Dreams, Optimism, Wisdom


Erle Frayne Argonza

From our esteem neighbor Indonesia comes a very heartwarming news about enabling its e-learning programs for (a) the small & medium enterprises and (b) youth. E-learning is not new to Indonesia nor to any of the 10-member states of ASEAN, though there are admittedly certain sectors where the technology divide is still a reality.

Taiwan’s stakeholders entered the scene as co-partners with the Indonesian stakeholders to fast-track the e-learning services and bridge the digital divide in the sectors concerned.

Below is the news caption about the e-learning project.

[28 August 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to SciDev database news.]


Indonesia profits from Taiwan e-learning scheme

Ella Syafputri

12 August 2008 | EN

Indonesian students are among those benefiting from the scheme


[JAKARTA] Indonesian students, businesses and government officials are benefiting from a Taiwanese scheme to bridge the digital divide in developing countries.

Some 3,500 people and businesses have been trained in six e-learning centres sponsored by the Taiwan government in three Indonesian cities: Bandung, Jakarta and Yogyakarta.

The programme of transferable ICT skills has proven to be useful for participants, says Lester Leu, deputy director at the economic division of the Taiwan Economy and Trade Office (TETO).

“After taking part in e-learning programmes, some students and small and medium enterprises [SMEs] start to access technology and get better life opportunities. Many students and SMEs immediately set up e-commerce both for domestic and international markets,” Lester told SciDev.Net.

Lester said Taiwan started establishing the centres in 2006 and the work was finished by May 2008.

“The centres aim to bridge the digital divide as well as enhance ICT capabilities in Indonesia. Some specialisations occur in e-learning centres, such as increasing access for women, SMEs or children,” he says.

Lester says the programme has been particularly beneficial for participants from poorer communities, and the centres train high school teachers so they can pass on the skills to a larger number of people.

“Every year, we invite ICT experts from Indonesia to Taiwan to exchange experience and competencies. There is an annual local competition in e-commerce utilisation and the winners are invited to Taiwan as well,” he adds.

By the end of this year, Taiwan expects to have opened 41 e-learning centres in seven developing countries — Chile, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam — under a programme approved by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

The Taiwan government proposed the APEC Digital Opportunity Center (ADOC) initiative during the 2003 APEC leadership summit in Thailand, with the goal of using Taiwan’s advanced ICT experience to assist other APEC member states in upgrading their technology capacities.

Lester hopes there will be a second phase of the initiative, with centres built in more Indonesian cities. It is due to be discussed in ADOC Week 2008, set for 29 September–4 October in Taipei.



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

[Writ 07 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Writer was former Livelihood Coordinator of the Ministry of Human Settlements, PAC Gonzaga, from July 1981-June 1982. In Jan. 82 he was designated Acting Deputy Provincial Manager, concurrent with the livelihood post.]

Let me go through with my continuing journey as a young development professional, and transport you this time to the town of coastal town of Ballesteros in Cagayan. This town is famous for its crustaceans, notably crabs and lobsters. Let me stress here that the crabs and lobsters were huge by size compared to the ordinary, making them worth writing.

In the last quarter of 1982 my agency then, the MHS, finally recruited, trained and deployed Municipal Staff Assistants or MSAs. It was a great relief to acquire the “new kids on the block”, as it lifted so many burdens from us provincial staff, both technical and communicative (information dissemination of the KKK). From Ballesteros came this lanky young male staff (name now escapes my memory), with long ‘babalo’ chin. He was a no mean staff, to recall.

Mr. Bubbles (that’s how I jokingly call ‘babalo’ long chin folks) brought to my attention right away the huge potentiality of expanding crustacean production in his town. Unfazed by his rather dynamic explanation, who was almost gyrating like Elvis Presley during his presentation, I arranged for some consultations with fish farmers there (crustacean producers who operated onshore) as well as municipal fishers (who operated offshore). I simply wished to verify what my staff had reported to me then.

I found out that my staff did presented information in as truthful a manner as possible, verifying every millimeter of his report to the dot. I then arranged a visitation to the coastal area to see for myself what things were in there. To my own shock (I do get this feeling in the field at times), I realized that their ‘gears’ for fish farming was appallingly primitive (hmmm this is what I got for being an acculturated Big City boy in Manila: culture shock at local life). They used guava twigs that were planted below the sea level, after which the fish farmers would pick them up, with the ‘victims’ riding on the twigs.

As usual, my team’s task was to conceptualize what innovation to introduce there. That’s why our job is called ‘development’. To recoup from my initial shock (I really had to criticize myself silently), I quickly arranged for consultations with the technical staff of the BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries & Aquatic Resources) who became our constant partners in the area (they were so elated at our arrival there), as well as the professors of the Cagayan State University (CSU) –Gonzaga branch (agriculture & fisheries campus). From the consultations and research of my staff, we pieced up information about the techno-component that would be simple to operate and utilize local resources for inputs.

Since we already had municipal fishing with bagoong making in Gonzaga, my team, with the nod of our BFAR partners, decided to focus crustacean fish farming in Ballesteros. So we had this double task of convincing the municipal fishers in the town to sideline as fish farmers if they wish to benefit from the KKK enterprise finance program there.

Our simple innovation introduced to them was the ‘fish cage’, or ‘crustacean trap’. It was made of wooden and tree branches, with grill-fashioned openings to let the smaller crabs & lobsters get in, where they’d stay and feed. As soon as they grew in size, it was difficult for them to go out if at all (experiments have shown they don’t go out as they acclimatize to the domicile). Simple indeed, but so sensible as it increased the yield of the marine farmers.

We also had to convince the fish farmers to apply as individual proponents. The parameters in the area were different from that of neighbor Gonzaga where offshore fishing was the primary engagement. It was more fruitful if each individual would work on his ‘crustacean yard’ (by the sea), though collectively they would have to secure the area together (there are always thieves everywhere, remember).

Project approval was fast for this one. I don’t recall now the exact figures per project. But my recall is sharp regarding the approval, financing, re-training of fish farmers, take-off, and the most important: taste of the final result. The lobsters and crabs using the traps were even larger than the previous pre-trap days! I’m sure you’d agree with me that these crustaceans warm up the heart and brighten your day when you see, feel and taste them.



Erle Frayne Argonza

Tuna sandwich, tuna adobo, grilled tuna, and more tuna. We’re surely a happy people here in the islands, based on Asian researches showing that in fact we’re the happiest people. I’d say tuna is among those fauna that satiates our appetites and make us happily fulfilled.

In case you fellows would want to know what gears are used to catch tuna—that would not damage the environment nor the infantile tuna—let this be told. Muro ami and purse seiners are still in among some commercial fishers here, but these are stoned aged gears. The purse seiners scrape the coral reefs below sometimes, thus damaging the spawning areas of fishes. Muro ami exploits children who are used with the gear, and threaten their very lives.

In the early 1980s, as a junior executive then with the Ministry of Human Settlements, I had the opportunity to eco-scan the offshore areas of Cagayan, with fisheries experts and investors tugged along. Among the enthused investors were the executives connected with Dr. Edward Litton who was at one time the richest man in RP (he owned Litton Mills, and was into food exports). I also had at some times interacted with the billionaire himself, in his Wac-Wac home in Mandaluyong City (Manila).

What caught my attention then was the opening salvo of new technologies to catch, store, pack and retail tuna without the damaging effects of the stone age gears. At that time, the Long Line Tuna equipment was freshly released, and our neighbor Taiwan was producing the gears in mass scales. It cost P1 M then to purchase a long line tuna which comes with the big boat, the long line, sashimi-grade storage, and packing. That is roughly P18 Million today.

If one would add at least four (4) months of working capital, the funding requirement for a Long Line Tuna Project would cost P1.5 Million in 1982, or roughly P27 Million today. Former executives of Dr. Litton, namely Atty. Pefianco and Efren de Castro, put up their own trading firm, and was the proponent of a start-up project funded under the Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran or KKK. Their company though, the EFCI, had joint undertakings with the old boss, Dr. Edward.

The gear surely fascinated me. It didn’t use nets, but rather a long line that could stretch to 7 kilometers long. Using floaters, the long line would be situated just above water, with the hooks containing tuna feedlots just a few feet below the waters. Upon hauling a catch, the tuna is pre-processed right away, cleaned and pre-cut to large sizes, and stored as sashimi-grade products in the built-in refrigeration. The gear could go out to sea for days, at most for four (4) weeks assuming that provisions would be complete.

Another news that fascinated me then was that over 3 Million tons of tuna—that traverse the Pacific towards Taiwan and Japan—die every year due to old age. It means no one is catching them, so they simply die naturally. The point is, why not catch them en masse, catch even just a few thousands of tons? The byline worked, I was convinced of the production side to the project, and I had it be endorsed for approval in late 1982. Loan requested then was P1 Million, with the rest declared as equity.

The fish boat of the long line tuna gear was at that time already the automatic steering type. It was programmable in such a way that, all by itself, it can sense blockages along the way (eg. rock formations, small islets, vessels) and avoid them by re-routing, before it traverses the same path programmed for it. Amazing gears!

Today we could just imagine how the gears for catching tuna and game fish, the real large ones, could have evolved. Great catchers can use the usual fish line to catch a bull as large as 300 kilograms, such as my sibling Emerald who is an expert on game fishing. In Mexico, the Tuna Cage is now in operation, where cages are used to trap baby tunas that are then raised in the same cages placed just below the sea, under the fish boat.

As a development official then, and even after that (as private person), I found it wonderful to go out with fisherfolks for the early morning catch. I can never forget the experiences in Cagayan, Quezon and Batanes in particular. Privately, in California, I’d go out with sibling, bringing along our family speed boat there that also dabbles out as fishing vessel. It was really fun, learning, and thrill altogether.  

[Writ 06 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]



Erle Frayne Argonza y Delago


[Writ 04 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]


As I went around Batan Island, Batanes province’s main isle that contains the capital Basco and the domestic airport, for the 1st time in 1981, I immediately scheduled visits to the Mayors of Mahatoa, Ivana and Uyugan towns. I heard from my kins, the Basco Mayor Castillejos included, and staff that these towns still practiced consuming ‘sweet potato’ and ‘gabi roots’ as staples. Prior to that, I saw with my own eyes the huge bulbs of garlic that dwarfed the golf-sized ‘native’ varieties we had in the ‘mainland’ (Luzon). I told myself I can’t miss out on this opportunity to biz-track the root crops of Batanes.


I was then livelihood coordinator of the Ministry of Human Settlements for Northern Cagayan & Batanes in the 2nd semester of 1981, so I had the mandate to do development tasks for this paradise island. So enchanting was this province that I literally experienced heart pains whenever I left Basco back for Tuguegarao and Gonzaga in Cagayan where my official headquarters were located. Part of the enchantment was the wonderful root crops there: sweet potato (kamote roots), gabi roots, garlic, onion, and ginger.


Right away, upon arriving at Mahatao town hall, the lady mayor served my team fried sweet potatoes that were sliced so thin they would pass for some manufactured sweet potato chips. The lunch came, and there went out the boiled sweet potato, served alongside the viands. Lunch was also served with the wonder wine made from sugar called palec. No rice was served at all.


After lunch we visited farm lands planted with the root crops. I was amazed to see farms planted in the old biodiversity way rather than the nutrient-damaging monocrop system. All the root crops mentioned here co-existed in plots as small as half a hectare. The small planters than informed me that they were interested in increasing the volume of production and explored marketing some products to the ‘mainland’. They needed some fresh funds to increase the land area (via purchase), install good storage facilities, and working capital for farm inputs and marketing expenses later.


I was then motored to Ivana town after that, and lastly to Uyugan (hmmm am I right in my ordering?). Traversing these towns was via an asphalted road at the periphery of the islands, and overlooking the sea below. To your left are the stone houses of Batan, much like those of the isle of Capri in Italy. Herds of Brahman cows and carabaos could also be seen, consuming the luscious verdant pastures of the rolling hills. Perfectly idyllic! Splendid! …I heard practically the same things from the small planters there, about the need to expand production.


That is, the prototype ‘root crops project’ there would turn planters from subsistence producers to commercial producers, turn them into agro-businessmen. Seeing that the planters knew what they were aiming at and how to achieve it, save for writing the technical papers (biz plans, proposals) and processing them, I “jumped the gun” pronto and declared that for the whole of Batanes (including the other isles of Sabtang and Itbayat that was nearer Taiwan than Batan) will have root crops production as priority investments for state assistance.


As soon as I convened the new Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran Secretariat there (I was already the deputy provincial manager-designate), I put on the top agenda that root crops and indigenous crafts of the island shall be preserved, not only as part of the development program there but also because the products and crafts are part of the national heritage. Anticipating the ‘green revolution’ in Batanes then, I also put on the agenda of the core Provincial Development Council the fast-tracking of electrification and wharf expansion, and the acquisition by Batanes of its own maritime ship that will enable trade expansion by leaps and bounds.


With only a year to operate in Batanes, I did everything I can to see to it that the development principles and targets I initiated there will take off at least, sensing that I might be re-assigned (promotions for this young technocrat was dizzyingly rapid). P500,000 worth of root crops projects alone, owned by small planters, were approved in early 1982, during my watch (that’s P10 Million today). Couples of millions more worth of projects were on the pipeline. Happily, when these projects took off, the National Electrification Administration team arrived, installing at last the long awaited electrification facilities in Batan.


Finally, let this be stressed strongly, I moved for the retention of the biodiversity practices in Batan. With ‘ecology balance’ among my agency’s priority agenda, I had sufficient weapon to support biodiversity rather than shift the planters to mono-cropping that sadly sapped out soil nutrients in ‘mainland Philippines’ since their inception during the time yet of Spanish Governor General Basco (1700s).


Every time I left Basco back for Tuguegarao then, I also had on hand more than a kilogram of garlic, sometimes with onions and ginger. I was so proud of the garlic that I always brought a few samples to show to my kins and fellow state officials in the ‘mainland’. The same variety now is cultivated in many regions of the country. But Batanes’ cutting edge is fully recognized: garlic & rootcrops here were planted in the sole paradise islands of the north. Ipso facto, they are root crops that enchant too, like their mother soil.



Erle Frayne D. Argonza


[Writ 01 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]


Samurais in Tuguearao! That must be a farfetched chimera, but truly in this capital town of Cagayan province (Northern Philippines) is located a village of cottage industries run and managed by marginal artisans. Their chief craft was, and remains to be that of bladed metal works.


I was pretty busy scouring for bankable projects in my own hometown (my basic education years were spent in Tuguegarao) as early as 1981 when news came to me that a certain group of Larion craftsmen desired to bolt away from their tradition and diversify into hmmm samurai swords. Already a junior executive of the Ministry of Human Settlements after barely out of college, I had the luck of having among my personnel a driver who was bona fide resident of Larion village (barrio was the term then).


The driver (Rolando Tumpalan), an Ilocano like all of his neighbors in Larion, was very vivid in his presentation to me one day of the plan of his neighbors to diversify into samurai swords and accessories. I knew since childhood that Larion produced bolos and knives, made from cast iron scraps, even as my own family abode possessed couples of the same products. But to say of samurai swords, well, my encyclopedia set was telling me that the original thing was made of a specially forged steel alloy. Besides, I knew by then that samurai craft (it was home industry in Japan) was dying if not dead already. Japanese considered themselves as Western people and had nothing to do with seemingly phoney items from their past, including kimonos and samurai blades.


Before some Larion guys might be playing tricks on me, I summoned my operations manager (Mia Calimag) and Livelihood Coordinator (Bong) to immediately set a rendezvous between the regional director of the National Cottage Industry or NACIDA (name now escapes my memory) and myself, with our technical staff around. The NACIDA was one of our partner agencies in implementing the KKK and was already in operations way ahead of us in the region (my agency was regionalized only in mid-1981).


Well, thanks to this magnanimous NACIDA official, he came right to my office, breaking protocol by visiting the office of an erstwhile official of lower rank. We than set our joint agenda and modus operandi first of all, updated each other about initial enterprise support operations of our respective agencies, and determined whether the Larion metalworkers were worth supporting. To my own surprise, this director (quite a fat guy but very intelligent) was very enthusiastic about the samurai project.


This being so, we immediately arranged for a visit to the proposed project site in Larion, had a chat with the officials of the cooperative (the coop served as beneficiary), inspected their facilities, and then delivered pep talks to the members. We were then shown models of the proxy swords produced by them, and wow! My eyes almost popped out of wonderment. The products were splendid! The intended captive market was the tourists, with domestic tourist resorts and trade exhibit sites serving as primary forward linkages.


The funding support from the KKK (Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran) was needed to procure extra machines (metal lathe included), mini-furnace, increase the volume of raw materials (steel scraps), improve the storage area, hiring marketing & sales staff, re-train the artisans, and for around three (3) months of working capital. Funding level was past P0.5 Million, with approval done merely at our regional level (past the P1 Million it has to go to central office).


The Larion coop members were very elated over the support shown by us state officials over their venture. Such an elation would extend throughout the processing of their documents and pre-operational trainings, and on through their appearances in some KKK Recognition Days (held once a month).


The project did take off and operate successfully, and made the name of Larion blade makers shine brightly beyond their previous marginal state. It’s now over a quarter of a decade since that project commenced, and I wish the Larion samurais had graduated to global standards in any way.



Bro. Erle Frayne D. Argonza

[Writ 01 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]

Hi Fellows! Kumusta kayo! (How are you doing!)


You may wonder how a man, convicted for murder and imprisoned for a long period, possessing just a single arm (he was amputated of his left arm), would survive life after prison. This is the success story of a man from Solana town, Cagayan province (northern Philippines), whose name now escapes my memory when I met him in 1982.


Solana is a new town carved out of its mother town, the capital town Tuguegarao, and lies just across the mighty Cagayan River from the capital town. 700,000 years ago mammoths roamed this area, whose remains, including those of Paleolithic man, were freshly discovered by anthropologists in the 1990s. This town could very well be the ‘cradle of mankind’ in Southeast Asia, who knows?


But among those news that enlivened the quite sleepy town in 1982 was about its scion, whom I’d call Asyong here. Freshly out of prison, possessing nary a thing but a few clothes, he “jumped the gun” right away and took on the challenge of heading towards a successful middle income life, minus his left hand. His town was notorious for producing Jesse James-type assassins, and without him telling me what he did then, I knew he was a dreaded Jesse James (besides my staff whispered the fact to me hmmm).


He was morbidly repentant of what he did in the past though, as I can see in his face and aura (I was already a spiritual seeker than and had started doing yoga meditation). I was the designated Deputy Provincial Manager of the Ministry of Human Settlements for Cagayan, and here was this man whom I thought was bankable and would fit our search for human interest stories of our livelihood program (funded through the Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran or KKK). I was also dabbling as concurrent Regional PR Manager, edited our KKK newsletter, was on radio every Saturday of the week for livelihood talks, and here was this petite but dangerous artisan of murder who now wanted to mutate into a genuine artisan of a preferred craft.


Dangling behind his back was a handbag containing a bulging thing. And were it not that one knows his real intention for coming, the bulging thing might be suspected for a caliber 45 hand gun. It turned out to be his model of his craft that he learned inside the Muntinlupa correctional (prison), a transparent 750 gin bottle that now contained inside it a replica of a house surrounded by a mini-garden. It was beautiful! How did this one-armed jack ever do the trick? Well it was no trick but craft, serious craft.


Selling for a mere P35 apiece then, I immediately ordered for three (3) pieces, one would be mine while the two others would be for gift items. I also did the peddling within my office by urgently meeting my staff and informing them of the product, while the Livelihood Coordinator and his assistants did the selling for this humble and short man (he must have  been mid 40s then). After hearing his sad travail, I instructed my staff to prioritize this beneficiary, and expected the business plan be done in a couple of weeks or less. His project will be funded pronto upon completion of the biz plan and fast-track training.


Just by viewing the esthetics of the prototype, I was convinced that the product will sell. That was all I needed to establish: the marketability. The rest would be marketing strategy, branding, and packaging. With my good staff behind me to prepare the business plan, it did turn out in the cash flow and income statements that the project was highly feasible. Seeing the bullish biz mien of the proponent himself, it didn’t take long before my staff would complete his training so he and his assistants (he had apprentices) could handle the organizational, financial and marketing aspects fairly well.


The project, funded again through the KKK, did take off not soon after my first encounter with this reformed ex-con. In couples of KKK Recognition Days (we held one every month), I requested this beneficiary to be around so he could be duly recognized. In some occasions I also requested him to do some talks before the audience, which he shyly complied with.


So  Fellows, from mammoths and Paleolithic Man to ex-con producing wonderful craft, this town of Solana had it in the 1980s. It’s worth visiting, this town, which now has tour resorts, and hopefully that man (he must be early 70s if he were still alive today) had more than amply exhibited to his town-mates the true way of the Solana Man: a harbinger of civilization. 



Bro. Erle Frayne D. Argonza

[Writ 12 April 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. The author was a former young executive of the Ministry of Human Settlements for Cagayan and Batanes provinces and for Cagayan Valley. ]

Financing micro-enterprise has now come a long way in the Philippines. And there is much cause for jubilation regarding this particular feat.

I myself began my professional career in enterprise finance, as a young livelihood supervisor with the defunct Ministry of Human Settlements. Our funds sources for development financing then were from three sources: (a) Human Settlements Development Corporation or HSDC; (b) Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran or KKK (roughly, National Livelihood Movement); and, (c) BLISS Program, for those BLISS housing site-related projects. That was in the early 1980s, and we were quite awash with funds then.

With quite a huge war chest for our projects, we sat down in no time at all around the 2nd quarter of 1981 to plan the compass of operations for the newly launched program, the National Livelihood Movement. It took us around two (2) months to do planning internally, after which we took another couple of months to dialogue with other state agencies and procure their own co-operation and partnering with us regarding the project prototypes and modules.

Among those projects that we identified pronto were those simple micro-enterprises that would easily buy with the folks. Our projects though went beyond the micro-finance, as we were mandated to fund huge projects via the HSDC program. I was with the Cagayan Valley team then, and was transferred from community development to livelihood program just so that I can focus my tasks of taking off the new KKK program in my areas of jurisdiction.

I recall very well how reluctant were the folks in accessing to financing. That was a time when the Philippine economy was still 50% rural, and the psyche of the folks was strongly of the peasant-rural artisan type. They couldn’t easily identify with new ideas, even as they get suspicious over them, as the failures of previous programs (e.g. Masagana 99 for rice) have transmogrified them into shy turtles whenever enterprise financing comes. Besides, they weren’t that confident that they could run their own projects competently.

Given that rural background of the folks, our project teams prioritized food production-related concerns, as well as crafts that were more or less backward or forward linkages of food production. To name a few project modules that we developed and successfully funded via the KKK: garlic production (1-1.5 hectares); citrus orchard (5-10 hectares); goat raising (10-heads); draft carabao (1-head buffalo); onion production; bagoong production (backyard, jar-crucible). The total list of enterprises actually went beyond 100 in Cagayan and Batanes alone, where I was primarily assigned. I’m citing only the micro, individual beneficiary-operated projects here.

Because the program was new, we had to undertake a social marketing campaign by informing not only the people but also our partner agencies. The latter were particularly very helpful in our efforts at capacity-building, both for our development implementers and beneficiaries. The financial delivery system also had to be oiled well, as this involved co-partnering with state banks that acted as fund repositories and co-evaluators. It was a success as a whole, amid the gaps in the initial implementations.

That was a long time ago now. The KKK is still alive as an institution today, many other micro-finance institutions have already cropped up including NGOs, and the central bank already entered the arena for regulatory and wholesale funding purposes. The old informal micro-financing, via the 5/6 scheme now has to retool or repackage their financing, as they have been perceived as economic barnacles and have to compete with the formal institutions for beneficiary loyalty.  

The great thing with micro-finance is that not only does it save the petty commodity producer from poverty. As the case of the early 80s had shown, the KKK and related programs were instrumental in cushioning the impact of global recession and the internal shock caused by Dewey Dee scandal that sent down the economy like a sinking boat.

When a strategy such as microfinance can save the boat both on the micro and macro levels, it can indeed be a very strong strategy for national salvation. And this is where our jubilation comes in.

Mabuhay! A toast to micro-finance!