Showing posts with label J109. Show all posts
Showing posts with label J109. Show all posts

UP: A living, breathing museum

One day I took a break from all the thesis work that piled up on me. In my four years of living inside the campus I discovered the perfect spots to relieve my stress.

Being a lover of the arts, I would spend many hours inside the Vargas Museum, enjoying the works of great Filipino artists. Or whenever there’s a free concert, I would troop to the College of Music to listen to live performances of bands and choirs, and to numerous recitals of music majors.

But there are also dry days when I don’t feel like going to the museum because the displays haven’t been changed yet. Or there are only paid concerts at Abelardo Hall. During these episodes I choose to walk around the campus. After all, it is a giant, breathing museum.


Several sculptures adorn the pathways of the University Avenue, right at the very entrance of the University of the Philippines. My favorite is one of Ildefonso Cruz Marcelo’s twin sculptures—“Captivity.”

It is found at the intersection going to the Public Administration building. At the opposite end of the road, its partner, “Contemplation,” guards the entrance to the College of Fine Arts and Architecture.

“Captivity” is Marcelo’s rendition of Francisco Balagtas’ Florante tied to an “Asopre” tree. From afar, the work simply looks like a man sitting on a slab of rock. But at a closer view, there are chains and shackles binding his hands and feet.

In the 60’s the sculpture was an irony because of the great freedom on campus. During this decade, UP President Carlos P. Romulo gave the Philippine Collegian greater autonomy, striking down the “administrative and editorial powers” of the paper’s faculty advisers. Kule’ was left solely on the hands of students.

But in the 70’s “Captivity” was a prophecy fulfilled. Martial Law and the First Quarter Storm all happened during the decade. Life in UP became severely restricted as the Dictator stifled democracy all over the country.

Centennial Cauldron

A few meters away stand the famous Oblation Statue which I have always admired as an emblem for UP. But since the university’s centennial celebration in 2008, another interesting work of art adorned the fa├žade of Quezon Hall.

It is called the “Centennial Cauldron.” Designed by UP alumnus Joel Ajero, the metal sculpture is full of symbolisms.

The three beams represent UP’s main thrusts—excellence, service, and leadership. A vine wrapped itself around the beams and branched into seven flowers. The flowers represent the seven constituent campuses of UP all over the country which embody the ideals of higher learning.

The main cauldron which was set ablaze on Jan. 8, 2009 stands for the beacon of hope radiating from the university. The flame that burned throughout the celebration is the symbol of refinement and development every student undergoes in UP.

The Centennial Cauldron stands infront of Oble’ also to light his path as the university looks forward, gearing for the centuries that are yet to come.

Three Women Sewing the First Philippine Flag

One of the more famous works of Napoleon V. Abueva is set on a pedestal in the Charter’s Donors Garden, connecting the amphitheater and the UP lagoon.

“Three Women Sewing the First Philippine Flag” is a sculpture depicting the creation of the country’s banner. It is also Abueva’s rendition of Fernando Amorsolo’s “The Making of the Philippine Flag.”

The work was permanently housed in UP two years shy from the centenary of the Philippine Independence in 1996.

According to history, Marcela Agoncillo, her daughter Lorenza, and Mrs. Delfina Natividad hand-sewed and embroidered the flag for five days in Hong Kong. Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo commissioned Marcela to make the flag based on a design he created.

On June 12, 1898, this same flag was unfurled at the balcony of Aguinaldo’s house in Kawit, Cavite marking our country’s independence from Spain.


“Magdangal,” another of Abueva’s work, is dubbed as Oble’s muse. Among the latest additions on campus, it keeps vigil infront of the Arts and Letters building (CAL).

During its public inauguration in 2008, former CAL dean Virgilio Almario said the sculpture stands for our country’s “great national will to free itself from the shackles of history and create a new horizon of hope.”

A plaque on Magdangal’s pedestal contains the words from Almario’s poem bearing her name as title:

“Magbangon ka, aking Mutya,
Mula dagat ng dalita;
Pairalin mo sa lupa
Ang tarong, ragsak, at laya.”

Almario said the speaker of the poem calls out to his beloved Mutya—a native name for a precious pearl—“to rise from the sea of sorrows and bless the land anew.”

The last three words come from three languages in the Philippines describing the poet’s hope for the country’s future. “Tarong” is Bisaya for straight, the root-word of “katarungan” (justice). “Ragsak” is Ilocano for joy, and “laya” is the Tagalog root-word of “kalayaan” (independence).

Fredesvinda: The ASEAN Boat

Hidden behind the Vargas museum, amidst an untamed lush is a boat-like work of art called the Fredesvinda. It is located in Abueva’s former “sculpture studio.” The art once stood with several of the artist’s works from 1978 to 1985, most of which had now been relocated.

One critic described the work as a “surreal tambayan.” At a glance it looks like an ancient boat with rib cages for its hull. The repetitive beams resembled the Romanesque arches of cathedrals in Europe.

The Fredesvinda we know today is a duplicate of the original work of Abueva "which was included in the First ASEAN Sculpture Symposium held in Fort Canning Hill, Singapore, from March 27 to April 26, 1981."

Imao's Unnamed Sculpture

Fusing Muslim art styles, Abdul Marie Imao's Unnamed sculpture is among the few Islam artworks in a predominantly Catholic University

The sari-mosque, sari-manok and sari-okir themes are fused, yielding to an elegant abstract depiction of the Muslim faith and indigenous Moro culture.

The sari mosque is Islam’s charming 5-pointed star embraced by the crescent moon.

The sari-manok is the “mythical rooster-like-bird of dazzling plumage” that dominates the skies of traditional folklore and animistic beliefs.

The sari-okir reflects the Maranao and Tausug curves and line patterns from the “pako rabang and naga woodcarving motifs.”


These are some of my favorites around the campus. Whenever I feel tired and down, I drag a couple of friends and tour them to these artworks from the greatest artists of our land.

They may simply be stone, iron or wood, but the handling of masters gave these elements life and meaning. They will continue to stand as evidences of Filipino talent and craft.

Another Side of Regulation: the Case of the Cheaper Medicines Act

According to economic theories, price regulation is generally disadvantageous to business. Everytime the government imposes price ceilings, it undermines the role of market forces in determining product prices.

Instead of market competition and the interaction of consumer demand and goods supply, the government becomes the all-powerful force, attempting to balance the complex capitalist market.

Economists argue that government intervention fails to reflect real market conditions. The prices are imposed arbitrarily and almost always miss the equilibrium point of supply and demand, resulting in either shortage or excess of goods in the market. These spell disincentive for business players.

The Philippine drug industry, however, seems to be an exception. Decades of unfettered business, instead of lowering drug prices through competition and supply-demand interaction, resulted in exorbitantly priced medicines in the country.

High Prices of Philippine Drugs

Comparative records from other countries reveal that for the longest time, drug prices in the Philippines failed to reflect real market conditions. In a 2007 cheaper medicines forum, Dr. Alberto Roxas, dean of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine, said “Filipinos buy medicines at prices 3.4 to 18 times higher than the international reference index.”

Rep. Emilio Abaya added that the Department of Health Pharma 50 Program revealed that Philippine medicines remain “40 to 70 percent” more expensive than in other Southeast Asian countries.

Rep. Ferjenel Biron, one of the main proponents of the Universally Accessible Cheaper, Quality Medicines Act of 2008, used the asthma medicine salbutamol as a concrete example. He said in India the drug is sold at only 85 pesos. In the Philippines, however, its “identical replica” imported from Australia costs 410 pesos, five times more expensive.

The Issue of Price Controls

These examples moved Biron to include a drug price regulatory board in his version of the Cheaper Medicines Act (CMA). As expected, it was opposed by drug firms through the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), the largest group of multinational drug companies in the country.

In a position paper given to Congress, PHAP pushed the idea of price ceiling as a disincentive to business players in the drug industry. PHAP said price control will “dampen innovation” because it “leads to conditions which stifle investment in R&D (Research and Development).”

“By pushing prices of drugs towards a certain ceiling regardless of the amount of investment needed to bring each new product on the market – profits (and therefore the ability to recoup R&D investment) of producers of innovative drugs inevitably fall. Price control has been shown to take away the incentive to invest in new research to develop new products,” it added.

PHAP also said that the artificial prices brought by the control will “stifle competition” in that it produces rogue feedback from unnatural supply and demand interaction. Instead of sending signals to players to increase or decrease supply based on demands, the information is utterly useless because it does not reflect real market conditions.

The Imperfect Market

This position relies heavily on Western economic theories. However, coming from the same school of thought, the late Nobel Prize recipient economist Paul Samuelson argued that “imperfect market competition” can equally blight demand and supply interaction. This may well explain the phenomenon in the Philippine drug industry.

Samuelson wrote that “Imperfect competition prevails in an industry whenever individual sellers have some measure of control over the price of their output.” That is, regardless of the market conditions, business players can dictate the prices of their goods, undermining the signals from consumers and suppliers. Market monopoly, oligopoly, and monopolistic competition are examples of such.

Monopoly in the Philippine Drug Industry

In the final form of the CMA, the drug price regulatory board introduced by Representative Biron bowed to Sen. Manuel Roxas’ version of a price control through a Maximum Retail Price (MRP) in the hands of the president, consulting with the DOH secretary.

Monopoly was the battle cry of CMA supporters in Congress as well as smaller Filipino players in the drug industry. The same argument convinced Senator Roxas to reconsider the MRP which was not part of his original Senate proposal.

The data from drug industry statistics speak for themselves. Records show that 60 t0 70 percent of the industry belongs to multinational firms with much higher prices. Interphil, a multinational company, controls 80 percent of total drug manufacturing. In the case of wholesale distribution, its sister company Zuellig, and another company, Metro Drug, control 65 to 75 percent of the industry. Mercury Drugstore with its over 600 branches in the Philippines and Watsons form the retail monopoly.

In a statement, Dr. Geneve Rivera, Secretary General of the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) said the high prices of multinational medicines are “fueled by their insatiable greed for profits, greed that is perpetuated by their monopoly.”

HEAD worked closely with pro-CMA representatives during the enactment of the law.

According to PHAP, drug prices are high because of the costs of research and development. In their factbook, data show that it takes more than 15 years to develop new drugs, with expenses reaching as high as “one billion dollars.” A third of the expenditures are incurred in the clinical evaluations.

William Fabroa, Director PRO of the Philippine Chamber of the Pharmaceutical Industry, the local counterpart of PHAP and a supporter of CMA, has another story. He admitted that drug R&D is expensive, but whether local or multinational, all drug firms go through the same process.

That is, Filipino-owned companies also incur the same expenses as multinationals, but they can sell at much lower prices. He said multinational drug firms even have the advantage because they recoup their investments much faster because of market dominance. Despite this, they charge much higher prices for their products.

Asked, then, what the deciding factor in the difference of prices, Dr. Fabroa agrees with Dr. Rivera of HEAD. His answer is simple. He said, “Greed. That’s the only thing, greed.”

“When the multinationals entered our market with their patented products, they started with sky-high prices…We had no choice, because we had no drug industry then. We can’t even manufacture paracetamol…And they never reduced their prices even when the off-patents came, unlike in other countries,” he added.

The Work Begins

Recognizing such monopoly, CMA’s MRP provision is eyed as a potent weapon to truly reduce prices. Despite moves from multinationals to stop the signing of Executive Order 821 which will implement the MRP, the president nonetheless pushed for the reduction of 22 of the 647 essential drugs identified by DOH.

Dr. Fabroa said, competition cannot bring down the prices of the essential drugs because more than 400 are exclusively produced or marketed by multinationals. This means, they can set prices according to their whims. Here, monopoly is evident, and a price ceiling necessary.

Unfortunately, with only 22 drugs covered by the MRP and only around 200 influenced by competition, multinationals still have considerable leeway in the control of prices of the remaining 400 essential drugs.

Here, Rep. Satur Ocampo’s thrust for a nationalized drug industry gains ground. In a statement, he said, “we will continue to stress that we should not only focus on mere adjustments in the existing mechanisms. After all, the key to safe and affordable medicines is a nationalized drug industry based on willingness to serve the people and not just to satisfy the thirst for profit.”

Dr. Fabroa shares this vision and encourages support for local drug research and development. In the long run he said this will boost technology and give Filipino firms the capacity to produce more of the essential drugs to bring genuine competition in the market.

Regulation in an Imperfect Competition

The Filipino drug industry reflects imperfect competition that prevents market forces from truly reflecting market condition. This gives a limited number of players the freedom to impose prices without competition and outside the interaction of supply and demand.

In such a condition, regulation becomes a tool against monopoly. Even proponents of CMA, however, recognize the need for a long-term solution, which, unfortunately is beyond regulation. But at the moment, the MRP is doing Filipinos good-- it has reduced a number of medicines direly needed by the poorer sectors of society.

But the promise of accessible cheaper and quality medicines is still a work in progress.

When the rooftops come to life

When typhoon Ondoy dumped a month’s worth of rainwater in the country’s capital, it triggered widespread flooding that submerged as high as two-story structures.

Environmentalists say the capital may have been spared if less of its surface area had been covered with concrete. The soil and plants would have helped absorb the rainwater.

But poor planning and inefficient building designs made an Eden in the heart of Manila unlikely. That is until the “green roof” came to the country.

Watch a rusty roof come to life with lush vegetation. Turn a barren rooftop into a botanical wonder. Recycle rainwater for a sky garden. In a “green roof,” the traditional tile and galvanized iron roofing are no more. Instead, layers of rocks, soil and plants provide a living, breathing cover for buildings and homes.

The soil mixture and vegetation are integrated into the roof, turning the structure’s crown into a giant plant pot.

“The green roofs act like sponges. The vegetation and soil retain part of the rainwater so that the run-off will be less,” engineer John Leslie Regio from the University of the Philippines explained.

Regio said the only difference with green roof structures is the fortified frame carrying the weight of the soil, plants and rainwater.

Aside from flood-control, green roofs insulate buildings and regulate city temperatures by not trapping heat, absorbing carbon-dioxide and releasing oxygen. They provide habitat and rest spots for migratory birds and insects.

Just this June, Quezon City passed an ordinance granting tax exemptions to green roofed homes, and mandated new buildings to dedicate 30 percent of their rooftop to natural landscape.

Though still in its infancy, the omens look good for a green roof revolution in the country. Much of Manila’s surface area is covered in concrete, but no one said rooftops can’t come to life.