Thursday, March 30, 2006

Light at the end of the tunnel?



One of the great things about having a blog is that it helps keep me abreast of the tons of information out there in cyberspace, which I normally would not catch given that my occassional trawling in the net is limited to visiting favorite sites. From Rhochie (who leaves short but insightful comments in this blog) comes this link:

Bear Stearns & Co. Inc. Retains Positive Economic Outlook on Philippines

US-BASED investment bank Bear Stearns & Co. Inc. has retained its positive outlook on the Philippines despite recent political turmoil, projecting that the economy will even grow at a faster rate of 5.8 percent this year. Last year, the economy grew 5.1 percent.

In a paper on its assessment of the country, the investment bank said the ability of the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration to weather political problems, including so-called coup attempts, gave the institution reason to believe that the economy was not in danger.

"One important reason (why a segment of the Philippine military) failed to gain any significant public support is that the economy is showing signs of recovery in 2006, and the Manila middle class is unwilling to jeopardize this," Bear Stearns said (Underscoring mine)

*** ***

Being in the financial services sector myself, I have grown cynical about similar predictions in the past. I have learned to take similar pronouncements with not just a grain, but tablespoons of salt. God knows how many times our country has been touted to be on the verge of an economic takeoff only to be derailed by yet another political scandal that has become as commonplace as the traffic on EDSA on any given Monday.

But hopefully, we all have learned a priceless lesson in the recent past. Now that people are speaking up and sober voices have started to be heard above the din and dynamics of the mudslinging and blamestorming, we can all get back to work on getting this country back on track towards progress.

I have said this before, and I will say this again: we should not allow our political and partisan preoccupations stand in the way of economic development. By all means, let us continue to express out disagreements and our discontent with the establishment, but let's all do these the civil, the legal, the democratic way.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Citizenship


At a business lunch meeting of HRM professionals today, I had the wonderful privilege of personally meeting and then listening to Atty. Alexander Lacson talk about his book "12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do To Help Our Country."

I first came across Atty. Lacson’s name in an email that circulated late last year. That email was actually a soft copy of a Max Soliven column where Soliven narrated how he was rescued by the author in the middle of a Makati thoroughfare during rush hour when his (Soliven’s) car broke down. Soliven’s email went on to talk about Lacson’s book, which at that time, was not yet available at National Bookstore and was being sold out of Lacson’s house. (It was already available at National when I went there last week, so naturally I picked up a copy. I finished it in one night. But the experience of reading a book does not quite compare to hearing its author talk about it – there is just something amazing that happens when one is able to put ideas and person together).

Lacson is a soft-spoken man; he did not spew fire and brimstone, and did not indulge in vocal histrionics that many people confuse for profundity and authority. But this is a man whose every word dripped with the kind of wisdom that can only come from someone who truly speaks from the heart. What is more, this is a man who speaks from that special place called "noble intentions" and thus comes across as "believable."

Lacson’s prescriptions are actually quite simple and easy. I know that in these country these things do not automatically translate to "doable," but I am sure they can be done just the same.
Take the first of the 12 things he prescribes: obey traffic rules. His logic is simple and astounding precisely because of its stark simplicity – we should follow rules, and begin with the simplest and most basic of them all, which happens to be traffic rules. After all, if we can not obey and respect even the simplest of all rules (i.e., traffic rules), how else can we be expected to follow and obey the more difficult and complicated rules of this country?

The 12 "little things" are:

1. Follow traffic rules, follow the law.
2. Whenever you buy or pay for anything, ask for an official receipt.
3. Don't buy smuggled goods. Buy local. Buy Filipino.
4. When you talk to others, especially foreigners, speak positively about us and our country.
5. Respect your traffic officer, policeman and soldier.
6. Do not litter. Dispose your garbage properly. Segregate. Recycle. Conserve.
7. Support your church.
8. During elections, do your solemn duty.
9. Pay your employees well.
10. Pay your taxes.
11. Adopt a scholar or a poor child.
12. Be a good parent. Teach your kids to follow the law and love our country.

These 12 things come under one label that many among us have seemingly lost in the din and dynamics of political partisanship and ideological clashes: citizenship.

It is the one thing we Filipinos desperately need to reclaim, particularly in these confusing and confused times.

What Lacson is saying is this: saving The Philippines is our collective duty as responsible citizens of this country. It is something that we can not abrogate nor entrust to just one or two people in government. There is something we – each of us- can all do, and they need not be big gestures or grand actions. They can be seemingly little things that when added up produce big results.

This becomes even more relevant when we consider that today, too many among us are engrossed with playing out an updated version of the children’s story "The Emperor’s New Clothes" – there is just too much analysis and counter-analysis going on, too many complicated prescriptions and obfuscation, too much duplicity and intellectual pretentiousness –all of which may be farthest from the truth. Somehow, people seemed to have fallen into this trap of thinking that just because someone can quote Kant or Nobokov, or because someone’s English requires a dictionary to understand - that person must be saying something intelligent or profound or wise or true. This is not necessarily true of course. It doesn’t take a genius to make the simple complicated, even a troll can do that.

Sadly, a lot of people do get away with this kind of intellectual trickery because it seems people do have inherent admiration for things that are beyond their comprehension. Consequently, when someone comes up with a seemingly simple idea – people easily dismiss it for being, well, simplistic.

Well, Alexander Lacson has just saved many among us from that trap. 12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do To Help Our Country is a simple book. It is so simple, it is brilliant. It is so simple, it can work.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

60 minutes on ANC

Last Thursday, I was the guest at Ricky Carandang's show at ANC (The Big Picture). I will not go into the other reasons why I chose to come out in that show (a major reason is because Ricky is a blogger like myself and I feel some kinship with members of the blogging community out there), but I must say that the experience was not altogether traumatic, on the contrary, it was quite fun and somehow liberating. Although Ricky and I disagree on various issues around the GMA controversy, we were able to hold a very civil and cordial discussion - further proof indeed that just because people belong to opposite sides of an argument, they need not call each other names or consider each other enemies.

I am told that the show has been replayed at least thrice already (Friday morning at 11 am, Saturday evening, and this morning). I am also told that there are people out there who have taped that show and are reproducing vcds of it for distribution among their friends. I hope someone out there will eventually find a way to upload that interview in the net; unfortunately, I am not very techno-savvy so the chances of having clips of that interview in this blog is like expecting rain at the Sahara during summer.

In that ANC show, Ricky called me the "poster boy" of the middle class. Yesterday, Alex Magno in his column at the Star called me the "prophet of the middle class" and "someone who personifies this nation's thoughtful and articulate Everyman." I do not know what to make of these new appellations - I still have to get used to the idea of having whatever I say dissected - but if that letter did strike a chord among many Filipinos and if it has paved the way for a more enlightened debate on the issues, then who I am to argue?

I cannot go into details of what transpired in that show, but to the best of my recollection, here are some of the highlights of what I said in that show (My critics: I know this is self-serving, so there is no need to point that out to me):

1. I explained the context around that letter, when, how, and what compelled me to write that letter. I apologized to ordinary people out there who did go to EDSA or Ayala on February 24 merely to celebrate the 20th anniversary of People Power, without any knowledge of the conspiracy between the left and the right and some sectors of civil society and business to overthrow the government through extra-constitutional means, and who felt slighted by that letter.

2. I explained that, generally, I have nothing against people who demonstrate. The rant in that letter was addressed mainly to those who were in on the conspiracy and yet pontificated on media that they were merely exercising their democratic rights and freedoms. I do find this duplicity repulsive: people seeking protection from the same democratic tenets that they are violating wantonly in the first place.

3. I also ranted against the deception and the attempts to obfuscate about what really transpired during that fateful weekend. Subsequent revelations have already made certain things clear: there was a conspiracy, there was a plan to install a military junta, certain people were offered a seat in that junta (and some, like Senator Ping Lacson and Bro. Eddie Villanueva have gone on record as saying they were offered but they refused the invitation), there was a money trail. And yet, how dare these people continue to assert that it was a simple expression of "freedom of expression" and "freedom of assembly."

4. Ricky asked what I thought about the assertion that extra-constitutional attempts to overthrow the government is justified considering that Congress itself has violated the constitution by throwing the impeachment case against GMA. I said that this was a matter of perspective. However, I said that while I myself am guilty of trashing Congress on some occasions (I have called them crocodiles in the past), the truth of the matter is that Congress also represents the best and the worst among us. Some of the best people in this country are in Congress and I refuse to believe that these people act like dumb driven cattle. I just do not buy the argument that everyone who voted against the impeachment did so on the basis of mere loyalty to GMA. I refuse to engage in mass repudiation of other people's honor and competence simply because I do not approve of some of their actions.

But granting for the sake of argument that Congress did fail on their solemn duty, I wondered why there is no call to abolish congress or to recall all the congressmen who voted against the impeachment.

5. Ricky asked me if I wasn't bothered about the "cheating" issue and about the Garci tapes. I said that I am generally against cheating in any form. I reiterated that I personally do not allow cheating in my classes (I teach four nights a week at a school at Taft Avenue). However, I maintained that cheating in elections is a serious issue that has been there since time immemorial and that kicking GMA will not solve that problem. And then I repeated that argument that is found in the post in this blog (How that letter came to be written).

6. However, the main point I raised was this: we fought so hard to restore democratic processes in this country, and yet when the fruits of these processes do not meet our personal preferences, we find it convenient to advocate doing away with these processes altogether. I explained that this is the main reason why I am for retaining GMA at this time - even if I do not like her- because I refuse to be selective about what aspects of democracy I want to uphold.

7. I maintained that if there is sufficient grounds and evidence to impeach GMA, then by all means, they should be filed in July and that Congress had better do a better job at it. I said that opposition congressmen are doing a disservice to this country and to Congress itself as an institution when they flail around and throw public tantrums when they lose their cause. In more mature democracies adherence to the results of democratic processes is a natural consequence. Unfortunately, in this country, walang natatalo in an election or in an argument -when they lose, nadaya sila or the process was unfair.

8. I am a Human Resource Management practitioner and I shared what many of us in the business sector know for a fact: there are many opportunities out there for the Philippines. Unfortunately, these opportunities are wasted because media projection of our country abroad is that we are a nation that is in a state of anarchy, that all we do everyday is bludgeon each other in the streets and take shabu. Investors are scared of coming into our country because of the perceived political instability and in our ability to respect democratic processes. Why do we have to stand in the way of progress just because we do not like the president?

9. Therefore, I reiterated many times that we should let the democratic processes take their natural courses. There are are proper courts and venues where people can seek redress for their grievances and we should trust the institutions and the people we elected to do these things to do the right thing. We just have to trust them. And if the results do not suit our personal preferences, then we should resolve to fight better and harder another day.

10. I expressed outrage at the assertion that Filipinos are apathetic just because we are not out in the streets or just because we haven't mustered collective indignation over what the moralists claim as wholesale destruction of the moral fabric of society. I said that we pay lip service to slogans like "Ang galing ng Pinoy" or "Bilib ako sa Pinoy" or "Matalino and Pinoy" and yet we do not trust that the ordinary Filipino will stand up for himself when he sees the need to do it.

11. I commented on the results of recent surveys that show GMA's ratings plunging. I said that leadership can not be a popularity contest and that popularity is only a valid issue during elections. I remember saying that a leader who sacrifices principles and program of government at the altar of popularity is doomed to fail. I also said that I agree that GMA's removal from office is a possible solution to end the bickering, but I maintained that this should not be done through extra-constitutional processes. After all, the same surveys show that only about 10% of those surveyed agree to a military junta.

12. Yes, I also took up the cudgels for Enteng Romano. I said that I did not approve of Enteng's arrest at Baywalk. I said that since the threats have been reduced, then there is no more need to arrest people without the necessary warrants.

There was a point in that interview when I was rather ambivalent. This was the time when Ricky wanted me to name names. I should have put my foot down at that point and refused point blank because like I said, I think that it is time to move the discussion to a higher level - out of the name calling and blamestorming. But then again, hindsight is always 20/20 vision.

After the interview, Ricky told me that the most powerful statement I made in that show was this "I am a consumer, please do not blame me if I do not buy your product." This was my message to the opposition and members of civil society who continue to call me names and put me down because I do not agree with their cause.

So there.

I would like to thank Ricky Carandang for being such a gracious and intelligent host. If I did well in that interview, it was mainly because Ricky's sincerity was so palpable one could almost touch it in that small studio.

*** *** ***

I have received many requests for me to move "platforms" from blogging to the mainstream media. I am not yet sure yet if I want to do this. Like I said, I am an ordinary person with too many preoccupations - a fulltime job, a consulting practice, a teaching job, and a Foundation to oversee. But who knows. Like I said before, I never expected to be a mouthpiece for any cause, I never expected that letter to be that big. But I guess some things in this world are just beyond our control. I will cross the bridge when I get there.

But I want to again express my sincerest gratitude to all those who continue to express support for me. I truly appreciate the trouble you are taking to leave encouraging words in this blog. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You have no idea how much you inspire me.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Top 12 Things I Could Have Learned In the Last Three Weeks

If I did not have a brain, the following are lessons I could have learned in the last three weeks.

1. A brain drain in the fields of psychiatry and psychology is something this country will never suffer from. It is a great relief to know that there exist so many experts in these fields of specialization and I have been truly blessed to have been the subject of so much analysis - my motivational factors, the state of my mental state, my IQ, and even the state of my sex life have all been sufficiently analyzed. Dra. Margie Holmes and Dr. Randy Dellosa need not have to worry about having me as their patient ever, I have had enough analysis to last me a lifetime.

2. When people disagree with you, they do not necessarily just have a different perspective. They are 101% absolutely right. Therefore, you are automatically stupid and a moron. But when they actually call you those things, they refuse to see it as being judgmental either. They call it freedom of expression. They think their opinions are bible truth - as if they have a 24-hour hotline to God.

3. The Darth Vader principle is alive and well in this country: if you are for them, you are a friend. If you are against them, you are their enemy. Forget that crap about "just being for yourself" or about "simply expressing yourself" there are no such things. It is all a matter of being on the same side.

4. Despite the preponderance of evidence, despite the open admission of Bro. Eddie Villanueva and Senator Ping Lacson that they were offered a seat in the proposed junta, there was no conspiracy to overthrow the government through extra-constitutional processes last February. When Cory Aquino went to Fort Bonifacio to "pray" at the height of a military struggle it is was still consistent with her avowed stand that she will always support constitutional processses. A military takeover is not sufficient reason to feel threatened.

5. Even if you are the author of something (e.g., a letter, a blog entry), you are not necessarily the best source of what you intended to say in what you wrote. There will always be other people who are in a better position to interpret for you what you meant in what you wrote. Therefore, to other people, it doesn't matter what you write, what is important is what they see in what you write. Therefore, writing is about pampering to other people's wishes.

6. Freedoms and rights are absolute concepts. These concepts have no limits, no boundaries, no responsibilities attached to them. They are privileges and they do not have to be earned at all. They are there to be wantonly abused by anyone and everyone. Anyone can stand in the middle of EDSA and cause a major traffic jam for two hours to express his or her right. Anyone can say anything anywhere. There are no rules of libel, oral defamation, or basic rules of civility and courtesy.

7. The real state of the country is not measured in terms of what is really happening "out there." It doesn't matter that there are millions of Filipinos out there who are doggedly trying to make things work by working their asses off to build a nation. It is all about what media "sees." Therefore, the only things that Filipinos are preoccupied with on a day to day basis is demonstrating and ranting about the government, bludgeoning each other, taking shabu, watching celebrities inside a glass house, etc. There are no good things happening in this country. We are in a state of anarchy.

8. Just because people do not wear black while taking coffee at Starbucks or do not feel like extending their thumbs in a downward gesture, they are apathetic. Just because we do not feel like linking arms with Imee Marcos and Dinky Soliman, we are unpatriotic. Just because we are not out in the streets, we are reactionary fools who have no principles, no morals, no values.

9. Having feelings is a crime if what you are feeling happens to be different from those of others. Ergo, never say you are angry, you run the risk of being called stupid, egocentric, reactionary, weak, unpatriotic. You are not entitled to your feelings.

10. Grammatical mistakes, bad sentence construction, mixed metaphors are indicative of what kind of person you are. If you make a grammatical slip, the whole weight of your ideas automatically becomes suspect. And it doesn't matter that they themselves commit grammatical hara kiri every other sentence, it is not about them, it is about you.

11. Just because there are dumb people in the cabinet - government officials who overreact and make martyrs out of other people who are masters at the game called "how to gain media mileage and elicit public sympathy," many Filipinos do not reach for the remote switch everytime the handsome countenance of Chiz Escudero, or the pretty face of Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, or the rainbow-streaked hair of Dinky Soliman appear on television. Yeah, we loooooooooove these people to bits, we prefer watching them over some Korean actors. Thus, Koreanovellas rate lower than the news.

12. Everyone can be bought. Everyone is a paid hack. When a group of people pool money to be able to publish that letter in some newspapers, when people forward that letter because they agreed with it, when people print copies of that letter to distribute to others who have no access to the net, they are paid hacks of Malacanang.

Fortunately, and despite what others would like to think and believe, I am really not that stupid. Well, maybe just a little. After all, I persist in writing about these things instead of watching pirated DVDs (which by the way, is not cheating according to many people).

And oh, there is one thing I did learn in the last few weeks.

I am not alone. That was one lesson that struck me many times.

And oh, there is a 14th lesson that I am sure I am bound to learn after this entry is posted: there will be people who will insist that the personal lessons I have learned are wrong and would insist that I apologize for them.

If they hate me so much, I wonder why they keep on reading me?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

If We Hold On Together...

A comment in this blog about Dinky Soliman got me laughing so hard. He said Dinky and Enteng should not have been arrested at Baywalk, but her future employer should fire her the moment she begins singing "If We Hold On Together."

The reason why I laughed so hard was because, coincidentally, a fellow teacher at the College where I teach works at Malacanang. And just yesterday, this co-teacher was narrating to us (in full emote mode - you know -gesturing frantically and acting the scene out in an exaggerated way) just exactly how that infamous choral rendition played out. Picture this in your mind: Dinky so overcome with emotions she was practically sobbing when she led in the singing. In the first place, I really can't picture cabinet secretaries singing that song while trying to look dignified (yay!).

A company that I consult for used to have that song as their company "theme song." They would hold hands and sing that song at the end of their social gatherings. They have since stopped the practice because employees would end up kidding each other, wondering out loud who among them was a Dinky Soliman.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

So Where Do We Go From Here?

Writing for this blog used to be a walk in the park. I could write about anything (theoretically, I still could since this is my space). Since my brush with pseudo fame, I had to watch what I write about because it seems anything I write is now open to a lot of interpretations. There is always someone out there watching out for a simple grammatical slip or a mixed metaphor that they can throw at my face with all the righteous indignation they can muster.

Not that I lose sleep over it. It's just that sometimes I do feel sad that it seems people can not argue or debate anymore without losing their temper. This is why I can't sit through a whole episode of Debate on GMA7 - I get the sense that what happens in that show is symptomatic of the state of this country - lots of people pontificating and not really listening to each other. Perhaps it is time to remind ourselves, yes, myself included, that God, in His infinite wisdom, gave us two ears and one mouth and that there is a powerful message in there; we are supposed to listen twice as much as we talk.

A number of people texted me today to inform me that that letter was read on NBN (the government channel) this afternoon. It seems that letter has reached some people in government. On the off chance that it did, and that they have found their way into this blog, I will now address them directly.

People in government, please take note: just because there are people like me who have taken the trouble to express our support for you (at the risk of being ridiculed and mocked), it should not be construed as blanket authority for you to continue making utter fools of yourselves. On the contrary, it is a challenge for you to perform better and do right. Please do not waste the goodwill and the conditioned support that people like me are giving you. It may not be much, but it is being given to you freely so put it to good use.

For instance, arresting Dinky Soliman and Enteng Romano for walking at Baywalk was a monumental blunder. That was completely unnecessary and you have just made martyrs out of these people. I have always taken the position that that there is nobility in accepting mistakes and admitting errors in judgment. We do not expect you to be exemplars of intelligence and wisdom; we know you are people who make mistakes too, particularly when provoked. So I hope that that unfortunate event does not happen again. Take the higher moral ground, apologize and resolve never to pull that stunt again.

Some semblance of calm and normalcy has returned and there is no point in inviting unnecessary provocation and criticism. In fact, I would caution you against making any more arrests without warrants and cases filed in court. If you want us to continue respecting democratic processes, then you must lead the way. That is the only way. Likewise, I hope that some cabinet members learn how to put their brains in gear before opening their mouths. Secretary Gonzales, please listen.

***

I think it is high time now to bring the discussion to a higher level. We need to put a closure to the endless nitpicking and debunking of each others’ points of view.

In the last few days, I have received emails from four people asking me what I think is a workable action plan. I am flattered that they deemed me qualified to make prescriptions. It is in this spirit that I have decided to break my self-imposed rule not to offer prescriptions. I thought that the last thing I needed was people to think that fancy myself as some prophet of good news.

But I think it is time to stop the screaming contest. It is time to bring the discussion to a more constructive level - the objective should be in trying to understand where people are coming from and with full cognizance and appreciation of the fact that whatever we say or do, we are in the same boat together. There are differences in opinions and points of views, but despite the venom and the vitriol that is dripping in the comments in this blog, I truly think that this does not necessarily mean we are against each other.

And so, after going through all that and having come from a spiritual retreat during the weekend (thanks to my spiritual mentor Sonny), I went through most of the emails and the comments in this blog with an open mind (it was a truly difficult process, but it was cathartic!). But I think, I truly think, it is time to refocus our energies into more constructive ways. So where do we go from here. Indulge me please.

I think that first, we should get commitment from everyone - and I mean everyone - pro or anti, leftist or rightist, opposition or government - to respect democratic processes. No more extra constitutional solutions. No more coups. No more conspiracies to topple the government through extra-constitutional means. No more arrests without warrants.

Second, I think it is time to bring the discussion to the level of what is "the common good." We can disagree on how to get there, we can disagree on what is the right course of action, but we should all focus on a more strategic goal - a better country in say, three or four year's time. I may be naive in thinking that this is possible, but hey, it is worth a shot. If we can agree on a common vision, then our disagreements can be made more civil and sensible. I think what is tragic today is that we are focusing on short-term goals that divide us rather than on larger goals that can serve as rallying points. And hopefully, viable win-win alternatives can be crafted in the process. And yes, this includes a possible peaceful transition of power through democratic ways.

Third and necessarily, I think that it is time to come to the table with a little more sincerity. I ranted about vested interests and selfish intentions in that letter. It is time to come clean and this is only possible in an environment that is free from moralizing and judging. For example, let us stop obfuscating about whether there was a conspiracy or an attempted coup last February because as the no-nonsense Professor Solita Monsod said on public television: meron talaga coup! And since the threats to stability has been reduced and it has been proven that the people are not wont to support such moves anyway, it is best for government to come clean now, rectify the mistakes, and stop all this senseless posturing.

Fourth, it is time for ordinary Filipinos to take the discussion and the crafting of the solution out of the hands of the politicians. For crying out loud, who actually listens to them? I know I reach for the remote control everytime someone of their ilk comes on television.

It is time to listen to the dreams of ordinary Filipinos. It is time to come together to listen, sincerely and with an open mind, to the sentiments of the people whose only desire is a better future for their children. Who knows, we might be in for some major surprises and true enlightenment.

All these may be unrealistic daydreaming. Call me an idealistic fool, but as someone said, if you can dream it, you can achieve it.

But it is time to get to work.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Freedom and Responsibility

Since that letter got forwarded to the world, a number of sweeping and often reckless generalizations have been made by some people perhaps in their desire to put a convenient handle to the context and the issues engendered in that letter. In this post, I will simply focus on one generalization that rankles: that the middle class is a bunch of unpatriotic and callous Filipinos who are only concerned about not being stuck in heavy traffic caused by the rallies and demonstrations.

Although I never claimed in that letter (and in the rejoinders that I have written) to speak for the middle class, or for anyone else for that matter (I said "I" and "many among us" in that letter; if memory serves me right, that middle class assertion was made by the other letter -that anonymous letter written in Tagalog), but nevertheless, I do feel that this rush to make judgments and to categorize people - particularly those with a contrary opinion - is at the very least uncalled for and irresponsible.

Many of the vicious responses have unnecessarily portrayed the middle class in a somewhat unflattering and undeserved light. Such generalizations do not add anything to the debate other than throw aspersions on groups of people. I think we can do away with that. To begin with, I do not think that any cohort - moral, demographic, political or whatever - can lay claim to having a monopoly of the truth, or at the very least, homogeneity of opinions. The supposed members of the middle class (or other "classes" for that matter) do straddle the extremes, as well as other sides of the argument.

Thus, I think that the accusation made by a leader of a civic group that it is members of the middle class like me who are dividing the country is way off the mark. After all, I did not bring in the class issue into the discussion. He did.

As a member of the working class, yes, I do feel frustrated when I get stuck in a monstrous traffic jam caused by rallies and demonstrations. As someone who looks forward to getting home at the soonest possible time after a hard day's work, I do yearn for some conveniences. However, being stuck in traffic is an almost daily occurrence, so to be honest about it, I do feel that rallies and demonstrations per se aggravate, but can not be solely blamed for the traffic jams.

What I rant about is the irresponsibility and often reckless disregard for others that often (though not always!) characterize the way these public expressions of rights are conducted. We can quibble about the real intentions and their merits. However, I must draw the line at deliberate attempts at holding commuters hostage as a way of provoking policemen in order to gain more mileage in terms of media attention and public sympathy. What I rant about is not that these people exercise their right to express themselves and their causes because I truly do not begrudge them that. But how many times have we witnessed a rerun of the same drama unfurl before our very eyes over and over again: hapless policemen desperately asking rallyists not to block a main thoroughfare, to stay in the sidewalks, or to move to a side street, only to be met by stubborn opposition under the guise of freedom of expression?

It does not help of course that harassed policemen often engage them in this lose-lose contest; there certainly is a better and more proactive way to manage the fracas. But in this contest of wills, it is the commuters - the working class - that is being made to suffer the consequences of a war many among them did not elect to fight. This is one of those things I was referring to in that letter when I said that "your concept of democracy is limited to having your rights and freedoms respected at the expense of ours."

There are those who accuse me (who they say is representative of the middle class elitist orientation) of being callous to the cause of freedoms and rights simply because I do not grant them a few inconveniences. Again, since I do not claim to speak for any class, I will speak for myself although I know for a fact that this view is shared by many others, by my friends at least.

As an employee, I am aware that the Bill of Rights give me certain rights and freedoms. However, I am also aware that the exercise of my freedoms and my rights come with certain responsibilities; that, in fact, one without the other (freedom without responsibility) is untenable. If employees were to follow their lead, they should not be barred from holding rallies and demonstrations against CEOs they do not like or find immoral, even if these actions cripple the organization and affect the delivery of services to the public consumers. Even that TV network which vigorously protests the perceived threat to press freedom and seemingly advocate an absolutist and despotic view of freedom, has in the past appealed for the same restraint in the exercise of rights and freedoms and appealed for responsible ways of protesting from their employees in the course of its labor management problems.

The issue is not the expression of rights per se, but responsible ways of doing it. The operative concept is recognition of and respect for the rights and freedoms of others. These are issues that transcend all boundaries, political and economic included.

***

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I would like to reiterate that as much as I would like to, I can not possibly answer all responses and comments emailed to me directly or made in this blog. However, there are some comments that I feel I need to answer in the interest of being fair to people who are dragged into the fray in this blog.

1. Janine - I spent some time trying to accomodate your request, but I couldnt find the link. Please leave a comment (which I will not publish) giving more details. I tried to email you but it bounced.

2. To those who emailed me asking for interviews for whatever (school papers, newspaper articles, TV docus, etc), I am awfully sorry but I can not possibly accommodate everyone for the simple reason that my schedule until middle of April is hectic (8-5 job, 6-9:30 teaching job). My views are published in this blog, and I honestly think there is very little else I can add to the posts. But I will try to accommodate those I can fit into my sked.

3. To those who wrote me expressing their disgust at the way a columnist outed me and then trashed me, I would like to say thank you very much for the concern, I appreciate it; but it is her column, and she did publish my response in full. I will continue to respect other people even if their views are contrary to mine.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

In Search of Closure

One wizard who has a very strong influence in my life, a man who goes by the name Max Edralin, texted me this week to alert me about a column someone wrote about me and that letter in BusinessWorld. Perhaps to caution me from possible disappointment, he advised me to always take comments - good or bad - with a grain of salt.

I actually got to read a photocopy of that BW column posted at the De La Salle RCBC Graduate School of Business Bulletin Board. I read it with a bunch of grad students who did not know they were standing next to the very person who was the subject of the tirade (anonymity certainly has its advantages). We had a good laugh together.

The column tried to trash my letter by asking questions that were mostly rhetorical. I couldn't make sense of some of the questions. For example, he asked: since I am President of a Foundation, then I must be influential and that my office must be near the Senate - why didn't I just personally convey to the Senators the diatribe contained in that letter? I couldnt fathom the logic in this and other sentences. The columnist revealed that he got his copy of the letter through another columnist "who is a Malacanang factotum" (presumably Jojo Robles of the Manila Standard). On this basis, he said my letter was suspicious; as if I have control over who makes copies of that letter and then spreads it around.

But Max, who is a father figure to me, did make a profound observation. He told me "the operative word is closure." And I agree with him totally.

If we sift through everything that has been said in the last three weeks, one of the inescapable conclusions would be this: everyone wants a resolution to these issues. We need to put a closure to this whole mess.

Trouble is we can not agree on what comprises an acceptable form of closure. There are those who advocate nothing less than removing GMA from office as the only acceptable form of closure. And then there are those who advocate other possible forms of closure - from a graceful exit scenario, to maintaining the status quo until a win-win solution (i.e., a viable alternative) is reached, to accepting an apology and a commitment to making amends.

It is very, very sad that it seems we know where we want to go but can't agree on what's the best way to get there.

Anyway, it has been a very exhausting week and I am looking forward to a relaxing weekend (I wish). I have been dying to write about where I am coming from as a member of the working class. I think that the label middle class is grossly inaccurate - it denotes an elitist class orientation which is simply not there. I feel that there is a need to articulate a particular perspective that is glossed over in the din and dynamics of the name-calling and the sudden rush to judgment.

It is very disappointing that many dismiss the working class simply as a bunch of unpatriotic Filipinos who are unable to see beyond their noses. The criticism that we are only concerned about not being stuck in monstrous traffic jams caused by demonstrations and rallies is a major disservice and is truly undeserved. Hindi naman ganun kababaw ang mga empleyado ng bansang ito!

Jamby weeps and I was moved

All those negative comments about me must have transformed me into an emotional robot. This is probably a mean thing to say, and I am truly, truly sorry Senator Jajajajamby Madrigal, please do not cry again, but I just have to tell you that drama does not suit you. Do not do it again please. Weeping buckets and Judy Ann Santos may go together, but she is not in the Senate, even if many actually voted for her. It was her image that you paid for, not really her persona, so no need to bring the actress into the halls of the senate, please.

But it was a very moving experience to watch the Senator being overcome by so much grief because Senator Enrile accused her parents of partying with the Marcoses. I never laughed so hard in the last two weeks.

Dear senators, you are funny. But if we wanted comedy, we would pay people who are funnier for a teeny-weeny percentage of what we pay you. So please drop it.

***

My schedule this week is truly hectic - I have workshops to run every day and lectures to do in the evening. Thus, I am not able to respond to emails or comments. Besides, I have been ordered by my friends not to respond and defend myself anymore. But quick, quick responses:

To those who continue to email me privately asking why Jojo Robles of Manila Standard refuses to acknowledge me as the author of that letter - I have only this response: I have no idea. I don't know the guy personally. But I am sure he has his reasons.

I now know that there are some dividends to be had from being pseudo-famous, foremost of which is getting emails from friends and relatives one hasn't heard from in ages. Sorry I have not been able to respond - but I will. Promise.

Meantime, have a safe week ahead everyone!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

How That Letter Came To Be...

I had some time in my hands last night. I bloghopped. For the very first time I got to read in detail what people are saying about that letter and about me in other blogs. I have already responded to most of the comments in this blog. However, I cannot possibly answer all comments given that I have only ten fingers and there are only 24 hours in a day. It is very tempting, but this blog is not my life and contrary to the overactive imagination of some people, I do not have the resources to do that. I cannot possibly monitor the thousands of blogs out there. Besides, the comments in this and other blogs (and even in the newspapers) do tend to answer each other, and I do not fancy myself as an ultimate arbiter or judge with the final and definitive opinion (I do not think anyone is qualified to do that unless that person died on a cross and resurrected in three days), so there is really not much to say after reading the various pros and cons. Some people do a better job at it anyway.

I do apologize if there are people who feel slighted that I have not been able to acknowledge their comments (specially those who have really nice things to say about that letter and about me). I do appreciate the comments. I may not agree with some of the views, but I am happy that people are speaking up and being heard. The debate is happening in cyberspace and people are exchanging ideas in a generally more civilized way (yes, there are those who choose to be rude, but well, some people have some growing up to do and we can't impose that on them).

However, I do wish that people keep in mind this phenomenon called selective perception. There is an objective reality (what is actually there) and there is a subjective reality (what we see in it). The two things are not always the same. Two people can watch the same movie (objective reality) and come out of it with two completely different feelings and interpretations of what they just saw (subjective reality). Conversely, you either see the contents of that letter as bible truth, or just plain hogwash. Unfortunately, things do not always belong to the two extreme ends of one continuum (the astute reader will note that I am trying hard not to drop shade-driven concepts in here to avoid slighting some people and some causes). I can be right, I can be wrong. Or I can be both or neither. Or there is no right or wrong to begin with.

The point is that people do see things that they want to see. More, people decide on emotions and justify with facts. These are basic psychological concepts. One can spend ten hours raving about something and somewhere in those ten hours of singing paeans of praises, he drops two negative comments which could very well be the only things people will remember.

I have no control over how people react to that letter. But as the writer of that letter, I think I am the best person (in fact I would even go as far as to say that I am the only person) who knows what I actually meant, or at the very least, what I intended to say in that letter. And I am saying this: there are far too many things that some people imagine to be there that are simply not there in that letter. I have written about some of these in this blog here and here and here and still here. The positive (and negative) reactions to that letter are the reactions of other people, not mine. You disagree? By all means disagree.

However, after a discussion with a friend, I realize that yes, there are certain things in that letter that are rather inchoate and can be construed as leading to a particular point of view. I will clarify now. Yes, I think I owe some of my former comrades an explanation.

No, it wasn't my intention to convince people to forgive and forget GMA's frailties. And heavens, just because I did say that "I have forgiven her," and that "maybe it is time to let things be" it shouldn't be construed as promoting corruption and cheating and all other forms of evil. I know that people indulge in hyperbole when they tried to make those acrobatic logical deductions, but for the sake of calling a spade a spade, I never said cheating should be condoned. There is a context around those statements and they are there in that letter.

I do think that cheating is deplorable. I think cheating should not be condoned. And if it is relevant, I do not allow cheating in my classroom either. Which is why I do not like her. Which is why I am not pro-GMA the person. But yes, given the current situation, I am for retaining her because like I said in that letter, a flawed leader (one who has admitted to it on national television) who has her back against the wall and knows she had better watch it from this point on, comes off to me as a better (though not necessarily ideal) alternative now compared to the power-hungry crocs whose intentions and integrity are just as suspicious and probably even more questionable. In other words, better the devil you know than the devil who pretends to be moral.

Oh sure, there are millions of other Filipinos out there who are just as qualified or even theoretically and hypothetically better than GMA. I agree 199%: there are better leaders. And I say this without doubt: there are definitely better Filipinos out there.

And just to belabor the point, I will go on record to say that I personally root for any of these ten people anytime: Teddyboy Locsin, Joker Arroyo, Patricia Licuanan, Gerry Ablaza, Juan Flavier, Alexandra Prieto-Romualdez, Solita Monsod, Sonny Coloma, Washington Sycip, Rosemarie Clemena (and lest I be accused of being a campaign lackey for any of these people, I picked these names from a list of potential speakers for a conference). But that would be plain daydreaming. The reality is that the chances that any of these people can become president in an election today is about the same as an ice cube surviving in a conflagration. Go ahead, call me a cynic, call me a person without faith. But an election today will tend to elect any of the following: Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Ping Lacson, Joseph Estrada, Noli de Castro, Loren Legarda, Eddie Villanueva, Mike Velarde, Susan Roces.

We will spend gazillions in a political exercise that will elect any of these people to prove a moral point? Presidential elections have never been a contest about who is the best person among all qualified Filipinos, it is a contest of who is the better choice among those with the resources and the willingness and the gumption to submit to the cruel torture. Given the way we treat our leaders, only those with the stomach of a boa constrictor will be willing to take on that curse. And yes, I actually think that metaphor hits a bullseye. You have to hand it to GMA, she must have innards made of steel to have been able to withstand all that demonizing.

Settling for GMA at the moment is a cop out, I know that. A major cop out. A monumental cop out. This kind of compromise is undeserved. But like I said, there too is nobility in accepting certain realities. There is nobility in fighting for an ideal, but there is nobility too in accepting, for the moment, the hand you are dealt with. There is nobility in staying in the country to care for our children and be hungry with them, and there is nobility too in accepting a job abroad to be able to provide material things for our children. We can romanticize our options, or we can wake up and smell the decay.

We can all bitch and protest to our hearts content until we are all blue in the face and the whole country has burned to embers that there is nothing left to fight for anymore, or we can buckle down to work, make sure we do not ever get into this situation again, and resolve to fight harder and better another day. Consequently, I do sincerely think that GMA might just be able to keep her place in history as a competent President, but I doubt if she will be able to live down her place in history as a cheat. Clinton might have earned his place in American history as a great president, but you can not tell me that people have forgotten what he did with you-know-who. History is a better, fairer judge. There is someone and something more powerful out there than anyone of us combined. The answer is not always yes or no. Sometimes the answer is wait.

So if Bong Austero thinks GMA is a cheat, why isn't he part of the movement to kick her out now?

Up until middle of last year, I was for the removal of the president through constitutional and democratic ways. These have not worked. Again, we can rant about how the President and her allies have been able to block every move successfully. This was tragic, but like I said, democracy is a double-edged sword, it protects the president as well. We cannot turn democratic processes on and off when we feel like it and when it suits our purpose. If democratic processes can not protect the President, what hope is there for an ordinary citizen? The writing on the wall is clear: It didn't work. And we know why. We voted for those crocs in congress who stymied the efforts. We may disagree with them, but we can not repudiate and judge them for actions that comprise 10% of their value as legislators. In more mature democracies that should have been the end of it.

Being a person who fought for democratic processes to be restored in this country, it is logical that I must accept the fruits of that struggle - both the triumphs and the tragedies. Even if I disagree with it. That is the essence of democracy. We cannot turn democratic processes on and off when we feel like it and when it suits our purpose.

Unfortunately, that is when the fight began to resemble a moral lynching that has bordered on the desperate. This is when things started to get really ugly. The duplicity started. The moral fight became so seemingly overburdened and blinded by the morality of the cause that it seems people could no longer see beyond the veneer of righteousnesss: questionable alliances were forged, unconstitutional processes banded about, open and brazen flaunting of the law, machiavellian tendencies became the order of the day, etc., etc. It seemed that it did not matter anymore what it would take as long as it gets done. It did seem that kicking the president out of office was the only thing foremost in their minds that nothing else seemed to matter, even burning the country down in the process. Someone actually went so far as to say that that was a small price to pay for a moral cause. Whew! And when called to task, they sought protection from the same systems that they were trying to break. (The other rants are found in that letter).

(Thus, attempts to deny that there was a conspiracy behind the confluence of events that led to the February events are hard to believe. 1017 and succeeding events will have to be analyzed in this context, but that is another blog entry. But I am prepared to say this now: I do not agree with the government on some of the succeeding actions, justified they may be).

There are those who point out to me the events after that letter came out which they say is indicative of how evil GMA is and then move on to make conjectures about possible scenarios forthcoming. My answer is simple: I am not Madam Auring. I refuse to argue on conjecture. And if succeeding events shall prove me wrong, I assure you, I will consider it a noble act to admit it and apologize. I am an ordinary Filipino with only one burning passion: a better future. Like I said, I consider the possibility that I am wrong and stupid and I wish others do too (unfortunately, they apparently do not. They think they are the only ones who are correct).

There are those who mock me by questioning my authority to make personal pronouncements. They ask sino ka ba? Ano ba ang karapatan mo na magsalita tungkol sa mga bagay na to? The answer to that question is simple: the same rights that you have under the constitution.

So, this is where I think the militants and I have parted ways: I choose not to participate in a moral lynching. I do not think that lynching is justified under any circumstance, particularly on assumptions of moral superiority. I abhor cheating. But I also abhor demonizing and putting all the blame squarely on one person as a collective means of moral cleansing. This would be a throwback to the middle ages where left handed people were persecuted for being the personification of evil, suspected witches were hunted down and burned at the stake, where gay people were made to wear the Star of David as a mark of shame, and where black people were hunted down and hung upside down.

It is my personal conviction that the bigger demons are participating in the lynching and riding on the mantle of morality to exculpate themselves. They are out there too and somehow, because they are fighting an immorality, they have become suffused with the cause that they think they have been cleansed as well; they now speak with the utter conviction of the morally right. It is a dangerous trap that we have fallen into many times in the past and it looks like that trap has been laid out in the open in the recent past. Suddenly, the evils of the past are forgiven just because we happen to be - conveniently - on the same side now? Kit Tatad is a prophet again? Erap is a saviour? Imee Marcos is our ally? The leftists who have been fighting to wrestle power for themselves are heroes? Military adventurism is a viable option? Go figure. But I refuse to be selective and exclusivist in my moral perspective.

By all means let us address cheating in this country. But I choose to do it with eyes wide open to the realities, widen the net in addressing the real problems and work within the democractic systems in order to address it. And should I lose, I shall accept it with dignity and nobility and move on to fight a better battle another day because I choose to stand by the processes that I have fought for rather than destroy them to achieve my moral cause. And if they needed changing, then I shall work within the parameters to do it. I shall not be selective in what aspects of democracy I will fight for and uphold.

I choose not to go through the convenient route which is to demonize our leaders when we become disaffected with them, when we see chinks in the armour, and then go into an orgy in search of immediate collective gratification. We have become so good at kicking our leaders but not in solving our problems. I am sorry, but I choose not to be a party to efforts to cast the country into an oblivion of endless succession of leaders and abject poverty just so we can pay homage to the altar of sanctimoniousness!

Unlike the militants, I will acknowledge that cheating in elections is a serious business that has been there forever. That there must be something in our culture that breeds it and yes it is time to stop it. I will go as far as saying that if GMA cheated, she must have had help from so many people. That in fact, it is not a farfetched idea that many people actually tolerated, no, consented to it, because they would rather that she win rather than someone else whose qualifications are difficult to question now because he is dead. I was not a direct party to it, but I will take part of the blame and be part of the solution. Are they ready to go that far? I doubt it. They seem interested only in asserting a higher moral order, so that they can go on with their lives content in having won a temporary moral crusade. Prove me wrong please, by going after all the allies in the Senate and in Congress, in the military, among the local executives and police, among the Comelec officials, among the civic leaders and see if you will not buckle down when the bloodbath is ten feet deep and a relative is drawn into the fray.

We want to address cheating in this country? Let us not solicit money from politicians for our causes, specially during elections time. Stop pressuring your househelp and your drivers and your tenants to vote for your candidates rather than their own choices. Let us not invite our politicians to act as sponsors to weddings and baptisms and classroom blessings and expect them to be generous because we know who will eventually foot the bill. Stand up to your friend who is running for office if you know he is a moron. Let's pay our taxes correctly, no buts and ifs about it. Let us call the pork barrel for what it really is: political largesse. Let us not bribe traffic cops. Let us not pull influence in even the most mundane administrative proceeding. Let us not pay commissions and kickbacks. I could go on and on, but you get the drift.

Let us not demonize just one person and assume that kicking her out through unconstitutional processses will solve all our problems. It is time to take a reality check: we are part of the problem. We are all party to the large-scale cheating. Let us address it honestly without ulterior motives and without preaching from some moral pulpit. Let us all take off our masks of hypocrisy and wade into the muck of our own doing. Because it will take more than moralizing to solve the problems of this country.

By saying that, I realize that I have laid myself open again to the rather painful accusation that has been hounding me in the past two weeks: Mr. Austero, if you choose to side with a thief and a cheat, you are unworthy of being called a Filipino. Such generalization is simplistic. I think that being worthy of that title is an arduous process that everyone should continuously aspire for in a whole lifetime.

But yes, I can be wrong. It is possible that I am stupid and naive and that I am an ideological, intellectual, and a moral retard. All that is within the realm of the possible. I never claimed to be anything more than what I am: a person who is speaking for himself.

I am not a part of any movement, and I have refused to stand up and lead anything. Anything. I am not offering myself as a messiah. I have refused to be interviewed on television. I have responded to comments about my letter mainly in this blog (because that is what it is and that is how it should be seen: a personal rant that people somehow could relate to and forwarded to the world for reasons I am not qualified to analyze) and yes, in Rina Jimenez David's column because she is my friend. This blog is not a beacon for anything. If other people agree with me, I certainly did not ask that they do it. If you disagree with me, shoot the message, not the messenger.

And that is how that letter came to be written.




***
(And on a different note, I would like to come to the defense of Melvin Mangada who has been accused of plagiarizing that open letter. He did email me about it before he forwarded the letter, and I do not think someone with his credentials would stoop so low. Many people forwarded that letter and to give it credence among people they know, they made sure they wrote their names).

Friday, March 10, 2006

Blogged

This blog was visited by MLQ one of the few people I have profound respect for (which is why his blog is linked to this blog - I read him as often as I could) and naturally, MLQ being The MLQ, traffic here has multiplid algebraically. I am deeply honored. Thanks for the visit, Manolo.

Finally, someone with something else between his ears other than a cute face pointed it out: these are blog entries and people should stop reading too much into them. If I wanted to indulge in intellectual swash-buckling, I would write a piece on the Gloria Presidency and the Prices of Swamp Cabbages, and write my full name on it - all three first names, mind. Which is not to say I am telling people to shut up, merely telling people to stop hyperventilating and losing sleep tyring to analyze if I want to run for Senator or if I had sex last night simply because I wrote a letter for this blog, and then ask if I deserve the attention.

The link has resulted in a barrage of comments, three of which I will answer here.

1. Who is this Bong Austero?

This question has been asked many times in many discussion groups - sometimes in a fit of exasperation, sometimes in a condescending way as if I somehow breathed oxygen that had someone else's name on it, and every once in a while, in a nice way. The manner in which this question is asked determines the kind of answers I give.

MLQ does not remember me and I do not fault him for that, our interactions have been very casual and I was probably starstruck during those few times we actually got to talk. But we have a lot of common friends. The point I am making is this -there are people out there who actually knows who I am and who will easily tell you one thing: I can not be bought by anyone. Not even for sex (ehem), so definitely, not to peddle someone else's ideas. I may be dumb and reckless and impudent. But I can not be bought.

If a person's best shot is to accuse me of being a paid hack, or of being part of a Malacanang campaign, all I can say is this - that is a reflection of the character of the person who is making that accusation, not of mine.

I have said this before, and I will repeat it because it is true and I am proud of it: I am not even middle class. I am a child of a farmer and a public schoolteacher. I grew up in a third-class municipality in Leyte. I am a product of the public school system from Elementary, to High School, to College - all in Leyte. I was a student activist in College. I have a full-time job in the financial services sector, I teach in the evenings four times a week, and I sit in the board of some NGOs. My main advocacies are on HIV/AIDS, gender and sexual rights. I worked my way up from the bottom and I continue to do more than my share in nation building.

But then again, this whole sino ba itong Bong Austero na ito bit, is actually irrelevant to that letter. If we truly believe in democracy and freedom of expression, why should that matter?

2. Why comments to this blog have been on "moderated mode" since yesterday.

There are those who, in their haste to judge and pontificate, automatically assume the worst in people. Just because they have to undergo a minor process before they can exercise their so-called freedom to bash me in my own turf, they automatically cry suppression! Isn't that symptomatic of the way things are in this country?

This blog does not edit, ban, or reject comments from anyone. You can check. However, someone is trying to fix the template of this blog so that postings can be made more systematic and all that techno gobbledygook that I do not understand. That required putting the blog on moderated mode.

As MLQ puts it, blogs have their own "constituencies" so do not strain yourself analyzing the ratio of positive to negative comments in any blog. There are more worthwhile things to do.

Happy now?

3. Is this Bong Austero deserving of your time?

This question actually floored me down, threw me up the wall, and well, you get the drift.

Hello!!! I have been saying this many times: you guys are giving me more credit than I deserve. I wrote a letter, I posted it in my blog and sent to 20 of my closest friends, and it got forwarded to the world. I am not running for office, any office! I have a full time job and career. I have my hands full of papers and tests to check and grade. I never asked for your approval and have no need for it anyway. (But I do need a love life).

MLQ said it well and I quote: "people could tell they weren’t crafted for any other purpose than to express the author’s feelings."

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Subjective realities

Yesterday, the Inquirer reported that a certain group of people who go by the cause "anti-pornography" has filed a complaint against the MTRCB for allowing the showing of the movie Brokeback Mountain. The MTRCB gave the movie an R-18 rating which essentially makes it For Adults Only, meaning exactly that - only adults will be allowed to watch the movie. But the group is not happy with that – they think that even adults should not be allowed to decide for themselves what they can and can not watch.

See what happens when certain people are allowed to impose their moral standards on other people?

*** *** *** *** ***

In the Manila Standard Today, Antonio C. Abaya’s column says "from information divulged in the mainstream media, there seems little doubt now that the February 24-25 happenings were financed by no less than deposed President Joseph Estrada, with the express intention of overthrowing the incumbent government.

Abaya then writes about the subsequent subterfuge about making it appear that the money given were donations but he says "this looks like nothing but a disingenuous legal ruse to cloak the "donation" and its real purpose with a veneer of legality and noble intentions…"

Abaya writes further "…if this were a strong (and successful) republic like Malaysia or Singapore or South Korea or Taiwan or Thailand or Indonesia or Vietnam or China, theses legalistic ruses would not be believed at all by the government, by the media, or by the public.

*** *** *** *** ***

When people pontificate from a high moral perspective (which is truly often undeserved to begin with – I have learned from my parents that the people who profess to be so moral are often the ones with the most skeletons in the closet) they begin seeing and imagining all forms of evil. They are unable to distinguish the objective from the subjective reality.

As I said in the past, I stand by my letter and will not nitpick. However, I will go on record to say that I wrote that letter in an hour’s time and that I did not know then that it was going to be forwarded to everyone – and that had I known that, I would have rewritten that letter for better clarity and more style. That letter contains mixed metaphors and grammatical errors many of which have been so gleefully pointed out by critics already. But I will stand by the contents of that letter.

But there are many advocacy points I supposedly and allegedly made in that letter which are simply not there. So those who have pontificated immediately without even understanding and rereading the letter, read it again. I never made the claims that you said I made in that letter.

For example: I never asked people to shut up, or claimed to be have been silenced, or that I advocated submission, subjugation, or being weak or servile. I never claimed to speak up for everyone, for the middle class, for the silent majority. I never asked people to give up their rights and freedoms for progress. I did not kill Magellan nor did I shoot Ninoy Aquino. I also did not take that cookie from that jar.

I could go on and on and on. But then again, I know that at this point the moralists are already livid and would be calling me all kinds of names, all of which I would not be able to repeat to my mother.

They have made up their minds a long long time ago. So what is the point? I will now listen to tin and jher and the many many many others who have given me this good advice: ignore them.

*** *** *** *** ***

And to the two people who think they are pestering and annoying me with emails that continuously nitpick on anything I write in this blog but are too cowardly to post their names: Sirs, you are giving me too much importance and I am flattered and thrilled beyond words. But for your own sanity, I suggest you get a life.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Demolition Team Becomes Personal

It has been more than a week since that open letter was written. I am told it is still going around and around and around. I have received hundreds of "thank you emails" from people who took the trouble to trace the return path of that email so that they can get in touch with me to personally expresss their agreement and gratitude "that someone finally articulated what they have been feeling for sometime now."

The consensus I am getting from those who have written, texted, or even talked to me in person is this: "When I read that letter, I kept saying - this is exactly how I feel!" And so they forwarded it to the world. I would like to think that that letter is going around because people could relate to it and that it captures exactly what is in their hearts.

Some friends have warned me that there will be a backlash - that there will be some people who will put me to task for writing that letter. I knew the demolition teams were on their way. I have received four emails, two of which were written in a polite way (and I thanked them too). Some pontificated on online discussion groups, others in newspapers. I knew it was going to be savage. I just didn't expect these people to hit sooooo low. Savagery I can take. But low blows I will respond to.

I know I have said this before, and I loathe having to repeat it. But for the record, I just want to repeat what I have already said many times in this blog and in the rejoinders that I have written: I will not nitpick with those who disagree with my letter. I choose not to indulge in point by point, sentence by sentence, phrase by phrase, word by word analysis and counter analysis. I know this will sound condescending, but I will say it just the same because it is the truth: I have better things to do. Unlike some people, I have a life.

If you disagree with me, by all means disagree. But you can not tell me to shut up. You can not tell me that I have no right to speak up about these things. You can not tell me that just because you think you are right, I am automatically wrong. And you can not make analysis about me and my person, you have no right to patronize me.

One person did a demolition job of my letter, using logical and legal terms. In other words, he was showing off. He made a big case out of the need to protect rights and democracy from all kinds of threats specially from those in power. I actually found it funny that given his supposed legal brilliant mind, he did not realize that he was doing a legal analysis of a non-legal document to begin with. In the end he wrote something like this "I beg you, unless you are sure that there is legal basis for your statements, please do not write open letters." He ended by shooting himself on the foot. This is the problem with those who are so convinced of their brilliance, they can't see through their imagined radiance.

Someone said it was a matter of perspective, which I agree with wholeheartedly. I believe that it is truly a matter of perspective, and our perspectives were/are simply not the same. I wish he ended there. But no, he had this great need to pontificate. He then moved on to dispute why my perspective was wrong. Sigh. He even said my assumptions were wrong. Well, so much for recognizing differences in perspectives.

Another one made a lecture on morality, giving me this whole yarn about why forgiveness can only come with retribution. He ignored that part in my open letter that asked why he is with the Erap faction or with the communists. This is the problem with those who are so convinced of their righteousness - they can not see beyond their sanctimoniousness.

ONE MORE TIME: I never claimed to be legally correct in that letter. I never claimed to be intellectually, morally, ideologically right. I claimed to be angry, sick and tired. I said I want to move on. You can out-argue me, out-debate me, out-fact me, bombard me with propaganda materials and slogans. I will stand by my letter. Of course, it is possible that I am wrong and I am willing to consider that possibility. I wish that others are also open to that same possibility, but no, they are so convinced of their righteousness I am beginning to think at one point in the last week, God came down to earth and given them a particular license to judge.

There were some who told me (it is all directed at me, by the way, not to the people who forwarded that letter and said they share the opinions) that I should not forget the past, that the horrors of history will come and haunt me. They then drop names like Marcos (oh, isn't that Imee Marcos you are linking arms with?), words like fascism (oops, isn't that a leftist you are barricading for?) emergency proclamations (wait, how many did Cory issue during her presidency?). They then remind me that corrupt people must be punished (teka lang, isn't that an Erap crony you are shaking hands with? Whatever happened to Kamaganak, Inc? Hmm...the Clark Expo and Amari scandals?). So much for not remembering the past.

And the one thing that really turns me off and lose respect for people is this: when someone becomes personal and begins spewing vitriol that he thinks is clever, but is actually just plain patronizing.

One famous singer (who calls himself a nationalist despite the fact that he is acquiring another citizenship) debunked my letter in a newspaper by making inferences about what kind of a person I am. Actually this is similar to what a famous sociologist did on TV. The drift of their thesis was this: I probably sit in an airconditioned office, must be middle class, etc., etc... For the record, I am the son of a farmer and a public school teacher. I am proudly promdi who comes from one of the poorest provinces in the country. I paid my way through college with scholarships. But then again, what does it matter if I am middle or lower class, if I live in Forbes Park or in Pritil Tondo or in BF Homes, if I eat caviar or tuyo. What the heck has that got to do with that letter?

Some people drop names and resort to name calling. I find this utterly cheap. Someone called me a GMA pet, a GMA apologist, a burgis (how seventies), a traitor, etc. All simply because I exercised my right, which they say they are fighting for. They want to fight for my rights, they just do not want me to disagree with them, otherwise, they call me names.

One person I totally ignored even if he posted his comments in the email group of a professional organization that I am part of began his response to my letter by actually asking: "how old are you Mr. Austero?" He said he was asking because I was obviously not familiar with the horrors of Martial Law.

For the record, I am 42 years old this week. I was picked up by the military twice when I was in College. I spoke at countless anti-Marcos rallies. I went underground for one year in Mindanao. There. But so what if I am 42, or if I am 20 or 75 or 150? So what? Does that fortify my arguments, give me more rights, does that give me more license to pontificate? What has that got to do with my letter? What has that got to do with citizenship?

I truly find it tasteless that some people reduce the whole discussion and exchange of views to nothing but a childish painggitan. I wouldn't be surprised if they ask me next "kayo may Expedition kayo? Beh, kami may 3."

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The marginalized majority

(Bong's rejoinder - March 11, 2006. Although there are people who thought that the use of the word "majority" in this post is appropriate, I now take the view that this has been a lapse in judgment. My use of the word was meant to refer to people who are sick and tired of the whole situation. But I realize that the generalization has no scientific basis. But I have decided to let it be rather than correct it, because I think that a lapse in judgment is not necessarily a crime, specially if the person admits to it. :-))

I meant to take a respite from the din and dynamics that my open letter has created. But I keep getting SMS messages from my friends updating me when and where my letter was last seen or read. One friend texted me to tell me one guy she knows has photocopied my letter and distributed copies at a church. Another one from Cebu said she was in a symposium where my letter was distributed and read publicly to loud applause. My email boxes are swamped (both company email and yahoo email, plus some comments on this blog).

I get texts from long-lost friends in the Visayas verifying if I am the person who wrote that letter and I can't help but feel truly touched at the "pride" they feel that they know the person who wrote that letter. I also get letters that amplify what I have written. One guy wrote a poignant letter in Tagalog about the laments of the middle class and I salute that guy for having the courage to do that. Some people alert me on online discussions taking place in this or that virtual forum (PCIJ, INQ7, etc). I only wish I had time to answer and post my comments as well, but ordinary work drones like me have to make a living balancing three jobs (unlike others who make a career out of protesting).

One particular letter from a friend moved me. He and his family are migrating to Canada. He said he is ambivalent about his family's decision to leave and has been trying to find more justification that would fortify his decision to leave the country. In the end, he told me that he knows now why they are leaving: because they feel that they have become total outcasts in their own country because they just want peace and quiet and progress.

I know the feeling. I have also entertained thoughts of migrating to Australia or Canada or New Zealand. I know the pain of being marginalized too.

Thanks to the people who have hotlines to God and speak with the conviction of the morally correct, we have been conditioned to think we are not worthy for thinking supposedly immoral thoughts such as forgiveness and acceptance. With everyone who has access to a microphone or a TV show relentlessly telling us why we are so wrong for giving the President the benefit of the doubt, why we are so morally naive because we believe in the basic goodness of people (just because we do not see the evils that they see in 1017), we now feel utterly conflicted about the worth of our moral convictions. Thank you for telling us we are so wrong and stupid and so unworthy for not seeing what you see.

Thanks to the politicians who have redefined for us what a congressional or senate hearing should be (it has to be controversial, with surprise witnesses ready to tell the most salacious details, and with lots of shouting and drama) we now prefer soap operas (the sillier the better) and lifestyle shows (the more sordid the better) to watching the news. We now have guilty pleasures (korean telenovelas for me). Our kids brains are now addled. They now think that the job of senators and congressmen is to become fact finders and third-degree inquisitors.

Thank you to the media, we have become desensitized to brazen pronouncements that border on the seditious. We now know that freedom of the press and freedom of expression are absolute concepts- that the media is the ultimate judge in this country. They can not be touched, they can not be called to task for what they do, they can not be watched. Our kids now know that a media ID is the absolute ticket to everything.

Thank you to our religious leaders, we now know that praying and keeping a vigil need to be done in specific places; that God exists only in specific churches and chapels.

Thank you too to those who continue to conjure the spectre of Martial Law to cow us into absolute fear and terror. Those of us who actually lived through the Martial Law regime see it differently, but then again, who are we to question the morally correct, the intellectually superior and the ideologically exceptinal?

Those of us who disagree are just so wrong. We do not deserve to be called Filipinos.

How did it happen that the majority has become the marginalized?

Friday, March 03, 2006

And the plot thickens...

One person (I will not mention his name kasi baka sumikat pa) wrote a very detailed rejoinder to my letter. He essentially debunked the points. This is my response.

I wrote the letter Sunday evening, right after the "standoff" at Fort Bonifacio was supposedly resolved. I wrote it in an hour's time. I wrote it for my blog, and sent it to 20 of my closest friends. I did not send it to this or other email groups; others did that on their own. I am amazed that that letter has gone around the world, been read on television, and published in newspapers.

I am amazed that many people wrote me emails thanking me for expressing what is in their hearts and expressed complete agreement. I am equally amazed at the savagery and the personal attack-mode of those who did not agree with the email (I got about three from more than a hundred). I am told that Randy David tore my arguments to pieces in one forum where I was not invited to. I chose not to nitpick.

I expect that there will be people out there armed with a more incisive mind or better debating skills or more comprehensive propaganda material (all of which I do not have at the moment) who will and can debunk my letter. They are welcome to do that. Others can out-debate me, out-fact me, out-argue me - that still doesn't make me wrong. I stand by my feelings and opinions.

If what I said does not meet the intellectual requirements, or do not pass the moral standards of some people; I do not see that as my problem - unlike other people, I never claimed to be absolutely right or morally correct. I only claimed to be these: angry, sick and tired, and wants to move on.

Some people disagree with me, and my message to them is simple: by all means disagree. Just do not tell me that I am not entitled to my feelings or my opinions. That letter was addressed to specific people and nothing in that letter tried to lump everyone who is anti-GMA as being of a certain category. So there really is no need trash each other in the process, even if people felt alluded to.

I have great respect for people who advocate for certain moral truths; people who are willing to die fighting for freedom and rights; people who believe that tyrants exist because there are people who accept being slaves.
I salute them. I really do.

But I have greater respect for people who manifest that there, too, is nobility, there, too, is dignity in accepting certain moral weaknesses.

There is dignity in fighting for an ideal, but there is dignity too in the acceptance of certain realities. I believe in my heart of hearts that there is nobility in accepting that many Filipinos just want to move on, even if it is morally wrong for others, even if we think that that is the unconscionable thing to do. I think we can all learn from the millions of Filipinos who are the real heroes of this country: the Filipino overseas contract workers. They do not pin their hopes on just one person; they have taken matters into their own hands, sacrified their freedoms and their personal comforts and rights for the sake of the country and their children. There are many who judge them for selling out - but there, too, is nobility in what they do.

I did not write that letter to debate with other people. People can narrate the 1,000,000 reasons why GMA should be hanged. I have only one response: the democracy that you claim to fight for is a double-edged sword, it also protects GMA as much as it does you. And one of its basic tenets is this: innocent until proven guilty.

People picked up my letter on their own. The fact that they did, that they forwarded it to others and the fact that this letter has become an issue is indicative of one thing: there are many others who feel the same way as I do.

I guess there are many of us out there who are just so wrong. Should we also be kicked out of this country for not measuring up to the moral standard?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Getting Infamous

I never thought a simple blog entry would create such furor. The open letter that I wrote has spread like wildfire. I was told it was the topic at a talk show at ANC today with Pia discussing the contents of the letter with Randy David. Some of my friends were able to watch it, and they said my letter was read phrase by phrase and Randy was asked to react. As usual and as expected, Randy intellectualized and ideologized the discussion daw. Ho humm. In the end, sabi daw ni Randy "mukhang galit na galit itong si Mr. Austero." Obvious ba, Randy, eh yun nga ang first sentence nung letter eh!!! If you are reading this ANC people, next time invite me! I would love to square off with those morons.

I also got an inquiry from a group who wanted to know if I would allow them to use the letter in a paid advertisement which they will pay for. I said yes, provided, I get to see who the other signatories are. Mamaya eh mga pulitiko din, wag na lang, anonymous na lang.

I get an average of 20-30 emails a day all thanking me for writing that letter and expressing 100% agreement with the contents. These are people I don't even know - and the return path of the emails amaze me - they go through like 5, 6 forwards.

There was one and only one email that expressed opposition - in a twisted way. This guy or girl wrote "Last I looked, this is a free country, so keep your opinions to yourself." Huh? Where's the logic? I did not bother to respond. Besides the person did not even sign the email.

So to all of you guys who forwarded the letter to your friends - thank you!!! Promise, pag sumikat ako, babatiin ko kayo sa TV. hahaha. Wish lang.

Coming Out and All That Hoopla

Okay, so I admit I was riveted to the TV set last night wondering how Pinoy Big Brother will "treat" Rustom Padilla's coming out. Overall, I would say they tried to sensationalize it, but unfortunately for them, two factors got in the way which were beyond their control. One was Keanna Reeves. The other one was a mariposa (butterfly). Of course, ABS-CBN will go to town with the revelation and PBB will keep on referring to the incident as if that house was a truth processor or something to that effect. Already, DZMM was talking this morning about how wonderful it would be if politicians would be locked up inside PBB so that they would also own up to their lies. Ehhhhh?

I have to hand it to this woman named Keanna Reeves. First of all, anyone who is willing to take on such a ludicrous screen name must either be so dumb or possessed with such a great sense of humor. I realize now that this spunky woman from Cebu is not dumb. No sir, she is anything but dumb. And she is so hilarious! Anyway, Rustom picked her as the person he would like to open up to (the medium or channel, shall we say, since it wasn't just Keanna he was really opening up to - it was the whole wide world!). It was Rustom's choice and PBB didn't have control over it. I am sure that if the lackeys at PBB had their way, they would have wanted a bull session with everyone there, or at least with the resident jocks Christian and Sanjoe in attendance, the better to highlight the contrast and the reaction (possibly homophobia? During their first night, John Pratts could not help commenting out loud before changing into his sleepwear: wala naman sigurong bakla dito).

Keanna broke the drama with a simple statement "naiihi ako!" said in the most natural way - and decided to pee in the bushes. What a moment! Rustom was bent over laughing and crying at the same time as Keanna peed on public television. Truly, life is stranger than fiction! (By the way, I took the chance that someone out there took stills of the moment, and came across this Blog devoted to PBB. He had pictures. So I filched them. The url of the site is in the pics. Rexwerx: thanks for the pics!)

The second factor that PBB had no control over (or at least that is what I think - they could not have programmed that butterfly to do that stunt!) was a mariposa. As Rustom was about to tell Keanna his "deepest secret" a mariposa hovered into view...perched on Rustom's leg and slowly crawled up to his hand before flying away. Whew! I am sure many people out there believed that was some sign. And maybe it was. Whatever, I think that emboldened Rustom to go ahead with his public revelation. (Interesting aside: I am superstitious when it comes to butterflies. In my family, a butterfly was always a portent of things to come. A black butterfly meant someone died, a white buttefly meant a letter was on the way, etc.)

So the gist of the revelation: he was effeminate growing up and his dad would beat him senseless for it , this conditioned him into thinking he can not be gay, he should not be gay; he grew up confused; he truly loved carmina (villarroel as if you did not know!) and did not see any conflict there - in other words, being gay did not exclude the possibility of truly loving another human being male or female; after the breakup he went to the USA to find himself; and he found himself there.

And there, ladies and gentlemen, is the classic story of an upperclass gay man in the Philippines. It is actually not unique - the plotline is pretty basic. The name Rustom Padilla can be replaced with a thousand other names.

I expect the denunciations and the expressions of support to come out soon. These should once again be interesting as we see just exactly how hypocritical we are as a people. I am sure the homophobics and the nutcases out there are already sharpening their axes.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

More rants.

The open letter is still spreading around. I got a number of emails thanking me or asking for permission to spread the email around. Yes, please. Spread it around. Spread it to all. You can even sign it if you want.

There is a part of me that says I should shut up today about this whole political rigmarole and move on to other issues (like Rustom Padilla's impending coming out tonight in Pinoy Big Brother). But the nutcases in Congress are still at it, and our concerned friends in media are still giving them a pulpit to fontificate on. So I will continue to rant.

Here are common scenes that I find ridiculous:

There is a rally. Any rally. All rallies in fact. There is a standoff as a phalanx of police men with shields and batons face off with the protesters who taunt them and scream all kinds of provocative propaganda slogans. There is a negotiation. In the end, the protesters agree to disperse. They go through the motions of dispersing, but actually, they just regroup two blocks away. Another standoff. Another negotiation. The protesters agree again to disperse...but this time, they continue to chant slogans and wave their flags. In other words, they are not actually dispersing, they are going through with their rally, with a slight difference: they are moving backwards to regroup one block away. The police arrests the leaders. And the leaders kick and scream "curtailment of freedom," "asan na ang ating mga karapatan?" "wala na ba tayong karapatan magsalita?" All the while, he is allowed to shout all he wants and the media actually takes footages of his ranting and screaming.

The protester is protesting suppression of his freedom of speech while screaming his guts out and spewing vitriol and making condemnations against the President and everyone else on public television! Ladies and gentlemen, the protester is protesting what he is enjoying to the hilt! O di ba tarantado!

Thus, we have UP students walking out of their classes to protest the curtailment of civil rights (such as the right to walk out of their classrooms in protest). Huh? Didn't they just do exactly that?

We have media people frothing in their mouths about how press freedom is being suppressed. Yes, they can rant and scream all they want about it and they do with such recklessness. So what threat are they talking about?

Imee Marcos holding on to the metal bars at the gates of Fort Bonifacio (sana totoong prison bars na lang yun) talking about the evils of dictatorship and authoritarianism. Eh lintek na babaeng ito, wala na tatalo sa pagiging diktador ng tatay mo, di ba pati nga si Tommy Manotoc napabalita na pinakidnap ng tatay mo!?!