Saturday, May 06, 2006

Random thoughts at an international confab



I found myself in the company of kindred souls this week at the International Conference on Reproductive Rights held May 3-5 at the Philippine Plaza where I put on my social-psych hat and made a presentation on Bridging Generational Issues in the Management and Development of Reproductive Health Rights Advocates. The session attracted an audience because of the metaphor we decided to use for the session ("When Woodstock Meets Ragnarok"). It was interesting to note that a number of people didn't have the faintest idea what Ragnarok is - and we all had a spirited discussion shooting down some myths about the so-called "generation gap."

What struck me the most while hanging around waiting for my session to be called and snooping into some of the other presentations:

1. There is major disconnect between social development and the business and political agenda in this country. If an alarm bell was rung for every single time an alarming trend was raised in any of the sessions, the whole place would have resembled a major fire drill. Based on reports from the field, violence against women (and towards adolescents, and particularly towards marginalized people such as the Deaf) were found to be rising at an alarming rate.

2. There is an emerging brain drain in the NGO community, particularly at the management levels. While it was heartwarming to note that many Filipino NGO workers are being appointed to global and regional posts in New York, London, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Myanmar, etc., it was nevertheless unsettling to find that our ardent social activists are now prime export materials. A friend, Vic Salas, who is pointman for Asia of the AIDS Alliance (based in England, and who made a presentation at the conference) noted that it is now almost expected that any global or regional coordination meeting of international NGOs would feature Filipinos sitting in as representatives of countries outside of the Philippines. For instance, most country head posts of UNAIDS in Asia are currently occupied by Filipinos.

3. Ana Leah Sarabia made an interesting presentation on socio-cultural icons, mostly religious, that shape Filipino behaviors towards gender. She drew parallels between these icons and the general attitude of Filipino men. For example, she made a case about how veneration of the Santo Nino (she noted that there is no Santa Nina) as a socio-cultural icon perpetuates the attitude that "boys will be boys" and are entitled to certain liberties and privileges in Filipino society. Although I found her thesis inchoate, it nevertheless made for an interesting discussion.

4. Filipino time is an embarrassing norm even in international conferences held in the Philippines. My session was scheduled at 2:45, but started at 3:50. Embarrassing. Also, what is with this preoccupation with having tiangges in international events? This conference had one, and what was unnerving was that the goods being sold were, let's be frank about it, smuggled goods from China and Thailand.

Too bad I couldn't squeeze in the time to listen to my friend Mike Tan make his presentation, but I heard it was a blast as usual.

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And this one is for friends who have been wondering where I have been in the last few days: am okay folks, just moved into the new corporate job where I am literally buried in paperwork. The last minute rush to finish projects in the old job, a presentation at the International Conference on Reproductive Rights, a mid-year stratplan review at Remedios held last night until a few hours ago, first week blues at the new job, and preparing for an annual furlough have been punishing, to say the least. And this infernal heat has not made things any better. But am okay. Hopefully, I can get back to regular blogging in a few weeks as things normalize.

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