Friday, June 13, 2008

History of ASTIG PINOY in IRAQ


Astig Pinoy was conceptualized based on the on common goal of “be heard and be recognized” in midst of collective issues arising from discomfort working in the middle of on-going Iraq War in 2006.

Everyone then was seeking solutions to a simple problem of how one could express his grievances without putting himself in a difficult position afterwards. Help is too far and out of hand; internet communication to find help from the embassy is also second to impossibility, the fact that our presence in Iraq is actually illegitimate due to existing travel ban to Iraq for Pinoy workers. And of course, the fact that we know how our embassy usually address to OFWs problems, most of the times. No one will never know how it feels to be inside the military camp where war is on-going until you have experienced one.

I still believe in the power of unity, camaraderie and integrity as I learned during my cadetship in the Philippines. Unity for positive cause can and will never fail, as long as the objective is for common good and not to suppress the standard righteousness. (Well somtimes, even for unacceptable cause.)

From the first day of my life in Camp Taji, I have heard stories of failed dreams and expectations, from the first boom sound of my first-ever experience of incoming mortar attacks from Iraqi rebels, I heard hearts of good pinoys who want to do something different that no MWR (Moral, Welfare & Recreations) could give. Pinoys in Camp Taji were so divided by regionalism, fraternity affiliation, dialects, faith and personal principles. We must bridge these divisions to achieve unity.

Although, all kinds of comforts are available to everyone courtesy of the US Military, the way Filipinos were treated was not so acceptable. Not by few Americans but by some Filipinos also who were assigned to juicy position or we say “has the power to decide for your plight”. And since we believe that the power of Filipino skills and talents may cause defeat in everyday operations of the camp as far as civil augmentation is concerned, we seated aroun and discussed ideas, even argued, to come up with something that would give us relief to our conditions that time. The idea was just to let them feel and see the importance of Filipinos as part of civil augmentation program.

I can be so proud to say that among other Third Country Nationalities in our camp, we are more superiors than the rest in all aspects of course. And no one could just ignore that, that why we should be treated the way we deserved. Our act was not design to fight against and to bully our employers and other bosses, but only to effect change the manner how they handle the Filipinos.

BE HEARD is the common goal. Almost year ago, a simple protest on the Prime Project International (PPI) camp was took place to address the same problem on the issues of living conditions. Almost a success, but failed later on due to luck of solidarity during actual actions. This incident is our main basis of “lesson learned” system in conceptualizing an all-Pinoys group.
Sometime in October 2006, if I am not mistaken, Astro Mana, Jong Macias, fellow Philippine Guardian brother Bro Mike Molit, Marlon Flores, and Vanny Servando were enjoying $50 vodka from Pareng “Source” Danny, (R.I.P. - Rest in the Philippines). There is a strict policy from the General Order Number 1 that drinking intoxicating beverages is prohibited by the US Military. Since Pinoys are really risk-takers by-nature, we violated that. In the police and military parlance way back in my heyday in police service we called it “take life”, since what were doing may cause our “lives”. Well, actually everyone does in PPI Camp.

From that gathering, we discussed problems, failures, possible solution and rewards that await everyone for pursuing it and the very first reward was the feelings we felt that night. Everyone who shared for that bottle of vodka was already a brother by-heart. Grouping of people to achieve certain goal is actually the best subject that I got from my cadetship, I had no hard time in convincing everyone that from our small group we can have a big, fun, happy and cooperative group bigger that we imagine, longer than we imagine. I suggested the name Astig Pinoy, no one disagreed.

Why Astig Pinoy? Astig Pinoy is structured by all-Pinoy intellects and most-willing, and we are Astig because of the very nature of danger around us and yet we still manage to stay for our families and for money. Astíg- (as-tig) adjective- tough, firm, compact, solid.

In connecting one another, we started targeting the use of email system because most of us were Admin Personnel who use PC in everyday work. The purpose is to invite everyone who was also an admin to join the idea of having a solid Pinoy group. The motivation is group bonding, chatting, sharing comedy of life, fun events, and of course unity to BE HEARD when we need to be heard. Luckily, everyone who received the emails agrees, so I suggested creating a distribution list in our email address book under the name Astig Pinoy, but I think only few created their own. This is to avoid a loose email message in Tagalog to non-Pinoy, and to non-organic of Astig Pinoy that might prejudice the goal. From there, we started a simple morning greetings, and we address everyone as Astig followed by their pseudonym.

We started the so-called birthday sharing because it was really hard to spend money to celebrate one’s birthday. So, we shared money for on Astig’s birthday and let the celebrant to sit and relax as he was being treated as the most privileged mammal of that day while everyone is busy to prepare for the party. We also started contribution to generate monetary assistance, community activity, sharing knowledge especially how everyone could have full internet access, where later on KBR IT guys really found hard time to block it. But we always remind each and everyone not to be abusive in the use of internet because we could be in the loosing end later on. We must show the KBR that we are responsible internet users since this is the only way we could connect with our family back home every moment everyday, free of charge. Cellphone use is strictly prohibited also for us Foreign Nationals (FN) under US Military GO-1. That's understandable since Al Qaeda might trace our exact location through out signal and wala! Free delivery missiles will hit the cellphone user.

The first successful event of Astig Pinoy and we considered the official launching was December 11, 2006 during Astig Astro’s Birthday celebration. And from then on, activities that will spread the news about Astig Pinoy has come to existence were started. We were the first all-Filipino group to have courtesy call with Camp Taji Mayor during Philippines Independence Day celebration in 2007 and were given privilege to use KBR swimming pool, as PPI is actually prohibited to use such facility. Now we can feel something is really moving forward from that Cabin 80 meeting. This can be considered remarkable footstep as we are in middle of war where strict military policy rules. Nevertheless as we keep on saying, if we go for common good and stay in the rules, who will go against us? Policy can be bent over sometimes to break the ice.

We always carry the Astig Pinoy for sports, contests and big events and of course for our own goal of being HEARD and be recognized. We defended rights against unfair treatments. We unite to uplift morale of fellow Astig and non-Astig, even against work termination, although we do have some failures also but of course that was normal.

Astig Pinoy also introduces the attitude of group honesty and transparency as we were kept updated by Astig Susan Vasquez when it comes to our funds up to the last coin and POG. We have man to man everyone for all possibilities. We are safe to eventualities, since one could warn everyone about his office’s plans to do what could affect an Astig’s welfare. We used our charms and power of brotherhood and friendship to gain hearts of our American bosses. So we could have the best and hardest wall we could lean on, if we tires out. We have Astig Gus, who shares everything from money to baladiya as we call it Customs Inspections Items. Astig Pinoy taught everyone the correct work attitudes and proper interaction to avoid issues the will compromise other Filipinos and might affect the way other nationalities’ confidence to Pinoy workers. We watch each other backs, although sometimes like ordinary family we have feuds. We always caution those who do things that will jeopardize the image of the group.

We even tried hard to convince the Filipino Governement to lift travel ban to warzone to give opportunities to other Pinoy risk-takers. We believe that there is so much more to get in being a risk-taker rather than staying in the Philippines with all the risks only but without chances. We succeeded for 3 days only, and then died out. DOLE Department Order 86-07 was revoked after 3 days.

Now, Astig Pinoy has bloated to some proportions, US Army specially the military Fil-Ams recognized Astig Pinoy. But still the low-profile attitudes remain. It has mutated but still the ideas were carried on, some are gone physically but remain in contact and still interact. I was amazed to hear news that we excel in sports while others we given big job opportunities in other countries because of the skills and work attitudes that guides all Astigs. We have revived our strong faith to God by actively participating in War Zone Christians Fellowship, after all God is the final answer. Most recently, Astig Pinoy was invited to participate and represent Filipinos in Asia Pacific Heritage organized by the US Army, and aslo we have successfully celebrated the 110th Independence Day with all support by other Pinoys in different company inside Camp Taji.

Astig Pinoy now as we can see, virtually a group of Pinoy that has heart and each Astig member is its blood. We are still looking forward to seeing the Astig Pinoy lives on after Iraq war. And in the hands of current Astig enthusiasts like Astig Jhimbo Handayan, Astig Gus Atender and others, we can see from the outside of Iraq, Astig Pinoy will remain standing from the ruins of Cam Taji.

I am proud. . . I am Astig Pinoy!


Astig Rio

Thursday, June 12, 2008



Before I will start this issue, I would like to express my deep admiration to Senator Juan Ponce Enrile for bravely castigated those representatives of the Foreign Chamber of Commerce (I am not sure about the group’s exact name). These unbecoming members of the foreign investors issued letter to the President with a clear tune of interfering to our sovereign affairs, to stop the Congress and demanding the President not to allow any amendment to the EPIRA Law. They think they could get through with their evil agenda undetected huh! Not when Sen. Enrile is around. I salute you Sir for your very patriotic gestures last week, June 6, 2008 (I hope my date is correct). Well anyway, my discussion for this entry has something to do with foreign investors and government basic service to the people.

I was not born during the birth of the Philippine Republic, neither during the time of its declaration of independence. I only have the chance to learn about most of our history during my classes in history way back in high school and college days.

Funny, because I have never been a lover of this subject though I found it very interesting during discussion. But now, I am so interested about some part of our history which has direct link to the Filipino sufferings today. One of these portions that I am about to touch, maybe it was not or had never been included in most history books, is the root story how the state’s basic services landed to the hands of rich and multi-billionaire corporations.

Who started what and what started what? These are two of the questions that really make me very patriotic and also bother me sometimes. To give me some playful thought during my incumbency inside our house, wherein during those times I belong to more than majority of the unemployed Filipino worrying how to pay their bills. I started reading all my monthly bills, from electricity, internet and water bills to the receipt issued by the gasoline station. Thanks to government’s initiative to ban Filipino from working in Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Lebanon, my great opportunity to elevate my family’s living status was lost forever. I went home from Iraq to grab the offer to work in Afghanistan. Being a design engineer, I started designing on that boring time a structural dream how to get back in Iraq after 3 months of being no work at all, and to how to pay my bills.

In my monthly bills, I have this MERALCO, a private company which controls almost 100% of Filipino lives. Without it I don’t what else the Filipino can have in the dark. Another private one is SMARTBro, an internet provider by SMART Philippines. Well we can still live without it but internet service is now starting to be considered one of the basic necessities for those who need to be connected around the globe, even Ka Roger of the New People’s Army has internet connection in his mountainous haven. Just like our cellular phone, right? In the old days, cell phone were said to be for those who have businesses and for those who need to be contacted anywhere. The other one is my water bill which is also from a private water contractor inside our village, and this SHELL Gas Station official receipt where I got my premium gasoline for my motor bike; its name is Corpus Delicti.

With those precious pieces of paper I was holding then (the ones that would decide our plight if I fail to pay it on time) I started to ask question, is there any public utility from the State itself that enters a Filipino home? I think there is none? Almost everything is privatized already; correct me here if I am wrong.

As far as I could remember, my Constitution subject told me that “the State shall uphold the welfares of the People”. And what are these welfares that our constitution is guaranteeing?

Are not these public utilities fall under the category that will determine Filipino welfare? I am very sure they are. What is life without electricity and water? What is modern life without gasoline, LPG, cable TV, modern educations, concrete road, fresh food, and what is Filipino life without our rice? Somehow these things are interconnected with the four basic utilities that I mentioned.

Here are some questions that will connect them in order to answer the inquiries above, “who started what and what started what?”

Who initiated to have our power source be controlled by private entities? Who started the idea of giving the water business be controlled by Private Corporation? Who decided to let non-government entities import and distribute petroleum and sell it to the Filipino?

Who? Of course the old grids and old corruptors, some of them are dead now, good thing. They are the oneswho the started everything in order to give personal favor to their friends, alliances and to themselves. That is why we now have all these uncontrollable crises that we immediately blamed to the prices in the world market. And to make them worse, the government is introducing a fast solution that somehow may sounds nice but unfair to others and semmingly unconstitutional, this is the SUBSIDY allocation to help poor a little bit. (What about the not so poor Filipino with more than 100KW consumption?)

It is like repairing a busted pressure water pipe by wrapping a rubber band right on the busted area. Cool idea huh. Does it sound long term solution? The government is now handing over PhP500 subsidy for millions of poor Filipinos have a monthly power consumption of no more than 100 kilowatts. Is the State suggesting that we should not buy more appliances? Are they suppressing our right to somehow dream and plan for better life by having more necessary appliances? More appliances mean more electric consumption, of course. They are also giving subsidies to the farmers to assist them with the high priced fertilizers, subsidy for gasoline, and etcetera.

What else next? What is next to be subsidized? Are we going to live forever with this system? Will State always adjust and give subsidies every time these private corporations have losses due to their mismanagement? Well, government effort in extending subsidies is not bad at all, but I guess it should be used in a proper scenario and NOT in every scenario. It seems to be a way of yielding to the problem and not to solving and exhausting all other possible means, with long term effect.

I remember a spokesperson of a giant company explaining why they need to increase their prices, he said the price increases in their products were due to their billions of losses 5 years back and they have to get it back? So they need to get it back by getting it from the consumers right away. Do you get the clear point in his issue? If this is acceptable, why anybody can not just impose unjustified increases to their prices if their carenderia, sari-sari store, tricycle business and others micro-businesses which suffer losses due to “katangahan”, mismanagement, inside job, corruption and so on and so forth? The only difference between these small time and big time businesses is that the latter has an agreement with the government when it comes to the premise of all their losses. Usually the provision of these of agreement are always prejudicial to the Filipino masses.

One thing they are claiming is this system loss as explained through TV commercial. They used a bag of ice cubes bought from a store as a metaphor of system loss. Cool! But they did not explain why there is too much part of the ice that had melted before it reaches the house. The reason is just like our errand boy who was sent to buy this ice but on the way home he asks his friend to rather bring the ice home for him. The same thing this friend did to another friend. They pass the ice over and over for so many times just to bring it home. And there you go, system loss was born.

In my personal view, the right thing to do is to loan enough money to buy our own refrigerator. Find ways how to pay this loan, so we can have the ice directly from the freezer down into our glasses of water.

I personally believe that it is the business of the State to decide for the welfare of the people, and it should be a MUST for the State to manage and control these kinds of public utilities for the Filipinos. Take this:

What if the State was the one importing oil and was also the one distributing it directly to the Filipino consumers?
What if the State was the one producing the power and directly supplying it to the Filipino homes?
What if the State was the one producing potable waters and directly supplying the same to the Filipino households?
What if it was the State-owned tele-communication company run our internet, cellular and landline phones?
And the rest of the questions are just copy-paste of the three pervious issues, replacing the service items.

Is this possible?

The famous escape-goat why they sold these government corporations to the private sectors is that private entities can operate and manage these corporations better. Take note of the term “better”. Don’t we have experts in the government sectors? Maybe the reason behind it is that the initiator of this move is also investing to these businesses using public funds taken during their incumbency, so that after their retirement from government service they are much secured out of these investments.

If the these corporations had never been owned by private entities, the whole NET INCOME from these business will directly go to the State Fund and not just part of it as TAX. Think about it.

The additional arguement here is the issue of corruptions and that the geornement proceeds might go to the pockets of adminitrations. Yes, this is not far from happening, but is there any difference in reverse scenario. We still have all these corruptions when we almost have nothing more left, so which is which?

And besides, most often than not, taxes from most of these private corporations are not paid correctly on due time. As a result, if taxes become too heavy to bear after failing to pay for several years, these private entities will offer the government with agreement or settlment (usuallyfavorable to them) in order to have these taxes get paid. How can we forget an airline company wherein until now its debt from failing to pay its taxes is still an issue?

Ironically, just like what happened to a government office, I think it was DAR. When the department failed to pay their telephone bills, the provider immediately cut off their lines without offering first any favorable settlement. But in fairness, they also offered terms and conditions for easy payment right after they have cut the line. Imagine, a government institution to have no telephone line? If the State owned this telephone services in the Philippines, it would have never be placed in this ridiculous situation. Besides, the State should get all the best from this provider and not the least of it.

How can the Filipinos have a government that is so inferior to private giant corporations but too oppressive to the masses? Most of the times, radicals find and accused the government of misuse of its power. Yes, nobody wants it anyway. But, there is one reason where we can praise and applause for the government anyhow for the use of its suppressive power, once and for all. I will suggest a debatable idea here in my blog, that is:

Let the power of the State be used to re-possess and re-control these corporations by passing laws to legally grab it back, amend the constitution to allow these moves. Formulate systems that will prevent superpower entities and personalities to interfere to this creation and that will keep them away from getting it back forever. Is it not this is idea of Mr. Winston Garcia? He wants the government to get control of MERALCO being GSIS as the biggest shareholder of stocks. The only thing needed is to re-design his actual intention and re-design the system of State control in order not to be abused.

The State should get all of these public utilities controlled and owned by private entities with due consideration of course to the provision of Law on Ownership. Taking back these used-to-be State-owned corporations may take some times, nevertheless long term good effects can be expected. The state has the police power to do it and this is one historical moment to use it. And what about the ideals and principles of Democracy? Do you think we are still enjoying democracy with all these increases? Only these corporations are so free in robbing the FIlipinos. The idea maybe harsh but we are used to this kind of thing, anyway.

Unlike having subsidies for the few, right? Filipinos should not rely on government subsidies, because this is also from our government funds where we can rather use to operate these corporations once the State has taken them back. Just like If the State controls the petroleum industry, Filipinos have no one to go against with but only to government if unjustified increase is imposed. What is happening today is that these corporations are pointing to each other to prevent them from answering to the people and posible bad repercussions.

We can not always bring the matters before the Court, since they have the brightest lawyers in town while the militants have not. We should not be afraid of seeing these investors walk away from the country. As i mentioned Sen. Enrile bravely told a foreign investor in one Senate hearing to leave the country out his dismayed. Did anybody get bother about his gesture thinking that this might affect the country’s relation to other foreign investors? Nobody reacted otherwise. Because it will not affect us really that hard. Are not we tellig alwasy that the Philippines can stand alone in its feet, so we have to show them this is right Telling Filipinos that we should caress these foreign investors to avoid them from pulling out their investment is no longer that fearful. Why? Because we know and Sen. Enrile knows that this is just a mere made-up monster by the “so bright economists”.

We are living in modern times, where people are much smarter, I guess the fear of getting abused by the government if State will have control of these public utilities is already outdated and can be resolved in no time if ever it will exist as far as this issue is concerned. The fears that the government might not manage these corporations properly, and has no financial capacity to spend for or can not bear the expenses for operating these corporations are no longer true and acceptable today. If they can afford to loan budgets for government projects, why not do it in order to operate these corporations properly. With these, the State can lower the bills of ordinary Filipinos; they can lower the rate of text messaging, electric rates, phone bills, water bills, and others. What is happening now, government is trying to persuade and beg to these corporations. By this, the utility services coming from the State as the guardians and provider of the Filipinos will be directly delivered at our doorstep without these system losses.

Finally, if the State owned these public utilities the Filipinos could never be hit so hard by world market’s price increase. This is self explanatory, since we are already dealing directly with only one provider-the State. As in, from market it goes directly to the distributor-State and to us Filipinos as consumers. No more too much additional profits due to so many pass on and pass over by different capitalists.

This the right time to use oppressive power of the government and these are the right targets - not the masses.

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