Thursday, November 4, 2010

Honor the 900

(Published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer,  April 20, 2008)

WHEN THE CURRENT P500 banknote was first issued in 1987, my late father, Johnny Villasanta, noted with pride that here at last was a tribute to Filipinos who fought in the Korean War (1950-53), and who helped rebuild and protect Korea from 1954-1955.

The reverse side of the original banknote was replete with Korean War imagery: Ninoy Aquino garbed as a war correspondent, his portable typewriter inscribed with his initials and a reproduction of one of the many stories he wrote for The Manila Times while covering the 10th Battalion Combat Team (BCT), the first of five BCTs comprising the Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea (Peftok).

The P500 banknote depicting images from the Korean War: (Top) Ninoy Aquino as a Korean War correspondent with his camera. Behind him is a reproduction of one of his news stories about the war. (Below) The portable typewriter Ninoy typed his stories on when writing about the Korean War in the field.

My father (who was also a war correspondent in the Korean War but who worked for The Evening News) noted sadly, however, that the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas had selected a story written by Ninoy that glorified the American instead of the Filipino fighting man.

The story in question carries the headline, “1st Cav knifes through 38th Parallel.” The 1st Cav is the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division, one of seven U.S. Army divisions that fought in the Korean War.

The 1st Cav also took part in the Liberation of the Philippines in 1945, and helped wrest Manila from the Japanese. But the 1st Cav is an American unit.

My father felt the BSP should instead have chosen a story about the 10th BCT, which was the unit both he and Ninoy covered. Ninoy wrote extensively about the 10th BCT and I have photocopies of some of his stories published by The Manila Times.

War Correspondent Johnny Villasanta (right) in Seoul, 1950.

“Troops given big send-off,” (Sept. 3, 1950); “Ojeda leads Xth in heroic assault; Filipinos gain glory” (Apr. 17, 1951) and “PI Xth recrosses ‘38’; Ojeda recalls retreat; morale up” (Apr. 13, 1951) are but a few of Ninoy’s stories about our boys published by the Times.

The BSP could have selected any of these stories, or any of Ninoy’s many other stories about Filipinos, when designing the P500 banknote. My father, however, believed that reproducing a story about the Americans was due to the regrettable fact that BSP historians know precious little about our country’s involvement in the Korean War.

What is more ironic, my father said, was that Ninoy wrote hardly any stories about the U.S. Army in Korea. Checking old issues of the Times will bear this out. It is this fact that made BSP’s choice of the 1st Cavalry story all the more perplexing to my father.

The P500 banknote is now 20 years old. It was redesigned in 2002, and Ninoy’s typewriter was removed. It is probably due for a third redesign.

Should this be the case, might I request that the BSP replace the story about the 1st Cavalry with one that honors the 10th BCT, a Filipino unit.

The “Fighting Tenth” fought magnificently in the greatest battle of the Korean War—the Communist Chinese Spring Offensive, April 1951. The excellence of the Filipino as a fighting man was proven at the famous Battle of Yuldong on April 23, 1951.

At the nondescript village of Yuldong in North Korea, the 900 men of the 10th BCT withstood the massive night attack of a 40,000-man Chinese army and, in so doing, helped prevent the total collapse of the western front of the United Nations Command (UNC).

The 10th was one of the few UNC units on the western front not overrun in the first hours of the immense Chinese assault. The Americans, South Koreans, British, Turks and Puerto Ricans all gave way before the Chinese attack.

But not the Filipinos. Not the Filipinos who occupied their hasty defensive positions only one day before the Chinese attack!

Comparisons with the historic Battle of Thermopylae and its famous 300 are tempting, but unlike the doomed 300, the survivors of our 900 lived to fight again another day. The 10th was among the units that spearheaded the ferocious UNC counterattack that finally forced the communists to negotiate an armistice to end fighting in the Korean War.

Recognizing the great defensive victory won by the 10th BCT at Yuldong will not only honor the men of this battalion, and the four other BCTs (the 20th, 19th, 14th and 2nd) that served in Korea, but will also pay tribute to all Filipinos.

The Filipino deserves to be honored for volunteering to fight for democracy in Korea. We were the first Asian country and the third United Nations member country to send combat troops to defend South Korea.

Over 110 Filipinos died in this “Forgotten War” that saved South Korea from conquest by North Korea and Communist China. More than 400 Filipinos were wounded, some disfigured for life or rendered insane.

Of the 7,150 officers and men who served in Korea, only about 2,000 are alive today.  Many of these heroes remain poor, and their number decreases every month.

There will be no Filipino Korean War veteran left alive by 2040. By then, the youngest will be 103 years old.

There are only two monuments in this entire country that pay homage to the Philippines’ forgotten role in the Korean War: the Korean War Memorial Pylon at the Libingan ng mga Bayani and the Marikorea Monument in Marikina (built in 2005).

The P500 banknote can be considered only the third monument to Filipino greatness in the Korean War.

But let the P500 banknote be an accurate reflection of our history by making it completely—and proudly—Filipino.

Other websites by Art Villasanta

Monday, October 25, 2010

Internet Telephony in the Philippines: the next Big Thing?

(Published in 2002)

LIBERALIZATION AND COMPETITIVENESS, like love and marriage, are supposed to go together like, well, a Filipino texter and his mobile phone.

The Philippines continues to learn the hard way that its expensive telecom services (an IDD call to the USA costs $0.40 versus $0.05 in Hong Kong) don’t go together with competitiveness and economic growth. Telecoms was the Philippine economy’s high growth sector in 2000 and 2001, accounting for over 10% of GDP.

Telecoms is again expected to fuel Philippine growth. The call center industry is booming, with estimated revenues of $173 million this year and $864 million by 2004. Mobile telephony growth is placed at some 30% this year from 11 million subscribers after rising 80% in 2001.

Analysts say further cuts in telecom costs will spur competitiveness, as will government moves to advance liberalization.

Looming on the horizon is the commercialization of Internet Telephony (IP voice transmissions over PSTNs or Public Switched Telephone Networks) within a year’s time. The Philippines is expected to jump on the Internet Telephony wagon as early as this year via government-led reforms to its restrictive telecom law.

Dr. Bill Torres, past president of the Philippine Internet Service Organization (PISO), said there are clear indications the government may issue a new interpretation of Republic Act 7925 (the Public Telecommunications Policy Act of 1995) allowing Internet Telephony to be offered in certain cases, including its provision by ISPs and other providers who do not hold Congressional franchises. PISO is the Philippines’ association of ISPs.

He said the interpretation would be made either by Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo or by telecoms regulator, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).

NTC, however, has remained adamant in barring non-franchise holders from providing Internet Telephony. It also does not permit the use of telephones to receive phone calls made via Internet Telephony but allows PC-to-PC IP calls.

On the other hand, anyone with a private network can sidestep the law and legally provide an Internet Telephony service as long as the operator does not use the PSTN.

“I think that within a year, we will see the government come up with a policy that will allow IP Telephony,” Torres said.

“Optimists think this will happen in 2002; pessimists in 2003. I tend to be an optimist.”

RA 7925 authorizes the NTC to establish rates providing for the economic viability of the companies involved in the Service Area Scheme (SAS) and grants them a fair return on their investments.

“I have a feeling that if we can come up with an amendment to the law, maybe that’s an opportunity to relax the hold of telcos (on IP Telephony),” said Torres.

Torres does not believe Internet Telephony can be profitable as a stand-alone service, however. Profitability will demand that Internet Telephony be packaged with other services.

“Alone Internet Telephony will not make money . . . because of its cheapness,” he noted.

Torres also feels that the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), to be established this year, will go to bat for deregulating IP Telephony in support of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s goal of making ICT a key driver of the Philippine economy.

Cheaper phone rates result from Internet Telephony, with businesses and consumers benefiting the most from the lower prices. Although an exact comparison is not possible, the cost of an international long distance call using Internet Telephony would probably be about a few pesos per minute compared to the P20.40 (US$0.40) per minute charged by both Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT) and Globe Telecom.

India surprised Asia by opening Internet Telephony to ISPs starting April 1, joining Singapore in this league. Indian ISPs are now allowed to offer much cheaper but lower quality Internet Telephony service without having to pay any long distance toll fees to state-controlled telco, Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd.

Satyam Infoway, one of the leading ISPs, is charging users $0.16 per minute during peak time for an Internet Telephony call to the United States, 80 percent lower than the regular peak time phone tariff of $0.80 per minute and $0.04 cheaper than a similar PSTN call in the Philippines.

PLDT, the dominant telco in both the fixed line and cellular markets, owns “Netopia,” one of the largest Internet cafĂ© chains in the Philippines.

While a plus for consumers, Internet Telephony is not expected to be a killer app for the Philippine call center business because of its inferior voice quality.

“The quality of Internet Telephony is not good enough if your core business is providing good service,” said Domingo Guanio, general manager of SVI Technologies, which provides networking services to their call center.

“If it becomes very good, it can become a back-up to our regular leased lines.”

Guanio said that Internet Telephony was demonstrated to them and they weren’t impressed. “At this point it’s not good enough and quality isn’t negotiable in our business.”

PLDT is apparently making major moves towards introducing Internet Telephony as one of its mainstream telecom services.

PLDT has invested in frame relay infrastructure and is pioneering new services that will lay the groundwork for its eventual shift from circuit-switched network to packet-switched networks (the Internet), according to industry sources.

Philip Tan, network consultant of Cisco Systems Philippines, said PLDT is fully using a Cisco IP network but mainly to replace its existing and old PBX systems. The Cisco system allows PLDT freedom of choice as to its use, including Internet Telephony, said Tan.

He does believe there is a future for Internet Telephony and said it won’t make losers out of telcos “but they’ll have to re-engineer themselves. The technology is cheap but if you look at how the carriers are spending for infrastructure such as cables, that’s expensive.”

Edgardo Cabarrios, Director of NTC’s common carrier authorization department, said NTC was bound by law to restrict Internet Telephony to entities with Congressional franchises.

“Internet Telephony is not classified as a value added service,” said Cabarrios. “Therefore, any entity intending to provide Internet Telephony should have an authorization from the commission predicated on a valid Congressional franchise.”

By this definition, PLDT, “which is a duly authorized local, national and international voice service provider,” can provide Internet Telephony. “Other companies that have similar authorizations are Globe Telecom, BayanTel, Digitel, ETPI and Teletech and Philcom Corporation.”

“If an Internet Telephony service provider carries international traffic, then it is providing a service similar to that provided by an IGF. In order to level the playing field, those providing international Internet Telephony should also be required to install local exchange telephone lines,” Cabarrios explained.

NTC’s refusal to budge from its position has left it open to charges of being anti-consumer, anti-liberalization and pro-telco, allegations Cabarrios denies, saying that NTC “balances the interest of both the consumers and telecom service providers.”

Martin Enrile, telecoms analyst of ATR Kim Eng Securities, however, believes that IP Telephony is “a very clear threat to telcos.”

He feels that telcos will need to maximize their huge infrastructure investments, hence their continuing resistance to Internet Telephony and 3G.

“I guess there’s been lobbying by telcos to preserve their assets since there is an imperative to maximize use of these assets,” he said. He noted that PLDT’s move towards data and its low capex for fixed lines doesn’t seem to square with the company’s opposition to Internet Telephony being offered by ISPs.

PLDT and other telcos contend that Internet Telephony provides unfair competition because it allows its providers to bypass toll fees for international long distance calls. AT&T, one of America’s largest telcos, reported a loss of US$350 million in 2000 because of IP Telephony.

Research firm International Data Corporation (IDC) estimates that the Asia-Pacific IP Telephony market will grow from US$213 million in 2000 to almost US$7 billion by 2005.

Worldwide, IP Telephony is projected to account for 135 billion minutes by 2004 from 27 billion minutes in 1999.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), however, believes the main use of IP telephony may not be for outgoing traffic but from incoming international calls because of incoming net settlements.

It also foresees that legal restrictions on IP telephony will disappear as countries liberalize their telecommunication markets. ITU said any ban is almost always based on the premise that IP telephony is a voice service (and thus the exclusive right of incumbents) rather than a data service or application.

ITU says this premise is becoming harder to sustain with the integration of voice functions into other Internet-based applications such as e-mail.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Clever marketing key to Internet TV growth

We can talk about IPTV tech specs all we want. We can also debate IPTV tech issues beloved by boffins (H.264, ADSL 2+, QoE, 1080p24 and whether 24mbps is sufficient bandwidth, among others), but in a region as diverse as Asia/Pacific (and anywhere else, for that matter), it’s the Quality of Experience (QoE) that will ultimately make or break Internet Protocol TV (IPTV).

Differentiating IPTV from digital cable and DTH will be the main marketing task, and could be the key factor in whether telcos have a mainstream moneymaker in IPTV, or just another cute, niche technology masquerading as a winner.

IPTV or Internet TV is one of two new silver bullets that should finally enable telcos to break cable and satellite’s hold on the lucrative, but very competitive, multichannel, pay-TV industry. The other is HDTV.

For telcos, however, IPTV is undeveloped territory, both in the infrastructure and marketing aspects. But as IPTV sits on the leading edge of IP advances, new infrastructure and applications give IPTV a leg up on cable. Cable remains (mostly) wedded to the old MPEG-2 codec — too slow for bandwidth intensive IPTV.

With world standards for IPTV more or less settled, attention is turning toward the tougher job of creatively marketing IPTV to subscribers with an abundance of multichannel pay-TV choices, and who mostly don’t give a hoot about IPTV.

Product differentiation is the challenge. Vastly improved QoE is the Holy Grail.

Toughest challenge
Clever marketing is seen as the toughest challenge telcos face in winning marketing share as they intensify their struggle versus cable and satellite offerings. Surprisingly, IPTV has made significant progress in the marketing fight. The DSL Forum last October said IPTV subscribers jumped a huge 179 percent to 8.22 million in June, up from 2.95 million year-on-year.

Europe accounted for most of this surge, with IPTV customers climbing to 4.98 million from 1.51 million for the same period. Some 660,000 broadband customers signed up for IPTV services in the Americas, giving the region a total of 1.07 million subscribers. Asia/Pacific added 1.19 million subscribers, giving the region 2.18 million subscribers. IPTV pioneers, such as Hong Kong’s PCCW and France Telecom, together account for around 1.5 million users. Both firms, however, have built fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) networks to support their IPTV offerings.

DSL Forum marketing director Laurie Gonzalez said they are excited about these figures.

“Even a year ago, people were asking whether IPTV would be a compelling application. Today, more than eight million customers are using it in every region of the world. It’s gone far beyond testing to a real rollout.”

DSL has a 66 percent share of broadband access customers, around 200 million in number. Fiber has an 11 percent share, while cable acquired approximately 22 percent.

Hong Kong leads Asian IPTV
The June numbers for Asia/Pacific are an improvement over the second quarter when it was reported the region’s IPTV penetration was “insignificant,” except for Hong Kong. IPTV success has been the greatest in Hong Kong where IPTV has 608,000 subscribers, these coming from PCCW’s NOW broadband TV service. NOW is the largest IPTV deployment in the world and accounts for one third of the total global IPTV subscribers.

Despite a rapid 66 percent increase in NOW subscribers, PCCW reported revenue losses from its TV and content businesses. PCCW also stated NOW subscribers increased to 608,000, but the losses rose to $24 million. PCCW is attempting to generate more revenue from its content services by reselling them to customers of its mobile phone network. This marketing move makes good use of NOW’s premium content, such as 24-hour local news, CNNI and mobile ESPN.

Japan’s Softbank BBTV, with its 180,000 subscribers, is the next Asian success story. Softbank BBTV claims it is adding 18,000 new subscribers monthly.

IPTV made it to Singapore this July when dominant telco Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel) launched “mio TV”. Described by SingTel as the next generation of TV watching, mio TV provides a range of VoD titles, including movies from major Hollywood movie studios that include Sony Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox and Disney. The service will also offer HD content obtained from partnerships with Mega Media and VOOM HD Networks. The mio TV platform has the potential to allow communications using video conferencing and instant messaging, displaying photos and playing music from PCs, all on the TV set.

“We believe the launch of mio TV will open up more channels for interactive content creation and media services, benefiting both consumers and industry with greater choice and content flexibility,” said Christopher Chia, CEO, Media Development Authority of Singapore.

SingTel said new BBC channels such as BBC Knowledge and BBC Lifestyle will make their global debut on mio TV. BBC Kids’ channel Beebies will also be launched. Singapore is among the world’s first to have a free-to-air HD channel carried on an IPTV platform.

South East Asia is Asia/Pacific’s current leader in IPTV adoption, with seven of 13 countries having rolled out some form of IPTV service, including NOW. Asia is expected to lead other regions with more than 40 percent of global IPTV subscribers by 2010. There were less than three million IPTV subscribers in the world in 2006, a third of which were accounted for by Hong Kong’s PCCW.

IPTV is set to grow 26 fold by 2010, with 63 million subscribers worldwide, according to researcher firm iSuppli. The company also said the number of IPTV subscribers worldwide should more than double every year from 2005 to 2009, when it could reach 69 million.

Apart from Hong Kong and Singapore, so far IPTV rollouts in Asia have been small in scale and uptake has been puny in most markets. The reality on the ground is that IPTV faces tough challenges from incumbents and their relatively cheap cable and satellite offerings. Incumbents remain the key driving force behind IPTV growth in Asia/Pacific

Cable remains entrenched in Taiwan and Korea as the main method of TV access. In other countries, free TV broadcasts are also dampening incumbents’ interest in IPTV. Incumbents, however, are looking to provide improved broadband network and service penetration to fend off triple play services from cable players.

The bright spots for IPTV remain Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan. China will continue to face strict regulatory constraints, while India will remain bedeviled by poor infrastructure.

China, which is IPTV’s largest potential market in Asia, is still years away from solving thorny regulatory issues that will enable telcos to create realistic business models where IPTV can compete against the heavily entrenched cable industry. Cable is dirt cheap in China. To IPTV’s advantage are indications Chinese subscribers appear willing to pay for some of IPTV’s premium services, such as VoD and interactive gaming.

China’s communist leadership still tightly restricts content, whose breadth is the key advantage IPTV offers subscribers. One executive working in China said that if China doesn’t relax on content, “there is no business model, and there will be no demand for IPTV”.

While Chinese telcos, most of which are state-owned or controlled corporations, attempt to persuade the central government to grant more leeway on content, they’re focusing on increasing bandwidth and improving the reliability of their access networks. Overall, the status of China as a feasible market for IPTV remains in doubt. Key issues such as regulatory hurdles, content restrictions and the government’s apparent focus on implementing digital cable services will tend to put a brake on IPTV growth in the short term.

IPTV over satellite
According to Northern Sky Research (NSR), IPTV via satellite is a niche offering likely to account for a relatively small percentage share of the market potential that terrestrial-based platforms are likely to generate.

Revenue estimates for terrestrial-based services are forecast at some $7 billion for 2010 alone. On the other hand, satellite-based total revenues from 2005 to 2010 are expected to exceed $1.6 billion.

Nevertheless, said NSR, IPTV does provide a unique and growing opportunity for the satellite industry to target. The growing preference for IP that satellite service providers are incorporating in their offerings, and the compelling role of satellite services in the video markets worldwide, make IPTV via satellite services a compelling value proposition for select regions.

“Given the proven broadcast economics of satellites in delivering content cost-effectively to large geographic footprints, particularly in underserved areas, growth of IPTV via satellite services should increase at a steady rate,” said Jose del Rosario, NSR senior analyst.

Firms setting up infrastructure to enable IPTV via satellite services will, for the most part, generate initial demand. These services mainly require transponder lease contracts from satellite operators for the delivery of content to IPTV gateways.

Once the infrastructure is in place, the market is expected to move quickly to retail business models. This is due to the fact that revenue-sharing arrangements between satellite companies and the owners of content will lead to higher margins, as satellite players participate in revenue sharing from the subscribers’ monthly service fees.

“Since ‘content is king’ in the pay-TV business, content aggregation and distribution rights are, and will continue to be, more important from a revenue generation perspective compared to actual service provisioning of IPTV,” del Rosario said.

“The ‘battle for eyeballs’ in any pay-TV platform is where the bulk of revenues will be earned, and IPTV is no exception. The market entry strategy for IPTV via satellite players is to provide a compelling business proposition to the owners of content. Once this has been established, the revenue-sharing arrangements will ensure a healthy market for satellite players”.

Written and published in 2007

Monday, September 27, 2010

Surviving asthma

I’m one of the 12 million Filipinos that suffer from asthma. Although doctors say no one is born with this disease, some of my most vivid recollections of my childhood years in the 1950s were visits to hospitals after suffering from asthma attacks.

I remember having to endure painful injections of I don’t know what medicine to combat the disease. I remember the acrid and nauseating odor of emitted by a smoldering mound of “Dr. Schiffman's Asthmador,” a grayish powder made from a concoction of leaves whose smoke I had to inhale so I could again breathe freely.

I remember my delight when the tablet “Asmasolon”(theophylline) entered my world  in the 1960s. It meant I no longer had to rely almost exclusively on the pungent odor of burning “Asthmador” since this tiny tablet would do its work.

But Asmasolon tasted so bitter I had to swallow it with sugar and with my eyes closed. I remember that some of my most fervent prayers to the Lord were to free me from asthma, Asthmador and Asmasolon.

I also remember how asthma affected my fondness for sports. When I was Grade 5 at the University of Santo Tomas, our physical education was a choice between basketball and baseball.

Our PE instructor had a simple method of determining who would go on to play basketball: anyone who could run crosscourt while dribbling the ball and not pant at the end went on to play.

I remember dribbling that ball but at midcourt began to pant so heavily I had to stop. Baseball became my sport, which was also good since my dad also loved baseball. I still wish baseball were our national sport, however.

I still have the disease but do not suffer as intensely as I did in my youth. Modern medicine has had a lot to do with this.

I bless those scientists and doctors that invented “salbutamol (Ventolin),” the fastest and most effective cure I’ve taken that combats my asthma. The salbutamol inhaler is a life-saver and I never leave home without it.

Salbutamol nebules, however, have done more to increase my life expectancy than any other form of medication. I have a nebulizer at home and my greatest fear is having a severe attack and finding the nebulizer won’t work. That would be lights out for me. For sure.

And one thing that also made it easier for me to cope with asthma, which generally struck  at night, was Mercury Drug having some of its key branches open 24 hours. My dad used to rush off to Mercury's Quiapo branch when attacks found me without, or with insufficient Ventolin.

I did the same for my mother, an asthmatic like myself, and remember hurrying off to Quiapo after midnight one stormy night to buy nebules for my mother.

Defined by asthma
It seems my childhood years were defined by my battle against asthma. Doctors say it’s a battle I can’t win since there is no cure for asthma. Asthma will most likely kill me one of these days. At least, that’s what the statistics indicate.

I don’t fancy an asthma attack so severe it causes a massive heart attack that does me in. The painful fight for every life-giving breath will reach so terrible a stage in a severe attack that the body’s final defense is to give in and die.

I guess death is the only real cure for asthma, and I guess this is where I’m headed somewhere along the short road ahead.

But I don’t dwell on the inevitable. Patients with fourth stage cancer are forced to treasure every dawn that dawns.

Asthmatics are compelled to see life in the same light, but not with the same dreadful urgency. I do treasure each day and praise my Lord with each wonderful dawn.

My asthma is nocturnal and is caused by dirty linen (pillow cases, blankets and bed sheets). I used to think dirty meant dirty, as in dirty caused by dust and dirt.

Now, I know that dirty really means linen infested by dust mites and their feces carrying allergens that trigger asthma. So, I have to sleep in clean beds.

In my bachelor days, this meant I had to be very picky about where I (and my partner) slept. That usually meant going to first class digs known for their first class linen.

I guess few things are more embarrassing than having an asthma attack in the middle of you know what. Thanks goodness this never happened, although the fear remained at the back of my mind during those treasured moments.

Pollution and asthma
Now, in my middle age I find my asthma attacks are no longer purely nocturnal. I’ve had an increasing number of attacks while walking in a place far from the safety of my home and nebulizer.

I know air pollution from vehicle exhausts is the new allergen that triggers most of these away-from-home-attacks. But I have to travel to Makati City to do work for my clients, so my salbutamol inhaler becomes a life-saving device that always goes with me.

It’s also somewhat disconcerting to realize that some doctors view asthma as a “polygenic condition,” that is, a disease carried by genes and that can be inherited and passed on, and can be complicated by environmental factors such as pollution.

It’s also worrisome to learn that asthma and other allergic diseases have been on a significant rise for the last 50 years.

The Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) project that disseminates information on asthma care and the results of scientific investigations said several studies indicate that multiple genes may be involved in the pathogenesis of asthma.

It also said asthma became more complex in the presence of environmental triggers such as pollution that cause an asthma attack.

A Filipino pediatric geneticist believes asthma afflicts 155 million persons worldwide and that asthma cases are increasing in the Philippines.

It is comforting to note that nobody is born with asthma. One, however, can be born with the gene (or “genotype”) that causes asthma. It is this genotype triggered by environmental factors that causes asthma.

In 2003, the Asthma Genetics Group from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom reported an asthma susceptibility gene, PHF 11, which comes from chromosome 13. The gene appears to regulate the blood B cells that produce immunoglobulin E, the allergic antibody.

The study said there are some 10 genes that have a significant effect on a person's susceptibility to asthma.

What worries me about these findings is that they confirm asthma is an inherited disease. The last thing I wanted was for any of my six children to inherit the disease.

Unfortunately, one has inherited my asthma but the average interval in her attacks, thankfully, is measured in years, not days. Thankfully, our nebulizer stands ready to serve us when the need arises.

I can’t say with confidence that my asthma helped make me a better writer since it took much of any physical activity out of my life. But I can’t also say that I wouldn’t have stayed at home as much and read as much if I were a more physically fit man.

If I were a lot more physical, I’d probably have learned to love baseball; studied “kendo” and played NFL football with like-minded Pinoys (Are there any out there?). I’d also have probably run a marathon, which is a great ambition I realize I shall never accomplish. Especially now.

But I've learned to live with asthma. Life's still a beautiful work-in-progress, and I thank God profusely for every days that dawns.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Your “hidden hairs” and what to do about them

"Hidden hairs” tend to get a short shrift in polite Pinoy conversation. That’s understandable since “hidden hairs” are “secrets” best kept hidden, both literally and figuratively speaking.

But it’s as unwise to let your “hidden hairs”—your nose hair and ear hair—grow wild and free as it is to totally get rid of them. Hidden hairs do serve a healthful purpose, as do all the other kinds of hair on your body.

To start with, the problem with hidden hairs seems to be they’re embarrassing. Nose hairs are a problem that literally “lie hidden beneath your nose” until someone notices what look like spider legs crawling out of your nostrils. Ear hair, on the other hand, seems proof of the adage that “What you don’t know won’t hurt you,” meaning in this case that you can’t be unhappy with something you can’t see.

That is, until someone (hopefully, not the hot babe you’re dating) calls your attention to a garden of black shrubs sprouting out of your “tragus” (that rounded projection covering your ear canal). So, hidden hairs often become a real-world problem following a painful bout of public humiliation. Now what?

Don’t reach for the tweezers just yet. It pays to know something about the “enemy” you plan to eliminate. The first thing you’ve got to know is that hidden hairs are not your enemy. They might be embarrassing and might seem to have as useful a purpose as your appendix (a totally useless body part until it becomes infected), but they “Serve and Protect” like the upright policemen they really are. In sum, short hairs (like good cops) protect you from the dangers of the outside world.

The nose hair or olfactory cilia in the anterior nasal passage of each nostril is one of your body's first lines of defense against harmful environmental pathogens (germs, fungus and spores), and pollutants (dust, soot and particulate matter from exhaust fumes) that populate the dirty air we breathe nowadays.

When you inhale air through your nostrils, you also suck in whatever solid particles or pollution floats around in that air. Nasal hairs act as fibrous filters that help the nasal cavities and their mucus membranes (which secrete nasal mucus, a sticky substance) trap and prevent dangerous airborne particles from entering your respiratory system and making you sick. A lack of nasal hair could invite the transport of potentially harmful particles into the respiratory system.

Your can also consider your nose as an “air conditioner” and nose hair the filters in this air conditioner. This “air conditioning” is created both by the larger or macroscopic nose hair and by microscopic cellular strands or “nasal cilia” that line the interior of the nose. As inhaled air moves through the nasal passages, it is humidified by mucus and nose hair. Humidity is important because it prevents the respiratory system and nasal passage from drying up.

The nasal cilia also draw foreign particles and mucus up toward the oropharynx (the cavity formed by the pharynx at the back of the mouth) via a coordinated back-and-forth motion. At the oropharynx, these foreign particles and mucus are either swallowed or coughed out.

Filtered air continues towards the larynx and lungs. Nose hairs and cilia are, therefore, key defense mechanisms against harmful pathogens and solid particulate matter present in the air. This process, called inertial filtration, means the air we inhale into our lungs is very well cleaned.

That’s why some doctors discourage people from completely removing their nose hair either through plucking or cutting. Lightly trimming your nose hair using either a special scissors with rounded ends or rotary nose hair trimmers (manually operated or motorized) is the wisest choice, according to accepted wisdom.

On the other hand, some experts believe that although long nose hairs look unsightly, it would be best to allow their growth. A photo of Microsoft founder Bill Gates with blonde hairs sticking out of his nostril seems to vouch for this belief. Walking around in public with visible nose hairs, however, calls for superhuman courage in our perception-oriented society.

Frequent and constant nose hair plucking and cutting could weaken the respiratory system’s defenses and can cause breathing discomfort, according to some medical sources. Persons who choose to remove almost all their nose hair could also find themselves quite susceptible to allergy attacks, sinusitis and respiratory infections. Older people should minimize nose hair trimming because it often takes longer for the trimmed hairs to re-grow. Hence, the preference for light trimming.

An Adult Problem
While there’s a dearth of in-depth medical studies about nose hair, what’s out there suggests this problem occurs mainly among men beginning in their 30s and continues as they grow older. No one is quite sure what triggers this sudden growth, but one theory is that as men age, the hair follicles in their noses become more sensitive to the male hormone DHT (dihydrotestosterone) that stimulates unwanted hair growth. The exact relationship of DHT to nose (and ear) hair growth remains unclear, however.

And when is it time to trim nose hair? Before it becomes visible is the generally accepted answer. More specifically, it’s time to trim when nose hair falls below the line of the nostrils. Always avoid aggressive trimming inside the nasal cavities and don’t pluck out your nasal hair using your fingers or tweezers. This might lead to lesions that could result in a serious nose infection. And it’s a myth that nose hair (and ear hair) will grow back faster or thicker once you trim it.

What happens to the larger particles trapped in the nose by both the nose hairs and cilia? These wind up as “kulangot” (“snot,” “booger” or “bogey” in English). We expel boogers by nose picking (preferably in private) or by sneezing. Old dry mucus normally loosens on its own and causes a person to sneeze.

Sneezing forces out the old dry mucus through the nose. Once this is accomplished, new moist sticky mucus is forced to spread all over the nostril and nose hair, restoring the body’s first line of defense against air pollution.

Ear Hair: Not Your Crowning Glory
An American medical doctor described hidden hairs as “God’s little practical joke. . . He takes the hair from your head and puts it on your ears and nose.” Another pundit says the growth of nose and ear hair is the result of what he called “The Law of Conservation of Hair.” This “law” claims the loss of a man’s sexual energy as he ages is inversely proportional to the rate of growth of his nose and ear hair. That is, the less sexually active he is, the hairier are his nose and ears.

Kidding aside, it seems harder making a sound case for the benefits one derives from ear hair. The case for ear hair is similar to that for nose hair, however: ear hair filters out unwanted airborne particles from entering the human body, in this case the ears.

There is, however, no conclusive medical proof that men’s ears become hairier as they age. There is also no conclusive medical proof that having hairy ears makes one more susceptible to a heart attack. What is known is that some Asian ethnic groups (not Filipinos) seem more prone to having hairier ears.

Ear hair normally grows at two sites: the tragus (or the entrance of the ear) and the “pinna,” (or auricle) which is another term for the outer ear. Ear hair is more common in men than among women, for reasons that have yet to be fully explained. Some say this is another offshoot of DHT, the male hormone.

Plucking seems the best method of getting rid of unwanted ear hair regularly. Since you can’t do this efficiently by yourself, someone in your family or who loves you should do this for you. But the day when the average Pinay proves her love for her Pinoy boyfriend by plucking out his ear hairs is the day when the “uwak” turns into you know what color. It’s just not going to happen.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A bitter price Koreans must pay

(Published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, June 1, 2010)

There will be no renewed fighting in the Korean War—halted by an Armistice since July 27, 1953—despite rapid preparations for war by both sides following the sinking of a South Korean warship by North Korea last March. North and South Korea never signed a formal peace treaty ending the Korean War (1950-1953). They remain technically at war, the world’s longest conventional war of the 20th century that has extended into the next.

It is ominous war clouds seem to be hovering over the peninsula as the world approaches the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War on June 25. Although military and political experts say war remains improbable, this latest escalation of tensions by Stalinist North Korea means similar provocations will recur in the future, probably in the Yellow Sea where the border separating both countries remains contested.

It seems almost certain one of these incidents could re-ignite a war that will re-shape Asia and the world in the first half of the 21st century. It is a war that might well weaken the economies of the U.S. and China (the world’s two largest) to such an extent a new and more horrible Great Depression will ravage the world unchecked.

Despite its overstretched armed forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S.’ military leadership believes victory is possible in Korea given the U.S.’ immense superiority in military technology (especially those deployed by the U.S. Navy and Air Force). This reliance on sophisticated technology seems reasonable given that only 29,000 U.S. and 520,000 South Korean soldiers stand in the way of North Korea’s 1.2 million man mechanized army.

The world will definitely commemorate the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War on June 25. Further activities in September will mark the 60th anniversary of the landing of the first Filipino Battalion Combat Team (BCT) at Busan on September 19, 1950. Five BCTs mustering 7,500 officers and men from the Philippine Army served in Korea from 1950-55 as PEFTOK, the Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea.

Delegations of our aging Korean War veterans are preparing to travel to a country where over 100 of their fellow soldiers died defending South Korea from aggression by communist China and North Korea. Some 400 Filipino soldiers were wounded in combat while 17 others remain missing-in-action to this day.

That Filipino veterans will march in celebrations honoring their noble sacrifice and that of the U.S., South Korea and 19 other countries that served under the United Nations Command is, however, sad proof only military power can guarantee peace in the Korean peninsula.

The unyielding aim of North Korea is to merge both Koreas under communism in a war of unification, the same aim it had in 1950. The goal of South Korea and the U.S. is to defeat this war of unification, thereby uniting Korea in the process.

But as the price of unification is renewed war, and since both foes are unwilling to risk that war, Korea must remain a divided country to maintain world peace. It is a bitter price the Korean people have to continue to pay. I sympathize greatly with the heroic Korean people.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The sons of great men

(Published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 5, 2010)

THE ONLY CHILD (a son) of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, arguably the greatest American general of the 20th century, was born in Manila on Feb. 21, 1938.

Arthur MacArthur IV
his mother, Jean.
The life of Arthur MacArthur IV, however, remains a mystery to this day. His mother shielded Arthur from the public eye during his childhood, and Arthur developed a disdain for publicity in his later life. The elder MacArthur was apparently a doting father to Arthur: his love for Arthur was described as “relentless.”

In his twilight years, the elder MacArthur said he wanted his family to remember him more as a father than a soldier. “By profession I am a soldier and take pride in that fact. But I am prouder—infinitely prouder—to be a father. . . It is my hope that my son, when I am gone, will remember me not from the battle but in the home repeating with him our simple daily prayer, 'Our Father who art in heaven’.” Douglas MacArthur died in 1964.

The world, however, knows precious little about the only son of one of the greatest men of the 20th century. The world doesn’t even know if Arthur MacArthur remains alive today.

The younger MacArthur’s obscurity is intentional: he petitioned to have his family name changed. That petition was granted, so Arthur MacArthur now lives under a different name.

Many speculate about the real reason for Arthur rejecting his legacy of greatness. Some say he fled from the immense burden of living up to his father’s renown. Others say he wanted to be his own man.

Described as a “sensitive” child, the young MacArthur is thought to have become a musician, artist or writer. Some say he still lives in New York City, which is where his family lived in his younger years.

The son of a great man only has two choices: that of Arthur MacArthur’s or that of his father, Douglas, whose own father was a hero of the Civil War and recipient of the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor. Douglas MacArthur chose to outshine his great father, Arthur, and he did.

The sons of great fathers--or great parents--carry a name that can either be a terrible curse or a goad to new greatness. And they must make a choice for which they will forever be faulted.

In choosing to follow a great father’s footsteps, a son is always held up to comparison by his father’s peers. Sadly, he will always be found wanting despite great personal success, and some will say he would not have succeeded were it not for his father’s fame.

In choosing to disregard the greatness of his father, however, a son is readily branded a failure. It is the most terrible of all epithets because it means a son is forever his father’s shadow and is thus inferior.

And it is painful being introduced time and again to strangers as, “Ang anak ni _________” ("This is _______'s son), instead of by one’s first name.

The son of a great man can do no more than light his own fire within his father’s giant shadow. And by stoking those embers into a brilliant light within that comforting darkness, proclaim his existence to a cynical world.

Sons of great men.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Fight indoor air pollution

Home is both a haven and a personal heaven for many of us.

In today’s urban environment, however, the presence of harmful chemicals, noxious gases and disease-carrying vermin can inadvertently transform our “Home Sweet Home” into a “black hole” that actually traps various forms of pollution and endangers unwary families.

Our homes can sustain toxic mold spores and volatile organic compounds emitted by paint, endangering our health. It can also shut in life-threatening dioxins released by a variety of sources such as cigarette smoke and some plastics.

Just how serious is the problem of indoor air pollution that many urban Filipino families seem to take for granted?

The government estimates that urban indoor and outdoor air pollution accounts for some five percent of all reported disease cases and four percent of all reported deaths in the Philippines.

In the USA, the American Medical Association reported that one-third of the national health bill sprang from causes directly attributable to indoor air pollution. In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has consistently ranked indoor air pollution among the top five environmental risks to public health.

The invisible enemy
Indoor air pollution is probably the Filipino family’s most insidious—and least known—enemy.

The causes of indoor air pollution in urban residential homes are either natural (house dust mites, for example) or “anthropogenic” or man-made (e.g. cigarette smoke). While natural causes appear more ubiquitous, it’s the man-made causes that pose the greater threat to a family’s health and well-being.

“Dust mites are the main cause of urban indoor air pollution in the Philippines—but only if no one in the house smokes,” said Dr. Wency Kiat, a toxicologist and pediatrician at the St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City.

Dr. Kiat is the only toxicologist at St. Luke’s and one of only 20 toxicologists in this country. As a toxicologist, his job is to study the harmful interactions among chemical, physical or biological agents and biological systems. He also studies the nature and effects of poisons and their treatment.

Dust mites are microscopic and almost invisible insects that exist everywhere inside our homes. They feed on minute particles of organic matter such as human dander (or dead skin flakes), the main component of house dust.

Up to 90 percent of all house dust is actually human dander. Scientists estimate the entire outer layer of our skin is shed everyday or two at a rate of seven million skin flakes per minute

Dust mites excrete enzymes to digest dander, their favorite food. They expel these enzymes in their feces, which become part of house dust. Dust mites abound in pillow cases, blankets, bed sheets, beds, furniture and carpets.

Poisonous cigarettes
In homes with cigarette smokers, however, the danger from secondhand smoke outweighs that from dust mites.

Dr. Kiat described cigarette smoke as “poisonous” since it also contains “dioxins” among its 4,000 chemicals, 40 of which are known carcinogens.  Long-term exposure to dioxins, a probable carcinogen, can lead to an increased risk of cancerous tumors.

“Cigarette smoke is one of the most dangerous sources of indoor pollutants, especially for children,” he noted. “Children are the most vulnerable to secondhand or environmental tobacco smoke.”

As for dust mites, the problem they pose for Filipino families is their omnipresence and massive numbers that reach into the millions. Dust mites, more specifically their feces, are allergens known to trigger asthma and other allergic reactions when inhaled.

House dust heavily contaminated with dust mite feces is one of the most potent allergenic substances found indoors. Some 80 percent of asthma attacks are caused by dust mites. Dust mites can also cause eczema, hay fever and other allergic ailments.

“It’s all about the bed,” said Dr. Kiat referring to the dust mites’ favorite home.

He said that while dust mites may infest pillow cases and bed sheets, it’s the mattress that’s the main source of the asthmatic attacks and allergic reactions resulting from exposure to dust mites and their droppings. Scientists estimate that a mattress can harbor up to 10 million dust mites.

Dr. Kiat recommends cleaning mattresses every three to four months to curtail the spread of dust mites. Mattresses should be also be inverted every three to four months for the same reason.

Constant cleaning always
Constant cleaning is the best defense against dust mites and other pests such as roaches, Dr. Kiat believes.

He urges families to practice the “constant cleaning method,” that is, clean often, very often.

“Constant cleaning is hard at the start, but in the long-run it’s okay,” he pointed out.

When constant cleaning, you can either use water or water mixed with small amounts of bleach instead of disinfectants. Bleach evaporates much faster than disinfectants, which remain potent (and thus poisonous) for longer periods of time.

“Water is still the safest cleaner,” said Dr. Kiat.. “Avoid using chemicals, including disinfectants, when cleaning.”

He admitted it might be difficult for families accustomed to using strong bleaches and disinfectants to rely on water.

If there is a need to use a bleach in cleaning, however, follow the manufacturer's instructions to safely dilute the bleach in water.

But for Dr. Kiat, constant cleaning with water is to be preferred.

“If you have a clean home, why do you need to disinfect?”

Dangerous LPG
One of the most dangerous yet often overlooked sources of indoor air pollution is the kitchen, Dr. Kiat noted.

He singled out homes using liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) as particularly vulnerable to carbon monoxide poisoning. He urges LPG users to be constantly alert when using their LPG stoves or ranges.

The worst danger comes from the incomplete combustion of LPG. This inefficiency releases more carbon monoxide into the home. Carbon monoxide is the most lethal gas found in homes today.

“If the tip of the flame is persistently yellow, the flame liberates more carbon monoxide,” Dr. Kiat explained. “The flame should be bluish in color.”

Dr. Kiat warns that carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless poison that can kill quickly in closed (air conditioned) or improperly ventilated kitchens. He recommends opening the kitchen windows when burning LPG.

Tips for a safer indoors
Dr. Kiat gave these useful tips to make your indoor air healthier—and safer:

Practice constant cleaning to contain the health threat posed by dust mites and other household pests such as roaches, ants and rats.

When feasible, prefer natural air to air conditioned air.

Get rid of stuff you don’t need. A lot of clutter means a lot more insects, especially roaches. Unwanted stuff also traps a lot of indoor dust, which is mainly human dander that dust mites feed on.

If you must use an insecticide spray to get rid of mosquitoes or roaches, spray downwards towards the floor and not upwards towards the center of the room. This will limit the toxic danger present in any insecticide. Mosquitoes and roaches hide in dark places close to, or on the floor. Also, wear plastic gloves, goggles and a protective mask when spraying.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

-- Saints long dead --

ON WHAT SHOULD have been another pointless day, he found himself consumed by an intense surge of joy that bent the noonday light into a magical sphere enclosing them as they walked.

Inside this sphere that shut out the world, he heard nothing save the wondrous echo of her voice as it sang in his mind. They talked the mundane chatter of careless college students: the exam they hated; the Carpenters and Smokey Robinson; their graduation just months away.

Even the impending sadness of parting from her--perhaps forever, if he let it--seemed a pointless fear at this singular moment as she walked with him, seemingly his shadow.

He knew he could now tell her. He could, if he could keep his madly pounding heart from battering his brain senseless, making him an idiot powerless to speak those beloved words he had always wanted to say to her this past year.

He knew this was the last chance. He knew . . . he knew Fate would abandon him completely unless he bravely seized this singular moment.

The realization frightened him no end and, on this bright and magical day, made him more aware of the unworthy monster he knew he was.

She was the brightest girl in class and, to his spellbound eyes, the loveliest. He drowned happily in joy again and again as he stared at her so close beside him.

She turned that lovely face to him, saying words that shattered in the air before reaching his ears. He smiled modestly and saw nothing else on what should have been another pointless day save her delicate face whose cheeks were a bloom of pink; her lips an inviting crimson line.

Inside the university museum, their talk turned to the dank and musty surroundings. He stayed close beside her, wanting to hold her hand but afraid she would take offense and run away.

She paused before the cabinets housing stamps from centuries past, and asked him in a tone both surprised and hurt, why he disapproved of the way she dressed.

The shock of this unexpected remark struck a deathblow to his already senseless brain. He stood mute and bewildered, groping for words that would not forever destroy this singular moment.

She saw his confusion, turned her back to him and walked ahead towards the statues of saints centuries old, half hidden in the shadows. He followed like a wounded dog, commanding his numbed brain to compose a reply that would not add to his humiliation.

She turned that lovely face to him and asked if he would make the honors list this year.

No, he replied. He'd still be a few points shy, but he knew she would. Congratulations, he said.

She smiled modestly and suggested that perhaps their adviser could help his grades further along. She would talk to her if he wanted her to; she was her favorite.

"You shouldn't do these things for me," he pleaded. "I don't have the right to ask anything of you . . .

"You look marvelous in a mini, except that . . . other boys keep ogling you . . . and that hurts," he stuttered.

She gazed at him, surprised by his chaotic replies. But she at last knew that he did feel strongly for her. And that this confusion was another of his muted ways of conveying the similar emotion she had long felt for him but which she had kept in check.

She drew closer to him and let her right hand touch his glistening forehead. She ran her warm fingers slowly along the side of his face and over his scarred cheek.

He flinched, ashamed, and fought off the consuming urge to lift her hand away from his face.

"I understand," she gently told him. "And I don't care."

He embraced her tightly, suppressing his tears.

She parted her lips and they kissed passionately in the faint light--amid statues of saints long dead staring grimly at them.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Silence of the Weak

On March 14, 1988, 20 months before the fall of the Berlin Wall signaled the death knell of communism in Europe, two of Asia’s four communist states decided to fight a naval battle over crude oil.

Communist China and Communist Vietnam sent their navies to the waters off our Kalayaan Municipality (part of the Spratly Archipelago) to seize what were apparently insignificant lumps of coral jutting out of the South China Sea.

But it wasn’t these calcified remains of billions of sea creatures China and Vietnam were after. It was what they believed lay buried tens of kilometers beneath these marine skeletons: the world’s fourth largest untapped reserves of crude oil and natural gas.

China calculates the Spratly’s oil and gas reserves at 18 billion tons compared to the 13 billion tons held by Kuwait, which constitute a tenth of the world's proven crude oil reserves. China also estimates the South China Sea holds combined fishing and oil and gas resources worth over $1 trillion.

And there’s also the Spratly’s strategic value to world trade: one fourth of the world’s crude oil transits the South China Sea on which it sits. More than 60% of China’s oil exports are transported by sea, most through the South China Sea.

It’s hardly surprising China fought a short but mutually damaging naval battle against her “fraternal neighbor” Vietnam in 1988. China and Vietnam claim the entire Spratly Archipelago, and have garrisoned some of those coral lumps to reinforce their territorial claims.

On March, 14, 1988, 10 Vietnamese soldiers planted their national flag on Johnson South Reef, a coral rock the Chinese claimed as their own. The 40 responding Chinese troops tried to haul down the Vietnamese flag.

Vietnamese soldiers resisted the desecration of their flag. A fistfight broke out followed by a firefight in which Chinese and Vietnamese soldiers were killed. Their warships soon joined the fray.

Since three missile-armed Chinese frigates were engaged against three almost defenseless Vietnamese troop transport ships and three lightly armed patrol boats, the result of the naval battle was never in doubt. The Vietnamese lost three transports sunk and suffered 60 dead. The Chinese lost six men but no ships.

What lessons?
What is disturbing about this sea battle, variously called “The Spratly Islands Naval Battle of 1988” or the “Johnson South Reef Skirmish,” is that it occurred inside Philippine territory.

So where was the Philippine Navy, protector of our waters and territorial integrity?

It’s a question still asked to this day. But since naval combat in 1988 was a game of numbers (the side with more firepower usually won), there was probably nothing our outgunned navy could have done to prevent this clash. And why prevent it at all since the antagonists—two communist states—were not on our side?

The lessons we should have learned from this incident have remained lessons because, 21 years on, the Philippines has not found the financial and material resources necessary to make the Navy a credible deterrent against a stronger power.

Yes, our navy does have an ongoing modernization program. But this means replacing old ships by 2017, so that by 2020 the Navy can boast of itself as a strong and credible navy the Philippines can be proud of.

The new ships that will join the Philippine Fleet will strengthen the Navy’s amphibious landing capability. The Navy’s key mission today is the rapid transport of Marines and Philippine Army troops to military hot spots in Mindanao and Sulu, or wherever desired.

In May 2009, the Navy took delivery of three new multi-purpose vessels that transport troops, combat equipment and light vehicles. These ships, however, will be used in counterinsurgency and to protect strategic marine assets like offshore oil fields.

These ships (or are they boats?) will be armed with machine guns, according to the media, and are thus useless for surface combat.

These new ships and others on the order book are apparently not designed for either sea control or force projection in distant waters like our Kalayaan Islands.

And they will certainly not be suitable for warfighting, especially against the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), or the navies of any of the four other claimants to the Spratlys (Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei).

But, the Navy doesn’t have to outgun the PLAN. It only has to make the PLAN realize any naval engagement will be mutually damaging and not one sided in PLAN’s favor. It’s about credibility.

Littoral combat ships
In today’s modern navies, the word “littoral” has become associated with the high technology navy of the future. Littoral combat ships (LCS) are all the rage.

These small ships, built specifically to control littoral waters (or those close to shore), combine stealth technology with catamaran or trimaran hull forms that allow them to stay afloat in as little as four meters of water.

The PLAN has embraced the LCS as an essential part of its force structure. It has Asia’s most numerous LCS fleet: over 40 of its latest model, the Type 022 (Houbei-class) guided-missile fast attack craft (FAC), have been built and more are building. China has some 130 missile boats in total.

The mission of the fast, trimaran-hulled Type 022 missile boats can be compared to that of jet fighters: their sole reason for being is to destroy the enemy.

For this single-minded task, the Type 022’s main armament is a twin-launcher for anti-ship, land attack or surface-to-air missiles. It can carry up to eight missiles.

Its bow carries a turreted, six-barreled 30mm Gatling autocannon for suppressing enemy shore fire or engaging small enemy aircraft such as helicopters.

These 220-ton boats have a top speed of some 40 knots. The first Houbei FAC was launched in 2004 and some 40 are said to be operational today. Each boat carries a 12-man crew.

The Type 022’s mission is the active defense of China's near seas or littoral areas. They represent China’s attempts to gain greater sea control further from its coast, which can be taken to include our Kalayaan Islands.

The Type 022 is more heavily armed than any Philippine Navy fighting ship. None of our Navy’s ships are missile-armed, including its largest ship, the BRP Rajah Humabon, a frigate.

The main armament of the Rajah Humabon (launched in 1943) and the Navy’s 13 corvettes are medium caliber guns better suited to the fighting in World War 2. The Rajah Humabon’s main armament consists of three 3 inch guns.

As for the Navy’s 40 patrol boats, their weapons (heavy machine guns and light cannon) are worthless in surface combat.

The Philippine Navy has nothing like the Type 022—and apparently nothing remotely similar on order under its modernization plan.

The silence of the weak
China’s present economic success has led it to develop an insatiable hunger for resources such as crude oil and strategic metals. Despite the global financial crisis that crippled the U.S. and Europe, China’s economy is expected to grow by eight percent this year thanks to government stimulus packages.

China is widely expected to become the world’s largest economy by the next decade, displacing the U.S. Its GDP is again expected to grow near the 10% mark starting 2010. Its appetite for resources such as crude oil will, therefore, remain unchecked. Only the inevitable collapse of communism in China in the decade beginning 2010 can prevent China's continued military growth and territorial expansion into the Spratlys.

It is inevitable this powerful hunger for resources will again lead China to our door as it did in 1995 when she seized Mischief Reef from us without a fight. China might soon seek to impose its sovereignty on more islands in our Kalayaan Municipality, and that will mean confronting this country on the high seas.

What shall our brave Philippine Navy have on hand to counter PLAN battle fleets consisting of modern missile-armed destroyers and frigates, nimble Houbei-class FACs and virtually undetectable attack submarines when push comes to shove in the next 10 years?

Well . . . ?

Your silence speaks volumes.