Wednesday, May 31, 2006

It's not your set, folks

The late night newscast is what it is supposed to be - late; in fact, very, very late. And on many occasions, "early morning" since Arnold Clavio and Vicky Morales (or Ces Drilon and Dong Puno, depending on one's taste) usually get to read (or discuss, in the case of Ces Drilon) the news only after midnight. Just one more proof of how skewed people's priorities have become: we have to sit through Korean telenovellas and mature guys horsing around like pre-pubescent kids before we get to know about what's happening in this country.

Extra Challenge ceased to become challenging and had to say goodbye although the station insists that they continued to dominate the ratings game up to the end.

PBB is ending its teen edition this week and many people are glad it is going to be over - at the rate they are going (sneaking celebrities into the house almost every day or bringing the housemates out somewhere where at least some excitement can be had from the environment) - they are clearly running out of ideas to sustain interest in the show. The poor kids just do not produce enough fireworks.

Jang Geum is also (finally!) winding up; and it is about time GMA put a stop to the shameless way they have stretched this Koreanovella (the show's credits, prologue, recap of the past episode and preview of the next episode are much longer than the day's episode). I cheated and actually already saw the last episodes of the show on DVD so I know the extent to which GMA has cut up the show into miniscule parts. But this is a show that at least makes an effort to tackle socio-cultural issues so I guess the mania is partly justified.

Gulong Ng Palad is over too - the show only became interesting towards the end when it became clear that it was going to end soon; besides, I think they made a mistake of reducing the role of the boy Peping (quite frankly, that was the only memorable character in the original version, played by Romnick Sarmenta). I still have to meet someone who actually sat through the whole run of the show though.

I can't seem to make head or tails of Majika - are they in a parallel universe or not? And what is with those costumes that make them look like they came straight out of a Bayanihan Dance Troupe performance? Encantadia it aint!

I get headaches watching all that senseless horsing around in Lagot Ka Isusumbong Kita, Ok Fine Whatever, and Bora. What a waste of testosterone. These shows are supposed to cater to women; thus all that muscles and good looking guys. Nice touch, except that I dont think Filipino women are that shallow.

Bahay Mo Ba 'To has run out of creative ideas. The duplex laboratory has been done before many times (Janice Jurado from Barrio Gumamogan, remember?) so we did not really expect anything new. But this one, at least, had a great cast.

Nuts Entertainment has some inspired moments (I used to find Balakubak really funny but lately they have become a bunch of misogynists) and their irreverence is beginning to grate. But Joey de Leon is still brilliant - when he chooses to be, which is rare nowadays.

There is nothing to watch on the local channels.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Rise of Vigilantes

Death is always a sad occasion. Murder can never ever be justified (which is the reason why I am against capital punishment). And even if sometimes I do feel like beating some journalists senseless (in a manner of speaking, of course) for sheer irresponsibility, I am against any form of censorship. Because of these, I am alarmed at the increasing number of media people being killed in this country.

I have a college best friend who is a media person, working with a radio station in Tacloban City renowned for taking up controversial topics and for being some kind of a court-of-last-resort for the desperate and the helpless. This radio station lost their main commentator (Kuya Monching Noblejas) to a gunman a few years back. The buzz was that the killing was ordered by some powerful businessman who felt aggrieved at having his reputation dragged across the coals of public opinion. I think the same circumstances pervade the other murders.

Over dinner and red wine a few days ago, we expressed concern for our friend – concerns which she shrugged off as part of the hazards of the profession. She did share, however, that the string of murders has made them more responsible; they now make sure they have the facts before spewing vitriol and damning someone on air. She conceded that in the past, they tended to shoot from the hip even when the facts and the circumstances were not clear.

Yes, they are killing media people in this country, there is no doubt about this. However, I refuse to be simplistic in my analysis and conveniently lay the blame at the military or the government. If the government has made it a policy to kill people who are vehemently against it, there would be very few media people left breathing. The string of murders is a complicated social phenomenon and the full solution cannot be found in the halls of power in this country regardless of the tough talk and the number of strongly-worded directives from Malacanang or Fort Aguinaldo. However, I do agree that it is the job of government to do something about this problem and it is a challenge that it must address.

I do not know if media intended this to be, but media is a powerful entity in this country and in fact, I think the dividing line between media and politics is now hairline. Some politicians dabble as media people and many media people fancy themselves as politicians, in some cases –often justified - better than the politicians. But what makes media’s power more potent is that they have within their means the capability to make or unmake anyone. And this power has become a curse or a blessing, depending on a number of factors.

I am not saying that the victims of the senseless killings are to be blamed for their deaths. I maintain that no one, bar none, deserves to have his or her life snuffed out; specially under such irrational circumstances. I am not even suggesting that the victims were irresponsible media people. All I am saying is that there is something in our current social structures that breed and mitigate this climate of murder.

It does seem that some kind of vigilante mentality is taking roots in our culture, borne out of some breakdown in the justice system and the haste to render judgment. It’s a vicious cycle that feeds on desperation, helplessness, greed, commercialization of media, etc. If we want to address it, we must address it at its roots. What is fueling this vigilante mentality in our culture?

Among the masa, media people are perceived as powerful people who can dispense justice swiftly. In most cases, media people are seen as their court of last resort. In other words, if anyone wants justice all one has to do is find a way to get to Mike Enriquez of Imbestigador fame or to Korina Sanchez or some other AM radio commentator, or political columnist with a readership. This perception, by the way, did not just arise out of thin air; in most cases, media establishments actually created this image and fueled its perpetuation through public advertising such as "kasangga ng naapi" and similar other attention-baiting slogans. Media people can not wash their hands of the role they play in promoting this vigilante mentality.

Given the challenge, media, particularly in remote areas, has put on the role of accuser, rabble rouser, defender, catalyst and, worse, as judge - all rolled into one; and on almost all issues, from national politics to family squabbles and even domestic discord. There have been many times when I would sit agape watching how Imbestigador would make a mockery out of due process; or listen incrudulously to some AM radio commentator make mincemeat out of someone over unfounded accusations.

I know that media is supposed to play one, or some, or all of these roles to varying extents; but very often, the lines tend to be blurred and many media people, perhaps out of overzealousness, or for whatever reason, do tend to teeter on the verge of being irresponsible. Along the way, some reputations are ruined, some people get scandalized, and in general, feathers are ruffled beyond repair.

Again, this is not to say, that these are enough reasons for some aggrieved person to hire an assassin. Media should not be blamed for taking on the role of court of last resort particularly since the wheels of justice in this country do tend to move like a turtle taking its sweet time.

But then again, not everyone has the capability to rein in desperation or to resist the temptation to take matters into his or her own hands particularly since media - TV shows and movies - has often suggested that these are okay.

I see the string of murders as symptomatic of the social conditions in this country. Solving the problem requires a more comprehensive approach and government, media, the military, social organizations, and the general populace have to come together to address it. We must put a halt to this vigilante mentality together.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Tacky, gaudy, ugly

There must be a logical explanation somewhere.

Perhaps at some point in the last few months, the Mayors of Metro Manila came together to organize a contest as to which one of them can come up with the tackiest, the gaudiest, and the ugliest streetlamps. This must have been a tall order, of course, because the benchmark set by Manila Mayor Lito Atienza already qualified for the Guinness Book of Records in all three categories. But then again, this is the Philippines and if there is something that we can never ever be found wanting in - it is the desire to raise the bar at anything - longest suman, biggest strawberry cake, largest bibingka, most number of billboards in EDSA, etc.

When those UFO looking street lamps began sprouting in Adriatico and Nakpil at Malate a few years back, we thought it was... weird. But at least the streets looked a little less dangerous although a number of Malate denizens complained about the extreme cruelty flourescent lamps inflict on those in dire need of a facial. But Mayor Atienza is a man overflowing with creative juices that could not be contained by merely wearing floral shirts, so those square lamps at Nagtahan bridge (that changed colors!) had to be installed, and then those atom lights at Bayview, and then the other garish and ornate ones that defy description in Escolta, Avenida, etc.

And then the other mayors followed suit and the streets of Metro Manila have never been the same again.

There are now multi-colored streetlamps in Kalookan and diamond-shaped streetlamps in Pasay, and so on and so forth. The thing is, these streetlamps are only one side of the road, are in addition to the old, normal (far elegant!) streetlamps that have been there for ages, and in most cases, merely serve as decorative pieces since they use ordinary flourescent bulbs. In other words, form rather than function was obviously the main consideration in choosing the designs of these streetlamps. I wonder how much they spent (and earned!) on those plastic- looking, tacky, gaudy street eyesores.

I know there is no accounting for taste, but surely there are limits to how far public officials can impose their concept of what is artistic and beautiful on the general populace.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Da Vinci Coup

I used to get all worked up over people who choose (yes, I believe it is a choice) to see things from one and only one perspective. Now I only feel sadness bordering on pity for them. It must be so hard to live an existence where everything is pure black and white - where things are uni-dimensional. It is such a pity because there is just so much diversity in this world, there is absolute wonder to be had from being able to see things from various perspectives, there is breathtaking beauty and awesome possibilities in appreciating differences.

A case in point is all this madness over The Da Vinci Code. If we are to go by the froth and hysterics that has accompanied the showing of the film, Dan Brown is The Anti-Christ and the novel and film have rewritten history.

The main criticism about the book and the film is that it makes one question his or her faith, but the critics are quick to say that this did not happen to them, supposedly because they are made of harder stuff. Oh please, if this is not pure and arrant pedantry I do not know what else is. Why should it always be presumed that others are less able to make the same wise judgment that they are capable of? I still have to meet someone whose faith has been shattered to smithereens after reading the book or watching the movie, so this argument just does not fly.

It is a fact that the one book that has made more people leave the Catholic faith is the Bible itself. It is a fact that many people have switched religions or joined other faiths because of disagreements with specific versions and interpretations of the Bible. If people want to protest against something that makes people reconsider their beliefs and their faith, I suggest they look no further.

What is ironic is that the hysterics only serve one purpose - to entice more and more people to sit up and notice and troop to National Bookstore to buy the book or line up at moviehouses to watch the movie. If people want to stop the few remaining Filipinos from reading the book or watching the movie, there is only one quick, easy, and simple way to do it: shut up.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Mail call

EAL, a regular reader of this blog emailed me four "simple questions" (ha! when were political questions ever that simple in this country?) that he said he wanted someone "politically sober" like me (ahem) to comment on. There are a couple of things I want to write about such as this national predeliction for coming up with absurd labels for our national headaches (con-ass?!? unidentified flying objects!!?) but my brain is still on vacation mode and I thought I should indulge EAL. So here goes.

1. "Why is the middle class not enraged and out into the streets like they did in the past?"

This is a actually a question that has been paraphrased in various ways in the last few months to the extent that some people's impatience has given way to annoyance and in some instances, outright dismissal of the value of the middle class as a potent force for change in society. I do not believe that Filipinos are tired of people power, or that Filipinos do not believe in it anymore. I think that what many Filipinos are tired of is the rise of what I consider political oligarchy - people who keep on insisting on an exclusivist and absolutist point of view - which, as still evident in many hysterical reactions in some blogs - tends to border on moral fundamentalism. I do know that many people (like me) are turned off by the name calling and the "high and mighty stance" that some people cloak themselves with. This "if you are not with us, you are against us" attitude is tiresome and insulting to many people.

I do not subscribe to the point of view that people are tired of protesting - I prefer to see the inaction as another form of protest.

The question then is not "why" but "what." What will it take to get people out in the streets? Constructive change, an alternative that is inclusive of all points of views; one that does away with all these namecalling and moral superiority.

2. "What is your stand on charter change?"

I do not believe that changing the constitution will bring any major benefit or for that matter, any major setback to the country. The system is important, but it is simply a tool, a means to an end. In the end, it is a confluence of many factors that will spell the difference. On the other hand, I do not subscribe to the belief that just because something is not broken it shouldn't be fixed.

What I feel very strongly about is this: the country needs a major impetus towards change and charter change is a tempting alternative. Thus, I prefer to wait and see how the debate will shape up in the next few weeks. But like I said, I do not think that changing the constitution is a panacea. It is, at best, a collective push that may put the country back on a track - perhaps a longer track, but less divisive and less destructive. If there is a better way to do this, then changing the constitution may not be necessary after all.

3. "Do you think GMA wants to stay on as President beyond her term?"

GMA is a lot of things - arrogant, possessed with a steely determination, etc., but stupid is not one of them. I think that she knows that she has to go sooner or later. Call me naive, but I think that she also wants a way out of the impasse and that her main motivation is self-preservation, i.e., that a better place in history is assured for her and her legacy. And I think she knows that many people are willing to grant her that on condition that she does her penance and this is where she draws strength from. All this talk about GMA being another Marcos is pure political posturing designed to scare people by conjuring old ghosts. Sadly, science has long proven that scare tactics never work. Scaring people has never worked in HIV/AIDS prevention, in preventing new year's day injuries from firecrackers, in not getting teens pregnant, in preventing boys from submitting to hazing, etc.

Unfortunately, people who want blood are not willing to budge either. Too bad the tug of war is hurting the country and turning off people along the way. In this contest, the solution can not be in taking out one side of the tug of war, but in pulling together towards one goal. I believe the President will step down under the right conditions.

4. "Is there hope for the country?"

Yes, of course. I think that's one of the very few things we have left.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Back, kinda

Am blogging from an internet cafe in Tacloban where the ambience is that of a warzone. I wonder why they still call it an internet cafe when practically everyone here except for the college student in uniform at the far corner and myself (we are a sorry minority) are so engrossed decapitating limbs and spraying bullets - virtually, yes, but then imagination is far more potent that reality. I actually am a little deaf now - and I have only been here 20 minutes.

This cafe has signs all over announcing that minors are not allowed inside unless there is parental consent. I am tempted to ask the girl at the counter if they ask for a notarized parental consent or if they simply take the kids' word that they have it because practically half of the people inside this cafe are below 12 years old. I wonder what kind of adults they grow up to become - half deaf I suppose, and violent.

I am going back to Manila tomorrow. In the last five days, I have not read a single newspaper nor watched television - and I couldn't believe how relaxing it has been. I did get to finish four books - all light reading materials (Jeffrey Archer, David Baldacci, Rohinton Mistry and Ninotchka Rosca) so I guess it was all worth it.

Anyway, just wanted to reconnect. I gotta get out of here before my eardrums are totally shattered.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Idiot boxed

My last blog netted a really interesting comment from Mommy Jo, someone whose comments in this blog I always look forward to because they are always sensible, warm and light. Here's what she said:

"It really gets my goat when Mike Enriquez in that annoying tone of his would spend a good 2 minutes introducing or making bola about Pia Guanio who would deliver the most inane showbiz bit that would get me screaming "Who the hell cares!" After his intro the camera would shoe this Pia clad in the most style-challenged (am being kind about it pa ha!) outfit. God! I wish she fires (or strangles) her stylist or doesn't she earn enough to get a non-fly-by-night stylist? Last night what really got me again was that Enriquez couldn't even pronounce Iran's Ahmadinejad correctly. He sounded really stupid, and to think he's some bigwig in GMA7's news dept! I said (no, screamed) I am so over local 6;30 news!!! Well anyway, I always tune in at 10pm in Channel 23 with Mari Kaimo."

This comment got me laughing so hard because I have been thinking the same thing. I know "style" and distinctiveness are part and parcel of a broadcaster's bag of tricks, but I still have to meet someone who actually enjoys Mike Enriquez' way of broadcasting. I do not actually get annoyed when I hear Mike Enriquez, but I wouldn't say he would be on my list of newscasters I would like to listen to. I know a lot of people though who likes watching Mike Enriquez because he makes them laugh. A newscaster who makes people laugh? Now I know where Wazzup Wazzup got the inspiration.

And that comment about Pia Guanio's outrageous outfits on 24 Oras hits the nail on the head. There have been many occasions when I wondered the same thing - why is she wearing that...that..contraption on her body? On some days, it does look like someone draped a rag haphazardly on her body and forgot all about it.

I must be getting old because I miss the good old days when the newscast was straightforward and done in a very professional manner by the likes of Tina Monzon Palma, Frankie Evangelista, and Angelo Castro. In those days, the newscasters did not do cartwheels and emotional hara kiri on public television. They sat down, looked straight at the camera, and delivered the news as professionally as they could.


And because classes have not started yet, I have had time to watch the early evening shows on TV. I am not sure it is exactly a blessing. There are times when the whole experience borders on the surreal. Yes, I have watched a few episodes of Pinoy Big Brother Teen Edition.

Forget about the show being a "teleserye ng totoong buhay." Unless we all exist in a parallel universe where Hitler succeeded in propagating a certain standard, there is no way that all normal people could look like those teens. There is nothing in that show that approximates real life; and in this edition, they are not even trying anymore to show some semblance of normal life in the show. It's not just that the kids are all good looking. Everything in the show is so contrived.

Yes, this is an edition that has hormones written all over it in upper case letters. No wonder they have started to make the challenges more physical. They had to! I will not venture to say more and cite examples because I don't want people who have been clueless until now to begin hyperventilating. (In this country, feigned intelligence is truly a dangerous thing. Those who get second hand information react more violently than those who actually have first-hand knowledge of things. Take for example Sec Ermita's pronouncements about The DaVinci Code - he admits he has not read the book, but he has a mouthful to say about it. Sigh).


And since we are talking about local television, I am just wondering if something happened to all other commerical models and endorsers in the last three months because every darn time I switched on the idiot box and an advertisement comes on, it is either Tweety de Leon and her kids, Manny Pacquiao, Kris Aquino and Candy Pangilinan that I see. (All those presumably pretty girls in those shampoo commercials do not count, those ads are all about bionic hairs that have a life of their own).


So I guess it's not just me. I've noticed that most bloggers are taking it slow lately - everytime I go on line, I check out some of my favorite bloggers and most are on a hiatus. Must be the summer heat (which PAG-ASA says is officially over. Really? Promise?) or must be the relative calm in the political environment. My friends in the stockmarket have been all agog in the last few days over the upturn in the market. I hope the run continues; God knows we all deserve a bull run after almost ten years of bottom fishing in the local stockmarket.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Tit for Tat

"You are nothing but a second rate, trying hard, copy cat!"

This and other similar dramatic dialogues are standard fare in many Filipino movies - some so unbelievably camp and incredibly hilarious- they are brilliant! (Some that immediately come to mind: "magsisimba ka na may bulak sa ilong! - (FPJ)," "hindi ka na sisikatan ng araw - (FPJ again)," "para kang karinderiang bukas sa lahat ng gustong kumain (Vilma Santos, I think)." Too bad, Filipino scriptwriters seemed to have run out of similarly-inspired cinematic gems.

Fortunately for all of us, this "art form" may have disappeared from recent Filipino movies but they live on primetime television and jump out of the front pages of newspapers. One more proof that in this country, there is a very, very thin line that divides showbiz and politics. Thus, watching the news today has become such an interesting experience - not only because the shenanigans of tinseltown starlets and wannabes (Chikkkkka minute!!!) jostle (and seem to be winning the war) for precious primetime space - but more because our politicians and leaders now make such bold, dramatic statements that would give film scriptwriters a run for their money.

Anyway, I was reading the papers today and came across many of those cinematic "statements" from politicians. A friend and I had a blast translating some of the statements into cinematic dialogues.

"They can run but they cannot hide!" (In cinematic Tagalog "maari kayong tumakbo, pero hindi nyo matatakasan at mapagtataguan ang batas!").

"I hope they go back to the mountains because that is where they belong." ("Bumalik na kayo sa bundok kung saan kayo nanggaling at nararapat!").

"This is the triumph of a militant and just stand for people's rights which could never be trampled" (Katarungan para kay Ka Dencio! Kung hindi tayo kikilos, sino and kikilos, kung hindi ngayon, kaylan pa? Ibagsak and pasista-diktaduryang US-Arroyo! Lansagin!- I know, I know, it is not accurate, but doesn't it translate?).

And my recent favorite: "There will be no violence, but they will bleed in the bar of public opinion. They will bleed in the courts of this land." (Cinematic translation: Maaaring walang mangyayaring karahasan pero hindi ibig sabihin na hindi dadanak ang dugo! Pagbabayaran nila ng dugo ang kanilang pang aapi!)

I wonder if that is what it takes nowadays to be noticed - to act like some hero or heroine from a teleserye and mouth dramatic lines designed to tug at the heartstrings of people's lives.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Alarming numbers

Being aware of the level of stigmatization people living with HIV/AIDS are subjected to, I wasn't sure I should write about it. But the data was published in the papers today so I guess there is no point in keeping the data among ourselves in the HIV/AIDS prevention community. I am talking about the dramatic rise in reported incidence of HIV infection from an average of around 10 a month, to an all-time high of 30 incidences last month (statistical projections say that there are 100 other unreported cases for every single reported case of infection). This is alarming.

There are those who think that the dramatic rise in reported infections was triggered by the government's announcement that it would offer free retroviral drugs (the cocktail drugs that slow down the progress of the disease). But I personally doubt this because the general perception about HIV/AIDS is still that it is a "dreaded, fatal, incurable" disease. I doubt very much if the possibility of getting access to free drugs is enough motivation for people to come forward to take the HIV test.

In the last few years, HIV/AIDS in the Philippines has been described by experts as "hidden and growing" (the earliest description was "low and slow"). I think this description will need to be reconsidered if the trend continues. The spread of HIV/AIDS in the country is growing...and seemingly at an algebraic pace.

For quite some time, the Philippines was actually considered a "model case" in HIV/AIDS Prevention. Not only was the country among the first to come up with a more integrated response to HIV/AIDS, our response was noteworthy because we focused on "prevention" rather than "control" a lesson that other countries had to learn the painful way. I think that our relative success in the early years can be attributed to several factors: 1) the country's response was quick; 2) the national HIV/AIDS program was lucky to have had strategic thinkers at its helm (think Juan Flavier, Manolet Dayrit, etc); 3) the inherent brilliance of many Filipino NGO workers. It also helped of course that media attention was present, although media tended to (and still does, by the way) sensationalize its treatment of the issue.

But we seemed to have hit an invisible wall and went downhill in the last few years in terms of HIV/AIDS prevention. Public information campaigns have slackened and condom use has been reported to be on a decline. Moreover, injecting drug use, which is one of the major vectors for the spread of HIV/AIDS in other Asian countries, is increasing. It is a given, of course, that people continue to have sex. I do not have statistics to back me up, but based on my discussions with young people, most adolescents become sexually active at a younger age today. Furthermore, the "repertoire" of sexual behaviors seemed to have become more and more risky in terms of HIV/AIDS infection.

The picture is alarming but not a cause for panic. The keys to prevention remain the same:

1. If you are an injecting drug user, do not share needles with anyone.

2. If you need blood transfusion, get blood only from reliable sources. Better still, make it a habit to donate blood regularly and convince your friends to do the same so that the practice of selling blood is stopped once and for all.

3. Unless you are in a monogamous relationship and both of you have been tested negative for HIV or have not indulged in risky sexual behaviors in the past, practice safer sex with all your sexual partners. This means using condoms if you indulge in penetrative sex.

Also, please remember that unlike the SARS virus, HIV/AIDS is not airborne. You do not get HIV from shaking hands, sharing toilet seats, being in the same room with someone who is living with HIV, not even from kissing.

There is no need to fear someone living with HIV/AIDS.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Random thoughts at an international confab

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Wala lang

I will be at the International Conference on Reproductive Health at Westin today (and I haven't finished my presentation yet) so as much as I wanted to write about how globalization has changed the landscape of Tagaytay I cannot. But here's something that caught my attention because it is funny. I don't like blond jokes (or Polish or other racist jokes) but I am making an exception on this one because it is funny and it intrigued me because of the traffic it brings.

Click here for the joke.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Wage increase?

I was out of town Saturday until Monday running a leadership program for 140 college students at this retreat house in Tagaytay whose main attraction (it seems) was that they did not have a single television set in any of its dorms and cottages. Because I am a person who always has the TV set in my room turned on (even when I am not watching it), it was initially uncomfortable being disconnected from the world, but strangely liberating after a while.

I texted my best friend to give me an update on what was happening in Manila and his terse reply was "Wala, korni nga eh." Neverthelesss, I got back to Manila May 1 afternoon dreading all sorts of worst case scenarios, which thankfully, did not come to pass. I guess this whole psy-war thing which the government, the opposition and militants have mastered is truly overrated.

May 1 being labor day, I expected that there would be a clamor for wage increases. This has been a tired constant refrain in the last decade. What I did not expect were populist statements from religious figures about the minimum wage issue. The President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines Archbishop Angel Lagdameo lamented that workers in the Philippines are often deprived of their just share of the fruits of their work. Sadly, the statement was coached in very general terms and was full of theological gobbledygook. I wasn't really clear about what exactly the good bishop was advocating. Bishop Oscar Cruz was more direct accusing the government of being "deaf, dumb and blind" to the cause of workers.

I can understand where the bishops are coming from. There is no denying that the current minimum wage, for example, is inadequate. However, wage increases is a very complicated issue and the reality is that there are many small and medium enterprises that can not even afford to pay the current minimum wage. If the church truly cares about the welfare of their flock, I suggest that they begin within their ranks. I know for a fact that many churchworkers do not even receive the minimum wage and many are not paid at all. I have a cousin who works as secretary of a parish, and her salary is a paltry P3,000 (this is way, way below the minimum wage). If the church truly cares about workers in this country, I suggest that they walk the talk. First, they must pay their workers well. They can donate the riches of the church to the poor and truly live with the people instead of living in palaces. They can also stop charging for church services, or at least reduce the rates (do you know how much it costs to have someone baptized? or for a mass to be said for a dead loved one?) . And then then can start pointing their fingers somewhere else.

Is it time to legislate wage increases? I do not think so. Wage increases is a very complicated issue. And if only for this reason, it should be left out of the hands and interference of politicians - all types of politicians.