Archive for December, 2008

Character and Abuse of Power

Posted in Inner Thoughts, Politics and Politicians, Uncategorized with tags , , on December 29, 2008 by Ruffy Biazon

I read a most interesting blog about an incident that happened in a golf club a day after Christmas. It turned out to be not just interesting, but one that will most definitely cause outrage against those in power. To read it, go to this blog.

It’s been said that if you want to know the true character of a person, give him power. I couldn’t agree more.

I am a politician, granted by the Constitution and the people who voted for me a mandate to serve and the opportunity to have power. As a government official, it is a power that enables me to make things happen and influence to make government personnel to act. I acknowledge that this power, given to persons who easily give in to the temptation of abusing this privilege, may be wielded not as intended but in a manner that is abhorred.

To some, righteous wielding of power comes naturally because of how they were brought up. Some exert a conscious effort not to abuse it, while others are overwhelmed by it, easily giving in to the whispers of the devil, pretty much like Anakin Skywalker who walked over to the Dark Side upon acquiring the powers of a Jedi.

If there is a subject that should be included in a Public Administration or any governance course, it should be about Character. Many have spoken about Character, but apparently, not all those who wield power have read or heard about those words of wisdom. Take for example, the following:

“Character is that which reveals moral purpose, exposing the class of things a man chooses and avoids” – Aristotle

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln

From more contemporary and pop culture source (but one of my favorite quotes):

“The best index to a person’s character is (a) how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and (b) how he treats people who can’t fight back.” – Dear Abby (Advice Columnist)

There is a joke that I often use in my public speaking. It starts out with me thanking those who welcomed me by shaking my hands. Then for the punchline, I give the reason for my appreciation by saying this, “There was a time that whenever you meet a politician, you shook his hand. Nowadays, you just shake your head. Thank you for shaking my hand”.

It always elicits laughter from the audience, therefore, making it easier for me to connect with them. But there is indeed not just a grain of truth in it, but an entire harvest of truth. Indeed, many people distrust, disdain and disapprove of politicians nowadays. Many have refused to give politicians the benefit of the doubt, lumping all politicians in one category— trash. In the eyes of the people, being a politician has ceased to be an honorable occupation. The reputation of politicians nowadays has been degraded to that of a low-life.

But is it the people’s fault? Some politicians would say “yes”. Some would say that is only a matter of perception by a cynical population. But actually, it is a matter of reputation. Reputation is brought about one’s actions, unlike perception which is significantly affected by an observer’s opinion. Politicians have become notorious not because of people’s perceptions but because of politicians’ reputations. And that reputation is brought about by the politicians’ actions, which in turn is based upon their character.

As Abraham Lincoln said, “”Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”

Before I became a politician, I had already heard about those who abuse power. I had already despised those who do. Many times I have heard stories from my mother when the wives of senior officers would wield their seniority over her. I felt outrage at those who offended my mother. I knew how it felt to be at the receiving end of power.

On the other hand, my father, who was then a military officer, ingrained in me and my siblings the virtue of respecting other people, even those who were under his command. He constantly reminded us that even though we were the children of the commander, we should bear in mind that only he has the authority over the soldiers in his command, not us. This was during the time of Martial Law, when the military lorded it over the country, with the children of military officers acting like commanders themselves, especially in the treatment of soldiers under their fathers’ commands.

The most common line that you can hear from someone who is intoxicated with power are the words, “Hindi mo ba ako kilala?”

Those words are a betrayal of a person’s arrogance, because for one to expect that he is known by everyone is evidence that he thinks highly of himself or a lack of humility. In public service, humility is the number one qualification because as the term itself connotes, a public servant is expected to be beholden to the public. Rich or poor, young or old, man or woman, they are all to be served by those who are in public service.

Actually, it is the public who has the greater right to ask those in public service, “Kilala mo ba ako?” The public has the right to say, “Ako ang nagbabayad ng suweldo mo” and “Inutusan ka ng Saligang Batas na paglingkuran ako”. Whether a citizen pays taxes or not, that citizen is entitled to courteous service and treatment by public servants and officials.

As a politician and public servant myself, I am saddened at stories of power abused by those given the privilege to wield it. It is power that is supposed to be used for the People, not against them.

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A Wonderful Time

Posted in Family Life, Inner Thoughts, Uncategorized with tags , , on December 24, 2008 by Ruffy Biazon

Personally, I officially went on vacation yesterday. I completed my last official duty last December 22, topping off a year that was dedicated to serving the public most of my daily life. For the past seven years, from the time I wake up in the morning until I get back home at night, it was spent on official duty, even up to weekends. The only time I can take a break from the rigors of public life is during the Christmas break, which I claim for my family. During that period from Christmas Eve up to New Year’s day, I beg off from official activities. But in the past, even that deserved break was sometimes interrupted by activities or invitations that cannot be avoided.

For elected public officials, official activities are not confined to office work or official functions. It includes invitations from the constituents, ranging from the opening of a community basketball tournament to standing as principal sponsor to a wedding. Public officials are always invited to many social functions, many of which fall into what is supposed to be personal time of the official, meaning outside the official working hours and function.

For example, my official function is that of a legislator and my official working hours are during committee hearings and plenary sessions. But as a public official, I am expected by my constituents to be available for them any day of the week for any occasion. Legislators are better off than those serving in the executive, such as mayors. They are expected to be on call 24 hours a day.

So it was that I went on official vacation yesterday. I had the option to lay lazily in bed all day and just watch videos. But that’s something that I easily get tired of. I’m so used to being on the move that if I have nothing to do, I look for something to do. So on that first day of my official vacation, I was looking for something to do.

As I was reading the newspaper after breakfast, I remembered that one of the light bulbs in our bedroom needed to be replaced. Finally finding something to do, I decided to go to the hardware to buy the replacement bulb. As I was about to dress up to go out, my six year old son asked me where I was going. He always asked me that every morning and my answer was always, “I’m going to the office”.

This time, before I answered, an idea flashed in my mind. My reply to him was, “do you want to go with me?”. Without even knowing where I was going, his immediate answer was “Yes!”.

I was hoping he’d answer yes. Immediately, another idea came to me. Why don’t I bring along all my kids? It would be a boys’ day out! I have four sons, aged 17 (Carlo), 9 (Anton), 6 (Ino) and 2 (Enzo). It would be a nice opportunity to spend time with them.

I asked Carlo if he could drive for me, but he preferred to stay home. Anton was eager to go out with me. Enzo…well, Enzo is just two, so he’s always eager to go out wherever, with whoever.

I decided that it will just be me and the kids. No yaya even if the two year old was going with me. I haven’t done that for a long time. I wanted to savor this opportunity of being Ruffy Biazon, the father. When I became congressman seven years ago, I only had two sons who were 10 and 2 years old at that time. Now I had four and I rarely have an opportunity to have some alone time with them.

Instead of going to the hardware, I took them to the supermarket, where the bustling activity and the variety of goods would surely excite them. With the three young boys in tow, I entered the supermarket with the same excitement as they had. It felt good to be a father.

We went from aisle to aisle, without any plans or shopping lists. It was purely time spent together as a father enjoying his sons. I relished answering their questions such as “What’s that, papa? What is it for papa? Can I buy this, can I buy that, papa?”. While I granted some of their requests, I also taught them restraint, gently saying no to many of their wishes. It was an opportunity to teach them the concepts of spending within the budget, choosing between needs and wants, and of dealing with disappointment.

Of course, they weren’t unrewarded for just being with me. They got some of their requests, such Anton’s favorite milk and Ino’s bubble gum. Enzo biscuits which he immediately opened even before we checked out. I also taught them the concept of giving when we purchased some gift baskets filled with groceries to be given to the workers doing work in our house.

I was such a wonderful time for me. Knowing the value of documentation, I had the foresight of bringing along my camera, and we had fun taking photos in the supermarket. I knew I had to record his moment in history, because this will never happen again. Anton will be 9 , Ino will be 6 and Enzo will be 2 only once in my life. This particular instance will only happen once and never be repeated again. Yes, I’m sure that there will be other instances when I will go out with them again, but this moment on December 22, 2008, is only a fleeting moment in the timeline of my life.

I am one who believes that one should relish every moment given by God. In one of the pictures, my two year old son Enzo posed by trying to embrace my huge body with his small reach. It was an act which was not prompted, purely his own. And I am thankful that it was captured in a photo that would last until I am gray and old. That’s one reason why I have tons of photos of my kids, taken during their school presentations, birthday parties or when they’re playing at home. It’ a blessing that there’s digital photography and archiving. It’s easy to make files and back up files of digital photos.

My life as a public official will have its end. My term will end, or I will not get elected, or I will simply quit. But as a father and a husband, my role and duty will last until I breathe my last breath.

So more than being a great public official, I must first be a good family man. There’s a passage which says, “For if a man does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” This passage, taken from the book of 1 Timothy which was a letter from the Apostle Paul was meant as a guide on how to lead the church. But it may also be applicable in how to lead the country. For indeed, how can one manage the country if one does not know how to manage his own family?

It is a great challenge to be able to say that one has succeeded in managing his family. It is so because the only time you can evaluate if you have indeed successfully managed you family is when you are on your deathbed.

But for me, it is a very good standard to live by, because everyday, I am compelled to exert effort in managing my family successfully, so that when the time comes for my performance to be evaluated, I will have done my best.

For public officials, the same is applicable. The difference is that a public official does not have to wait for the end of his lifetime in order for his performance to be evaluated. A public official’s term has its end and there is retirement.

As I enjoy the holidays and set aside official concerns, I focus on my family and savor the moments spent with them. These moments will only happen once. As a famous poem (I don’t know who the author was) says :

I expect to pass through this world but once;

any good thing therefore that I can do,

or any kindness that I can show to any fellow-creature,

let me do it now;

let me not defer or neglect it,

for I shall not pass this way again.

3 of my 4 boys..Ino (6), Enzo (2) and Anton (9)

3 of my 4 boys..Ino (6), Enzo (2) and Anton (9)

I asked Anton to take this photo.

I asked Anton to take this photo.

The boys shopping for snacks.

The boys shopping for snacks.

Anton and Ino goofing around.

Anton and Ino goofing around.

The warm embrace from Enzo.

The warm embrace from Enzo.

Thanksgiving

Posted in Inner Thoughts with tags , , on December 21, 2008 by Ruffy Biazon

I was pleasantly surprised by the comments elicited by the Facebook status I entered yesterday. The comments compelled me to relate the reason behind what I noted in my FB status which said “Ruffy is sad…people are less appreciative nowadays.”

Perhaps what caught people’s attentions is that in the midst of what is supposed to be a season of holiday cheer, someone is in a state of sadness. When I did that entry, I was indeed in that state, although the quick responses of my FB friends also quickly redeemed me from such emotional sandtrap. Spending some time with my family, who always indulge me with their sincere appreciation of who I am and the things I do, was also uplifting and blew away whatever sadness I had in my heart.

What prompted me to make that FB entry was the reaction of some people who received Christmas giveaways from me. Particularly, some of my political leaders whom I traditionally give gifts every Christmas since I assumed office in 2001.

Ever since I became a politician, the gifts I give during Christmas are divided into two—personal and political. Personal of course includes family and friends that I have had even before I became a public official. Political include those who are colleagues, associates, personalities, and individuals who I met, work and relate with in line with my political career. Of course, it goes without saying that many of those in the political ledger have transitioned to the personal.

With so many people to give gifts to, it is no wonder that often, I am able to get gifts for my family only in the last minute, after I have ensured that all other people in my life—friends and political relations—already have something to receive from me for Christmas.

(Another Facebook status of mine about that situation was picked up by a TV talk show, Strictly Politics and used as a topic—“Politician’s Christmas”. Thanks, Ellen and Pia!)

In my political Christmas gift-giving, I always give priority to my political leaders, more than 600 of them, because I value the help they give me in the work I do. While one of their major functions is to help me get the votes every election, they are also the conduits of the social services that I extend to my constituents. They serve as my extensions in the communities, enabling me to deliver services to and get feedback from the grassroots.

Actually, it can be said that they are an unofficial part of the delivery system of government service, on a voluntary basis. In a gesture of appreciation for the help they give all throughout the year, I include them in my priority gift list, meaning they can never be scratched off, in case circumstances compel me to shorten my list.

And so it is that year in and year out, these political leaders of mine receive Christmas gifts from me. However, due to the financial crunch that everyone is feeling nowadays, this year’s Christmas gifts to my leaders was a little bit of a downgrade compared to last year’s. I felt that it was a better option than to cut them off entirely.

As the gifts were distributed, my staff reported the feedback from some of my leaders. Others directly sent their feedback to me and my wife through text messages. Without going into the painful details, instead of sending us a word of thanks, they sent us criticisms of the gifts we gave. My first reaction was to be ashamed of myself, carried away by their comments. Shame turned to sadness, especially when I remembered that I have not even bought gifts for my own kids. Sadness because after giving priority to them and making special preparations to ensure they receive something this Christmas even ahead of my own family, it seems they focused more on what they wanted to have rather than the spirit of Christmas, which is exchanging goodwill towards fellowmen.

In my Christmas messages in all the speaking engagements I had this season, I always put emphasis on the message of faith, hope and love as the center of the celebration of Christmas. But it seems that in the turbulence of the times and perhaps the experience of disappointment, strife and difficulties, people have turned from the message of “Goodwill Towards All” to the mindset of “What’s In It For Me?”.

There are many sayings, proverbs and quotes that are often repeated during Christmas. One very popular saying is that “it is better to give than to receive”. It is actually a paraphrase of a Bible verse, found in the Book of Acts (Acts 20:35). It is already a Christmas cliché, but I wonder…during these times, do people actually believe and live according to this?

But I think one verse that is rarely mentioned in relation to this season is 1 Thessalonians 5:18 which says, “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”. In encouraging people that it is better to give, shouldn’t they also be enlightened to give thanks?

And in giving thanks, it should be in everything, big or small. To those whose faith in God are beyond doubt, they are in thanksgiving even in the face of difficulties and challenges. What more if you receive something given in goodwill?

In my contemplation of these matters, I realized that as a nation, thanksgiving seems to be overshadowed by the mindset that we deserve the things we receive and others are obligated to give, therefore, thanksgiving is an option. It struck me as a matter of admiration and even envy that in the United States, they actually have a holiday for Thanksgiving. Perhaps that’s why if you listen to Americans, they easily convey thanksgiving and in many different ways—- “Thank you”, “I appreciate it”, “much obliged”.

Some may say that in giving, we should not expect anything in return, even gratitude. Some may even say that in my particular case, I shouldn’t wait for thanks because after all, I’m a public official and it’s my obligation to my constituents to give. Perhaps that is correct and I’m just expecting too much. Actually, I wasn’t expecting a verbalized expression of appreciation. But what I wasn’t expecting was a word of criticism on something that was given from the heart, as a token of my appreciation for the recipient.

Well, Christmas goes on. My wife and children are waiting for their gifts but their appreciation of me is there even if I come home empty-handed. After all, for us, it is being together as a family that matters. And for that, I endlessly thank and praise God for giving them to me.

I’m Dreaming of a Quiet Christmas

Posted in Inner Thoughts with tags , on December 16, 2008 by Ruffy Biazon

Speaker of the House of Representatives Prospero Nograles called for a ceasefire on the Charter Change debate. It is a call worthy of support, and one which I am sure will be appreciated by the people.

In fact, I would even go further. I call for a ceasefire not just on the Charter Change debate, but a ceasefire on all political bickering and campaigns, a ceasefire on scandals and controversies, a ceasefire on military operations and rebel attacks. Let the guns fall silent, and stop the tongues from wagging.

In other words, this Christmas, which is supposed to be a season of Love, Hope and giving, the people should be given a respite from all the negativity that has dominated their daily lives throughout the past year and years before.

I think the people deserve this break in order to make their lives a little bit more bearable in the face of the so many challenges and difficulties that they face not only as a people but even as individuals.

It is only during Christmas that we are entitled to temporarily set aside the troubles of our lives and enjoy the spirit of cheer, togetherness and family brought about by the Season of Joy. Of course, most importantly, the Yuletide Season is a time when we are called upon to recall the Reason for the Season, which is the birth of the One who brought a message of love and forgiveness.

Wouldn’t Christmas be more enjoyable if we didn’t go to the dawn mass just to see the headlines in the newspaper being sold in front of the church screaming all kinds of negative news? Wouldn’t it be nice to have quality time with the family watching a nice movie at home instead of being bombarded by depressing stories in the evening news on TV?

Wouldn’t it be better if during this Christmas, we are all engrossed by the Nativity instead of negativity?

This is not to say that I am calling for the people to forgive and forget. One of the messages of the Savior aside from Love and Hope is Justice. Definitely, simply forgetting is not consistent with Justice.

I just think that a Christmas ceasefire is something that we can afford and it should not affect the pursuit for righteousness and justice. After the Christmas season, the hostilities may resume.

I’m dreaming of a quiet Christmas..just like the ones I used to know…

AARRGH! I hate Planned Obsolescence! That includes you, Epson!

Posted in Inner Thoughts with tags , , on December 9, 2008 by Ruffy Biazon

It is commonly known as Planned Obsolescence. In other countries, Built-in Obsolescence. It also comes in another form, Technological Obsolescence. In common language, it is simply a strategy by manufacturers to get you buying again and again by making the product you buy either break down within a specific period of time or they limit the features they put on a product and then come out with something better a short time after they just launched the first one.

It is a clever strategy, one that keeps the consumers buying and their income flowing. It as a practice that is contrary to the traditional principle of taking care of your item so that it will last for as long as your grandmother lived. It denies you the possibility of owning a “classic”, such as having a transistor radio that first came to life fifty years ago. Nowadays, your precious item becomes junk in only a couple of years.

Now what drove me to write about Planned Obsolescence. Well, one of the most obscure but important items that people now possess, the home printer, is what drove me to sit down and put down into the records of cyberspace my grumbling thoughts on the subject.

Last night, I was forced to buy a new printer. Normally, being a technology and gadget freak, I am as eager to buy the newest and latest gizmo as I am eager to eat ice cream on a hot summer day. But in spite of that, I am still a practical guy, taking into consideration a technological product’s efficiency, maximum utilization, flexibility in use, inter-operability with other technologies, after-sales service, length of service life and price. What made me grudgingly buy a new printer was the fact that the printer I was using was still in perfect working condition, although it was already more than five years old.

I had an Epson Stylus Photo 900. Being into photography, digital video editing and music, it was the perfect home printer for me, since aside form having excellent print quality, it had the ability to print directly onto CD/DVD sticker labels or even on the discs themselves (those with a special surface for direct inkjet printing). Using a special attachment, you loaded the disc directly into the printer for an easy, clean printing of labels.

At the time I bought it in 2002, it had a hefty price tag, especially since it was the latest in the market. But after going through a lot of screening of available printers, it was the only one that fit my needs and specifications. For many years, I was the proud and happy owner of the Epson Stylus Photo 900.

Until early this year.

Normally, I would always have an extra set of ink cartridges in stock so I wouldn’t run out of ink in the middle of a printing job. But late last year, I wasn’t able to replace the stock. So when my ink ran out in the middle of printing my son’s project, I had to rush to the mall to buy cartridges. I had to go to several stores before I found the last available stock in a store. Little did I know that it might have literally been the last remaining stock.

A couple of months ago, I ran out of ink again. But after going around all the computer shops in all the malls in the area where I live, none was to be found. I went to another mall in another city and I went home empty handed. Worse, in one of the stores, I was told they would no longer carry that particular line of Epson ink cartridges. It was then that I had a suspicion that my pritner was about to be forcibly retired.

But I am also a sentimental guy. I didn’t feel like giving up and abandoning my reliable old printer. So I decided to do something that I said I would never do…buy from the ink-refilling station. I had told myslef that I would always use original ink cartridges. But these were desperat times which called for desperate measures.

So I bought an ink-refilled cartridge. But somehow, it wasn;t the same. For the first time, I couldn’t print the right colors in the photos I was printing. It was indeed true that the quality of original ink wasn’t matched by the refill inks. For text printing, it was okay. But for quality photo prints, much was still to be desired.

Because of the many repeats that I had to do just to get the right print quality I needed, my ink usage increased. So it wasn’t long before I needed to buy ink again. Yesterday, I once again did the rounds of all the computer shops in my area, hoping that original cartridges would be available for my printer. Alas, there was none. In several instances, the sales clerks in the shops I visited weren’t even familiar with my printer model and the ink cartridges I needed.

As I went from one shop to another the dreaded feeling sank deeper and deeper in me…my printer was a dinosaur. The reality that it was time to buy a new printer kept nagging me, together with the thought that I had a perfectly working but obsolete printer.

As a last ditch effort, I went back to the ink-refilling store to buy the “fake” ink cartridges. But woe of woes, misery of miseries, they also no longer carry that ink cartridge for that particular printer model.

Depression turned to anger. What?!! My prized printer is now junk?! Epson retired my printer?! AARRRGGH! Questions rushed through my head—why didn’t they issue notices? Why didn’t they make newer printers using the same kind of cartridges? Why retire such a good printer model? Why? Why? WHY?!!!

With shoulders hunched down, I resigned myself to the fact that I was powerless in the face of planned obsolescence. That while I may not be alone, the millions of consumers around the world are trapped in the whirlpool of technology that overtakes itself, and of marketing strategies that keep us buying and buying and buying and buying…..like we’re in the Twilight Zone.

As I accepted this fate, I walked into one of the stores mindlessly, like a zombie attracted to fresh human flesh. Without much of a conscious effort, I walked towards the printer section of the computer super store, with a wide variety of printer brands and models to choose from. A small vocie inside me said, “Damn Epson. Never again.”

But as I browsed the different printer brands— HP, Canon, Lexmark, etc…I my gaze was drawn to the familiar….somehow, like an old friend, I went back to what was familiar. Call it stupid or call it sentimental…others call it brand loyalty….I went to the Epson display. After carefully considering the specifications of the various Epson models, I made a choice, paid for it left the building, perhaps to return in a couple of years time, a repeat victim of Planned Obsolescence.

By the way, the price I paid for the new printer is just around 200 pesos more than if I had been able to buy the original Epson cartridges for my now obsolete printer.