Friday, 14 September 2012 00:00
I revisited Bangkok last week and dined again at a popular downtown resto called "Cabbages & Condoms" along Sukhumvit Road. Why the name? Well, the owner Mr. Mechai (a Thai Ramon Magsaysay awardee in the 1990s) committed, as his business apostolate, to promote the use of condoms to help combat AIDS. And campaign for population control. His idea was to make condoms as popular and a household name as cabbages, a staple food item for Thais. Part of the resto's income goes to finance population control projects.
As you enter the resto, human-sized figures made of a collage of condoms greet you. There’s Santa Claus made of condoms, including his beard. Tiger Woods with a teaser signage: "DID YOU USE ONE TODAY TIGER?” Then a sentry looking like Capt America of the Avengers fame. Condoms in all colors, sizes (of course!) and flavors (yes, vanilla, coco or strawberry, etc for those with discriminating taste) are given out for free instead of the usual sweet delights to take home. At the exit door, you can scoop a handful for your pocket. (My wife Beth would not mind my having some -- for SOUVENIR purposes only. And not for USE. )
And by the way, there's no RH bill there to argue about. And fight over! So, let's all cool it folks! I predict if the RH bill is approved, someone will open here a resto named: "MALUNGGAY & CONDOMS".
LOAN CONDITION? -- I had an interesting, updating chat with Congressman Thelma Almario of Davao Oriental the other day while on our way home to Davao from Manila. She said an RH law appears to be a condition imposed before some funds from foreign donors are released to us Filipinos. No RH law, no fund support. Now I see why.
SPEAKER JDV--- We were waiting to board our flight at the NAIA airport in Manila for Bangkok last Monday when former Speaker Joe de Venecia walked into the terminal lounge. We were taking the same PAL flight to the Thai capital. He still looked dapper in his suit. He was our House Speaker when I was Congressman then. He told me he was to attend an international forum on conflict resolution also in Bangkok and then proceed to other Asian points. He is one of the proponents to organize an international mechanism to address conflicts and help resolve them. He asked about the latest on the Mindanao situation. After his long stint in government, he's now happy doing the international scene as resource and imminent person sharing his experience and insights. When he asked me what I was doing nowadays, I simply said: "My APOstolic work! ”And he understood right away! From one grandpa to another!
CONFLICT -- We are not the only one in the world facing rebel problems. And conflict situations. Every country, even though how advanced, had to deal with so-called minority groups and indigenous peoples asserting basic inalienable rights of self determination, demanding recognition and seeking justice. How they addressed these challenges are instructive. Examples are the American INDIANS, the Canadian INUITS, the Spanish BASQUES, etc.
GLOBAL -- Aside from seeing our local situation, I've seen a variety of them. I was in Colombia, South America several years ago and met with government and even rebel groups. Then I was in several parts of Asia looking at the rebellion in Southern Thailand and Indonesia. I was in Europe and the Middle East many times on the same work. I was searching for global commonalities and lessons learned.
TRAGIC -- What seems common to all is their resort to taking up arms and fighting governments to leverage for concessions, get attention and seek redress. What is tragic however is that innocent civilians, mostly their own people, are the first and unfortunate victims of their armed struggle. Then some rebel factions abandon along the way those seemingly noble aspirations. And switch to quick-money blackmail, ransom and extortion, murder -- or just plain terrorism.
AMB. KRISTIE KENNY --- US Ambassador in Thailand now is former Manila- based Ambassador Kristie Kenny. Pleasant memories of her frequent Mindanao visits, especially to conflict affected areas came back. Her experience in Mindanao will help her understand the insurgency situation in Patanni, Yala and other areas in Southern Thailand.
THAI REBEL -- My return this week to visit Bangkok brings back more good memories. I recall one airport stop we had in Thailand when I was still working in Malacanang years ago. It was a brief stopover in the Bangkok airport for aircraft refueling enroute to Libya and a Thai Minister of Education was assigned to meet and extend protocol courtesies to President GMA during the short stop. Surprisingly, the Minister told us he was a former rebel who went to the hills and joined forces that fought the government. When PGMA asked him what convinced him to "return”, he disclosed that the reconciliation program of the government made possible his “rejoining" mainstream society that eventually got him appointed to a high cabinet position in the Thai government where he continued his reform agenda deep into the bureaucracy.
REBEL PROGRAM-- After hearing him, PGMA then turned to me and said: “Jess, work on that immediately when we return." So I did. And after one year of consultations and crafting, (principally "midwifed" by NSC Usec Zen Brosas and a technical team) thus was born the so-called "SOCIAL INTEGRATION PROGRAM" or SIP which became the focal mechanism which replaced the "rebel returnee program" at the Office of the Presidential Peace Adviser (OPAPP). Unfortunately, I left the office and moved to the Office of the Press Secretary so I didn't get the chance to implement it on the ground. Fortunately though, my successors followed through, although lately, I was told it was changed a bit and renamed into another program under the Aquino administration.
BANGKOK TIDBITS --
NIGHT MARKETS -- They are practically everywhere. At sundown, sidewalks bloom with stalls and remain open deep into the night.
BAHT -- One Thai baht is equivalent to P1.50 Php. One US dollar is 30.80 bahts vs. P41 pesos
BUKO -- One coconut for buko juice in the sidewalks costs 20 baht or 30 pesos.
TOURISM--Tourists are everywhere. This is Thailand's biggest dollar earner.
By Jess G. Dureza
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