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Spanish for English

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Thanks to midfielding1 (a YouTube user who uploaded the video), we can now listen to President Manuel L. Quezon giving a speech in Spanish! See video below (at 3:02):

President Manuel Quezon learned English in only 18 days (and not three months as I wrote in the comments box of that video in YouTube, my mistake; three months was actually the time it took for another great Spanish-speaking Filipino, Claro M. Recto, to learn and MASTER the English language). Quezon’s primary languages were both Spanish and Tagalog. But like most Filipinos of his time, he was more articulate in Spanish.

Yes, I said MOST Filipinos. Because you see, it is not taught in our classrooms that when the US invaded (not saved) the Philippines in 1899, they killed around 1,250,000 Filipinos — that is about 1/6 of the population during that time! And they murdered more Filipinos in such a short span of time compared to those who perished in more than three centuries of Spanish rule! And worse, more Spanish-speaking Filipinos also perished in the last world war. Those who survived either migrated to Spain or to the US. And the few remaining are now regarded as a very small and almost forgotten minority.

Today, there are more or less 3,000 Filipinos who use Spanish as their primary language, i.e., they think in Spanish (the 1990 census declared that there were 2,660 Spanish-speaking Filipinos).

In my family, there are only two of us who use Spanish: me and my dad’s sister, María Rubia E. Alas. Before us, the last member of the family who spoke in Spanish was Tía Rubia’s maternal uncle, Windalino Évora y Bonilla of Unisan, Quezon province. Uncle Carding was also fluent in French (another cognate of Spanish); he died in 1997, the last Spanish-speaker of Unisan town. Sadly, the rest of the family seem not to care about the language anymore. But I am trying to conserve it by teaching it to my children: my nine-year-old daughter Krystal is already conversational; my five-year-old son Momay can speak and understand the language moderately; my second son, Jefe, who is already two, can comprehend the language (I can already give out orders to him in Spanish); And I plan to make Juanito, who is barely a year old, a pure Spanish-speaker. Actually, my children’s primary language is Spanish. But since their playmates and our neighbors and my wife’s relatives all speak in Tagalog, I’m having a hard time maintaining the language up in their psyche.

Going back to President Quezon, one main reason why he learned English that fast is because of his Spanish. Although English is a West Germanic language, it is also a cognate of Spanish. Countless words in Spanish resemble those in English. Take the following words for example:

Biblia / bible
botón / button
mantener / to maintain
mártir / martyr
política / politics
responsable / responsible
sufrir / to suffer
teléfono / telephone
televisión / television
tolerar / to tolerate

Many proper names in Spanish also have their English counterparts:

Jesucristo / Jesus Christ
Clara / Clare
Juan / John
José / Joseph
María / Mary

That is the reason why the first generation of Filipinos under the American Occupation were much better speakers and writers in the English language compared to our generation. National Artist for Literature Nicomedes “Nick” Joaquín (1917-2004) is regarded as the greatest Filipino writer in English. But his primary language was Spanish. The quintessential poet in English and another National Artist for Literature, José García Villa (1908-1997, son of Simeón Villa, a physician of President Emilio Aguinaldo and a close associate of General Antonio Luna), also had Spanish as his first language. The Philippine Star’s Máximo Solivén (1929-2006) also spoke in flawless Spanish. And who could ever forget playwright and thespian Wilfrido Mª Guerrero (1917-1995) whose “Wanted: A Chaperon”, among other plays, is now considered a classic? Guerrero is a descendant of Lorenzo Guerrero (1835-1904), another native hispanoparlante. He first wrote in Spanish before shifting to English. And many of his plays were even staged in the US!

The abovementioned great men of Philippine letters had previous notions of Spanish, a daughter of the Latin language, therefore a basis by itself of English. That is why the English of the early 20th-century Filipinos were much superb compared to ours.

And that is why teaching Spanish in Philippine schools is crucial to the government’s efforts to make Filipinos fluent in English. The 24 units of Spanish should be brought back to colleges and universities. Imagine… Spanish has been with us for more than three hundred years. English for just a hundred or so. But why put so much importance to the latter? Isn’t it that Spanish is a global language, too? English was never ours in the first place. But Spanish is something that is already ours…

“Spanish is a national, Filipino tradition, for not only has it seeds in our history but roots that saturate the very core of our national soul and being, for it is the “open sesame” to the enchanted cavern that keeps like enduring treasures the highest thoughts and the deepest feelings of our race since the dawn of civilization.” –Claro M. Recto–

What are you lookin' at?

Special thanks to Inu Yasha (a reader of FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES) for sharing the MLQ video to us! =)


The Call of Call Center Agents

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Got this one from my wife’s email inbox. At first, I thought it was just one of those chain letters you won’t hesitate to delete.

The following “speech” has been going the rounds in emails and various blogs in the local internet scene. It was said to be a speech from a young politician who once tried applying in a call center just for fun. But the joke was on him when he wasn’t accepted due to his hilarious accent and politically incorrect English. Since then, he’s been waging a one-man war against BPOs.

Chillax. It’s a joke.

I still do not know the veracity of this speech’s content. It was said to have been delivered last August 17, just a few months ago. I didn’t hear it from the news, though. But it must’ve been disturbing to many call center agents and other BPO workers who have read it because the figures mentioned sounded as if it were taken from one of Arroyo’s SONA speeches.

Here is the controversial speech from Sectoral Representative Raymond “Mong” Palatino. You be the judge whether his arguments do hold water or not:



Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, I rise on behalf of fellow young Filipinos denied of their dreams and were forced to enter the illusory world of call centers.

The tale of Filipino youths setting aside their childhood dreams to enter the call center industry is fast becoming a common story. More and more young Filipinos are being lured into working in a call center regardless of their educational background. A starting salary of P15,000 on average is indeed attractive, not to mention the signing bonus and incentives for good work performance.
As the global financial crisis sweeps ominously into Asian shores, the Philippine government has continuously promoted and relied on the Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) industry to provide opportunities to millions of jobless Filipinos. The number of jobs generated grew robustly from 99,000 workers in 2004 to 372,000 workers in 2008, most of them in their 20s.

For the government, the BPO sector is a major contributor in terms of revenues and employment generation. From $350 million in 2001, revenues generated from the BPO sector surged to $6 billion in 2008. The government was quick to conclude that the BPO sector is poised to benefit from the global recession.

This has prompted both the administration and the vanguards of globalization to brand the BPO sector as the “sunshine industry.”
But there is a need, Mr. Speaker, to bust the myth surrounding the so-called sunshine industry. For behind the seemingly innocuous statistics and improving figures lie tales of exploitation, false hopes, and dim working conditions inside the call center.

Totoong mas mataas ang tinatanggap na suweldo ng isang call center agent kumpara sa isang regular na manggagawa. In reality, foreign companies are exploiting our cheap labor. The average annual salary of a call center agent in the Philippines is $3,964. This is lower than Thailand’s $4,874, Malaysia’s $5,199, and Singapore’s $16,884. Kung totoong tayo ang binansagang “Offshoring Destination of the Year” noong 2007, bakit kakarampot lamang ang sahod ng call center agents natin kumpara sa ating mga kapitbahay?

Companies in developed countries benefit immensely from this set-up. By taking advantage of highly-skilled and low-value labor in poorer economies such as ours, foreign firms gain an estimated net savings of 20-40 percent on labor costs.

Despite the relatively decent pay and seemingly rich rewards, job tenure in the call center industry, as labor economist Clarence Pascual puts it, is “as transient as the phone calls that agents make or take.”

This is evident in the industry’s high attrition rates or the proportion of the workforce that leaves a company or industry. The Call Center Association of the Philippines pegs the turnover rate in the country at 60-80 percent, the highest in the world.

According to a multi-country survey conducted by, full-time call center agents stay in a contact center for a brief 22 months, while part-time agents stay for an even shorter 10 months.

This is an international figure, Mr. Speaker. In the Philippines, where most of the call centers are outsourced, offshore and non-unionized, the situation is even worse: 60 percent of call center workers stay in a company for only a year or less.

As more employees leave the industry, the demand for replacements becomes constant. According to an article in Newsbreak magazine, for every employee hired to fill in a new seat, another two employees must be hired to replace the seats vacated by those who left. How apt, Mr. Speaker, that this industry is marked by “hellos” and “goodbyes.”

The culprit: poor quality of jobs at the call center. A survey by the Call Center Project based at Cornell University in New York shows that the high attrition rate is caused by a low job quality in call centers. The study revealed that 67 percent of agents found in 39 percent of call centers work in low to very low quality jobs.

The Call Center Project survey points out that worker turnover and quit rates are higher as job discretion or the agent’s “sense of control” becomes lower and monitoring on the job becomes more intense. Low job discretion and high performance monitoring contribute to employee stress and rapid job burnout.

Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, the job of a call center agent is not that all fancy nor ideal. For it is in the very nature of the call center job to be exploitative.

Call centers-vendors in indsutry parlance-provide services, such as customer service, sales, technical support, on behalf of client companies. They compete for accounts from companies that ousource some of their functions. In this competitive arena, the agent is stuck between two contrasting interests-he or she must keep costs low for the client while ensuring profits for the call center.
In this set-up, quantitative targets are laid down by clients to reduce costs and increase productivity, giving them the upper hand. In the call center industry, everything is measured.

Thus, call center agents work the phones for the entire duration of their work shift. Unlike our jobs, where we have time to read newspapers or chat with our officemates, the job of a call center agent is one of isolation. The calls just keep coming in, and one has no choice but to pick up to phone.

Moreover, one faces punitive measures, such as forced leave, suspension or even termination, for failing to meet productivity targets, which serve as basis for staff assessment and promotions.

To ensure the targets are met, clients even enforce remote monitoring of actual calls. Supervisors track an agent’s use of time, from call handling time to time spent on “after call work” and break time. Recorded calls are scored for quality on a monthly or weekly basis. A low score translates to a corrective action memo, which can cost one’s job. Consequently, monitoring becomes a constant source of anxiety for workers.

Since monitoring and evaluation are done remotely, penalized workers do not have enough opportunity to appeal disciplinary actions. A 22-year old agent says in their company, even tenured workers issued with corrective action memos get terminated.

According to a survey by the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research, only a 10-minute per day period is allowed for personal use, such as going to the restroom. This becomes difficult for the workers since a cold workplace temperature encourages frequent urination. Female agents, thus, usually suffer from urinary tract infection.

Since the United States is the biggest market of BPO industry, this requires call center operations during the evening. The call center sub-sector is changing the nightlife of Manila. Bars, restaurants and convenience stores are open every morning to accommodate the night workers.

But the graveyard shift has become a major source of difficulty and dissatisfaction for a lot of agents as their day-to-day routines are turned upside down. Medical specialists point out that disrupting the body clock can cause manic depression and heart problems.
Weekends and holidays are also rarely off, since the calendar being followed is that of the clients, resulting in very rare family time for married agents. Meanwhile, compulsory overtime or extended time is also prevalent.

The Department of Health has warned against this work schedule, aggravated by an intense and exhaustive workload. DOH warned that persons working in the graveyard shift are vulnerable to various diseases, including hypertension, cardiovascular illnesses, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases. Foreign studies have even shown that graveyard shifts can increase the risk of cancer among women workers.

Noong isang taon, Mr. Speaker, ibinalita sa TV Patrol World ang pagkamatay ng isang call center agent. Siya ay si Dingdong Flores, inatake ng hypertension habang nasa trabaho. Siya ay na-coma bago pa mahatid sa ospital.

The DOLE has made separate studies on health risks associated with call center work. Both studies show high incidence of eyestrains symptoms, muskuloskeletal symptoms, voice disorders, hearing problems.

Since most call centers employ first-time and young workers who are hesitant to complain, these health problems may even be an underestimation of the true state of health among workers.

Such health hazards explain high rates of absenteeism in the industry. Consequently, call centers have adopted punitive attendance policies. In some call centers, eight absences over a six-month period constitute grounds for termination.

While they are entitled to sick leave, workers find difficulty in securing the supervisor’s approval.

BPO employees are also deprived of socialization opportunities with family and friends. Dr. Prandya Kulkarni, who writes for United Press International Asia, adds that young BPO workers, who receive high salaries, do not have the maturity and emotional capability to handle their wealth. This “sudden wealth syndrome” has led to such high-risk behaviors as loose sexual practices, drug addictions and alcohol abuse.

Another alarming reality in the call center industry is the absence of unions. Unionism is covertly and overtly discouraged, if not forbidden. Foreign employees warn that if unions in call centers will be allowed, they will leave the Philippines. Workers’ contracts clearly stipulate that forming or joining a union is prohibited.

Such a repressive practice, Mr. Speaker, is a clear violation of the Philippine Labor Law, where it is stated that every worker has the right to form and join a union. Isn’t it ironic, Mr. Speaker, how our call center workers are rendered voiceless in a voice industry?

Habang inilalahad natin ang mga suliraning ito, habang inihahanda natin ang ating mga sarili sa pagtatapos ng araw na ito, magsisimula pa lamang ang araw ng libu-libo nating manggagawa sa call center. Nawa’y huwag dumating ang panahon na ang isasagot ng ating mga kabataan sa tanong na “What do you want to be when you grow up?” ay maging isang call center agent.

Anong klaseng mga mamamayan ang mahuhubog ng sistemang ito? Anong klase ng kaalaman ang ating ikikintal sa ating mga kabataan, na siyang mamumuno sa ating bayan? Paano nila paglilingkuran ang bayan kung ang tangi nilang alam ay tumugon sa daing ng mga dayuhan?

Nakakabahala, Mr. Speaker, ang kuwento ng isang manggagawa na tatlong taon nang nagtratrabaho sa call center. Ayon sa kaniya, “a plague is raging among the youth working in the call center industry” and that is apathy. Dagdag niya, nabubuhay ang mga call center agent sa isang mundong batbat ng kawalang-pakialam. Ang tangi nilang sinusunod ay ang dikta ng orasan, ang dikta ng makina. Tila hindi na sila kabahagi sa mga isyung panlipunan.

Sa kasalukyan, kinakaharap ng BPO industry ang kakulangan ng skilled workers, ng mga kabataang mahusay mag-Ingles. The government is now tinkering with the educational system to address the needs of the BPO industry. President Arroyo has mandated the use of English language as the medium of instruction in schools.

But such measures can only do so much to address employment problems in the country.

At the minimum, the government should ensure the implementation of our labor code, which aims to protect our workers and guarantee their right to organization and humane working conditions.

Call centers should respect our labor code. Bukod sa pagtuturo ng American accent, dapat ding ipaalam ng mga kumpanyang ito sa ating mga aplikante ang kanilang mga karapatan bilang empleyado.

Ngayong nauuso ang call centers, napapanahong bumuo tayo ng batas na magtitiyak sa kanilang mga karapatan. Sa kagyat, ito ang ating maiiambag sa libu-libong kabataang pinasok at balak pasukin ang BPO industry.

The government should not use the seemingly rosy statistics of the BPO sector to conclude that we have a strong economy. Ultimately, it is dangerous to exaggerate the importance of the BPO industry. The government should put more emphasis on propelling the domestic economy as a whole rather than making public institutions and laws serve the needs of BPO companies.
Thank you Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues.

Related link:
The chain letter containing the above speech acknowledges the below link as its source:
Privilege Speech of Rep. Raymond “Mong” Palatino
Delivered on August 17, 2009

Good Procurement, Good Governance — Our Last Resort Against Corruption

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Use eProcurement to curb corruption once and for all!

Use eProcurement to curb corruption once and for all!

This is already old news, but it’s still worthy reading:

DepEd suspends order of noodles

MANILA, Philippines—The Department of Education has suspended its purchase of P427 million worth of instant noodles from a supplier amid allegations raised in a Senate hearing that the food items were overpriced and lacked nutritive value.

Education Secretary Jesli Lapus also informed Senator Mar Roxas, chair of the education committee, in a May 11 letter that he has also ordered a review of the department’s school feeding program.

The Roxas committee is leading the Senate inquiry into the allegedly overpriced instant noodles fortified with “malunggay” (Moringa sp.) and eggs that Jeverps Manufacturing Corp. has been supplying the DepEd.

Lapus said the review of the school feeding program would be conducted with the help of independent experts “with the objective of resolving questions such as nutritional content, cost-effectiveness and efficiency of field implementation.” The review is supposed to finish by next month.

Saying he was glad that Lapus had suspended the signing of the contract with Jeverps, Roxas on Tuesday announced that his committee would defer the inquiry into the controversy but would monitor the review of the school feeding program.

Roxas said the two hearings showed that the Jeverps instant noodles priced at P22 for each 100-gram packet was overpriced when compared to other noodles in the market.

He said Nestlé and Universal Robina Corp. had testified that their instant noodles cost P3.50 per pack, not including the costs for flavoring, enhancements and packaging.

At the hearing, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile asked how Jeverps would be able to get its supply of malunggay to produce 19 million instant noodle packs for the DepEd.

“I am not aware of any large-scale production of malunggay,” Enrile said.

Enrile later told reporters he doubted whether Jeverps had a supplier of malunggay.

“It casts doubt on the quality of the products being marketed with malunggay content,” Enrile said.

Roxas said he found it puzzling that the big noodle makers like Nestlé and Universal Robina Corp. were not aware of the DepEd’s bidding of contracts.

URC officials said they were invited by the DepEd to bid for its school feeding program only once in 2007. Nestlé officials said they did not get any invitation at all.

DepEd officials said the bidding for the noodle-supply contract was published in the newspapers.

It was learned at the hearing that Jeverps has been paid more than P750 million as a supplier of the DepEd’s Food for School Program for 800,000 first-grade and pre-school students in the past few years. (from

Since joining the eProcurement industry last January, I realized that eProcurement is the best solution to solve bad procurement practices in the Philippines.

Transprocure‘s Charlie Villaseñor, Asia’s eProcurement guru, is correct: with good procurement comes good governance. And since that is not the case with the Philippine government (as can be gleaned from the above report), it forced an angry military officer to rebel against it. That military officer is Antonio Trillanes IV who is now a detained Senator. Trillanes was a former procurement officer of the Naval Training and Education Command of the Philippine Navy. In that position, he successfully reformed his institution’s procurement system resulting to a savings of more than four million pesos. In that same position, he was able to witness first hand the massive corruption in the Philippine Navy’s procurement system — and that was just the tip of the presidential iceberg. Trillanes was against forces more powerful than him, but that didn’t stop him to rise up in arms. The rest is Oakwood history.

eProcurement enhances and promotes transparency in government contracts and biddings. According to David Magno, a Project Manager for Hubwoo, there has been prevailing news that the government had already implemented an eProcurement system throughout its bureaucracy. But suppliers got discontented over the system’s ineffective process, thus ending eProcurement’s spur of the moment in our government around four years ago. Hopefully, our current crop of presidential hopefuls (from Gilbert Teodoro to Noynoy Aquino III) will include in their program of government ways to properly and strictly deploy and implement eProcurement technology not only in all government departments but in all major businesses as well. This will help not only in curbing corruption, it will also help institutions in garnering massive financial savings — a potential boon for our economy. San Miguel Corporation is one best example.

Hubwoo‘s suite of solutions should be brought and implemented here in the Philippines. Although Hubwoo started only a decade ago, it is meticulously handled by management experts who are well-versed, experienced, and thoroughly exposed in the world of eProcurement. Furthermore, Hubwoo provides a fully integrated suite of tools and services, delivered as-a-service to companies. Impressively, it also boasts of the first SAP® global BPO partnership dedicated solely to procurement Right now, the French-based company is holding various roadshow events in the US and Europe to help explain more what its business is all about. Hopefully, it would be able to do the same here in Asia, ESPECIALLY the Philippines.

If Hubwoo won’t be able to solve the problem of corruption in our government’s and businesses’ procurement processes, THEN NOTHING WILL.

Related links:

eProcurement in the Philippines
Law review to improve e-procurement efficiency in Philippines

Cheap Manila =(

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To those who still claim that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is saving us from the brunt of the worldwide economic crisis particularly by bringing here Business Process Outsourcing companies and many international Information Technology enterprises, think again:

Manila among world’s cheapest cities–UBS

We’re as cheap as India, and the above link further confirms that our economy is still down, down since the earlier round. And sugar we’re going down swinging (my apologies to Fall Out Boy).

But even if you don’t click on the above link, it’s already a known fact anyway that the Philippine economy is still as worse as the rest of the Third World. And that is the main reason why BPOs are here — labor is cheap. Arroyo just happened to be at the helm, and that’s why she’s getting much praise for “putting the Philippines on the BPO/IT map”. Many IT-inclined Filipinos do earn big from BPOs and IT companies. But in the long run, there’s nothing to be happy about. Nagdurusa pa rin ang ating bansâ.

So even if we have Amay Bisayà for our president, the economic situation BPO-wise would still be the same.

By the way, isn’t he gunning for any political seat next year? We need such people to amuse our sad politico-economic lives, y’know. El Shaddai’s Bro. Mike Velarde is never enough.

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