Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Remembering our Northern Exposure

Sigh! My day at the office ended on a bad note.

The page I was producing hit a glitch-- making me miss my 7pm bus -- and I couldn't refuse an S.O.S. to help a distressed compatriot compose her complaint-affidavit that she needs to file with the Philippine Consulate -- which again made me miss the next bus at 9pm. I also missed my supposed final Tuesday night workout, which would've relieved me of the tension gripping my shoulders for the last 3 or so hours.

Normally (meaning, during my heydays in Manila), when confronted with such situations, I'd either hie off to my usual haunts and hang out with equally stressed out comrades or go straight home and play with the kids.

I was walking back to Gate 6 of Gulf News after waiting in vain for the ever reliably unreliable public bus when a chilly, winter breeze kissed my unprotected ears.

Suddenly, memories of Baguio came running in my mind.

Oo nga pala, it was exactly two months ago -- and exactly at the time I'm composing this entry -- we were on our way to the Philippine summer capital.

It was December 27, 2007. Christmas was over and I was clocking my 4th homecoming day.

Mara and I prepared for this three-day trip as early as September. It's the first time in more than 10 years that we'll be holidaying together with Mama and Tita Moni and the rest of the household.

The last time yata that everyone in the house went for an outing together was way back in 1994 pa when we went to Hundred Islands in Pangasinan. Ara was just two years old. Wala pa sina Aia and Andre. Trinangkaso pa nga ako nun e pero pinilit ko pa rin sumamang mag-island hopping.

Anyway bago na naman ako mapadpad sa kung saan-saan. We motored to the north using our neighbor's Nissan Urvan. Kahit na puyat ako, hindi ako natulog sa biyahe. I didn't want to miss every second, every scenery.

Miss na miss ko talaga ang 'Pinas so it was a visual feast for me to see unlighted streets, criss-crossing jeepneys, Bayani Fernando's u-turn slots and dangerous concrete barriers, kotong (mulcting) cops waiting to pounce on the poor biyaheros, the perennial jam at Balintawak interchange, the ever-present takatak boys, and even the shameless, self-praising billboards and signs mounted by oafs who call themselves "honorable".

Our first stopover was at a Petron petrol (UK English) or gas (US English) station within the North Luzon Expressway, somewhere in Bulacan. Bumili lang ako ng Star and managed to sneak in our first photo op on the road.

Our next stop was at Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac. Jollibee was packed full of travellers stopping over for breakfast. Tatawid sana kami sa Chowking pero sabi ko sa kanila, sawang-sawa na ako sa kaka-Chowking sa Dubai, so we decided to look for another Jollibee or McDo.

Pero siyempre, di ako pumayag na umalis nang walang kodakan sa vintage train set that used to haul sugarcane from Tita Cory's azucarera.

Kaso, ang layo pa pala ng kasunod na Jollibee! Umabot pa kami ng Urdaneta, Pangasinan before finally getting our first chow for the day. We were soooo hungry that we forgot all about the picture-taking. From hereon, non-stop na si Boy V. sa pagharurot paakyat ng Baguio.

I would've wanted to make brief stops along Marcos Highway to take some snaps, but Boy was against it since medyo delikado ang daan because of the thick fog.

Grabe na rin pala traffic sa Baguio! Bumperrr to bumperrrr!

It took us almost an hour to negotiate the city's maze. Nagpaikot-ikot pa kami in looking for Ina Mansion where we booked a big family room. Ina Mansion is just across Burnham Park kaso lahat halos ng napagtanungan namin di alam saan siya banda. The place was recommended by my Gulf News colleague, Patrick Masahud. Hindi naman siya kagandahan. The room smelled funny, maninipis ang beddings pero kumpleto naman sa basic amenities. Sa lobby pa lang, feel na feel namin ang country Christmas.

After a quick recharge, we made our first foray to SM BAGUIO -- Henry Sy's only mall that doesn't need airconditioning. Like any typical SM mall, the one in Baguio is perennially full of mall rats.

Here are some snaps of our first day in Baguio....

Our second day was dedicated to the "must see" places. First stop was the horseback-riding trail at Wright Park. Ayaw pa sanang sumakay ng kabayo ni Andre. Ikaw ba naman makakita ng kabayo na pink ang buhok....mawiwindang ka rin nga naman kasi si Starlite (kabayo ni Rainbow Brite) lang ang dapat ganun.

Aside from being the summer capital, Baguio is also known for the flowers, plants and veggies it produces. Kaya naman di ito pinalampas nila Mama and Mara . . .

After loading up on plants, handcrafted keychains which I gave to every staff member of XPRESS and oranges from Sagada, tinuhog na namin ang nearby sites -- the presidential mansion, Wright Park proper, Mines View Park and a quick swing to the Good Shepherd convent for the mandatory ube and strawberry jams.

Btw....may nakita pala akong kakaibang souvenir item sa Wright Park . . .

Oo nga naman.... tsinelas na pantulog yan e...nangengelam ka?!

It was already half past 1pm when we finally arrived at Camp John Hay and we rewarded ourselves with this . . .

Enjoy talaga si Aia sa John Hay.... feel daw niya wala siya sa Pilipinas.

From there, takbo kami sa Philippine Military Academy sa Fort Del Pilar kaso di na kami umabot . . . so picture-picture na lang sa facade ng kampo as proof that we were there.

It was already sundown when we left the Loakan area to go back to the city proper. We were hoping to catch up with the Holy Mass at the Baguio Cathedral but we were slowed down by heavy traffic along Session Road. So what to do . . .

Day 3 . . . we initially planned to take a sneak peek at the adjacent Burnham Park and make a last stop at the Strawberry Farm in La Trinidad. But the "bed" weather was too much to ignore.

So finally, we bid Baguio goodbye, but not after a stop at one of the roadside "pasalubong" outlets that dot Marcos Highway.

Dec. 29 was really foggy . . . time check, 1.30pm

. . . buti na lang, magaling piloto namin!


From Baguio, we went to the Shrine of the Our Lady of Manaoag in Pangasinan.
Flashback 1998: I was at the Shrine a day before the 1998 presidential elections to cover then Lakas standard bearer Joe de Venecia's visit to the Miraculous Lady. JdV -- who was with the then "feeling" First Lady Manay Gina -- claimed that this is his "secret weapon" against the steamrolling candidacy of Joseph Estrada. Well the good Lord knows that not all prayers are meant to be answered.

But the good Lady was kind to Mara, who together with her classmates went on a pilgrimage to Manaoag before taking their Nursing Board exam last June. She passed the exam and fulfilled her promise to Mama Mary.
Haay ... looking back...we really had a great time. At this early, I'm already setting my sights on going on a Viaje del Sol on my next trip home.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Nursing a nurse's problem

I join the Filipino nation in congratulating the more than 28,000 nurses who passed the December 2007 licensure exam in the Philippines. The results were released today.

Getting into the nursing profession is said to be the easiest way to the proverbial greener pastures as nurses are said to be in great demand in the greying First World.

And because most Westerners are not keen on letting their kids aspire to follow Florence Nightingale's footsteps, hospitals and nursing homes go to other countries like the Philippines and India to "poach" for professionals to fill in their medical staff requirements.

The demand daw for nurses is so huge that there are more than enough slots daw until the year 2020. Note that I placed two daws in that sentence because I'm doubting such statement. (hmmm....did the Filipino word "daw" evolved from the English word "doubt"?)

Anyway, I'm not an authority to discuss this. The Manila Times once ran a special report on the nursing brain drain, so check it out for yourself.

Why am I suddenly interested in nurses? Well, I happen to be married to one.

Mara was among those who passed the June 2007 licensure exam. She's now an RN, but still a "certified bum" (her words).

Mara is what has been termed as a "second courser". Many like her were made to believe that the fastest and easiest way to earn greenbacks was to become a nurse.

In Mara's case, she really wanted to become a nurse. She was a nursing student in college before shifting to Commerce due to financial reasons. Her becoming a nurse can be said to be a realisation of her dream.

When news of Mara's hurdling of the nursing board spread, people kept on telling us: "Uy ang swerte nyo naman. Aalis na kayo papunta sa States nyan."

For sure, ganun din ang narinig ng mga kapamilya at kapuso ng mga pumasa sa last board exam.

Like us, umaasa na rin sila na in a short while, matutupad na rin ang pangarap nilang makatikim ng dolyares dahil mag-aabroad na ang kanilang bagong nurse!

Sorry to bust your bubble my dearies... it ain't gonna happen soon.

Linawin lang po natin. Hindi po por que nurse na po ang inyong asawa/anak/pamangkin/apo/girlfriend/boyfriend/kapatid/kapitbahay/kabit (oops) makakapagtrabaho na siya agad bilang nurse. Bakit po?

Those who passed the December board will have to to contend with maybe 40,000 unemployed registered nurses (my rough estimate) who spent months going from one hospital to another to submit their CVs. Sa batch pa lang nga ni Mara, parang parang 9 out of 10 are still unemployed.

Hospitals in Metro Manila are deluged with nurses. Hindi pa kasama doon ang mga student nurses who are required to render hospital duty.

Kahapon lang, Mara went to Medical Centre Manila in UN Avenue to submit her application. Ang dami raw applicants. She was placed on the "active" file, at tatawagan na lang daw pag may bakante. A simple case of the infamous "don't call us, we'll call you" line ng mga HR.

Naikot na rin ng mga classmates ni Mara ang halos lahat ng ospital sa Metro Manila para mag-apply pero until now, wala pa ni isa sa kanila ang tinatawagan for employment.

Dito naman pumapasok ang mga mapagsamantalang ospital.

Knowing that newly-passed nurses are desperate to start clocking in their experience, they're taking advantage of the situation.

May mga ospital tulad ng isang sikat na private hospital sa city of Manila that accepts "volunteer" nurses in exchange for a P5,000 donation to their charity foundation. And since they're "volunteers," the nurse don't get paid for working 8-10 hours, many in graveyard shifts.

There are also hospitals who tie up newly-hired nurses to a fixed contract. If the nurse decides to pre-terminate the contract, the hospital will not certify that he/she has worked with them.

Contrary to common perception, hindi agad makakapag-abroad ang mga nurses because overseas employers require nurses to have at least 2 years of local hospital experience because it is a government requirement. Dito lang sa Dubai, nurses must have at least 2 years experience before they are allowed to apply for a health ministry license. And all hospitals in the UAE only require nurses to have a ministry license.

Sa US naman daw, kailangan pasado ka sa NCLEX para makapag-work ka dun as nurse. Ang dami pang exam na dapat ring kunin ng mga nurses. Aside from the PRC-administered exam and the NCLEX, may naririnig pa akong CGFNS, IELTS, TOEFL at kung ano-ano pang alphabet soup exam.

So saan napupunta ang mga wasted human medical resource ng Pilipinas?

Many are now donning headsets instead of stethoscopes in call centres and medical transcription companies. Buti na raw na mag-call centre muna while waiting for their turn to take the NCLEX.

Meron namang pumupuslit at nagbabakasakali na lang sa abroad. Dito lang sa Dubai, ang dami daw na nurses na naghahanap ng trabaho with some even ending up as salesladies or office receptionists. Kaya nga di ko pinayagan si Mara sumunod sa akin dito dahil binabarat ang mga inexperienced at unlicensed nurses dito (wala pa daw Dh2,000 and sweldo sa mga tsipipay na clinics) at sayang naman ang pagka-nurse niya if she takes on a non-nursing job.

So now, if you hear our blabbermouth politicians and officials aspiring for media attention yakking about an alleged nursing brain-drain or doomsayers claiming the Philippine healthcare system is in peril...don't you ever believe these assholes. Nagpapapogi lang yung mga animal na yun.

THE PHILIPPINES IS OVERFLOWING WITH NURSES.... wala lang silang mapuwestuhan sa palpak na healthcare system natin.


On a more personal note, about a month ago today, we went to Sta Clara Monastery along Katipunan Ave in Quezon City to offer prayers and eggs to the poor Claires.

Pinoy urban legend has it that if you don't want your party to be rained out, go to Santa Clara and offer eggs and a prayer.

This afternoon, Mara was back in St Claire not to ask for the rains to stop but to comfort her friends who failed to make the cut in the December exam.

Let us pray for those who need to be comforted.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Journalist Bert Castro writes "30"

Just got a call from my good friend Gilbert Felongco, Gulf News' frontman in Manila, and he broke the sad news of the passing of Atty Lamberto Castro, a revered colleague in the journalism fraternity.

When a journalist dies, headline writers would automatically flag so-and-so as having written "30". To non-journalists or even to newbies in the biz, writing "30" doesn't make sense.

Old school news writing requires journos to put the number "30" at the end of his/her copy to indicate that it's the end of his/her story. And by associating the number with something that signals "the end" has become a de rigueur for obit writers. "Writes 30" has become an acceptable phrase used to announce or refer to the passing of a newsman.

Anyway, I'm digressing. This is about Bert Castro or Tata Bert.

Tata Bert was a luminary in Philippine journalism. When I joined the editorial staff of the defunct Manila Chronicle in the early 90s, Tata Bert was on the "all-first team" of the deep Chronicle bench. He covered the justice and foreign affairs beats. Being a lawyer served him well in the justice beat as he knows the quirks and technicalities of digesting an inch-thick Supreme Court decision. He could also face news sources on equal footing as he too is an officer of the law. "Juniors" like us would sometimes get an impromptu lecture on jurisprudence especially when a story is muddled with too much legalese. A Bert Castro in the ranks would have come in handly to those covering the controversial ZTE-NBN controversy or the dawning of the writ of amparo, which was a killer bar question in the mid-90s.

If I'm not mistaken, it was during his watch when JUCRA (Justice and Court Reporters Association) was formed that would until this day, compete with the rival group JUROR.

For many years -- spanning maybe over a decade -- Tata Bert was an unbeatable officer of the National Press Club. He was a fixture at Neal Cruz's Kapihan sa Manila Hotel and several other kapihans that sprouted in Manila and a most sought-after lecturer on libel. He was all around town until a mild stroke slowed him down.

When I was still in Manila, I'd often bump into him either at the Press Club or at Robinson's Place Ermita where he'd stop over after attending the morning kapihans. Every time our paths would cross, Tata Bert would usually give me a warm handshake and a light slap on the shoulder, telling me to carry on.

Don't worry Tata Bert, we're still carrying on as you move on to the Great Newsroom.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

One month na 'baby' namin

Yup...we have a new baby and she just turned one month old today.

Our new baby shares 2 letters with my initials. I'm APG, she's APV!

Yeah boy, our new baby is a Suzuki APV (All Purpose Vehicle), a mid-sized van completely built in Indonesia.

Actually, wala akong planong bumili ng sasakyan. Pero nag-offer kasi ng 40 percent off the downpayment ang Suzuki Shaw so we gave in.

Matagal ko nang gustong magkaroon ng bigger car because the kids are growing up fast, para na kaming sardinas sa Corolla. Besides, gusto ko naman maisama sa mga lakad sina Mama and Tita Moni and the rest of the household and that was not possible with the old car.

Mara and I had shortlisted the Toyota Avanza, Toyota Innova, Kia Carnival and a Kia Carens. Na-scratch off namin yung Avanza kasi parang masikip sa loob. Yung Innova, medyo mahaba at parang mahirap i-maneuver sa kalye namin sa Galas which is a typical low-middle class suburb in Quezon City. Maganda sana yung fully automated na Carnival kaso ang mahal, isang milyon na rin ang price -- same with the Innova.

We were already keen on the Carens until we saw the APV on display at SM Centerpoint (Sta Mesa), that was a Friday (Jan 11) - kagagaling lang namin ni Mara sa Bohol.

The next day, Emerson of Suzuki Shaw made arrangements for me to test drive an APV and I was satisfied with the feel and handling of the van.

Ang tipping point is that at P765,000 she can comfortably seat 8 people at may konting cargo space pa. Sing-taas rin sya ng typical na 4x4 so on the road, mataas ang vista. It has automatic transmission, driver and passenger airbags, side collision bars, power mirrors, power windows, dual A/C .... at ang killer factor -- it looks good in RED.

Value-for-money, it's the best choice for me (Wink-wink...Suzuki people, baka you need an endorser hehehe)

Here's me while driving out of Suzuki Shaw to bring our new baby home last January 16, 2008 ....

And here's my first passenger . . .That night, we brought the APV to the RVM convent and asked Sister Dodi Loquellano to bless it.

And for good measure, dinala pa namin siya sa Antipolo.. sa Shrine ng Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage ... dahil dito nga daw dinadala talaga ang mga bagong kotse for a "special blessing"

And a month after we took our baby home, Mara has finally got the guts to take it on a solo spin and the kiddos are ecstatic now that they have a new "driver".

For the old Corolla, we finally bid her adieu two weeks ago. She's now under the care of our good friend Sugar. At least we know where it went.
And as I close this entry, I salute my old silver Corolla who for close to eight years have been my travel mate, mobile office/home, school service, delivery panel, unmarked vehicle, limo, and life saver. Farewell bud!

Pahabol lang.... it was also a month ago today when I finally had the chance to join two of my closest friends for lunch, Raffy Dolor (now Department Chairman of the Philosophy Department of San Beda College) and Art Franciz Bernales (formerly Sen. Rene Saguisag's clone, Raul Roco's protege, Dante Tinga's hatchetman and Caltex Philippines' voice).

Here they tagged along JanKing, the president of the San Beda College Student Council.

To the San Beda CAS community, YES WE WERE UP TO out.

How I wish ..

..... it was easy for me

to tell her this ........