Wednesday, March 30, 2005


I met my wife on March 30, 1985. We met at SGV & Company, where we both landed our first jobs, straight out of college, as computer programmers. We were married exactly 2 years later on March 30, 1987! Every night, I pray, "Thank you Lord for my wife". She is my inspiration and my motivation. And most of all, her earnings allow me to pursue my vision of serving our country through the CICT ;-)

Every March 30th, my wife and I share our anniversary lunch with our three lovely children as a way of celebrating the "birth" of our family. The three are: Rafael (born 1989), Lirio (1991) and Christianne (1994). Photo was taken last year, at the Manila Zoo!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

On a Plane from Bahrain

I'm writing this at the internet lounge of Abu Dhabi airport, waiting for my boarding call to Manila. I'm flying back on March 23, not April 23 as originally feared. It was an honest mistake, after all. And the treatment I received the past 3 days more than made up for the error, you'll see...

When my trip began in Manila 3 days ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself upgraded to First Class! It wasn't the first time it's ever happened to me, but it's always nice when it happens. As it turns out, there were only 3 of us occupying the 12 seats in First Class, so I guess they needed me there to add weight to the front of the plane. :-D

Upon arrival at Bahrain's Manama airport, the cabin crew announced my name over the loudspeaker, asking me to identify myself to the ground crew. Upon presenting myself, they shunted me through a side tube exit onto the tarmac, where a Benz was waiting to take me to the VIP arrival lounge. Someone took my passport from me, seated me in the lounge, and in 5 minutes, we were on our way to the hotel, all paperwork completed!

When I checked-in at the Intercon Regency hotel, my accommodations were upgraded to the top floor, where I had my own suite right across from the Royal Suite (which had been assigned to the Russian delegation).

Also, throughout the duration of my stay, the Philippine delegation (all three of us: I, me, myself) was assigned its own personal, chauffeured S320 Mercedes Benz limousine along with an escort service.

Below is my escort, Mohd. He took me on a half-hour tour of the painstakingly restored Arad Fort. The fort was originally built over 500 years ago!

For our last supper in Bahrain, we were treated to a sumptuous buffet dinner at the control tower of the Bahrain Grand Prix. We were brought to the top floor of this building for cocktails and dinner!

At the cocktails, I met Her Excellency Dr. Ivy Matsepe Casaburri, Minister of Communications, South Africa. When I asked her which portion of South Africa was considered part of Asia (it was the Asia IT Ministers Summit, remember) she just gave me a big smile. Behind us are the grandstand and finish line for the Bahrain Grand Prix.

For more photos of Bahrain, please see my Bahrain Travelogue.

Isn't that cool? I told you so ;-)

Postscript: You may be wondering if I got an upgrade on the trip back. Initially, I was checked into business class. At the lounge, I approached the Filipina receptionist and asked for an upgrade. She gave me all sorts of reasons why she couldn't do it: no printer in the lounge, my seat was already on the foremost row of business class, etc., etc.

I gave up on her and looked for someone else. I found another Filipina who gladly helped me with my request. After half an hour, she came back to me with a smile on her face, and a first class boarding pass in her hand. She had bumped me up to first class, which allowed the airline to bump up someone else from economy to business class, which then allowed them to take on an additional passenger from the waitlist! Truly a "win-win" situation ;-D

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

AITMS 2005, Day 2

On the second day of the summit, we were given some free time to tour TELECOM ARABIA 2005 and the BROADBAND MIDDLE EAST 2005 conference, two events held concurrently with the Summit at the Bahrain Convention Centre.

One of the high points of the 2nd day was the chance to meet and interact with Dr. Paul Twomey, President and CEO of ICANN, the international organization charged with coordinating the Internet's system of unique identifiers, including the Domain Name System and the Internet Protocol address functions. Prior to heading ICANN, Dr. Twomey worked for the Australian Government and was involved with the process to redelegate the Australian domain name registry. He also served as the Chair of one of ICANN's most powerful committees, the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) which consists of over 100 government officials from individual member countries.

Another high point was the floor debate (above) on the Summit declaration. Perhaps inspired by my story about People Power 2, the Azerbaijani minister had submitted a paragraph on "IT for Democracy and Human Rights" to be considered for inclusion in the Summit declaration. Unfortunately, there were others in the Summit who did not feel as enthusiastic about democracy (and human rights). Thus ensued a 2-hour debate (!) on how to wordsmith the final declaration. In the end, a compromise was reached, and thus you will not find the word "democracy" in the Bahrain IT Declaration.

The Summit concluded with the selection of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan as the location for the 4th Asia IT Ministers Summit.

Click here for more photos of the summit.

Monday, March 21, 2005

AITMS 2005, Day 1

The 3rd Asia IT Ministers Summit (AITMS) was hosted by His Excellency Shaikh Ali bin Kalifah bin Salman Al Khalifa, Minister of Transportation, Kingdom of Bahrain. He's also the son of the Prime Minister, and first cousin of the King of Bahrain.

The Summit was attended by Ministerial delegations from 32 Asian and Middle East nations. Beside me below is the delegation from Oman. The distinguished-looking gentleman in the suit behind me is our very own Ambassador Ed Maglaya. He heads a staff of 20 Filipinos in our embassy, and looks after the interests of 22,000 plus Filipinos working and living in Bahrain.

Each head of delegation was provided a workspace complete with red velour folder, ballpen, black leather blotter, microphone stand and speaker, and a Ferrari-Acer notebook with matching mouse. The only item we were allowed to take home was the pen and the red folder. 8-)

The first day of the summit was filled with presentations from each delegation. Our hosts spoke about their vision for a Bahrain Information Exchange, with all schools connected to the Internet by 2008, and all citizens holding a smart ID card containing citizen data such as health records, licenses, etc.

The minister from Egpyt, H.E. Dr. Tareq Kamal, Minister of Telecommunications and Information Technology, pointed out that ICT threatens more upheavals by widening the divide between the haves and the have-nots. So in their country, they are pushing for "smart villages", and PCs for every home and every SME.

H.E. Mr. Awais Ahmed Khain Leghari, Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunications, Islamic Republic of Pakistan, mentioned that they deregulated their telecomm industry 3 years ago, and the number of subscribers went from 2m to 15m! They are now in the process of legislating a cybersecurity act to give confidence to investors. Call centers catering to Arabic speakers in the Middle East is a sweet spot for future growth.

When it came to the Philippines' turn, I proudly presented the CICT Strategic Roadmap. I told a story about how a farm worker in Negros used to waste one whole day just to travel to Bacolod to find out his SSS balances, and now with community e-centers, it takes less than 2 hours. Another story which enthralled the summit was how SMS was used in mobilizing the masses for People Power 2!

One common thread among the country presentations: ICT is a national priority, and the national vision embodies ICT as the means for transforming society, alleviating poverty, and improving education. How does the Philippines compare?

Well, we are lucky to have President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo leading the way. In the Cabinet meeting which I attended last December, she asked the CICT to produce the 5-year ICT roadmap. In February, she launched the National Strategic Plan for ICT in Basic Education, a joint CICT-DepEd initiative. And in March, she christened the Philippine Cyberservices Corridor, a joint CICT-DTI Initiative. Soon, hopefully within the year, she will be able to sign the bill creating the Department of Information and Communications Technology!

Saturday, March 19, 2005

On a Plane to Bahrain

As you can see from the ticket, I'll soon be on a plane to Bahrain. I've been assigned to represent my boss, Secretary Virgilio Peña, at the 3rd Asia IT Ministers Summit. The first summit was in Seoul, Korea and the second was in Hyderabad, India (click here for the declarations from the first two summits).

The current summit is from March 21 to 22. This is my first opportunity to represent the country at an international event and I pray I do a good job.

Due to government austerity measures, we're only allowed to travel when someone else is paying. So it was only when my ticket arrived on Friday, that I knew the trip was surely pushing through. I checked the ticket: leaving on the 19th, returning on the 24th. But oh my gosh!

Click on the ticket for a second look. Returning on April 24? Honest mistake or hidden message? Stay tuned for further developments. In the meantime, check out the summit website for more details!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Philippine Cyberservices Corridor

The Philippine Cyberservices Corridor was officially "christened" by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at her keynote speech last March 9, 2005 at the Euromoney-sponsored Philippine Investment Conference held in Lapu-lapu City, Cebu.

“Our cyberservices corridor actually stretches 600 miles from Baguio in Northern Luzon to Zamboanga in Mindanao. It’s served by a $10B high-bandwidth fiber backbone and digital network. It’s home to 75,000 call center and BPO agents who all speak English and many of whom speak Spanish, Japanese, Chinese or Arabic - all of whom provide cyberservices at par with global standards”.

What's next for CICT, working in partnership with DTI?

Why Philippine Cyberservices? "e-services" is the generic name for IT- and ICT-enabled services delivered over the Net, such as call handling, BPO, content transformation and/or transcription. "Philippine Cyberservices" will be the brand of e-services delivered by Filipinos. "Philippine Cyberservices Corridor" will be the place to go to find such services.

PCC. We service the world.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Philippine Services Coalition

The "Philippine Services Coalition" is a 12-month project being undertaken by the Philippine Government with funding assistance from the International Trade Center, an UNCTAD Agency. I attended today's kick-off meeting, chaired by UnderSecretary Edsel Custodio of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The objective of the project is to come up with a list of "offers" and "requests" in connection with the WTO's ongoing round of trade negotiations. In any type of negotiation, one comes to the negotiating table with two lists:
- what I'm willing to give to the other party (offers), and
- what I need from the other party (requests).

The ongoing round of WTO trade talks is focused on services, including IT and IT-enabled services. Hence, the inclusion of the CICT on the project team for the Philippine Services Coalition! Over the next few months, I'll be calling on the private sector to provide inputs in developing the list of offers and requests, so keep tuned! In the meantime, learn more about the WTO below.

"The World Trade Organization (WTO)is the only international organization dealing with the global rules of trade between nations. Its main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible." from the WTO website

Prior to the establishment of the WTO in 1995, countries would enter into agreements with each other as a result of long, drawn-out bilateral or multilateral trade talks. These talks were referred to as GATT, or General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. The series of trade negotiations to come up with an agreeement are called "rounds", such as the 1986-94 Uruguay Round. The Uruguay Round led to the WTO’s creation.

The current round of talks is called the Doha Round, after the Fourth WTO Ministerial Conference was held in Doha, Qatar in November 2001. More on the WTO, if you're interested:
Ten misunderstandings on the WTO (from WTO website)
Ten benefits of the WTO (from WTO website)
Criticisms of the WTO
- More criticism

Friday, March 04, 2005

Q&A: What was your day like?

Q&A: Today's questions come from my daughter Iona, a Grade 7 student at the Manila Waldorf School. She dreams of being many things when she grows up, and being a reporter is one of them.

"What did you do today?"

Well I had scheduled an early meeting with a call center. But I ended up being really late for that, because your Lolo Mingoy decided to drop in unannounced. I came down for breakfast, and there he was sitting at the table, waiting for me.

"Didn't you tell him you were rushing to a meeting?"

Oh you should always make time for your parents! How could I walk out on my own Dad... besides, it was obvious he wanted to talk about Ninong Tony. The two of them were really close. They were batchmates in college [along with current DTI Secretary Johnny Santos]. Even if your Lolo was 2 years older, they started schooling at the same time, right after the war ended. Your Lolo said he had a dream about Ninong Tony calling for help at 530 yesterday morning, about the time when the accident happened.

"Wow (long pause). So then you went to your meeting?"

Yup. I went to a call center near Roxas Boulevard. It's this place where they have so many desks, over a thousand desks, and Filipinos work there and answer calls and questions from people all over the world, mostly from America.

"When it's day time here, isn't it night time in America?"

That's right! So for most of the workers there, they were already tired from working the whole night, while my day was just starting. They had a lot of suggestions for me on what the government should do to help more Filipinos get more jobs at call centers. Here's a picture.

"So then what did you do after that?"

I had to rush to my next appointment at SM Megamall. They asked me to cut the ribbon at the Smart Wireless Innovation Expo. Smart was sponsoring a contest where student teams from all over the country invent fantastic ways of using cellphones to help their college or community. One of the teams showed me how a parent can use a cellphone to download her child's grades, enroll for the next semester, and even pay for the tuition!

"Oh wow. So that's where you got those flowers. Did they serve you lunch there?"

For lunch, I drove back to Rockwell Powerplant to meet with a Filipino businessman who's thinking of putting up an animation company.

"Cool! Animation as in Disney Channel and Nickelodeon?"

Oh yes! There are a lot of good cartoonists here in the Philippines, and movie producers from all over the world come here to have their animaton done by Filipinos. In fact, did you know that one of the lead cartoonists in that film "The Incredibles" was a Filipina?

"Really! So then what did you do after lunch?"

I had slack before my next appointment, so it was time to drop by an internet cafe to catch up on mail. Buti na lang, as there were questions from a newspaper reporter that needed an urgent response.

Afterwards, I went to the graduation ceremonies at Phil-NITS. They asked me to give the keynote speech to the graduating class. We spoke about President Gloria's goal of providing jobs, and about CICT's role in making it happen.

"You give a lot of speeches, don't you?"

Oh about 2 or 3 times a week. Sometimes even twice a day. March is especially busy since there's a lot of graduations and job fairs going on.

"Then you came home after the graduation?"

That's right, but only to pick up your Mom so we could go to Mass. It's first Friday, remember. Also, we wanted to catch the 8:30pm Mass at Manila Memorial Chapels for Ninong Tony. The priest who said Mass had just lost his own mother last year. So he was able to share with us a really beautiful message. He said that Ninong Tony had been preparing to meet God for the past 66 years. And when God saw he was ready, God reached down and took him.

"It came kind of suddenly though."

Well my Lolo Nene died quickly of a heart attack. Tito Isyong died in a plane crash. Tito Obet was gunned down on a dirt road. I guess Mapa men aren't destined to die in bed. When we're ready to go, we're ready to go.

"You seem to be going to a lot of wakes lately. Part of the job?"

Last week, it was for the dad of DTI UnderSecretary Mel Alonzo. This Monday it was for Justice Garchitorena. I guess it's part of life, as one gets older.

"Wow what a long day. No wonder you're so tired when you get home every night."

Well it's hard when I have to drive for myself. There's no chance to rest in the car or catch a nap while in traffic. I'm really sorry if I can't spend as much time with you when I get home anymore.

"That's ok. I know you're doing so much and you need to get your rest. Good night. I love you."

I love you too, Princess. Sleep tight; don't let the bed bugs bite!

(P.S. The priest had a second message for the family members left behind by Ninong Tony: "You still have a special mission which God wants you to accomplish". Dad, I guess that's why you're still with us. I love you.)

Thursday, March 03, 2005

In Memoriam: Antonio L. Mapa

My dear uncle and godfather, Antonio Ledesma Mapa, passed away early this morning. The car he was driving suffered a collision with a truck that had a faulty headlight. He was on his way from the Mapa-Ledesma farm in Tanjay, Negros Oriental to the Ledesma farm in San Carlos, Negros Occidental. The accident happened in the town of Guihulngan. I was driving to work when my brother Cidni texted me with the news. I felt so sad that I had to pull over to collect myself.

Ninong Tony was 66 years old. He is survived by his sisters (Cecy and Loretto), brothers (Cidito, Mingoy, and Monry), wife (Marilyn), 5 children (Tonton, Rina, Nikko, Lisa and Miel), and 12 grandchildren.

Back in 1986, both of us were working in the United States. I was assigned to Andersen Consulting's Advanced Systems Center in Chicago. Ninong Tony was serving our country as tourism attache for North America. One weekend, I visited him and his family in their house in New Jersey. I asked if he could keep a secret, and he said surely. I told him that I had met the girl who I was going to marry, that I had asked for her hand, and that she had said yes! He was so happy to hear the news. I asked him for advice on how to tell my parents. He said, oh don't worry about it. Of course, he told my Dad within 24 hours. Problem solved. ;-)

We shared several common aspirations that gave me the chance to resonate with him.

He was a rally driver, a motorsports pioneer in the country. When I'm in my CRV, I like to imagine I'm a rally driver. :-D

He was an accomplished photographer. During family reunions, he would entertain us with slideshows and we would reminisce over dozens of Kodak carousel trays. I too love taking pictures, especially underwater. Instead of carousels, I take my photo collection around on CDs hoping someone will ask to see them. :-/

He was an explorer/adventurer. He was the first in our family to reach Negros Oriental's Lake Balinsasayao, a freshwater lake 1,000 feet above sea level. I was the only one in our family crazy enough to try to swim across the lake! It took me more than half an hour, and the reduced buoyancy almost drowned me in the process, but I made it! :-O

Finally, we're both avid golfers. He was a very quick putter, regardless of whether he had a short or a long putt. He would step up to the ball, take a breath, then stroke the ball towards the hole. He rarely needed more than one putt, because he had such an excellent short game.

I'll never forget one summer afternoon in the '70s when I was still a teenager. I crossed the fence into his lawn (we were neighbors). He lassoed me into a pitching contest. We would pitch balls from the lawn onto the porch step. The winner would be the one who got the most number of balls to bounce off the porch step right back to where we were pitching from! He once did three in a row. He was that good!

The most memorable times I've had with my Ninong Tony were on the golf course. We played rounds together at Riviera, Calatagan, Splendido, Midlands, Navy, Sta. Elena, Alabang, and Marapara. We shared many a laugh together over golf. My dad's handicap was a running joke among us. And last year's Major tournaments gave him another running joke. Ernie Els was a consistent contender. So every time I would ask him who won, he would text back, "someone els". I hope to one day play another round together. In the meantime, here are more golf jokes that I wish I could have shared with him.

Enjoy the 19th hole, Ninong Tony. We miss you!

Updated 10 March 2005 to add links to other online tributes to my uncle:
Butch Gamboa for the Philippine Star
Vernon Sarne for the Manila Times

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