Thursday, June 29, 2006

Class War?

The things we do in the name of the poor!

I never thought I would see the light of the day when certain people would use the same line of defense that their erstwhile nemesis - he who professed his innocence to high heavens yesterday- used to justify all his actions: to benefit the masa, or the poor.

Okay, so maybe there is no point in quibbling with intentions because there is just no way that anyone can actually measure sincerity and all that. Perhaps we can even grant that people do want to help the poor in this country and that the desire to alleviate poverty do haunt their waking hours - they can't sleep, they can't eat, they can't function productively until they are able to accomplish this noble mission.

Fine. So we need to do something for the poor.

But how is fighting for the rights and welfare of the poor a class issue? Does it automatically mean that when one is middle, higher middle, upper class, etc., one can not espouse anymore issues of the other "classes?" When did we have a formal caste system in this country?

I do not know about you, but it turns me off when people make such a big issue of demographics, particularly economic class.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Bridging the mismatch between skills and jobs

The following appears at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today - June 28, 2006.

THE second round of the Graduate Tracer Study officially commences today as research directors of 60 colleges and universities from all over the country come together to begin the arduous process of answering the question that has been baffling industry and academe in the last few years. No, the question has nothing to do with how those voices got caught on tape.

The question, in layman’s terms, is what exactly is causing the mismatch between what academe produces (skills) and what industry needs (jobs)? Hopefully, the answers will lead to prescriptions that will help academic institutions and national policymakers develop a more responsive and relevant educational environment that will enhance the overall competitiveness of Filipino graduates in the marketplace.

But first, an introduction about the Tracer Study. It is a nationwide “tracer” study that aims to gather feedback on the whereabouts of college graduates from the time they graduated to the present. At the same time, it aims to conduct a retroactive assessment of what aspects of the graduates’ academic preparation helped, or conversely, hindered them from getting employment.

The GTS is spearheaded by the Commission on Higher Education, in partnership with some government institutions (e.g., the Department of Labor and Employment), industries (represented by the Personnel Management Association of the Philippines or PMAP) and a number of colleges and universities. CHED hopes to make the GTS an annual study in order to come up with a bigger and wider perspective of the situation instead of mere snapshots of the problem. I am privy to the details of the project because I sit as industry representative to the technical working group of the study.

The conduct of the study is imperative given the sorry fact that with the depletion of most of our other natural resources, the only remaining source of competitive advantage that we have today as a country is our people. And it is one resource that we have in large quantities, thanks to the dogged insistence of some sectors that population growth is not a problem in this country. Maybe not, but educating them and providing marketable skills is another thing, but sigh, that is another column.

Nevertheless, people—Filipinos—are our best shot toward regaining our competitive advantage. Unfortunately, it is a paradoxical situation because regardless of how many times we chant “The Filipino Can!” every day, it is also a fact that current skill levels, particularly among new entrants to the workplace, are seriously waning. It does not help of course that most of the jobs that are available require higher level of communicating and thinking skills, which many educational institutions are hard put providing given the quality of teachers available. It is a vicious cycle, and we are not even talking about the more serious stuff such as the commercialization of education and all the other issues that are bound to send blood pressures soaring.

The problem is serious and systemic, such that despite the projected increases in employment opportunities, unemployment and underemployment figures are hardly unchanged and are in fact growing.

Thus, on any given Sunday, the classified ads section of some newspapers make a killing with the sheer volume of want ads hawking all kinds of perks and promises. A cursory look at the classifieds gives one the impression that there is a major boom in the country’s economy, with many companies posting full-page ads that compete for attention using every conceivable advertising gimmickry. In some cases, the ads come very, very close to begging pathetically, “Please apply, we are desperate!”

And yet, a great number of job openings remain unfilled. Paradoxically again, there are long lines of applicants. A friend who works as a recruitment manager of a major call center reveals that they process close to a thousand applicants a day and it is a major cause for celebration if they get to hire five heads among the thousand. It is almost like the search for that proverbial needle in a haystack. Friends who provide temporary staff to major companies also bewail the difficulty of finding applicants for even basic clerical positions.

There is clearly a mismatch between what academe produces and what industry needs. It is time to take a more serious analysis of the problem.

In an article published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer last Sunday, Personnel Management Association of the Philippines president, lawyer Rico de Guzman, lamented the mismatch and called for more proactive partnerships between industry and academe in solving the problem. The bases for his statements were the results of a PMAP study conducted recently that looked into the overall preparedness of new entrants to the workplace. Some of the identified weaknesses of new entrants were in the competency areas of impact, communication skills, analytical and conceptual skills and initiative.

Today, I will just focus on impact not only because it ranked first, but also because it is the one that is least understood (not to mention the fact that as usual, I am running out of column space). Impact refers to how candidates are able to package themselves and their qualifications. This is manifested behaviorally in terms of the ability to project the right attitude, confidence and overall fit for the job being sought. At the risk of being called bigots, many among us Human Resources practitioners do find it exasperating when more and more applicants come to the job application process in what can only be tactfully described as a jologs persona. Not that there is something inherently wrong with being jologs (there’s a jologs persona within each one of us!), but what company will hire someone who comes to a job interview wearing three shades of yellow on his hair, garbed in pants where the crotch is at level with the knees, and with nine earrings on each earlobe? I guess it wouldn’t hurt as much if only the applicant can actually distinguish a verb from a bird, or can answer a question logically. I am exaggerating of course, but you get the drift. Self-expression (which is different from ability to communicate) is a desirable trait among applicants only when the basic qualifications are present.

To be fair, it is possible that no one is coaching new entrants into the workplace about the expectations of industry, or of the protocols attached to the job application process. It is primarily a marketing situation and the product is the applicant’s qualifications. And thus, we come full circle again. There is a mismatch that needs to be addressed quickly and more comprehensively.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Harmonizing discordant voices

My column for today (Manila Standard Today) is about One Voice and its advocacy.

THERE are at least three main challenges facing One Voice, the new citizens group initially composed of respected Filipinos who have come together to craft a five-point proposal to take the country out of the current political impasse.

The first challenge is getting heard loudly and clearly above the din and dynamics of the current political melee, particularly as the run-up towards the second impeachment brings to a boil. This early, the message of the group, precisely perhaps because of its more sober tone, runs the risk of being drowned out by the more insistent and more confrontational stance of the other messages out there. It doesn’t help, of course, that in our country today, controversy and hysterics get more attention and media airtime.

The adversarial positions being taken up by those advocating that the President be kicked out of office now as a nonnegotiable precondition for anything else, on one hand, and by those advocating Charter Change through the people’s initiative, on the other, seem to be presenting far more enticing (though not necessarily wiser) talking points.

The second challenge is convincing more and more Filipinos that their advocacy is far more desirable and ultimately, a more viable alternative that will usher the country out of the current political impasse. I have always maintained that the nonparticipation of most Filipinos in the raging national debate is not necessarily reflective of collective apathy, but more as a kind of protest over the limited, and largely “exclusive” (and often exasperating) menu of options being peddled out there.

There is widespread cynicism and distrust pervading today, and in a highly polarized environment, I believe that many choose to take the less contentious point of view—the one that offers a more direct lifeline to stability and security. Of course, this does not sit well with those who have cloaked themselves with the conviction of the moral and intellectual right. On many occasions, embracing the less contentious point of view has been ridiculed as weak and unpatriotic, giving the impression that nationalism has become an absolute concept, which has been franchised exclusively by particular groups. Unfortunately, this has only alienated people even more rather than drawn them into their cause.

Third, and as a logical consequence because the group is pushing for consensus, it will have to perform a major balancing act of accommodating the diversity of opinions and prescriptions out there.

Regretfully, one sector that One Voice has seemingly automatically marginalized is the group pushing for the people’s initiative. I personally do not agree with what that group is advocating (i.e., the specific points of what needs to be revised or amended in the Constitution), but I think there is space in the current political debate for recognition of various means to attain change. A people’s initiative is simply another way of empowering the citizenry and when we come down to it, it is as valid as say, people power, or for that matter, the coming together of the citizens that compose One Voice. They are variants of the same political animal.

But I understand that some items of the five-point proposal being pushed by One Voice are contingent on the defeat of some of the advocacy points of the people’s initiative. I also understand that the people’s initiative to amend the Constitution is potentially flawed although this has not been decided on with finality by the appropriate constitutional bodies. My point simply is that seeking consensus requires a more win-win perspective that does away with putting one perspective to advance another. After all, both groups purport to be in search of the same elusive thing: change.

One Voice also makes a compelling case on the need to craft a social agenda now, and on the imperative need to hold elections in 2007 as an indirect referendum on whether the President should be allowed to serve her full term, among others.

I agree that there is a need to craft a social agenda that focuses on the “common good” now. I have said this before in my blog (www.bongaustero.blogspot.com) and in that open letter that gave me my 10 minutes of infamy, but I will say it again here despite the risk of being ridiculed all over again by some quarters. People are sick and tired of the screaming and whining contest. It is time to bring the discussion to the level of what is the common good. It is time to look inside ourselves and come to terms with the fact that whatever we say or do, we are in the same boat together. We have differences in opinions and points of views but this should not deflect from the fact that this does not necessarily mean we are against each other.

If we can agree on a collective social agenda, then our disagreements can be made more civil and sensible. I truly think that what is tragic today is this preoccupation with short-term goals that divide us (such as how to give GMA the boot) rather than on larger goals that can serve as rallying points. The problems of this country are bigger and larger than keeping GMA in power or not, but yes, the social agenda should not preclude the possibility of a possible peaceful transition of power through democratic ways.

I believe that it is truly time for ordinary Filipinos to take the discussion and the crafting of the solution out of the hands of the politicians. This brings us to the contentious issue of impeaching the President, which is still a democratic option. But regardless of who files the impeachment complaint, the reality is that the impeachment process is a highly partisan and political process. We can rant about this until we are all blue in the face, but it is a numbers game that is beyond the control of the ordinary citizenry.

Thus, making the 2007 elections as an indirect referendum does present itself as a tempting, more realistic alternative. This is conditioned, of course, on the assumption that safeguards towards ensuring that the 2007 elections can be kept honest and clean can be put in place before then. This is possible of course if we put our hearts and collective energy into it.

You can download the position paper of One Voice and sign up at the group’s Web site at http://www.onevoice.org.ph.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Injustice

There are days when you can't help but suspect that all that pressure must be finally taking its toll on some cabinet secretaries. Being a cabinet secretary must be such a difficult job, particularly under the present dispensation; but then again, nobody is holding a gun to their head telling them to stick to their jobs or else...

Of all the cabinet secretaries today, no one - bar none - is as disturbing and exasperating as the Justice Secretary. Yes, he with the cluttered and disorganized work desk and outrageous public statements. Watching the honorable secretary on television is always a riveting experience. A friend once likened it to listening to Howard Stern - you know he is going to say something outrageous but you still listen because you wanna know what appaling thing he is still capable of saying in public.

For instance, why would anyone in his right mind issue a hold departure order for Satur Ocampo and in the process invite adverse media attention? Why would someone like Satur Ocampo think of not returning to the Philippines where he lives a charmed life? Why would anyone even think of gagging someone like Satur Ocampo abroad? And since when was it the job of a cabinet secretary to issue hold departure orders - isn't this the job of judges? Why even bother when you know you will lose in the bar of public opinion?

If there is someone in the cabinet today that is serving the goals of the opposition, this is the guy.

Why he is still in office is a question that continues to mystify many people. A friend of mine thinks the reason why he has been able to keep his post is because he is the only one in the whole cabinet capable of saying anything without fear. It is like this guy has nothing to lose anymore so he bangs his head at anything and picks up fight with anyone. It used to be funny, now it is just plain annoying.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Call to Order?

One Voice, a new citizens group, which counts among their ranks some people I have profound respect for, has issued a manifesto today. I have read the manifesto, although I haven’t had time to really study it. I read MLQ’s column today which provides some insightful context on both the group and the various points of the manifesto. Overall, I find myself agreeing with most parts of the advocacy. There are some points that I need more clarification on and I hope that these are addressed in the next few days.

There are some parts of the manifesto that I could sincerely identify with, such that I could very well have written them myself. In fact, I think have written some entries in this blog that hew closely to some of the points the group is raising now. In particular, I did write about the need to craft a "social agenda" that takes away focus from the endless nitpicking and mudslinging.

Parts of one particular blog follows.

"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.

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.

Fourth, it is time for ordinary Filipinos to take the discussion and the crafting of the solution out of the hands of the politicians.

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."

Some parts of the manifesto that I agree with wholeheartedly are the following:

The problems of this country are larger than keeping GMA in power or not.

I have said this before, and I will say it again: the issue of whether GMA stays in power or is kicked out of office can not be the goal but an outcome that needs to be situated within a bigger agenda. Unfortunately, the problem, which still persists today, is that this preoccupation with kicking GMA out of office has become a "do or die" mission for some people and some groups and this has resulted in what I initially referred to as "moral lynching that has bordered on the desperate."

It does seem that as far as some people are concerned, it doesn’t matter anymore what it would take as long as it gets done, even burning the country down in the process.

The need to recognize and uphold democratic processes as the only framework for all programs and actions. As the manifesto says "Presidents come and go, but out institutions are our lifeline to the future."

I maintain that the best way to regain the people’s trust in our institutions and in our processes is for those who are in a position to lead to do so by example – by showing respect for these institutions and processes (e.g., due process, fairness, etc) regardless of what others do or say.

For example, I find it disheartening that some people continue to trundle such concepts such as honesty, character, morality, etc., while indulging in selective interpretations and prejudiced conclusions to begin with.

Only by taking the higher moral ground can anyone have the right to accuse anyone else of being immoral.

The need to trust and respect the sovereign will of the people.

In the last few months, belonging to the "majority" has been claimed by so many (I made a similar lapse in judgment, for which I apologized). The truth is that no one can claim that he or she speaks for all or most Filipinos. There is only one certified measure of the people’s voice in a democracy: elections.

* * *
Obviously, the one point in the manifesto that I find some reservations with is the first point: discontinuing the people’s initiative. My reservation has nothing to do with content because on this score, I tend to agree with most of the advocacy of One Voice. I think however, that there is no need to shoot down one particular point of view just to advance another, particularly in a document that purports to build a consensus.

Expectedly, the proponents of the People’s Initiative immediately shot back with their own stinging remarks.

I believe that any consensus should be inclusive and should necessarily recognize that, at the very least, the cause of the people’s initiative is worth taking into account. I suppose that proponents of the People’s Initiative see what they are doing as another viable means to "end the political impasse" as well.

However, One Voice does offer an alternative: a constitutional convention after 2007. I think this alternative presents an opportunity for both sides to sit down and come to some points of agreement. After all, they are not the ones who has to decide on what exactly needs to be amended in the constitution.

* * *
And now we come to the question that is foremost in many people’s mind today: the brewing impeachment, which as we all know, is a highly partisan and political exercise. This early, we know that knives are already being sharpened and by the looks of it, the opposing camps have started to dug in and fortify their respective positions.

Where does One Voice intend to position itself in this impending melee? Does being "non-partisan" translate into non-participation in the impeachment complaint?

* * *

All told, howevr, despite these uncertain times, I still keep the belief, no matter how minimal, that there remains some nobility within each of us. Because of this, I remain hopeful that getting this country back on its feet is still very much possible.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that One Voice is the clarion that will lead the way.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Sex, lies and tough talk

My schedule this week is crazy, so I may not be able to blog regularly. But thank you to all those who emailed me privately and to those who left comments in this blog congratulating and wishing me luck me on my new preoccupation, which is writing a column.

My column for today in the Op-Ed section of Manila Standard Today is Sex, lies and tough talk.

SEX has been very much in the news in the last two weeks, thanks to three national controversies: the introduction of a module on sex education for high school students beginning this school year, the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board’s latest protestations regarding the alleged sexual content of some television shows, and of course, the ongoing trial of four US servicemen accused of raping a Filipina at Subic.

It has been more than a century since this country got out of the metaphorical convent, but judging from the furious reactions of some quarters on the issue of sex education, Padre Damaso is alive and kicking, and well, still pontificating. Someone even threatened (such tough talk!) to bring education department officer in charge Fe Hidalgo to court if she allowed the modules to be implemented. The opponents of the sex education modules (led by the powerful bishops) are either suffering from a severe case of denial or have been living under a rock the last 10 years.

Quite frankly, I don’t get what the fuss is all about.

It is easy to fall into this trap of thinking that kids are asexual beings. But the recent controversy over the Pinoy Big Brother Teen Edition episode involving a discussion about sex and sexual needs among certain male teen housemates (which caught the ire of the MTRCB) illustrates just how sexually curious, if not sexually active, today’s generation of adolescents are. I know because I teach and I am part of this NGO that works with adolescents. I will not go into the specifics because this column has only so much space. But let’s cut the crap and admit that many of us were sexually curious and aware if not sexually active when we were their age too. That hasn’t created monsters out of us, has it?

The fact is, no matter how many petitions we write to God, we cannot delay puberty age until everyone is 25. No matter what we do to shield kids from the world out there, the undeniable biological fact is that kids have ears and eyes and other anatomical parts. More importantly, although we often fail to recognize it, they also have brains. They read, listen and talk—and they are getting information from everywhere and everyone except from authority figures such as their parents and teachers who are in a better position to explain the facts correctly and situate the information in a more responsible context.

So although the proposed modules are a welcome development, they are actually a little too late since the target audience, high school students, already have access to sexual information from their peers, from the media, from the Internet—from everywhere and everyone. And there is that great possibility that the information they get is not only grossly incorrect but perhaps harmful. The list of myths about sex going around and around range from the hilarious to the ludicrous (e.g., growing hair on one’s palms, having dandruff, or even getting pregnant through kissing).

One of the alleged wrinkles in the proposed modules is the mention of condoms as protection against sexually transmitted diseases. The gibberish is that talking about how condoms prevent STDs will encourage kids to run to the nearest drug store, buy a pack or two and try them out just for the sheer fun of it. Duh. These people are obviously unaware of the social stigma attached to buying condoms (I am an adult, but I still can’t look at the salesclerk straight in the eye on the few occasions I had to buy one), the alarming decline in condom usage and the even more alarming rise in the incidence of STDs today.

But the gibberish becomes farcical because a condom figured heavily in the news a few days ago courtesy of the controversial rape trial. That bit was extensively discussed on television, newspapers and on radio and there is no way that high school students could have missed that one, particularly since pictures of the objects in question were also made available. So it is okay to discuss condoms and discuss the lurid details of how it was used and how it affects a rape case, but not in the context of responsible sexual behaviors among adolescents?

But let’s get the facts clear. The proposed modules do not actually talk about sex per se (oh no, none of those naughty hush-hush fun stuff we talked about during scouting when we were in high school). And the modules are not independent subjects. They are integrated into the basic classes like biology and civics. The modules are about responsible behavior, sexually transmitted diseases, reproductive health, etc. So it is not as if teachers in public schools will gather students around in a circle and begin a free-flowing no-holds barred conversation about sex. There is a specific context for the discussions about sex and these modules went through rigorous paralysis by analysis processes.

Accurate, correct and complete information is the key to prevention of teenage pregnancies, STDs, and many other social problems that affect adolescents in this country. If we want adolescents to behave responsibly, we have to treat them that way. But very often, it is our own discomfort and our own inadequacies that get in the way of our ability to do the unpleasant but necessary. This discomfort gives sex education malice, which need not be there.

It is a shame that many adults would prefer that information vital to keeping kids healthy and safe be kept out of their reach. This kind of shortsightedness is something that we will pay dearly for in the very near future.

Monday, June 19, 2006

From blogging to writing a column

Starting today, and every Monday and Wednesday thereafter, my byline will appear in the opinion pages of the Manila Standard Today. My maiden column is about something close to my heart as a Human Resource Management practitioner: wages.

Although it was that letter that gave me my 10 minutes of notoriety, it was this blog that caught media's attention. Yup, bloggers out there, it looks like mainstream media is indeed keeping a keen eye on the blogosphere. Manila Standard Today has another blogger on its roster of columnists, Sassy Lawyer.

I know that there are bloggers out there who will see this move as a form of selling out. I don't.

Have a good week ahead everyone!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Fathers Day Tribute

Tomorrow is Father's Day.

(I agree that any occasion that purports to honor the people who have made significant contributions in our lives is a welcome thing, particularly in this day and age when nobility seemed to have already lost its place in society. Having said that, however, I do wish that such occasions are not milked to such ridiculous extremes where people, particularly kids, are conditioned into thinking that honoring someone requires spending huge amounts of money. This is a futile effort, but I hope that mall and restaurant operators go easy on their campaigns; or at the very least, put more emphasis on propagating the right values. Reminding people about the heroes in our lives and the significant roles they play in our own existence is heartwarming; luring them into buying expensive stuff, or celebrating the occasion in a grand way is another thing because it really is not necessary.

I must admit, however, that there is a part of me that welcomes the celebration of Fathers Day, if only because it highlights the complexities associated with being a father in our society. Fatherhood, particularly in our culture is such a complicated thing. There are many stereotypes and social conventions that define or for that matter, obscure how fathers are supposed to be like. Unlike motherhood, the job description for fathers is very ambiguous, to say the least.

What follows is my own tribute to my Tatay, the one person who has always been and continues to be a steady presence in my life. Pardon the cliché, but he is truly the rock in my life and I couldn’t imagine what my life would be without him having been there all this time.)

Fathers are supposed to be tall because if they weren’t, who will children look up to? My own Tatay is taller than I am by a few inches. But that wasn’t – that isn’t- the only reason why I look up to him.

Fathers are supposed to have huge hands so that they can balance kids wobbling on a bicycle or catch baseballs without gloves. Tatay has two of the largest hands I know. So large they could contain all the salagubang, rubber bands and the million and one things I would empty from my pockets as a kid, yet somehow surprisingly small enough to cup my face when I was sad.

Fathers are supposed to have few words so that their children would listen to them when they chose to speak. True to form, Tatay seldom spoke. But his eyes and body language always conveyed volumes to us. His voice was soothing when necessary, and fearsome when required. But always, his silence was a powerful language that I listened and continue to listen to.

Fathers are not supposed to cry because tears signify weakness and fathers are supposed to be the epitome of strength. I have seen my Tatay cry only once – when my elder sister got married. But strangely, his tears only fortified his image as a pillar of strength and authority.

My father is many things to me. He is my friend, my drinking buddy, my driver, my conspirator in many juvenile and not-so-juvenile crimes, my generous provider, even my own conscience. But above all, he is the man who braved all conventions to become father figure to my sister and me. My father and I do not share the same blood - he is actually my stepfather – but this has never gotten in the way of our relationship. In his own words, it takes more than sharing a gene pool to create a father-son relationship.

Tatay is now pushing 70. The years, however, have not diminished his stature in my life. But there are days when I feel that our roles have been reversed somehow (for instance, I now find myself playing father to him like regulating his cigar intake or mandating compliance to his diet). But I guess old habits are hard to change. There are days when he seems to forget I am fully grown up. He still waits up for my siblings or me at night. He still checks the tire gauge of my car. He still does the many things that assert his stature in our lives.

But Tatay is far from perfect. He has his own idiosyncrasies. But I guess time and experience do reshape how we see things. Thus, what used to be vexatious have become endearing somehow. And I guess we all have settled into our own comfort zones, fully reconciled with the fact that in this world, there is nothing that can not be soothed over by love and affection.

When God created fathers, he custom-made one just for us. And we are truly blessed.

Happy Father's Day, Tatay!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Threats

Freedom is a concept that has been perverted in many ways, when people do not get what they want in this country, they not only flail around and engage in all kinds of demagoguery, they also issue thinly-veiled threats…publicly! And naturally, some sectors in the media go into a tailspin to broadcast everything down to the last juicy bit, all for the cause of freedom of course.

Fierce advocates of the death penalty went to town the other day to protest, decry, lambast, and do practically everything dramatic to register their disgust over the eminent lifting of capital punishment in this country. Now, this is a free country and people should be allowed to protest anything – including of course, the right to protest against a protest, and the right to protest against a protest of a protest. And so on and so forth.

But protesting is one thing, making threats is another thing.

Sadly, this has become rather commonplace today. Last week, businessmen led by Donald Dee went on public television to threaten the President. The message was not even coached in more polite terms, but in plain and simple language: we will withdraw support if the legislated wage increase is signed into law. Businessmen making threats, now that's something you do not see everyday!

It was the turn of the pro-death penalty advocates this week (I always shudder at the label “pro-death,” but then again, it is just me and I always had a weak stomach anyway). The Philippine Council for Evangelical Churches, the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption and the Citizen’s Crime Watch issued a clear threat, again coached in simple, clear, straightforward language: we will withdraw support if the death penalty is abolished. (Actually the Jesus Is Lord movement was part of the protest, but did not threaten withdrawal of support for very obvious reasons: they never offered any support to begin with since their leader Brother Eddie Villanueva was a presidential candidate).

In other words, they are demanding payoff for their support.

And these people have the gall to demand good governance? How can any leader govern effectively if he or she is forced to pander to everyone’s wishes?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Outrage!


MLQ has written a more scholarly and authoritative piece about this in a recent PDI column, but I just can not help but add my personal outrage over the way the national flag is being brazenly desecrated in our thoroughfares today.

I was driving along Taft Avenue in Manila this morning and was extremely horrified at the extent to which the Philippine flag has been so desecrated by the City of Manila. I have never ever seen such brazen and wanton disrespect for our national symbol! All along the length of Taft Avenue today, flags are carelessly and haphazardly nailed on the concrete posts that support the LRT. In some cases, the flag is not even nailed but pierced through on all four corners with metal wires and spread like an ordinary streamer. And many of the flags were directly exposed to rain - picture the combination of rainwater, pollution, exhaust, etc., and you can imagine the grimy state of the flags.

It seems that the only consideration made by whoever was responsible for this abominable deed has been to simply put up the flags, period. The people who put them up must be cross-eyed (most of the flags are skewed and slanted, some are twisted) and aesthetic morons (some of the flags are not even displayed symmetrically on the posts, they are off-center and parts of the flag extend beyond the concrete).



Where did this people get their basic education? I am sure that every school in this country holds a flag ceremony at least once a week where the flag is hoisted up in a solemn ceremony and where everyone eventually pledges allegiance to the flag. I am sure that civics classes still teach how the flag should be handled - and we all know it should never ever be nailed or pierced through with metal wires. Not only does this indicate extreme waste of taxpayers' money (each flag must cost more than a poor family's meal) but more importantly, it betrays utter lack of nationalism.

I am told that the disrespect extends all the way up to the borders of Kalookan and Pasay and that there is a Philippine flag on each LRT post.

I just can not fathom how any self-respecting government official can stand such a pitiful and shameless sight. These people do not deserve to be called Filipinos. I was so angry and insulted I felt like stoning the Manila City Hall for having such a low regard for this country's main symbol of pride and identity.

(The pictures were taken using my cellphone while driving along Taft Avenue. There were more flags in more pitiful state, but I was in a moving vehicle so I could only take pictures of the ones close to an intersection during a red light).

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Here we go again

In the papers today is a news item that convinces me that the Philippine Catholic church is not only caught in some time warp, it is seemingly indulging in some form of craftiness.

This year, the government is finally integrating "sex education" in government schools. And it is about time actually. It is high time that teenagers get access to correct information about sex, sexually-transmitted diseases, etc., in the right environment. Ideally, of course, parents should do the explaining; but not all parents have the time, nor the inclination or skills for such a delicate task (my own parents tried when I was 14, but it was too late then, I already knew the facts from peers and from my reading; but I wish they tried sooner for reasons that is worth another blog).

The Catholic bishops' commission on family life has gone on record criticizing the government's sex education program as "disturbing" and trundles the same wornout arguments it has been making since the early eighties when HIV/AIDS was still a hypothetical problem in the country. It is as if the last 15 years have not happened!

If we are to believe the Catholic Church hierarchy, teenagers today are not sexually active, teenage pregnancies do not happen, they are immune to HIV/AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases , they do not have access to all kinds of information about sex (mostly inaccurate ones!), and science has not made any progress at all in terms of increasing the effectiveness of contraceptives. Likewise, one would think that the mere mention of condoms in sex education lessons automatically causes teenagers to make long queues at the drug store to buy them for the sheer purpose of using them. Obviously, these people have not tried buying condoms and are not familiar with the social stigma attached to the transaction. Buying condoms is embarrassing. I am an adult and yet I still can not look at the drugstore salesclerk straight in the eye on the few occasions when I have to make a purchase.

One would also think that the government is offering courses entitled "sex education." The truth is, sex education is integrated into lessons on science (e.g., biology), health (e.g., general wellness) and civics (e.g., responsible behavior). It is not as if teachers simply bring out condoms and show pictures of human genitalia in class. There is a context for the discussions and sex education is not tackled purely as "sex awareness" but are actually packaged under larger topics about responsible adulthood and the like.

Furthermore, it is as if government bureaucrats took it upon themselves to introduce sex education into the curriculum. The truth is, this has been a lonnng struggle by the NGO community and the modules have been through all conceivable (and inconceivable) rigors of academic paralysis by analysis. For example, the HIV/AIDS Law which prescribes the integration of certain safer sex information appropriate to the level of readiness and maturity of learners was passed more than a decade ago! That is correct, more than a decade ago - when its main author, Freddie Webb was still a senator, and the thought of having Juan Flavier as senator was still a far-fetched idea. That is how long it has been and yet it is only this year when the modules are actually being implemented.

One would also think that all this time, the Catholic Church has not been part of the discussion; that they have not been consulted or that they had no part in the crafting of the initiative. This is simply symptomatic of the Pontius Pilate tendencies of some officials of the Church. The truth is, representatives of the Church has been part of the discussion. I have personally been in meetings where a Bishop or two was present; and I have personally tangled with some of them on some issues. Bottomline is, some consensus have been reached, painstakingly and with major difficulty, thus, the long-awaited integration of sex education into the curriculum.

The stand of the Philippine bishops is particularly disturbing at a time when there are hints that even the Pope is reconsidering the ban on the use of condoms in HIV/AIDS prevention!

It is about time that we teach teenagers how to be responsible. It is about time that we act like adults to the next generation. And the bishops should lead the way.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Daggy Manilow as deterrent

My word for the day: daggy. The word refers to something unfashionable or lacking style. In other words, uncool; or in Tagalog – baduy!

I can not imagine what Barry Manilow and his legion of fans around the world are thinking and feeling right now. According to a Reuters dispatch (which was published in some papers today) officials in one Sydney (Australia) district have decided to play Manilow’s music over loudspeakers in a car park where “car hoons” congregate. “Car hoons” are people with “antisocial cars” – you know, those souped-up cars with verrrry loud engines and eardrum-shattering music that go duhg-duhg-duhg. These car hoons annoy residents and drive customers away from the restaurants and shops near the car park. Naturally, people also avoid parking their cars near them.

We actually have some off these car hoons in Metro Manila. And I must admit that while I do not have anything against their taste for cars or sense of style (anyone should be allowed to to paint fire images on their cars, or paint it pink if they want to) I do find it annoying when they begin revving up their engines and begin playing those pulsing music that transforms their car into a mammoth speaker. I used to have a neighbor with a car like that, and there were nights when I felt like hurling the entire living room set in the direction of his car when he would get the urge to show off his car; which fortunately was not so often.

But to go back to the story, the theory is that these people will find Barry Manilow music so uncool that they will move elsewhere. Thus, “daggy Manilow.”

Apparently, the experiment has a precedent. They were able to successfully drive away teenage loiterers from a shopping center several years ago by playing Bing Crosby music over and over again.

I think everyone above 30 must have gone through a Barry Manilow period in their lives.
I grew up to Barry Manilow music. One of the most worn-out vinyl albums in the house was Barry Manilow’s (along with the Bee Gees, The Carpenters, and America). This is the reason why I could actually sing along to some Manilow songs when they are played, which is not to say that I will go out of my way to play and listen to Barry Manilow.

But I do know some people who think Barry Manilow is a God and who turn to Barry Manilow music for solace and commiseration. Truly, there is no accounting for taste. Anyone up for "As Sure As I'm Standing Here...?"

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Politics and Art

The annual selection of National Artists is something that I pay close attention to.

I like paintings, literature and art pieces. I also make it a point to catch some performances at the CCP and elsewhere whenever I can. One of my fantasies is living in a huge house where the walls are abloom with the works of Manansala, Luz, Ang Kiukok, Bencab, Malang, Joya, even Badon, Baldemor and Velasco and where a Lluch, an Orlina, or an Abueva piece sits serenely in a side table or two (cut me some slack, it's a fantasy for crying out loud). I do spend a great amount on books (fortunately, they are relatively more affordable and within my means).

This year, they picked Bencab and Bien Lumbera, among others (I already wrote about FPJ's selection and the unfortunate fracas that surrounded the selection and announcement). I am aware that selecting who gets into the illustrious list is a contentious process. I can understand that. There are many artists who deserve the title and I imagine that they serve Advil and antacids as a side dish during the annual deliberations. Like most Filipinos, I also have my own opinions and my own biases.

Personally, I feel a stronger emotional connection with Malang's works over those of Bencab's. But I respect other people's opinions and salute the selection of Bencab. (Irrelevant aside: I had one close encounter with Bencab. I was running a program in Baguio a few years back and obliged my hosts when they brought me to this charming village on the side of a mountain - which I had already been to twice before that occasion- and which features several authentic Ifugao houses. On that particular day, Bencab was there working unobtrusively with the local painters. We chatted for a few minutes and I came out of it with great admiration for the man).

I really do not know the man although I am a little familiar with his work. I have seen the Bench billboards and the newspaper ads which features Bencab with Alessandra de Rossi and others. I have, on occasion, seen his countenance in the lifestyle sections of newspaper hobnobbing with the rich and famous. I do not know that these reduce his worth as an artist. But this is what I know: Bencab is a great artist. I may not think he is the greatest or that he is better or more worthy than others, but that does not detract from the fact that he deserves the title in his own right.

This is why I am taken aback by the rather fierce and brutal reaction from some quarters over his proclamation as a National Artist. I can understand when people express misgivings and reservations. I can even empathize when someone wishes that someone else was chosen instead. Art is subjective, it does not affect people the same way.

But what I do not understand is why anyone would actually denigrate someone else's worth on the basis of a subjective yardstick that seemed crafted primarily for the purpose of wrecking Bencab's persona rather than his works. Maybe I am simply naive, but it smacks of a demolition job better suited for a political exercise.

The criticism makes a big case of Bencab's commercial image ("he carved a significant niche in the market by sheer luck and gimmickry," "he elevated himself to the level of celebrity by posing with the right people at the right time...including rock stars and actresses like Alessandra de Rossi"). The rant is disturbing because it betrays contempt for rock stars and actresses (I am no fan of Alessandra de Rossi, but this is an actress with a regional reputation as a sensitive performer and someone who has made a distinction for taking on artistic projects) and a disdain for market players. What is so wrong with being a commercial success and for having marketing savvy? Should all artists fit the romantic picture of a starving penniless pauper who has to cut off his ear and deform himself for the sake of art?

The criticism is disturbing primarily because it borders on plain and unadultered sourgraping. It makes a big case out of the fact that many other artists are deserving of the award. But what kind of logical deduction is it that says the selection of Bencab, or anyone else for that matter for any award or position, automatically negates the value and worth of others considered for the award? Why should it be concluded that because Bencab (or Bien Lumbera for that matter) was chosen this year, the qualifications of Malang (or the great poet Cirilo Bautista) has been reduced and disregarded? Why should we pit artists against each other like boxers demolishing each other for a world title?

The yardstick that is being trundled out to question Bencab's proclamation is so self-serving even Juan Luna, Jose Rizal, and Botong Francisco will probably not qualify. To top it all, the really vexatious question "Who is Bencab?" is actually asked.

I truly wish that one day we can all learn to disagree without pouring acid on each other. I pray that someday art can be spared from all these political acrimony.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Nanay's Lumo

Certain tastes are shaped by traditions, flavored by affection, and seasoned by the many textures and savors of experience. This is why of all the possible gustatory delights that crowd my memory one dish that stands out from memory: my Nanay’s lumo.

I grew up in a sleepy town tucked along the fringes of the Leyte Gulf where it was customary for families to fatten their own pigs as "haray," waray term to mean offering for a special occasion. The term is similar but not quite the same as the Tagalog "alay." A "haray" was a fattened pig, necessarily sacrificed at the altar of some patron saint, but was more of a promised feast for all. Thus, my parents always made sure there was a pig or two being fattened months in advance for upcoming occasions. A common comment among the townspeople was that an "occasion" was definitely pushing through when the peace and quiet of the neighborhood would suddenly be pierced by the ear-shattering squealing of "haray" being slaughtered one after the other.
In our town, and in our family, there are rituals and traditions associated with practically everything including the slaughtering of a haray.

First, they boil water for scalding the pig’s skin so that it would be easier to shave off. Water for this purpose was always boiled in a big kawa right at the backyard in full view of everyone. The kawa would be held upright by three hollow blocks (or large stones) arranged strategically as a sug-angan, the local term for a makeshift stove.

Then they prepared the pig for slaughtering. This was the part I dreaded the most when I was growing up as it involved the very grisly details of hogtying the pig, positioning it across a bench, and setting it firmly in place by having someone lean heavily on it (I was tasked to do this a number of times). As they cut the pig’s throat with a sharp knife and let the pig’s blood drip into a bowl where salt, rice and some condiments and herbs have already been added beforehand, I remembered always looking away at this point although the mass of quivering flesh and gasping for breath could not negate the reality of the experience.

The dead pig would be dunked into the boiling kawa for a few seconds and then the shaving would commence. If the pig was too big, then a makeshift tabo made of a discarded milk tin can attached to a bamboo stick was used and the big was bathed with the boiling water ladled out one after the other.

But the best part of the whole process was the first dish produced by the haray. This was Nanay’s Lumo – a delightful dish redolent with the aroma and taste of a mother’s love. As far back as I can remember, this dish was always ready even before the whole slaughtering process was completed. As the pig was being cleaned, a slab from the haray’s pigue would be sliced off along with a small portion of the liver to be brought directly to the kitchen for Nanay to work wonders on. As if right on cue, by the time the haray was finally chopped off into its main meat parts – legs, head, liempo, ribs, etc., and hung from the ceiling to dry, everyone who helped in the slaughtering process would be called to the dining table to partake of the lumo almost as reward for the hard labor.

Lumo was a dish eaten piping hot. Regardless of the hour, it was always eaten with bahaw, left over rice. Perhaps because noodles lose their taste when soaked for a long time in broth, or perhaps because there were more sophisticated dishes like hamonado and mechado to choose from afterwards, left-over lumo never tasted the same way. Thus, Nanay only prepared just enough lumo regardless of the occasion.

Lumo is actually a simple dish. It is essentially pork sauted with noodles. Nanay most often used bihon, although I remember a few times when she used misua noodles instead. I personally prefer the hard consistency of the bihon over the mushy texture of the misua.
This is how I remember Nanay’s recipe. She would broil the pork directly on hot coils, not really to cook the meat, but to seal the flavors by singeing the skin and the exposed parts of the meat. Then the half cooked meat would be sliced into half inch strips ready for sauteing.

On a skillet, Nanay would saute cloves of garlic until they were black and burned. And then she would add onions and then the half-cooked pork. To this she would add broth and then the noodles. I have tried to repeat this procedures many times, but sadly, what I come up with never ever taste just as good as Nanay’s lumo. This convinces me further that taste is truly an acquired thing.