Friday, April 28, 2006

Hyperventilating over a doomsday scenario

If we are to go by media reports, it looks like everyone is not only gearing up for a major showdown on May 1; everyone is raring for it. And media is all agog with anticipation.

Media of course has its handy excuse for doing cartwheels to cover the minutest detail of how the militants and the government are preparing for the showdown: the public needs to know (apparently the public is that perverse, we want advance information on how they intend to clobber each other in the streets). Clearly, ABS-CBN intends to devote full coverage of the expected May 1 mayhem and they have started justifying their intent in their latest sermon on the role of media featuring Maria Ressa, Chari Villa and Luchie Cruz, the gist of which can be summed up in six words: we are always correct, of course.

I can understand the preoccupation on how the latest Supreme Court ruling on CPR will play out on May 1. But analysis is one thing, prophesizing, nay, anticipating mayhem is another thing. Excitement is still another thing. Based on the treatment and spin being given to the various reportage, one gets the impression that media is not merely interested in how proponents of a particular position see how things will turn out; but more on how bloody it can or will get. Note how the reportage has been focused on doomsday scenarios. Media is skating on very very thin ice on this one and I hope that some semblance of social responsibility (other than just reporting things as they happen as the three ladies of ABS-CBN wants us to believe) seeps in soon.

I understand media's role as chronicler of events. But I don't get the "passive unbiased witness stance." Who are we kidding?

Let's remind ourselves of one tragic incident in the eighties that continues to baffle me to this day. The incident happened one Sunday afternoon at Luneta during a rally of the Marcos loyalists. One Coryista (unfortunately I have forgotten his name) was pursued by the mob of Marcos loyalists and beaten to death while media covered the lynching, down to his last breath. Too many TV cameras and mediamen supposedly doing their social responsibility, and no one raised a finger to help the dying guy. No one, not a single one, remembered that they were citizens too watching another Filipino die a violent senseless death. They were just there as media.

I am not asking that media do not report on what is happening or that it gives a positive spin to events. I just wish that media tempers its excitement - because quite frankly, an event where and when Filipinos hurt each other can never be a cause for celebration. I just want to see an attempt to balance the doomsday scenario reportage with, for example, appeals for sobriety from some cooler heads, or features on possible consensus points, or just plain tempering of their frenzied hyperventilating.

Or perhaps this is what passes off for news reportage nowadays?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Waving pink flags is our best shot?

To push his newest wrinkle, MMDA Chair Bayani Fernando hammed it up for the cameras yesterday and got rewarded with coverage in last night's news broadcasts and in today's papers. The pictures were not exactly flattering. It showed a poker faced Fernando holding a forlorn-looking pink flag (had he been astride a horse and wearing a costume, he would have made a good impression of Don Quixote). But I must hand it to this guy; he is someone who is not scared of being called silly, or of looking the part. Where else in the world will you find something that borders on the farcical - a pink flag - qualify as an officially-sanctioned government project designed to address one of the major headaches of Metro Manila?

Fernando likes pink. I guess there is nothing wrong with pink, but did it have to be in that exact dark shade bordering on fuchsia? (There is an urband legend that says the color is actually his tribute to his wife; if this is true, I dread the thought of what will happen to our highways and buildings if he ever gets elected as President - pink sidewalks, pink electric posts, pink government buildings, pink barong tagalog. Arrrgh). Did you guys know that Metro Manila has an "official flower?" I do not know if a law was passed on this one, but if you get stuck in EDSA, try reading those small signs near the concrete posts where some scraggly vine is desperately fighting for dear life amidst all that carbon monoxide. The sign says "CADENA DE AMOR, chain of love, the official flower of the MMDA." I tell you, subtlety has never been one of Fernando's strongest suit.

But to go back to the pink flag program. I know that over-analysis kills creative ideas and that this country desperately needs more action; but please, is this the best we can do - pink flags to get traffic moving on EDSA?

I am not ranting about the seeming simplicity of the solution being offered because it is not the issue here (some solutions need to be simple, like Alex Lacson's 12 Little Things). The issue is one of proportion as well as long-term feasibility. Traffic in EDSA is a huge, gigantic, mammoth, humungous (I could go on but you get the drift) problem that requires a comprehensive, serious, well-thought out, collaborative, forward-looking solution. Solving the problem requires reducing the number of vehicles on the road, discipline, traffic enforcement, structural interventions, etc. Even a million pink flags won't hack it.

And until when can they sustain it? Unfortunately, this kind of project is totally dependent on the conscientiousness of traffic enforcers. If traffic enforcers are trained to be more consistent in enforcing traffic rules and are not known for corruption to begin with, there would not even be a need for pink flags. The presence of a traffic enforcer and a whistle would be more than enough to get buses moving.

Sadly, this kind of publicity-drawing stunt only conditions people to think nothing will actually work in this country. It perpetuates this defeatist attitude among ourselves.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A Day Without Filipinos

What follows was sent to me as an email. I can not vouch for the veracity of the authorship, or the identifying information of the writer. However, it does make for good reading if only because very often we do tend to be guilty of self-flagellation.

A Day Without Filipinos

By: Fr. Jess E. Briones
SVDSuperior Delegatus
ArgentinaOficina: Calle Mansilla 3865
Residencia: Calle Paraguay 3901
Tel.: 4824-0270 ext 43

Let's imagine then, not just California, but the entire world, waking up one day to discover Filipinos have disappeared. I'm talking here about the six or seven million Filipinos currently working overseas in countries with names that run the entire alphabet, from Angola to Zimbabwe.

Let's not worry first about why or how the Filipinos disappeared; in fact, it becomes academic whether it's a day or a week. Just imagine a world without Filipinos.

Think of the homes that are dependent on Filipino housekeepers, nannies, caregivers. The homes would be chaotic as kids cry out for their nannies. Hong Kong and Singaporean and Taiwanese yuppie couples are now forced to stay home and realizing, goodness, there's so much of housework that has to be handled and how demanding their kids can be and hey, what's this strange language they're babbling in?

It's not just the children that are affected. The problems are even more serious with the elderly in homes and nursing institutions, because Filipino caregivers have provided so much of the critical services they need. When temporary contractual workers are brought in from among non-Filipinos, the elderly complain. They want their Filipino caregivers back because they have that special touch, that extra patience and willingness to stay an hour more when needed.

Hospitals, too, are adversely affected because so many of the disappeared Filipinos were physicians, nurses and other health professionals. All appointments for rehabilitation services, from children with speech problems to stroke survivors, are indefinitely postponed because of disappeared speech pathologists, occupational and physical therapists!Eventually, the hospital administrators announce they won't take in any more patients unless the conditions are serious. Patients are told to follow their doctors' written orders and, if they have questions, to seek advice on several Internet medical sites.

But within two days, the hospitals are swamped with new complaints. The websites aren't working because of missing Filipino web designers and website managers. Service establishments throughout the world -- restaurants, supermarkets, hotels -- all close down because of their missing key staff involved in management and maintenance. In Asia, hotels complain about the missing bands and singers. In the United States, many commercial establishments have to close shop, not just because of the missing Filipino sales staff but because their suppliers have all been sending in notices about delays in shipments.

Yup, the shipping industry has gone into a crisis because of missing Filipino seafarers.The shipping firms begin to look into the emergency recruitment of non-Filipino seafarers but then declare another crisis: They're running out of supplies of oil for their ships because the Middle Eastern countries have come to a standstill without their Filipino workers, including quite a few working for the oil industry.

Frantic presidents and prime ministers call on the United Nations to convene a special session of the Security Council but Kofi Annan says he can't do that because the UN system itself is on the edge, with so many of their secretarial and clerical staff, as well as translators, having disappeared from their main headquarters in New York and Geneva,as well as their regional offices throughout the world. Quite a number of UN services, especially refugee camps, are also in danger of closing down because of missing Filipino health professionals and teachers.Annan also explains that he can't convene UN meetings because the airports in New York, Washington and other major US cities have been shut down. The reason? The disappeared Filipinos included quite a few airport security personnel who used to check passengers and their baggage.Annan calls on the World Bank and international private foundations for assistance but they're crippled, too, because their Filipino consultants and staff are nowhere to be seen. Funds can't be remitted and projects can't run without the technical assistance provided for by Filipinos.

An exasperated Annan calls on religious leaders to pray, and pray hard. But when he phones the Pope, he is told the Catholic Church, too, is in crisis because the disappeared include the many Filipino priests and nuns in Rome who help run day-to-day activities, as well as missionaries in the frontlines of remote posts, often the only ones providing basic social services.

As they converse, Annan and the Pope agree on one thing: the world has become a quieter place since the Filipinos disappeared. It isn't just the silencing of work and office equipment formerly handled by Filipinos; no, it seems there's much less laughter now that the Filipinos aren't around, both the laughter of the Filipinos and those they served.

I know, I know, I'm exaggerating the contributions of Filipinos to the world but I'm doing what the producers of "A Day without Mexicans" had in mind: using a bit of hyperbole to shake people up.As their blurb for the film goes: "How do you make the invisible, visible? Make them invisible." As I wrote this column, I did realize I was doing this not so much for the Hong Kong Chinese and Taiwanese and Singaporeans and Americans who don't appreciate us enough, than for us, who as Filipinos, are pretty good at putting ourselves down, at making ourselves invisible.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Coming soon: a new school year

While watching TV passively last night, I came across a short feature on the impact of the spiraling oil prices on ordinary Filipinos. If there is something that reminds us of how things are inextricably connected in this world, it is oil prices - fluctuations in the world prices of crude oil reverberate across many facets of our lives: prices of commodities go up, transport groups demand fare increases, etc. But what caught my interest was that along the course of interviewing mothers who were doing their marketing at a wet market, the TV reporter stumbled on a related topic of interest. Most of those interviewed commented that they were tightening belts and going on a strict budget on account of the impending opening of classes. One particular harassed-looking mom noted "ngayon pa na malapit na ang pasukan."

My heart goes out to mothers like that - people who put a premium on the educational needs of their children. In this country, the opening of classes is always a major event. Although really quite unnecessary (and impractical) if we come to think about it, most parents do make it a point to make sure that their kids sport brand new uniforms and school bags complete with school supplies at the opening of classes; even if their old ones are still serviceable. I know this for a fact because my parents were like that too when we were kids. Perhaps because parents think it is one way to motivate kids to take education seriously?

Every school year, I would invariably end up with brand new school shoes (which where a pain to wear in the first few days and I always ended up with blisters), a new set of school uniforms, and school supplies (some of which were truly unnecessary really - I always ended up with rulers, crayons, watercolors, pencil cases, pencil sharpeners, protactors, etc., which I never get to use anyway and subsequently misplaced within the first few days of school). It never crossed my parents' mind to ask me if it was okay not to buy new ones, or which ones I needed to begin with - they somehow had this mindset that the opening of classes meant a new chapter in my school life that required all these new things. At least I never had to go through the superstitious rituals that others had to go through every year (like eating breakfast with shreds of paper from the pages of a dictionary on the first day of school). A friend of mine had to suffer that exotic menu once a year.

A friend of mine has this interesting theory related to this. He calls it the collective guilt complex of today's generation of parents. Because life is difficult, and perhaps because most parents work, they end up making up for their parental inadequacies by ensuring that they do not at least deprive their kids of whatever little luxuries they can give. Unfortunately, this has seemingly perpetuated a "materialistic" mentality among kids today.

It is a pity then that many traders take advantage of this societal trend. Parents are natural preys to the vagaries of market forces because what parent can resist the temptation to please their children? Thus, kids today have become exposed to consumerism at such an early age. Even school supplies have become designer items. I was aghast to find out for example how much an authentic Harry Potter school bag costs. As an offshoot, pirated goods have likewise sprouted; and this likewise exposes kids to the evils of piracy at an early age. Another example of how good intentions can warp values.

But it is always heartwarming to find that many parents still put a premium on education. Too bad most surveys indicate a downward trend on the actual literacy rate among Filipinos. Something is wrong somewhere and too bad good intentions are never enough to produce quality education. We seem to be a country of good parents but not of mentors (and I do not just mean school teachers, but parents as teachers as well).

And writing about this has reminded me how soon time flies indeed. It will already be May next week, and classes at the school where I teach begins May 22. Sigh. If there is any consolation to be had, it will be this: summer, and this infernal heat will soon be over. Obviously, summer is not my favorite season.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Let Students Be

I am bothered by the pronouncements of Presidential Chief of Staff Michael Defensor and the officials of the Cavite State University regarding that protest (actually a heckling) incident involving a graduating student during this year's Commencement Exercises where the President was the guest speaker. The graduating student, Maria Theresa Pangilinan unfurled a "No To Cha-Cha" banner and shouted "Patalsikin si Gloria" while the President was delivering her speech.

Defensor seethed against the act, which he said was reflective of poor taste and lack of decorum. Maybe. Like I said before, there should be some respect for the chair GMA is sitting in. But I have serious reservations about publicly chastising "poor taste" and "lack of decorum." I think the better approach is to take the higher moral ground, express tolerance for the exuberance of the youth, and declare respect for their activism. We may not always agree with the mindset of the young, but I would rather that we let them be because haven't we all been there at one point and haven't we all learned from our experiences - good or bad?

This reminded me of what Clement Bacani, a colleague of mine at the CEGP when I was in College, said to me in a recent email. Clement advised me not to take offense if student activists nail me on the cross for that letter - because quite frankly, we've been there too. His email provided a wise context to the rather mean comments about me in some student activists' blogs (I remember one really mean post, which opened with a comment about my physical appearance - the blogger called me pangit; hahaha).

Student activism is the bedrock of critical thinking in this country. Thus, the youth should be allowed a certain latitude when it comes to their actions and assertions. Fiery statements, hardline pronouncements, bold and fearless actions - all these are part and parcel of what student activism is and should be about - and it is all part of the political maturing process. Let them be!

The officials of the Cavite State University should stop making pronouncements about how they will withhold the transcript of the protesting student, blah, blah, blah. Aside from the fact that this is clearly illegal, it is senseless act and smacks of narrowmindedness which reflects badly on their role as mentors. Sure, the incident put the school in an embarrassing position as hosts, but I do not think the act reflects badly on their image as an academic institution. Being renowned for producing students who can think for themselves and stand for their convictions is not something to be ashamed of.


And on another note, I recently came across a blog that is worth sharing with all of you out there mainly because it advocates something that I have a passion for: discovering places and preserving heritage sites. The blogger's name is Ivan Henares and his blog is entitled Ivan About Town (i have also linked his blog to my blog). I haven't had time to read all of his posts and I look forward to reading all of them - I have visited some of the places he has written about (mostly the cities and towns in the Philippines and some Asian cities) and it should be great reminiscing my own discoveries in these places. Recently, Ivan went around Southeast Asia and he wrote about his trip in his blog.

His blog rekindled an idea that struck me last year when I started blogging. I think it would be a great idea if all bloggers out there did a post about their own hometown along with pictures and place this post on a conspicuous place on their blogs so that these do not get buried in the archives. I believe this needs to be done as soon as we can before development finally erases whatever little is left of our national heritage. Since I am going home to my hometown (Abuyog Leyte) in May, I intend to do this.

Perhaps a techie out there can link all these posts together in some way- a chain of posts about hometowns in the Philippines?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Abangan ang susunod na kabanata

Something that should be pretty evident by now is that I am not a lawyer nor a political scientist. My training is in the behavioral sciences, thus, my perspectives tend toward "understanding motivations" rather than in analyzing the (political, intellectual, social, ideological, etc) implications of things. I am putting this caveat forward before going on to write about what I want to write about today because one of the things that dismays me is that there are many so-called experts out there who speak with the conviction of the all-knowing without regard to the most basic of facts: their views are based on a specific worldview hewn out of a specific discipline; they are not generic one-size fits all panacea. So what follows is either ignorant blabbering of a politically naive person, or valid musings from an imaginary couch.

Having said that, let me state that I view the Supreme Court decision on EO 464 as a possible harbinger of sorts of the collective stance of the magistrates. Thus, the days ahead should prove interesting as we await decisions on other critical issues pending before the Court. The Chief Justice said in today's PDI issue that the Court sees its mandate as not about "who loses or wins" but about what the Constitution says. This "officialese" may sound innocuous but it actually says quite a lot. Put another way, what he seems to be saying is that they will try not to pander to any side, which is neither here nor there because issues are not always that objective nor so cut and dried. Often, issues do tend to be tilted heavily towards one side and renders Solomonic decisions questionable if not totally out of the question.

What we need to recognize is that the magistrates are people too, and people's behaviors and actions are based on what roles they want to play in the national scene. Should the current attitude of the Supreme Court prevail, then its perceived, and emerging role in these troubled times seems pretty much cut out: it looks like they intend to act as this country's ultimate mediator (not arbiter nor trailblazer) on contentious issues. If my reading is right, then most of its decisions will be Solomonic in nature like its recent decision.

The question that begs to be answered then is: how long can it possibly sustain this delicate balancing act? Not for long, I think. I believe that the pervading situation is approaching a boiling point and sooner or later, the court will have to make a choice between "doing the right things" versus "doing things right."

So as they say in soap operas... abangan ang susunod na kabanata.


Speaking of interesting times, it does look like we may be in for another emotional roller coaster ride when Congress resumes sessions in a month's time. Senators Drilon and Biazon have already fired the warning salvo today...a mere one day after the Supreme Court decision was released. Sigh. And on the other side of the arena, the Palace immediately trundled the usual trite warnings about obstructionist politics and witchhunting. This kind of posturing is exactly what I was worried of because it needlessly puts them automatically on opposite sides as vindictive senators who are out to get their pound of flesh at any cost and/or as defensive obfuscating talking mouths out to block any punch, real or imagined.

But here is what I deeply believe in. There is a critical mass of people out there who will no longer sit impassively watching senators turn hearings into a kangaroo court. If there is something I know for sure after that letter was circulated, there are people out there who now expects statesmanship and some semblance of civility in the way senate hearings are conducted. No, I personally do not think the senate investigations should be stopped. But there is a way of conducting these hearings without turning them into scenes straight out of a Carlo Caparas movie: gory and perversely engrossing but in dire need of better scripting and competent directing.

I for one will be closely watching how these hearings to be conducted supposedly "in aid of legislation" will play out. I expect them to do their work well. I expect them to walk the talk and produce smoking guns, not dubious evidences that make for good headlines, but will not stand in any court of law. Senator Biazon, come up with something better than text messages and shady characters.

On the other hand, I expect the palace functionaries to get their acts together and come up with better, more convincing defense other than the usual stonewalling. There are things that need explaining, and they better hit the ground running. Otherwise, face the inevitable.


But is a showdown really going to happen? This is a question that remains to be seen. While it does look like the rope in this tug of war has been stretched taut even before the actual game has started, there are other events in the field that threatens to upstage or render the main event moot and academic.

This is where the Supreme Court once again comes into the picture. If the high court declares the people's initiative on the cha cha legal and constitutional, anything can happen before then. Will it be another Solomonic decision?

Interesting times, indeed. Again, abangan ang susunod na kabanata.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Participating vicariously

I have spent a great part of the last three nights vicariously experiencing iblog2 and the Free Expression in Asian Cyberspace Conference from various blogs (mainly through links at MLQ'S blog). I salute the efforts of bloggers who are painstakingly documenting the proceedings and offering insights on the various papers being presented and the discussions that are happening.

As someone who started blogging only in September last year, and mainly as a means of personal expression (but who consequently and accidentally found himself at the maelstrom of a major public debate), I take special interest in these events. I fear that my alleged "mainstream" views will probably be an oddity at these events; but then again, I cling to the belief that the concept of free expression embraces everyone -pro or anti, or somewhere in between, despite the often exclusivist perspective of some people.

A friend I am conversing with online in YM as I write this post dismisses the discussions at these conferences as "theoretical intellectualizing of the overzealous." I take a divergent perspective. I think that these conferences are building roadmaps into the future and laying the foundation for the effective and ethical use of cyberspace as possibly the last frontier of free expression in the world. I read somewhere a comment (which I tried to find again so I can link, but failed) that said the discussions had a kind of "menacing tone" to them - as if participants have come to the table with a decidedly guarded stance. I do sense a certain vigilant stance in some of the papers (which is also understandable given that some participants from other countries did come to the Conference with horror stories to tell) but I think vigilance is a good thing to have for as long as it is tempered with reason and situated within a more sober context of reality.

I came across the slides of Melinda de Jesus' presentation at the Asian Conference (I hope to come across the actual transcript of her presentation). Awesome! I was particularly impressed at the way she was able to crystallize the implications of blogging on society in terms of its contributions to creating a more enlightened public "sphere" and in promoting the common good. These are indeed two critical issues facing bloggers out there. I personally believe that bloggers need to focus on creating consensus rather than conflict. Her presentation ends with the question that bloggers must ponder on: how does blogging fit into the larger scheme of human communication? It is a question that we must continuously ask ourselves.

For instance, I have been keenly observing the ongoing debate in the comments section of this blog among some regular readers. The debate used to be acrimonious (and tended to get personal in the past), but the debate has since become more rational and if I may be allowed to say it, more "tolerant" of the diversity of opinions. I think that some consensus is inevitable, even if it is only to "agree to disagree on some points" but what is heartwarming is that this has become possible mainly because people had the courage to stay in the communications process. Perhaps because the regular exchanges have somehow created a sense of "community" borne out of familiarity? (Of course it is also possible that people have also simply gotten tired, but I doubt it given the almost palpable strength of the convictions).

I look forward to reading more about the proceedings at these conferences.


It is in this light that I was rather taken aback by a post written by Manuel Buencamino which offers a rather cynical and unflattering view of the middle class entitled You snooze, You lose. There are phrases in the article that make oblique references to my letter (i.e. "sick and tired," angry "let's move on" letters, etc). I have consistently maintained that I do not speak for any class, and that the "middle class" appellation to my letter was made by others, not me. But this post is disturbing, to say the least, because Mr. Buencamino has rendered a sweeping indictment of the value of the middle class in Philippine politics and, possibly on society (however unintended it may have been).

Among other things, Mr. Buencamino says that "most of the middle is only good at whining about the lack of an alternative and rationalizing inaction." He follows this up with similar sweeping judgments, calling the middle class "self-emasculated" and asserting that "they have nothing except their balls and their brains and, as we have seen, many of them prefer not to use either."

Nitpickers can have a field day with many points of the article - (I can already see how others will point out how the middle class is propping up this country, how the middle class has been the fulcrum of many change efforts in history, etc) but since I do not have the time nor the inclination, I shall refrain from doing so. I choose to disagree on principle: generalizations are dangerous (yes, even this one - as Dumas wisely pointed out) because they create stereotypes that consequently breed hatred and intolerance, making sweeping judgments about people just because they do not share one's perspective smacks of prejudice, and mass-scale ostracism is not only divisive; it takes away focus from the real war that needs to be fought.

I think building consensus rather than conflict requires that we go beyond the name calling and the generalizations.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Summer Memories

I am officially going home to my home town in Leyte for a few days in May. The flight has been booked and the arrangements have been made. It has been quite some time since I last went home, so I am somehow looking forward to this trip. Summer is usually the time when most of us "promdis" do our own exodus back to our barrios, and for good reason: this is the time when most barrios and sitios celebrate their respective fiestas. I am going home actually for a fiesta celebration. For reasons that only make perfect sense to parents, I have found myself as this year's hermano mayor of the fiesta in the barrio where the family farm is. And according to my mother, aside from ensuring that people are fed and intoxicated, I have to be personally present to carry the religious icon of San Isidro Labrador otherwise..., well, I really did not not want to know what the rest of the unwritten contract with the Saint was. I have long given up trying to win an argument with my mother on traditions and religion (and more often than not, religious traditions).

Summer at the farm was such great fun when I was a kid, so I guess as long as I remember to try not to be such an adult, it should be fun going home to the farm this time around.

I wonder if the river that ran through one side of the barrio is still clean enough to bathe in. The last time I saw that river was like 10 years ago and anything can happen in that span of time. But when I was a child, summer days started with a trek to that river to practice our diving and swimming skills. We would wallow in the water for hours and go home only when we got really hungry.

I wonder if they still do the Santacruzan thing at the farm's chapel. When I was child, we would spend the time immediately after the afternoon siesta collecting wild flowers, some of which we cut into small confetti-like pieces. The novena (Flores de Mayo) had two parts that involved audience participation from the little tykes - one was the offering of flowers, where the kids would line up at the back and walk to the altar clutching flowers which were then placed on the feet of the virgin. The second part was towards the end of the novena when everyone sang "Adios" to the virgin. This was the part when the kids would "shower" the virgin with flowers except that very often, the "shower" resembled a stoning. And kids being kids, this was always an occasion for some prank. Someone always invariably produced foul smelling flowers or leaves, or the "shower" was directed at some kid rather than at the altar. The novena was such a hit among kids because there was always some loot bag afterwards.

And I wonder if the trees around the farm are heavy with fruits this time around. When I was growing up, the seasons of the year were also determined by what fruit was in season. We knew it was definitely summer because there was just bountiful santol (my grandmother's tree produced the sweetest santol I have ever tasted - they said it was because she watered the plant with sugar when it was growing up), mangoes, avocados, macopas, etc. Of course, there were always watermelons lying around.

And I wonder if there are still fireflies at night at the farm. Or if they still do public "benefit dances" (the origin of the disco and the rave parties).

Blog Power

A friend of mine who got acquainted with the blogging world because of that letter has hit upon the realization that bloghopping beats reading the op-ed pages of newspapers. At the very least, she said, the opinions are more real and funnier and the comments more authentic and representative. I couldn't agree more. (Another friend who is HR manager of a large firm shared the sentiment in an emai and he said reading blogs has become a daily habit for him).

I personally have gotten into the habit of just skimming through the op-ed sections of the newspapers before deciding what I want to read in full. It is just so much more convenient and worthwhile to read MLQ's daily roundup of the more sensible things people are saying out there.

I understand that the conference on blogging is ongoing at UP (yesterday and today). I received an invitation to participate, but unfortunately I already had something scheduled. It would have been interesting to finally be able to put names, ideas and faces together, but maybe another time. My apologies to the organizers.

There are those who remain pessimistic about the emerging power of blogging or the internet for that matter as a marketplace of ideas. But I am currently advising a group of students (at this school in Taft) who are doing an undergrad thesis on cyberloafing (that's technical term for using company internet for personal purposes while at work) and they have came up with startling statistics on those who are accessing the net everyday - not necessarily from work, although their preliminary data seems to indicate that the average employee with company-provided access to the net spends at least 2.5 hours everyday on the net while at work. That's a lot of time!

After combing and sifting through various sources, they found that internet usage in the Philippines will increase by an average of 23% annually. The current profile of Filipinos who access the net everyday is that of someone who is 13-30 years old, and more than half of them are from the upper economic classes although there is a substantial representation from "Class D," meaning that the middle economic classes account for almost two out of three users. (Their sources are well cited, and it is an academic paper, so I have no reason to put on my doubting Thomas persona).

But as they said in Spiderman "with power comes responsibility." And sadly, there is also emerging abuse of blogs. More on this at a later date.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


We still have to get settled into the old routine after the holy week respite, and here we are right smack in the middle of a gridlock already. I am not talking about traffic on the road (which thankfully has been alleviated somehow by the reduction of vehicles on the road due to the fact that students are on vacation, but aggravated just the same by the infernal heat); but to the gridlock that is happening in the national scene around some issues. But what is happening on our thoroghfares is indeed a fitting metaphor to our problems as a nation.

What is it about us Filipinos and our inability to suspend judgment on anything until further enlightenment? Are we really that opinionated that we automatically jump the gun and weigh in on issues even when the facts are not clear yet? It does seem that we have a long long line of people all wanting to talk and to be heard, and nobody wants to listen.

Last week, there was this whole hullabaloo about FPJ's selection as National Artist for cinema. I don't think anyone in his right mind can question FPJ's qualification for the exalted title (I think Joseph Estrada deserves the title too - he did make great movies in his younger days, but that is another blog entry). There was this faux pas about the withdrawal of the list for the sake of following some administrative guidelines - but some people automatically jumped the gun and made hysterical accusations about unfairness and political foul play. Whew! Couldn't people just listen first and suspend judgment before going ballistic? It is now clear that there has been no intent to take FPJ out of the list (such move has to be moronic), so all that ranting was unnecessary after all.

The commutation of the death penalty by the President is another case in point. I can understand the outrage of those who are for the death penalty (I am not for capital punishment) - but I am bothered at the reasoning being forwarded. Instead of debating about the merits and demerits of capital punishment, people are debating over whether the act was politically motivated or not. Even some of those who are against the death penalty weighed in with their own two cents worth - some went to so much trouble praising the decision and then wondering if the act was wise or not. Ehhh? The traffic on this one got really worse when people began saying it should have been selective (how can it be selective? By drawing lots? By doing jack in poy?), that the president should make it clear if this was now the policy of the state (the papers today carried stories that said the president will certify the bill repealing the death penalty as urgent - but someone already pontificated that this was illegal because it breaks the separation of the three branches of government), yada, yada, yada. Ang traffic!

The showing of the Da Vinci Code is still a month away (it hits theatres on May 9 I think) but people are already debating over whether it should be shown in the Philippines or not. The movie is still in its post-production stages and no one in the Philippines has seen for himself what the movie really has to say and yet people are already frothing in the mouth about the sacrilegeous message of the movie. Are these people clairvoyant or what?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Hot Monday

So maybe I was wrong after all. It does seem that there are many many Filipinos out there who attach some meaning to Easter Sunday given the fact that I woke up yesterday to find 38 text messages in my phone's inbox containing various Easter messages - from the religious to the profound to the ribald (about easter eggs). It seems the cash registers of the cellphone companies were ringing loud yesterday and I am sure the whole-page ads of Globe and Talk-n-Text announcing the lowering of SMS rates to 90 cents were worth it.

The text messages invariably spoke the same message: there is always hope for redemption in this world if we learn to accept God's will. I sincerely hope so. But I wish that people would walk the talk on this one.

Like I said, I rarely give Easter Sunday messages from the powers-that-be a second thought, except that yesterday, the President commuted the death sentence of more than 1,000 in death row. Naturally, the act has been given a political spin.

I am 101% against the death penalty because I firmly believe capital punishment has no place in a civilized society. I also believe that this is the essence of Easter Sunday, and it is sad that this powerful message will probably be lost in the din and dynamics of the current political bedlam. But I hope that the President will stick to this decision and that Congress will finally outlaw the death penalty.

I empathize with the families of victims of heinous crimes. Spokespersons of various anti-crime groups have already started to assail the decision. Yesterday, someone was quoted in PDI as saying it seems the President favors the rights of criminals more than she does the rights of victims. This is sad because I do not think that issue is about choosing whose rights should prevail or given more weight. If it were so, then there would be no need for laws and processes.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Hope, Faith, Redemption

By the time you are reading this, you must have already come across some Easter Message from someone in power. I have never really taken Easter Messages seriously before; and I wonder how many Filipinos out there actually watch out for these annual homilies. But I do recognize that being a predominantly Catholic country, we must constantly remind ourselves that the bedrock of our existence lie in the Easter messages of hope, faith, and redemption. But given the way Holy Week has somehow lost its meaning, I doubt very much if these annual attempts at profundity has any significance to the ordinary Filipino.

My family was never big on Easter Sundays. I actually held my first easter egg when I was already working when some well-meaning friends would bring left-over colored eggs from their easter egg hunts. I do know that eggs and rabbits have long been the favored symbol of spring and abundance and that Easter came from the name of some Pagan goddess of spring. But I am sure that someone out there will offer a better theological perspective to the Easter symbols.

Happy Easter everyone!

Friday, April 14, 2006


I have been sitting in front of my laptop for sometime now trying to get fingers and brain and heart to work together to write something. My mind is still with Mae. But I know that Mae would like everyone to move on with our lives, which is why I am still sitting here trying.

Death is truly devastating. It makes us come to terms with certain inescapable truths. Just a few weeks ago, the mom of one of my students (Miguel) passed away after a long bout with cancer. But last Tuesday night, Miguel and his brother came to my birthday party and it was great to see them laughing again.

That party was marred by an incident that has also been on my mind these past three days. The scene was straight out of Romeo and Juliet, Filipino style - a super protective mom crashed my private birthday party to chastise me for allowing my party to be the rendezvous of her daughter (who is my student) and her boyfriend (who is also my student)) which the family disapproves of. Her actions didn't make sense, particularly since her daughter was already home by then (she left the party early). But parenthood is such a complicated business I have long given up hope trying to intellectualize why parents do or say things that seem illogical. I can only hope the family, or that my students are able to find some wisdom even in the midst of such seemingly non-sensical incidents.

Yesterday we did the usual visita iglesia.

1. We started at La Paz Church in Makati. I like the simplicity of this church. This is one church that eschews grandiose decors and makes worship the main preoccupation. The altar was bare, with just purple fabric covering the religious icons. That was it, no frills.

2. We moved on to the Greenbelt Church. This church is best described as a sanctuary right smack in the middle of crass commercialism. I hope that the Ayalas never demolish this dove-like structure ever. Sadly, the air was heavy with the stench of dying fish. I think they were doing something with the pond around the church and Greenbelt 3 and the fishes were dying. One of the symbols of Christ is the fish, but I doubt if the symbolism was intentional. Since it was dinnertime, we proceeded to MacDonalds where the crowd was SRO; we checked out nearby Italliani's but the waitlist was even longer. Sigh. So we want back to MacDo and settled for the long wait to be served food in styropor boxes.

3. Sanctuario de San Antonio was next on our list. There is truly a great difference between the rich and the poor and not necessarily in terms of purchasing power but in doing things; while the church was bedecked with flowers and foliage, it was done in stark simplicity; as if saying, we do not need to prove anything. It is possible of course that most of the rich folks were away anyway thus the reason for the simple elegance. But this was in marked contrast to other churches where the vigil altars resembled - quite frankly - a collection of all kinds of things haphazardly thrown together.

4. Then we hopped off to Don Bosco. We went to this church because one of our companions insisted on it. I apologize sincerely to the Salesians and to others if I will offend their sensibilities when I say that going inside that church is a major test of concentration for me - something about what Lerry Henares once wrote about in his column in PDI many years ago. The irreverent Henares described the altar of the church as... well...maybe it should not be discussed at this time and in this post; but if you really want to know, leave a comment and I will answer it there. If you have been there, then you can imagine it. It something not fit to be discussed in polite company, particularly since the subject happens to be a religious object of worship.

5. Then we went to Belair where traffic was moving at the pace of a snail suffering from severe exhaustion. Not that there were too many people going there; just that some people pay are so inconsiderate, they think nothing of stopping right in the middle of the road to unload people.

6. We hopped off to The Shrine of the Sacred Heart at San Antonio Village. I understand that this church is where local officials of Makati attend Holy Week rites, which probably explains the presence of too many volunteers making sure that vehicles do not transform into a giant jigsaw puzzle the way they do at the Manila Cathedral. Or maybe the parish people are simply more conscientious about these things. Whatever.

7. We left Makati and moved on to the Manila area. We initially thought of going to San Isidro Church at Taft Avenue (I like the altar of this Church - it is a glass wall and the giant crucifix is outside beside trees - it makes a powerful statement about worship as if saying, yes you can pray to God here, but God is also outside in the real world), but since we were on the South Superhighway, we decided to visit this nondescript church at Estrada Street.

8. We then heeded straight to the Malate Church (right in front of Baywalk). Here, the priests were hearing confessions not in the confessional booths but right in front of the main altar. No more privacy, no more secrecy. If one wanted to empty his or her innermost darkest secrets, then one lets them all hang out in front of a priest. I think that's a better way to do it. You are sorry for your sins, be brave enough to confront them - and your confessor too.

9. Along the way to the Ermita Church, we noticed that many bars were open. The Hobbit House (I am amazed that it is still in existence, it must be older than I am) was open. We made a wrong turn and ended up at Roxas Boulevard. We saw that Baywalk was indeed alive and true to the promise of the enterpreneurs, was on a party mood. Hmmm. So much for Mayor Atienza's supposed puritanical stance. Since we were already at Roxas Boulevard, we decided to just go straight to the Manila Cathedral. We parked on Roxas Blvd and walked towards the Cathedral. I have always wondered why the Manila Cathedral insists on putting the vigil altar at a side enclosure where people are bound to squeeze in like well, I wanted to say sardines, but I know that is not an accurate metaphor anymore given that there are more sauce than actual fish in a sardines tin, so maybe french fries on a paper box?

10. We were tempted to go to San Agustin Church, but we were parked on a dark dingy spot on Roxas Boulevard, so we decided to leave post haste. We ended up at the Adamson Church were there were less people. Whoever designed the altar of this church deserves a place in history and that is all I can say.

11. Pope Pius church was our 10th stop.

12. Then we were off to Paco Church (not Paco Park, it was closed), right on Pedro Gil Street. I remember this church as the pulpit of Bishop Ted Bacani many years ago before he got reassigned somewhere.

13. Saint Anthony Church on Singalong. This year, the parish people had a brilliant idea. They moved the vigil altar to the audio visual room of the Saint Anthony's School. They had candles everywhere, and the main altar was a sky of twinkling lights - it was a rendition of the nativity.

14. Our final stop was the Saint Martin de Porres Church on a side street of Leon Guinto. This very small church is renowned for miracles. Legend has it (this could be true though) that the church stands on the old house of a woman who had cancer but was healed through constant prayers to St. Martin. This church is just a block away from where I live.

We got home at around 11 pm.

One of the annoying things that I noted during our visita iglesia was the growing number of people who would elbow themselves to the front - to take pictures of the altar with their digicams and cellphones. Tch tch tch.

And that was how I spent Holy Thursday.

Thinking of Mae

We can all feel bad about losing money to a thief, or a cellphone to a snatcher, or even the occasional heartbreak when we lose someone to another person. But all these can not compare to losing someone so young, so full of life, at a very young age, to one of life's unexplained mysteries - aneurysm.

Mae Isabel Frances Vargas, a student of mine (one of the very very few students - I can count them with the fingers on one hand - who was able to take four courses under me) passed away at 3am this morning at the ICU at Saint Luke's Hospital. She collapsed Tuesday evening, went into coma on the way to the hospital, and was declared clinically dead since yesterday morning. They removed all life support systems yesterday at noontime, but she heroically maintained a heartbeat until mid afternoon; at which point the doctors decided to make one last herculean effort to revive her. But at 3 am her body finally gave way. Her heart just stopped beating.

The doctors said it was congenital - she had that abnormality in one of the nerves in her brain since childhood. This of course does not make the pain any less bearable; it merely makes us feel a bit comforted that she at least reached her twenties and had some time to enjoy life before her date with the inevitable.

I have been thinking about Mae since Wednesday after I visited her at the ICU. I have been wondering how anything like this could happen to someone so young. She just finished all her academic requirements, and just a few days ago, she was fretting about not being able to submit her application for graduation on time.

Some things in this life are truly beyond man's control. They do not make sense. But in time, I hope that I and the other people whose lives have been touched by Mae's quiet ways, will be able to see through our tears and our grief and trust that God in His infinite wisdom knows what is truly best.

In the meantime, please pray for Mae. Please pray for all of us who are grieving.

Mae, (I actually called her Isabel even if everyone else called her Mae- I thought that was the more descriptive of her three names) wherever you are, I will miss you.

Monday, April 10, 2006


In the next few days, Metro Manila will be one of the most ideal places to be in the Philippines. For a few days, the metropolis will be everything one would want it to be and more. For once, one can actually drive an alfa romeo 33 around; not that I have one, or that I can afford one in this lifetime, nor do I aspire to have one ( the last comment is aimed at student activists who trash me in their blogs for being too "burgis" ). But you get the drift - it is one of those rare times when Metro Manila is a little quieter and less frenetic. Too bad holy week happens towards the summer when it is so godawful hot hot hot and one can't go to Baywalk (on the off chance that one wants to go there just to check out what is so darn special about the place to begin with) to marvel at the trash floating at Manila Bay or behold those what-was-Mayor-Atienza-thinking street lights. Nevertheless, Metro Manila is the place to be during the holy week.

This is why I have made it a point not to go out of town in this supposed season of reflection. Why bother going somewhere where everyone else is going, unless of course, that is one's idea of a perfect vacation. (I do recognize however that there are those who have to go out of Metro Manila for some needed rest and recreation. It is the only time when members of the family are on vacation at the same time and it is a perfect time to bond with family members someplace where food does not have to come in styropor boxes).

The last time I went out of town for the holy week was nine years ago. I got convinced to join some friends to spend some time baking under the sun at San Juan, La Union. This was when the potentials of the town as a surfing destination was still unheard of and it was still unthinkable to imagine the President being photographed or shown on TV going berserk on top of a surfboard. We tried to get out of Manila as early as we could - at the ungodly hour of 1am on a Holy Thursday. Tough luck because it seemed everyone else and their cousin had the same idea. It took us twelve loooong hours to get there. It was sheer bedlam at the North Expressway and at the Tarlac highway. While sitting inside a car whose carburator was threatening to go kaput any moment, we pondered helplessly on the question as to whose suffering was worse, ours or those of the penitents who passed us by. At least the penitents appeared to have some meaningful reason to be out there.

Since then, I have resolved never to inflict the same torture on myself ever again.

I have never been to Boracy or Puerto Galera or Baguio on a Holy Week. I have been informed that people hie off to these and other similar places to... party!!!. For instance, I am told that at Boracay, people get wasted and that at Puerto Galera, they hold an annual Miss Gay Philippines contest right on Good Friday and that Globe and Smart banners compete with the landscape. I don't know what these make of us as a supposedly devout Catholic country.

I plan to join the family in going around churches on Thursday for the traditional visita iglesia even if I actually dread the thought of having to brave the makeshift Jollibee, Shakey's, and Greenwich stalls that are bound to clog the entrance of the more popular churches. Sigh.

But at least I will have some time in my hands to read, read, read. And maybe, if the right mood hits me, I must just sit through the whole second and third seasons of The Sopranos on DVD (they have been sitting on top of my DVD set for at least a year now).

I hope you all have a meaningful holy week.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Fallacy of the lesser evil? My response

(Published in the Inquirer yesterday was a letter written by Mr. Michael Francis Ean Vega II. Below is my response to it. I am not sure PDI will print it, but given my experience with that paper, I very much doubt it).

This is in response to the letter of Mr. Michael Francis Ean Vega II ("Fallacy of the lesser evil," PDI, 4/8/06). I thank Mr. Vega for widening the contours of the debate beyond the name-calling and class generalizations, and in a civilized way. Although he finds my kind of reasoning lamentable and calls me a pragmatist (*grin*), these descriptions are an improvement over the savage name-calling others have indulged in. I am grateful because I truly think that there is space for courteous exchanges of divergent opinions even in these troubling times and Mr. Vega has just proven that. Perhaps it is time to remind everyone our there that just because we disagree we are not necessarily enemies. Perhaps it is time to bring the discussion to a higher level without losing sight of the fact that we are in this together.

Mr. Vega anchors his reaction to my letter on the premise that there is an evil that needs to be fought and fighting that evil is the moral thing to do. I cannot disagree with him on this assertion, for who in his right mind would argue that evil needs to be fought?

But here is where our perspectives diverge: I refuse to be selective and exclusive on what, and who is evil; or more evil for that matter. Unlike Mr. Vega, I think the evils that plague our nation must not and can not be limited to, and are therefore beyond, GMA et al. I did not raise this specter of who is the greater or lesser of evils in that letter, that letter points out that GMA can not just be the only "issue" here. Thus, I refuse to give in to the temptation to take part in efforts to repeat the same rush to render moral judgment that have only yielded temporary victories in the past but for which we continue to pay for dearly today.

At the root of the issue is the claim that has been repeatedly pointed out to me by well-meaning individuals that by giving GMA "conditioned and temporary" support (because of my avowed adherence to democratic and constitutional processes), I am allowing myself to be used to further perpetuate evil. I find this argument to be a double-edged sword because the reverse happens to be also true: by focusing on the most convenient evil (i.e., GMA), there is also consequent implicit approbation of the other "evils."

This is the problem with situating issues at extreme ends of only one continuum, choosing one option repudiates the other. Thus, I cannot be blind to the fact that in this whole rush to judgment, the perpetrators of past injustices have similarly cloaked themselves with the same armor of righteousness that is being invoked to supposedly cleanse our country of immorality. I refuse to be blind to the fact that in this whole rush to judgment, everything else that shows promise in this country is being held hostage: economic growth, peace and order, etc. By demonizing only one person and making her the central – nay, the only issue - negates recognition and discussion of the other evils. How can this be moral?

Unlike Mr. Vega, I do not necessarily think that our problems as a people is as simple as choosing between just two evils because as I said, I refuse to limit my list of evils to GMA and the other politicians. My list would be much longer and would include hatred, intolerance, duplicity, hypocrisy, poverty, sabotage, apathy, greed, etc. These are far more insidious evils. This is the context in which that open letter was written.

I also get Mr. Vega’s point: wrong is wrong and right is right. But I do not buy the offered solution: to go to the streets as we did in Edsa Dos. Not because I refuse to acknowledge wrongdoing when I see it, but precisely because I do not see how something wrong can be corrected by doing something wrong. I am also deeply concerned about morality issues, but I choose to take the higher moral ground in addressing immorality. How can democracy be salvaged through undemocratic processes? How can immorality be corrected by committing immorality as well? To do so would be to go down to the level of the so-called evils.

I have said this in that letter and in the many rejoinders I have written in my blog and I will say it again here: I also do not like GMA. I do not begrudge people who want her out. Go ahead, I will not stand in your way. But we must as a people learn how to do this right – the legal, the democratic, the proper, the civilized way – so that our children need not be saddled anymore with the weight of having to grapple with the task of undoing the mistakes we have committed in the past and are tempted to commit again today. Kicking corrupt leaders out of power has become easy, but correcting the system has become far more elusive in the long run. This vicious cycle has got to stop.

I agree with Mr. Vega 101%: Filipinos deserve better. But I would like to think that this quest to provide Filipinos something better is not only limited to our choices in who sits in Malacanang, but also in the way we elect and evict him or her. I would like to think that the legacy that we want to leave behind is not just limited to the quality of the people whose portraits line the hallways of power, but also in the strength of our nation’s processes, how we do things. Leaders come and go, but the strength of our systems determines our destiny as a people.

Like Mr. Vega, I agree that vigilance is the only way to go, which is why I wrote that letter and why I continue to keep my voice heard despite the many risks attendant to maintaining an allegedly "immoral" stand. So you see Mr. Vega, my perspective is clearly more than just about whether to keeep Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in power or not. Like you, I want to fight evil. But I choose to fight it differently.

Bong Austero

Friday, April 07, 2006

Same old hackneyed song from the same tired singers

That New York Times editorial which described GMA as a Marcos-in-the-making has been making the rounds and has raised a number of points - both valid and without basis, depending on where one stands. I do not think there is anything more I can add to those that have already been discussed in many blogs, except to note that 1) there is nothing in that editorial that has not been raised by a number of Filipinos, and perhaps with better clarity and more accuracy (I guess when the sentences are printed on better quality newsprint, they assume more weight?), and 2) I think the suggestion of the NYTimes that US President Bush issue a warning to President GMA is disturbing, it labors under the assumption that the Philippines is under the sovereignty of the USA. I am amazed that that part of the editorial is being glossed over by many people.

We have been issued a stern warning by dear old big brother. Whoa, big bleeping deal!

Okay, so it is good to know that people abroad are showing some concern about what is happening in our country. But in another time, I am sure there would have been loud denunciations about America's meddling in our internal affairs. I nearly choked on my dinner when I saw Teddy Casino on TV singing paeans of praises to the NYTimes. This is a man who always invariably mouths "fascist imperialist US" as part of his protest rhetoric.

I guess that bit about there being no permanent enemies only permanent interests is true after all. And it is on this note that I view with some cynicism the supposed "coming together" of the opposition. I wish them luck because I believe that it will take more than the usual suspects engaging in a token kapit bisig to galvanize people into empathizing with their cause.

It is also in the same light that I view with skepticism the Gloria Resign campaign started by the five senators (Pimentel, Drilon, Madrigal, Lacson, Estrada). It's like being trapped in some dingy karaoke joint where the same annoying people have been hugging the limelight and the microphone singing off-key variations of the same old hackneyed song.

Guys, cut the crap. Get more credible singers to do the front act and be content to sing in the chorus. And while we are at it, change the whole repertoire please, and play some alternative music. (I know, the mixed metaphors are godawful trite, but it is one of those days when the spirit is willing but the creative juices are not simply not working).

But to summarize: same old song from the same old singers.


This is a long shot, but I am hoping that certain people would take me up on this idea. I truly think it is time to take the matter out of the hands of the politicians.

I am calling on key people with unquestioned integrity, who occupy leadership positions, and who have not been tainted with the ongoing mudslinging to come together: the likes of Senator Juan Flavier, Congressman Teddyboy Locsin, Washington Sycip, Cardinal Rosales, etc., to convene a truly-representative non-partisan congress of Filipino leaders.

Get professional organizations who have remained non-partisan to facilitate it (like professors from the Asian Institute of Management, the Personnel Management Association of the Philippines, the Philippine Business for Social Progress, the Philippine Society for Training and Development, etc.). In that Congress, draw a strategic roadmap for the country and then let's work backwards to the present.

And then let's present the strategic plan to the people, complete with solutions.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

In the Mood for Victor Hugo

My friend Tin shared in her blog her fascination with Victor Hugo which she has just "rediscovered." This brought back powerful memories of my high school days when we had a literature teacher who was a hugeVictor Hugo fan. She made us read Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables. I had to recite Victor Hugo's classic poem Man and Woman in some contest (and won, *smile*). Just to provide a brief respite from the usual blog topics, here is that poem, which I know will get some feminists worked up; let's just remember this was written ages ago and reflected an entirely different time and setting. Read it and be swept away by the sheer profundity of Victor Hugo's words:

Man and Woman
By Victor Hugo

Man is the most elevated of creatures, Woman the most sublime of ideals.
God made for man a throne; for woman an altar.
The throne exalts, the altar sanctifies.

Man is the brain, Woman, the heart.
The brain creates light, the heart, love.
Light engenders, love resurrects.

Because of reason Man is strong, Because of tears Woman is invincible.
Reason is convincing, tears, moving.

Man is capable of all heroism, Woman of all martyrdom.
Heroism ennobles, martyrdom sublimates.

Man has supremacy, Woman, preference.
Supremacy is strength, preference is the right.

Man is a genius, Woman, an angel.
Genius is immeasurable, the angel indefinable.

The aspiration of man is supreme glory,The aspiration of woman is extreme virtue.
Glory creates all that is great; virtue, all that is divine.

Man is a code, Woman a gospel.
A code corrects; the gospel perfects.

Man thinks, Woman dreams.
To think is to have a worm in the brain, to dream is to have a halo on the brow.

Man is an ocean, Woman a lake.
The ocean has the adorning pearl, the lake, dazzling poetry.

Man is the flying eagle, Woman, the singing nightingale.
To fly is to conquer space. To sing is to conquer the soul.

Man is a temple, Woman a shrine.
Before the temple we discover ourselves, before the shrine we kneel.

In short, man is found where earth finishes, woman where heaven begins.

Below are five Victor Hugo quotes that I like:

1. “The first symptom of love in a young man is shyness; the first symptom in a woman, it’s boldness.”

2. “Music expresses that which can not be said and on which it is impossible to be silent”

3. “People do not lack strength; they lack will.”

4. “To love another person is to see the face of God”

5. “Have no fear of robbers or murderers. They are external dangers, petty dangers. We should fear ourselves. Prejudices are the real robbers; vices the real murders. The great dangers are within us. Why worry about what threatens our heads or purses? Let us think instead of what threatens our souls.”

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Thoughts on a birthday

On the way to work today, I was listening to AM radio (it helps wake me up, by the time I get to work, I am all worked up and raring to go). I know that many AM radio people are not specimens of sense and reason, but is it too much to ask that they show at least some refinement (or to borrow MLQ's term: civility?) I know, I know, hold your horses please - I know some of you are thinking "Mr. Austero, if you do not like what they are saying, turn that godawful thing off." But I am not ranting about what they are saying - I am ranting against how they are saying it. There is a huge difference. For crying out loud, radio commentators elected themselves to be a mouthpiece of public opinion and if that is the way we as a people carry our polemics, pupulutin talaga tayo sa kangkungan.

Exceptions do not represent the whole of Philippine media, I know for a fact that there are many media people out there who continue to be responsible and fair - but sadly, a few rogues do cast a more sinister shadow over the more responsible ones.

Today is the President's birthday. I will be the last person to advocate that we take a holiday from dissing her just because it is her special day. But surely, there are still some rules on manners that we can all adhere to.

No one is obligated to greet the President a Happy Birthday, and if one does not truly feel like sending her good wishes, then so be it, don't. Contrary to the claims of some people, this is still a free country, there is no law that decrees it, it is not required, even if the person is the President. But should one go to great lengths talking about why he or she does not feel like wishing the President a happy birthday and in the course of the tirade come very, very close to wishing all kinds of afflictions on her?

If we can not respect her as President, then is it too much to ask to at least respect the chair she is sitting in? She is still President and no matter where we stand on the issue of whether she has disgraced that chair or not, that chair is still deserving of our respect nevertheless. And if not for that, then how about respecting her right as a fellow human being to at least exist in this world and live, at least another year, though not necessarily as President?

I think it is not just utterly cruel, it smacks of crudeness to wish someone ill. Particularly on her birthday.

I have been ranting about this many times and I rue the fact that the message is very often lost in the static created by the divergence in political and ideological perspectives: we are losing something very, very valuable in the whole process: our humanity. And some day we will all have to come to terms with the fact that we lost it and will have to pay dearly for it somehow. All these mudslinging, the collective rush to judgment, this hypocritical name calling, this wanton disregard for due process and fairness, this discourtesy towards others, etc. I am deeply troubled that the bounds of intolerance has been stretched so far and people are not taking personal responsibility for their own hateful behaviors and words. Somehow, I get the sense that people think it is okay to hate others. Sometimes it does seem to me that we are watching a telecast of the Jerry Springer show everyday!

I have said this before and I will say it again. I do not like the President. But I will wish her, at the very least, good health on her birthday. I wish her resilience so that she may be able to face all the brickbats that will continue to come her way. I wish her wisdom that she may come to terms with the fact that sooner or later, she will have to relinguish power for the sake of nationhood. I wish her the courage to spend the next weeks and months building a better memento of her presidency.

There. I do not think it makes me any less a human being for doing that. There is room for magnanimity even towards people we do not like.

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And on a related note, I would like to offer my condolences to Senator Jamby Madrigal for the passing of her father Don Antonio Madrigal. I spent seven years of my life as a manager of Solidbank and knew the old man.

Monday, April 03, 2006

A letter for my son

(My son R-jay graduated from high school last night. It was a poignant moment particularly because as President of his class, he helped put together the simple but meaningful ceremony. He was given a special surprise award, Model Student. I wrote this letter when I got home from the revelry. This is a very personal post and I would appreciate if you would spare this post from political nitpicking).

Dear Son,

Tonight, as I watched you and your classmates throw your white graduation caps into the air and give each other high fives and tearful hugs, I couldn't help but remember my own high school graduation more than two decades ago. I saw the same fire in your eyes that used to be there too in the eyes of many of my high school classmates : you want to make something of your life, change the world, be the best you could ever do, make a difference. A few years ago at our silver homecoming, many of my classmates were jaded, bitter, and over kegs of beer recited a litany of woes and afflictions. But yes, there were some who continued to keep the fire burning inside them.

As you went off to join your friends for your own version of a graduation ball (bar hopping, I presumed) I couldn't help but take a deep sigh and come to terms with the fact that times have really changed. But I do hope, very sincerely, that you and your friends will nurture the fire within your hearts better and sustain it longer. Not only for your own sakes, but the sake of far better and nobler causes.

There are so many things that I want to tell you. Now that you are an adult, there are things that you will have to come to terms with and as sad as this may seem, you will have to come to terms with these - the frustrations, the disappointments, the painful realities of life in the Philippines circa 2006 - on your own.

First, I would like to apologize that my generation has not been able to collectively make things any better for you and your friends. Sure, we may have been able to provide more in terms of material things and comfort - your daily allowance in the last four years was more than what I got for a whole month during my time and you have been able to wear more trendy clothes and had the conveniences of unlimited texting and computers, but I know deep in my heart that we have also failed you in many respects. I feel sad for example that your generation has been unable to experience the absolute wonder of climbing trees and chasing butterflies and fireflies, nor the excitement of walking along picturesque Avenida, or even just the sheer fun of watching movies in a big silver screen in the company of 1,000 other people. We could have fought harder to preserve the soul of our race as a people but we have failed miserably to protect the many legacies that our forefathers painstakingly built with their bare hands.

You are a generation with very few real role models and it pains me to realize that you do not even know who Claro M. Recto is, or even Raul Manglapus or Jose Diokno. It embarrasses me no end that we have taught you respect and citizenship as theoretical constructs, rather than by example. It pains me to realize that you are coming into your own as adults at a time when our leaders are behaving like children - squabbling and engaging in intolerable screamfests. I am sorry, and I can only hope that you and your generation will do a better job.

You once asked me after visiting this blog why some people hate me with a passion, simply because I have a different opinion and simply because I chose to speak up. My answer is the same, son. Everybody has to grow up, and just because some people chose to behave a certain way does not mean they are bad people. These are confusing times and sometimes people, perhaps in rage and out of a sense of helplessness, strike blindly at the most convenient targets. Do not ever let this deter you from believing in the basic goodness of people. I know this for a fact: many times in your life, you will depend on the goodness of strangers, and there will always be good Filipinos and people out there. Anytime, anywhere.

But despite our many shortcomings, there are also a number of things that I am proud of about my generation and I hope that you can build on these. We fought so hard to bring down a dictator and to restore democratic processes in this country so that you can find and speak your own voice when you choose to. We also tried our darnest to make your lives better and many among us had to suffer the loneliness of being in a strange land just so you can have that x box you wanted for Christmas or that cellphone that gave you license to belong. I personally wished I could have read you more bedtime stories the way Nanay and Tatay did to me, or taught you how to play the piano or the guitar instead of leaving you to figure out how to burn copies of pirated movies and mp3s. But I had a job and couldnt be home in time even just to ruffle your hair while you struggled with that algebra assignment. I know that I would have to pay dearly for spoiling you a little with material things to make up for the guilt. But I take comfort in the fact that we share the same blood, and that must account for something. I know that in time good intentions will bear us out.

I want you to know that I am so very proud of you - of what you have made of yourself so far, notwithstanding the way we have bungled up our roles as parents and role models.

I am amazed at the intelligence, the resourcefulness, the pragmatism that you and your generation have shown. I look at the computer at the library with perplexity and marvel at how you have been able to fashion a basic contraption into a complete entertainment and processing center while my own laptop is a simple word processing and data storage silver box. I take immense pleasure in realizing that you have learned how to drive a car on your own and without my knowledge, while I had to take lessons at 20. I take great pleasure in realizing that you could figure out the many ways to optimize the features of my cellphone. But most of all, my heart swells with pride when I see how you are able to display affection and pay your respects by kissing even older male members of the family when I myself still feel a little self conscious when I have to kiss your grandfather on the cheek. We come from a generation where showing affection was a sterile gesture and gender roles and rules were a little more strait-laced.

And so, I take comfort in the thought that somehow, the world will go on despite our shortcomings. Because more than anything else, we have taught you how to love; and this we did well.

I just hope that you and your generation will truly do a better job. I pray that you and your generation will not commit the same mistakes we have made. This is your country, this is your future, this is your destiny at stake. Grab it.

And by the way, take care and remember Dad loves you unconditionally.


Sunday, April 02, 2006

Deadma is the name of the game

I got back to Manila today after an out of town gig to run a training program for a top auditing firm and saw on TV our national leaders displaying how they have mastered the art of deadma (dead malice, conversational term for ignoring someone). Cardinal Rosales was officiating at his first mass as newly-minted prince of the church and as can be expected, the politicians were in full force. Media made a big to do with the fact that President GMA and President FVR were standing next to each other but refused to hold hands during the singing of The Lord's Prayer, but did exchange a perfunctory handshake during the offering of peace part of the mass. Warring ex-partymates Senate President Drilon and Manila Mayor Atienza ignored each other.

Despite claims to the contrary, it does seem that not everything is purely "professional" and have in fact gotten personal in the national scene. The non verbal language among our leaders can best be described as frosty. Who can blame ordinary people for doing the same at a time when our leaders themselves are acting like children?

Unfortunately, this kind of behavior does send confusing messages to the people. These are confusing times for our country, and it is important for our leaders to rise above their differences and show civility even if only in the course of performing official functions. Such is not only expected of them, it is part of their job descriptions.

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I am also bothered by the news that ABS CBN is offering monetary settlement to the families of the victims of the Wowowee stampede. While I do empathize with the network's predicament and recognize that business considerations require a more pragmatic approach (God knows how the scales of justice are heavily tipped on the side of the giant network in the first place, having more resources and access to the best litigators, and well, the tools to sway public opinion to its side), couldn't they be a little less insensitive and couldn't they have at least allowed justice to take its natural course first? After all, this is a network that fancies itself as a crusader of justice and truth (no matter what it takes, they say). Again, deadma is the name of the game. As if it is not enough that they have already resumed showing of that noontime show as if nothing happened and as if lives were not needlesssly lost, they are now trying to short-circuit the process and wants a less bothersome way to achieving a closure.

Deadma sa katarungan?

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Media has also seemingly glossed over the allegations of Senator Enrile that Senator Jajajamby Madrigal cheated in the last elections. Why aren't they conducting an investigation on the allegations? The Senate has distinguished itself as an institution that thrives on investigations. But I guess when one of their own is involved, deadma is a better approach to solving problems.

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Some people have been asking me about my stand on charter change. I haven't written about it because I am still ambivalent and haven't made up my mind about it. There is a part of me that thinks perhaps a parliamentary system does present a better, less disruptive way of changing leaders but it does seem a bit of an overkill to change a whole system of government just for that purpose. On the other hand, if there is a way to simplify legislative processes in this country (the Senate passed less than 10 laws last year and someone actually made quick computations on the tab - it came to a staggering amount, I think someone made a comment about it somewhere in this blog), then perhaps it is worth considering.

But from what I know, the proposed document is a draft which will be discussed by a convention. While I can also empathize with the cynicism of some people - they insist that it is a done deal- I refuse to believe that all those people in the Senate and the Congress will simply act as a rubber stamp in the event that a charter change debate will actually happen.

But here is what I know for sure, and I know some people will call me to task for saying this: if GMA will go on record to say that she will work towards ensuring a peaceful transfer of power to someone with a viable program of government as soon as the new constitution is in place, then I will consider supporting charter change and work to make sure that the potentially onerous amendments are thrown out. Like I said in the past, the best and the worst Filipinos are found in Congress, and I believe they are capable of rising to the challenge when the situation calls for it.

And I challenge the opposition to work towards this goal: rally around someone who has the integrity, the vision, and the competence to lead this country, and I am very confident that people will support you. Give us a viable alternative outside of the communists, the traditional politicians, and the recycled candidates whose faces are deeply etched with bitterness and rancor. Rise to the occasion and show that your interests lie in not only opposing government for the sake of getting media mileage, but in actually getting this country to a better destination.

So I am alarmed that the really substantive issues about charter change have been buried in the avalanche of opinions and exchange of allegations over the whole people's initiative brouhaha.

I always get turned off at people who are quick to accuse Filipinos, particularly the masa, of being stupid enough to sign anything shoved at their faces or be herded to a rally, simply in exchange for a few bucks. Come on people, Filipinos are not really that stupid. They may accept money when it is offered to them, but I doubt very much if money alone is enough motivation to come to a rally, or to sign anything. Call me naive or ignorant, but I will go down to the grave protesting this simplistic generalization. Four or five rogues who admit on television that they did it for the money is not enough renunciation of all Filipinos.

Wag deadmahin ang kakayahan ng Pinoy mag isip at manimbang. Let's talk about alternatives!