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.


Generation Exile and what to do about it

I was going to name the latest novel I’m working on Generation Exile but I chose another working title so I can put this one out in cyberspace. GenerationX was a book by Douglas Coupland that, although entertaining and tolerably written, garnered more that its due attention—the title became the calling card of the then-20 somethings, my generation. Generation Xers were defined by the prospect that their standard of living would be less affluent than their parents and their itinerate disposition (a poor jet set that always travels on mileage programs). The book is about three lost souls, disconnected from history and things of consequence, filling the pages with trivial stories, like the TV show Seinfeld.

Generation Exile (since it is my would be book, I can define it) are the Philippine kids that coincidentally are contemporaries ofGeneration X. They grew up duringMarital Law, abroad and isolated, and also became 20-somethings in the early nineties. Because of the disconnection from our home country, physically and politically, they harbor upbringings outside the common experience and are therefore disconnected from their mother culture. For a longtime, I thought of these people as the Martial Law babies. Now I think the predicament describes the lot of many Filipino-Americans who grew up away from the mother country, have careers away from the mother country, and find themselves so well integrated with broader America that the Philippines is receding into a concept that may or may not have anything tangible attached to it.
What do we do about that, if anything at all?
Well, we could create support groups and bring Kleenex, talk about Game of Thrones and identity stories. Or we could party.
Now, this sounds more superficial than it actually is. A few cohorts, including me, are contemplating a membership wing to a large, well-established Philippine foundation that would allow Filipinos who are geographically displaced (usually by their jobs) to plug into a Philippine network. Of course, the membership is almost entirely social, except that the money raised with go to funding education initiatives in thePhilippines. Going to parties should always be this guilt free.
My team and I are in the early stages of fleshing out this membership drive. Remember, initial members are entitled to call themselves founders, will have access to the not to be discounted Filipino diaspora, party invite privileges, and the opportunity to volunteer for the main charity’s other activities.
If anyone reading this is interested in getting involved, please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. The flagship organization will being New York. Opportunities to expand elsewhere will come later.
It’s well past deadline here in New York so I’m signing off. This call for help is sincere. All emails that have a human behind them will be answered. Calling all Generation Exiles, come party for a cause.


Weevily Rice, American Soldiers, PhilDev Events and other Motley Thoughts

I have been reading a book by Hampton Sides called Ghost Soldiers, published by Doubleday in 2001.  Someone in Cebu mentioned this book to me a few years after publication when I observed that very little was written about the on-ground experience during World War II.  I only recently ordered it and stand corrected on that general comment.  However, Ghost Soldiers is about the rescue of American POWs who survived the Bataan death march.  In the first pages is a list of about 500 names, presumably of those imprisoned.  None of the names were Filipino.  There were names like Guice and Esperidion, Katz and LaVictone, but nothing that seemed like it hailed from the Malayo-Polynesian alphabet.  So I will revise my inquiry and put the question to the readership:  is there anything published that recounts the experiences of FILIPINO soldiers in WWII?  How about the experience of Filipino civilians (I’ve found only one)?  If you have an answer, please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
In case you are wondering about the genesis of my email address, it is because an American politico told me that Filipinos who run for office in the United States are “zeros, no…less than zero.”  I’m not running for anything, but I thought I’d latch onto the comment and stoke the identity politics that it incites.
In the book Ghost Soldiers, POWs were fed weevily rice, rice that was infested with snout-nosed bugs that place their larvae inside the grain to gestate, grow, and eat their way out at maturity.  This is why we are trained from an early age to wash the rice.  Please click on this video to see  I never knew this is why we were supposed to wash rice. It seems that the Japanese captors in Bataan went through the trouble of cooking the rice but not washing the rice.
What I am avoiding with all this talk of rice weevils were the atrocities mentioned at almost every page of the book—the deaths under fire, the deaths by execution, the deaths by torture, ignited gasoline tortures.  And there were the ancillary sufferings, scurvy and beriberi, lost eyes, lost teeth, “rank metallic tastes (scouring) the backs of tongues,” and the effect of neurotoxins from rancid fish heads.  I am not bold enough to detail the real atrocities in this piece, but let me say that it is a book that is rich in awful experiences.  I am only left to wonder…with Filipinos suffering side by side, did they suffer more?  How can a writer manage to capture only the experiences of American soldiers?
On a separate note, the Philippine Development Foundation (PhilDev) has two events upcoming.  On August 5th, the 3rd Annual Golf Tournament will take place from 11am to 8pm at the Chardonnay Golf Club in Napa.  The day will end with a cocktail reception and a silent auction.  Click on this link to purchase tickets for $125: secure/cause_pdetails/MTk2NzQ=
On September 9, 2017, PhilDev will host a dinner at Peppertree Canyon, a vineyard and urban farm in Orange County in Southern California.  Tickets are $300 for individuals, $500 per couple, or $2500 for a table of ten.  Sponsorships are also available.  The chef making this dinner experience possible is Christian Navarro, chef and founder of Hella Fraiche.  Tickets can be procured through this link: secure/event_step2/MTk2NzY=/ 12285
And in yet another topical pivot, I wanted to thank Christina Laskowski of the Science and Technology Advisory Council for her prolific supply of content for this column.  She does more than her share for the Filipino community and the network that supports budding Filipino technologists.  If you ever meet her, please give her a hug and thank her for all she does.



Google Launchpad Accelerator Class 4 starts this week with 2 RP companies

In May, Google announced its fourth class of Launchpad Accelerator. This is the same program I mentioned in April in which Google acts as a non-financial incubator for selected start-up tech companies from emerging countries. Class four has landed this week in Silicon Valley for a two week “boot camp” at the Google Developers Launchpad Space in San Francisco.

The class consists of thirty-three companies from sixteen countries including Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico. Two companies are representing the Philippines—BLOOM, a blockchain technology company focused on the dependably robust remittance market in the Philippines, and HonestyApps, a platform that is targeting the fast creation of mobile app.

BLOOM, aka BloomSolutions, Inc, is a Bitcoin-based software company focused on remittances. The company was founded by 36-year old University of the Philippines graduate Luis Buenaventura and University of Queensland graduate Israel Keys. CEO Keys also holds a Masters in Public Administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Self-proclaimed cryptocurrency specialists, Bloom’s team is aiming to deliver on one of the great promises of technology--that it improves the lives of those on the other side of the digital divide. Remittances have historically been dominated by high-charging banks, Western Union, and distribution infrastructures like those owned by the Lhullier family. It is high time that a disruptive technology ease the process of money transfer as well as lower the cost of transactions. According to its website, Bloom can lower remittance costs by more than 50%. I am looking forward to hearing and writing more about this company.

HonestyApps is an app creation platform that has been used to create event apps and dating apps, among others. While their Facebook page confirms that the founders are now stateside, I can find very little on the management team. First order of business at Google, I hope, is that they guide the companies on filling out an About page and a Team page for their company websites.

Google has explicitly mentioned in their announcement that they are going to instruct the members of class 4 on the use of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning. While AI promises to be the latest status-quo disrupting technology in not-just-Silicon-Valley- anymoreland, there seems to be a platform war underway among the large tech giants. Thus, training companies in emerging countries to use the Google platform may be just as beneficial to Google as it is to the companies.

I enjoy the stream of startup companies unearthed by Google’s competition. I now use Zipmatch (from class 3) for my Philippine real estate searches. I also find it promising that there is a growing ecosystem of fintech players in Manila. The Philippines certainly stands to leverage technology into improved consumer credit and payments systems. This could be life-changing for the underprivileged who are still burdened with prepaid systems and cash-based transactions. Lightning fast payments may serve to blur the line between credit and prepaid.

The Google boot camp ends on July 26th with a private event for the participants. They will probably be sequestered inside hip brick buildings in San Francisco’s SOMA district for most of their two weeks here. So in case we do not see you, which is very likely, Bloom…Honesty, safe travels, live long, prosper, and break down that digital divide.


Filipina candidate for Seattle Port Commissioner visits BayArea

On July 19, 2017, Frontier Tech Talk is holding its firstpanel discussion of the summer, Driving Innovation and Reach.  This one is about the space race.  The event will take place from 6pm to8:30pm at the Burlingame offices of law firm Carr-McClellan at 216 ParkRoad.  For tickets, please go to do an internet search for “Frontier Tech Talk July 19”.  Philippine-focused STAC, short forScience and Technology Advisory Council, and Carr-McClellan are co-sponsoringthe event.
The guest speakers include Bea Querido-Rico and EmelinePaat-Dahlstrom.  Of course, I haveto mention this detail:  both Beaand Emeline are Filipinas.
Paat-Dahlstrom, flying back to the Bay Area from her currentbase in New Zealand, has been active in the space-focused start up world,consulting and working for startups involved in developing commercial transportto the Moon.  She will speak abouther efforts in engaging emerging countries in space.
Querido-Rico is an engineer by training and served mostrecently as program manager for the Port of Seattle, having worked previously atBoeing and Lockheed Martin, among other places.  She received a Masters from the MIT-Zaragoza InternationalLogistics Program.  Querido-Ricoleft her position at the Port of Seattle in May of 2017 to run for the positionof Port Commissioner.
What does the Port of Seattle do, you may wonder.  On those rare Seattle days when heavyprecipitation is not obscuring your vision (or spirits), you may notice thevast corrugated coastline in and around the city, home to harbors and ports,marinas and fishermens’ terminals.The Port of Seattle runs these as well as the Seattle-TacomaInternational Airport.  There is agap, so goes the argument from parties close to the candidate, between thePort’s current development efforts and the local aerospace industry that is1300 strong in the Seattle area. Querido-Rico proposes to bridge this gapbetween the government’s imagination and the vision of private industry.  She has begun to gain support from spaceventure capitalists as a result.
Work on space-focused businesses has been underway for quitesome time.  Indeed, Elon Musk’sSpaceX, with its ambitions of putting man on Mars, has been busy launchingsatellites into orbit, a more practical pursuit it doesn’t advertise.  However, impediments to prolific space travelstill exist.  Shocking, right?  Not the least issue is radiationpoisoning.  Without the protectiongiven to us by the Earth’s atmosphere, prolonged exposure to the Sun’s rays onthe Moon or Mars may result in radiation exposure that has not yet beenunderstood.  The same is true forrepeated trips to and from these destinations.  Another issue is the long-term effects of zero gravity, whichcan deteriorate muscle mass and bone density.
None of these would be deal killers, though, not forme.  If presented with anopportunity to visit the Moon on a short trip, particularly if I’mallowed to bring my pogo stick, I would sign the waiver.  Hopefully, these matters and more willbe covered on Wednesday.  So pleaseget your tickets and please support Bea Querido-Rico in her politicalambitions.  We don’t have enoughFilipinos in office in the United States.We really don’t.
Querido-Rico’s web page is and she has acrowdfunding website at  I just made a donation and the websitegave me this link to share  To quote Lin-Manuel Miranda, a thing Ido in almost every column, “leave it to the immigrants, they’ll get the jobdone.”

Comparing the French and American revolutions

As I write this column, sprays of popping lights are igniting across the country. For once, I am not in the US, celebrating in New York City where I typically observe the 4th and where I typically read the Declaration of Independence out loud to my kids. They have heard the story many times from their parents but largely because they are fans of Hamilton (the musical). Thank you, Lin-Manuel Miranda.

When that document was signed, the gentlemen who put their names to it understood the stakes: if they did not succeed, they would be tried as traitors and they would be hanged. I like to think about it, especially on this day. I wonder what it’s like to take a stand with implications so severe. It was not clear that they would be able to rebuff the British. In fact, by August of 1776, the British had parked over 400 ships from New York Harbor to Staten Island. If you happen to ever visit Lower Manhattan, look at the harbor and think what it was like to see that view speckled with 400 antagonistic warships. I have never seen that many boats in the harbor, nothing like that number, not even 100 boats in the upper bay at any given time.

I am writing from France on this special holiday so let me give a nod to the revolution that happened here. I am fascinated with revolutions because there was a very special one that happened close to home, at least my heart’s home. The French Revolution, though concurrent with American Independence, did not preserve the ideologies they professed—liberty, equality, and brotherhood. The ultimate problem is that it violated so many rules of humanity. The beheading of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette are seminal events in world history. However, it is not at widely know that the Louis XVII, a child my son’s age, was first kept under abusive guardianship, told his mother no longer wanted him, rid of his identity (they called him Hugh Capet) and finally locked away in a sunless tower cell for the last two years of his life. His cell was infested with rats. At the age of 10, a few months younger than my son is now, he died of an infection of the lymph nodes.

When I think of the French Revolution, I think of French-on-French atrocities and nothing of the soaring ideas they wanted to pass down in history. When I think of the American Revolution, I think of a collection of intelligent bad-assess that had driven their stakes in the ground, given up tea, risked their lives and all for the intangible goal of remaking the world as it should be. And that “should be” which still seems to be gaining ground today happens to be one of the most compelling ideas in human history:

“We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal….”

With that one line, the world was changed. It may not have changed instantaneously, but it has set us on a path of social change that is not likely to reverse course, not ever. Hopefully, these ideas will affect the rest of the world at their own pace.

The founding fathers, the signers of the Declaration, could have capitalized on their newly acquired powers and secured the country’s leadership fall to their descendants. Instead they chose to propagate their ideas.

If you haven’t gotten a chance yet, take a few minutes of your day to read Thomas Jefferson’s missive. He may have been a Caucasian man in a wig of white hair and we may be brown people who may or may have been born in America now. But his is our history too. These ideas are ours to nurture and implement. Those fireworks popping across the time zones are for our eyes.


FYLPRO’s Next Immersion Program Deadline is July 7

Is anyone shocked to see how upwardly mobile the Fil-Am community has been over the last 20 years, maybe 30 years? Long ago, there used to be an offensive joke that if you looked up “Filipina” in the American dictionary, the definition would say “domestic helper.” Now that seems ridiculous. In my everyday life, I don’t run into Filipinos in low skilled jobs. I run into them as teachers, doctors, nurses, and accountants. I see them in the real estate business, at banks, and at tech firms. On occasion, there’s a new Filipino billionaire at the helm of a hot IPO. And there’s Bruno Mars,, and the former Miss Universe. At the firm where I work, there are four Filipinos in a 25 person office—two are technologists, one is in finance, and there’s me. All this might be anecdotal, but I don’t think I need to pore through a pound of statistics to make the point that Filipinos living in the US are doing better today than they were two decades ago.

I can only guess at the causes. When we immigrated (or your ancestors immigrated), you had to cross an ocean to get here and likely came from an advantaged demographic that probably had a superior command of the English language, a higher appetite for risk, and a high regard for education and self improvement. As a former US colony, we were already familiar in fundamental ways with American culture. So when the dictatorial barrier crumbled 31 years ago, we had a cultural gap to close but we closed it quickly.

This generation of Fil-Am millennials blends effortlessly into general America. Couple this with the ascent of multiculturalism during the


Syjuco and Collins Team Up Again with Almost Sunrise

Syjuco and Collins Team Up Again with Almost Sunrise 
By Cristina Osmeña
Next month, it will be 30 years since the double rape and homicide of sisters Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong in Cebu, Philippines changed the landscape of my family’s grief.  My second cousin, Paco Osmeña Larrañaga, was arrested and convicted of this crime and sentenced to death despite overwhelming evidence that he was enjoying the night with two dozen friends at a bar in Manila.  Yet, despite an extensive collection of relatives connected to government, some who were in positions to have spoken for him more proactively, it was Manila-born Marty Syjuco who decided to do something for his brother-in-law.  (Syjuco’s brother is married to Larrañaga’s sister.)
Marty Syjuco and Michael Collins (director) made a widely acclaimed documentary called Give Up Tomorrow.  The documentary won 10 film awards, including the Audience Award at the 2011 TriBeCa Film Festival, and received nominations for countless others.  While the film called much attention to Paco’s plight, it did not result in a revocation of the guilty verdict.  However, the attendant impact campaign, Free Paco Now, swelled public sympathy for his release and catalyzed the abolition of the death penalty in the Philippines.

Restorative Justice comes to Bay Area Community Schools

On May 30, 2017 from 6pm to 8pm, in the multi-purpose room of Daly City’s Thomas R. Pollicita Middle School, Dr. Loretta Johnson of the American Federation of Teachers will be flying in from Washington DC to lead a panel discussion on Restorative Practices.  Dr. Johnson will be joined by local educators, particularly members of the American Federation of Teachers local 3267 and American Federation of Teachers local 1481, Daly City Councilmember Ray Buenaventura, as well as student activists from the community.  The school is located at 550 East Market Street in Daly City and the event is open to the public.
It sounds like a complicated social science but Restorative Practices is simply incorporating a child’s emotional landscape into the way a school manages its culture.  When I was in public school, managing emotions was considered the domain of my parents.  That left a lot of room for imperfection in the school environment.  Students were left to manage situations like bullying, cliques or general exclusion and insecurity on their own.  School was for academics and sports, not matters of the heart.  Decades later, during the Obama Administration, a new mandate has risen around thinking through the public school environment—a mandate that includes social and emotional factors into the student culture.  After all, the majority of a student’s waking hours are spent at school.  There is a lot of emotional exposure that happens outside the parental domain.
The primary focus of implementing Restorative Practices in Bay Area schools is Restorative Justice.  This involves resolving disciplinary behavior differently, through group discussions and community involvement.
“Schools and teachers do not want to be part of a system that criminalizes students at an early age,” said Melinda Dart, President of the American Federation of Teachers local 3267.  “Schools need to build positive environments just to get everybody there every day,” she continued, referring to the notion that driving high attendance is one of the key factors in the success of a student population.
“Unjust disciplinary consequences can make kids feel alienated,” said Dart.  These would include classic school punishments like suspension or expulsion.  Restorative Justice uses a softer approach to discipline that would include empowering the victim and teaching empathy to the bully.
The evening discussion on May 30th attempts to bring the community into the broader discussion of rolling out Restorative Practices into local schools.  Including the community in the solution, in fact, is one of the five pillars of the restorative discipline.  The others include healthy relationships between educators and students, conflict resolution, restoring positive relationships, and reducing harmful behavior.  In order to achieve all this, teachers must undergo training.  In the Peninsula, the schools furthest along in adopting Restorative Justice are three in the Mission Corridor of Community Schools—Pollicita Middle School, Jefferson High School, and Woodrow Wilson Elementary, all in Daly City.  Woodrow Wilson Elementary will have a program geared to younger students called Soul Shop.
By taking the perspective that “the bully is not a happy, well-adjusted individual,” and focusing on changing that person’s trajectory before it develops further is expected to reduce crime before the criminal is formed.  To accomplish such a thing, the educators driving the program need the support of the community.  So come hear Dr. Johnson if you live in the area.  It will be a nice way to start the short week after your Memorial Day break.



Waiting for Season 7

After back to back to back weeks of quantum entanglement and the goings on of Silicon Valley, I’m going to focus on the serious stuff—Season7 of Game of Thrones. I am embarrassed to say that I am not only addicted to the show, but I’m letting my kids watch it. My family has been watching over the entire series from the start, looking for clues about the relationship between Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. Did he kidnap her or did they runaway? We hear both accounts embedded in lines. The writers did not wrap this up for easy consumption like a box of Chicken Nuggets. Really, I think this show has to be watched all over from the beginning in order to really enjoy Season 7, which premiers on July 16.

Whether or not Rhaegar and Lyanna loved each other, we know that they are Jon Snow’s parents. The viewer knows this and Bran Stark saw this in a vision, but everyone else privy to this secret, is dead. He and Daenerys are the only Targaryens alive. I wonder how he discovers his own Targaryen-ness. Viserys Targaryen claimed to be a dragon and Daenerys, though the object of dragon affection and commendably immune to fire, does not seem dragon enough, not to my satisfaction. That naked/fire-immunity thing is getting long in the tooth. I am hoping that Jon Snow will ultimately turn out to be a dragon. Now, that would be interesting. He has already risen from the dead and intimidated a white walker. Jon Snow is more than just man…that’s my theory. When he walks into the fire, not only will all of his clothes burn off, but he will breathe fire too.

“The story of Daenerys Targaryen introduces the notion of "Einsteinian" power,” says Matt Lowenkron of Arizona radiowave fame. “One measure of the legitimacy of power is that power, just like energy, cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another. And, that is certainly one underlying theme of the Daenerys chapters.”

Here is another unpredicted twist: Daenerys does not live to assume the Iron Throne. I don’t know how she dies but putting her on the Iron Throne will wrap up the story so predictably that it cannot happen that way. Instead, Tyrion Lannister and Sansa Stark will reunite in a marriage of happy convenience and rule together. Jon will rule the North. Jamie will kill Cersei in the heat of the moment, having been forced to decide between brother and sister.

But enough of the realities with respect to who will sit on the Iron Throne, in a perfect Westeros, if the seat to the Iron Throne were an elected one, who would you vote for: Donald Trump, President Duterte, or King Joffrey? And if Westeros also had an electoral college system, do you think one would win the popular vote and another the electoral vote and thus the throne? Would the White Walkers be allowed to vote? Would the Wildlings be deported, even if they fought to defend the wall? Finally, if KingJoffrey were presented with the liver of a terrorist, would he offer to eat it with salt and pepper?

These are the profound things I have to share when I am past my deadline. I look forward to Ed Sheeran’s crooning cameo and I’m hoping I can actually recognize some of the other ones.

The ultimate plot twist came from Manila resident and relative of mine, Bob Barretto: “Dueto climate change, winter isn’t coming.”

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