When Christina Laskowski Sets Her Mind to It…

“Not all of us can do great things,” she said, “but we can do things with great love (and passion).”

Christina (nee Rodriguez) Laskowski was talking about the entrepreneurs STAC has mentored, some who have gone on to grow successful businesses on the advice she gave them in their nascence. Founded in 1993 by semiconductor industry giant Dado Banatao, the Science and Technology Advisory Council originally formed to provided pro-bono consulting to the Philippine government. Today, it is focused on “driving economic growth in the Philippines and US through holistic entrepreneurship,” by their own description on the STACSV website. Laskowski assumed the role of President in 1999, during Estrada’s presidency when government interests lay elsewhere. STAC’s activities consisted mostly of making introductions for Philippine government and private sector parties interested in engaging with high technology industries in Silicon Valley.

“Personally, I felt compelled to prove my thesis that we have the talent and diamonds in the rough in the Philippines’ back yard,” Laskowski explained.

That opportunity presented itself in 2007 and 2008, when, bolstered by its momentum in the budding call center industry, Philippine leadership decided to pursue new industries along the same lines of using innovative solutions to solve problems. At this point, it was the Philippine government who drove the engagement process. By August of 2009, STAC had signed an MOA with the three departments of the Philippine executive branch—the Department of Science & Technology, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Trade & Industry. Later that year, the collaboration produced a 5-year strategic plan that included developing an entrepreneurial ecosystem in the likeness of Silicon Valley.

“At that point, elements of an ecosystem existed, but it was extremely fragmented,” said Laskowski.

Since then, her efforts, along with her colleagues (Dennis Fernandez and Denny Roja, to name just two), have helped develop the Philippine tech startup ecosystem. This includes research and development at the University level, supportive capital markets and supportive IP law. The final piece, Laskowski feels, will be support and offtake by private businesses in the Philippines.

If you happen to be on the Manila side when you read this, you can learn more about the ecosystem on November 16 and 17, 2017 at the 9th NICP Summit and digitalcitiesPH Launch followed by the EGOV Awards. Go to nicp.org.ph to learn more about it. Many of Laskowski’s collaborators will be speaking, including Tina Amper, founder of TechTalks.ph, and JoJo Flores, co-founder of LaunchGarage.

As I listened to her story, I marveled at this Mindanawan-American sitting across the table from me and wondered how some people manage to do so much more with flying time—raising two boys, steering a career from investment banking to management consulting, caring for parents, a husband, her friends—while others, like me, count the years for sport. After more than two decades of knowing her, I’ve gleaned no depletion in her glow and bubble, just a long string of achievements that comes from the marriage of talent and energy. And, yes, of course, passion.


The Consequences of Political Apathy

I attended the California GOP State convention earlier this month. I am a delegate to the California State Party and am feeling bold about admitting my affiliation tonight. I had the pleasure of hearing Kevin McCarthy, House Majority Leader, Steven Moore of the Club For Growth (one of the most powerful political action committees) and Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform, who is hilarious. From the edge of the room echoed my spasms of laughter. It was embarrassing.

Here is the alarming thing that I am not seeing in the press: contrary to expectations, the state and local tax deduction is not likely to rejoin the new tax plan. With the majority of both houses and some happy words about the tax overhaul, the Republican/Trump tax plan looks like it will be passed by Christmas. The promise out of Norquist is that while Republicans are able, they will reduce taxes every year, refining what has been started with the new administration.

In my opinion, lower taxes are the sweetest songs we could hear out of Washington. I believe this with even greater conviction each time I meet a political type. The government is not the best custodian of your money. A government with less money may even translate into a more judicious use of the funds at their disposal. Perhaps even fewer remodelings of freeway entrances in the Bay Area…or high speed trains connecting places with low population density.

But there is a problem with this tax overhaul in Washington D.C., a problem for California. We have been largely forgotten. High tax states, all Democratic (of course), stand to lose the local and state tax deduction. While this is a problem for the high tax brackets, it is these same tax brackets that make up the bulk of tax revenue. These high earners will be incentivized to move to lower or no tax states for tremendous tax savings. It would place California at a competitive disadvantage. If this phenomenon plays out (which it does already), it would impair revenue for the entire state. Everyone would be affected. That would be one less high speed train that the politicians could build.

In terms of membership, California is the largest Republican party in the nation. And yet, we have only 14 members of Congress. Out of a potential 55 slots—53 in the House of Representatives and 2 Senate seats—California Republicans account for only 14 House seats and no Senate seats. When they caucus, there is only a small voice to argue for California’s interests. And so the Republican agenda migrates away from policies that would better serve California. The largest state in the country is under represented in the Capitol.

Conventional wisdom attributes this to the profound Democratic leaning of the state. However, political apathy may be equally accountable. When election turnouts can trend as low as 9% in some off-cycle races, it certainly speaks to the lack of civic involvement by the population.

It is understandable. Much of the population is transient and, if not transient, transplanted. It takes a while to connect with civic issues. It takes some time to feel a sense of ownership over political events. It may even take a lifetime to understand that the ability to vote for your leadership is a sacred privilege. Maybe then, California will have fair representation within both parties instead of just one.


Whang-od as a brand name

I was in Aparri, Cagayan when Apo Whang-od was brought to the Manila FAME to "perform" a tattoo demontration, speak in a panel, and to attend the announcement of her nomination to the GAMABA (Gawad ng Manlilikha ng Bayan or the National Living Treasure Award), which reportedly was accepted by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) last October 21.
I was also invited by the organizers to be in a panel, but declined. When I returned, I was bombarded with articles that she was “exploited” reminiscent of the 1904 St Louis Exposition, and on the other, that she “fully enjoyed” her stay in Manila and back in Buscalan.
Examining both sides of the story, I was also alarmed that I received messages on why I am I not doing anything despite the many accolades I received from conducting research on Kalinga tattoos (that is certainly unwarranted), but nevertheless, I am confounded. Here are some thoughts.

Was she exploited?
Did we ever ask Apo Whang-od directly or personally if she was indeed “exploited”? What did she think of the event? I have asked Apo Whang-od many times in my previous research and many visits to the village, if she likes what she is doing, most especially with the influx of tourists coming in to get tattoos.
I usually get a reply that “she loves what she is doing, and she will tattoo as much as she can, as long as her eyes can see.” She is also a good-natured person (to the point of being misled), and she would accommodate this in full-energy like what a Butbut-Kalinga woman would do.
With the unfolding of events before our eyes, who are we to deny these things to her: the opportunity to travel and to see other places (like Manila), to earn more (reportedly a take home of P800,000 for her appearance and demos), and to meet people (like Coco Martin) and to ride on with each other’s popularity.
Apo Whang-od is also a human being, already a cultural icon. Some would see her as a goddess on a pedestal, but like any other person, she also has her own agency. It is “us” (our outsider’s view, our “othering,” our etic perspective) that gives this ideological interpretation that it was unfair, unjust, and exploitative in nature, but did we ask her?
To the organizers of the event, it is a most admirable act to bring in the centenarian Apo Whang-od on board with all the resources and logistics all set, but I hope that you planned and curated the show well. With the tattoo practitioners on cordon, you made them look like “public performers for a fee” (“tattoo for a fee”) which could have been more interactive, and not exclusive.
We could honor Apo Whang-od and her craft in a most respectable way and for a rare occasion such as this, a fitting tribute should be perfectly fine, moreso, to listen to Apo Whang-od’s voice, her thoughts and her stories with the proper translation from her Butbut language to Filipino or English (most of the attendees have an English twang).
But having to tattoo from 8 am to 4 pm for the event and have a "piece" of her is way too much, there should be a limit for these tattoo demonstrations. How is this setting different when she tattoos in Buscalan with more than hundreds of visits per day and the many people in queue to get inked by her?
She has proven herself well, with the beautiful human canvass she produced for years when she started tattooing in her home village up to now. Of course, Apo Whang-od as I know her, would insist to tattoo, because this is what is expected of her. She would tell me that she is always “naontog” (strong), but her age and health is an issue that we should be conscious of the need to conserve and preserve her energy.
She also talks of "chayaw" (or praise and honor for the Kalinga) and to live by these expectations. Miscommunication or blocking of communication is also rife in the event, between Apo Whang-od to the organizers, and to the people that flocked to her to get tattoos. Did we talk to her? And how does she feel? She left Manila with all smiles and waved heartily as she boarded the helicopter back to Buscalan, how does she really feel? For all I know, she would say "I did it!" to cap the "high" expectations from her.

Pollution of culture?
We should not be a “romantic anthropologist” when we view culture as something that is “pure,” “traditional” or “pristine.” Kalinga tattoos also evolve, never static and always dynamic. It also goes with the flow of modernity. Like the people, the tattoos also go through the process of inevitable change.
But what I implore is to have this sensibility and sensitivity to culture, and to respect the practitioners of the tradition, whether Apo Whang-od is in Buscalan or elsewhere. Respect is of utmost importance here. Why do people get tattoos from Whang-od? Because people buy the story behind the tattoos: the rarity of designs, the technique and the stature of Whang-od as the “last, oldest tattoo artist” ascribed by popular media.
With the popularity of tattoos nowadays, and with the (sh)/fame in the Manila event, we could observe that we could talk now of appearing cultures instead, rather than disappearing cultures, and the tattooing culture is revived.
The events also help us erase the pejorative notion of tattoos whether that is traditional or not. Today, we have the younger generation of tattoo practitioners: Grace Palicas, Elyang Wigan (and others, plus recently the youngest 12-year-old tattoo artist), and Den Wigan – who have seriously taken on their hands the handtapping tattoo. Is this not worth celebrating for as well as we are assured of the continuity of a tattoo tradition?
The context of traditional tattoos was different in the past when these tattoos were place-based rituals and a collective practice for the Kalinga. The motivations for getting tattoos now have become more personal, to make permanent the individual experiences of the people whether you are diasporic Filipinos, urban or foreign tourists coming in to get inked from the village, or in the Manila FAME event.

Nomination of Apo Whang-od to the GAMABA
For those strongly advocating for the nomination of Apo Whang-od to become a National Living Treasure (Take note: this is different from the National Artist Awards), I have no objections. But let us peruse the guidelines carefully and understand it well.
For anyone nominated to the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan Awards or GAMABA, the cultural practitioner should continue to practice her craft and not to earn profit from it.
Apo Whang-od is in a precarious situation because although she continues to tap the traditional way, she earns by tattooing tourists. Unless the NCCA praise committee makes an exemption, we still have to await for their decision. Whatever the results are, we also need to respect the decision.
With the many events unfolding in our eyes, what we see now is a greater appreciation of the young to traditional tattoos (which is good, but also have a downside in Buscalan, this is for another discussion).
With Whang-od’s tattoos now a popular brand, it is so addictive that you can’t stop and must die hard to have it. For me, I am content with the sight of her, and to hear her tapping, and not aggressively want to be inked by her. I also respect the many people who refused to get tattoos and be part of the commodification of culture. Kudos!
We can celebrate Apo Whang-od and her craft in a most honorable and respectable way, but not in a circus such as what we all have witnessed. But for Apo Whang-od, it could be one of her memorable experiences as long as she lives, and surely it will be retold. Manjamanak (Thank you)!

Dr. Analyn Salvador-Amores, an alumna of the University of the Philippines Diliman and Oxford University, authored the award-winning book "Tapping Ink, Tattooing Identities: Tradition and Modernity in Contemporary Kalinga Society" (UP Press, 2013). She is an associate professor of social anthropology at UP Baguio and the director of the Museo Kordilyera, the university's Ethnographic Museum.


Who was Omarkhayam Maute?

Salient facts of Omar Maute’s life are still absent from internet sources. For example, we don’t have his birthday. I can guess that he was in his late 30s or early forties when he died (on October 16, 2017, US time) given that he was a teenager in the 1990s. There is no mention of children he might have had with his Indonesian wife though it’s reasonable to assume he probably did. Reports of his death surfaced in February 2017 and then in August 2017 and then now, announced definitively, hours before I write this.

It drives home the uncomfortable fact that the very open Western resource of internet articles and social media allows these subversive groups to enter and exit our world and use our openness to their own advantage while they enjoy at least some semblance of privacy. One article claimed 63 Facebook accounts sourced to the Maute group. They say he used social media for recruiting. And yet, we don’t even know his birthday.

It also brings home another already obvious fact that is often ignored: while the ruling class of the Philippines is decidedly Western-oriented, Malaysia is our closest neighbor. The Southernmost tip of Balabac Island, part Palawan province, is just over 20 miles north of the Malaysian island of Pulau Balambangan and Sibutu Island in the province of Tawi-Tawi is 8.7 miles east of Sabah, Malaysia. But in order for someone from Manila to fly to Kuala Lumpur, they would have to travel slightly more than 1500 miles, just a touch less than the distance between SFO and Pierre, South Dakota. While Mindanao does have international airports as far south as General Santos City, the capital and its Western-facing leadership are emphatically Manila-centric. In fact, until Duterte was elected, it was largely assumed that Presidents were chosen by the occupants of Southern Luzon.

A slight peer into Omar Maute’s background and it becomes apparent that the lives (and boundaries) of the Philippines do not match the imagination of its leaders. Omar Maute was educated in Egypt at the Al Azhar University in Cairo. He married an Indonesian woman and, based on the limited comments, seemed integrated into her family. In Western-facing Manila, this kind of international reach is only achievable by those who can afford the cost of PAL flights and Western tuition. Meanwhile, there exists a subculture that seems to have blended lives and identity with the Muslim world…to the extent that they are educated and conversant in Middle Eastern languages as was Maute.

If there exists within the Philippines this entirely different cultural pull, Maute and his clan are artifacts of negligent leadership. They are negligent for failing to represent this demographic and they are negligent for not recognizing the dynamic. For at least 50 years, Manila has been happy to pretend that the country does not really count beyond its borders. I witnessed this first hand as I watched (from afar) my uncles bootstrap Cebu’s recovery from Typhoon Ruping in the 1990s. Today, with the death of one of the leaders of the Marawi siege, I finally understand why Duterte was elected. It might have been about drugs, sure. It might have been a repudiation of the status quo and those who benefitted. But it was Mindanawans (and other Southerners) calling for leadership that understands them.


Georgina Chapman is no longer 100% behind Harvey Weinstein

Chapman is no longer 100% behind Harvey Weinstein
>  And
> now for the news with the real substance… If
> I am going to write about a Hollywood scandal involving
> people I’ve never met, at least I can claim pride in one
> thing: 
> this is breaking news. 
> This is breaking news as I write this,
> two hours before deadline, but it won’t be breaking news
> when this column goes
> to print. 
> Georgina Chapman,
> fashion goddess, founder of Marchesa, and wife of Harvey
> Weinstein, is leaving
> him. 
> She just made this announcement. After
> the news of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual sociopathy broke
> in a New York Times article, I got to thinking…what kind
> of a woman is Georgina
> Chapman. I
> had first seen Chapman’s face on the cover of a local New
> York magazine, a neighborhood glossy, where she talked about
> her fashion line
> and upcoming (2007) marriage to Weinstein. 
> “Did you see that beautiful designer who married
> this scruffy guy named
> Harvey Weinstein?” I asked my friend. 
> Then the retort with the knowing look, “Harvey
> Weinstein is biiiig.” It
> puzzled me. 
> Here was a movie-star beautiful, well-schooled lady
> marrying a much
> older man who wouldn’t even tuck in his shirt for the red
> carpet, who wouldn’t even
> shave. 
> Early on in their
> relationship, Chapman made bit appearances in movies like Factory
> Girl and Match
> Point,
> among others. 
> And then there is
> the success of Marchesa. The
> brand started in 2004, the same year Chapman met
> Weinstein. 
> The Marchesa line has
> been an easy standout for its creative textile, which, it
> turns out, can be credited
> to cofounder Keren Craig. 
> Because
> of the timing, it is impossible to tell what of Marchesa’s
> success was due to
> the Weinstein effect. 
> Nor should
> there be a question that the success was tied in part to the
> Hollywood producer. 
> Weinstein was helpful not just in
> getting Marchesa gowns on big actresses but Chapman’s red
> carpet appearances served
> as ongoing publicity for the line. 
> Well known designers are often well known because
> they were known before
> (think Stella McCartney) or they were close to people who
> could trigger fame
> (think Tory Burch). 
> But I suspect
> IBM Watson’s 2016 collaboration with Marchesa to create a
> dress for the Met
> Gala that would dynamically change color according to moods
> reflected on
> Twitter feeds was not a Weinstein victory. 
> It is the first time fashion and Artificial
> Intelligence
> have come together. 
> And the dress,
> like many things out of Marchesa, was exquisite. Over
> the last several days, a few articles have come out
> about Harvey Weinstein’s media shy wife. 
> Some were defending her character, hence her
> career. 
> Others were tying Marchesa’s ascent to
> Chapman’s relationship with the predatory producer. 
> Chapman’s announcement today makes clear which was
> her true
> love. As
> for Hollywood’s treatment of women in general, it is
> atrocious. 
> The practice of abusing starlets, real
> and aspiring, is worse than an open secret. 
> The women making claims now were likely abused during
> other
> auditions, during other projects. 
> If you think of anyone in power in the entertainment
> industry, suspect
> guilt. 
> That popular opinion now
> chooses to treat this behavior with shock and
> disapproval…well, it’s about
> time. 
> It’s about time that women
> have recourse that is actually more potent than the threat
> of a lawsuit. 
> The media is finally there to help deal
> the dying blows to these predators. 
> Public opinion is finally there to back them
> up. This is what I hope comes out of the past two
> days. 
> I hope it means that times have
> changed. 
> I hope it means female
> objectification is despised, even if a President does
> it. 
> I hope Ellen Pao (formerly of Kleiner Perkins) gets
> her day in court, even if it’s the court of public
> opinion.  
> I
> also hope the Marchesa line survives. 
> Some of those gowns in the Fall 2017 Collection
> are simply works of art.


Bindlestiff Studio and Its Filipino Transformation


A few yards north of the corner of 6th and Howard in San Francisco’s once undesirable neighborhood around 6th and Mission, a small shoddy theatre stood.  The name meant a tramp, a person of limited means, possible homeless, itinerant and it was appropriate for its surrounding neighborhood.  I had the pleasure of attending a performance of one act plays at the original incarnation of Bindlestiff in the mid 90s, fan as I am, then and now, of art expressed off the beaten path.  The performance space was a fire hazard, the audience seating populated with metal stools, and the wine…at least they sold wine.  But the plays, well, they were different.  They took risks that mainstream plays dare not.  There was a date between two serial killers and another play was a monologue of a paranoiac on the verge of homocide.
Sixth Street feeds into and out of Highway 280 and over the decades I would look from my passing car for the graffiti-like posterboard that presided over the entrance of the what seemed like such a cool venue for theatre.  And one day, who knows when (since so much time has passed), it was gone.
I wouldn’t be writing about this theatre in this column if not for its 1997 transformation into a Filipino American performing arts venue with the appointment of Allan Manalo as artistic director.  That was 20 years ago and I had never learned of this until this month when I came across a social media post on an upcoming Filipino production at Bindlestiff.  What a pleasant surprise to learn that the theatre is still in operation.
I was fortunate enough to see the last night’s performance of one act plays, a reprise of my experience of the mid 90s, Stories High XVII.  The performances, which ran for two and a half weeks from August 31 through September 16, 2017 were the culmination of a workshop in which participants wrote, directed and performed in their own original plays.  The program is sponsored by PAWA (Philippine American Writers and Artists, San Francisco Grants for the Arts and the San Francisco Arts Commission.  My favorite performance was of a Fil-Am couple in the early stages of dating trying to hide the criminal dispositions of their respective families.  It featured belly-laughing portrayals of a Filipino father and a Filipina mother.  The workshop occurs over the summer and enrollment for next year is open to the public.
The Bindlestiff Studio is self-described as the “only permanent, community-based performing arts venue in the nation dedicated to showcasing emerging Filipino American and Pilipino artists.”
Compared to when I first went there more than 20 years ago, the space is new, bathrooms nice, stairs of buffed metal, surfaces painted.  It is less authentic than the original even though the coordinates are the same.  It seems rich.  Indeed, the entire neighborhood has undergone a shocking gentrification over the last 20 years.  Sixth and Mission may still possess some of the unsavory elements that has made it what it is, but it feels reasonable to walk around the area on a busy night now and the sprawl of tech wealth has left its mark around every corner. 
As for me, I am just glad to find that Bindlestiff is up and running again.  That it is now a Filipino studio sweetens the notion even more.
For upcoming events, go to www.bindlestiffstudio.org.

3rd Conference on WWII in the Philippines

By :Cristina Osmena

When I think of Manila past, I picture fields of cogon grass, growth unchecked, and fertile soil teeming with creatures long since displaced—snakes and bats, large incomprehensible insects, invisible dwarves, jungle rats, prehistoric roaches, and khaki slugs. I imagine a place nature-wild and breezy, where the country’s elite clustered to beat back the overwhelming weather-driven oppression typical of the Tropic of Capricorn. In their mutual company and consolation, they could emulate the happy post-war boom of 1950s America. This was the image of my mother’s childhood that she shares with me, a Manila where she and her group of preteen friends could ride their bikes unattended across EDSA as if it were just a wide empty road across a long stretch of Idaho cornfields. I rarely stop to think that just the decade prior, my mother’s bike would have traversed cracking bone and putrid air, dense with fear and shock and the particulate residue of Japan’s tenure in the land of our ancestors, that time of terror that ended so violently on February 12, 1945 and left a hundred thousand of our ancestors dead before their time.

This, among other things, is what the Bataan Legacy Historical Society, Memorare Manila 1945 and the Yuchengco Philippine Studies Program of the University of San Francisco coordinated to present on September 9, 2017 (coincidentally, my great-grandfather’s 139th birthday) in a series of panel discussions featuring speakers who came from as far away as the Philippines and Canada.


What the rise of Artificial Intelligence is going to do to your privacy

From this title, I think I’ve stolen my own wind. Furthermore, I am using the term Artificial Intelligence loosely because it looks a lot better than Predictive Analytics or Machine Learning, which I want to discuss in this column. Finally, one more disclaimer: since this paper’s fan base is located, among other places, in the San Francisco Peninsula that is now nicknamed Silicon Valley, I have to concede that some readers are going to know a lot more about this than I do and that my discussion here will insult their intelligence. Instead of begging their pardon, I implore them for commentary. There is a comment section to the online version of this article…

Let me start with the matter that has caused me to push aside the list of upcoming events I was going to publish on (one on September 9, the 3rd Conference on WWII in the Philippines where tickets can be purchased here https://www.eventbrite.com/e/3rd-conference-on-world-war-ii-in-the-philippines-the-legacy-of-two-nations-tickets-34923528213,is worth the parenthetical insert), and write with fury and fever. Have you ever noticed any of these companies or services that charge very little to sell you a service? Usually it is a service that is sold and not a product. That service will collect some information about you and you are, explicitly or not, through a Terms of Agreement (that you didn’t read) or a simple lack of legal protection, allowing them to keep that information, giving it to them, letting them study you, analyze you. These companies are well known names like Facebook, Amazon and Uber and less well known like 23 and Me.

23andMe provides DNA testing services where for $99, you can find out about your ancestry, and for $199, you can find out about your health and ancestry. You get some entertaining insight into your genetic background and they grow their data base of DNA samples. With the rise of things like Predictive Analytics and Machine Learning, which has enabled more accurate predictions of human consumer behavior, health, and more, has come the rise in value of all things data. You never would have guessed that companies are making loads of money trafficking in nuggets about us that they get practically for free. Well, of course you’ve guessed—you live in Silicon Valley.

Here’s an issue you may not have considered. These private companies like 23andMe will likely get purchased by a Google, a Facebook, or an Amazon. These companies, with their monstrous market valuations that are comparable to the GDP of the Philippines, are the aggregators of datasets, datasets about us, the public. With the large amounts of data of various kinds gathered under a single roof and the power today to make use of that information, individual companies will be blessed with the ability to know things about us that we do not know ourselves. It is not predicting my consumer behavior that concerns me. I expect this kind of creepy obsession with how I spend. It’s the other stuff, things I can’t think of, that scares me. When three giant companies have bought up all the datasets, will they know how long I will live (can this be predicted from my genetic code?) or where I will be tomorrow or, even creepier, where I am taking my kids today and tomorrow and next week, their ages, birthdays, friends, and hobbies. And what if an unfriendly entity like, say, Russia or North Korea, acquires a controlling interest in one of these public companies? Will all of our data belong to Vlad or that crazy missile guy with the bad haircut? What if they don’t even pay for the privilege…what if one of these companies/data repositories gets hacked?

Someone I know expressed concern that the rise of AI would lead to a violation of our civil liberties. Is it that simple? Is it a civil liberty violation if another government is invading our privacy?

There is some legislative protection that someone needs to draw up out of that intellectual vacuum called Congress. But it won’t come fast enough. Data sets need to be ring-fenced, especially medical data and all information related to minors. That’s a first step before attacking the real problem of stopping that data from ending up all in one place.


A Filipina from Beverly Hills

I recently had my high school reunion, an alumni class of Beverly Hills High School, that was impressively swollen compared to now. Over 630 people constituted our senior class. More interesting to the readers of this paper, I can only think of three of us who hailed from the Philippines. Regina Santos is one of them.

Regina did not pass through a feeder elementary school like I did. She attended Catholic schools before transferring to Beverly High for 9th grade. Born in Quezon City, Regina migrated with her parents at the age of four to the East Coast. After six months, her parents, who met working in the financial industry in Manila, separated and Regina came to Los Angeles with her mom.

While I had noticed Regina in high school and I had wondered if she might be Filipina, I never asked her about it until I saw her at the recent reunion. She was a cheerleader; I spent my days with a crowd derogatorily referred to as “the math club.” We were defined by our interests and, while this seems very appropriate, it certainly illustrates the experience of minority immigrants who happened to land in places where there were few to none in our minority demographic. Like me, she “made an unsuccessful attempt to integrate with other Filipinas in the States.” The difference was just too large. Beverly Hills was too far away. On my end, there were not enough of us to create a critical mass of Filipinas to group as one and identity politic.

I write this profile because it illustrates the life of a well-integrated immigrant, a phenomenon that is unusually common for Filipinas.

Regina went on to live a very well-adjusted American life, getting her Bachelor of Arts from UCLA, pursuing a career in public relations, starting her own firm and, after 15 years, taking a long look at herself and finding her persona too corporate, her femininity compromised by the task of surviving in the professional world. At this, she pivoted. Today, she is a professional performance coach and fitness consultant, the creator of a lifestyle concept she named “Running in Heels” which helps high-performing women achieve professional, physical and personal lifestyle goals.

It is a story that resonates with creativity and achievement, but I wondered what mindshare the land of her birth took up with her. She was fortunate enough to have a mother who made sure to bring her back home every summer. “I’m always so appreciative of the motherland,” she said. “There’s an innate paradox―when I go, I feel too American, and when I come to the States, I’m too Filipina.”

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard these comments in the last few months (since I started listening for them). I hear FilAm stories, success stories that coincided with integration stories that disconnected us from our original culture. We marry outside our community and, because the motherland is thousands of miles away, we may occasionally forget. One thing I’ve realized is that our subculture (too American to be considered Filipina in the Philippines) is four million strong and our stories are variations on similar themes. Perhaps its time to recognize that we are our own unique branch of the diaspora and embrace the differences that now define us.


Solar consumer advisory

I had been planning to write a profile of a friend from high school who was one of the few other Filipinas in my grade (there were three of us out of a class of over 600). This will have to wait until next week because I’ve come across some alarming news.

Because of my affiliation with a solar company based out of the United States, I often find myself in conversation with Philippine-based players in the industry. I understand that some consumers are coming across solar panels that are selling for twenty-five cents per watt. These panels have names that are not familiar to me and are coming out of manufacturers in China and Taiwan. If readers in the Philippines and friends of readers in the Philippines are coming across panels like these, do not purchase these panels. A reasonably low price for the consumer market in the Philippines would be $0.40 to $0.45 per watt, not $0.25. Lower prices can be achieved at higher volumes. Purchasing ultra-cheap panels, though tempting, will sacrifice the long term performance of the system.

I feel compelled to write about this because solar is a very promising solution, especially for the Philippines. Small islands stand to install a system once and enjoy electricity for decades without the need to purchase fuel (and all the attendant hassles that go with transporting and consuming a fossil fuel). But I’m concerned that the problems presented by low quality panels may obscure the benefits of a well-engineered solar photovoltaic solution. The problem with low quality panels is that performance may degrade much faster than better panels. I have seen old versions of photovoltaics dangling from wires generating electricity in trickles. This can come from shoddy lamination or low quality silicon or low quality cells. It only takes a few of these examples to ruin a good story.

Here is a list of high quality brands of solar panels: Trina Solar, Canadian Solar, First Solar, SunPower, LG, and Panasonic. There are other brands, including one with which I am affiliated that I am leaving out to maintain credibility, but this is a good go-to list. I have it on good authority that Trina Solar and Canadian Solar are available in the Philippines. I have also gleaned a bias from some people in the Philippines for US-made product. This is no longer a good rule of thumb, especially in the solar industry which has priced out expensive manufacturing workforces like the US. SolarWorld, for example, is not a superior brand to Trina Solar, for example.

Electricity prices to the end consumer are still shockingly high. Retail customers of the largest distribution utility are still paying something like $0.16 US per kWh while customers of the second largest distribution utility (in Cebu) are shelling out $0.20 US per kWh on average. These are better than peaking prices in California but far more expensive than most other states in the US. It is surprising, therefore, that solar has not been more vociferously adopted. Part of this may be the sizable up front cost (which shrinks daily) and part of it may be due to a lack of installation resources. All in, I am hearing that costs for a fully installed solar system has fallen below $2 per watt peak. This should be economic motivation enough to avoid the hefty costs charged by the utility.

As this adoption happens, as it should, just please beware. Not all panels are made alike. Some really are better than others. Check your brands; check your suppliers. Don’t fall for the heavily discounted product that sounds too good to be true.

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