Learning From History; Four Steps For Our Social Movements in the Philippines to Succeed

There is a lot of anger in the Philippines right now. Protests grow on the streets and both sides throw anger, hatred, and sarcastic memes at each other. Whichever side you’re on, one thing is for sure: the War on Drugs will come to define this period in Philippine history.

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It’s easy to get sucked into the petty arguments and social media comments, easy to get angry with people from both sides who “just don’t get it”. It’s easy to get sucked into the details of every new scandal and lose sight of the long-term goal. So I wanted to take a step back for a while and learn from history. What can everyone do, on all sides, so we can break the cycle of anger and hate and together create a better Philippines?

Step 1: Breaking the Cycle of Anger and Hate

roosevelt quote.jpgThroughout the country, people are angry. People from all sides of the War on Drugs are angry about what is happening in the Philippines. In Change the World Without Taking Power, John Holloway writes how every social movement starts with a scream. The deep feeling something isn’t right, the scream that shouts enough is enough.

So first we must realise that everyone is in pain. People protesting on the streets now are angry and hurt about the lack of accountability for police. They are screaming. And it was a scream that swept President Duterte into power in the first place. Millions of people felt hurt, frustrated, and angry. Real problems went unmet while the pork barrel, ‘laglag bala’, and other scandals were dealt with poorly. For all the economic gains and some of the objective progress of the previous administration, they failed to show people they care.

Duterte showed he cared. People didn’t vote for Duterte because they’re stupid, as some people say, they voted for him because they were angry and no other leader offered a solution to that.

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Does that mean we shouldn’t be angry when a 17 year old boy is killed by police? Should we remain silent when addiction and drugs are serious problems in the Philippines? Of course not. But the way we react determines whether we can move beyond the scream and build a real social movement, or not.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl writes how the only thing we really control is our own reaction. Written about his experiences of the Holocaust, it is a stark and brave read. Frankl writes how other people can control what you do, where you go, and even if you live or die. But no-one can control your attitude; it is the only thing that truly remains our own.

Such self-control takes sacrifice. First we must sacrifice our ego. If someone insults us our natural response is to demand retribution, but we know an eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind. If we want to create a world where everyone can see, we must break the cycle of anger and hate, we must return hate with love, return anger with kindness.

How do we do that?

Step 2: Show People You Care


In Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahnemann explains how the first part of our brains to evolve was the limbic system. This is the seat of our emotions, feelings, and instincts. Thousands of years ago, if we were startled by a rustle in the bushes, this system would spring into action and make us run away from the perceived danger. It kept us safe. During these moments our thoughts are overwhelmed by a small part of the brain called the amygdala, the seat of our emotion and memory, in what is called an amygdala hijack.

The ability for our emotions to effectively shut down our thinking process is useful when we are in genuine danger. If we stood around wondering what the rustle in the bushes was, we were far more likely to be eaten by a predator. Of course sometimes we end up running away from squirrels.

That we process our world through an emotional lens, that information is processed in our emotional brain (limbic system) before our thinking brain (neocortex), means we still do not do well at distinguishing between threats. Whether we are faced with a predator or a group of angry people marching down the street, our brain process these powerful signals in much the same way. Our emotions block most of our rational thoughts. This literally narrows our vision, as studies show when feeling such powerful emotions our vision narrows, we process only the information relevant to our fight or flight, and we miss many opportunities around us.

This is why many protests are futile. Not because the facts, figures, and arguments are wrong, not even because the cause they march for is wrong, but because of how they are presented. Shouting against something can only reach people who are already on their side, because we only listen to what someone has to say after we feel emotionally safe with them.

So how do we reach across and win people from the other side?

Step 3: Inspire With a Better Future

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The Civil Rights Movement started with a scream. More specifically it started with the scream of millions of people who had suffered horrible injustices for centuries. It became an effective movement when individuals, families, and entire communities rallied for something. They shared their experiences and their screams, but they went beyond that and fought for a dream; racial equality, the right to vote, recognition as human beings.

As Simon Sinek writes in Start With Why, a quarter of a million people did not march to Washington to hear Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders speak. They traveled because of what they believed; they traveled because they had their own hopes, their own dreams. Dr. King spoke then, as he did on many other occasions, of a world where his children would be judged by the content of their character, not the colour of their skin. He spoke of black children and white children playing together as brothers and sisters. “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

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Every social movement needs to win people over from the other side. If Dr. King only fought against racism, if he and many other great leaders had only called out the injustices of the system, they would have only reached the people who already believed what they believed. They could only preach to the choir.

Of course, uncomfortable truths do need to be told. As King wrote in a Birmingham Jail, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” But to win people over we must get them to believe what we believe. King used the religious language of the time to frame all people as brothers and sisters. And for all the injustice black families had suffered, King was not demanding retribution, he was demanding they too be part of the family. That they too get a seat at the table, not that they replace someone in their seat. They presented a dream all people could get behind.

Not everyone will get behind the dream, of course, and there are still huge race problems in the United States. But this advice is key for all sides if we are to improve things. To say we are ‘anti-drugs’, or to proclaim a ‘War on Drugs’, is a recipe for failure. As President Duterte himself said, “Hindi makaya nga ng iba, tayo pa kaya? Iyong drugs na iyan (Others can’t do it. How can we? Those drugs), we can’t control it”. In part this is due to the negative framing of the problem. Duterte is right, the anti-drugs programs of other countries did not work. ‘Say no to drugs’ has never worked. Only a positive framing of the problem has ever succeeded; a better understanding of what drugs are and how we can control addiction.

So how do we make this dream come true?

Step 4: Give… and Keep Giving

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In Give and Take, Adam Grant writes about how our behaviour affects those around us. Freecycle, for example, is a website where people can offer things they no longer need for free. People literally give their stuff away for free. They could sell it online and make money, but they don’t. They choose to give it away. This isn’t rational behaviour from an economic point of view. But on a social level it makes perfect sense.

People reciprocate. Grant writes that when one person gives they send a signal to other people that primes them to give more too. When one person receives a kindness, they are more likely to do a kindness to others. This is why even those who visit Freecycle with the intention of getting free stuff are more likely to later give something back to someone else. A virtuous cycle is born.

Daniel Goleman, the founder of Emotional Intelligence, talks about how when passing someone on the street, who is lying on the floor in obvious pain, most people walk on by. Most people ignore the man, so the next person walking by is primed to do the same. But if just one person stops to help they break the cycle and other people quickly join in. On average if you stop to help a stranger on the street, six more people will stop and help too. One person’s compassion primes compassion in others.

Our behaviours are contagious. The positive side of this is caring and helping become a social act. The more we care, the more we give, the more others around us start to care and give too. Many people won’t respond by giving and sharing and loving immediately, but if we continue to give, to share, and to love they will eventually respond in kind more than before.

Creating a Virtuous Cycle

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So while there is so much more that could be said, and so much more that could be done, here are a just a few practical steps for how we can bring this all together in the hope of making lasting social change.

  • When you give your attention to something you give it power. Choose what you empower wisely. Our brains are wired to scan for threats, things that make us angry, and this is one of the reasons anger dominates social media. We are prompted to act on anger. Ignore the troll and we can stop adding fuel to the fire.
  • There is always something good to draw attention to, we can always replace the negative with the positive. By scanning the world for the positives and consciously choosing to share the good, we retrain our brain to be happier. This also, happily, makes us better at what we do. The ideal ratio? At least 3 positives for every negative (known as the Losada Line) and people feel emotionally safe with the feedback.
  • Standing up for something is important. But how we stand up is just as important. If we adopt a fighting stance, we signal to others we will attack. We are a threat. This is why the non-violence of King, Gandhi, Tolstoy, and others was so important, and so effective. When we signal that we care, that we demand justice but that we are not a personal threat to you, we can win over people to our cause.
  • Is our protest fighting against something, or does it show a positive vision? We are not anti-drugs, we are for a healthier society. We are not anti-extra judicial killings, we are for- a better justice system. When we re-frame the debate the potential is greater, but we have to answer hard questions. What is a healthier world? What is a better justice system? What are we really fighting for? When we can answer these questions, we have the power to create a movement, not just an event.



What’s the Real Story About Payatas Dumpsite Closing? 3 Things They’re Not Telling You…

Payatas Dumpsite is closing. Politicians have talked about closing the dumpsite every year for the last 20-30 years, but now it is more than words. It looks very likely to happen. Maybe not this year, as is being reported, but soon.

This will affect everyone in Metro Manila. It affects our money (taxes pay for garbage disposal and maintenance), our time (inefficiencies in the system right now drain thousands of hours), and our health and environment (the effect it has on climate change and proximity to Manila’s drinking water).

This is certainly a complex issue. Everyone involved, from Payatas residents to local government officials, have inherited a mess of problems from previous generations. However the only voices being heard are from government officials and dumpsite operators, and news reports like this, or this are not telling the whole truth.

So here’s three things they’re not telling you about Payatas Dumpsite closing.

1) The dumpsite in Payatas is not a sanitary landfill. It is a mountain of trash. 

Picture taken August 4, 2017. The grass in view is a thin layer of grass placed on top of a mountain of garbage the same as the top half of the dumpsite in view.

Despite the best efforts of local politicians and dumpsite operators to get this phrase into every media article possible, it is obvious from once glance that this is not a “sanitary landfill”. It is neither sanitary, nor a landfill. A sanitary landfill is a hole in the ground, chemically treated and separated from society. This is layers of trash dumped on top of more trash to make a mountain of garbage. It is a dumpsite.

Why is it important what we call it?

Only a few people are controlling the narrative right now, and reporters are still letting them. By calling the dumpsite something it is clearly not, they are trying to say our garbage system, as well as life in Payatas, is better than it really is. In 2000, the dumpsite collapsed and killed hundreds of people (officially 218 died in the trashslide, unofficially closer to 1,000 died according to research and eye-witness testimony). The poor management of the dumpsite was responsible for all of these deaths. And while some things have improved since then, many have not.

This past week the dumpsite has been closed because of another trashslide (also not being reported). This latest trashslide was nowhere near as big as the one in 2000 and as far as I’m aware it didn’t kill anyone. This is an improvement, for sure, and those who helped improve the situation should get credit for that. But there is still a dangerous and expensive heaping pile of garbage. Symptoms have been improved, small steps have been made, but the garbage system in Metro Manila, in general, is still unsafe and unsustainable, and quality of life for people in Payatas, in particular, is still very poor.

It also shows the problem in how everyone else hears about this issue. Rarely have reporters actually visited the area, let alone interviewed Payatas residents. The few occasions media personnel do visit, it has essentially been propaganda. One of the worst examples is this news story reporting the old Payatas dumpsite is now somehow an eco-park. Aside from the fact only a thin layer of grass covers the toxic mountain of trash, which won’t be safe for perhaps 100 years, if they turned the cameras to the back they would have seen the unsafe, unclean mountain of trash a few hundred meters away.

Sometimes the truth is ugly. Sometimes it doesn’t flatter us. But we need to hear these truths to understand the real situation. Only when we understand the reality can we hope to improve it.

2) The alternative livelihood plan will not cover many people. “They” do not have alternative livelihood.


Also widely reported is scavengers affected by the closure of the dumpsite will be provided alternative livelihoods. In reality, a few scavengers will be offered alternative livelihoods, but only a few. For a long time dumpsite operators have insisted only a couple of hundred informal scavengers in Payatas, telling everyone from journalists to energy companies this. One walk around the community quickly disavows you of that notion. Down one street alone you will see 200 scavengers working. In reality there are hundreds of thousands of people in Payatas who in different ways rely on the garbage for livelihood.

Again, why is this important?


As I’ve written before, while the Census claims there are 120,000 people in Payatas, in reality academic estimates say the real population is closer to half a million. This is because most people in the community do not have access to land titles. When families were first relocated to Payatas in the 1970s, land titles were originally part of the agreement. However the government revoked these and offered no alternative, meaning every generation since have become squatters.

Routinely people have been hidden from population counts because they have no land titles for where they live. The poorest families, in Payatas and similar slums, are therefore hidden from the CENSUS and poverty counts, leading to the ridiculous “statistic” that Metro Manila has a poverty rate of 2.7% (FIES, 2015). It is worth pausing on that for a moment. The official government estimate for poverty in Metro Manila is just 2.7% of families.

In short, thousands of families have been routinely hidden and ignored. So when local officials talk about alternative livelihood, they are again ignoring these families. In reality, closing the dumpsite will mean huge numbers of families lose part or all of their household income. They will very clearly be poorer because of this.

3) There are alternatives.


Payatas is/was so extensively used because there is no sustainable plan for garbage disposal and maintenance. When Smokey Mountain closed in the 1990s, much of the trash (and people) were relocated to Payatas to deal with the massive demand for garbage disposal. The dumpsite quickly grew to become the biggest in the country. In recent years Payatas Dumpsite has been responsible for only collecting the trash of Quezon City, by far the largest in the Metro.

Metro Manila spends about P7 billion a year to throw away garbage. Academic estimates suggest scavengers prevent 15% of trash reaching the dumpsite and adding the work of scavengers on the dumpsite we can estimate it would be roughly twice as big if not for them. These numbers add up to show the incentives for why generation after generation of people in slums are kept poor. Scavengers, including those in Payatas, save the city billions of pesos every year.

And right now there is no alternative. There is no other plan. There is talk of a waste-to-energy plant with a foreign company sometime down the road, but that is many years, maybe decades, away. Right now a new dumpsite will spring up in another location (likely extending the formal and informal operations in Montalban), creating another version of Payatas there (already in progress).

And that hurts us all. Quezon City alone spends P1 billion a year to deal with garbage. On top of that, P250 million is wasted every year by operating the dumpsite in this way. This doesn’t include savings that can be made by more energy-efficient means either that require a bigger capital investment but reap long-term rewards.

Environmentally, the Philippines is part of the third largest polluter of plastics in the world, contributing to the giant islands of plastic the size of entire countries swirling around the oceans. Climate change is already hurting this archipelago, vulnerable to natural disasters.

And in terms of our health, Payatas Dumpsite is beside the city’s drinking water supply (La Mesa). Even if we close the dumpsite, a thin layer of grass does not prevent toxic waste of the dumpsite (not sanitary landfill) seeping in. Studies by the Asian Development Bank and Glenn Sia Su found levels of toxins sometimes 20 times higher than ‘safe’ limits affecting water in the area.

So what can we do?

A win-win solution is possible. The first step is involving the community in the decision-making process. Scavengers here have often been scavengers their entire lives, many of since they were young children. They are extremely good at recycling and have a practical experience of the garbage system that few others do. However so far their voices are not being heard, they are not involved in the decision-making. After the trashslide in 2000, local officials relocated hundreds of people to an area they chose and made them worse off doing it. They treated the families as if they were ‘doing them a favour’ (Gaillard & Cadag, 2009). The same research explains officials “provided” a house and lot in an area with no access to education or healthcare or real infrastructure of any kind. In reality they actually crippled the finances of each family with a ‘loan’ of $1,500 at 6% yearly interest, who were now miles away from their source of livelihood and families spiraled into debt. Meanwhile no fundamental change happened in the garbage industry, wasting time and money for every citizen. This is what happens when we don’t listen to a community like this.

Scavengers understand their experience better than anyone else because it is their experience. They understand the reality of the situation better than anyone else and after 6 years here I’ve always been impressed by this. People here want honest, fair work… not handouts.

There is a win-win solution in all of this:

  • Recognise the reality of the situation: give an honest account of how many families will be affected by this.
  • First hear the story from local residents. They are far more knowledgeable and experienced in this issue than the rest of us. Include them in the decision-making process.
  • From this we can create a sustainable plan that solves the problem of current garbage disposal and maintenance, a transparent plan, where it is professionalised. This will assist in the Philippines’ aims of creating a more energy-efficient, sustainable, and affordable future (this is more realistic than you may think).
  • Land titles should be granted in Payatas (they were in the past and a former President revoked them) as part of a package recognising families for their contribution to the city. This package needs to include adequate government services based on the real population count. Currently there’s one part-time doctor for about 10,000 people in one area of Payatas and schools have 60-80 kids in a classroom as an average because many more enroll than population counts suggest.

There are many aspects to this, of course, but a win-win solution is possible. It begins with honest dialogue, a recognition of what is really happening and who will be affected, and hearing from all sides of this story.


‘Humans of Payatas’ Gives a Glimpse of the Inspiration and Strength of Those in the Slums

Imagine witnessing the death of hundreds of people at once. As a child. This is traumatic enough. But what follows relives the same trauma in different ways. Day after day you struggle to break the glass ceiling; to even get to school, let alone do well in school. And when you do manage to get there you’re hungry, tired, and sleepy. It’s hard-work trying to stay awake and avoid your hunger pangs, let alone study.

Eventually you can’t keep up, grades slip, and it’s just not worth it anymore. You have to work as a child to help find money to feed you and your siblings. You’re stuck in a dead end job from 7 years old. And instead of learning about all the possibilities the world has to offer, you learn how you’re stuck with the life you were born in.

People Learn Helplessness

What stops you here? Not your own effort. Not your own hard-work. At some stage most people realise that there’s nothing they can do about their situation and you learn to stop trying. Because every time you try, and I mean every time, you cannot succeed. I don’t mean you didn’t try enough to succeed, I mean you physically and mentally can not.

Research shows two things are impossible for the brain to move beyond: chronic sound and chronic pain. No mindset, no motivational speeches, and no support can break the negative cycle of this. You have to live with it and it permanently reduces your life potentials. Living in poverty combines both of those. You’re hungry and can’t focus, tired because you couldn’t sleep much the night before – the tiny houses cramped together mean you hear after movement the neighbours and their neighbours and their neighbours make. You’re just getting over the latest round of flu that spread through those tiny shacks like wildfire. It creates a cycle known as learned helplessnessI wrote about that for Fairplay before here.

Every single one of us, if we were born in the same situation, would have grown up the same. We would have learned the same. We would act the same.

This is the image of the slums we all know. Desperation, heartbreak, pity. We may not have understood why poor parents have so many kids or why some people have just given up but we all have some impression like this of those living below the poverty line.

Hello From The Other Side

But there’s a side so many of us don’t really see. Having lived in Payatas for 6 years now, one of the largest and poorest slums in the Philippines, I am privileged to see this every day.

I am entirely driven by a need to understand more of what’s around me. To learn and to understand why something is the way it is or why someone is the way they are. Too often we don’t do the simplest of things when trying to understand someone else. Listen.

This is true in academia too. I recently read a review of related literature on the Psychology of Poverty. It was well written and interesting, but only two or three of the 40 or so studies had actually interviewed and studied poor people. The rest were simulations in a lab.

You miss so much by ignoring the poor. We all see the stories of desperation. We all see the pictures of a decimated  child wasting in the arms of their mother as a charity asks for $2 a month to feed them. But so rarely do we hear anything from the people in the photographs. And when you don’t reach out to people on a genuine level, i.e. listen to them, you miss so much of their strength, their humour, their resilience, their creativity, their inspiration.

We all know the bad, but less of us have seen the good. And that’s why we started Humans of Payatas.  To share these stories. How people find their meaning and their dreams, how people work hard for their families, how people fall in love.

People here in Payatas don’t want someone to swoop in and make their dreams come true. They just want a path so that when they work hard every day, struggle and strive to improve themselves, they aren’t continually blocked by other things, they aren’t continually told there isn’t enough money, enough time, enough people.

People here don’t want handouts. They want justice. They want opportunities. They want what we all deserve.

And our first step to helping them is to listen. It’s to recognise they have something important to say and that we can learn so much from them.


If you want to help level the playing field then check out http://www.fairplayforall.org and see how you can get involved. 


Faces of Payatas: Meet Althea (& Why Some of the Best Talents Will Always Come From the Poorest Places)

Lovely story

Fairplay for All Foundation

DSC_1048.JPG Althea (2nd from left) wearing her sister’s National Team jersey, with teammates from Payatas FC U14 girls last year during the Fairplay Pinay Cup.

Everyone loves Rocky. Everyone loves the Karate Kid and the Mighty Ducks. In short, everyone loves an underdog. They’re all feel good stories of a person or team starting from the bottom and struggling against all odds to rise to the top. The triumphant underdog is perhaps the most glorious of all stories.

In Payatas we work with underdogs every day. People who were dealt a bad lot in life and struggle hard even for the most basic of things. Food. A home. Security. People who start from the absolute bottom and are struggling to rise up just one rung on the ladder.

Now we can celebrate another underdog story in the making as Althea, one of our players from Payatas Football Club, has been selected as part of…

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The Philippines’ Suzuki Cup Postmortem Part 2: Reviving Philippine Football

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A focus on grassroots development is the only way to break the ceiling

In Part One I talked about the postmortem of the Philippines’ exit in the Suzuki Cup and how Philippine Football hit a ceiling years ago. Yes, playing Phil Younghusband in midfield left the Azkals without much bite up top. Yes, individual mistakes played a part. And yes, the marketing campaign was as absent as Manny Pacquiao. But it is impossible to break the ceiling without building a football infrastructure to feed the National Team. This is the real problem at hand…

The Diagnosis

Every postmortem is about reaching a diagnosis. Honest, genuine feedback drives success in every aspect of life, from business to school to NGO work. So let us honestly ask, is this a squad you would expect to win the Suzuki Cup?

Yes there were some odd decisions, but Coaches and Managers can only work with the pool of players they have. Focusing on those will blind us from the real fixes the entire football system needs. Players work very hard, some are among the best in ASEAN in their

The current shape of Philippine Football

position. But there is no depth. We’re supposed to have a grassroots pyramid, but right now it looks more like Nelson’s column. There have been fantastic improvements but we do not have a domestic game that supports the Azkals. So how do we get there?

Same Problems Year-In, Year-Out

The first thing is to acknowledge and fix the simple things. Every single year we complain about the same things. As writers we complain of 24 hours’ notice for press conferences. As players we complain about the lack of regular leagues at all levels. As coaches we complain National Youth Team Tryouts are scheduled just a few days in advance, then changed at the last minute, or held during school hours at a particular school. Everyone from National Youth Team Coaches to to the Community Coaches are trying so hard. They’re just being messed around.

If there were progress on these fronts, we wouldn’t complain so much. If the communication, organisation, and strategy improved, one result wouldn’t matter. We could be excited for the future because we would see a growing pool of quality players. But we don’t see that. Instead we see 17 losses out of 18 youth games in 2015, and similar results in 2016. And most importantly, we see no obvious successor to any of the ageing National Team players right now.

The exception that proves the rule is the U14 and U16 girls. They are are possibly the only Philippine Youth Teams with a positive record but a large contingent come from the USA and elsewhere (at the parents’ expense). That’s not to reopen the stupid half-half debate, it’s just to say Philippine grassroots cannot take credit for them. They are good players and deserve their spot, but we didn’t develop them.

Most Kids Can’t Play Right Now

Sure, more kids are playing football now compared to 6 years ago. We have thousands of children playing. But our competitors in Southeast Asia have millions. And that’s the difference; it’s simply too hard to play football here. If a 6 year old wants to play how would they do it? Beginners will join a team and if you’re not in a private school shelling out on tuition fees you have to join a UFL Academy or similar set-up paying roughly P500 per session. Many UFL Academies open slots for kids from poorer backgrounds – but only if they’re already developed into a good player elsewhere of course.

The Philippines is stuck in a short-term mindset. We push the Azkals to win every game (including friendlies) because we hope it will generate fans and sponsors. We push Youth Teams to win trophies because we hope it attracts other kids to join our ‘successful’ team and pay for trainings. And even many community coaches push their kids to win and disrespect anyone who gets in the way, because that’s all they’ve been taught.

And that speaks to the larger problem: the Philippine grassroots system is built on winning at all costs. And in the long-run we lose…

‘Festival Syndrome’

In general the entire youth season is built one festival to the next. As the PFF’s respected U16 boys Coach, Marlon Maro, said during tryouts: that players lack basic football skills and show bad attitudes “…is probably the result of the ‘Festival Syndrome’”. The kids learn winning is all that matters. If you lose, you’re out. Go to any youth tournament and coaches (and parents) are screaming at tiny children. Look around the next one you’re at and ask, ‘are these children being valued as human beings before they’re valued as players?’ Here’s a great open letter from kids to over-bearing parents on that.

The result of this mentality? DEPED’s Palaro finals break out into brawls. Coaches are usually at fault for starting the fights too. Teams regularly field overage players and cheat in other ways (we all know who). And the kids get left behind. The playing pool shrivels into a puddle as kids drop out in droves because it’s not fun anymore. The young players are forced to play overage kids and get discouraged, and the over-aged kids’ development stalls too because playing younger kids all the time.

Festivals are good to showcase talent, but they don’t develop it. Leagues develop talent. Right now the largest running youth league in the country is run by a charity. It’s a really nice league and is great for development… but isn’t it sad charities have to fill these gaping chasms? The UFL Youth League was a good start, and the UFL overall was a great development in the domestic game. But the Youth League cost P20,000 to join and lost millions of pesos overall. That was before the PFF tried to put lipstick on a pig by decreeing only UFL Clubs could join, meaning less kids playing.

Talent Development: Talent is Created in the Local Community

So we have the diagnosis, what’s the treatment?

The key is a long-term mindset. A vision and a strategy. When facing a grassroots crisis, even the most developed football nations don’t restructure for the next two to four years. They focus on 6-8 year olds. I previously wrote how Germany’s 2014 World Cup win was 14 years in the making for example .

Because if players aren’t developing fundamental skills at this age there’s not much chance. Not physical skills, and certainly not results. None of that matters. Fundamental skills in terms of ball control and technique. Paul Scholes is the go-to example of this. An undersized asthmatic child, when Alex Ferguson first saw him play he said: “He’s got no chance – he’s a midget”. The rest is history.

So how do we get players with elite ball control, technique, and vision?  Space to play. The late Johan Cruyff once said: “I trained 3-4 hours a week at Ajax when I was little but played 3-4 hours every day on the street. So where do you think I learnt football?” The best players in history typically learned from the streets; a small court or field to rack up their 10,000 hours of deep practice. A bit of guidance from quality coaches will help. But without the regular time playing as kids, it cannot be done.

In most barangays, however, no matter how engaged, interested, or excited a child is, there is absolutely nowhere to play. There is a single basketball court nearby but it’s dominated by older basketballers and there’s no safe space around the corner for kids to go. We’re missing Step 1 and so we trip ourselves up trying to hurdle it.

My favourite example of how little you need is Wallsend Boys Club, a five aside community team in the North East of England. As I wrote here this indoor 5 aside pitch produced England internationals Michael Carrick, Alan Thompson, Peter Beardsley, Fraser Forster, and Premier League all-time top scorer Alan Shearer, plus other Pros.

Most people associate Carrick with West Ham, and Alan Shearer and Fraser Forster with Southampton. But they didn’t join those Academies until they were at least 15 years old. They developed as elite players for their age with their community teams. So we cannot expect the National League to solve our grassroots problem. Teams like Global, Kaya, Loyola, and Ceres will scout the communities and invite the best players to join them. They will develop them, for sure, but they will not create the talents.

So this is the first step: talent is created in the local community.

A Crazy Idea

So here’s a crazy idea: forget about winning the 2018 Suzuki Cup. Forget the idea that the Azkals winning something will revive Philippine football. If the Philippines had won the Suzuki Cup this year almost all of those inspired kids would still have nowhere to play.

Instead here is my unsolicited advice if we truly want to break the ceiling of Philippine Football:

  1. A vision and a strategy for the youth beyond one-day festivals. Forget about winning (many successful grassroots programs do not record results for U8 and U10 games). Focus instead on ball control, coachability, and fun.
  2. Form cheap, affordable youth leagues such as the Metro Manila Futsal League and Liga GK using basketball courts in every region. These leagues also have special rules to promote development over winning. Youth competition doesn’t have to be on a field, it just has to be regular and fun.
  3. Build safe spaces to play in poor communities. One futsal court with 100 children playing regularly racks up more playing time than the one-day festival calendar. And in exchange they can host and run the leagues.

When communities have safe spaces to play, kids flock there. Young kids care more about actually playing than about watching others, even the Azkals. And when coaches focus on fundamentals and attitude more than winning, the talent is created.

Once that happens, we can talk about the Azkals one day winning the Suzuki Cup. We can talk about building a market for the National League. And we can talk about building a football culture.

But not before.

Roy Moore is a Armchair Analyst Freelance Journalist. He is available for consultation at a hefty fee. 


PHILIPPINES 0-1 THAILAND. What does it mean for Philippine football? Part 1: The Postmortem



It was supposed to be a dream. Now it’s more like a nightmare for Philippine football. The Philippines failed to qualify for the Semi Finals of the Suzuki Cup for the first time since 2008 despite hosting the Group. With pitiful attendances there’s a lot to think about, with it now unlikely we’ll be hosting another Suzuki Cup Group for a long time.

So, as I wrote in a four part series on GMA nearly two years ago, the Azkals have hit a ceiling and grassroots are the only way to break it.

We’ve Been Spoiled

For the last three editions of the Suzuki Cup, Azkals fans have arguably been spoiled. The miracle in Hanoi, 2010, was both unexpected and deserved. A mess of an administration at the time stole the home game. The Philippines repeated the success in 2012 against a weakened Vietnam but Singapore edged a dull Semi Final. And in 2014 strong wins over Laos and an Indonesian team in disarray (FIFA banned them soon after) allowed comfortable qualification. Humbled by Vietnam in the last group game and by Thailand in the Semis, the Azkals saw the ceiling. This is the level the team have been at for around 4 years now. The players, the coaches, the management have all done wonders to get this far in such a short amount of time. But we cannot get better with what we’re doing right now. This is as good as it gets.


After losing to Thailand again, Coach Thomas Dooley gave this sound assessment: “We couldn’t score… that was bad.” To be fair, I actually think Dooley has done a very good job overall and he was right to commend the effort of the players. They pressed high and forced Thailand’s hand. But for a couple of great saves and a bit more luck, the Azkals could have nicked it. They really gave it a go.

In hindsight, it seems easy to say why the Philippines fell at this hurdle. With the Azkals’ top scorer played as a holding midfielder, and without a natural striker to replace him, the Philippines scored just two goals in three games, both from free-kicks. Juani, Gier, Lucena and others retired after the 2014 edition leaving only one natural defender in the back four for the first two games and as many as six of the starting eleven out of position overall. There were no ready, tested replacements waiting in the wings.

Now Marco Casambre, making his debut at 17 years old, did exceptionally well. I’d buy him a beer if he weren’t underage it’s that ridiculous how young this kid is. But for all the positives of his performance, that he was thrown into a do or die game against the best team in Southeast Asia for his international debut speaks to the utter lack of depth in the squad.

But it’s also not quite that simple. If Indonesia hadn’t scored a late winner against Singapore, the Philippines would have gone through. If the Azkals had nicked a late goal against Singapore themselves, they would have gone through. With just a bit more luck in any of those games, the Azkals would have gone through. There are plenty of ifs, buts, and maybes.

A Puddle Not a Pool

But we have to accept that this is the Azkals’ level. The management, Palami et al, have done wonders to raise the bar of the team to this level in such a short amount of time, but this is as far as the team can go without broader support.

Before the Suzuki Cup started, more than a few Philippine football writers and coaches were saying getting to the Semis again would be tough. These guys (and girls) support their country, support the team, they know how hard the Azkals management and players work… and they also know the limitations of Philippine football. For all the positives we know this for sure: the Azkals don’t have so much of a pool of players as a tiny puddle. The Azkals aren’t meant to be a team feeding the rest of the pyramid. They’re meant to be fed by the pyramid, supported by a competent structure of domestic football at youth and senior level. There’s no way to progress otherwise.

After the game Dooley said “It’s disappointing and we have to move on.” He’s right, but we need to talk about what the team moves on to. These players go back to a National League with nothing nailed down just 4 months before kick off. In an interview two years ago the PFF said they were pinning their grassroots hopes on the National League so serious grassroots efforts have been delayed. So many people in the Philippine game are saying it… and now some random white guy with a blog is saying it again.

The result is that the typical kid in the typical barangay still can’t play football (more in Part 2).

The Grassroots Aren’t Growing

Against most teams in Southeast Asia, the Azkals hold their own. But after six years there have been enough birthing pains, enough growing pains, and enough excuses. Every football expert sent by FIFA, every Head Coach of the National Team, and every grassroots coordinator/adviser has said the same thing. Every time the response is: ‘Thank you for your contribution’ and nothing changes. Everyone complains about the same things year after year. Whether they’re a tiny club in the middle of a slum or part of AFC and FIFA. So many people, from National Youth Team Coaches to grassroots and community coaches, are working incredibly hard… but they’re being let down.

And this is why there’s no market for the National League yet. National Leagues worked in the USA, Japan, and Australia because they were bottom up. There were hundreds of thousands of kids playing before a League took off. If you sell a ticket to a kid, you sell tickets to theit parents too. Right now, if 2,000 to 5,000 people show up for the Azkals, just a few hundred at UFL games, how many more do we expect to watch the same players? Not enough to justify professional contracts in a 10-game season, that’s for sure.

If we had invested in a grassroots structure beyond one day festivals (see Part 2) we would be seeing the results. We would see new people watching games because they play. We would see higher turnouts for UFL matches. We may not see different results with the Azkals yet, but we would certainly see better results with National Youth teams. Last year Bob Guerrero pointed out that the Philippine Youth Teams played 18 games and lost 17. I am very much interested to see what the record is in 2016.

We need to take the long-term approach or we move from one crisis to another. The defence rests on 21 year old Amani’s shoulders. And do we have any idea who could replace Phil Younghusband or Misagh (29 years old) or James and Schrock (30)? The Azkals management has gotten us this far… but they’re not supposed to have to plug all the gaps. That’s the job of Philippine football as a whole.

And that’s both the bad news and the good news. We have serious issues. Everybody knows it. But with targeted development, a vision and strategy, it is possible to revive Philippine football to an even better place. To develop a genuine football pyramid and break that ceiling.

And that will be Part 2: Reviving Philippine Football


It’s Not the End of the World: Why Politics is So Toxic, and How We Can Make an Antidote. Part I.


Brexit, Trump, Duterte (for Philippine readers) and many other examples around the world are showing one thing. It’s not that people are uneducated or stupid or don’t deserve democracy. It’s that people are angry.

Prejudice Wasn’t the Biggest Factor in Hillary Losing

Now Hilary Clinton just lost an election against a totally inexperienced opponent, who was endorsed by the KKK. It should have been an easy win. Yet from the outset, Trump’s unlikely rise to the Presidency of the (Not so) United States has been a mix of luck, freebies, and the strategic poisoning of political discourse.

The groundwork for such an extreme figure was laid after years of vile rhetoric (see Palin, Limbaugh, Beck, Huckabee, Gingrich, et al). Then Trump defeated Lyin’ Ted in a Primary Race Jeb Bush would have walked if he had any charisma. But Trump’s rise was first championed by the media for the theatre, and then for the economics. As media groups saw their advertising profits soar when covering Trump, they followed the money at the expense of genuine journalism. This gave Trump more than $5 billion worth of free coverage, a sum greater than the GDP of over 50 countries. This is covered well in Cracked here.

And into the main event of the Pay Per View, Hillary was leading for the most part. Yet we’re now all in shock, wondering what happens next?

Against this Particular Woman…

Now, the easy route is to call Trump supporters bigots and the like. They must be at least willing to put up with such blatant prejudice if they voted for the racist tangerine, right? Imagine facing soul-crushing discrimination throughout your life, fighting for Hillary to be the first female President in history and not just losing to a man, but losing to a misogynist with a litany of sexual harassment claims against him. It must hurt. It must be so frustrating.

But the first thing we need to understand is Hillary didn’t lose because of the bigots. They were always going to vote Republican. All Hillary had to do was keep the people who voted for an unheard of black guy last time out. Instead, some of the States that were major losses for Hillary were big wins for Obama four/eight years ago. As  Tami Luhby writes for CNN, “While [Hillary] won the key demographic groups her campaign targeted, she under-performed President Obama across the board, even among women”.

It wasn’t the racists, the sexist, or the bigots that caused Hillary to lose (they certainly didn’t help). No, Hillary herself is one of the most unpopular Presidential Candidates of all time (along with Trump) and her loss to Obama should have offered lessons as to why. Much of the furore of Bernie Sanders’ supporters refusing to vote for Hillary, for example, wasn’t about gender. These were liberal, progressive Democrats (and further left) fighting for equality on a number of measures. Bernie was an outsider promising big reform. Hillary is part of the system, entrenched in the very inequality and injustice they were fighting against.

So some silver lining on this toxic cloud is that, in general, the US electorate did not vote against women, the US voted against this particular woman. It’s a small silver lining, I grant you that.

Hillary Represents Exactly Why People are so Angry

Hillary is part of the system that helped the top 1% get 95% of all new income gains. She voted for that. So it was somewhat cringe-worthy when she took Bernie’s rhetoric about fighting for equality and cited this statistic (now slightly outdated) in her campaign. She was part of the system that caused the mortgage house collapse and had thousands of families kicked out on the streets. She is part of the reason why people on Wall Street pay lower taxes. She voted for that. And while the general economy has improved, many of those families are still desperately struggling. This Guardian article is a great piece to look at how neoliberalism has caused the gross inequality dividing us. Clinton is very much part of the face of neoliberal economics.

Now a more nuanced and detailed analysis will show this isn’t the full story. Clinton sometimes voted against Wall Street and proposed other bills which didn’t catch on. But few people are going to finish this blog, let alone a detailed analysis into Clinton’s voting record. What we do know is she took home $1.8 million from speaking to 8 big banks. So to truly understand how difficult it was for some people, there’s a really, really good piece I really, really recommend you reading here. If you read nothing else, including the rest of this article, really, really read this to truly empathise with how others felt.

So you may be legitimately angry that Clinton lost to the annoying orange personified. But they are legitimately angry for bearing the brunt of levels of inequality not seen since the Great Depression. They are legitimately angry for seeing their towns and cities ripped apart, and being expected to vote for the same corporate politicians who allowed this mess.

Hillary is Terrible at Campaigning

Finally, Hillary is a terrible campaigner. Even Demcorats acknowledge this. Last time Hillary ran for President, she lost to an unknown black guy. This time she almost lost to Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist who only registered as a Democrat to run in the election. Hillary had the entire Democratic party behind her so much that the Democratic Party Leader had to resign because Democrats were trying to rig the game in favour of Hillary. And it was still pretty close. That’s how much even Democrat voters didn’t really want to vote for Hillary.

And once up against Trump, her campaign was largely about how horrible Donald Trump is rather than the issues people are so legitimately angry about. She fell right into the trap of making it ‘us’ and ‘them’ with comments like calling half of Trump supporters a ‘basket of deplorables’. She failed to unite people behind a positive message.

Having said all that, Hillary is CLEARLY still far better than Trump. If I was an American, I would have voted for her. But we have to understand why people disliked Hillary (and politics in general) to fight back. We have to understand what the root cause of these issues are. So we don’t continue to make enemies, but rather bring them over to our side. People are very angry for very legitimate reasons and no-one is empathising with them or building constructive alternatives.

And that’s why the comparisons between Brexit, Duterte, and the politics in other countries make sense. This feeling goes beyond the US election. Practically every country in the world has their example of Trump. Whether it’s Brexit, or here in the Philippines Duterte, people’s legitimate frustrations have boiled over and they are voting for an outsider to ruin the establishment.

Why Do Angry People Do Silly Things?

The Dictator experiment I think explains the reason why we’re in this mess quite well. In the experiment, two people usually participate. The actual sums vary, but for the sake of argument one person is given $10. They are then to make an offer to the second person from that $10. It could be share $5 each, keep all $10 for yourself, or any combination. The catch is that if the second person accepts that offer, they keep the money. If the second person rejects the offer, however, both get nothing.

Traditional economics will say a rational person would accept any offer because $1 is better than nothing. Yet typically any offer below $2 was rejected. People literally threw money away because they felt it was unfair. They felt it better to spite the other person than to receive an unfair deal. Rationality means more than self-interest, it also means fairness. Check out Daniel Kahnemann’s Thinking, Fast and Slow for more on this (among other great books).

If you look at the world we’ve basically gone past this threshold. The top 1% get roughly 90% of all new gains (depending on where you are) while most people’s wages are stagnating or declining in real terms. To simplify too much, 99% of people are being offered $1 while the person across them keeps $9 out of $10, and then lauds it over them. They’re then expected to survive on $1 while everything around them gets more and more expensive and the richer group cheer about how the economy is booming. And after years of growing inequality, people have had enough. They’re rejecting the deal and saying ‘screw it, let’s burn the whole thing down’.

So What Happens Now?

It’s going to be a very difficult few years for a lot of people and this is not a good situation for many throughout the world. People are legitimately worried about what comes next. But that next step isn’t to go and find someone else to blame to label and demonise a whole other group and reduce them to a single word. That’s the process that led to Trump in the first place. The next step is to figure out how we get out of this mess…

We need to acknowledge our current political system is woefully equipped for the modern world, and build a constructive outlet for the justified anger so many of us, from every single side, are feeling.

More in Part II.


What I Learned Living in a Filipino Slum for Six Years: Our Toxic Relationship With Drugs

einstein*Names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.

James* is two years old. Or three. No-one’s quite sure. Like many kids in the area he doesn’t know how old he is. James is scrawny and stunted. He’s about the same height as a typical one year old. Most of the time, though, he’s running around the streets by himself.

He emerges from a tiny shack made of wood, no bigger than the smallest room of a ‘normal’ house, where his entire family of 15 sleep. He wears a t-shirt that goes past his knees and sometimes trips on it as his bare feet slap against the concrete as he runs down the road. This is actually an improvement as he’s often just completely naked and dirty and running around.

His slightly rounded cheeks betray a stick-thin figure, the result of chronic malnourishment. His physical condition pales in comparison to the mental malnourishment from this combination of poor nutrition, poor hygiene, and constant negativity surrounding him. He learns every day that the only way to get attention – something every child desperately needs and craves – is to break something, to hurt someone, to do something wrong. To a child’s mind, attention is good. And so in the mind of this three year old, he learns from day one that bad is good.

No-one around him sees this is unusual. They know his parents have to work, scavenging through piles of someone else’s trash so they can eat today. A meal of rice with fish sauce, soy sauce, or if they’re lucky a piece of meat they found in the trash discarded by some restaurant or supermarket. Everyone knows why James is dirty, naked, and running round by himself. They know why the other kids like him do too.

So what will happen when James grows up? What happens when James starts to become a man? If we could look into the future we would likely see James as angry, abusive, and addicted. So what do we do about a problem like James? What happens to him and the thousands of children like him? There are answers… it just takes a lot of learning.

Lesson One: The Environment of Poverty is as Toxic as the Trash

One study about Payatas, the home of the largest dumpsite in the Philippines and what Payatas is mostly known for, measured the human development index in the area (Regalario, 2002). The human development index is a rough measure of overall development. It includes life expectancy, education, and income per person. With a score of 0.4179, if Payatas was a country it would rank 180 out of 189 in the world. It is one of the largest and poorest slums in the Philippines.

this is where your trash goes 2.1.pngLiving in poverty is stressful. If you haven’t truly lived through poverty you cannot understand how that feels. One study found the stress of living in poverty is the equivalent to losing 13 IQ points. For a better measure that’s the difference between you as you are and as a chronic alcoholic. Or if you went all night without sleeping. Remember the last time you pulled an all-nighter? Remember feeling overwhelmingly tired but needing to finish something? How easily you were annoyed, frustrated, and snapped at other people? How difficult it was to concentrate, the food you craved and ate? And now imagine this is how you feel every day for the rest of your life… Double your workload, go through the day as if you haven’t slept, and do it all while being looked down on and insulted by the rest of society. This is a small glimpse of everyday life.

So here’s the crucial point: if you were in their situation you would almost certainly make the same decisions. It’s not their place in the world, it’s not their destiny, their caste. It’s random luck. “There but for the grace of God go I”. Whoever is born into this physically, emotionally, and intellectually toxic environment will be stunted by it..

And right now, that’s James.

Lesson Two: What Causes Addiction Is Not the Drug Itself, It’s Why People Take the Drug

Imagine you you fall over, maybe down some stairs, or get hit by a car, and you break your leg. You’re rushed to hospital, surgery is performed, and you’re in a cast. You spend a few weeks with your leg raised while painkillers are pumped into your body. What painkillers? Pure, medical grade heroin. The purest kind of heroin (diamorphone) you could ever find. If the drug itself was the biggest factor in addiction, anyone who came out of hospital would walk (or hobble) out as an addict. But we don’t. We take a drug because we’re in pain. And when that pain goes away, we don’t need the painkiller any more. In that way most of us have actually taken illegal drugs in some form or other. And the experience was positive. It helped us because the drugs are meant to be a short-term solution to a problem like a broken bone, surgery, or some other underlying trauma that is being fixed.

People take drugs for many different reasons but they all relate to some sort of pain. Social pain. Emotional pain. Physical pain. What separates the social user from the addict isn’t what they take, it’s why they take it. Street kids often sniff glue, for example, because it dulls hunger pangs and other senses for a time, allowing them to escape their reality. Relieve the root cause of the problem, and the drug use goes away. Solve the pain, and the painkillers (drugs) aren’t needed any more.

rat park.jpgAnother study explains this well. Rats were put in tiny cages (left) and given access to a bottle of water and a bottle of water laced with whatever drug was being studied. The rats would try the drugged water, get addicted, overdose, and die.

Other researchers, however, saw the rats were crammed in a tiny cage with nothing else to do. So they created a better environment, Rat Park, where rats could run around, eat well, and socialise. They placed the normal water and drugged water there too. But the rats didn’t take to the drugs. Most never touched it, and none did compulsively (addiction). When they placed previously addicted rats from tiny cages into rat park, they showed withdrawal symptoms but then weaned themselves off.

Sound ridiculous? That’s for rats, right? People are different. But there is a kind of natural experiment for this too. During the Vietnam War nearly 20% of US soldiers became addicted to heroin. It’s not difficult to figure out why people under the stress of war, in a foreign country with people shooting at them, would want to escape.

So the USA was naturally worried about hundreds of thousands of heroin addicts returning (about 400,000 addicts according to the estimates). So what happened when they came home? Ninety five percent stopped using drugs overnight. Why? For them, the pain had gone, the trauma they faced in Vietnam, and so the need for pain relief went with it. You can read more about that here.

Many of these examples are in this great TED talk.

Here Johann Hari also shares about the solution. Portugal, for example, became tough on drugs and ended up with 1% of the population becomes addicts. Eventually Portugal shifted the huge amount of money it took to police the issue and imprison drug offenders into development, rehabilitation, and support mechanisms. Instead of addiction being treated as a crime, it was treated as a health issue.

drug deaths.jpgSoon after, overdoses, violent crime, and HIV all rapidly dropped. The country saved a lot of money too. But a key part of the solution was a better minimum wage and other social and economic measures which improved the quality of life. When the pain people felt was eased, the need for pain relief (drugs) did too. For more on the example of Portugal (and others) read here.

Addiction is a symptom of a desperate and basic need in the lives of addicts that has not been fulfilled. Addiction is caused when someone is in pain and cannot find relief elsewhere. Usually we turn to our family, friends, and community to deal with this need. If we can’t do that, if the pain continues, then we are likely to depend on drugs for that relief. This is why two people can take the same amount of a drug and one will be a social drinker and the other an alcoholic. Physical factors do matter, of course, but the largest part of addiction is in the cage someone lives in. It’s also why wealthier areas have problems with addiction too. Poor communities suffer more pain, especially economic pain leading to hunger and similar trauma. But emotional, social, and psychological pain and trauma must also be addressed.

Tackling the issue of drugs means understanding the cause of addiction. It means understanding the pain someone is feeling and finding pain relief for the trauma they face. It means building healthy relationships, where people can feel supported, and creating a world where a hard-working family can satisfy all their basic needs.

A Better Way…

If 95% of US soldiers addicted to heroin stopped using overnight because they changed their environment, we must endeavour to improve the places where most addicts live. Blaming and punishing the addict, as we’ve seen, only makes things worse. Solving the problem of drugs in our society doesn’t mean fighting the drug itself, it means easing the pain the addict feels. It doesn’t mean anti-drugs, it means being pro-compassion. If you somehow removed all the drugs from the world, people would still be in pain and still looking for an outlet for it. The problem is not solved.

The good news is a better way is possible. It’s also more effective and even cheaper! Throwing a person in jail is far more expensive than solving the social problems in communities that create addiction. Not just because of the costs of imprisoning someone, but also because of the family and community left behind when they were taken. 

Solving these issues requires empathy first. It requires us to understand the pain a person feels, to understand why they may take a certain drug, and to solve that problem. We have a chance to build something better.

We can prevent the future that awaits James right now. We can prevent the pain that will lead a generation of young people to seek pain relief through drugs. It takes effort, patience, and understanding.

Is it easy? No. Is it the right thing to do? Absolutely.

Meanwhile, we’ll see James next week…**

**James now regularly comes to the Fairplay School, a safe space where he can play, bathe, rest, and learn. He is part of the community and while he has a long way to go his situation is getting better. Baby steps.


The Official Opening of the Fairplay Center; To Become the First Demcratic School in the Philippines

center outside
Some of the many kids we work with outside our new Fairplay Center

On Sunday, December 13, with the help and support of the Silver Star Century Group, we at the Fairplay for All Foundation were able to open our new Fairplay Center.

The Fairplay Center is the base of our education programs at FFA. It’s a safe space in the community of Payatas (mostly known for having the largest dumpsite in the Philippines), where working and out of school children can come to learn, rest, and play.

The Opening

Left to right: Roy Moore (FFA), Richard Joson (CEO, SSCG), Dr. Ponciano Menguito (DEPED), Kenneth Lim (GM, SSCG) displaying the plaque now proudly on our wall.

So last Sunday, we celebrated the full, formal opening of the Fairplay Center. With the help of the Silver Star Century Group, the renovation was made possible from a run-down building with potential, to a fantastic facility with even more potential.

For several months we’ve been using the facility during the renovation period, and the extra space has been brilliant for the development of the program.

And with the culmination of the effort from all our team at FFA, we were able to fully open the Fairplay Center. This includes a Kinder area, given that many of the kids have to look after younger siblings – one of the reasons older girls in particular drop out of school. This means the younger kids learn and play while the older girls have the space and time to learn and rest too.

Some of our performers from the Opening, in the Studio

Upstairs we hold our main classes, with three classrooms known as Eureka (Science area), the Studio (Music and arts), and Lingua Franca (Literacy and language). Farming and other classes are still offered at the previous center too.

The backyard, the final piece of the puzzle, needs to be levelled before we can host more dance, sports, and martial arts too.

Homemade pancit canton, chop suey, tofu menudo, palabok, and more, made fresh by our Kitchen Nanays.

And what of our previous center? That will become the Fairplay Café, as in 2016 we can cater outside of Payatas to events – for example we can cater with healthy, tasty, homemade food for sports clinics, CSR events, and offices.

Link to before and after album of the Fairplay Center

A Brief History


center through the years ext.png
Our Trilogy of Drop-in Centers

In 2011, Naomi Tomlinson and I, Roy Moore, established the first drop-in center. With few funds and wanting to start from scratch to build things up by working with the community, we started off in a very run-down building along the main road.

Naomi ran the center at this point, organising 20-30 kids who came by each day for basic study. That was crowded. We had started sponsoring our first kids in the nearby public schools, though, and we were making progress. The point of the drop-in center was to get to know the kids and families so we could support those ready to go back to school/at risk of dropping out, and provide individual support for others.

By 2013, we had enough support to get a larger, more permanent base. Immediately the number of kids coming by each day doubled, though our teaching staff grew and the format began to develop.

center through the years int.png
Inside our Centers

Since Naomi went back to the UK to study, May (our project manager) and I have taken over everything with this project. And after much planning and preparation, we now have our new Fairplay Center; the final model of the program. The facility means we can transition from supplementary education – identifying kids who dropped out or never went to school at all – to providing full-time education ourselves in a happier, more effective learning environment.

The Rationale

Through the drop-in center model we identified children to get back into school, or who were at risk of dropping out. We currently sponsor 45 kids in the nearby public schools. These kids are for the most part doing very well in school; some are top 10 in their class, even top 5 and sometimes top 1. In classes of sometimes more than 80 children this is an impressive feat.

However that over-crowding also tells you something of the long-term feasibility of sponsoring children there. Sponsoring a child back into formal school is great for that kid, but in the long-run if we return every child to the classrooms, that overcrowding will become an even bigger issue and the quality of education will fall.

In addition, traditional school doesn’t suit everyone. It’s why so many kids drop out and have very low engagement across the world, not just in the Philippines. The traditional formal school model was created in Europe, then copied in America, and then brought to the rest of the world through colonialism. Countries saw it was good at teaching discipline, obedience, and uniformity (hence uniforms, strict schedules, and a reliance on obedience to the authority over the kids). There’s a great TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson here, about how this school system was created to make factory workers, and that it hasn’t really been updated since.

Informal education is surprisingly effective. The Spanish, for example, found that the Philippines had a higher literacy rate than Madrid when they first arrived (Woods, 2006). With no formal education system, the community based model was teaching people effectively for that period. Skip forward a few hundred years and more and more people are home-schooling because they’re seeing that the world is changing, and that education isn’t only possible in a school setting.

And beyond academics, more than basic literacy and academic measures, often the biggest problem in communities like Payatas is mindset. With constant negative attention, few kids have good self-esteem, self-confidence, or the emotional and social skills to effectively deal with what life brings. Not surprisingly that translates to very high dropout and very low engagement rates in poor communities – in the Philippines roughly 50% of students drop out at some point (Nava, 2009).

Emotional intelligence is key for their decisions and problem solving, and thus learning (Goleman, 1995). The Marshmallow Test is a good example of this, where those 4 year olds who could resist the lure of one marshmallow now to receive two marshmallows when the experimenter returned after 15 minutes (delayed gratification), scored much higher SAT scores even years later because of their underlying sense of emotional intelligence which allowed them to study longer and more effectively.

The first step with kids in Payatas, then, isn’t to find a building with better facilities, it’s to boost the intrinsic worth of the child. Until children are confident in themselves, trust themselves, and have developed control of their emotions, they rarely develop long-term learning patterns. The flipside of that, is that when the child sees they are capable of learning from their own motivation and action, when they feel treated with dignity, when they develop a growth mindset (Dweck), then with access to better facilities and the space and freedom to choose, those learning habits last a lifetime.

This is the basis for our new Fairplay Center; a school which develops social and emotional learning first. A child will likely never need to know what the capital of Madagascar is, or how to work out the area of a hexagon, but they will need to know how to respond to their emotions appropriately, how to develop constructive relationships with others, and how to delay their gratification and develop self-discipline so they can accomplish their goals.

Other intelligences follow, including the academic, but this must be the first step. One of our girls at the Center, one of our first five full-time students as we experiment with having full-time kids, dropped out of school in Grade 3, for example. After 2 and a half years of formal schooling she was totally illiterate. When she first came to the Center she was shy and disengaged, had a short temper and would lash out frequently. She was used to being called a failure and seemed to want to lash out at others before they could, in her mind, lash out at her by calling her a failure again – whether on a report card, on the streets, or back home.

DSC_0439.JPGAt the center, her emotional intelligence developed. Given the freedom to trust herself, she saw that the staff and kids here care for each other as individuals and joined in. She developed self-worth and began joining in with activities. Over time she signed up for many classes and less than a year later, she’s well on her way to reading stories – not just reading letters or words now. Meanwhile her confidence grew so much she was one of our dancers performing in front of 300 people at a recent event, as well as at the opening. When kids feel safe and happy, their learning jumps forward in huge leaps.

So What is Democratic Education?

This is why we’re really excited about our center developing into the first Democratic School in the Philippines. Of course many people haven’t heard of Democratic Education before, so what is it?

Inside the main area with our ‘rule’ and ‘Gratitude Galaxy’

In a nutshell, the idea is that everyone is free to do what they want, as long as they don’t disturb anyone else’s freedom: ‘Malaya tayong gawin ang gusto natin, huwag lamang tayo makaistorbo ng iba’.

In practice that immediately means students are free to join whichever classes they choose, if any at all. Attendance is optional, no-one is forced to do or learn anything. That means you have a classroom of engaged students, not kids forced to sit and listen. Importantly that also means teachers are free too. Teachers can teach what they want, how they want, not burdened by a National curriculum designed by politicians with no background in education, as happens across the world.

Typically, Democratic Schools also have a weekly meeting for the community. Anyone can raise up ideas and issues, everyone will discuss them, and then together vote on solution (one vote per person regardless of age).

To see more about how a Democratic School works you can check out this fantastic 4 part series via CBBC in the UK about Summerhill, the First Democratic School in the UK and usually the model for all subsequent schools built on this philosophy.

Democratic Schools already exist in over 30 countries. In Payatas, for those who have dropped out of formal school, for those who are trapped in a negative environment with constant criticism undermining their self-worth, it can be a fantastic place. As we develop our methods and as we show the data over the next two years, that will become clearer.

The current education system in the Philippines isn’t Filipino. It’s an efficiency model based on Western logic spread through conquest for the purposes of the conquerors.

But we can build a Filipino system, an education based on relationship and community, which harness the most positive aspects of Filipino culture. This is our dream with our education system, and week after week, month after month, it is becoming our reality.

Thanks again to everyone who has made this possible, especially the Silver Star Century Group for making the renovation of the Fairplay Center possible. Check out our video in preparation for the celebration of the event:

Get in touch with us at FFA be emailing: ffafoundation@gmail.com


The Next Chapter in Payatas FC’s Story: A Home for Payatas Football Club

Payatas Football Club is about to enter into a new era; we are about to get our own place to train. It may take weeks, it may take months, but it’s now sure to happen. It’s just a matter of time.

Through the support of companies like DTSI, Ortigas and Co., and Straight Arrow, FFA has purchased the first half of more than 1,000 square meters. These lots (actually 4 adjoining lots owned by the same family) are in the only place we know in Payatas that has land titles. Typically in Payatas you don’t own the land you’re on. Even though so many of the families here were relocated by the government (beginning in the 70s) to Payatas, they were relocated without an official place to live, nor prospects of employment. And so this land is the future for FFA and our programs.

The land where Payatas Sports Center will rise.

In particular that means Payatas Football Club has a future. For a long time now we’ve been unable to train. Many times we’ve reserved the barangay basketball court but shown up to find that our schedule (with signed approval of the barangay captain) has been revoked. Either an event from the barangay means we can no longer use it, or there are other groups scheduled at the same time and so it’s been triple booked, or even there are just basketballers playing and no-one will move them on. And by the time they’ve finished, typically hours later, we can no longer practice. There are some very nice people within the barangay, but others have told us that football shouldn’t be played on the court, they have not cared about the kids because they don’t vote, and also that I (Roy as the Coach) am not from there so shouldn’t be allowed to use it anyway – despite living in Payatas for 5 years now.

So for over half a year now our players have only been able to play on the streets. And for a team with such talents – including kids invited to the National Youth Teams, that’s been incredibly difficult.

How Payatas FC Started

Training in Payatas (with One World Futbol balls)

We are often asked how did Payatas FC begin. Well it began with 80 kids on a basketball court with two footballs and a coach who’d never coached before. Chairs for goals, slippers for cones, and a bunch of kids who’d never so much as kicked a football.

Payatas is known for trash. It’s home to the largest open dumpsite in the Philippines. Payatas is a mountain of trash, where hundreds of thousands of families live scavenging for something to sell, recycle, or even eat. But football became known in Payatas – one of the largest and poorest slums in the Philippines (a completely basketball-mad country for anyone reading outside of the Philippines).

You can check out this feature by FIFA TV early in Payatas FC’s story:

The Philippine National Football Team had just gone through to the Semi Finals of the Suzuki Cup (a tournament for countries in Southeast Asia). It was the first time they’d done so well in a tournament ever (well not quite, the Philippines were a decent side in the early 1900s before America took over Spain in colonising the country). The Philippines qualified for the Semi Finals of the competition, and it was such a big feat that it was one of Sports Illustrated’s top ten sports stories of the year.

This meant media attention, and the kids finally learned of the beautiful game – of the most popular game in the world. And they wanted to learn. So naturally, being English and born and bred with football, I was happy to coach.

For many of the kids, joining tournaments outside of Payatas were the only times they left the sight and smell of garbage. It helped them learn to dream again.

Every Saturday we would go down to Payatas and train the kids. And soon after Naomi Tomlinson came to the Philippines too and together we founded the Fairplay for All Foundation. Payatas FC began to develop and became a full project and brought constructive sports to the kids, built an identity, broke down barriers, and kept kids away from drugs and gangs.

Jacko’s Story

Jacko during a tournament at the British School of Manila

Our players are among the poorest kids in the country. One family sums up the holistic nature of the poverty cycle in Payatas. Jacko is the youngest of three boys. His two older brothers also work as jumper boys – kids who climb inside garbage trucks as they drive by to scavenge trash and sell it to junkshops. They make around P50 a day (just over $1 and just under £1) working often 2am until dawn and another shift later in the day.

It’s dangerous work. One time Jacko had found metal in the trash, and began flattening it out with a hammer, as all metal sold to junkshops must be flattened. Being 7 years old at the time he didn’t realise it was a strip of bullets someone had just thrown in the trash. As he hammered away, one bullet exploded and flew off hitting his brother. Fortunately it just hit him in the leg, though his older brother was left with a bullet in his leg for half a year. Other kids have died from scavenging, hit by trucks or killed on the dumpsite itself. It’s dangerous work, but when your family needs money to eat that day you have to do it.

One of the reasons Jacko needs to work is because he’s orphaned. His mother died when he was a baby, his mother was just 19 years old at the time. She was first pregnant at 12 years old and had three boys before dying of a heart attack. A series of events unfortunately not unique in slums. His father was stabbed a year later.

Jacko joined Payatas FC after one of our older kids began training him and other kids in his street. Quickly Jacko progressed and became a key part of our younger teams. He was also one of 10 kids invited to join Kaya FC’s Academy. Jacko has many medals and trophies to his name now, and is proud to wear the Payatas FC jersey. Most pleasing of all, though, is that he always wears a smile.

National Team Players

angelica w beckham cropped
Angelica at a training camp by LA Galaxy, inc. David Beckham

Other children have huge potential too. Angelica is now 14 years old and was invited to join the National U14 Girls Team. She was unfortunately homesick during the training camp, though, and so didn’t join the final squad but another of our girls did the following year, Regine. Regine’s younger sister may very well make the squad the following year. There are many strong female players in Payatas.

Imagine, if Payatas FC has players good enough for the Philippine youth teams after playing barefoot on a basketball court at most once a week, how good will the players be with multiple trainings for their age groups? On our own court. We’re talking University scholarships and a whole lot more national team players.

Angelica’s story is also inspirational, telling of the big talents if the right opportunity is presented. At 4 years old she had fallen in Payatas and hit her head  on a piece of iron. Symptoms of the damage, though, only appeared when she was 9, as it turned out Angelica was walking round with a cracked skull for 5 years. During that time she joined her father in his truck to pick up garbage throughout Manila, on one of the usual Payatas garbage trucks.

Suddenly Angelica had an episode, half her face drooped, she slurred her speech and couldn’t hold her head up, ‘naging isip-bata daw’ (she became like a child). Fortunately she got treatment and recovered. A year later and Angelica joined Payatas FC trainings. A year and a half of training on a basketball court, once a week, barefoot, with 80 other kids crowded around, and she was invited to the National Team – one of the best girls in the country for her age.

The year after she joined Team Philippines in the Street Child World Cup, and was a key part of the team that won silver – as the youngest girl in the teams in the Quarter Finals, playing against 17 and 18 year olds.

A Home for Payatas FC

This is the kind of potential we’re talking about. True grassroots football where kids who love the game and have used it to improve their emotional, social, and academic performances. Kids who have learned and developed on and off the pitch. Not just becoming talented footballers, but better people too.

And so it’s with great pleasure – absolutely huge pleasure – that we can announce that we’re now ready for a futsal court, a 5 a side concrete pitch to play on. It’s the first step in a fully developed Sports Center, a place where we can have trainings every day, higher quality trainings in every age, and also host regular youth leagues for the city too.

Everyone can help to make this a reality as FFA fundraises for the court itself. After a full costing by people within the construction industry and local workers, we are looking to raise up to P750,000 for the court. P500,000 for the court itself, and the remaining P250,000 for equipment and trainings for players, coaches, security, and referees. Our own court means the full pyramid of grassroots football can develop. And through hosting leagues and tournaments, we can generate income for the running costs – making it self-sustainable once ready.

You can donate to the project via our JustGiving page, or email us at ffafoundation@gmail.com for more information. For those who don’t have money to give, consider fundraising too; run a marathon, climb a mountain, do your own thing. Everyone can contribute in their own way if you believe in the goal.

DONATE: https://www.justgiving.com/PayatasSportsCenter/