Monday, July 31, 2006

Protecting the environment at Pangasinan

The following is my column for today July 31, 2006 at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

WE HAVE been driving for what seemed an eternity (in truth it had only been 30 minutes or so) along this dark, long and twisting stretch of road deep in the heart of Pangasinan when the breathtaking view suddenly hit us from out of nowhere. Looming below us was a dramatic tableau of structures and lights set against a panorama of an endless sea. At the nucleus was this mammoth machine bathed in lights and a giant chimney spewing white smoke. From where we were, the gigantic machine looked very alive and pulsating with action. The fact that it was after midnight made the scene quite surreal and reminded me very strongly of Close Encounters of the Third Kind; I kind of half-expected Richard Dreyfuss to materialize and announce to us that the spaceship has just landed. This was my first impression of the Mirant power plant in Sual, Pangasinan.

Mirant is one of the independent power producers that supply electricity to the National Power Corp. Its coal-powered plant in Sual supplies almost a quarter of the power requirements for the whole of Luzon. The plant earned national attention when it plunged the whole of Luzon into darkness a few years ago courtesy of 19 truckloads of jellyfish that mysteriously found their way into the plant’s cooling system. (An earthquake occurred a few days later and doomsday sages went out of whack connecting the two phenomena—the sudden appearance of millions of jellyfish and the earthquake).

Whoever requires proof that industrialization and protecting the environment can be mutually inclusive concepts should visit this plant. Although I have read about how serious Mirant is about fulfilling its corporate social responsibility, even I was not prepared at the level of attention and earnestness they devote to protecting the environment. Everything in its Sual Plant is spick and span and almost everything here borders on the sterile. For instance, despite the fact that the Plant uses coal to generate power, the air inside it remains invisible, which is what it should be. This is a welcome relief for all of us who come from Manila where the air is so thick with all kinds of pollutants you can actually see, touch, taste, and smell. I saw healthier trees here than in, say, Antipolo or Laguna. Mirant indeed walks the talk when it comes to protecting the environment and the results are evident. There are safeguards for everything here and all by-products of the power generation process is accounted for, treated, and properly disposed of.

Mirant cares about the communities where they operate, and a clear example of this is that it processes sea water into potable water for its every day needs in order not to deplete the underground water reserve, which the communities around the area rely on. There are other worthy initiatives, including reforestation efforts. Mirant plants pine trees since it’s the tree variety that perfectly matches the properties of the soil in the area; thus, there are probably more pine trees here than in Baguio.

In short, here is proof that protecting the environment is very possible even in industries where inherent risks pose clear and present danger. All it takes is political will, science, and vigilance. It can be done provided there are no compromises in terms of safeguards and monitoring. I do hope that things will remain the same even when and if Mirant becomes a 100 percent Filipino company.

Since we were already in the area, we took a day trip to the Hundred Islands, the vaunted pride of the province. The first and last time I visited the islands was in 1989 and the experience was so dreadful I swore I would never come back unless something was done to improve the conditions of the islands. Back then, the islands were filthy and were literally dump for human and material waste. But I have heard about the great things Alaminos Mayor Nani Braganza has been doing to reposition the islands as a prime ecotourism destination so I threw reservations to the wind and braced myself for the worst. We took a yacht from the Mirant Plant in Sual and traversed the Lingayen Gulf toward Quezon Island, the biggest and most developed among the hundred islands.

Although I still cannot say that the islands are now in tip-top shape as a tourist destination, I am happy to report that the filth and the stench have at least been reduced considerably. Efforts to protect the islands are now more palpable, although it will take more than a few signs and some infrastructure to achieve the goal. Quezon Island, for example, still reeks of neglect. Although there is now a toilet on top of the island, plumbing is still very primitive and maintenance remains shoddy. Worse, the island continues to suffer from the shamelessness of vandals and litterbugs.

Keeping the islands pristine cannot just be the responsibility of the local government. It was very disheartening to note, for example, that while our group took pains to make sure that we picked up all our trash and brought it with us when we left the island (we were briefed by the Mirant people to leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but pictures), others weren’t as conscientious. To my horror, I saw a number of people washing their food containers and utensils outside the toilets on top of the island. They threw their leftover food carelessly on the ground (no wonder there were rats and flies in the island). Some just left their trash lying around. It didn’t help that a mound of plastic containers (mostly plastic water and softdrink bottles) was obviously the handiwork of the caretakers of the island. They were probably stockpiling the plastic bottles with the intention of selling them for recycling purposes. The intention may be meritorious in some ways, but a mound of trash is still unsightly and sends the wrong message.

Nevertheless, the islands are truly amazing and awe-inspiring and it can be made more so. The sand feels like powder and the waters are clear and ideal for snorkeling and bathing. The cliffs and the rock formations are beautiful to behold and many of the islands offer a host of natural attractions. I particularly found the Cathedral Island awesome! Some islands are havens to birds and it was truly an experience watching flocks of birds perched on the branches of trees.

I hope that the local governments succeed in striking a balance between making the islands a top tourism draw while at the same time maintaining their natural beauty and wonder. To do this, they have to go out on a limb to educate the local people about the wisdom of protecting the islands and the tourists about the proper ways to enjoy the island as recreation site. Otherwise, it would probably be a good idea to limit human traffic to the islands to ensure that they remain a source of pride for Filipinos for generations to come.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Philippine Idol

I completely forgot that Philippine Idol was debuting on ABC 5 tonight. Fortunately (in this particular instance at least) I have neighbors who must be deaf since they always watch TV with the volume turned up so I was able to tune in.

What can I say. We are truly a country with a surplus of talent and grit, although alas, it is now an established fact that the two do not always go together. I am tempted to rant at ABC 5's cheap sensationalizing of the antics of the weirdos and circus characters that paraded themselves in front of Ryan, Pilita and Francis M. but there is no denying the fact that whether we like it or not, we do have those types of people in our midst. There is only so much TV people can do to egg people to display their worst behaviors so many of those spooky and loony capers we got to witness tonight must have been the (sur)real thing.

So here's what I learned from watching the maiden episode of Philippine Idol:

1. There are people who will go to such idiotic lenghts just to make an impression on the judges. All right, there were some who had great ideas (such as the guy who blew a trumphet to create a dramatic entrance). But the popular axiom was validated: what you lack in substance, you can make up (or attempt to, at least) with form. Put another way, if you do not have talent, put on an act and pray that the judges will not notice (fat chance!).

2. Not all hearing-impaired people are terrible singers. I was blown away by that girl with a hearing problem and who wore a hearing aid - she was such a revelation. I would have proclaimed her winner of the title right there and then. What I loved about this girl was that she did not make such a big deal out of her situation, which probably sent the television people into panic over the possibility of having a potentially dramatic situation going to waste. So ergo, they had to bring in her mother to provide the necessary drama. Another case of sensationalizing and patronizing handicapped people.

3. The two Ryans can not dance the hula even if their lives depended on it.

4. This country will never run out of sing along hosts and comedians. I still have to make up my mind whether this is necessarily awful, but I did note that many people's idea of "being different" is to clone Allan K and sing those novelty songs with a certain flair. Until tonight, I never would have thought that Di Ako Bakla and Spaghetting Pababa would be considered audition pieces for a major singing contest.

5. We are truly a bunch of lachrymose people who shed buckets at the drop of a hat. I have never seen such mass scale weeping in one venue outside of a funeral house. People wept whether they won or lost.

6. Television people will milk every possible human interest angle for the sake of ratings. Name it, they featured it: cross-culture lovers, handicapped people, cowboys, celebrity heirs, stage mothers, etc.

7. Ryan Cayabyab is going to be the Simon Cowell clone. Hmmm...at least Ryan has earned his stripes to be so snooty. Pilita Corrales has a wide range of facial expressions - and I must hand it to this great old dame for having the ability to keep up a straight face even in the midst of such idiocy.

8. Last but certainly the most important observation: despite all that craziness, yes, we do have genuine singing talents. Boy oh boy, we Filipinos can truly put all those Americans to shame!

Overall, not a bad start. Looks like Philippine Idol will be such a huge hit.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Dengue scare

Around this time every year, the Department of Health begins coming out with those "reminders" about the imminent rise of certain seasonal epidemics. I never really paid attention to these dire warnings in the past - they were things that happened to other people.

Well, what do you know, this week some varsity players of the College where I teach were struck down with dengue fever. They needed blood transfusions.

And what is more, their dorm is actually just three houses away from where I live. Which means the mosquitoes that gave them dengue is probably very close relatives of the ones that swarm our garden.

So it was panic time today in my house. Actually more of a hybrid of major theatrical production and an exorcism. The pond had to be emptied (darn, I have to buy new fishes again next week), the canal had to be - how shall i say this delicately - poked and pumped and well you get the drift, and the whole house and garden had to be smoked out. I hope they are done by the time I get home tonight.

But guys, the dengue season is here. Take precautions.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Leadership by default

The following appears as an op-ed column at the Manila Standard Today, July 26, 2006.


GREAT performance. Generally well-crafted speech. Delirious cheering and applauding from the gallery. Good cast. Impressive PowerPoint presentation. Good measure of comic relief thrown in to break the ice. It can be argued that she was preaching to the choir. She was cocky at certain points, and awkward in some (was she interrupted by applause, or did she pause for one?). But at the end of it all, I just wanted to do a Cuba Gooding impersonation in that Jerry Maguire movie; I felt like hollering, “show me the money!!!”

The President premised her talking points on the phrase “we now have the money to…” What she seemed to have meant is that with the new tax measures and the intended stringent monitoring of tax collection efforts, we will have the money to fund all those ambitious projects. There is a significant difference between actually having the money and having the means to collect or produce that money. But I guess making that distinction would diminish the impact of the magic show as the President conjured all those wonderful plans and promises.

It is very tempting and a hell lot easier to be cynical and bitter. And the people who have patented the right to be so have, expectedly, already gone to town with their own dire predictions of doom and failure. As a blogger, I am immune to all kinds of diatribe and all manner of nitpicking. But even I was not prepared for the level of vitriol some people were spewing about the State-of-the-Nation Address. I guess too much resentment really does mess up one’s perspective about things so that all one can see is the muck and the grime on everyone else except the ones on themselves.

I do grant that the Sona was ambivalent on some issues and silent on many more. However, I think that the selection of talking points is the prerogative of the one delivering the speech. It is her Sona, for crying out loud.

But then again, this is still a democracy, so it is the right of critics to point out what else needs to be done and how and why. But there is a whole world of difference between nitpicking because you hate the person and therefore there is nothing good that you can see in that person and critique based on objective analysis of facts. There is a whole world of difference between proposing alternatives and simply shooting down ideas at random.

This is where the difference lies, and the sooner the opposition gets it, the better for all. The President, hated she may be as a person, presented a roadmap (both metaphorical and literal) to a future. That roadmap may be a mirage, that roadmap may be infeasible, but it cannot be disputed that roadmap is attractive. Should this government succeed in achieving even just half of those presented, the benefits to this country and its people can be tremendous. In a crisis, people follow leaders who can show them a way out; they do not bother with the moral questions no matter how important they may be.

In my book, an attractive roadmap and a promise to do better is a much better alternative to the whining and the griping and the blaming. It is sad that the opposition still does not get it. Up until Monday, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was the only one out there. She is winning by default. We can all ridicule her, file as many impeachment cases against her, mock her, call her all unsavory and derogatory names—the indisputable fact will remain, she is the only one out there right now. And she knows it and that is why she can afford to cackle and be alternately condescending (“to those who want to pick up old fights, we’re game; but what a waste of time”) and magnanimous (“why don’t we join hands?”).

The challenge to the opposition is clear then: present an alternative to the people. Show us what and who you have. Unfortunately, it seems the best they can come up with is still Joseph Estrada.

* * *

And speaking of alternatives, there is an ongoing debate being conducted in media between One Voice and Sigaw ng Bayan. And by the looks of it, it is getting more and more acrimonious by the day.

The debate began when One Voice called for the discontinuance of people’s initiative (which is being championed by Sigaw ng Bayan) because, “not only is it questionable as a genuine people’s initiative,” but is legally flawed and based on fallacious and deceptive reasoning as well.
Sigaw ng Bayan has countered with accusations that One Voice is elitist (it has since then upgraded the description to super-elite) and is advocating bankrupt ideas and cosmetic reforms.

Along the way, Sigaw ng Bayan has dropped allusions to the real source of the funding of One Voice, calling attention to the “slick” television spots that they say costs P252 million.
An exchange of ideas, particularly on such an important and critical issue as Charter Change, should be a good thing because it should hopefully lead to a more enlightened citizenry. However, when the debate becomes personal and is reduced to a heckling contest, it can only spell trouble. And it looks like it has on this one.

One Voice advocates have taken to heckling the people’s initiative camp as “Singaw ng Bayan.” On the other hand, Sigaw ng Bayan has trundled such hackneyed accusations as “oligarchs,” “bankrupt” and “shallow.” In some blogs, the name calling has run the whole gamut of adjectives one cannot repeat in polite company.

I hope both groups stop the senseless trading of barbs and focus on the more important task at hand, which is to convince more and more people about the value of their advocacy.

Both Sigaw ng Bayan and One Voice must remember that the decision is not theirs to make. Both groups are simply making a pitch to the people, and rather than shooting each other down, I think it is better to focus on why their proposal is the better alternative.

Guys, leave the mudslinging to the politicians. We have more than enough of them already.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Sideshow

Because the government did not declare a holiday and it turned out that I had to go see my doctor, I watched the Sona from my doctor's office while waiting for my turn to be examined. As it turned out, the Sona was shorter than the waiting time; which I think is more reflective of the state of the medical profession. Anyway.

My expectations were actually few and low. And I prepared myself for some awful metaphors and production surprises to make up for lack of content. But surprise, surprise, the Sona was actually not all that bad; perhaps because it focused on plans and promises rather than on achievements. But then again, the most major achievement (which is nothing to sneer at if we come to think about it) of this administration is the fact that she is still President despite all the threats and all the plots and all the demonizing. I don't want to preempt my column for tomorrow so I will focus today on some interesting sidelights of the Sona.

* Where were the protocol officers during that snaffu when the President took the wrong cue and started walking to the lectern before it was her time to deliver the Sona? I don't know whose fault it was - whether it was de Venecia's or the President's - but wasn't someone supposed to be there nearby to coach them in cases when Murphy's Law applies

* All the TV stations piggybacked on the government feed, but not surprisingly, ABS-CBN just could not help itself. At some points of the Sona, it featured a split screen - one showing the President and the other half showing the goings-on at Commonwealth Avenue. Only ABS-CBN did this - GMA-7 gave the Sona the respect it deserved.

* However, even GMA-7 could not help itself when it came to "exposing" certain "colorful" personalities during the speech. The TV cameras would actually focus on certain senators and congressmen who were displaying certain "behaviors" during the Sona. For example, it was amusing how the TV cameras would focus on opposition Congressmen Remulla and Villanueva texting away, or sitting there with a blank expression on their faces everytime the other congressmen or the gallery would erupt into cheers.

* So Imee Marcos was back on Commonwealth Avenue instead of inside the Batasan, same as last year. This woman has absolutely no sense of history.

* Representatives Etta Rosales and Rissa Hontiveros-Baraquel were also seen at Commonwealth Avenue dressed up to the nines. Nice touch, really, and I mean it. At least they bothered to dress up for their own respective Sonas. Too bad they couldn't stand the rain.

* Broadcast journalists could not agree on what color the President was wearing. Someone referred to it as fuchsia, another one called it fiery red, and year another one referred to it as dark coral.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Distaste of the nation

The following appears as an op-ed column at the Manila Standard Today, July 24, 2006.

IN THE last few days, media people have been tripping all over themselves in a futile effort to rouse public attention to today’s main event, the President’s State of the Nation Address to Congress. Thus, we have been treated to a continuing coverage of the transformation of the Batasan into a veritable fortress, updates on the crafting of the speech and its content, and everybody else’s opinion on it.

It is a telling commentary of the real state of the nation that for most Filipinos, the buzz last week was on a rather inconsequential issue of whether or not today was going to be a holiday. MalacaƱang even had to go out on a limb to announce that it had no plans of declaring a public holiday like it did last year. I have this nagging suspicion that a holiday declaration would have been received more favorably than whatever good news the President is set to announce this afternoon. But the nondeclaration of a holiday also sends an important message. Today, it will be business as usual for most Filipinos. Of course, business as usual means different things to different people regardless of the state of the nation and their distaste for what has been happening in the country lately.

In one of the e-mail groups that I subscribe to, someone valiantly tried to get a discussion going about the significance of the Sona. His attempt was met by deafening silence. His subsequent attempts to explain the relevance and importance of the Sona were met by heckling. I also tried to get a pulse of what my students thought about the event. Talking to a wall might have been a more productive endeavor.

So depending on which side of the political fence you are perched on, this afternoon’s main event is simply either of the following: a) another pointless attempt to do a major snow job by the powers-that-be; b) a fashion and media circus; c) a showcase of the obsequiousness of our politicians beholden to a leader with dictatorial tendencies; or d) a nonevent whose dubious value is being milked no end by certain sectors perpetually in need of a platform to ventilate their own political agenda.

In short, the Sona is another exercise of democracy, Philippine style. If anyone out there wants to get a good grasp of what exactly is the real state of this country, there is no need to wait until the President mounts that lectern at Congress today. A simple analysis of the events leading to the Sona already offers a lot of portentous insights.

The buzz is that the President will focus on the creation of “super regions” that may be good news to local governments who seem to continue to comprise the core of the President’s support base at the moment. I will not be surprised if the gallery at Congress will once again be filled by a cheering mob of local executives. But most of our politicians have already weighed in with their own insights about the real state of the nation anyway, and MalacaƱang has already leaked to the press the major talking points of the President’s Sona. These have consequently been either distastefully shot down or praised. Again, a telling commentary; the speech has not been delivered but the motor mouths have already worked the media circuit.

Other sectors will be presenting their own respective Sonas. Effigies will be burned. Commonwealth Avenue will be a war zone between the pros and antis. The military will assert its authority and will make some arrests and media will be there to record every push and pull. Politicians will be all over the place, conveniently within reach of any available microphone to assault us with their own acclamation or condemnation of the President’s speech as if we needed further explaining. And media will do cartwheels to turn the whole thing into a major production that will justify the mad attention they have given it. This is the state of the nation.

Despite my natural aversion to the whole circus, I do hope, however, that the President will do away with the cheap soap operatic antics that used to characterize some of her previous Sonas. Whoever conceived of that paper boat metaphor involving those boys from Payatas deserve to be crucified not only for condemning those boys to a lifetime of cruel media attention, but most especially for sheer awful scriptwriting (paper boats on Pasig? Hello!). And I am actually glad that for once, media has taken a break from the usual perverted attention to what the President’s outfit will be. It is a Sona for crying out loud, not a fashion event despite the fact that there will probably be more fashion victims today than in our neighborhood Santacruzan.

And so unless the widespread paranoia of the military is proven to have bases after all (and I hasten to add that I do not necessarily wish for any untoward incident to happen), I think that today’s Sona will be more of the same—all “pomp and pageantry signifying nothing.” It will be another spectacle that will showcase just how fragmented we are as a nation. It will confirm once again just how childish our leaders are or can be. Why we bother with the Sona is a question that begs an answer.

Sadly, the Sona is a constitutional requirement. The President is obligated under law to apprise Congress about the state of the nation. It is one of the ceremonial functions under a democracy —the very system that most everyone says needs to be adhered to regardless of one’s political affiliation. This is why, despite my natural distaste for the hypocrisy of it all, I rue the fact that the famous “Batasan 5” and some opposition senators and congressmen have already announced that they are boycotting the event.

I think that these exactly are the actions that alienate the opposition further from ordinary Filipinos instead of gaining their admiration. Despite the seeming indifference, I think people do have certain expectations from elected representatives. Fulfilling ceremonial functions is one of them even if it means sitting there at the hall of Congress with a constipated demeanor and putting up with yet another political gimmick such as wearing a tacky plastic peach fruit on one’s lapel, or trying to get a good vantage view beyond whatever foliage will be planted on their desks (last year it was calamansi saplings courtesy of the irrepressible Way Kurat).

In other words, we expect our politicians to be the embodiment of professionalism. We expect them to smile at the cameras and shake hands with the President even if we suspect that they are secretly wishing that the ground the other person is standing on opens up and swallows that person. We expect them to parade in their designer outfits even if we laugh behind their backs and speculate on which stylist or fashion designer deserves to be burned at the stakes. We expect them to display gallantry and breeding even if we know that these are words that are difficult to use in the same sentence as politicians. We expect them to go through the motions even if we know that everything is all for show.

The State of the Nation Address is a ceremonial function that defines our maturity as a democratic country. It is validation that despite all the blood and gore, despite the hilarity and the hypocrisy, despite the sorry state of the nation, despite the general distaste for our political situation, there is hope, no matter how fleeting that we are still a nation that values civility, that we are still a nation with leaders that deserve some measure of respect.

If we come down to it, that is all there is to it. The whole thing may be a circus, but it should hopefully give us reason to hope. And today, hope is all we have left in great quantities.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Inanities on our roads

(The following is my column today at the op-ed pages of the Manila Standard Today)

I KNOW. Those billboards that litter the skyline along Edsa, the South Luzon Expressway, North Luzon Expressway and other major thoroughfares of this country do more harm than good. Having them on our streets is like having tabloids as wallpaper in your living room. Only, the latter presents more interesting possibilities—one can actually read them at leisure, claw at them when one is bored, and draw horns and vampire teeth on the faces of those annoying people in the news. On the other hand, those billboards conceal whatever little remains of our natural landscape.

Billboards distract drivers and take focus away from the more important reasons why they are on the road, among them: to practice how to switch lanes in a split second, learn how to break traffic rules without being caught, and how to overtake that darn ambulant vendor pushing a cart of peanuts. Drivers are on the road to learn more important things and not to read up on yet another reason why they should buy a fourth cellphone or leer at some people in their underwear.

Having said that, let me also weigh in with another observation. Those billboards do serve one good purpose when Edsa stops being a highway and is transformed into a giant parking lot, which is always (except on Good Fridays, of course). When one is stuck in the middle of the road and there’s nothing left to do after one has run out of expletives directed at this country’s inept traffic managers, one can only… look up.

At another time, the exhortation “look up” took on a different, more earnest meaning, as in “invoke divine intervention.” Today, it means to take note of those giant billboards and subject them to closer or more analytical scrutiny. I did just that last week when I found myself stuck in Edsa for three agonizing hours. I now realize how therapeutic billboards are. They present extremely perplexing questions that can tie you up until, well, the next traffic jam.

Piolo Pascual comes across as this nice person one can empathize with, and on Edsa, he flashes his pearly whites and his dimples to convince you that yes, the coffee he drinks is fat free. That answers the first question. But why is he half-naked and displaying those killer abs? The correlation between those killer abs and his looks and drinking that brand of coffee is inchoate. I know some who subsist on coffee, but they do not need diet coffee; they need antacids.

Perhaps someone actually does an inventory of the billboards (“Hmm… we have 486 billboards on underwear, 30,281 on cellphones, only one on diarrhea, put up that one on indigestion!”) because further down the road, there is a billboard of an antacid, except that this one only features the drug’s name and a picture of the tablet. Why don’t they get Piolo or Cindy Kurleto to do a billboard on tablets for hyperacidity, LBM, athlete’s foot, or dandruff? Are good-looking people exempt from these common, more embarrassing ailments?

But yes, there is the divine diva, Zsa Zsa Padilla herself, displaying a lithe body. She makes a big deal out of the fact that she can look that great at that age, which raises some important questions. When you reach that age and the main source of validation of your worth as a person is still the shape of your body, boy oh boy, you do not need Vicky Belo. You need a psychiatrist. And that tagline (Body by Vicky Belo) is blasphemous. It elevates cosmetic surgeons to the stature of God. But then again, not all of us share the same God, so keep that billboard.

Keeping the divine diva company in the area are back-to-back neighbors Claudine Barreto and Polo Ravales, both for this line of clothing whose brand name should have already earned the ire of the censors and the moralists, except that they probably do not understand the joke, which is a good thing actually (I mean the fact that they do not understand). I don’t remember where I first heard it, but here’s the joke. Two collegialas (I won’t mention the supposed names of the convents) were on the road and got stuck in front of this billboard. The first one complains that the name of the brand is obscene because it describes that part of the male anatomy. The other one thinks about it, and finally asks, “folded?”

But easily, the scene-stealer in the area is the billboard for this brand of jeans designed for women of a certain weight category. “Finally, jeans that fit,” the billboard gleefully announces. I suppose that bit of news is comforting to certain people, but the billboard begs an important question. Why is she naked from the waist up? She found jeans that fit; too bad she can’t find brassieres or blouses that do. Oh well, one can’t have it all.

Aga Muhlach stands next to a gorilla and asks the stupid question: which do you prefer, a gorilla patting your back or me spoon-feeding you cough syrup? Tempting, but is there really a choice there? And just in case someone actually picks the gorilla to spite Aga, where in the Philippines can you actually find one?

The banks of the Pasig River are abloom with billboards all screaming for attention. Perhaps the billboards are meant to take attention away from the river; and they do a good job of concealing the river’s filth and the stench. If only those billboards do not represent a different kind of garbage in themselves!

And by the way, in case you haven’t noticed, they have also put up giant television monitors in some parts of Edsa. What a very thoughtful gesture, indeed. But just in case Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Bayani Fernando expects letters of appreciation from commuters, perhaps he should be reminded that we would prefer that he fix the traffic problem instead of put up diversionary tactics.

But to go back to those appalling billboards. I can go and on about how ludicrous the situation has become (yes, those born without a funny bone who can’t recognize sarcasm need not send me e-mails accusing me of being too literal). About half of the billboards hawk underwear. What is with this predilection for pushing underwear on people? Don’t enough people buy them?

In some areas, the billboards are literally on top of each other and seem to be jostling each other out. Ordinarily, media should have weighed in on the issue a long time ago. But unfortunately, they are part of the complicity to get Metro Manila proclaimed as (tadaaa!) the Billboard Capital of the World. ABS-CBN, GMA and ABC-5, along with some newspapers, have also contributed to the profusion of inanity on the road. It is a good thing we are a truly happy people (ranked 17th in the world according to the Happy Planet Index) and can still find humor in anything.

As for me, I demand the return of that Champola billboard on Edsa in front of Megamall! I miss that little girl.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Management skills not enough

(The following is my column for today, July 17, 2006, at the op-ed pages of the Manila Standard Today)

THERE is a recurring dilemma that haunts our educational system. And it is embarrassing because when we come to think about it, the people who are tasked with educating our people should ideally be held in high esteem and therefore freed from the usual bickering and tussling that is expected of politicians, but not of our educators.

The selection of the presidents of our state colleges and universities and the appointment of the secretary of the Department of Education have become perennial contentious struggles. Cases in point are the recent selection of lawyer Lutgardo Barbo as president of the Philippine Normal University and the appointment of Rep. Jesli Lapus as Education secretary. Both appointments have met stiff opposition. In the case of Barbo, key officials of the university have turned in their resignations in protest of his selection and are now demanding his recall. In the case of Lapus, a number of Education employees are protesting his appointment. In both cases, other names that are considered more “qualified” and “deserving” are being bandied about.

Our educators have so far taken the higher moral ground by constantly stressing that there is nothing “personal” in the whole contest of wills. However, situations like these inevitably turn into an argument about the qualifications, character, and suitability of the central characters. And when these happen, things take a turn into the sordid and the ugly.

The main issue that is being put forward is the increasing “politicization” of the educational system. But since state colleges and universities do have representatives from the Senate and House of Representatives sitting in their respective Boards of Regents, and appointed officials of the education department do pass through the congressional wringer, the fact that politics is deeply imbedded in the system should not be such a major issue. Likewise, the selection of state college and university presidents have necessarily become “inclusive processes” where representatives from various stakeholders are allowed to weigh in their respective agenda and biases. It is a fact that more often than not, these representatives (e.g., alumni, faculty, students, Senate, Congress, government, community) are simply not on the same page as far as rules or the interpretation of the rules is concerned.

Whether we like it or not, politics is deeply imbedded in our educational system as it has been for the longest time, but it is not the main problem. Unfortunately, Barbo and Lapus are politicians and both are capitalizing on political savvy as their main strengths. Thus, rightly or wrongly, politics is perceived to be the main culprit.

The arguments for and against Barbo and Lapus have already been discussed extensively in media, so I will not go into these. Besides, I refuse to make judgments on their qualifications. I think that there are more important issues that need to be highlighted in order to provide a better context to the recurring problem and to ensure that these things do not happen again.

I am a little alarmed that while the debate has belabored the qualifications of the candidates, very little has been said to define the responsibilities of the contested positions. Surely, person-job fit is a principle that applies here and qualifications cannot be discussed in a vacuum.
So the foremost question should be: What exactly is the president of a state college or university or the Education secretary supposed to be doing? Or more to the point, should experience as an academician or academic administrator count as a primary consideration in the selection process?

It is being argued that the job of Education secretary or a state college or university president is primarily a management position. Consequently, proven management skills from any discipline should be adequate. Is it?

I think that academic institutions are unique in that their leaders do not only serve as administrators of the boxes in an organizational chart but more importantly, as wise “elders” of a professional community that feeds on the healthy exchange of ideas borne out of mutual respect among colleagues. Such is the nature of academe—it exists to confound. The purpose of any academic institution is to train people to question assumptions, to break new grounds. Thus, management expertise may be necessary, but it is not enough. Ability to muster resources from the outside world is a plus factor, but ability to muster and orchestrate internal resources, particularly intellectual, is an even more critical qualification.

The authority of an academic leader can only come from influence within the academic community. Such influence is largely dependent on reciprocal professional respect. His or her effectiveness can only come from willingness of a highly specialized and often intellectually egotistical academic community to be led. I firmly believe that the Education secretary, or the PNU president, or the president of any state college and university must, first of all, stand as a powerful and unquestioned symbolic representation of the core values of the institutions they represent. After all, education and learning are about winning minds and hearts more than anything else.

These are ideas that those who have a hand in the selection processes of academic leaders must seek to reclaim. Unfortunately, we live in a period where academic traditions are seen as more archaic and ancient than their acacia trees. There is a seeming disrespect, even contempt, for the same hallowed academic traditions that have carried civilization to the present. Thus, this penchant for selecting nonacademics to become Education secretary, or a state college or university president.

This is not to say that education department and PNU should exist as entities isolated from mainstream society. However, there are certain traditions such as selecting “yodas” for leadership posts that need to be protected because they represent our main lifeline across generations. The Department of Education and PNU are important pillars of the Philippine educational system. PNU is the country’s main training ground for teachers while education department is the government agency responsible for managing the educational system. The learning communities within these two institutions need to be given the respect they rightfully deserve.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Save old churches

I haven't been doing my regular hops among my favorite blogs lately, so I missed an online petition initiated by Ivan Henares. But the petition is still open, so please support it. Ivan is a blogger and is a fierce advocate of heritage conservation - a monumental task considering how many of our architectural landmarks are being demolished wantonly and brazenly by uncaring local despots.

This time, Ivan is organizing a petition addressed to the powerful bishops to prevail on parish priests not to continue destroying our old churches. Please sign the petition here. We should remind our bishops that there are also other importants issues other than sex education and politics. Saving our cultural heritage is one of them.

My hometown in Abuyog Leyte is sadly a victim of this crime, and to aggravate things, the crime has become serial.

The town used to have a centuries-old church with a facade that is similar to the old churches in Ilocos. In the seventies, the then parish priest decided to embark on a major expansion of the church. Fortunately, some citizens raised a howl and a compromise was reached. Instead of demolishing the old structure, it was made as the horizontal structure of the cross-shaped new church. Unfortunately, the facade has since then been whitewashed and cemented over. And since then our town has suffered the curse of a succession of parish priests who have toyed with the facade of the church to suit their own personal demented concept of what a church should look like. When I was in grade school, our church looked like a munisipyo. In my high school days, our church actually resembled a castle, complete with turrets and red bricks. Today, it looks... plain and boring.

See for yourself.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Fight all forms of discrimination

Last year, I explored a job opportunity in a call center as HR Director. It was a very tempting offer and I almost joined them, until I sat down with the CEO to discuss mutual expectations. This was when the excrement hit the fan, metaphorically speaking. I was told that one of my would-be first challenge was to craft and enforce a policy that would require certain call agents to follow a strict dress code. This struck me as somehow odd, and upon further discussion, I was informed that a number of the call center agents were gay men who cross-dressed and wore make up to work. I asked the CEO if these agents misrepresented themselves in the selection process (in other words, if they came to the selection interviews dressed as men and once hired started cross-dressing). I was told that as far as he knew, this was not the case. I asked him if the cross-dressing affected the performance of the particular agents or of the other agents. I was told that there was no perceptible effect on productivity.

So I asked why they were making a big fuss about the issue. Thereupon, the CEO gave me this long homily about morals, the need to uphold ethics, professionalism, and yada yada yada. His reasoning struck me as odd because if there was any unethical practice happening, it seemed to be coming from the company. There is something wrong in a set up where you hire people for their brains and their skills and then once hired, impose a different set of qualifications, ones that had nothing to do with the job they were hired to do in the first place.

I told the CEO he might have difficulty hiring a Human Resource Director worth his name who would be able to implement the directive because it was blatantly discriminatory. I did not pursue the job offer.

My friends in the call center industry tell me that yes, indeed, there is a sizable number of call center agents who are cross-dressers. Because the job mainly requires transacting business on the phone, communication skills is the main consideration. And they tell me that these cross-dressers are among the most effective and productive.

But I know that discrimination against gay men, particularly those who cross-dress, exist in many call centers and in other work places. And now comes this email in my inbox from LAGABLAB, the group of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders about a case involving Inday Garutay, the impersonator who gained media attention by impersonating Inday Badiday.

Based on the facts presented in the email, Inday Garutay was asked to leave Aruba, a bar at the Metrowalk Commercial Center in Pasig City because of a standing dress code which prohibits cross-dressers from being allowed into the premises.

This kind of discriminatory practice is a throwback to a period when left-handed people were burned at the stakes simply for being different. Why the bar in question, Aruba, actually has such a barbaric dress code is ridiculous. Forget about being politically correct. Forget about respecting diversity and individuality. Let's just focus on one issue: it is bad, very bad business.

I have never been to Aruba, and I guess now I never will. But I have been in the area once and I know that places like this one thrive on serving alcoholic beverages to kids. I also know for a fact that bars like these are frequented because of the permissive environment inside. And they have the gall to talk about morals?

I am joining the call to boycott this establishment. And I am urging you to do the same.

Here's the email:

Ms. Inday Garutay, a gay impersonator in two popular comedy bars in Metro Manila and a TV talent, was told to leave a restaurant because of the establishment's dress code. LAGABLAB wishes to call the attention of the public and the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community against discriminatory practices committed by bars, restaurants and similar establishments against cross-dressing gay men and transsexuals. LAGABLAB strongly urges the public and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to protest this case of discrimination and homophobia. Please boycott bars, restaurants, clubs, and other establishments that have similar anti-LGBT practices and policies.

Inday Garutay (real name: Christopher Garcia Borja), was in Aruba restaurant in Metrowalk Commercial Center, Pasig City, last Tuesday, July 4, 2006, at around 6.30 PM, with her boyfriend. She was to meet her Manager and another friend before her show in Zirkoh. She was already inside the establishment when the incident took place. After coming back from the ladies toilet, she was reportedly told by the manager of the restaurant that she has to leave because of the establishment's dress code.

The supervisor for Aruba Metrowalk, Ms. Tin-Tin Aguilar, allegedly said that the dress code bars cross-dressing clients from entering the establishment. Despite being told that Inday was in fact already inside the establishment and that the dress code is discriminatory, Ms. Aguilar reportedly insisted that Inday should leave. Since it was futile to reason out to Ms. Aguilar that the policy is objectionable and biased, Inday decided to leave the establishment.

It has been verified by LAGABLAB from Ms. Tin-Tin Aguilar herself that Aruba Restaurant, despite being a non-membership restaurant/club, has a long-standing dress code that prohibits the entry of cross-dressing gay men and transsexuals. LAGABLAB believes that such a dress code is blatantly discriminatory and violates basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. It also does not conform to the human relations articles of the Civil Code.

Accordingly, the dress code as implemented violates international human rights standards, such as the right to freedom from discrimination and right to freedom of expression, as stipulated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (www.ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr.htm) and the Universal Declaration of Human Right(www.un.org/Overview/rights.html).

LAGABLAB recommends the following actions:

  • Boycott Aruba restaurant and other establishments with similar policies.
  • Inform Aruba of your decision to boycott the establishment and send protest letters to the management of the Aruba Restaurant to stress and demand that they publicly apologize to Ms. Inday Garutay and the lesbian and gay community and that the dress code be lifted.
Address your letters to Mr. Jasper Chua, General Manager of Aruba restaurant (telefax: 6364702 or email aruba_bar@yahoo.com) A sample letter to the management of Aruba follows.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Rainy days and truancy

Has anyone else noticed that whenever Education officials attempt to become proactive by cancelling classes very early on (like the night before), the expected downpour and flooding do not happen? It is as if nature wants to teach these people some lesson. So today was actually perfect for a school day - overcast but without rain - the kind of day I loved when I was still in grade school because it meant we could actually play in the school yard without getting all sweaty and sunburned. But too bad, classes were cancelled last night.

I do not blame Education officials for their continuing tendency to jump the gun. Our problem is that we do not have in place an effective early warning device - some system that works in announcing the suspension of classes early on in the day when students are not yet out in the streets or worse, when students are not yet in school. Alas, I know parents do raise a howl in this country when they have to pick up kids barely an hour since they deposited them at the schoolgates. So rather than be at the receiving end of parents' ire, they would rather sacrifice a day's lessons. What difference does it make if our kids miss another day's worth of learning, they are lagging behind compared to othjer anyway.

And now, everyone seems to have gotten into the act. Government employees expect to be sent home at the earliest sign of a heavy downpour. And naturally, employees of private companies followed suit . Yesterday, the Human Resource email groups was buzzing with HR managers taking a poll on which companies have sent home employees and at what time.

Sometimes it does strike me medyo may katamaran din naman tayong mga pinoy paminsan-minsan.

In Medeas Res

In the last few weeks, most of the entries in this blog were about political stuff. A friend emailed me to chide me for having become this "wannabe pundit" (thanks, Linky for pulling me down back to earth) and told me he missed the times when this blog did not labor under the weight of other people's expectations. He also accused me of having imbibed the pomposity of the people he detests.

Perhaps he is right, so what the heck, today, I am going to blabber about anything and everything that comes to mind, and the hell with coherence. If you are expecting more of the usual political stuff, do both of us a favor, stop and read other blogs.

***

In medeas res (which appears in the upper right corner of this blog) is a phrase that appears in greek plays. If memory serves me right, it means "into the midst of things" which situates the action of the play right into the, well, the midst of things. This blog labored under that banner for a few days until I decided a more playful and less cumbersome title would be more appropriate - thus, out of my mind. And now it is too late to change that even if I want to. But them again, who knows. I have also been thinking of moving to wordpress, but well, I guess some things can still wait.

I also toyed with that title when I was offered the column by the Manila Standard Today (actually, they were not the first to offer, but I thought it wasn't the right time when the other paper asked, so I declined. Manila Standard made the offer at the right time and dangled the sweetener I could not refuse - I could write about anything- anything at all, even disagree with the other columnists and the editorials). I asked my friends for their suggestions. The top three I considered were In Medeas Res, A Fine Balance (after a favorite book by Rohinton Mistry) and the one that eventually won favor - Are We There Yet. It was suggested by my good friend Angelo. So for the first time, I would like to acknowledge his contribution. Thanks, Angelo.

"Are we there yet" is Bart's annoying dialogue in one episode of the Simpsons. They were going on this trip and he was bored stiff. He kept saying "are we there yet" every five seconds or so. My friends and I do a good Bart impersonation whenever anyone among us is having difficulty expressing himself or has trouble seeing a point.

***

When I started writing this blog, I never intended it to be anything else other than a chronicle of my personal thoughts and a venue for me and my friends to know about what was happening in each others' lives without having to exchange emails. But then that letter happened, and as they say, the rest is history. Since then, everything I write has become open to various interpretations and sometimes what I say often gets twisted out of context. There are now people who insist on foisting on me some kind of job description about what a responsible blogger and columnist should be. I am still trying to get used to the attention.

***

But I must admit that there are some dividends to be had from being semi-infamous. Getting positive comments from some people is one. I still get starstruck everytime some famous blogger like MLQ quotes my blog or my column (and it seems he does read me for reasons I still can't figure out because to be honest I look at what I write and cringe because it always looks inchoate - there are just days when the connection between mind and fingers is faltering and well, it's been like that almost every day lately. But maybe that's exactly why he reads me). When Michael Tan or Howie Severino or Carlos Celdran or Sassy made it known that they also read my blog, whew, I nearly flipped. Deep down inside, I think of myself as just this person with pretentions to being a writer who wrote one letter and got noticed.

Which is not to say I am an insecure person because I am obviously just as capable of being this insufferably pompous person. I don't take myself seriously all the time, so you shouldn't. And if you think I just shot myself in the foot, well, you obviously missed the point. We all come with a little bit of this and that and we are all works in progress, so let's just cut each other some slack every now and then.

***

I am a human resource management practitioner by profession and I keep an 8-5 job as First Vice President of a major private universal bank - so all those innuendoes about me being a Malacanang paid hack is all hogwash - the bank pays me well enough and quite frankly, keeps me on a very short leash time-wise, so even if had the inclination to work for the government, I just don't have the time.

***

Keeping this blog has been a roller coaster ride, but if there is something that I truly treasure, it is the "community spirit" among bloggers. We bullshit each other every now and then, exchange harsh words, take sides, make up, and disagree again. But we continue to read each other and support each other because, well, blogging is a new media frontier and there's a social glue that binds people who are forging a new path. Besides, some habits are truly hard to break even if they make blood pressures rise and destroy appetites.

Along the way, I guess some of us have "tamed" each other somehow. For example, one of my harshest critic (cvj) and I rarely see eye to eye on issues, and I am sure we get on each others' nerves every now and then, but we stay in the communication process and I would like to think that along the way, we have learned to respect each other. So strange as it may seem, I do look forward to cvj's comments precisely because I know they are written without any other intention than to present a divergent opinion. There is room for civility even among those who disagree.

I wish though that others can be civil too. But like I always say, some people have some growing up to do and no one can force it on them.

***
And then there are those really marvelous moments when someone you've lost touch with suddenly comes out of the woodwork to say hi!. In the end, it's really those seemingly little things that validate our existence that makes our day.

***

So there, Linky. I just rambled on. Happy? And by the way, I hope you are okay. Let's have dinner this weekend.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

In honor of politicians...

Here's a joke shared by one of the regular readers of this blog Mommy Jo. Read, laugh, and weep.

Four surgeons are discussing who are the best patients to operate on.

The first surgeon says, "I like to see accountants on my operating table because when you open them up, everything inside is numbered."

The second responds, "Yeah, but you should try electricians! Everything inside them is color coded."

The third surgeon says, "No, I really think librarians are the best; everything inside them is in alphabetical order."

But the fourth surgeon shut them all up when he observed: "You're all wrong. Politicians (especially from the Philippines?) are the easiest to operate on. There are no guts, no heart, no balls, no brains and no spine, and the head and the ass are interchangeable."

In The Name of the Truth

(The following is my column for today, July 12, 2006 at the op-ed section of The Manila Standard Today).

THE “truth” is the new catchword in town, and it’s been hanging from every politician’s mouth the last few days.

“In search of the truth,” they say, and it is truly a blessing that many of our politicians and civic leaders are hams in the acting department. Otherwise, we would not only have to put up with trite dramatic dialogues but awful melodramatic renditions of the phrase as well. (Imagine the great actors in the Senate looking straight at the camera with misty eyes and quivering lips intoning, “sa ngalan ng katotohanan!” and see if you don’t want to run screaming out of the room). If alarm bells were rung every single time someone invoked “the truth” in the last two days, we would all be deaf by now.

If people truly believe that “the truth shall set us free” and want to embark on a major quest to find it, who in his right mind would think of beginning the search in the halls of Congress?
I am not accusing our senators and congressmen of being such big frauds although the idea is really tempting. Even if truth were written in upper case neon letters 20 feet high right where the huge Philippine flag is displayed at the main hall of Congress, I doubt very much if all our honorable congressmen will see it. Or at least see it as such, as they will probably debate on the question of whether words constitute essence, or whether what they are seeing is objective reality or an interpretation of reality, or something just as nonsensical. This is not to say that they all need glasses or brain transplants, although these sound like good excuses too; just that people do not see things that they do not want to see, period.

And to be fair, it’s really not just in Congress where this phenomenon called selective perception is prevalent. Wasn’t it just a few years back when many respected journalists wrote passionate essays about truth being subjective—that it must side with the causes of the oppressed and the marginalized? Didn’t civic groups led by you-know-who (I can’t say her name without going into a laughing fit; it is a long story which involves community singing of “If We Hold On Together”) bend the truth in their favor when they justified that ill-fated CODE-NGO project a few years back? Don’t businessmen hire public relations experts to twist the truth a little to suit their purposes? The point is, we are all guilty of twisting the truth in our favor.

Therefore, if anyone wants to embark on a quest for the truth, I suggest they begin the search in the most logical starting point, which is within their selves (yes, Rep. Francis Escudero, that’s where you should begin). And I guess this is the message of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines that sadly got lost in political translation. In effect, what the bishops are saying is, “you cannot accuse someone of being immoral if you yourself are doing something immoral.” (I have been saying the same thing and more in my blog in the last five months and I didn’t have to go through a weekend retreat to do that).

It is shameless and hypocritical the way some people invoke the “truth” as absolute justification for their political agenda. They say that all they want is to know the truth about whether the President cheated in the last elections. Duh. We already know the truth— everyone cheats during elections in this country and I dare any politician to come forward to claim that he or she is clean. All candidates, and I do mean ALL candidates, violate election laws— from the printing and posting of posters, to the distribution of sample ballots, to vote-buying, etc. So instead of asking the obvious, how about asking a more sincere and proactive question: since we all cheat during elections, how do we make sure that cheating is eradicated from our system? But I guess that question requires real work for our legislators and civic leaders. It is just so much easier to just blame someone than to be responsible for the solutions.

I can go on and on, but let’s cut through all this BS and call a spade a dirty shovel. What they really mean when they say they want to find the truth is to dig political mud, dirt and sleaze enough to shame the President into resigning from office, or enough to galvanize people into supporting their cause. In the process, the country can burn and we may lose all semblance of respect and dignity as a people. It is also possible that everyone gets implicated and the bloodbath will run 10 feet deep. But who cares as long as some people emerge as heroes and heroines and we can all live under a new dispensation of new tyrants and more of the same corrupt officials. I know some people who live in ivory towers and can therefore afford to romanticize all these, but tell it to someone who actually lives through the hardships of everyday living and see if you don’t get cursed.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, let me restate my position. I truly believe that under normal circumstances, impeachment is a valid and legal option. I also believe in my heart of hearts that this President has to go sooner or later—both for her sake and for the country’s. But the problems of this country are bigger and larger than whether GMA should be retained or given the boot. We need to go beyond demonizing the President or looking for someone to blame and instead focus on proactive solutions. In the words of the bishops, focus on “the common good.” And along the way, yes, let us make sure she is made accountable for her grievous mistakes.

Unfortunately, some people who dare to call themselves patriots still refuse to read the writing on the wall. To them, it is still all about GMA. And everything else, including progress and listening to the real needs of the people, is secondary.

GMA is a problem, but there are bigger and larger problems that we need to focus on. We are also part of the problem. Unfortunately, this is the truth that some people cannot handle.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Here We Go Again

(The following is my column for today, July 10, 2006 at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today)

THE national torture of having to put up with self-proclaimed patriots who mouth all kinds of incendiary statements in the name of love of country has once again begun.

These are days when one cannot help but wish there is a way to vanish all these loudmouths from the national consciousness so that we can all focus on doing what we are supposed to be doing individually to make this country a better place. Unfortunately, these people are relentless in foisting themselves and their causes and prescriptions on us. They take out full-page ads in newspapers, call press conferences, and make themselves readily available to every available microphone and journalist of media establishments who, unfortunately, have made it their policy to stoke the fires of controversies in order to stay ahead of the ratings game.

Many among us have learned to take these in stride. We give them two minutes of our time, take a long deep sigh, mutter “politics as usual” and go on with our lives. Many among us have become numb and immune to the endless bickering and have become more and more disenchanted with the whole process. We silently wish and pray that these people would just shut up. But these people would not let us be. When their antics do not produce their preferred reactions from us, they call us apathetic and uncaring. Worse, they bewail our inability to see the righteousness of their cause and come very, very close to calling us immoral and stupid.

And yet, they claim to be doing all these for our sakes. They say they speak for us. They trundle conclusions and generalizations about having our widespread support, conveniently labeling us as the “people.”

So here we are again back at the same place and saddled with the same issues that we all know cannot be resolved no matter how loudly we all scream at the streets, no matter how many times we pontificate on television, or how many pages of ads we take out in the papers.

Here we are again with an impeachment complaint that has no hope of getting through Congress and certainly no hope of getting widespread support, thanks to the efforts to turn the process in its head and reduce it to a media circus. And yet, here we are again with the griping and the sourgraping when at the outset, it has already been clear that the numbers are simply not enough.

Here we are again with the statements and the homilies and the pastoral letters and the manifestoes and the self-righteous posturing of the self-proclaimed prophets whose pronouncements made headlines in the past but have all failed to galvanize public support and produce results.

But yes, just in case the message has not gotten through yet, we get it. WE GET IT! We are not dumb. Nor are we stupid. Our country is in deep trouble. The government and the opposition and the civic groups and everyone out there do not have to write the message in neon lights and shove it in our faces because we live through the difficulties every day. Many among us do not know where the next meal will be coming from or whether we’ll still have jobs tomorrow. We know. We do know, all right?

And just because we do not rage against it does not mean we do not care. We do care. In fact, we care enough, and that is why many among us do not add our voices to the national Tower of Babel anymore.

But if people do care enough, why the absence of widespread support for the causes being bandied about? The reason for this is simple. We are deeply cynical of everyone. We do not trust anyone— not the president, not the government, not the senators and congressmen, not the local officials, not the clergy, and certainly not the opposition and the civic groups. It is a tragic fact, but it is a fact that we all have to acknowledge. When everyone is screaming at you and bludgeoning you with his own version of the truth, you just want to retreat into the comforts of your own private space. In our eyes, pare-pareho lang kayo!

Everyone seems to have the perfect prescription to make things work, but nobody is listening to anyone else. Everyone is so convinced of the righteousness of his or her proposed course of action that it seems everyone else who disagrees or does not lend support is automatically an enemy. We remain deeply fragmented and we continue to indulge in this national pastime of blamestorming, passing on the blame to everyone else except ourselves for our inability to resolve our problems and get out of the rut. We are still at it, imposing our own myopic and shortsighted views about what and who is the real problem. And when someone and some groups actually provide a more strategic option that tries to situate the problems into a more strategic perspective, we shoot it down by calling them names and attacking them personally.

So here we are again, back to where we started last year.

It seems we have not learned any lesson at all. And by the looks of it, the cycle will continue until there is nothing left to fight for anymore.

And we wonder why we are in a rut?

And we blame the people for the mess?

Friday, July 07, 2006

From Mall of Asia to Sual

I work nearby but I haven't found the time to visit Mall of Asia until lunch time today. And my reaction is the same with most everyone who has been there: it is huge, as in mammoth, humungous, gigantic (these words came naturally, wonder why). While walking through one part of the mall, I found myself wondering if they will be able to attract enough clientele to sustain the upkeep of such a huge place.

Apparently that question has been answered already. I am told that on weekends, the place is packed to the rafters that parking is very difficult to find. This information almost made me regurgitate my lunch. Parking is difficult in the middle of several hectares of reclaimed land??? I am told families come to the mall for the whole day and that jeepneys loaded with families have been spotted at the parking area (including provisions for lunch, merienda and dinner). Whew. I guess the grass at Luneta and other parks (if people still go there to begin wtih) can take a breather in the next few months.

Dear god, I am surely missing out on a major trend here because while I have no problems shopping in a mall (finding the money to pay for the credit card bill, now that is anothe thing altogether) or meeting up with friends for a quick bite or for some coffee, spending a whole day inside a mall suffocates me. I think I hold the world record for fastest shopper - I can finish my Christmas shopping in one visit to the mall. I know they have state of the art airconditioning systems and all that - but still, the thought of one hundred thousand people breathing the same air in the same enclosed space should be enough to make you run to the closest exit.

But we can not argue with preference. So, there's the Mall of Asia, the current destination for everything... until they build the Mall of the Universe.

***

I am writing this while waiting for the vehicle that will take us to this town in Pangasinan where jellyfish rule! They (the jellyfish) have already plunged the whole of Luzon into a total blackout twice. I am going to Sual Pangasinan. I haven't been to that part of Luzon and I haven't been to the hundred islands in more than a decade so this trip should be fun. I hope it doesnt rain that hard.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Timing and circumstance

The country still seems undecided on what to make of the participation of one bishop in the filing of the impeachment case against GMA. Depending on which side of the political fence one sits in, Bishop Yniquez’ participation is either an act of a) defiance, b) provocation, c) courage, d) just plain rabble rousing or e) all of the above.

I do not actually understand this whole crap about the filing of the impeachment complaint being done in his capacity as a private citizen. Bishops have such a thing as a private persona? At what point in the day do they stop being a bishop? I thought that being a man of the cloth is not just something one does but something that defines who one is.

Having said that, let me also state that I view all these hairsplitting on the roles of the church and the state as just plain rhetorical swashbuckling. It makes for good debate and hysterical headlines, but even if a delineation can actually be made, how do you make those who overstep the bounds accountable for their actions? Besides, it has very little practical application on the everyday lives of Filipinos. The government can’t impose on the church, and the political influence of the Catholic Church among its flock has never been among its stronger suits.

I do not take it against the bishop that he filed the impeachment case. But I do find unsettling the timing and the circumstances around the Bishop’s act.

There are those with more overactive imaginations who float the possibility that all these seemingly separate actions are actually all part of a grand plan or conspiracy, but I really doubt it. My personal gut feel is that Bishop Yniquez did it on his own, which validates a fear gnawing at my heart: despite efforts to dispel the suspicions, it does appear that even the bishops are fragmented and have problems coming to a consensus. Worse, it appears that civility has also been lost even among the bishops.

I found it disappointing that Bishop Yniquez upstaged the other recent noteworthy political event involving the clergy– the appearance of the signatures of more bishops in the position paper of OneVoice. Maybe I am just too idealistic, but I imagine that some kind of mutual respect still exists in this world, particularly among those who preach these things. I imagined (wrongly it now seems) that since the other bishops, who numbered more, have already made a joint separate call, it would be incumbent upon other bishops to at least keep their individual (especially divergent) positions at bay out of respect for colleagues. But like I said, I guess even bishops have lost civility.

The other thing that I found unnerving is the timing of the Bishop’s filing of the impeachment complaint. If he was part of the first citizens’ groups that filed the impeachment, it will still catch my interest, but I would not give it special attention. To my mind, the fact that he filed it as part of the carefully orchestrated serial filing automatically begs the assumption that the good bishop is dancing to another tune.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Saving Philippine television

The following appears at the op-ed section of Manila Standard Today. It about the suspension of television show I-Witness by the MTRCB and the maiden broadcast of Bandila.

I-WITNESS is one of the very few remaining shows on local television that does a remarkable job of striking a good balance between form and substance—it is often both intelligent and entertaining. And in an industry where the ability to look good is mistaken for talent (and where cosmetic surgeons have been elevated to the stature of God—some people have the gall to announce “body by Vicky Belo”), Howie Severino is one of the very few who chooses to let his mind and his work do the talking for him.

Unfortunately, all these are alien to people with a terminal case of “moralitis.” It is a debilitating disease with strange symptoms such as seeing malice in anything where sex and body parts are mentioned, inability to use their gray matter, and taking offense at things one does not understand.

I-Witness has just been slapped a two-week suspension by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board for airing Lukayo: Hindi Ito Bastos, a feature on a cultural tradition in Laguna. The tradition was first documented by National Artist Ramon Obusan and involves street dancing by rural women “adorned” with phallic symbols. Those who didn’t watch Tatarin, the movie, or the I-witness feature can recall experiences watching inebriated older women having fun.

In my town in Leyte, inebriated adults —sometimes all women—inevitably do their own rowdy version of the curacha, which simulates the pairing of a male chicken and a hen, to the delight of the crowd. No nudity is involved, but it sure does border on the ribald. Certain cultural traditions may border on the lascivious, but the community does not necessarily perceive them as such. Most public functions in Leyte involve the dancing of the curacha, and the crowd always prefers dancers who make more suggestive movements and aggressive simulations of a male chicken’s behavior.

The decision to suspend the show is premised on two issues. While MTRCB does not question the significance of the festival, it insists that not everyone has access to explanation about such traditions. This reasoning assumes that Filipinos require having culture explained to them, that Filipinos are not capable of using their brains to make sense of what they see or appreciating what they see on their own merits. When people watch Pangalay or Singkil being performed, does it really matter if people do not understand the cultural significance or meaning of the dances? Do we honestly believe that when fully clothed people dance courtship rituals, people do not see the sexual content of the performance?

The second reason is that there are people who were offended when they watched the feature. This kind of reasoning is silly because if the MTRCB intends to do something about television shows that offend people, I have a long list of complaints I want them to take a look at. I am offended that the government station read my letter every night from February to April without even asking my permission. I am offended every time Nuts Entertainment or even Wowowee mock those aesthetically challenged people in their shows. I am offended every time the Tulfo Brothers make a mockery of due process, or when Secretary Raul Gonzalez opens his mouth without first considering the consequences of his pronouncements. The list goes on and one, but you get the drift.

On the other side of the fence, ABS-CBN launched Bandila, the latest reincarnation of the late night broadcast last Monday night. Prior to the launch, the station pulled all the stops in promoting the program. Typical of the personality oriented culture of the station, the focus was on the newscasters as if the quality of a newscast is mainly determined by who delivers it. I hope the station does not really believe that people watch news programs to ogle newscasters.

The program makes this big homily on citizenship and the value of the Philippine flag. It would have helped, of course, if they actually did something to the way the Philippine flag is being desecrated in the streets of Metro Manila (along Baywalk, there are still bedraggled Philippine flags flapping against the wind that are pierced through by wires on all four corners).

ABS-CBN has moved back the timeslot for the late night news, making it part of primetime again. Since I have been ranting in my blog about the ridiculous hours that Saksi and the erstwhile Insider kept (only the terminally insomniac would actually be awake to watch them), I initially cheered the move. At the very least, I figured people would at least have the choice of watching the news or the Koreanovelas.

To be fair, ABC-5 and Studio-23 do broadcast the news also at an earlier hour. So just for the record, Maria Ressa did not invent the concept of a newscast at 10 p.m. But ABS-CBN says that advertisers prefer to put their money on escapist entertainment rather than on news programs. They claim to be taking a huge gamble and stand to lose a lot of money in the name of serving the Filipino people. I suspect that there are more realistic business reasons, but like I said, I am willing to cut them slack.

I do want the program to succeed. I think there is something wrong in a setup where citizens have to sit through sitcoms featuring middle-aged men horsing around like tots before they get to know about what is happening in their country. Unfortunately, if the maiden newscast is a harbinger of how Bandila will shape up as a program, I think many people will stick it out with the telenovelas.

Bandila eschews the hysterics and hyperactivity of the usual news broadcast. Korina, Ces, and Henry do not engage in vocal histrionics and they make an effort to come across as friendly and conversational. So at least one does not feel like being screamed at anymore. The program is also relatively short and thankfully does away with what has seemingly become obligatory fodder in Philippine news program—showbiz gossip.

But I think Bandila is currently saddled by the weight of its own sense of self-importance. It seems confused about what it is primarily (news, news-magazine, public affairs, national advocacy) for. And they really should downplay the “we are here to save Philippine television” attitude.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Moving Story

We all have our own stories to tell about our dads.

My friend's friend Jerome wrote about his father in his blog. It's a four-hanky piece about a son's struggle to embrace and break the father figure within us. Read it and weep.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Thoughts on a graduation

The following is my column for today at the op-ed section of Manila Standard Today.

TWICE a week, I roll up my sleeves, put on a serious countenance, and stand in front of a sea of faces whose expressions range from the utterly clueless, to the hopelessly bored, to the genuinely curious. In short, I teach. Despite my crazy schedule, teaching is something that I have refused to give up because I truly believe that every generation has a solemn responsibility to help mold succeeding generations. As a human resource management practitioner, I also believe that people in industry have no business complaining about the output of academe if they are not part of the crafting of solutions to the problems. I continue to rant, thus, I continue to teach.

Teaching still offers many psychological rewards despite these uncertain times. Seeing faces literally light up in the classroom as validation that, son of a gun, they finally got the solution to that vexing problem is still a continuing source of wonder that can sustain a teacher until, well, the next perplexing problem statement. Rubbing elbows with former students in some industry functions and embracing them as professional colleagues (never mind that you will forever be treated with a certain degree of reverence and will always be addressed as “sir”) is another.
But watching former students resplendent in their graduation gowns as they walk up the stage to receive their diplomas still tops the list among the most fulfilling moments in the life of any teacher. I found myself in that poignant situation last Saturday when I attended the graduation ceremonies of the college where I teach.

Graduations tug at the heartstrings of a teacher’s life. On one hand, there is that surge of pride that comes from the realization that no matter how insignificant one has contributed to another person’s growth. But on the other hand, it also brings to the surface that nagging question that every self-respecting teacher must confront at some point or another. It is the question that lurks in the deep recesses of our minds: Did I do enough not only to impart knowledge and skills, but more importantly, to help build character? This was a question that was on top of the mind among us teachers last Saturday, as abetted by valedictorian Yar Thant’s speech on behalf of his graduating class. I will get back to Yar Thant, his graduation speech, and the fascinating context of his speech in a while.

What got me into this reflective mood is the fact that recently, it has become very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a teacher’s main job description is to cover as comprehensively as possible the talking points contained in the course syllabus. Perhaps as a result of the stiff competition even among educational institutions, the focus of most instructional efforts has largely been on enhancing global competitiveness, often at the expense of other loftier educational goals.

As a consequence, we have become a country that produces tens of thousands of nurses and caregivers and yet very few are taking care of our sick, and there is a dearth of decent health services in the country. We have too many lawyers, yet the wheels of justice are clogged with the debris of the many injustices that litter our justice system. We have business graduates who can compute income and business taxes accurately up to the last decimal point, but who will most likely cheat on their taxes when they eventually put up their own businesses. We have graduates who can discuss the provisions of the Bill of Rights, but who think voting in elections is an unnecessary nuisance. We have graduates who can identify significant landmarks of Philippine geography, but will not stand in the way of some local government despot’s mad quest to demolish whatever little is left of our historical and architectural landmarks. We seem to be producing graduates who are trained to save the world, but do not know how nor possess the inclination to help their own country.

In short, if teachers are still doing such a great job in influencing minds and hearts, why are we in such a sorry mess as a country and as a people? This is a question that teachers must ask themselves because if there is one profession that holds the key to many of the solutions to the problems of this country, it is the teaching profession. Perhaps it is really time for teachers to reclaim the whole essence of what the profession is about. It is not just about imparting information, knowledge or skills. It is also about strengthening our collective conscience as a people.

To go back to the interesting sidelight about the class valedictorian’s speech, Yar Thant delivered his speech in straight Filipino. You are probably thinking: “Huh, so what, we converse in the language every day.” The big deal is that the guy is not even Filipino. He is Burmese, but he took the trouble to deliver his speech in the language of his host country. His enunciation of certain Filipino words was often hilarious and on many occasions, he had to repeat and restate some phrases for clarity. Still, most of those in the audience did not realize that he was a foreigner until he came to the part when he addressed his parents (who, he said, had no idea what he was talking about). From that point on, he had the audience at the palm of his hand as we savored with undisguised appreciation every mispronounced Filipino word.

Yar Thant talked about the difficulties and triumphs of a college student struggling to act as an adult at a time when most of our leaders are behaving like children. He acknowledged the hardships that parents had to suffer in order to provide a better life for their children. He paid tribute to the college, his teachers, and his friends. He articulated the optimism and fears of today’s generation of new entrants about a workplace that is getting more and more complex and competitive. In so doing, he affirmed that dreams and hopes, just like anxiety and fear, are indeed universal; and that that affection and celebration are concepts that defy all kinds of borders.

Graduations are indeed poignant occasions. But I think that more than anything, graduations are important reminders that whether we like it or not, generations give way to the next, and the world will continue with or without us. And so I will end this column by paying tribute to former students who have given me more than enough reason to be confident that regardless of our monumental mistakes as parents and teachers, this country will be in safer hands. Congratulations and good luck Aldous, Kent, Joanna, Czarina, Luigi, Michael, Karen, Aiza, Don, Xandre, Jay, Sheena, Gretchell and the rest of the graduating class of DLSU-CSB 2006. May your generation deliver this country from the morass it finds itself in today.