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Ateneo vs. SM

August 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Ateneo vs. SM

by: Harvey S. Keh

The Manila Times

http://www.manilatimes.net/index.php/opinion/5005-ateneo-vs-sm

LAST Friday, the Ateneo de Manila University community spearheaded a rally for good governance calling for the immediate revocation of the exemption given by Quezon City’s past city council to SM Development Corporation’s (SMDC) Blue Residence. The exemption gives the right to SMDC to build a 42-floor condominium unit at the intersection of Katipunan Avenue and Aurora Avenue. As far as zoning regulations are concerned, the maximum number of floors that SMDC can be allowed to construct would only be 24, the exemption gave the developer the right to almost double the amount of floors that is allowed by the zoning regulation.

I suspect that there was some exchange of “favors” that happened between SMDC and the past city council of Quezon City which was led by then Vice-Mayor Herbert Bautista. The exemption resolution was actually sponsored and pushed by former Quezon City councilors Ariel Inton and Victor Ferrer, Jr., who aren’t actually councilors coming from the 3rd district of Quezon City where the condominium project is currently on-going. I even heard a nasty rumor that some of the councilors who voted to support the resolution actually purchased condominium units since they received major discounts to the condominium units that were being sold. Are we now teaching our youth that if you have influence, the right connections and money, you can easily skirt around the law? Is this the good governance and righteous leadership that the present administration has promised?

Waste management and heavy traffic
Aside from the Ateneo community, Miriam College and the homeowners associations of Xavierville, Varsity Hills and La Vista are also joining the protest saying that such a major development would cause problems to the community. These problems include the water supply and waste management along the Loyola Heights area. Another major issue will be the traffic situation given the additional number of residents and cars that the condominium will bring. I regularly pass Katipunan Avenue on my way home and as it is during rush hours, one can easily get stuck in the horrendous traffic for almost an hour. I could just imagine how worse the traffic situation will be once the Blue residences start to be occupied by its homeowners.

I don’t think our good councilors in Quezon City saw the impact of the exemption that they were granting. Zoning regulations were made by urban planning experts for a reason and I don’t think the city council has the expertise to overturn these said regulations.

Along the Marikina fault line?
Another major concern that some of the stakeholders in the area have is that the development is being erected near the Marikina fault line. There is a reason why we don’t see high rise buildings being erected in Marikina or near Marikina since when a major earthquake occurs this can lead to a tragedy of epic proportions. If one would look at where the development is being constructed, its actually in the boundary of Marikina and Quezon City thus, one would have to wonder why SMDC and the previous city council would allow such as high rise building to be put up in a high risk area. Clearly, we are already seeing here that profit and greed are taking precedence over the well-being and safety of the community.

Are they really the good guys?
The SMDC prides itself in saying that they are the good guys but are they really? No public consultation was made by SMDC before they applied for their exemption which was given swiftly. Why? Because they—SMDC and the councilors— knew that the Loyola Heights community wouldn’t allow such an exemption to be granted. If ever they had some kind of public consultation, major stakeholders in the community such as Ateneo, Miriam and the homeowners associations weren’t invited or even informed that there was going to be such an activity.

Is this how responsible businesses act? I think the owners of the SM Group of Companies should know that corporate social responsibility isn’t just about giving scholarships to the poor and helping the elderly with hospital services but that it begins by being a good citizen and obeying the law. If they are really the good guys as their advertisements claim, it would be best for them to immediately stop the construction of their Blue residences and sit down with the Ateneo and other members of the Loyola Heights community to resolve this problem in the best possible way.

Political will
As for the present city council of Quezon City, I hope that it would have the political will to immediately work towards the revocation of the exemption which was given to SMDC. In fairness to Quezon City Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte, QC Rep. Bolet Banal and QC Councilor Allan Reyes, I should state here that all three of them have been at the forefront of trying to seek an amicable settlement between SMDC and the Loyola Heights community. I hope that in the end, we can all find a win-win solution not only for SMDC but most especially the community that will be most affected by this development.

This can only happen if SMDC would show good faith by stopping the on-going construction until this issue is resolved.

Comments are welcome at harveykeh@gmail.com

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Fr. Ben Nebres, S.J. – My mentor, my hero

March 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Ateneo de Manila University President Fr. Ben Nebres, S.J.

 

My mentor, my hero

by: Harvey S. Keh

The Manila Bulletin

http://www.mb.com.ph/articles/309085/my-mentor-my-hero

 

MANILA, Philippines — How do you transform a university into one of the premiere academic institutions in Asia while helping rebuild the future of a nation beset by rampant poverty, corruption and illiteracy?

Ask Fr. Ben. While he has always valued the need for academic excellence, he has always said that the true worth of an academic institution in a country where more than half of the population continues to live in poverty is measured by the amount of impact it will have towards changing the lives of the poor and powerless.

Thus, it was no surprise that Fr. Ben has dedicated much of his time in working towards the improvement of the public school system and in working with Gawad Kalinga towards the provision of shelter for many homeless Filipino families.

During his talks, he has always cited the Nobel prize winning economist Amartya Sen in saying that the only way for Third World countries such as the Philippines to move out of poverty is to improve its public education and public health systems.

Fr. Ben has taken these words to heart and in the last 10 years, he has been instrumental towards the establishment of several successful non-profit organizations that have helped rebuild and improve our public education system.

One of these organizations is Pathways to Higher Education-Philippines which I co-founded with him and Dr. Milwida Guevara in 2002. Pathways aims to help academically-gifted but financially disadvantaged students enter college and finish their college education.

Many people fail to realize that I was only 23 years old when I started Pathways and it was the constant guidance and mentoring of Fr. Ben that helped me run the organization towards helping hundreds of public school students all over the country gain better opportunities of attaining a brighter future.

Even before Pathways, Fr. Ben had already established the Ateneo Center for Educational Development (ACED), an institution that helps empower and train different stakeholders in the field of public education towards the improvement in the performance of public elementary school students.

Since its establishment in 1998, ACED has provided training to thousands of public school teachers and principals from all over the Philippines.

One of the more inspiring success stories of ACED happened recently when one of its pilot schools, Payatas B Elementary School, went from being in the bottom 10 of Quezon City public schools to being in the Top 20 in just a year. According to Fr. Ben, this big leap can be attributed to the concerted efforts of the community such as the parents and the barangay leaders to actively participate in the improvement of public elementary school.

Now, he has decided to tackle the growing problem of malnutrition among school children in Quezon City where he has launched a feeding program together with the local government towards addressing underweight children. Fr. Ben shares that this is a very important initiative since one of the main reasons for the high drop-out rate is our children’s poor health due to their lack of nutritious food to eat at home.

He never seems to run out of good ideas and energy when it comes to helping the poor. I am sure that as he retires from being our University President, he will now have more time to focus on ensuring that all these worthwhile initiatives will continue to grow and help more Filipinos in need.

HOLDING OUT FOR A HERO

As I grew up my heroes evolved from the usual Superman, Spiderman and Batman to basketball superstars such as Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant to national leaders such as Ninoy and Cory Aquino, Jesse Robredo, Grace Padaca and Among Ed Panlilio. I realized that all of them have one thing in common, they are all ordinary people like you and me that have decided to go beyond themselves to promote and fight for something good which is often larger than life.

Heroes are people whom we look up to as bearers of hope in times of trouble and despair. When all else is lost, we look up to these extraordinary people to inspire us to believe that anything is possible if only we believe in ourselves.

Fr. Ben decided that he wanted to make it his mission to build the nation and despite the many challenges that he has faced through the years, he has emerged victorious. More importantly, he has restored hope to many less privileged Filipinos who have been neglected by our leaders through the years. Truly, the Ateneo community and the Filipino people are blessed to have a modern-day Filipino hero in Fr. Ben.

Harvey S. Keh is co-founder of Pathways to Higher Education-Philippines and AHON Foundation.

Comments are welcome at harveykeh@gmail.com