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Archive for July, 2008

Maritz (Part II)

You might want to read Part I

Music, Life and Love

So in 1990, Maritz left the Philippines to try her luck as a singer. She toured around Asia with her band, performing in luxury hotels in Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, the Middle East and other popular destinations in the continent.

Along the way, our heroine met significant people who motivated her and trained her to perform with confidence, to shed her inhibitions and to come on as an honest, world-class artist/performer. Maritz was not always poised and self-assured as a singer. As a young lady, she was very conservative, a bit on the shy side. But she grew and matured into the seasoned performer that she is today.

In those days, when people in our country hear that you are a singer or performer abroad, they look down on you. There was this connotation that you are merely in the flesh trade, disguising as a “performer”. Maritz could not care less. She knew that she was earning an honest, decent living. She went on improving and using her rare talent to earn money to support her two younger sisters and make her dreams come true. She has always been and always will be thankful for her talent, something that she is putting still to good use.

Performing abroad also made Maritz realize how much impact she makes on her audience. She saw that people look up to her as a little star. They recognize her efforts onstage to make people happy. Sadly, the same cannot be said about the Filipino audience. According to her, Filipinos are more difficult to please, they are just waiting for performers to make mistakes and laugh at them.

Her travels abroad did a lot of other good to our heroine. Exposure to different cultures meant that she learned to adapt and to do it fast. Her outlook in life totally changed. She matured not just as a performer but as a woman. Her audiences included rich, well-heeled people – businessmen, travellers, tourists.

As a young woman in the entertainment industry, she did not lack admirers, but they were all duly discounted by Maritz as her focus then was supporting her family. In her itinerant and demanding lifestyle, a boyfriend could not just fit and so for two years, she was successful in ignoring men who had an interest in her. Never mind that her bandmates called her “manang” – loosely translated as “old fashioned”.

Love Comes Sailing Round

But love comes when it is meant to come. What started as a high-flying adventure to follow her dreams turned into one of the most romantic love stories I have ever heard. After two years in the entertainment circuit around Asia, the band was offered a new contract for them to perform in Phuket, Thailand at the Le Meridian Hotel. That was in December 1992.

On December 3, a group of German sailors came to stay in the hotel where Maritz and her band were contracted to perform. Little did she know that the Germans’ arrival would be the beginning of the next chapter of her music-filled life.

It was the King of Thailand’s birthday. To honour him, it is the country’s tradition to invite good Sailors around the world to compete in the King’s Cup Regatta. The Germans were there for the event.

Every single night, the German contingent watched their show, though Maritz was totally unaware. One of the Germans had one pressing reason to watch – the diminutive lady entertaining them every night with her soulful singing has caught his eye and fancy. Not a single word was exchanged between them, no introductions made. In fact, Maritz was just totally oblivious to the fact that she was having a tremendous effect on one German sailor’s heart.

When the two-week Regatta was finally over, Maritz’ band was to perform at the Awarding Ceremonies. The German Team won 2nd Place and after that, the now fast falling in-love sailor presented his medal to Maritz! The next day he was gone.

Maritz felt a mixture of anger, frustration and disappointment. All the while, she was made part of a one-sided courtship without her knowledge. She didn’t know the guy’s name, his face and much less anything else about him. She had his medal alright and what to do with it?

Exactly a week later, which happened to be her birthday, Maritz received a long distance call. Who else, but our love-struck German guy who did not have the guts to come up and introduce himself to the girl he admired?

At last, shielded by the relative anonymity of a phone call, he summoned enough guts to introduce himself, as Maritz had no idea who he was. She asked him to send her a photo of himself, as she just could not conjure up an image in her mind from the throngs of people she sang to every night. He did send her a photo and that was the start of their long distance relationship.

Any woman courted the way Maritz’ German sailor did to her could not help but be intrigued, interested if not attracted to such a man. It was a courtship described only as mysterious but honest in its intentions. He wanted to get Maritz’ attention and attention he got.

A long-distance relationship is hard enough to maintain and nurture. But theirs was not merely separated by distance with both of them located in two different but permanent places. Maritz was always on the move and chasing her around would be the only apt description whenever the guy wanted to see her. And that, my dears, is what I am going to tell you about in the next chapter of Maritz’ story.

See you later, guys!

Part III

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Reality Bites

Last month, I posted about “Imagine a World Without Filipinos” in Read on and Be Proud. Now, I will post about how this phenomenon they call mass exodus, affects the the country of our birth, the Philippines. It’s like looking at the same thing from opposite perspectives and I am sure, after reading this, you will not like what you see.

In that post about how Overseas Filipino Workers are positively affecting their host countries, I lauded our combined contribution to the world. This time, I think we should face up to the bitter truth.

It is a bitter pill to swallow for the country, the government and the whole Filipino race. But we are left with no choice. We put leaders in position who are content to send us all away to distant shores so that we can send back home dollars to keep a floundering economy afloat, rather than getting their acts together to stop corruption, improve commerce and business and create jobs. It is frustrating but who is to blame?

I found the following article in my email today and it just shook me to the core to be reminded once again of the dire consequences of our government’s failure to keep its manpower within its borders to ensure its growth and development.

Read on and be sorry…

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Philippines pays for geek exodus
By Joel Adriano

MANILA – While investigators sift through the wreckage of last month’s Philippine ferry disaster which killed over 800 people, one overlooked culprit for the national tragedy is the mounting brain drain of the country’s best scientific minds.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) failed to issue proper storm warnings before the Princess of the Stars left port in Manila and into the path of an incoming typhoon. The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) said it recently invested US$40 million in new equipment at PAGASA, but that the agency lacked the qualified meteorologists and climatologists to put the advanced technology to proper use.

That’s in part because PAGASA has seen at least five weather
forecasters, two weather observers and a hydrologist all leave the agency in the past year to take higher-paying jobs abroad. When the ferry disaster hit, all of their positions at PAGASA were still vacant.

Other specialized science- and technology-oriented agencies, including the Mines and GeoSciences Bureau, are also fast losing science and technology experts to overseas recruiters and failing to fill their vacated posts. The Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development has lost some 75 English-speaking staff over the past two years, most of whom have migrated for higher-paying posts in Canada. Others from the agency have headed to richer pastures in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

The Philippines has the third-largest population of outward migrants in the world, according to the United Nations. It is no longer just Filipino laborers who are heading overseas for better job prospects than the Philippine economy can provide. In recent years, doctors, nurses, teachers and pilots have all left in their professional droves for overseas opportunities.

Now, a growing number of the country’s best and brightest scientists are being lured abroad by higher-paying salaries and better-funded research prospects, taking with them hopes the country will ever make the jump from a slow growing commodity-based to a fast growing knowledge-driven economy.

Many migrant Filipino scientists take higher-paying work with international aid organizations or private firms involved in information technology, consulting and biotechnology and pharmaceutical research, according to DOST under secretary Graciano Yumul Jr. International assistance organizations, including the World Bank, the United Nations and the United States Agency for International Development, have been particularly aggressive in poaching English-speaking Filipino scientists, one Philippine official notes.

The Philippine government already estimates it needs an additional 4,100 agriculture researchers, 2,000 fishery and marine science experts, 1,300 biotechnology staff and nearly 1,000 energy and environmental scientists just to meet rising challenges from higher energy and food costs.

At the same time, the non-governmental Center for Migrants Advocacy expects that more science and technology professionals will look to leave the Philippines as the local economy slows, inflation rises and countries like the US more aggressively bid to fill their severe shortage of science and technology workers.

While Philippine universities and trade schools churn out close to 150,000 science and technology graduates every year, government statistics show most of these are in medicine and nursing and that fewer than 2,000 receive degrees in the so-called pure and natural sciences, such as chemistry and biology. Those low graduation figures have stayed steady over the past 15 years, despite a doubling of overall college enrollment figures over the same period.

Because the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration does not keep records of outward migrants based on profession, precise statistics measuring the scale of the scientific brain drain are not available. The United Nations-affiliated International Labor Organization estimates conservatively that the number of science-oriented professionals that have left the country has exceeded the net addition in new graduates since the 1990s.

Local observers, however, are more alarmed about the gathering brain drain and its long-term impact on the economy. “The impact in the long run is actually happening now,” said Patricio Faylon, executive director of the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development.

“There is a shortage of manpower to do research and once we retire there will be no people to manage our already few labs,” said Faylon. “Now you have non-technical people, mostly lawyers and uniformed men, working on science-based planning for sectors such as agriculture and environment.”

Regional laggard
The number of scientists and engineers currently engaged in research and development (R&D)activities across the Philippines is about 8,800, representing a 20% decline from the figure recorded in 1996, according to DOST. That figure pales in regional comparison. Singapore, which has a population less than half of Metro Manila, employs 19,377 scientists and engineers involved in R&D activities, according to DOST’s 2007 Compendium on Science and Technology Statistics. Regional competitor Thailand boasts more than 30,900 R&D-related staff, while Indonesia has 92,800, and even Vietnam employs 41,100.

That has resulted in lower scientific output. The Philippines recently ranked 29th out of 30 countries surveyed for their respective science and technology abilities, in a survey conducted by the Switzerland-based International Institute of Management Development (IIMD). The IIMD survey of world competitiveness from 2006, which compared various measures across 61 countries, ranked the Philippines 58th in scientific infrastructure. Recent statistics also show the Philippines badly lagging behind regional countries in the number of patents applied for and received.

The main reason for the science and technology brain drain is better pay abroad and lack of opportunity at home. A Filipino scientist working with a private biotech firm can on average earn between three to 10 times more in developed countries than locally, according to local industry sources. Over 70% of local scientists are employed by the low-paying state because of scant employment opportunities in the private sector.

Giovanni Tapang, chairman of Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, laments that the Philippines lacks the domestic industries needed to absorb the scientific scholars and engineers the university system produces each year. He chalks up the deficit to a “market failure”, driven in part by the country’s rocky politics, which have discouraged investors from making long-term R&D-related commitments to the country.

“The industries present in the Philippines are only light-manufacturing, construction, public utility and mining enterprises dependent on imported equipment and raw materials,” said Tapang. He noted that automotive manufacturing in the Philippines focuses narrowly on assembly and testing, while the few foreign semiconductor firms situated in-country work on older technologies and provide little to no technology transfer for product innovation.

The lack of a critical R&D capacity is discouraging new foreign investments in manufacturing, including in the crucial electronics and computer sector, some experts say. US semiconductor giant Intel, which has a manufacturing presence in the Philippines, has developed a fabrication process based on exotic materials such as Hafnium for its next generation of Pentium computer chips. However, the US firm is said to be leaning towards establishing production facilities for the new chips in lower-cost and more science and technology-minded Vietnam rather than the Philippines, according to industry sources.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization recommends that developing countries allocate at least 1% of their gross domestic product (GDP) towards science and technology to maintain competitiveness and sustain economic growth. Philippine politicians have failed to make those budgetary earmarks. Despite recent increases in funding for science-related activities, including budgetary earmarks worth 3.7 billion pesos (US$81 million) in 2007, the allocation is still lower than the 3.8 billion pesos made in 1998.

The current budget’s allocation for science and technology related activities comes to a paltry 0.14% of GDP, or half the amount of Thailand’s 0.26% and about a mere fifth of Malaysia’s 0.69%. The figures are even more miserly when measured in per capita terms, with the Philippines spending only $6.20 per head, while Thailand commits $19.70 and Malaysia spends $61.90, according to the World Economic Forum’s most recent Global Competitiveness Report.

Apart from meager budgets, Filipino scientists and researchers complain that there are no concrete policies to channel and facilitate research outputs into marketable products or uses. Philippine research grants seldom if ever include monetary provisions for spinning-off research results for commercial applications, including the high costs of acquiring intellectual property rights for new innovations.

Scientists also recommend that the government moves to establish science and technology dedicated universities with better functioning and more modern R&D labs. Instead, the government recently launched its new “Balik Scientist” program, which aims to reverse the brain drain by encouraging overseas Filipino scientists to return home and share their knowledge and experiences with up and coming local scientists.

The government has provisionally targeted alternative energy, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and information and communication technology as areas of priority for what it has referred to as a “brain gain” program. But without financial incentives to lure scientists home, the program has over its first five months received only five applications – considerably fewer than the estimated number of scientists who have left the Philippines over the same period.

Joel D Adriano is an independent consultant and award-winning freelance journalist. He was a sub-editor for the business section of The Manila Times and writes for Asean BizTimes, Entrepreneur Philippines, Masigasig and People’s Tonight.

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Maritz (Part I)

This story took a long time to come along because it deserves enough time to be composed and re-written to do justice to its drama and excitement. It is all about Maritz Moore, a Filipina who found fame, love and home in Hamburg, Germany.

I should begin this story in a big national high school in Cagayan Province in the Philippines. She was one of those few who would be regularly called upon to render a song during school programs. Maritz, or Marita back then, does not have a good singing voice – she has a fantastic, awesome singing voice. It is not the operatic, dulcet type but the husky, bedroomy kind of voice that will surely grab your attention if not captivate your heart. It’s the kind of voice you want to hear if you are feeling romantic or simply want to sit back and unwind in a dim room sipping wine or an after-dinner coffee. Imagine a room full of noisy people talking animatedly. Put Maritz on stage and ask her to start singing and there will be no one who will not start listening.

Having said that, let me backtrack a bit and share more about this petite, talented lady who, by the way, regularly tours around Europe and the rest of the world in connection with her job as a Travel Consultant and sometimes, as a singer – with her band, of course.

Maritz in one of her promotional photos

Maritz in one of her promotional photos

Maritz is the middle child among a brood of five. Her parents were school teachers. Sadly though, her father died before she could finish college. The dutiful big sister in her took upon the responsibility of making sure that her two younger sisters will graduate from college as well. Meanwhile, her eldest sister helped their second sibling, a brother, through college.

So, straight from business school, she flew to an Asian city with her band where they were to start their years of touring around the continent as performers / entertainers. She was with this band during her college days – as she was performing professionally since then, to pay her way through university.

Early on, she was clear about following her dream – that of sharing her music and making life better for her and her family. It so happened that the realization of these lies somewhere outside the country. In fact, the Philippines was too small for her to conquer and so, there was only one option – to pursue them outside of her motherland.

This is an excerpt from her own letter to me about how she started on the road to her adventurous life: “I left the Philippines right after my Graduation in 1990. I had a band when I was in college and my manager at that time offered me a contract to tour around Asia. I had to grab that opportunity since I really had no intention of working from 8 to 5 for less money, more stress and couldn’t see any prospect at all to stay in the country. I wanted to explore more. I knew I have my talent as a capital. I knew I could strike anywhere. But the main reason why I had to leave was that I have two younger sisters who had to go to college too.”

A sister, a dutiful daughter and now, a successful career woman who lives life to the fullest. Follow her story here as I recount it to you in succeeding posts.

Next time… the German sailor who followed her around the world.

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I intended to post the first installment of my next true story of Pinoys around the world but something amazing and special and humbling all at the same time came up. I only saw it posted by other bloggers but I never imagined it to be passed on to me.

You see, Jena Isle of Gewgaw Writings awarded me – take note, I have an award! She presented me with the Arte Y Pico Award. I honestly do not know on what aspect the awardees are considered. According to the Arte Y Pico site, there is no English translation for the Mexican phrase (arte y pico) but it roughly translates to lo maximo or “wow!”. Maybe it is an appreciation of a certain blogger (the one who conveys the award) for all his favourite blogs, whatever. One thing is certain, though: I am absolutely caught by surprise because one may look at it as insignificant, yet, for me it’s so wonderful that my writing has been recognized (for the first time at that!).

Not only is the gesture touching, but the person who gave it to me is one of my favourite bloggers/authors as well, so that makes it doubly special. As with most blogging-addicts, Jena Isle maintains a multitude of blogs – Gewgaw Writings is just one of them and it particularly showcases the author’s serialized fiction works. She writes with ease and a natural talent. One can perceive someone from the academe just by how she expresses her thoughts and constructs them to create a comfortable flow of the scenes and the plot as a whole. In other words, this blogger is worth reading. Go check her out to believe me.

To Jena Isle, thank you ever so much! I’m afraid I can’t yet give my five awardees at this time. I need to carefully give it a thought and then formally post it here as well. In short, this is simply a thank you note to you.

Graphics from Microsoft clipart

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This is the last installment to this series. I could have stopped at Part II but I feel the need to elaborate further on my personal thoughts and feelings about food and why being away from home has such a great impact on my gustatory satisfaction.

Being a vegetarian and an Ilocana at that, I have subsisted mainly on vegetables known oh! so very well by me and my fellow GIs – saluyot (jute), okra (ladies fingers), eggplant or aubergine and all the leafy vegetables we just pluck from whatever is growing near the kitchen door – malunggay, ampalaya, alugbati, etc.

A few months ago, I started feeling this overwhelming longing to eat saluyot and labong or plain saluyot if that is all that I can find. Unfortunately, it is not that easy to find fresh saluyot leaves here. I have seen the frozen variety in an Oriental store here but I had some misgivings. I preferred the fresh variety.

So, I went on with life for a few months suppressing this craving. Then one day, when I could not fight it any longer, I tried buying the frozen saluyot I saw in that store I mentioned. Then, I went straight to the aisle where there are rows and rows of canned vegetables and found a big can of bamboo shoots. I was not that optimistic but I had no choice. I just had to make do and do best with what I had.

I still had a few drops of my fish sauce and went to the kitchen straight away. I could not wait to eat it so that while my hubby was still on the phone on an important phone call, I dug into the bowl of steaming saluyot and bamboo shoot dish and ate half of it. This was how it looked like before I started with it:

What a delight to my eyes!

What a delight to my eyes!

Of course, I will not show you how it ended up after I had my way with it. Suffice it to say that it calmed my tormented soul and brought about a deep sense of peace and calm, making me feel so satisfied and overwhelmed all at the same time.

It is funny how one can shun the grand, elaborate and more enticing dishes of a foreign country and yearn oh! so desperately for the humble dishes he has grown up on. That is how I feel! I have no desire at all for the famous and popular fish and chips or the savoury lamb chops or the creamy desserts – well, I have a deepening love affair with their wines but that’s all, promise. I only have taste buds and gustatory desires for our native pinakbet and dinengdeng and the lowly munggo. And how can I ever forget camote tops salad with fresh tomatoes for breakfast coupled with salted eggs? And of course, I dream of adobong kangkong and more of saluyot and labong!

One day, when I am able to go home, I promise, I will not let any single day pass without cooking and enjoying these native dishes. I remember one close friend of mine whose brother lives in the US and went home to the Philippines for a short break. I swear, he ate pinakbet or dinengdeng every single day of his vacation. All his housemates were so sick and tired of the dishes they all wanted to throw up but the guy never missed a single day without indulging in his favourite native vegetable dishes.

I”m gonna do the same thing and more – I will have midnight meals alternating all my favourite vegetable dishes until it’s me who wants to throw up.

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