service orders. I even clarified if at this period, a subscriber has to suffer excruciatingly slow internet speeds. The agent gladly affirmed. Amazing. This agent then assured me that within 24 to 48 hours somebody from the technical service would contact me regarding the status as well as act on my service request.

Forty-eight hours have passed and to no avail. If I were Duterte, I would probably order a PLDT shutdown but I am poor and I am not powerful like him. So, I called up again as it really interrupted my work from home and my online class. I had this final waiting period of another 24 to 48 hours. The said period ends today, March 30.

What do I do now? My internet is slow. I regularly pay my bills. I did what I can. Why are they not acting on it? I had to suffer this bureaucratic process from a privately run monopoly. I could not go anywhere. I mean I heard other networks have available services but these are slower than ever and are getting a fair share of rants like this. But we are never heard.

The pandemic has increased our demand for fast and reliable service and yet we only pay but we do not get the quality of the services we pay for. Complain to the authorities? It adds another layer of bureaucracy. It is frustrating. It is the fourth time I mentioned that word but the level of frustration is severe.

I beg to wonder why they spend so much on advertising but they cannot keep up. It is like paying for a bucket of chicken and just getting the bucket without the chicken. When you complain, customer service staff will just hit you like a volleyball and pass you around. They are doing great injustice all for the sake of getting plenty of subscribers and charge them for something they did not get.

Is this even legit? Technically, this is not a PLDT-affiliated page but I guess they prioritize to prey on having a lot of subscribers. Or sometimes, I even think that there is an entire cartel of illegal connections being done by third parties. From jumpers in electricity to jumpers in internet.

They probably put quotas on their agents and their staff and the same people get pounded when there are complaints. It is unfair for their employees, too.

Philippines, when will we get better telecommunication service? Not all of us are a fool.

Trust issues

Do you remember those days when we are scolded by our parents when we lie? Sometimes, we are not aware of even lying. We just twisted the truth a little bit to our advantage and safety from being slapped or spanked by a slipper. I picked up a lesson from this that is very relevant now. As my late father, Cicero, who got his name from an orator, would say: “Indi ka sinagay ka binutig. Dugay-dugay, wala na may mamati sa imo bisan insakto pa nahambal mo.” (Don’t get used to telling lies. Eventually, no one will believe you even when you tell the truth)

There are several aspects today that I can illustrate how this old saying would apply and probably, increase the depth of our fountain of regrets. Be it a leader who never made his promise, to a politician who reacts on the effects of the laws they authored as if it is not theirs, to the media who often goes for engagement and ratings at the expense of public panic.

While our trust issues pile up, let us equip ourselves with sufficient critical thinking, common sense and reading comprehension.

The dengvaxia scare has become timely with the low vaccination confidence among Filipinos and has also taken a whole new level such as the resurgence of polio in the country. This vaccination issue would have died down a natural death as we Filipinos always forget. But then, the coronavirus pandemic came in and this time, it would somehow require a vast majority to be vaccinated. Much of the wound from dengvaxia healed but this was just the beginning. Now, we are still left in dilemma as to whether Chinese-made vaccine CoronaVac (from Sinovac) is the way to go. This was further aggravated by the refusal of some top government officials from getting inoculated with this.

To be fair, several countries issued emergency authorization to date for the said vaccine from China. This includes, among many others, Brazil, Mexico, and even our ASEAN neighbors like Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia. Malaysia, meanwhile, has provided full authorization of its use. However, the amassing opinions on social media, multifaceted issues with China making us feel like we’re being sold to the devil and just the plain credibility of government officials have put our game back to the bench.

Thanks to the frontliners unlike some who just acted for posterity purposes, vaccine confidence have improved though not significantly.

This is not new to us but from what happened in 2020, the several quarantine violations of the mighty and powerful officials may be put to blame as well. Given that they can get away with it, probably, we can as well. Although it is not the case as some low-profile violators got penalized, our behavior could have triggered the surge in cases lately. We are hungry, we are tired, we are sick of being isolated, what can we do to cope? We really have to go out. Also, we wanted to keep the economy afloat and for cash to flow, we definitely need to go out and spend. As we see things get worse, record after breaking record, it only adds to our frustration.

A screen-captured photo from the Iloilo City Goverment Facebook Page on the alleged “lockdown”. The quote came from Iloilo City Mayor Jerry P. Treñas who must have received an inaccurate information regarding the RTF Issuance. The same was then used as a source by several local media outlets quoting the mayor for the “lockdown”. Whoever fed the information to the good mayor has some explaining to do.

Finally, with all the incompetence of the government the citizenry is calling out, there is a caliper holding our wounds open. As most of us are online, we fall into prey with a handful of misinformation coming from bloggers, influencers and even local media outlets. This strategy of posting highly intriguing segments will definitely turn into peso signs when these items will hit target number of engagements and organic reach. It is a way of earning, yes and it can be perfectly normal on some issues. However, pandemic-related news should be carefully verified. Just as of this writing, the Western Visayan online landscape panicked. Whoever coined the term “lockdown” which eventually reached the local officials was successful in one thing – getting plenty of engagement – but as a public service, it is definitely something unethical. The pandemic deals with more than just who gets the information out first. Come to think of it, it is no wonder why some local media outlets become more of an entertainment source for the intellectuals. It makes intellectual segregation much easier.

Nevertheless, the media will forever be the source of information. The only refuge we have really lies on our hands and our curiosity. We are compelled to add a layer of verification of what we see online as we simply cannot find truth in a glance. I surely hope that as media practitioners, we would do our actions more prudently. Let the others do their thing; as media, we should be the reliable source. Nothing more or less than that.

As we are entering the 2nd year of our not so normal lives, let us be grateful that we are still connected no matter how disconnected we are. While our trust issues pile up, let us equip ourselves with sufficient critical thinking, common sense and reading comprehension. We may not be able to trust specific people but the only way to emerge victorious is to subject the information to deep scrutiny before allowing entry to our heads.

Our leaders, meanwhile, well, let that old saying sink in. It will give you a hard time when people are no longer convinced.

Make us feel heard

These past few weeks have been quite a lot for me. I sometimes had difficulty in sleeping because I have been thinking quite a lot. My expectations were far different from reality. While everybody would put their best foot forward at the beginning, the truth will soon creep out unconsciously.

As a former leader and adviser of a school organization, I was trained to be competitive. In fact, I do subscribe to the idea that when you want change, you will lose some friends and become the person who gets discussed over coffee when you are not around. I rarely mind that given that I am more driven by results over my person.

I remember Hopper in A Bug’s Life (1998) throwing out something people in position and are downright lazy dislike – ideas. Hopper emphasized that these are dangerous things. That makeshift bird scene told me one thing, ideas are dangerous for those who become threatened by it.

As I met people in various parts of the world through the webinars and meetings I join, I can say that they really have better support systems. They get listened to by their community, they get the support from the private sector, and the government works hand in hand with them. Meanwhile, in our local setting, you can probably get a thumbs down even when you are just about to knock on the door. Even if you work on the same building, tradition is favored over change for the good.

My generation of young leaders are struggling. Passionate people like me are struggling. When things could be done, it only turns into things that could have been done because it is only on the regrets stage that they see the potential of what people in my generation are capable of. I cannot blame myself for being paranoid when the idea I pitched and lobbied for quite a long time gets forgotten. Then suddenly other people would take credit for it. Is it really this kind of system that they call tradition? I am confused.

A simple saying goes, you cannot bend an old tree. I learned it first from my late father. He also taught me that I should do all the things I can do today than wait for tomorrow. Apparently, the environment I am in is a forest of old trees and tomorrow is always a day away.

While it is really hopeless, I keep myself grounded and always in the interest of learning some more. All I can do is wait for my time to come and be on their place, to be where they are standing. That will hopefully guarantee that the change will come. It is going to be a rough road across these old trees but I will endure.

Finally, I am not saying that what my mind tells me is the right thing. I am not even sure that my idea could solve the global climate crisis, the corruption problem the politicians have been denying, or the poverty and economic recovery amid the pandemic. All I ask, and probably all of us youth would respectfully ask one more time, make us feel heard.

On child safety in motor vehicles

A lot of clamor has been making rounds over social media as the love month enters. This came after media outlets have reminded car owners to also give love (and safety) to the children riding motor vehicles as full implementation of Republic Act No. 11229 or the Child Safety in Motor Vehicles Act starts on February 2, 2021.

The law requires motor vehicles to install child restraint system or child seat, in friendlier terms, when traveling with children below 12 years old to ensure their safety and welfare and to ultimately reduce related deaths and injuries from road crash.

The said act came from a consolidation of Senate Bill No. 1971 and House Bill No. 6938 and was passed for approval on December 11, 2018. It was then approved by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on February 22, 2019. The implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of this act was then prepared over a six-month period upon its effectivity by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) with due consultation from various agencies and stakeholders including the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Philippine National Police Highway Patrol Group, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and the Council for the Welfare of Children. The IRR was approved by Secretary Arthur P. Tugade on December 23, 2019.

Among the important things to know about the law and the IRR as as follows:

Definition of child. A child based on the IRR is defined to be any person 12 years and below. Thus, be aware of any violation that can be credited of this definition and to be safe in disputes for violations, make sure your child has an identification card with birth date in case you will need it.

Child restraint system or child seats is required and non-negotiable. Under Rule III, Section 6, it will be unlawful for the driver of a covered vehicle not to properly secure at all times the child in a child seat while the engine is running or when transporting the child. The seat should be appropriate for the age, height and weight in accordance with the United Nations Regulation Nos. 44 and 129. Nevertheless, the DTI is tasked to determine which is safe and compliant with international safety standards.

Leave no child unattended in a motor vehicle. Under Section 7 of the IRR, it clearly mandates that in no instance will a child be left unaccompanied by an adult inside a motor vehicle, notwithstanding the use of a child restraint system.

Front seats are not for kids. The DOTr required that no child should be allowed to sit in the front seat of a motor vehicle with a running engine or while the child is being transported on any road, street, or highway. Section 8 of the IRR also states that a child who is at least 150 centimeters or 59 inches in height and is properly secured using an adult seatbelt may sit on the front seat provided that nothing in RA 11229 or the IRR prevents the child from being seated in the rear seat of the motor vehicle.

The law covers private vehicles, public utility vehicles (PUVs) will be covered soon. Rule II of the IRR and Section 4 clearly states that it covers all private vehicles and for the avoidance of doubt, it covers private vehicles covered by a long-term lease contract between the rental company and the lessee, driven exclusively by the lessee and exempted from securing franchise from the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) under Memorandum Circular No. 2011-008. It also covers private vehicles rented out for a fee required to secure a franchise from the LTFRB under Memorandum Circular No. 98-027. Section 5, meanwhile shares that within one year from the effectivity of the law, the DOTr shall study the feasibility of requiring use of child restraint systems in PUVs.

Exception from using child seats. Under specific circumstances, the use of a child seat will not apply: (1) during medical emergencies involving the child; (2) the child being transported has a medical, mental psychological, psychiatric or developmental condition or disability that makes the use of the child seat hazardous or detrimental to the child’s health and safety as certified by a licensed physician provided that an appropriate modified, special purpose, special needs, or custom child seat is prescribed for the protection of the child; and, (3) other analogous circumstances as may be determined by the DOTr in consultation with the Department of Health.

In the country, while there is a handful of road safety laws, a lot of public outcry still lies on the implementation of these policies. There are, for instance, recent laws such as RA 10586 or the Anti-Drunk and Drugged Driving Act of 2013 and the RA 10913 or the Anti-Distracted Driving Act of 2016. Two years later, this new law on child seats came about while the effect of the two predecessor road safety laws remain unfelt by most Filipinos. There is no question that the implementation lies with the enforcers who are tasked to spot and penalize violators. However, it bothers me to question, do we really need enforcers around for us to follow rules?

There are still a lot of challenges toward the full implementation of the Child Safety in Motor Vehicles Act – economic would be the highest. Nevertheless, other laws on road safety exist and each of us can contribute by following them. The good part is that some do not even require us to shell out some cash to comply. What then is the best reason not to follow?