"But first take violence off the table."
One of the industries I used to monitor for the country’s largest bank was cacao. I used to visit the modest offices of the industry association in QC, where I learned that cacao is best grown in the south, that African and South American plantations have been shutting down, opening the way for our own products, and that the industry outlook is bright, for the simple reason that everybody likes chocolate and the population keeps growing.
So it was a pleasant surprise for me to read about the stellar performance last year of a local brand called Auro Chocolate. In one competition, Auro received one of only four Shining Bright Awards given out by the International Academy of Chocolate among entries from over fifty countries. And in the International Chocolate Awards World, Auro bagged the silver prize in the “plain/origin milk chocolate bars” category for its “50% regalo single varietal dark milk” brand.
I have of course already sampled the goods; I pronounce them delicious. Congratulations to Auro’s principals, Kelly Go and her business partner Mark Ocampo, the son of lawyer Manolet Ocampo and grandson of legal luminary Estelito Mendoza. By showing excellence in the kind of high-value crops that our agriculture sector should be selling abroad, these young people are innovating their way forward for the country.
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Young people like Mark give me hope for a real turn-around in our rural areas, where the decades-long communist insurgency started and still festers. I thought about this after reading about the government’s anti-terrorism task force finally coming out with its list of 19 CPP-NPA leaders (plus a separate list of ten from the Abu Sayyaf).
There were many familiar faces in that list–young once but no longer, all in their seventies. There were Ka Vic—a founder of SDK in UP Los Banos—and Ka Raul, a much younger fraternity brod of Senator Enrile. My own brod Ka Celo—no longer the frail-looking nerd from college days, now stocky and steely-eyed—and his wife Ka Wing, touted as a real Amazon.
Ka Bong, who was class valedictorian a year ahead of me in high school. Ka Alfonso, an AIM graduate and tenured UP faculty member. Ka Kata, an endearing lass from Bacolod back in the day. And of course, leading the pack, Ka Joema and Ka Juliet, no introductions needed. These two are already in their eighties and were the ones responsible for bringing everybody else into their fold.
Old flashbacks came to mind. Kata being the gracious hostess during one of our teach-in visits to Bacolod in the seventies. Celo, in a recent brief period of freedom, enjoying himself at a fraternity reunion thrown in his honor, where we tried to convince him to go straight and run for Congress—vainly, it turned out. Bong, earnestly explaining to me why the CPP could never have bombed the 1971 LP rally in Plaza Miranda.
I looked at their news photos and I asked no one in particular what right these ageing men and women thought they had to continue to recruit 18- and 19-year-olds—their grandchildren, no less—to fight and die in a cause that history has already judged to be irredeemably hopeless. By what rights are they staking these young lives to a dream that they likely no longer believe in but may be too stubborn to admit to?
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There are other, more effective ways to change the world that require you only to give up violence, not your principles. One such is the bill recently introduced in the House proposing the establishment of a new national unemployment insurance fund.
The lockdown has painfully underscored the vulnerability of many of our workers to involuntary termination. At the same time, available benefits from both SSS and GSIS max out at P10,000 a month for just two months, not enough to feed your family.
Under the new bill, a tripartite coalition—employees, employers, and government—would jointly operate an insurance fund that can pay you up to 80 percent of your salary at termination for up to three months, the average time it takes you to find a new job, according to historical data. The initial fund could be sized as small as P10 billion, perhaps seeded initially just by the government.
What’s striking about the history behind this bill is its joint sponsorship by UP economics professor Stella Quimbo—who’s very much a free-market economist—and Makabayan party-lister Fernando Hicap, who used to head a government employees’ union that’s been tagged as an NDF front. The two congressmen, though coming from very different points of view, managed to find convergence in a common cause—the welfare of the Filipino working-class now suffering extraordinary economic pressures.
It’s an inspiring example of what can be accomplished by men and women of good faith, provided that violence is taken off the table.
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