Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Street Sports

Everywhere you go in Lianga it seems to be the trend nowadays. Street corners and side streets blocked off by nearby residents at certain times of the day and instantly converted to basketball and badminton courts. All it takes is a makeshift basketball hoop and backboard on a hastily erected wooden stand or crudely painted lines on the concrete pavement outlining the basic outlines of a badminton court and a droopy net hung like a clothesline across the street.

If you happen to be a motorist in a hurry, turning into a street and suddenly encountering one of these impromptu improvisations blocking your way can be an annoying if not frustrating experience. It usually means you have to back up for quite a distance and go around the next block to get to where you want to go.

Sometimes some of the more good-natured street athletes would obligingly let you get through by halting their game momentarily, lifting or dragging obstacles out of your way then blithely getting on with their games after the brief interruption but who would want to spoil things when it is crystal clear even to the casual observer that these amateur street sporting events are being played with the same intensity and dedication one sees in national badminton competitions or the storied courts of the Philippine Basketball Association.

And, of course, you in your killjoy of a vehicle will also have to contend with the usually raucous crowd of bystanders and sporting fans on the sidewalks eagerly watching the game and cheering for their favorites and who would not take too kindly to those who even inadvertently does anything to rudely interrupt the proceedings. I, for one, would rather meekly back off and go around the long way.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hospital Mess: Part 2

In a previous blog post, I reported on the details of cases of alleged financial misconduct committed by some officials of the Lianga District Hospital. The said fiscal anomalies are now the subject of separate official investigations by both the provincial government of Surigao del Sur which has direct authority over local district hospitals and the regional office of the Ombudsman in Davao City.

However, as a result of the formal investigations, Dr. Dionisio Tayko, LDH's erstwhile chief of hospital who has borne the brunt of the accusations of misappropriating hospital funds, has been relieved of his position and reassigned to Tandag, the provincial capital, pending the final outcome of the twin official inquiries. As to whether other currently serving hospital officials will follow in his footsteps remains to be seen at this point in time.

The unfortunate events at Lianga's local government hospital may seem to point out to the negative consequences to what can be considered the failure of local governments, particularly those at the provincial level, to exercise proper monitoring and supervision of the operations of government hospitals under their jurisdiction. There are, however, also many local observers who say that proper monitoring is not actually the problem but the "politicalization" of the rural health service in the provinces.

They say that the incident at the LDH would have been resolved earlier and prevented from blowing up into a scandal if local politicians have not interfered and muddied up the controversy for the purpose of protecting persons and personnel within the hospital with political links to them. The fact that the perpetrators of the supposed financial anomalies had been allowed to continue with their illicit work for some time already without being unmasked and punished by their superiors in the provincial government, they add, is ample proof of this.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Mark, a frequent source of insightful comments to many of the posts to this blog, has just, in a comment to a recent blog post discussing alleged financial shenanigans at the local hospital here in Lianga, mentioned how corruption in government, whether local or national, has become institutionalized in what has been referred to simply as SOP.

Ordinarily, SOP (the acronym for Standard Operating Procedure and, as discussed here, has nothing to do with the popular GMA7 weekend noontime variety show on Philippine television ) is generally used to described standardized or universally accepted processes and steps in handling tasks and problems with the purpose of guaranteeing the best result possible under defined circumstances. In the case of corruption in government, it's meaning has become insidiously different.

When a Philippine congressmen or senator identifies a specific infrastructure project to be funded by funds from his pork barrel and receives in return from private contractors doing the project, an agreed amount of money as "kickback" or illegal commission, that is SOP. When an official of the national government uses his office or political influence to secure the release of funds for local government projects and "slices" off a percentage of the actual amount as a bribe, that is also SOP. And when a head of a government agency or department signs final approval of a purchase or acquisition of new equipment and receives a set portion of the total acquisition cost as commission, that also can be considered as SOP.

SOP also figures out in almost all government transactions and services. From applying for a government job or position to securing a business license or government certification, one can get what he wants or needs quickly and with the minimum of fuss and red tape if he avails of SOP. All that is required is to find out how much money is needed and who to give the money to.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Different Pespective

My nephew, Iam, is about to turn fifteen years old. He suffers from a very mild form of autism which cause him to have some language comprehension and communication problems. Aside from that, however, he is functions almost normally and is personally appealing in his childlike innocence and manner.

But like many of the special children nowadays who share his particular disability, he is also possessed with that precious gift of being able to view the real world from a perspective that is uniquely his own. That gift and unique perspective can be a special blessing to the many of us in this jaded and cynical world who pride ourselves in being supposedly one hundred percent normal and, therefore, "superior" to those "burdened" with such mental handicaps.

Some time ago at the start of summer, I caught Iam surreptitiously putting what looked like a small stone into the pocket of his pants. Since he has the penchant for collecting what many "normal" people would consider the most strange and trivial of knickknacks, I have developed the habit of checking his pockets whenever I can.

"What is that?", I asked him. "Show me."

He opened his fingers and I saw that he was not keeping stone but a small fruit nut from one of the palm trees that grew in the backyard of the house in Lianga. "They are seeds," he said, talking to slowly and patiently me as if I needed the time understand him. "They need to be planted in the earth and watered regularly in order to grow."

Friday, June 5, 2009

Hospital Mess

If there is a public institution in Lianga that I truly feel sentimental about it is the Lianga District Hospital. Much of my adult life in this town has been intertwined and caught up in the saga of this health institution that has been serving the health care needs of the town and the surrounding communities for more than two decades.

From the time it was first created in the 1970's as the Lianga National Emergency Hospital until it became the LDH in the 1980's, my father, the late Dr. Jose Y. Otagan, was the hospital's driving force. By dint of hard work, creative resourcefulness and plain and simple, pigheaded determination, he managed to nurse the hospital from its humble beginnings to its status today as a primary health facility on the front lines of the government's health care system in this part of the country.

When he retired passed away in 1996, my father left behind a hospital known for the quality and compassion of its medical care. It drew patients even far beyond its catchment area and despite the fact that it was only, at that time, designed and budgeted only as a 25 bed capacity hospital, it was common for it to handle, on an average day, more than twice that patient load, a fact that always amazed outsiders and visiting government health personnel.

That is why I am specially saddened by the news that I recently received regarding a crisis developing among the medical staff and employees of the LDH.